If you’ve ever struggled to buy presents like I do, you probably ask people what they like to buy. Therefore, I am always looking at the blogs and newsletters of the edtech gurus and leaders I love to see what they love ALREADY. To help you with your buying, here are some things on my “enjoy” list and how I use them. I hope it gives you ideas.
Cool Gifts, Ideas, and Books
1. An Amazon Alexa Device.
I love my Amazon Dot. It uses Amazon Alexa. Alexa is the best voice recognition I’ve found. So, I’ve taught my whole family to add things to the shopping list.
“Alexa add milk to the shopping list.”
We also listen to music and podcasts using Alexa.
“Alexa, play Every Classroom Matters podcast.”
In selecting the right one for our family, I had to do a lot of research. In summary, there are actually four types of devices that come with Alexa voice recognition:
- Amazon Echo – This is the high-end Alexa device that comes with a blue tooth speaker. It is always on. Now, if you want to play great music loudly, you’re better off with the Dot going through stereo speakers you already own. Lots of people are putting these devices in their kitchens and offices.
- Amazon Tap – This device is portable. You carry it with you and wherever you have wifi, you can use Alexa. I could see how people with wifi in their cars or who want a Bluetooth speaker might like it. It is important to realize that it is not always on, you have to tap it to use it. It does have built in speakers although not as good as the Echo. This is a supercharged Bluetooth speaker that you can carry.
- Amazon Dot – This is what we have in my house. We had some great Bose speakers and just wanted to hook it in. It is always on and listening, however, I do have to turn on the speakers when I go in the kitchen. We’re adding lighting (see below) that will be controlled by the Dot as well.
- Amazon Fire Stick with Alexa Voice Remote – I admit that I’ve gotten used to just saying “Alexa play some upbeat 80’s music” and it just does. So, I’m looking forward to doing the same on my TV except with movies. We have Amazon Prime, so it makes sense for us. It is still in the box, though because this is a present for Kip. (It is OK, I read my posts out loud to him and I will omit this one! 😉 He won’t find out unless one of you tell him. Shhh. 😉
2. Rocketbook Smartwave Notebook
This crazy Rocketbook notebook is my new favorite tool. (Right now it is $27.00) So, first, you should write in it with Pilot Frixion pens. I love these pens because they are erasable, but they have another feature. The ink disappears at 140 degrees. (It reappears at 30, so take note.) You don’t need to have the rockebook to get these pens, I’m buying them for everyone.
First, after I use the whole notebook and have stored the contents in the cloud, I can put this notebook in the microwave with a cup of water. I can microwave it several minutes and “poof” the text is gone! The Rocketbook notebook can be used 5 times in this way! Erase and use again! Crazy!
Second, I use Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Drive in a variety of ways.The rocketbook has these icons at the bottom of the page. I just mark an x on the icon where I want it to go and when I snap the picture with the rocketbook app, boom it goes into the cloud.
So, I have some students and I writing a screenplay (we’ll be done next week). When we meet and talk, I take notes and then snap a picture and it goes to our shared Google Drive immediately. When I take sermon notes, I mark the diamond. It immediately goes to my notebook in Evernote for shining ideas and notes. You do have to set up what each icon means, but it is simple and I love it! A great gift for a person who uses the cloud but loves to take hand written notes.
3. Apple Watch
I love my Apple Watch. It is a game-changer. I know many are going with the Fitbit and just doing biometrics, but if you have an iPhone or iPad, the Apple watch just makes more sense. If you get one, you might want to look for some different watch bands.
4. Comedians from the Past
I love jokes! So, it has become an issue lately of finding good, clean comedy to listen to in the car. So, my family has gone to some throwbacks and we’re laughing like crazy. Jerry Clower and Red Skelton are some of our favorites.
If you’re from rural America or a place that likes hunting and fishing, Jerry Clower is “bust a gutt” as we say. If you have Amazon prime music, you can listen to many of these comedians before you buy the CD for members of your family. I’d love suggestions of other clean comedians to enjoy!
5. Phillips Hue Smart Lightbulbs
I spent last Saturday setting up a smart lightbulb system for my parents. The Phillips Hue Smart Lightbulbs White were the ones we selected. (I inserted a video from crazy tech guy Lamar Wilson below if you don’t get what these lights do.) Here’s what we did for Dad:
- Turn the lights on and off for safety. We set up the app on Dad’s iphone with location awareness. The lights come on when Dad comes home. The lights go off (except for one non-smart light bulb) when they leave.
- Biorhythm friendly lighting. At 5:30 am, the lights gradually start coming on because they like to wake up early. They are a lower power in the morning. At noon, the lights move to 75% power. At 5 pm, the lights move to 100% power. At 8:30 the lights start dimming. We set the gradual increase because according to their doctor, it will help prevent confusion and promote better sleep and so far it is.
- Control from Dad’s phone. Dad can turn the lights on and off throughout the house. This is awesome because my Mom doesn’t really remember to do that and dad can flip the whole house with just a flip.
The biggest recommendation I have is to make sure you have no more than 4 zones. This is because it can become clunky with more than 4. While some people are going with colored lights, the white are just fine for most of us. These bulbs are more expensive but last for 10 years. And they are smart and easy to set up.
- Oh, and in my house, we can control them by voice with Amazon Alexa. Here’s another present for Kip. 😉
With some time, you can set up a very smart system for aging parents or family members. There are so many things you can do with home automation for those you love, consider it.
6. Some Great Books
Reading is such an important part of life. Here are some book recommendations of things I’ve read and love.
Books That Impacted My Teaching
- Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess – this perennial favorite rocks.
- Explore Like a Pirate: Engage, Enrich, and Elevate Your Learners with Gamification and Game-Inspired Course Design by Michael Matera is one of those books I keep by my desk as I become better at Game Based Learning. Love this book!
- The Teachers Guide to Technology by Jennifer Gonzalez – This is my favorite edtech overview book. It is an ebook but you can download and print if you wish. (Here’s a freebie from her book.)
- The Happy Teacher Habits: 11 Habits of the Happiest, Most Effective Teachers on Earthby Michael Linsin – This book just had real things that have made me a better, happier teacher this year.
- Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances of Your Life by Michael Port – I teach public speaking and give speeches. This is the most transformational book I’ve read in a long time about how I present to my students, teachers, or even Sunday School class. Great book.
- How Do You Kill 11 Million People? Why the Truth Matters More Than You Think by Andy Andrews. My life was transformed when I heard Andy Andrews read this book. I referred to it so many times during the election. Finding the truth is harder than ever and so many people don’t know lies from the truth. This book is short but more important than ever.
- Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time and
- Reinventing Writing: The 9 Tools that Are Changing Writing, Teaching, and Learning Forever are some of the best of my thought process on two areas of expertise for me: global collaboration and collaborative writing. I love when PhD students contact me about these books that are being assigned in their courses.
- Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team Operator Adam Brown has to be one of of my best reads of 2016. If it isn’t to be enough to be a SEAL, he overcame a drug addiction. Then, when he lost use of his dominant hand, he retrained with his other hand. On top of that, when he lost use of his dominant eye, he learned to shoot again with his other eye. His story of overcoming is transformational and takes away all my excuses. I’m buying this book for several of my children and nephews.
- 21 Great Leaders: Learn their Lessons, Improve Your Influence by Pat Williams – I often read this to my students. Some great biographies of heroes in a way that helps us learn from both their strengths and weaknesses. Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, and more are in this book.
- Just as I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham – Billy Graham was a masterful leader and knew many presidents. I love his transparency as he lived his life and was often counselor to presidents in the US.
- David Livingstone by Sam Wellman was a book I picked up after I started reading the journals of this amazing explorer of Africa. From this book, I learned so much about the attitude of innovators and change makers. It isn’t what you think.
- River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard – If I had to list my top books of all time, this one is on the list. This unforgettable journey redefines tenacity and my own sometimes dark journey to teach to today’s generation of kids who I love so much.
- No Greater Love by Mother Teresa – This book is part autobiography, part a philosophy on caring for those who hurt among us. I read and re-read this book.
Productivity and Living Life
- Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend- I love Henry Cloud’s books and also recommend Necessary Endings (when to quit) and Never Go Back.
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
- A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller helps you view your life as an epic journey.
- The Miracle Morning: The Not So Obvious Secret to Transform Your Life (before 8 am) by Hal Elrod helped me change my morning routines to help push me towards success.
- Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking by Shane Snow is a powerful way of thinking about productivity and success.
If you want to get organized, you might want to pick up my ebook and all of the accompanying planner pages and customize your own planner for 2016.
Random Topical Books
- On Writing by Stephen King – This is my only Stephen King book but it is a masterful, inspiring insight into the craft of writing. Love this book.
- My Reading Life by Pat Conroy – This is my favorite book about reading and the love of books. It is an epic journey into the love and meaning of books. The section about his favorite teacher is a treasure to me and inspires me to be a better teacher.
- The Unwanted Gift by Tom Eliff – This heartfelt book is a new one about an old story. Tom shares what he and his precious wife Jeannie learned as they fought her cancer together. She died but her spirit lives on in this book which is not a story of discouragement but of power. Here are a man and woman of faith that so many of us admire.
- All In: You’re One Decision Away from a Totally Different Life by Mark Batterson changed my life. I’m just living life as a whole person as I share who I am without pulling punches. It makes me a truthful person because I no longer edit out bits and pieces of me and who I am depending on where I share. Reading this book set me free to just be me and to care far less about “popularity.”
- In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy DayIn a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day – Mark Batterson – about goal setting and the follow up Chase the Lion: If Your Dream Doesn’t Scare You, It’s too Small is another great one. Kip and I stopped by Batterson’s coffee shop in DC this past January when I was there meeting with the US Dept of Ed. We got every book he has written and we’re better for it.
- The 4:8 Principle: The Secret to a Joy-Filled Life by Tommy Newberry – an awesome book about developing a positive attitude and being joyful in all things. This is on my list as a top 3 book of 2016.
- Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff – If you want to know how to love people, this book is fantastic for people of all faiths.
- I’ve enjoyed the William R. Fortschen series One Second After and One Year After. These books talk about the aftermath of an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) explosion. They are what some would call faith-based books but seem to be very accurate as to this threat that no one seems to discuss. The next one comes out in January, The Final Day.
- I just love the Jack Reacher character by Lee Child. I haven’t seen the new movie yet, but plan to over break.
But in the end, remember that it is truly a time to celebrate family and faith. I’m taking time to put those pictures from last year into picture books for my family. Baking and loving on family are a huge part of Christmas for me.
Meanwhile, I’m excited about the new Hope is Rising album from my church. It fills me with hope, especially Psalm 63, which is truly one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. If you want hope-full music, go for it.
And in the end, Christmas and the holidays are times to make memories not make a bunch of debt. You can make photo books, special memory movies, and more that are personal and don’t require anything but your time!
Tips for minimizing teacher stress
- Discover 10 stress-busting secrets for healthy teachers. What simple routines will help you handle the stress?
- Simple advice for coping with stress at work.
- Learn tips to help you deal with difficult colleagues and students (even those who "hate" you -- yes it is possible!)