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Cut the cord (or, how to cancel your cable TV and still be happy)

Cutting the cord

I know a number of people who are considering getting rid of their cable TV package, and most often it is because cable has become too expensive or they simply don’t watch much TV anymore. They want to know what it means to “cut the cord” and live without their cable box. So where does someone begin? The options listed below are listed in order, from less to more, of how much TV you really want in your life.

Live TV
mohuStart with the basics: you want to watch good, old-fashioned television shows during their regular time slots. CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and PBS are all available for free. Your TV needs to have an ATSC tuner built in. Most TVs have one, but if not you can buy one which is covered in the Hardware section below. You will also need an HD antenna. These new antennas, like the Mohu Leaf 50, are small and light enough to set on a shelf or hang on a wall inside your house, or you can buy larger ones, like the Mohu Sky 60, that get a stronger signal and mount inside your attic or on the side of your house. One thing to look for is the range. An antenna will say that it works up to 25 miles, or 35 miles, 50 miles, or more. Make sure you get an antenna with the correct range. My recommendation is to buy several different antennas from a store with a friendly return policy; test them all on the same day to see which one works the best and then return the others.

Required: HDTV antenna ($30 – $80 with no recurring fees)

Not-so-live TV
If you can wait one day to watch your shows, then Hulu is your best choice. You can watch the entire current season for almost all of your favorite shows that air on the basic channels like CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and PBS, plus access to some shows from your old cable package like A&E and F/X. While most channels only offer the current season of their shows, some offer all their past seasons as well. Hulu also offers their own exclusive shows and a limited amount of movies. The biggest drawback is that you do not have access to live sports, but that will be covered in the next section. Not all shows are included on Hulu, so my best advice is to check Hulu’s listings to see if it carries your favorite shows.

For an additional $9 per month you can add to your Hulu subscription Showtime’s current movies as well as some of their on-demand movies.

Required: Media streaming device (~$50); Hulu ($7.99 per month w/ limited ads; $9.99 w/ no ads) provides over 20 cable-only channels including ESPN.

Sports (and zombies and HBO)
The number one reason I hear from people who do not want to give up their cable TV is because they want to watch ESPN. If this is the only reason you are hanging onto cable, then you are essentially paying $60 or more per month just to watch Monday Night Football. Now there’s a solution to this dilemma. Sling TV is a service that you gives you more than 20 popular cable channels including ESPN, ESPN2, AMC (Mad Men and Walking Dead!), and the Food Network. It’s a great way to fill in the gaps between live TV and cable TV.

For an additional $15 per month you can add to your Sling TV subscription HBO’s current movies and on-demand movies.

Required: Media streaming device (~$50); Sling TV ($20 per month)

netflix youtubeNetflix by far is the largest movie streaming service, which is evident by the fact that it uses 35% of all peak-time Internet bandwidth in America, but it’s not your only option. Amazon Prime Video is similar in price to Netflix but also lets you rent movies for $2 to $5, gives access to a music library of over one million songs, and provides free two-day shipping on anything bought from Amazon. Both Netflix and Amazon also offer original programming. You might not want either one because Sling TV offers HBO for $15 per month and Hulu offers Showtime for $9 per month. Almost all of them offer a free trial of 7 to 30 days, so don’t be shy about trying them all out. YouTube also offers a great deal of programming as well, including some original shows as well as film clips and music videos. Most media streaming devices include the YouTube app.

Required: Media streaming device (~$50); plus one or more of the following services:

Hardware: Connect your TV to Hulu, Sling, Netflix, and Amazon
Soooooo… how exactly do you get this stuff on your TV? What connects to the television? Some TVs are called “smart TVs”. If you connect a smart TV to the Internet you will be able to access some of these services, but not all of them.

amazon fire stickFor those without a smart TV, including me, you need a “media streaming device” that can connect to your home WiFi. Some of the most common media streamers are the Amazon Fire Stick, Google Chromecast, and the Roku. They’re all very highly rated and cost less than $50.

There are more expensive options, and they have benefits that some will find worth the price. If you live in an “Apple house” where most of you have iPhones or use iPads, then an Apple TV might make sense for you. It connects to the songs and videos you have purchased with your iTunes account, and the new models allow you to play some iPhone and iPad apps. The one drawback is the Apple TV doesn’t include all media services, most notably Amazon’s video streaming. Cost: $150-$200

The Xbox One is a gaming console, media streamer, and can act as a TV tuner for free, local over-the-air HD television.
The Xbox One is a gaming console, media streamer, and can act as a TV tuner for free, local over-the-air HD television.

The Xbox One is a video game console, a media streamer, and much more. It has all the video streaming apps listed in this article, and with a small adapter you can also use it to view the TV listings and pause, rewind and fast forward live TV. It is anticipated that a DVR app will be added in the next year, allowing you to record all your favorite live shows and sports. I don’t recommend buying an Xbox One as a media streamer alone, but if you were trying to convince your better half that you need to get an Xbox for the house then maybe this will help your argument. Cost: $350.

Read the USA News article for one opinion on different media streaming options.

Total Cost
The total price of watching TV is going to be less than cable, but will still depend on what you like to watch. You can get live TV for free. For $28 per month you can get something pretty close to a typical cable TV package. Add HBO, Showtime and Netflix and your bill is still under $60. None of these services charge tax unlike cable, so that saves about $10 per month. See the charts below for a breakdown of the costs.

Cost of Live TV and Cable Channels

Service Initial cost Monthly cost
Live TV $50 $0
Media streaming device $50 $0
Hulu (one day delay of live TV) $0 $8
Sling TV (ESPN, AMC) $0 $20
Total $100 $28

Cost of Movie Channels

Add Ons Monthly cost
Netflix or Amazon Prime $8
HBO (needs Sling) $15
Showtime (needs Hulu) $9

If you’re still unsure of where to start, follow these steps:

  1. Buy a $35 small indoor HD antenna, connect it to your TV, and test it out to see what channels come in and which ones do not. In Chicago it is very hard (but not impossible) to get CBS because of the location of their antenna.
  2. Buy a $25 media streamer, like the Amazon Fire Stick or the Roku SE. Connect it to the Internet and connect it to your TV. Test it to see what you can watch for free.
  3. Start a free trial of Hulu. View their entire channel lineup to see if your shows are available and how many past episodes you can watch. Typically you can only watch the current season, but some have all prior seasons.
  4. Start a free trial of Netflix. View their entire movie and television show listings to see if it’s something you’d like to watch month after month.

Try this for one week. If you don’t like it, if it doesn’t work in your house, or if it’s too confusing, then cancel your subscriptions and return the antenna and media streamer if possible. It could take some getting used to, but if it works for you then you might save $50 or more per month by eliminating the cable TV bill.

Outlook: the best mail app on the iPad

IMG_0076Whether you use Google, Yahoo, iCloud or Outlook for your email, there is one iPad mail app that stands taller than all the others: Outlook. Its integration of mail, calendar, contacts, and file storage in one single app will help you be more productive and efficient. Who wants to spend MORE time responding to email? No one.

What makes the free Outlook app different than Apple’s built-in Mail app? For one, your email and calendar are integrated into one app. You can switch back and forth between your mail and your calendar by choosing Mail or Calendar at the bottom of the screen. This  might not seem like much, but when someone emails you to ask if you are free on a given day and time you can switch back and forth with one tap instead of leaving Apple’s Mail app, going back to the iPad home screen, tapping on the Calendar app to see your availability, then closing the Calendar app, going back to the home screen, and then opening your Mail again. One click is faster than four or five or six.


Because your mail and calendar are contained in one app you also save space in the iPad Dock, which are the five main apps you always use. You can only choose five, so being able to use up one space with Outlook instead of two spaces with Apple’s Mail AND Calendar is quite useful.

The iPad Dock only holds five apps. My five are Outlook (mail and calendar), Chrome (Internet browser), Schoology (LMS), Drive (document storage), and Settings (iPad).
Outlook integrates with online document storage: Office 365, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box

Second, Outlook integrates your online documents with your mail.  You can send a document saved to Office  365, Google Drive, or Dropbox account from within the Outlook app. When someone emails you to ask for a file, you can find it and email it without leaving Outlook. Again, fewer clicks, less time, and fewer mistakes. Document integration is by far the best feature of Outlook.

Third, your entire contact list is easily searchable. It combines the contacts you have added yourself with your entire school district or company’s global address list which is the list of every person you work with.

Fourth, and this is for people who use Outlook for their work email already, is that the email on your iPad now looks the same as it does on your computer.  Email looks clean and is easily sortable, conversations can be grouped into threads, and the button layout is pretty much the same whether you use the app,  the online version of Outlook (OWA), or the desktop version of Outlook 2013. The Outlook app is simply easy to use, especially for people who use it daily.IMG_0086

For directions on how to add your email account to Outlook on the iPad, read the article titled, “Signing Into the Outlook iPad App For the First Time.”

(I use to do quick image editing including smudging out names and adding text. It’s free.)


Data, Feedback, and Standards Based Grading: It Is Your Destiny

Your gradebook says a lot about the way you teach. After all, it is the measuring stick to which your students will compare themselves for an entire year. Gradebooks should provide much more than a single letter grade, and this article will look at two ways that could improve your gradebook which in turn could improve your instruction.

Part One: Collecting data on the activities students spend the most time completing

What if your gradebook could show you which activities a student was likely to complete or likely to avoid? Knowing what your students spend most of their time doing could help you design better activities in class – activities that students actually want to spend time and energy to complete. Below is an example of how a gradebook could look if you could tag all of your assignments by TYPE. By looking at the data, you can figure out that this student really likes to keep a journal but dislikes creating posters and flashcards. Giving students choices in how they complete their work keeps them more engaged in their learning. Often they are more willing to spend more time completing tasks because they are enjoying them.


If the student is willing to take practice tests over and over which leads to improved performance, then it makes sense to try to create a larger bank of questions for your students to practice with. If other students really enjoy (and learn from) discussing topics online with their peers, then it makes sense to create more discussion boards whenever they are appropriate for the topic.

Part Two: Standards-Based Grading (SBG)

Okay, maybe you aren’t really in a “give the students a choice” kind of mood at the moment. You know what your students need to complete, and they are willing to do it. Excellent! Here’s a different question for you. What if your gradebook could show each student’s progress towards mastering each of the learning standards within your course? Instead of just seeing an A or B, what if your gradebook could show you where your students are really excelling and where they are falling behind? That’s called a Standards-Based Gradebook (SBG).  This photo below is modified to look like one example of data in a Standards-Based Gradebook. The numbers to the right show a student’s progress towards mastering each of the standards, with 100 being the highest they can achieve. The standards listed come from the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts <>.


When data is aligned to multiple standards instead of a single letter grade it explains the progress a student is making towards mastering the reading and language skills of a course. In the example above, the student shows a high level of skill in determining the key ideas of what he or she reads, but a very low level of skill in trying to integrate the ideas of multiple authors into one coherent theme. This standards-based data provides much more detail as to how the student is performing in class which helps the teacher to inform and modify his or her teaching, and it provides the student (and the parents) with information as to which skills are advanced and which need additional work.

Part Three: Destiny (and how video games could teach us something about providing data and feedback)

The idea for this article came from a combination of two things that are taking up a great deal of my time: helping teachers create a Standards-Based Gradebook, and playing hours and hours of the video game Destiny. Video games provide constant feedback to the player which can lead to greater engagement in playing the game, more time playing the game, and better results when playing the game. If teachers could provide the same type of instantaneous, high-level feedback that video games provide then we could really help our students learn. The photo below is an actual screenshot from Destiny. The data listed in the image includes:

  1. Overall skill level of 27 (top right)
  2. Total time spent playing the game (over 86 hours)
  3. The number of times the player spent in each type of game mode (He played 129 “Control” games which are 5-10 minute mini-games, but only played 5 “Raids” which are 30-60 minute adventures that require a great deal of skill and teamwork)

Destiny Hunter Stats


The more data we, as teachers, can gather regarding student performance, the more informed we can become in our instructional practices. Providing a variety of data related to the TYPES of academic activities students complete and/ or the level of mastery students demonstrate towards the learning standards will only help teachers to teach better which in turn will help students to learn more. Video games are effective in providing data and feedback which teachers could adapt to fit their classrooms and their gradebooks to help make learning more meaningful and engaging.

“8 for 8” leads to high impact professional development

Harvard University hosted a day-long Critical Conversations and Bold Ideas program last week which attracted over 1,000 people. Arne Duncan (U.S. Secretary of Education), Geoffrey Canada (founder of Harlem Children’s Zone and part of Fortune’s list of the 50 greatest leaders in the world in 2014), and Howard Gardner (senior director of Project Zero and author of the groundbreaking theory on multiple intelligences) were among many top educators and influential people who spoke at the event.

8for8In my opinion, the highlight of the event was their 8 For 8 session. What is 8 for 8? It is a presentation where 8 people discuss their big ideas for impact on education within a time limit of 8 minutes. In a little over one hour the audience heard eight well-known Harvard professors present eight diverse ideas for improving  teaching and learning. The topics covered a wide variety of topics, with titles such as, “Getting Unstuck,” “The End of Average,” and “Linking Family Engagement to Learning.”

I want to see the 8 For 8 format at a future teachers’ conference.  Most conferences have sessions that explain how to implement a program or how to use technology in the classroom or how to reach a certain student audience. What is often missing is the science behind WHY these things work in the classroom. I want to know the research behind what these teachers are doing. Another absence from most conferences is plain-old inspiration. The people I remember the most after leaving a conference are the ones who inspired me, who had that one story, one video, or one quote that makes me want to go back to school and do something – ANYTHING – that is going to make a difference. Inspiring people make me want to change everything I do and start over from scratch.

Forget just seeing the 8 For 8 format – I want to mimic it at the next conference. I want to make it happen. Maybe we can cut it down to a 5 For 5 session that lasts just 30 minutes. I want to poll all 200 teachers in my school and ask them who from our school they want to hear, and then ask those top five people to talk about something heartfelt and meaningful and personally important when it comes to teaching and learning. I want our five speakers to just pack those five minutes with as much data and research and quotes from students, but most importantly I want each five minute segment to be filled with heart and conviction and inspiration. I know we have five people who can do this. I bet we have ten or twenty people who could do this. I think a homegrown 8 For 8 is just what our school needs right now. So tomorrow I’m going to go to work on this. I’ll keep you updated as to where it goes…