Managing Physical Work in a Digital Environment – Zonal OCR

The first question that we faced when we decided that we needed to digitize all student work was, “How do you digitize work for K-2nd grades?” We had to take into consideration the following truths:

  • Early learners have to develop motor skills, so digital assignments can be no more than 25% of what they do.
  • Teachers have to be able to collect the work and sort it with little to no additional time spent.
  • We have to be able to develop a filing system that curates student work because kinder students will have to learn this process after they start school.
  • The work collection method has to be accessible to all teachers regardless of their technology comfort level.

These were big barriers, but we knew that there had to be a way to accomplish what we were driving towards. The first solution that we tried involved a photographic collection of student work. In this iteration of the solution, the teacher would use an iPad Mini to photograph all of the student work, then provide feedback using a “markup” tool. The upside was, iPads have a built in markup tool. The downside is, that we could not find a good way to automatically name student work when we moved it to the PC for the curating process. We tried a few different things, but none of them were simple enough to allow for this huge shift.

The big breakthrough happened like most of them do. We just sat down and thought about what the ideal solution would look like. We decided that ideally, we would have a way to:

  1. Collect all of the student work at once – by scanning it in a batch
  2. Then we could divide the pages based on the length of the assignment. If it was a two page assignment, then we would tell the computer to split the collection document every two pages.
  3. Then we would need the computer to recognize which student’s work was being looked at, and it would have to automatically name the file by student, section, and objective.
  4. Finally, the computer would have to file the student work into the correct folder. That folder structure would be Class Section>Student>Objective.

Let me tell you now, that this solution does not currently exist. If it does, then we failed in locating it. However, we found 75% of what we were looking for, and that is pretty darn good. The software we found would allow us to do everything but automatically file the work after it was separated and renamed. That dream software is called File Center and is produced by a company called Lucion.

With File Center, we are able to scan a single batch and rename the files based on something called Zonal OCR. OCR is a term that means Optical Character Recognition. This is a method of converting images to text. The Zonal part of the equation means that the user can predetermine a portion of the document to be read. So we simply say, “I want to name all of documents based on a single area of the document.”

The big challenge with Zonal OCR is that it is hit or miss when it comes to handwriting. Especially when that handwriting is from a Kindergarten student who has just learned to write their own name. In order to address this concern, we decided that we could print labels to stick on student work. This means all we have to do is spend about $5 per student per year on stickers, and we have the readable with OCR system that we were looking for.

This means all we have to do is spend about $5 per student per year on stickers, and we have the readable with OCR system that we were looking for.

The final step requires the teacher to drag and drop the named files into a matching folder. After a few tries, I was able to get this process down to about 1-1/2 minutes. We are comfortable that this is a workable solution for the teachers. In all, it appears that it will require the teacher to spend an additional 3 minutes per assignment they collect. And, of course, the pay off is a completely digitized catalog of all work completed by all students. I will have another post about how we are going to use this information as we move forward. 

If you know about any other way to accomplish this with greater efficiency, then please send me a message on my twitter account @principalbarnes. I would love to hear if anyone else has already faced and overcome these challenges.

Students’ Ever Changing Social Standing

As I was getting into my car this morning, getting ready to leave for work, my neighbor decided to make small talk. I like my neighbor, but his small talk is usually light on the small and heavy on the talk. I engaged. He told me all about the new truck he was getting that day. I played my part. “Wow, that sounds like a neat feature to have.” This went on for about five minutes.

Adobe Spark (4)

As I finally pulled out of the driveway, I reflected on why I felt compelled to postpone all of the work I knew was waiting for me. I thought maybe I could have left, but that would have been rude. It just cannot be tolerated because I have to live next to this guy. It had damaged me in any way other than losing a few minutes, but I just kept thinking about it. I realized that I felt compelled to stand there and engage in a conversation that had little to no value to me because it is what society demands of me. I had a simple choice, be a part of the community in which I am or remove myself from that community.  Continue reading

Allowing Your Google Sheets to Talk With Each Other

I was completely resistant to Google’s productivity software for several years (I know this is dangerous to admit as an educator). I didn’t like how clunky it felt when I compared it to Microsoft Office. That has completely changed in the past couple of years.

We all know the massive benefit to shared, real-time editing of documents, but it is the ability to have your spreadsheets share information between each other that has me boosting my productivity and saving me massive amounts of time.

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The Harnessing of My Flightiness

I love to work with technology, it allows me to leverage my abilities to become more productive and creative in my field. So it is not uncommon for me to see a new idea hit the market place and want to pounce.

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When I attended TCEA 2017, I was surrounded by new and neat things that caused me to have some great new ideas.  I did what I always do when I have a “great” idea; I told a close colleague of mine. She said what I can always count on her saying, “Are you sure that this is necessary?” And with that, she began to describe all of the potential hurdles that would lay in my path. Not in a, “you can’t do this,” way, but in a, “you need to slow your roll,” kind of manner.

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Principal Of All Things, Master Of None

I’ve been asked how I got into education; most people have. My answer is pretty different than most, I think. I decided that I was bored with my job in telecommunications; this was the heyday of telecom. The money was great, hours were good, and I was on track to have a very sound career. The problem was, I hated going to work. I decided that a career in teaching would be a new, exciting option, so I set out to become certified.

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I have a real problem with careers. It is a monster problem that would cause some people to pull their hair out (I have no hair, so risk avoided). I get bored. I am not a maintainer; it just isn’t in my DNA. I can build. I have great ideas and can establish effective systems, but when things run smoothly, I know it is time to move on. Continue reading

Why Your Classroom Management Plans Crash and Burn

If you are a teacher that is struggling with classroom management after trying several different approaches, then I am asking that you read this post with an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart. I am going to challenge you to reflect on where the blame lies, and how you feel towards your students when things don’t go right.

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We can all go to Google or Amazon and search for classroom management books that will solve our problems with students not behaving in a way that allows us “get through” a lesson. There are countless systems that will have you giving digital points, physically placing stickers on desks, awarding gaming points, or giving students some prize at the end of a successful day or week.

There are countless systems that will have you giving digital points, physically placing stickers on desks, awarding gaming points, or giving students some prize at the end of a successful day or week.

You may have tried any or all of them, but they have failed in short order. Sure, you see your students respond for a day, or a week, or maybe two weeks, but it won’t take long for your students to realize that the same old problem is still there. It turns out that there is no system that will address that  your students don’t feel that there is a mutual respect.

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Google Forms Tells Me What to do Everyday

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Wandering through the task management options

I have used a number of task management tools over the years, and some of them are phenomenally powerful. My favorite one to date is Asana.com where users get a single console to create projects, tasks, and subtasks. I used Asana for a couple of years, but I found that it wasn’t the best tool for controlling my tasks because it was just too robust for just the few people who I needed to work with though a tasking system.

I stepped back from my search for the right tool and thought about what I needed most from a workflow tool. I valued the ability to have a continuous ticketing system that could be passed from one actor to another. I actually thought that assigning was the single most important feature that I needed, but then I realized that I was looking for too much.

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Culture That Invites Feedback

If you operate in an echo chamber, then you need to prepare for failure. Parents will not hesitate to tell you if you’ve done something wrong, but will your teachers talk to you about isn’t working?

Creating a culture in which the teachers in your school are prepared to tell you when things aren’t working is the single most important objective for which any driven principal should strive. Building this type of environment is not easy, but it is worth it.

Why teachers fear you

Being afraid is a natural feeling that occurs when we do not know about future outcomes. There are three key reasons that teachers are afraid to give their principal honest and open feedback.

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How I Leave Almost Every Angry Parent Happy


Most people have one thing that will anger them more predictably than anything else, feeling like their child has been done an injustice. There are probably several reasons for this truth. Some parents spend massive amounts of energy working to avoid stress and disappointment from affecting their child. Other parents see their child as an extension of themselves, and if they feel that their child has been wronged, then they internalize it and own it as if they were directly affronted. I have been able to hold hundreds, if not thousands, of meetings with angry parents, with less than I can count on one hand being angry when they left my office.

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Building Loyalty That Pays Off

Most people value loyalty, but I think that I may have a more significant value placed on it than any trait, aside from honesty, but they go hand-in-hand. When I talk about loyalty, I don’t mean a blind system of letting people do anything regardless of the outcomes. What I mean is that we have an assumption of the best intentions, we have honest conversations, and we commit to working towards a common goal. If you could give me a school with 100% loyalty, then I could give you outstanding results 100% of the time. The trouble is that loyalty comes slow and with great difficulty.

Gaining loyalty from every single person on your team will probably never happen, but you can get it from almost all of them and it will sustain as their careers progress. The advice here is simple, ask them where they want to go and help them get there. While it is simply stated, the execution takes time and energy. I want to get to know every person that works for me. I want to know what struggles they face, and I want to know how I can help them face those challenges. In order to accomplish this, I meet with them at least twice a year to help them establish goals and serve as an accountability partner for them.

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