Jacqui Murray

30 Mar

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-eighth grade, creator of a passel of technology training books for middle school and technology in education generally. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, and more. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Jacqui won the Southern California Writers Conference Outstanding Fiction Award for her upcoming techno-thriller, To Hunt a Sub (excerpt available on Reviewers laud her novel as ‘strongly written’ with ‘interesting and unique plot hooks’. She’s currently working on a prehistoric character-driven novel, Born in a Treacherous Time (excerpt available on She was born in Berkley California to Irish-German parents. After receiving a BA in Economics, a BA in Russian and an MBA, she worked for twenty years in a variety of industries while raising her two children and teaching evening classes at community colleges. With her children now adults, one in the Navy and one in the Army, she lives in Laguna Hills CA with her husband and two beautiful Labradors.. She teaches computer science to grades K-8 while pursuing her writing.

You can find her columns, guest posts and thoughts at the following digital ezines, blogs and websites:

If you’re interested in having Jacqui guest post on your blog, website, or review a product/website/book for you, please contact her at

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Posted in Musings


3 Desk Organizers You Need

27 Feb

ideasI want to share three items I’ve discovered that help organize my desk-related items like nothing else I’ve tried. These are much more than a ‘pencil caddy’ or an eraser for ink. These three popped a light bulb over my head, significantly improving my ability to get the job done while sitting at my desk.

Computer Privacy Screen Protectors

For my teacher-writer efriends, have you ever gotten that prickle in the back of your neck that someone is reading over your shoulder? Maybe you’re working on a sensitive email while students are in the classroom (during lunch break, say) and when you turn, you see a student standing there, politely and quietly waiting to ask a question. Or your computer screen–like mine–can be seen through your classroom window, which means anyone walking by can see what you’re doing on your screen, even if it’s grading student work.

It’s not just at school, either. It’s easy to allow your private information to be viewed in public places–Starbucks, airplanes, subways, buses, or anywhere you take a few free minutes to check email, reply to instant messages, or see what’s happening in your Twittersphere. You may glance around to see if anyone is watching, or you may think no one’s interested. Why would they be? Internet danger

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Posted in Writing


6 Ways to Make Classroom Typing Fun

26 Feb

learn keyboardingWhen you teach typing, the goal isn’t speed and accuracy. The goal is that students type well enough that it doesn’t disrupt their thinking.

Let me say that again:

The goal of keyboarding is students type well enough that it doesn’t disrupt their thinking.

Much like breathing takes no thought and playing a piano is automatic, students must be able to think while they type, fingers automatically moving to the keys that record their thoughts. Searching for key placement shouldn’t interfere with how they develop a sentence. Sure, it does when students are just starting, but by third grade students should be comfortable enough with key placement to be working on speed.

To type as fast at the speed of thought isn’t as difficult as it sounds. For students in school, ‘speed of thought’ refers to how fast they develop ideas that will be recorded. 20 wpm means they know most key placements by touch. 30 wpm is the low end of not interfering with thinking. 45 wpm is good.

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22 Ways to Add Rigor to Your Classroom

24 Feb

strong teacher at classLet’s start by clearing up a misconception: Rigor isn’t unfriendly. Adding it to your class doesn’t mean you become boring, a techie, or overseer of a fun-free zone. In fact, done right, rigor fills your class with Wow, those epiphanies that bring a smile to student faces and a sense of well-being to their school day. Rigor provides positive experiences, is an emotional high, and engenders a pervasive sense of accomplishment students will carry for years–and use as a template for future events.

It is NOT:

  • lots of homework
  • lots of projects
  • lots of resources
  • lots of rules

When those are used to define rigor, the teacher is flailing–thinking quantity is quality. Rigor is not about adding a column of data or remembering the main characters in a Shakespeare novel. It’s seeing how that knowledge connects to life, to circumstances and to daily problems.

Simply put, adding rigor creates an environment where students are:

  • expected to learn at high levels
  • supported so they can learn at high levels
  • cheered on as they demonstrate learning at high levels

It helps students understand how to live life using brain power as the engine. Sure, it will ask them to collect evidence and draw conclusions that may find disagreement among their peers. It will insist they defend a position or adjust it to reflect new information. And it will often move them outside their comfort zone. It will also prepare them to solve the problems they will face in the future.

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Summer PD–What are you looking for?

23 Feb

Every summer, Ask a Tech Teacher offers summer training.summer tech

Summer Online Classes

We also offer online Summer PD on a variety of topics from specific skills (how to use Google Forms, how to use Tellagami–that sort) to overarching concepts (how to differentiate, how to scaffold learning, how to build a curriculum map). This is where we need your…


In the form below, please vote for all choices that fit your interests. Once we’ve determined what you-all need, we’ll organize the class and notify you. Here are the choices (there’s a spot to add your comments so please tell me if there’s something else you want):

  • How to … use online tools like Evernote, Prezi,
  • How to… use software like MS Word, Excel, Photoshop
  • How to… use Google Apps in your classroom
  • How to… accomplish Big Goals (like problem solving, differentiation with tech)
  • How to … accomplish specific goals (like internet research, assessment, grading tech, create a class wiki, blog with students)
  • Pedagogic topics (keyboarding in class, inquiry, project-based learning)
  • Do you want to meet in Google Hangouts or taped webinars?

We’d love to hear from you about what you’re looking for this summer as you plan your professional development.  Please take a minute to vote in this poll:


Curious about last year’s class? Here are 11 take-aways–what the students and teachers loved about the class.

Summer Professional Development

We come to your school and train your teachers to use one of our curricula (K-8 technology, K-8 Keyboarding, and K-8 Digital Citizenship), virtually or in person. If you’re interested in that, please email us at

Online Keyboarding

More on that later…

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of dozens of tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a tech ed columnist for, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning

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Posted in Musings


55 Interesting Intel Devices

17 Feb

Often in my novels, I use digital devices to create havoc in my plot. There are so many ways to do that–electronic eavesdropping, cloning smartphones, stealing wifi signals–that I now keep a list of the devices and purposes. See if any of these motivate–or frighten–you.

A note: These are all from novels I’ve read and therefore for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).


  • Each keystroke made a distinct sound, as individual as a fingerprint. As the strings of keystroke clacks and clatters were beamed across the Atlantic, they were processed and stored at the Tordella Supercomputer Facility on the grounds of Fort Meade. Space bars, for example, made a very different sound when struck than regular keys. So did the return key, and it was always struck at the end of a string of characters representing a command. Certain strokes–the numbers 1 and 2 and the letters e and a, for instance–were statistically more common than others. Over the course of an afternoon, the NSA’s powerful description algorithms could with fair to high reliability assign an ASCII code to each distinct keystroke click, producing a transcript of Lockwood’s typing that would be almost as clear as it would have been… with a camera peering over her shoulder.
  • Keylogger, wireless—simple device inserted between the USB port and the USB plug of the keyboard, transmit keystrokes and screen shots to a collection device just outside the office
  • A carefully crafted bit of software would graft itself to the operating system running Syria’s military and government computer networks, creating an invisible back door through which the CIA and NSA would have complete and untraceable access.
  • A USB thumb drive from the NSA’s technical support center. A tiny 40-gig external drive, it looked and acted like a 10-gig drive, with the extra memory invisible behind a virtual wall.
  • A flash drive that had beamed the entire contents of Joe’s flash drive to Martin.


  • Facial recognition software
  • The UV light revealed Martin’s latent fingerprints on the pad.
  • handheld Bearcat scanner
  • A RAMCAM, the little fingerprint reader that makes a thermal picture of the print, and the CRIMCON, which is hooked up to a video monitor.
  • a second numeric touch pad, his own alarm, a motion detection system
  • FaceIt—a sophisticated and rapidly evolving biometric software program manufactured by the Indentikit Corp. Would pick out all visible faces
  • SIGINT–monitored radio broadcasts, phone and satellite communications, and internet connections worldwide
  • Flex-8 “F-Bird’, the latest, most sophisticated digital recording device used by OCTF. Battery powered, smaller than a quarter


  • FLIR–forward looking infrared
  • Conducted a series of surveillance detection routes (SDRs) to make sure he wasn’t being followed, like getting off a bus two stops early
  • a spark plug, often referred to as a ghetto glassbreaker


  • Perimeter security was all microwave trip wires and heat sensors and miniature cameras.

Intel kits

  • cash, sterile SIM cards, cell phones, lock-picking tools, a condensed trauma kit, tracking bugs, Tuff Ties, a Taser, folding knife, multitool, IR laser designator, infrared strobe, night vision monocular, compact weapon with high-end ammo
  • A small screwdriver set, needle-nose pliers, wire cutters, electrical tape, a small roll of wire, an electrical meter, some alligator clips, two tiny flashlights and lithium batteries and of course, a roll of duct tape.. (to defeat a house alarm, the security box and back-up batteries)
  • They contained all of the hard-to-acquire items an operative might need in a foreign country: cash, sterile SIM cards, cell phones, lockpicking tools, a small trauma kit, tracking bugs, Tuff-Ties, Taser, OC figgers, folding knife, multitool, an infrared and lasser designator strobe, a compact firearm, suppressor, loaded magazines, and extra ammunition, and a handful of other items.
  • When the bird was launched, the owner had no idea it carried extra circuitry they didn’t pay for, certly embedded military data relay links the Allies wouldn’t try to shoot down or jam, because they wouldn’t know

digital securityVocabulary

  • algorithm
  • alias
  • anomaly
  • assets on the ground
  • automated indexer
  • back-hack
  • blip
  • bot
  • bricks and clicks
  • bricks and mortar
  • broadcast storm
  • cipher
  • clandestine
  • console
  • covert, trawler
  • cryptanalysis
  • disinformation
  • flooding
  • formulae
  • hacker/cracker
  • hive mind
  • Infobahn
  • keylogger
  • line eater
  • malfunction
  • neophile
  • network meltdown
  • Operative
  • Personnel databases—Accurint, AutoTrack, LexisNexis
  • real time
  • script
  • soft targets
  • subroutine
  • technopreneur
  • techspeak
  • traffic analysis
  • Trojan Horse
  • web agent
  • web crawler
  • web spider


  • Panic button—looked like a cheap, plastic garage-door opener, bright red, size of a quarter, hung around the neck
  • RFID—radio frequency identification device—a miniature transponder in a credit card that gave off a return signal when it received a recognized interrogation signal.
  • VaporLock-recordless electronic communication. Once you open it, the sender’s name disappears, then the message disappears
  • Iris capture

Emaildigital security

  • Drive-by upload–send an email in HTML format to a targeted computer. Get someone with access to that email to open it and click on a hypertext line. The result was an influx of code into the target computer–a carefully crafted virus, in fact–that took over that computer and gave the sender administrative control.


  • SpyFinder Personal
  • Battery-powered lens will detect any micro camera planted in a room, lighting up the camera’s lens with a red dot even if the camera is powered off at the time. Uses refracted light, only instead of using it to capture an image, it shoots beams of concentrated light that are refracted by the camera’s lens to reveal its position
  • Trick the system into thinking a breach hasn’t occurred or hijack the signal before it gets to whoever’s looking—either a human or a mechanical device designed to start squealing.
  • Spread-spectrum scanner—isolated the nearest signal, which should be the door sensor. He identified the frequency and dialed it into a small device the size of a billiard ball. He attached it to the wall and pressed a button. It softly chirped, then apparently did nothing, but I knew it was now blasting out a signal on the same frequency the door sensor used, overriding its ability to communicate with the control panel.


  • 2 milligrams of Arivan, 5 of Haldol, and 50 of Benadryl, injected intramuscularly. Emergency room psychiatrists called the combo a B-52 and used it to restrain psychotic patients. Haldol caused extreme sedation and reduced muscle control.—essentially temporary paralysis. Benadryl acted as another sedative a counter to the nastier side effects of the Haldo. Ativan was more pleasant, a tranquilizer that reduced anxiety.


  • Used his cell phone and an RSA key to access the restricted URL of the NSAs Whois database of classified IP addresses worldwide
  • Used cell phones to assassinate enemies for decades (call them and it blows up in their ear)
  • Replayed the code in his mind again, sound by sound, and as each sound rang in his memory, he pushed its corresponding number on the keypad. Six tones then a click


  • Knew how to turn on the OnStar microphone even if I’m not on it.
  • I place an audio transmitter the size of a grain of salt under his media console and another in his bedrooma
  • GSM A5.1 Real Time Cell Phone Interceptor—can handle twenty phones in quad band and four base stations and is undetectable


  • trap and trace
  • software inserted into the device’s operating system gave the team rel-time access to Khaddam’s emails, text messages, contacts, photos, voice calls. It also turned the device into a full-time transmitter
  • made a Skype call from his laptop—you can’t trace those with towers
  • An NNR GlobalEye, for the geosynchronous satellite, and then the LEO
  • encrypted, unlocked, quad-band GSM cell phones
  • He hacked my phone, did it electronically. Installed some form of data logger software. All he needed to do was to stand within a few feet of me. I keep the Bluetooth option switched on all the time. He could have simply uploaded it from his phone to mine in a matter of seconds.
  • In the absence of a secure line, Skype was a spies first port of call; near impossible to bug, tricky to trace.
  • Phone cached the video images, transmitting them to the DVR on Wherever when the cache reached capacity. Interchangeable lenses provided ultraviolet and infrared vision


  • Dime-size tracked devices that slide into purses or pockets and the ability to activate webcams on computers without the users’ knowledge

More technology in writing:

Metamaterials and an invisibility cloak

The Science of Star Trek

Demographics of a Trekkie

When does technical become boring

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

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Posted in Musings


What Happens When Technology Fails? 3 Work-Arounds

08 Feb

tech failureHas this happened to you? You spend hours rewriting an old lesson plan, incorporating rich, adventurous tools available on the internet. You test it the evening before, several times, just to be sure. It’s a fun lesson with lots of activities and meandering paths students undoubtedly will adore. And it’s student-centered, self-paced. Technology enables it to differentiate authentically for the diverse group of learners that walk across your threshold daily.

Everyone who previewed it is wowed. You are ready.

Until the day of, the technology that is its foundation fails. Hours of preparation wasted because no one could get far enough to learn a d*** thing. You blame yourself–why didn’t you stick with what you’d always done?  Now, everyone is disappointed.

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How I’m Doing on ‘To Hunt a Sub’

28 Jan

trident submarineIt’s been a decade since I started To Hunt a Sub. I took a break and wrote the sequel when I couldn’t find a publisher, then returned to a series I started fifteen years ago about early man (called The Evolution Files). After an aborted attempt to work with an agent, I returned to To Hunt a Sub. I couldn’t put it behind me until I put it out there for the world. I decided to fix its problems, then finish/publish my other two completed novels before moving on to a new topic.

I started that last year (more on that soon). I might be a month away from finishing my WIP, To Hunt a Sub–vastly different from ‘publishing’ it. By ‘finished’, I mean I’ve:

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Posted in Writing


What to do When Computers Are Down

26 Jan
sideways cat on laptopAll tech teachers have experienced a day when the computers don’t work. You jiggle the mouse and nothing. You reboot and the screens remain dark. You know how to tap dance when the internet won’t connect (use software instead) or a particular program refuses to load (go to your Symbaloo page of alternatives).
But what happens when the computers themselves are down–a systemic virus, or a site-wide upgrade that went bad? What do you do with the eager faces who tumble across your threshold ready for their once-a-week computer time? You need something that ties into technology without using it.
Here are some ideas:

Discuss digital citizenship

This is a topic that needs to be discussed every year, repetitively. When I teach digital citizenship, it always includes lots of back-and-forth conversation and surprised faces. Students have no idea that the right to use online resources includes responsibilities. In getting that point across, I end up answering endless questions, many that revolve around, ‘But no one knows who I am’, ‘But how can I be caught‘.

Use tech downtime to delve into this topic. Gather in a circle and talk about concepts like ‘digital footprint’, ‘plagiarism’, and ‘digital privacy’. Common Sense has a great poster (see image below) that covers these through a discussion on when to put photos online. You can print it out or display it on the Smartscreen. Take your time. Solicit lots of input from students–like their experiences with online cyberbullies and Instagram, and what happens with their online-enabled Wii platforms. It can be their personal experience or siblings.

A note: The poster says it’s for middle and high school, but I use it with students as young as third grade by scaffolding and backfilling the discussion:

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3 Apps to Combat Grammar Faux Pas

22 Jan

Grammar has often been a subject students resisted learning, were bored by, or flat out didn’t understand. That’s changed, thanks to the popularity of iPads and their multimedia, multi-sensory apps. Here are three apps that will turn your classroom grammar program around.


Free (fee required for full options)

4/5 stars


Called the Schoolhouse Rock of the 21st Century, Grammaropolis gamifies a subject that has traditionally been about laboriously conjugating verbs and diagramming sentences. Its eight cheery cartoon characters star in 9 books, 9 music videos, 20 animated shorts, 26 quiz categories, and a multitude of games which–when blended together–teach grammar. Through the vehicle of a map, catchy music and fast-paced lessons, students learn the parts of speech and win seals. Content is thorough, useful, and accurate, the app intuitive to use with a minimal learning curve. There is no software to download, no maintenance, no fuss. Students can sign up as an individual or through a class account where the teacher can track their progress. It’s available on iPads, smartphones, and the web.The iPad app opens immediately to the student account (only one user per iPad account) while the web interface requires a log-in.

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2014, I Resolve…

14 Jan

NY ResolutionsNew Years–a time for rest, rejuvenation and repair. A time to assess life. Do we settle into our routine, enjoy where it’s headed, or is it time to grab our purse, our iPhone, our car keys, and get out of there?

Here are my resolutions this year. Lots of them! This is actually more of a To Do list. I break it down into Fiction (for my novel writing), Non-fiction (for my tech ed writing), Blogs (for my four blogs) and Business (for marketing my myriad of books):


  • Rewrite and publish To Hunt a Sub. This tech thriller series uses science to drive the plot. The science is current, not futuristic, with extrapolations on what can be accomplished. The characters are damaged, flawed, and heroic. The plot is fast-paced, non-stop (which I have to work on). At one point almost ten years ago, I called this book completed. Now, I’m glad I took a second look. I like it much better. I’ll be giving you updates over the next few months with a tentative plan to get it out before summer.
  • Rewrite the sequel to To Hunt a SubTwenty-Four Days. This is the second in the series and plays up the part of my AI Otto in solving mysteries. This, too, I called completed at one point. Then I edited and called it completed. Then my agent offered advice, I made changes and called it completed. Yikes! I’m getting sick of it! This time, I’ll go through it, fix problems, and self-pub! I need to move on. I won’t finish it this year, but I’ll get started, with a planned publication date of mid-next year.
  • I attended Richard Bausch’s amazing workshop last year on writing. 2014, I need to find another motivating class to enrich my writing. Any ideas?

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