Nas Album Done: A Queens MC applied to a classroom

To every baby on the album cover existin’/ This trend I was settin’, it came to fruition/I’m assistin’ to push the culture forward/ To all my ghost supporters, go support us…

-Nas, “Nas Album Done”Confidence is important

If Nas isn’t in your top 10 MCs of all time, you don’t know the rap genre.  His single from DJ Khalid’s Major Key album entitled “Nas Album Done” is the triumphant return of one of the dominant poetic voices of all time.  With an expansive discography and hundreds of guest verses, Nas has dropped a few jewels in his time.  How can some of this master wordsmith’s lyrics be applied to education?

1. Confidence is important.


My poetry’s deep, I never fail/Nas’ raps should be locked in a cell/ It ain’t hard to tell

– Nas, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”

Nas debuted with a classic.  Though short by contemporary standards and boasting production by Large Professor, Pete Rock, and DJ Premier, the album features classic tracks like NY State of Mind, Halftime, and One Love.  My favorite track is the last one.  “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” is a song that not only thumps but empowers.

I love this lyric as it embodies what classrooms should be.  There’s a level of confidence that should permeate everything that happens at school.  When we stress depth and not coverage, students are empowered.   Failure is seen as a signal to improve, not to stop.  When schools work as intended, it ain’t hard to tell.

2. High expectations of everyone.


In my own class, operation return/ They tried to say I was incompetent, unable to learn…

-Nas, “John Blaze”

John Blaze is actually a track off of Fat Joe’s Don Cartagena project.  This song features some pretty talented lyricists as Big Pun, Jadakiss and Raekwon accompany the aforementioned Fat Joe and Nas.

Nas’ verse begins with his reminiscing on his schooling.  The lyric I plucked points to teachers having lower expectations of students.  It’s fair to say that a classroom can’t function without a teacher believing that every student is capable of success.  Mr. Jones reminds us that he overcame his teacher’s expectations, though shouldn’t have had to.

3. Design Thinking runs deep.


So many years of depression make me vision/ The Better livin’, type of place to raise kids in/ Open they eyes to the lies history’s told foul/ But I’m a wise as the old owl…

-Nas, “If I Ruled the World (Imagine that)”

Nas’ second album provided an absolute banger.  Featuring Lauryn Hill and inspired by a Kurtis Blow single of the same name, Jones pens a narrative of how the world would function if he ruled it.

While we don’t want students to “rule the world,” we do want them to dream up solutions to the problems that our world faces. “Opening eyes” and envisioning better livin’ is one of the reasons why design thinking is such an important facet of education.  Empathy, defining the problem, ideating solutions, prototyping, and feedback allow us to help students become as wise as the old owl.

4. Be an artist.


As far as rap go, it’s only natural I explain/ My plateau, and also, what defines my name/ First, it was Nasty, but times have changed/ Ask me now, I’m the artist, but hardcore, my science for pain…

-Nas, “Nas is Like”

Nas’ third LP featured DMX, Aaliyah, Scarface, and Diddy, but the highlight of the album is the DJ Premier assisted “Nas is Like.” This extended simile about Nas’ abilities is an ode to boom bap.

“Nasty Nas” evolved into an artist.  He went from just raw rhyming to someone who crafted things of beauty.  Our goal with education should be make sure that what we do is functional, but also artistic.

5. Choice and voice are important.


I never changed nothin’, but people remember this/ If Nas can’t say it/ Think about these talented kids/ With new ideas/ Being told what they can and can’t spit…

-Nas, “Hero”

The Keri Hilson, Polow da Don assisted “Hero” from the Untitled album wasn’t the best track, but it’s one that had some witty word play and an infectious beat.  It also was a poignant critique of the powers-that-be infringing on his creative license an as artist.

We all teach “these talented kid with new ideas.” The problem is that education too often dictates “what they can and can’t spit” instead of allowing students input into the process.  We too often view students as receptacles for information instead of active learners.  Classrooms should be full of heroes, not zombies.

Express-o Yourself: Adding a little caffeine to your writing

I’ve been a Hemingway user for a while. I even bought the Mac App because, though it’s not omniscient, the feedback it provides me is invaluable to the content I create. This allows me to reflect on the decisions I made while writing which hopefully lessens the number of mistakes I’ll have to have someone else help me find.

That being the case, another product I’ve begun using is Expresso, which is currently in BETA. Expresso is a little more “busy” than Hemingway and it also does a good job of spurring one to reflection. I won’t go into how to use the product as there is a “How to use” page, but the classroom uses are pretty evident.

Vocabulary Acquisition

The most obvious usage of the app is for kids to expand their vocabularies. The app can find synonyms for words used in the text that is either typed or pasted in. It turns these words green and lists possible words that are synonymous. Great for teachers with “word graveyards” in their classes or logophiles of all ages.

Parts of Speech

The app also does an analysis on the parts of speech used. Have an activity where students need to practice using a particular part of speech? This is a pretty nifty way to track it.

Twitter Chat

Looking to stream line your writing? Expresso identifies filler words for you. I quite like filler words sometimes so many times I ignore this functionality. However, if under the rule of the dreaded “Word Count,” this could be maximized to weed out words that you included in your verbosity.

Remember the app is in BETA and hopefully it will get even better. The Expresso App is currently Free.99 and waiting to be utilized in a classroom near you.


If teachers buy a lot of stuff, then creative teachers buy even more. If you are a Mac using educator, Bundlehunt might be a place you drop a few bucks. Currently, they have a 10 Mac Apps for 20.00 bucks “design your own bundle” hustle that’s pretty good.

There’s something for everyone and enough of a selection that you can take a flyer on something there just to play around. Even if there’s only one app that you like, the price point makes it worth your while to pick nine more new toys to test out on your computer.

To check out the bundle, click here.

E Highlighter for Close Reading

by @chocolateteacher

eHighligher is a pretty nifty way to integrate both physical books and technology into your close reading activities.  The app is reasonably priced at $1.99 and offers real value with minimal risk.

Say you are using a text book, reading a novel with your students, engaging in research, or having students read independently with certain goals in mind.  You have iDevices at your disposal and you want to integrate notetaking and transcription into the activity.  eHighlighter could be a tool you might employ.

Have Barcode? Will Scan

The first thing I love about the app is that you can acquire a books bona fides (title, Author’s name, and publisher) by just scanning the book’s barcode.  The app uses WorldCat, “The World’s Largest Library Catalog,” for reference and the speed in which it returns results is impressive.

If you’d rather search for the book and edition you possess, that option is available as well as just manual entering the information.

You scan a barcode and..."Voila!"

You scan a barcode and…”Voila!”

If you can take a picture…

Then you can bring in your text pretty easily.  Once the picture is added, you’ll have options to add page numbers, any notes and tags, which will give you the ability to organize any work you’ve done.

Take picture, bring in your text

Take picture, bring in your text

Adding a Note (for Metacognition)

Want a response to a text dependent question?  Want to record an “Aha!” moment, a question about the text, or something to bring up during class discussion? Make a note of it.

Notes for Metacognition? That's convenient.

Notes for Metacognition? That’s convenient.


You’ll be prompted to add highlights to the beginning and ending of the text you’d like to have transcribed.  This is my only real beef with the app.  It can take a while to transcribe something.  The good thing is that I wouldn’t necessarily be using the device for transcription as the original image and note you take are always available for viewing.

Even if the transcription process is labored, the functionality of the app makes it one that both teachers and students could use effectively.

It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn close

It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn close

Let It Flow, Let It Flow

by: @weberswords

I’ll spare you the “Let It Go” parody video.


Creating word art: the only thing Wordle is good for.

What is it? It’s a great buzzword, but why is it valuable?

One of the big misconceptions is that workflow requires technology. That’s not the case.

It’s simply the way in which your work……..flows. The way it progresses from one stage or process to the next.

In the classroom, writing is a great example of this. In many cases, first you prepare an outline or work in a graphic organizer, then you draft, revise, edit, and write the final draft or publish.

This can also be applied to doing tasks. For example, if I think of something I have to do I might write it down on a sticky note. After I have five (completely arbitrary number it could be three or 10 just as easily) sticky notes, I sort those tasks into categories of to do lists – errands I have to leave the house to do, professional tasks, and tasks that can be done at home. After that, I write them in my handy, dandy notebook and as I finish those tasks, I mark them off. No tech involved. Yes, AND a great example of effective workflow.

To do list workflow

To quote the late, great Stuart Scott, “BOO-YA!” workflow. No special degree required, people. You can totes do this.

Just like planning in the classroom, you have to know WHAT you want to do before you bring in any technology.

In the case of workflow, sometimes seeing what other people have done will inspire you to create a new workflow.

Just remember: The point of creating a workflow is to make things MORE streamlined, not more complicated.

If you create a new workflow and find it’s actually making work more difficult, I’m giving you permission right here and now. ABANDON SHIP! Try something new, but reflect and learn from the failure. Where did the workflow go wrong? Maybe you don’t have to abandon it entirely, just pivot. Tweak it and see if that helps.

Here are some tools and workflows (digital and analog) *I* use that will hopefully inspire you:

Bullet Journal – Webs-style (Analog)

We love journals here at Intelligent Hoodlums. It’s a bit of a love affair for some of us (*cough* @chocolateteacher *cough*). Writing things by hand helps you remember things.  I’ve adapted my bullet journal to something that works for me.

[Everything in the next paragraph is something I talk about in the video so don’t watch AND read. Save yourself some time and do one or the other. The video might clarify if you can’t visualize what I’m talking about though]

In addition to the index and summary of the month I have a summary of the week where I record events that will occur when I’m looking ahead at the week and events that do occur as things happen during the week. I also fold my pages into two columns and record one or two days worth of to dos and events in a single column. This way I can fold the page and focus on just one or two days or open up both pages and see the whole week.

Automator (OS X)

I think this is a hidden gem of OS X. If you have a Mac and you haven’t peeped this check it out. Go to spotlight and search Automator or from your Launchpad it’s in the Other folder.

Other folder

I’m pretty sure I’ve barely scratched the surface of what is possible with Automator. I use it for three major things:

  •  One double click = quitting all open programs

Quit all buttonThis sits on my desktop and all I have to do is double click to close everything that’s open on my computer.

  • I created a pseudo-program that generated a random writing prompt for my students to practice the state writing test.
  • Bulk editing photos: You know how your camera or phone names your photos IMG9829829829834928 and you have no idea those are your pictures from your 2012 trip to Tahiti? With Automator you can select a group of pictures and rename them complete with date and a numbering system in a couple clicks and a few seconds.

IFTTT (web, Android, & iOS)

Workflow screen capture


Similar to Workflow and Automator, IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That, takes tasks you already do and puts them together to make you MORE ALL POWERFUL (MUAHAHAHAHAAA). IFTTT is available on the web, iOS, or, if you’re so inclined, Android.

In the examples I shared, if I lose my phone and email myself with #lostphone, it will call my phone and an automated voice says Liam Neeson’s monologue from Taken.

Other things I do with IFTTT are:

  • Favorite tweets get sent to Pocket to read later
  • I can send things to Evernote and they get automatically organized by the way I hashtag them in the subject. For example, if I had an Evernote notebook for 3rd period algebra, I could email #3rdperiod and all my notes would automatically go into the right notebook.
  • I have a secondary backup of my contacts because any new contact I add gets sent to a Google Drive spreadsheet.

Workflow (iOS)

This app is pretty sweet.

Photo Jan 19, 9 44 48 AM

This is the app that prompted this post. The world is pretty much your oyster on this one (as long as you have iOS 8). You can put together as complex or as simple a workflow as you like. I have one that allows me to speed dial from my home screen. That’s one of the best features IMO. I can save workflows to my home screen for one touch access.

Hopefully this has given you some insight into the mysterious term “workflow” and shown you how you can become a productivity ninja using these concepts and tools.