So You Want To Be Digifficient: Time Is On Your Side

In the first part of this series, I talked about podcasts, systems, and Omnifocus. After that maybe you decided to start listening to a podcast or two (Cortex, perhaps?). You purchased Omnifocus or some other app in which to dump your thoughts so they aren’t occupying your brain and you started thinking about how to improve your systems.

I suggest bookmarking these posts and coming back to them from time to time for both my own shameless self-promotion and for a couple of other reasons. One reason is to ground yourself and get back to basics when things get crazy. Second, you might not be ready for the next step. Perhaps it’s been difficult getting into the habit of inboxing or remembering to capture your paper memos and put them into your cloud storage of choice. If you’re looking for a quick overview of Google Drive, check out the 60 Second Tech Tip video I made on it.

Today I want to talk about timers. As teachers, we rely heavily on them. I always struggled with buying enough of them. I was glad to have iPads for my classroom because every iOS device and probably most mobile devices come with a timer built in. You can even just type, “20-minute timer” into the Google search bar and it will give you the option of starting a timer on the search results page.

There are two timer apps in particular that I’m fond of: 30/30 and Due.

3030

30/30 is great for sticking to a routine. This can be useful if you think you waste time getting ready in the morning, you want to do HIIT at the gym or if you do rotating centers in your classroom. The app is created by Binary Hammer. Check out their website or download it and give it a try.

Due is another Grey/roommate recommendation (I’m starting to wonder if they’re just the same person). Due is actually a reminders/to-do list app, but the timers are where the power lies. You can create custom timers and when they go off, you can snooze them for a minute. At which time, they’ll pop up and remind you again.

I used to set a stopwatch to track the amount of time I did something. When I was done doing the thing, I would record the time on the stopwatch. The problem with this was I would often get distracted or forget that I set the stopwatch going in the first place. With Due, I make it a set amount of time and it’s a countdown instead of a count up. I find this helps me stay focused because I know that at the end of the countdown, I’m going to take a break (see: Pomodoro technique).

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 6.30.09 PM

Another app that I’ll give a quick mention to is Coffee Break. I like that Coffee Break puts my screen to sleep after a designated time. I have a tendency to keep working even though the timer goes off. Sometimes that’s good, but sometimes I forgo my break as a result which is no good for productivity and focus. Another reason I love Due, it keeps track of how long it’s been since your timer stopped. Thus, I know if I’ve spent an extra two or ten minutes working. Sometimes it’s amazing how quickly time goes by.

This whole timer thing might feel too regimented and stressful, but it goes back to reducing or eliminating resistance. If I don’t have to think about what comes next, it stresses me out a lot less.

Do you use a timer system? What systems have you tweaked or put in place in order to eliminate or reduce resistance and stress in your life? Share in the comments below.

So You Want To Be Digifficient: Pigeon Pictures & Digital Storage

Last time I talked about podcasts, one specific podcast I dig, Cortex, Omnifocus, and the importance of systems.

Systems keep you focused and eliminate resistance.

In General Purpose Problem (Cortex Episode 6), Grey said, “When something is not working well in your life just try harder is always the wrong answer. You need to figure out how to make the system better.”

One way to reduce resistance is to reduce choice. Then, practice until it happens automatically.

When you get a piece of paper at a meeting, what will you do with it? If you don’t have the habit in place, you’ll get back to your room, desk, or office, toss it on the table and it will slowly grow to an untenable monster pile that consumes your soul.

Once you decide on digital cloud storage that is accessible anywhere, commit to putting everything there. Reinforce the habit. For the one minute version of how to get started, check out the 60 Second Tech Tip on our YouTube channel (subscribe while you’re there).

If you know that the response to getting a piece of paper is to take a photo, store it in your digital storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, whatever) and then throw the paper away, that pile never comes into being and then, later on, when you’re looking for it, you can find it.

A word about flash drives:

They’re great as a redundancy, but not as a primary storage place. If the flash drive gets destroyed because you stop fast and a gallon of milk crushes it, your pbirdpiclans are gone and there’s nothing you can do about it. The same applies to saving only to your computer. Remember: Digital storage should be accessible from anywhere, not just your devices.

Practice with low-risk material first.

Take photos of pigeons and things you don’t care about. Save them to your cloud storage and then delete them later. This will be low risk enough that if you mess up, you won’t be upset if you make a mistake and lose information. That’s a good habit to get into anytime you’re trying something new. The more you’re willing to take risks and try new things the better you’ll get.

Go sign up or set up your cloud storage space. Play with it. Save some pigeons there. Pay attention to areas where you can eliminate resistance and create habits of automaticity.

So You Want to Be Digifficient: Podcasts, Systems, & Omnifocus

It’s that time again. Back to school. While parents might be posting photos of them frozen in a joyous pose next to their miserable children, teachers are gearing up to run the gauntlet.

One key to success and maintaining sanity for both teachers and the self-employed (because teachers are pretty much entrepreneurs, but that’s another post), are systems. We have systems in our classrooms for our students, but don’t extend that kind of care and thought to our own work.

I’ve posted before about my bullet journal and a few of the tools I use in my workflow. That has since expanded and explosively so since focusing on working for myself and my roommate introducing me to an amazing podcast.

CortexCortex is a podcast on Relay FM. For those unfamiliar with podcasts, they’re like radio shows for the modern age. You can download them in a variety of places including iTunes. My podcast app of choice is Overcast. Another introduction my roommate made for me ages ago. Overcast is great because it skips over silences so it moves the podcast along without speeding up the hosts and you can share links to specific points in the podcast and listen to them via the browser.

Podcasts are also a great way to build your knowledge of a topic or find new things to bring into your classroom or systems. Here at Intelligent Hoodlums we’re big fans of bringing in work and strategies from other areas (see: Design Thinking, advertising, marketing, etc). You can listen to them in the car like books on tape and make the most of a long commute. The Quick and Dirty Tips network was a favorite of mine for a long time.

Back to Cortex…

Cortex is a podcast hosted by Myke Hurley, one of the co-creators of Relay FM, and CGP Grey, a former physics teacher, and current YouTuber. One of the things that drew me to this podcast, aside from my roommate’s recommendation, was that Grey used to be a teacher. I was curious, being someone who is working on transitioning from teaching to freelancing, how he made the transition and what systems he uses to keep his fantastically produced videos on track.

Also, I thought about a conversation I had with the first year teacher I mentored last year. At the end of the year, I asked her what was her biggest challenge and she said keeping track of everything – forms, dates, times, lessons, kids, all of it.

Systems automate. They take the decision out of it and, one of the things Grey said in an early episode that really stuck with me, they eliminate (or at least reduce) resistance.

As a teacher and freelancer, I feel like I always have 1,000 things rattling around in my head, “Did I turn in that form?,” “What’s the deadline for that conference application?,” “When is my doctor’s appointment?,” “Get index cards at the office store,” and always, “Did I forget something?” I’ve looked at a lot of productivity strategies and one that I’ve really stuck with comes from GTD, Getting Things Done.

Have a place to dump your thoughts.

Some people call it inboxing. Whatever you call it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that as soon as you have a thought like, “I need to make an appointment for the dog at the vet,” you have a place to put it.

Recommended: Omnifocus

Let me get out of the way that it’s $40 which is the most I’ve ever paid for any app, but for the peace of mind it gives me, it’s WELL worth it. My roommate does too. He swears by it and, as you’ve noticed, his recommendations tend to be pretty good (this is how I spent 3 weeks on the side tangent of binge watching Southland because we watched a clip from the movie End of Watch because we were talking about how Michael Peña is the best). I’ve used A LOT of to do apps – wunderlist, errands, any.do, todoist, handle, remember the milk, reminders, Google keep, glass planner, pendo, Evernote…

As I’ve used them more and more, I add to the list of features I want. Omnifocus has all the features I’m looking for and it can be as basic or complex as you want. You can add context to tasks so if it’s something you have to do at school, you can just look at that list, if it’s something you need at the store, you can just look at those things. It makes adding items and shifting dates SO easy.

For now, I’m going to stop. Go listen to episode 1 of Cortex and check out Omnifocus. Omnifocus can seem overwhelming at first. Take the time to read through the pre-loaded tasks that walk you through the app. If you’re interested, I can go into more detail or make a walkthrough video on the Hoodlums YouTube channel of how Omnifocus can help keep a teacher organized. Really take stock over the next week of what systems you can put into place for yourself to eliminate resistance.

Pitch…Perfect?

Here at Hoodlum Central, we believe in Design Thinking. We integrate it into most things we do and it’s been pretty fruitful both in our day jobs and in our business practices.

No matter which flavor of Design Thinking one subscribes to, ideation is essential. You can’t prototype anything if you don’t have a smorgasbord of ideas to play with. While Webs and I generally do this with the Googles, I recently came across a tool I hope to use during my 9-5 hustle. Pitchcard seems like a promising tool to use in a classroom looking to encourage designing.

Pitchcard allows you to ideate publicly if you wish. You title your idea, choose a color, and then write a brief (200 word) description, which I think is awesome. Being forced into being concise allows one to hone the “spirit” of the idea more authentically in my opinion.

Once your idea is placed on the card, you can distribute it publicly on social media or privately via email.

The feedback that your idea garners is sent to the email that was entered which hopefully allows one to refine the idea into a better concept.

Classroom Applications

GAFE

If you are at a GAFE school, one could utilize this tool pretty easily. Everyone of your students would have an email address, giving them the ability to send ideas to classmates efficiently and to archive the feedback so that it could be referred to when needed. Generating feedback on ideas for projects and writing assignments just got #mosexy.

Exit Tickets

Looking for thoughts about what students learned during class? Don’t want to create a Google Form or use Exittix? This is a pretty streamlined way to gather information from your students about what they learned or struggled with during the school day.

Lesson Feedback

So you want to know if your lesson was the bomb or just bombed? Send a Pitchcard to your students and allow for feedback.

Lesson Plan ideas

Send a Pitchcard to colleagues about an idea for your have for that quantum physics lesson and see what they say.

A Open Ear to the World

Say you’re a teacher with very little technology at her disposal and you’d like to use the tool. If you had a classroom email or social media setup, you could have students generate ideas that could be posted for feedback and then disseminate that feedback to students. Class project could be #mosexy if you sent a Pitchcard rather than used snail mail or limited contributions to conversations in the room.

In short, Pitchcard is a tool I hope to roll out next week during my day job. Students will be pitching video game ideas and Pitch could be a very slick way of making students feel even more empowered.

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.

Writer’s Block: What two teachers taught me through writing

Last night, I taught an after school Professional Development class that centered on the use of mobile devices in school. I didn’t really stay on topic. I used the class as an opportunity to talk about design and Design Thinking. We used the movie Zoolander to illustrate my points. As I reflected on the class on my way home, I contemplated the genesis of my presentation style. I thought about two very different teachers from high school.

I began my high school journey at Banneker Academic High School, a rather small school in Washington D.C. After my sophomore year of high school, I transferred schools to the behemoth Parkdale High in Riverdale, MD. For my first two years of high school, I was taught social studies by a rather hip, young, new teacher, Mr. Nicholson. He got me. A Korean American from the Midwest, he was still as quintessentially urban as I was and his authenticity was impressive. He introduced me to the McLaughlin Group (which I still watch) and we had to write plenty of essays. He found ways to “humanize” our content so that it was relevant. He was also my basketball coach.

Nick was that he allowed me to write in my own voice, which I later realized was not necessarily true of all teachers. I used to fill my essays with colloquialisms and quotes from rap artists to buttress my point of view. In this “pre-blog” era, I was always assessed on the strength of my arguments and the evidence used to justify them, not the form those arguments took. I’ve always appreciated that and I strived to allow students to use their own voice when writing in my class.

When I arrived at Parkdale, I was lost in a sea of bodies. My classes were overcrowded. My ability to learn was compromised by the sheer number of people that were crammed into what seemed to be a rather limited space. I was placed in the University Program, a rather gimmicky concoction created to make parents (and students?) believe that academic rigor was occurring. It most certainly was not.

I did, however, have the good fortune of being placed in the history class of one, Thomas Vogeley. Mr. Vogeley was the antithesis of Mr. Nicholson. There was nothing “hip” about him. He wore faded jeans and a corduroy shirt daily. His hair was slicked back into a pony-tail. He would often look over his thin rimmed glasses when he spoke.

He conducted his class as if it was a story. He didn’t really lecture as much as he spun a tale about events that allowed you access them in a fashion similar to Mr. Nicholson. It was easy to grasp history because he recounted it as if he had actually been present at the events and he had a personal stake in their outcome.

Mr. Vogeley was fond of assigning essays and I, believing that my voice mattered, wrote is much the same style as I did with Mr. Nicholson. My essays came back as if they had met Jack the Ripper. He remarked that my style was not suited for academic writing and that I should “lose myself” (word to Marshall Mathers). I was initially greatly perturbed by this, but it wasn’t as if I lacked the ability to acquiesce to his demands, simply the will to do so.

I did change and that change sparked Mr. Vogeley to advocate for my inclusion in the International Baccalaureate Program. Eventually, I was placed in smaller, more rigorous classes and graduated with an IB Diploma. I had the pleasure of being instructed by Mr. Vogeley for two years. I wrote an essay about his influence and was granted a scholarship from McDonald’s during my senior year. Like Mr. Nicholson, my current teaching practice owe’s Mr. Vogeley quite a bit. I strive to make sure that my students know the rules first…then try to break them.

Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Vogeley both profoundly impacted the way that I facilitate my classroom. I take much of my fierce defense of individualism from my experience in Nick’s class, but my insistence on familiarity with form and structure from Mr. Vogeley. I am forever in the debt of both of these gentlemen.

The Compliment Sandwich

“We really loved your presentation last Thursday. However, we’re going to have to let you go. It’s really been a pleasure working with you.”

“You are one of my best friends. I asked Janet to be my maid of honor. I’d really love it if you could make your famous cheesecake for the reception.”

We’ve all been victims of it. The Compliment Sandwich. A tried and true method for delivering even the most stinging news.

A cookie sandwich > a compliment sandwich

Sounds like a great idea: You’ll sneak in the bad news or criticism between two gushingly dripping compliments like a mother trying to hide some extra vegetables by grinding them up in the spaghetti sauce.

I started to wonder in the shower (because that’s where all the best ideas come to mind – the bathroom and driving), “Is the compliment sandwich more detrimental than helpful?” I’m here to present you with no evidence and only positing my crazy theory.

Specifically, I was thinking about administrators giving feedback to teachers after observations. I’ve heard administrators and bosses in general subscribe to the idea that you MUST give some kind of criticism, “Everyone has room to grow right?” Har har.

Sure, but do we have to give criticism for everything? What if it was a perfectly good lesson? What if the teacher is in a good place and just needs some positive feedback? Believe me, a teacher who cares what you have to say will have already had the critical thought that’s about to come out of your mouth.

Then, the boss searches for something, ANYTHING positive. What if that lesson or observation was truly awful? Now you’re searching for any positive thing to say and you know it will be disingenuous. It will be teetering on the edge of a lie.

In both situations, you’re really filling in information that may not be necessary and thereby cheapening the feedback you’re giving. Instead of adding extraneous information, why not stick to what is authentic. If there was something good, share it. Maybe there was only good stuff. If it was dreadful, share that. Feedback is challenging. It can be easy to forget about the good as much as to avoid the confrontation of the bad depending on your personality type. Either way, the compliment sandwich should be a guideline more than a recipe. My advice would be to use it sparingly.