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 theĀ 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.


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).

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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.


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


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.

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.

What If: PD vs Paying for Observation Time

by @weberswords

I am sitting in Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and I just ate some weird tacos. They weren’t like tacos I was used to that had chili powder and cumin to season them. I’m pretty sure it was just salt and pepper. They weren’t bad. They were just different. It got me thinking: Just because you sell tacos at a restaurant doesn’t mean those tacos are good and your recipe for tacos might not be the same as my recipe, but if all you ever eat is your own tacos you’ll never know any better or different.

Then, like almost all ideas I have I thought, “It’s like the classroom.” Probably one of the greatest crimes is that we never get to taste other tacos. We don’t get to see other teachers in action very often. You might say, “But, Webs, what if I, or my teachers, see a terrible teacher in action?” Great!! Now you know what not to do! You use non-examples in the classroom right? Guess what? They work in life too!! Crazy! I know!

Then I took it a step further. What if, for one school year, all the money normally spent on outside PD and conferences – time without kids – was spent on subs or whatever was needed to allow teachers to go watch each other teach when they had actual real life children in attendance? Yeah, not just adults pretending to be 8 year olds. Let’s face it, kids are like CEOs, we only get them for a short time each day and they can’t reschedule.

What if the teachers shared feedback and ideas before and after observations? With each other. With admin. With themselves via reflections. No outside paid for PD. Just observation. What if they kept portfolios along the way to demonstrate how they learned from the experience using tools we mentioned in the NEPF post?

What if…