Skip to main content


Showing posts from August, 2012

Don't let the kid in the back row hide. Generate random student names with

Don't always call on the kid with his hand up. Use to create a set of cards that provide random student names.

Choose a Study ModeScatterLearnFlashcardsStudy these flash cards

Flipped Instruction: Tone vs. Mood

Two of the most frequently confused words in the academic English classroom are tone and mood. For fifteen years, I have been been explaining this difference to my students. Now with the flipped instruction model, I can refer them to this video for homework, and in class we can work on identifying the difference in various passages.

Manage multiple Google Accounts with Chrome Sign-in

I have at least seven Google accounts. I have a personal account, a school account, an old school account, an official Brookhouser trainer account, an account I use for the school's YouTube channel, an account I use when I volunteer for the SPCA for Monterey County, and a few that were created for me when I was training others in their own domains.

I only use three of them on a daily basis: personal, school, and school's YouTube channel, but I do use them daily. My workflow had been Chrome for personal, Firefox for school, and Safari for YouTube. That way I could stay signed in without logging in and logging out over and over again. Yes, Google does allow multiple sign-ins in a single browser, but I don't recommend it.

Then on the Google Educast, Sean Williams, Chris Betcher, and Diane Main taught me to create "multiple instances" in Chrome. See the clip here. Since I followed their instructions, the entire way I interact with Google has changed and become more …

20% Project: Innovation from the 19th Century

I wish I could take credit for coming up with the idea behind The 20% Project. In truth I got the idea from reading Daniel Pink's Drive, and he got the idea from reading the latest psychological studies about motivation and visiting innovative businesses like Google.

Well at least it came from the greatest minds collaborating on how to transform education in the 21st century, right? Nope. Actually The 20% Project was her idea.
No, that's not a hoodie. This is Maria Montessori, the Italian physician and educator who founded a movement in education that suggests that students should learn by following their interests and interacting with their physical world. The teacher is there to provide order and structure. From The American Montessori Society: The teacher, child, and environment create a learning triangle. The classroom is prepared by the teacher to encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. The child, through individual choice, makes use of what…

20% Project: "I want to build a foundry."

During The Bad Idea Factory one of my students enthusiastically announced that he wanted to build a foundry. Cue visions of 19th Century Manchester with large crucibles pouring extremely orange glowing metal into a form shooting sparks everywhere. You know, this.
"That sounds dangerous ... and fun," I replied. "Do you know anything about molding metal?"


"Do you know anyone who knows anything about molding metal?"


"OK, well if you're going to take this on, we're going to need to find someone who can help."

"Can't we just figure it out from the internet?"

"Maybe, but I think we're going to need some guidance."

From my experience last year, I decided that a mentorship element would definitely help my students find more success in their 20% projects, so I'm now making it a requirement. The mentor's role wouldn't be a huge time commitment. They would perhaps have a short…

20% Project: The Bad Idea Factory

"Today your job is to come up with good ideas. And bad ideas. Really bad ideas."

This is how I framed the first 20% Project day in my English class where we create what I'm calling The Bad Idea Factory. The idea came from a workshop I attended while in Bahrain a couple years ago led by Ewan McIntosh. From his blog:
When you ask a room of professionals to come up with their “best” solutions to a problem you often tend to get great ideas, but not always the best ones. They can be contrived and almost always involve some self-censorship from the team: people don’t offer anything up unless they feel, explicitly or subconsciously, that it will get buy-in from the rest of the team or committee.  Ask people for their “worst” solutions to a problem and people tend not to hold back at all – laughs are had and the terrible ideas flow. And while the initial suggestions might feel stupid, pointless or ridiculous to the originating team members, these awful ideas can take on a spect…

Assignment #1: Introduce Yourself

As I mentioned in my previous post, the first thing I do in class is have my students write and deliver two minute introductions. Obviously it gives me a sense of their writing and presentation skills, but more importantly it allows me to know who they are. Here's the prompt I give them:
Your first formal assignment is to compose and present a short introduction so I may better get to know you. I'm only looking for a two minute introduction. I would like you to type it out and then read it to the class. Make sure you save your work somewhere because I'm going to ask you to post it in your portfolio (more on that later). I'd like to get a sense of who you are and what your voice is. Not sure what to write? No problem ... here are some ideas to help get you started: What are you passionate about?What are some of your goals for the year? For your life?What is the most important physical object in your life? (take a photo of it and bring it to class)What is your greatest f…

Use your projector as a teleprompter

Now that we got through a great first week of school, I'm ready for summer.

I really do love this time of year. My students have so much energy, optimism, and new goals.

Each year I begin my class with an assignment where students write a two minute introduction in Google Docs and read it in front of the class. This year I had my students present from what is often considered the back of the classroom.

My classroom is configured in five pods, each made of two trapezoid tables with virco swivel chairs. Moving attention from one wall to the other is simple. If you have more traditional school desks, you could just have your students rotate their desks 180 degrees.

I project the introduction on the screen so the presenter can read it like a teleprompter, maintaining eye contact with the audience without burying her head in a piece of paper. Some of my students quickly mastered the process, and it looked like they were giving an impromptu speech rather than reading off the projector.…

A letter to my students and parents about the 20% Project

Dear Students and Parents of the York School 10th Grade Class,

I hope you all had an adventurous and energizing summer. I wanted to write to introduce myself and let you know a little bit about one of the unusual projects we’ll be taking on this year in English III.

In 2011 we began The 20% Project in English III. This is a major project-based-learning assignment that spans the entire school year and encourages students to pursue a creative interest they would otherwise not experience in our academic program at York.
Before I get into the details of the project, I want to explain why we’re asking students to participate in this activity. For over 20 years a trend in education has been gaining momentum that suggests the role of the teacher ought to shift away from an industrial model where the teacher stands in the front of the classroom to dispense knowledge through lectures, and the students sit to consume the information. Rather than being the “sage on the stage” as some …

Is the Nexus 7 the D in your BYOD?

Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth. The obnoxious Back-to-School signs with their patronizing chalkboards and apples are up. I hated those signs when I was a kid, and I hate them now. Come to think of it, I can't stand most of the imagery associated with my profession. After 15 years teaching, I've never used a chalkboard, and I've never had a student bring me an apple, and that's a good thing.
 When I was a kid, the silver lining to Back-to-School season was called a Lamborghini Trapper Keeper.
For some kids and parents today, Back-to-school shopping means shopping for a gadget that can help them organize their school work. Everyone is talking about the iPad, but at $199, The Nexus 7 is a compelling device for those in schools like ours that are encouraging students to Bring-Your-Own-Device. It's great, but it's not perfect.

ProsSpeed  This thing flys. It goes from Sleep to Web in less than 8 seconds. Size  The seven inch screen size is really great for br…

Your collaborators can ruin your shared folders

Shared folders (which used to be called collections) in Google Drive (which used to be called Docs) rocks. I preferred the term collections over folders because the metaphor worked better. In the real world you cannot put one document into two separate folders, but in Drive you can. I'll get over it. I'm more concerned with how destructive collaborators could be in shared folders.

Last year I had all of my students submit their work to me in a shared folder. One folder for each assignment. It was great. They had the responsibility of "turning it in," and I could see all of the docs in one place. This is SO much better than having students email you their work, and it keeps everything organized. When I tell people I do this, their first comment is, "don't all students have access to other student work?" My answer is, "Yes, and that's great." Their concern is (A) they might steal other student writing and (B) they might vandalize other stud…