Tagged: blogs

A New Plan: Pomodori Posts

Pomodoro technique While in Atlanta for ISTE a couple of weeks ago, I spend lots of time with my friends Bill Ferriter and John Spencer. Bill and John are two of my favorite teacher bloggers. I never miss a post that either of them writes, and their writings have really helped me grow and develop as a teacher. Both of them have encouraged me greatly in my own blogging efforts. Bill helped me get this website up and working, and John has been one of the most frequent commenters and sharers of my work.

Hanging out with them (we shared a condo) was one of the high points of my ISTE experience. I learned so much through our conversations, and they constantly challenge my thinking. One of the coolest things about hanging out with them was the opportunity to watch them write. It’s cool to see Bill crafting posts through conversations, tweets, and questions making notes as he goes. It was also interesting to watch the way Bill manages his time, prioritizing writing and sharing. John, too, is a blogging master. I watched as he wrote an entire post in less than twenty minutes (with my interrupting him occasionally), and the post was brilliant. He has truly honed his craft. In fact, he’s developed himself into such a good writer that he rarely spends any time editing his posts.

I’ve been thinking about what I learned observing Bill and John at ISTE and about my own attempts at blogging. I’ve also been experimenting with and reading about personal productivity. I want to share more openly and blog more often about my teaching and learning. I’ve already started taking more notes on my learning using a Moleskine and creating drafts of things to blog about in Evernote. This is similar to the way Bill works. That should help when it comes to capturing my ideas. But I also need to write faster and let go of my writing more willingly like John does. Having considered this, I’m going to start posting more often using what I’m calling my pomodori post technique.

I’ve used Tomatoes for the past few months to help me be more productive during my planning, before school, and after school work time. I’m going to start using the Pomodoro Technique to write two posts a week. I’m going to limit the time I can spend on a past to two pomodori. I will spend the first pomodoro (25 minutes) writing each post. I’ll use the second pomodoro to edit mistakes, format the blog, polish my thoughts, add categories and tags, and add a photo to the post. At the end of the second pomodoro, I’ll schedule the post and walk away from it. I’ll tag each as a pomodori post. They will be somewhat similar to Bo Adams’ process posts, but I’m not going to name them as such in the title. I’m only going to tag them this way. I’m sure I’ll have to tweak the process as I go, but it’s a start.

So what do you think? What is the process you go through when you write a blog post? I’d love to read your thoughts on my plan.

My Homework

homeworkSo… This morning, my friend Bill tagged me in a “Homework” blog meme. I have no idea how this whole thing started, but according to Bill, “this meme has an important purpose: To give readers a look behind the digital masks that writers show outwardly to the world.” So what masks am I wearing as I share in this space? Hmm. I guess I need to spend some time reflecting on that. After all, the goal for this blog is to have an open, honest space where I share about my life and professional practice. I’m going to need to come back to this idea in a future post. For now, I have a homework assignment to complete (and papers to assess, too), and I’ve needed to update this blog anyway. (Okay, task number one is complete.)

The second task of my assignment is to share eleven random facts that readers of my blog probably don’t know about me:

1. When I was 13, my dad took our family to Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics. We were in the stadium for the women’s 3000 meter final, and I was less than 50 feet away from the spot where Zola Budd and Mary Decker had their collision.  

2. I am a total chicken when it comes to horror movies. I absolutely refuse to watch them. In fact, I’m still traumatized by the original movie versions of Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

3. I have a crush on Dame Judi and have for a long time.

4. I love teaching 6th grade, which is funny because I always wanted to teach high school seniors and then become a principal. I struggle with a tension between wanting to teach students and wanting to lead a school.

5. I start reading lots of books that I never finish. I feel a sense of shame about it. What is that all about?

6. My wife is a better reader than I am. I love to read, but she’s a voracious reader. In fact, I dream of being able to read like she does. Seriously, she’s amazing. She’s also a better teacher than I am. It’s not a competition; if it were, it wouldn’t even be close.

7. I could easily eat a box of frozen fruit popsicles every day. Every. Single. Day.

8. I prefer books, movies, or music to sports. I don’t really follow sports. I do have season tickets for University of Memphis football, but they don’t really inspire fanaticism. I occasionally enjoy watching professional tennis, and I like GolTV on nights when I cannot sleep, but I’m not “with it” when it comes to sports. Having said that, I should tell you two things. First, I read Geoff Calkins almost every day. Second, my team is in the finals of my school’s fantasy football league championship. Go team!

9. I’m getting ready to train for another marathon even though I haven’t run my first one yet. How’s that for complexity?

10. There’s a fine line between faith and doubt. I always seem to walk that line teetering from one side to the other. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

11. In another life I’m a performer.

My third task is to respond to eleven questions from Bill:

1. Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black? I’ll have the black coffee, but I’m hoping you have enough sense to serve this.

2. If you were going to write a book, what would its title be? Shut Up And Keep Spinning the Plates (Honestly, I have no idea.)

3. Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.” 5. I’m kind of indifferent in this debate. I’ve never seen a graphic novel turn a reluctant reader into a passionate reader, but some people may find them useful so I don’t have a problem with them.

4. What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth?  I cannot differentiate between my digital and non-digital network any more. I just have a network and those relationships develop in many places. I cannot name just one person either. After all, one cannot quantify learning no matter how hard he might try. Having said that, I admit the folks that immediately came my mind are Michael & Melanie Semore, John Spencer, Bill FerriterHadley Ferguson, Alice Parker, and Jill Gough.

5. How do you feel about the holidays? Stressed.

6. Rate the following movies in order from best to worst:  Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version). Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street (the original), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version)

7. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten? Romans 6:23

8. If you had an extra $100 to give away to charity, who would you give it to? HopeWorks would get the first $100. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital would get the next $100.

9. What are you the proudest of? Debbie and I have been together for 9 years. We will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary next June. I’m crazy about her and our family.

10. What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child? As a teenager, I told a whopper of a lie to my parents. It was a big deal and it was awful. I won’t share the details. I just won’t. It was a day I’ll never forget, but I wish I could. I did other things that were stupid and/or mischievous, but this one haunts me. Now let’s move on.

11. What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on?  What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry? I left a comment on Bill’s blog primarily because he called me out in it. Sometimes Justin Stortz’s posts resonate so deeply in me that I feel compelled to comment.

The fourth task is to create a list 11  bloggers that now have to answer eleven questions from me. Here’s my list:

  1. Stephen Davis
  2. Bob Dillon
  3. Hadley Ferguson
  4. Jill Gough
  5. Yoon Soo Lim
  6. Jennifer Orr
  7. Alice M. Parker
  8. Edna Sackson
  9. Chad Segersten
  10. Justin Stortz
  11. Wanda Terral

The fifth task is to create a list of eleven questions for the above folks to answer:

  1. If you could take a “dream” vacation, what would it be?
  2. Hollywood is casting a biopic about you. Who should be cast in the lead role?
  3. The director changed her mind and has decided to create a reality show about you instead. What should the title be?
  4. What’s your favorite book?
  5. We take a trip to Yolo, one of those fill-your-own-cup frozen yogurt shops. What all do you put in your cup?
  6. It’s a busy night at the karaoke bar. You’ve got one chance to blow away the crowd and leave your mark. What will you sing?
  7. Who or what inspires you most?
  8. What was your favorite class in college or graduate school?
  9. If you could snap your fingers and magically change one thing (only 1) about your job, what would it be?
  10. Name one important thing on your “bucket list.”
  11. What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

So tag–you guys are it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write your response. Go ahead, you have homework.

Some Kind of Supreme – July/August 2013

Blackberry Supreme from Jerry's Snow Cones by ilovememphis. Used with permission.
Blackberry Supreme from Jerry’s Snow Cones by ilovememphis. Used with permission.

July and August have been wonderful and hectic. In July, I tried to focus on family and resting, but I spent all of August in the craziness that is the start of school. We have 4 kids, and Debbie and I are both teachers. This year there are four different school schedules and calendars to coordinate, and I am the family’s Chief Transportation Officer (primary taxi driver). In addition to that, my school and classroom were renovated over the summer. Woohoo! But I wasn’t able to get into my classroom until the week I started in-service. That’s a little later than I typically prefer to get started. Also, we made some adjustments to the daily schedule and our approach to reading at school, and I started training for my first marathon. (Hello 4:30 AM alarms.) All of these changes are good, but they’ve left me feeling a little scrambled, and I’d prefer to be more sunny-side up!

Unfortunately, something had to give, and I decided I just couldn’t give time to this blog over the past few weeks. I’m hoping to write more in September, but for now, let me share with you some “supreme” posts from my PLN that resonated with me over the past couple of months.

Best Advice – The Habits of Happiness from Leo Babauta

“I make a lot of lists — it’s one of my favorite habits — but this list seemed to have a magical power. It was a list of the things I was grateful for. Amazingly, there were a lot of things on the list, from things about my wife, kids, relatives, and friends, to things about my job, about nature around me, about my life.”

Most Honest – My Biggest Failure as a Teacher by Justin Stortz

“I wish I could tell you that we had an emotional heart-to-heart in the hallway that repaired our fractured relationship. I wish I could tell you that he began respecting me for the rest of the year. I wish I could tell you that he finished the year with a bang. But I can’t.”

Most Relatable – My PLN Saved My Teaching Career via John Spencer

“I know that some people market a PLN as a great place to go for ideas. And maybe it is for some people. Maybe a PLN is what you make of it. Maybe it’s a place where you offer what you can and you get what you need.”

Best Question/Reflection – What if the Temptation to Be Impressive is Keeping Us From Connecting? by Don Miller

“But tell me one flaw. I mean quietly over a beer, you know, just admit you cry while watching Oprah or you sometimes struggle with porn or you’re jealous of your boss and suddenly there’s a bit of velcro on your soul and we can connect. I’m not sure why it happens except maybe it helps me believe I’m not alone, that I’m flawed and you’re flawed and we are in this thing together.”

Most Useful – Making Thinking Visible with Technology from Clif Mims

“When connected with the visible thinking routines word clouds, digital posters, videos, podcasts, slideshows, digital sketches, online concept maps, cartoon strips, timelines, and much more can be used to help students provide evidence of their thinking and understanding. With a bit of strategic planning it’s possible for teachers to integrate the curriculum, use of technology to promote thinking and learning, digital citizenship, and 21st century skills into a single activity built around a thinking routine.”

Best Quote – “Try to be kinder.” ~ George Saunders (courtesy of Larry Ferlazzo)

Post I Want Every Educator to Read – Recess and Movement Breaks Are Needs… NOT Rewards by Chris Wejr

“The challenge for teachers and staff is to determine an appropriate balance of movement, noise, and quiet, calm time.  My concern is that we confuse our needs with student needs and sometimes observe behaviors as a choice to act out and misbehave rather than a message of what their bodies need.”

Most Disturbing (creative and funny) – My Innovative Underpants by Bill Ferriter

“Not wanting to surrender my place among the social elite, I toughed it out in boxers for the better part of a painful decade.  I wasn’t happy about it, but tightie-whities weren’t going to win me any friends and I knew it.”

Best List – How to Raise Good Geeks from Kevin Makice

“Being called a geek used to be an insult, but we all know it as a badge of honor and a label we willingly self-apply. Especially given the challenges of institutional education, fostering geekiness is often an intentional choice to get out of the way of our innate joy of learning.”

Most Amen-able – The Greatest Gift by Dean Shareski

“Routine is great if you choose it. Autonomy over time is part of what makes us human. Freedom is priceless.”

On My Nightstand – R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, and Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students 

What I’m Reading Aloud at School – Ingrid Law’s Savvy, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan, and Gordon Korman’s No More Dead Dogs

My Most Popular Post for July-August 2013 – 10 Sticky Things From ISTE 2013

“Don’t get me wrong. Reading and writing is valuable me. Project-based learning is powerful. Class discussions are insightful. Simulations can drive home a point, and I still benefit from the occasional lecture, too. But I find walking and talking truly transformative. I had several walk and talk ”sessions” at ISTE, and they were some of my favorite learning experiences. I’m trying to figure out how to merge more of them into my learning now that I’m home.”

What about you? What have you read that’s resonating with you? What’s happening on your blog?

Giving Notice to Notifications

notificationsA few weeks ago, Debbie and I went with our family (including two sets of grandparents) on a Disney cruise to Alaska. Additionally, we spent a few extra days enjoying Vancouver, British Columbia. Our trip was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and to say I enjoyed it would be an incredible understatement.

While traveling, I decided to take a break from social media, my iPhone, and my RSS subscriptions. I turned off all notifications including my email. (I will confess I did check messages a couple of times during the trip just to make sure I didn’t miss anything time sensitive, but my phone hardly if ever chimed.) We returned a week ago. I dipped my toe back into everything briefly when we first got home, but then I retreated again. I haven’t turned the notifications back on, and I’m thinking I might not do it ever. I don’t want my email and subscriptions being pushed to me every fifteen minutes any more. I want to leave my devices in another room and continue to forget about them for a few more days. I want to ride bikes around the park some more with Eric and Sam. I want to play more soccer with Andrew. (We dominated the sports deck one evening.) I want to watch more Pixar movies and talk about princesses with Evelyn. I want to take more holding-hands-and daydreaming walks with Debbie. Yes, I’m still clinging to my vacation, but maybe something has changed, too.

I appreciate technology. I find it immensely useful. I’m grateful for the connections I’ve made through social media and the opportunity to read and learn with people all over the world. It’s important and it’s worthwhile to be able to get access to information. I’m grateful for my iPhone, for Twitter, and for RSS feeds, but I’ve allowed the notifications too much power and control over me. I’ve become a dog salivating at the sound of the bell, but I’ve decided to stop. So, I’m giving notice to notifications. I’m taking charge again. If you need me, feel free to call, text, email, tweet or Facebook me. I’ll get back to you, it just may not be right away…

You may guess from this post that I’m way behind in my reading for the month of July, and you’d be right. I’ll get around to reading and catching up, but I think Im going to postpone my July “Supremes” post and combine it with August. Thanks for reading.

Some Kind of Supreme – June 2013

Blackberry Supreme from Jerry's Snow Cones by Kerry Crawford. Used with permission.

June has been a busy month. School hasn’t been in session, but teaching and learning has occupied a significant amount of my time. During the first two weeks of the June, Alice and I prepared and offered a Classrooms of Understanding workshop at the Martin Institute Summer Conference. I spent the next week helping with Camp Read-a-lot at PDS. Then, I immediately flew to San Antonio for ISTE 2013. (I’ll write more about ISTE later as I’m still working on my reflection.) My regular reading (especially my RSS feeds) has suffered a little due to all the busyness and I’m still several days behind where I’d like to be. Nevertheless, several posts and articles resonated with me and have been on my mind. So, here are the supremes for June 2013:

The Post I Most Want All My Colleagues to Read – Chris Wejr’s Is a School Awards Ceremony the BEST We Can Do?

“I believe we need to honour and highlight achievements and student learning but I wonder… is an awards ceremony that recognizes only a select few, and is often held a few days before our students leave, the BEST we can do?”

Best Share – Justin Stortz’s Hearts and Seasons

“The music of this year is fading. The laughter is turning into echoes, and the voices are growing distant. I’ll close the blinds and turn off the lights one last time. And I’ll count myself blessed for being able to teach and learn from this very special girl.”

Best Slide – Bill Ferriter’s The Only Math That Ever Really Mattered

Slide_MaththatREALLYMattered

The Ignite Talk I Most Wish I Could’ve Heard at ISTE – Jackie Gerstein’s Education 3.0: Altering Round Peg in Round Hole Education

“Education 3.0 is a constructivist, heutagogical approach to teaching and learning.  The teachers, learners, networks, connections, media, resources, tools create a a unique entity that has the potential to meet individual learners’, educators’, and even societal needs.  Education 3.0 recognizes that each educator’s and student’s journey is unique, personalized, and self-determined.”

Most Thought-provoking – Mark W. Schaefer’s The End of An Analog Life

“But there is still something chilling and profound about being the last of my kind who will ever have to throw his life away forever … piece by lovely, tattered, beautiful piece.”

Most Amen-able (and Best Post Title) – Justin Stortz’s (yes, again) I Would Choose for a Student to Fail

“If I had to choose, I will always choose for a student to find joy in reading, even if it meant failing a test. I care about the student more than the score.”

Best Reflection – John Spencer’s It Takes Time

“Sometimes I get frustrated that I’m coming up on a decade and I’m still making huge mistakes. I feel like I should be closer to my utopian dreams. And yet, just like learning to play an instrument or writing a novel, the journey takes time and has pockets of boredom and frustration.”

Bravest – Bill Ferriter’s (yep, again) Is Standardized Testing Changing Me for the Worse?

” Collaboration with colleagues has helped me to become the teacher that I am today.  My best instructional practices were polished with — and by — intellectually generous peers.  But I’m more than a little convinced that my “me first” thinking is nothing short of an inevitable by-product of working in a state that has decided that competition between teachers for contract protections is a good idea.”

Best Reminder – Leo Babauta’s A Secret to Dad Greatness

“This daily practice, of appreciating their love for you, will make your life better. It will help you be the role model they need, because someone who appreciates the love of others is a beacon of gratitude and humility and mindfulness.”

On My Nightstand – Grant Lichtman’s The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in SchoolRon Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students, and Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable

My Most Popular Post in June 2013 – My Summer Reading List – 2013

“This year, I am more realistic. I have picked three professional learning books and four young adult novels, but I’m also planning to use the audio versions of a couple of the books to keep me company this summer while I train for the my first marathon, run errands, chauffeur my kids, mow my yard, and complete other daddy chores.”

What about you? What have you read recently that’s resonated with you? What’s happening on your blog?

July 3 Update – I mistakenly left out:

Funniest Post – Barbara Madden’s A Little Progress Is Still Progress, Right?

“You see, Southerners love us some prepositions. Dogs lie up under porches, children run on over to the neighbor’s house, and folks live right down over yonder.”

Some Kind of Supreme – May 2013

Blackberry Supreme from Jerry's Snow Cones by Kerry Crawford. Used with permission.
Blackberry Supreme from Jerry’s Snow Cones by Kerry Crawford. Used with permission.

The month of May has been, well, crazy. Not only have I been trying to wrap up the school year, but I’ve also been taking care of a few family issues that have arisen. Things are better now, but I just couldn’t give blogging much attention for the past few weeks. I also had to taper much of my reading. It was THAT kind of crazy. However, there were still several articles and posts that resonated with me this past month, and I’d like to jump back into my blogging schedule by sharing them. I should be back to my regular postings on Monday. I have a couple of posts that I want to add to my “Diving into PBL” series and I’d like to write a reflection on the year and a letter to this year’s graduating class, a group I have grown to dearly love.

Anyway, here are my supremes for May 2013:

Most Needed – Marc Chernoff’s 8 Ways You Are Driving Yourself Crazy (technically from April, but this is my blog…)

“Rather than compete against others, work with them on a common goal.  Use your combined insights and talents to achieve what none of you can alone.  Real personal growth and learning occurs through relationships, when the competitive spirit is replaced with a collaborative one.”

Most Relatable – John Spencer’s I’m Sorry

“As I drove home, I lost it again, though this time it was in the form of tears. I felt like the worst teacher in the world. I felt like my students deserved better. I weeped over the thought that after ten years, a chatty group could still set me off.”

Best “It’s Not the Critic Who Counts” Post – Seth Godin’s The Critic Stumbles

“For me, the opinion of any single critic is becoming less and less meaningful as I choose what to view or engage with. And the aggregate opinion of masses of anonymous critics merely tells me that the product or content is (or isn’t) mass-friendly. I’m far more moved by the insistent recommendation of a credible, raving fan than I am the snide whispering of some people who just didn’t get it.”

Most Amen-able – Pernille Ripp’s What These Kids Don’t Know

“What all my kids don’t know is that I do it for them, every single day, no matter how little sleep I got, no matter what standards are pressing on me.  Every day I come to school to teach for them, every day I cannot wait to get here to be with them.  That’s what these kids don’t know.”

Best Affirmation (for a 6th grade reading teacher) – Holly Korbey’s Why Reading Aloud to Older Children Is Valuable

“‘The first reason to read aloud to older kids is to consider the fact that a child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until about the eighth grade,’ said Trelease, referring to a 1984 study performed by Dr. Thomas G. Sticht showing that kids can understand books that are too hard to decode themselves if they are read aloud. ‘You have to hear it before you can speak it, and you have to speak it before you can read it. Reading at this level happens through the ear.'”

Truest – Jenny Orr’s Testing Causes Apathy

“A significant portion of their time at school is spent taking tests. State-mandated tests. District-mandated tests. Grade-level tests. Classroom tests. I would guess my daughter takes a couple of tests each week, on average. She’s nine.”

Most Honest – Justin Stortz’s Why Depression Sucks

“He told me that if someone had a physical illness that we would give them medicine. So, if someone had a mental illness, why wouldn’t we give them medicine too? I’m no more capable of thinking my way to a cure for depression than someone with the flu can think themselves healthy.”

Best Share – David Truss’ Lessons on Living Life

“Two days ago Zach Sobiech died. He was 18. It was expected.”

Best Reminder – Terry Heick’s Why The Best Teachers Change Their Minds

Best Parenting Op-Ed – Eli J. Finkel and Grainne M. Fitzsimons’ When Helping Hurts

“… our help has to be responsive to the recipient’s circumstances: it must balance their need for support with their need for competence. We should restrain our urge to help unless the recipient truly needs it, and even then, we should calibrate it to complement rather than substitute for the recipient’s efforts.”

Best Survival Tips – Brett & Kate McKay’s How to Survive a Tornado

“And if you’re a new arrival to the Midwest or Southeast, tornado survival 101 is something you should definitely take the time to learn. Also, just because you don’t live in a tornado-prone part of the country doesn’t mean this bit of lifesaving know-how doesn’t apply to you; tornados have occurred in all 50 states, and you never know when one might touch down on a 14,000-foot mountain or come roaring through the Big Apple.”

Best Leadership Tip – Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman’s I’m the Boss! Why Should I Care If You Like Me?

“You can be more likeable. Identify two of the actions from the list above that would most help you in your current situation. A great way to start would be to ask for feedback and ask team members to identify which activities would have the most value to them. Make a plan, identifying some specific steps you will take to improve, and then stick to it. Ask others for feedback on your progress.”

Best Blogging Tip – Joseph Adediji’s How Safe is Your Blog from Hackers?

“Your blog security should be a top priority to you and I can assure you that this is quite easy to do, but most of the time we neglect and overlook some of those minor security loopholes that can cost us the loss of a lifetime work (our blog).”

Most Addictive Games – GeoGuesser and Traveler IQ Challenge

On My Nightstand Still – Amber McRee Turner’s Sway (really want to get back to this one), Parker Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy, Grant Lichtman’s The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School

Through the Speakers in My Van – This month the boys and I have spent most of our ride time listening to The Listener’s Bible (specifically, the book of Numbers), The Coffee House, and Stax 50th: 50th Anniversary Celebration

My Most Popular Post in May 2013 – Diving Into Project-based Learning: Feedback Friends

“I needed a partner, someone with whom I could collaborate and troubleshoot. I also needed an extra set of eyes and hands. I didn’t feel I couldn’t give a group my full attention because I was so busy trying to make sure everyone was on task. Unfortunately, Alice was teaching the fifth grade at the time. Even though Alice was willing to listen and make suggestions, she couldn’t offer first-hand observations about what was happening in my room. She simply wasn’t there, and I needed someone who was.”

What about you? What have you read recently that’s left its mark on you? What’s happening on your blog?

My 3 “Go-To” Aggregators for Professional Reading

Reading on the iPad MiniI love to read. I also love learning, and I’m pretty passionate about teaching. I love to read about teaching and learning. I’m also a little geeky so I spend a fair amount of time reading about teaching and learning online. Some might consider it work, but I find it interesting and fun. I also like to share what I’m reading and learning especially if  it might help a friend or colleague. I read a lot, and I share a lot–particularly on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I will occasionally share things on Google+, too.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague asked me where I find  the articles about teaching and learning that I regularly read and share. In response to her question, I explained that I rely on several aggregators to collect articles and blog posts for me, but she looked confused. So, I thought it might be helpful to explain what I mean and share my “go-to” aggregators for professional reading and learning.

What is an aggregator? Collins English Dictionary defines it as “a web application that draws together syndicated content from various online sources and displays it in a single location for the user’s convenience.”¹ In other words, an aggregator grabs articles, blogs, podcasts, or videos from around the web and puts them in one place for me, and it keeps them there until I’m ready to view them. I don’t have to scour the internet checking all my favorite sites. Aggregators bring them to me, and they don’t fill up my email inbox either.

So what aggregators do I use? Here are My 3 “Go-To Aggregators for Professional Reading:

  1. Google ReaderI know. I know. Google is planning to kill Reader this summer. It’s in its last days, and I’m still trying to decide on a replacement. I’ve tried several including Feedly, Good Noows, and NetNewsWire, but I’m leaning more toward Newsblur² or The Old Reader (TOR). My RSS reader is my first stop for professional reading. Through Google Reader and now Newsblur and TOR, I subscribe to over 220 blogs and websites. Honestly, that’s too many, but they aren’t all updated daily. If you don’t use an RSS reader, I suggest you give it a try. You can subscribe to this blog by adding http://feeds.feedburner.com/PhilipCummings to your feeds. My RSS feeds are my first source for professional reading and learning.
  2. Paper.li – I use this aggregator to pull links shared by my professional learning network on Twitter. (I primarily use Twitter as a professional tool.) Unfortunately, as a full-time classroom teacher and a father of four, I don’t have time to hangout online and read Twitter feeds all day. Paper.li allows me to create a daily newspaper that highlights items posted by my network. I don’t manage to read this aggregator every day, but I do read it when possible. (Note: This is one of the reasons I am particular about who I follow on Twitter. I don’t want too much irrelevant, uninteresting, or inappropriate material finding its way to my reading list–even if I choose to ignore it.) Paper.li also works with Facebook, Google+, RSS , and YouTube feeds. 
  3. Zite – If I’ve managed to read my way through my RSS reader and my Paper.li, my last stop is the Zite app on my iPad. In Zite I’ve identified topics that interest me. Zite identifies the content that matches my selected topics and shares them with me in a magazine-like format. Currently, my topic list includes: teaching, learning, educational technology, critical thinking, creativity, reading, literacy, and mindset. I also read articles in Zite related to running, faith, and Memphis. The more you “like” articles in Zite, the better their algorithm becomes at finding content related to your interests.

There you have it. That’s my 3 go-to aggregators for my professional reading. What about you? Do you use aggregators for professional reading and learning? If so, which ones do you use and why? I’d love to hear what tools you use.

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  1. aggregator. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved May 05, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/aggregator
  2. I chose to pay for a 1-year subscription to explore Newsblur.

 

New Feature: Some Kind of Supreme – April 2013

Blackberry Supreme from Jerry's Snow Cones by ilovememphis. Used with permission.
Blackberry Supreme from Jerry’s Snow Cones by Kerry Crawford. Used with permission.

Once upon a time, I used Diigo (my favorite social bookmarking tool) to publish a feature I called “In Retro Cite” on my “A Retrospective Saunter” blog. (Notice what I did there?) The goal of the In Retro Cite posts was to share links that might be valuable and worthwhile to colleagues, readers, and friends. I spend a fair chunk of time following and reading blogs, and some of my favorite bloggers offer this type of content. I usually find some great stories, resources, and reflections among these posts.

I discontinued “In Retro Cite” when I moved my retrospection to a self-hosted site, but I still believe  there’s value in sharing the best of what I’m reading and what’s influencing me. Therefore, I am beginning a new monthly feature “Some Kind of Supreme” named after my favorite frozen treat, the blackberry supreme from Jerry’s Snow Cones. (You really ought to try it.) The goal is to share some blog recommendations and posts that have truly resonated with me. For now, I plan to publish the supremes on the last day of each month. We’ll see how this goes and how it evolves.

Here’s my supremes for April 2013:

Favorite April Fool’s Gag – YouTube’s ready to select a winner

Best Reporting – Marc Perrusquia, The Commercial Appeal’s Leading Up to Six : 01

Six : 01

Most Amen-able – Chris Lehmann’s Teach Kindness

“So much of the current overarching structure of high school is fundamentally individualistic, isolating and solipsistic. What’s incredible is that most teachers went into the profession because on some fundamental level, they care about kids. And without a doubt, individual teachers in schools all over the world inspire students with their acts of kindness despite being in a system that discourages rather than encourages kindness as an institutional value.

That has to change.”

Coolest Math-related Site: Numberphile (h/t Doug Peterson)

Saddest – Gerald J. Conti’s Resignation Letter as shared by Valerie Strauss

“After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.”

Most Inspiring – Chris Wejr’s Share Who You Are, Let People In

“We need to be comfortable with sharing more of our personal side – the moments of joy, sadness, success and challenge.  As a principal, there is nothing I love more that hanging out, playing and chatting with the students every recess and lunch. I get to share a little bit of who I am and I get to see a little more about who they are.”

Biggest “Huh?! What?” – Venture Beat’s Why Your 8-year-old Should Be Coding

“‘Kids will have computing everywhere. Doctors will be using computing to make decisions. Jobs will require more technology. … The new jobs that will be created won’t be just programming jobs. But can you think about organizing data? Information and computation is coming to every field.'”

Best Writing Advice – Kristin Hohenadel’s Say It Out Loud: How David Sedaris Makes His Writing Better at Co.Create

“Sedaris says that he has usually rewritten a story about eight times before he tries it in front of an audience, where he ends up reading it and making tweaks up to 40 times before it is published. What he learns during those readings accounts for about 20% of the changes he makes in his text.”

What I Most Wish I’d Written – Nicholas Provenzano’s I Am Not the Enemy

“I am the person that forfeits personal time to ensure students have extra time. I am the person who provides a shoulder to cry on when nobody is around. I am the person who smiles when everyone else is frowning. I am the sunshine in a world of darkness for many.”

Most Likely to Become a Poster in Our Classroom – Todd Finley’s Why Do We Have to Write Today

“Because writing is critical to every discipline. • To understand author’s craft. • To make “text-to-world” connections. • To use metaphors to understand. • To predict the future, like George Orwell. • To map the psyche, like Freud. • To fill dark skies with cherry blossoms, like Matsuo Basho. • To leave love notes on the fridge. • Because poets scare fascists. • To be immortal.”

Best Reminder – Marko Saric’s Don’t Fear the Negative Comments

“A bigger worry than having negative comments is having no people checking out what you are doing and no feedback at all. If people are taking their time to be talking about you in the first place you are doing something right so see that as a positive thing.”

Favorite Post to Parents – Sarah Brooks’ Parents: A Word about Instagram

“They know exactly – to the digit – how many followers they have (and who they follow that isn’t following them back). They get their feelings hurt when the popular kids “like” the pictures above and below theirs on the Instagram newsfeed, but not their picture. They delete pictures of themselves when they don’t get as many likes as they were hoping for. They don’t get invited to parties, but see all the fun they missed out on in every photo posted from it. They post ugly pictures of their friends to get revenge for some heinous act they committed (like saying Louis is their favorite One Direction member).”

Best Question – John Spencer’s What About Solitude?

“Why don’t students enjoy being mentally alone? Is this something schools should be fostering? Are we not exposing kids to enough silence? Or is this silent wandering something that only some people need?”

Hitting Home the Hardest – George Ambler’s Busyness is Killing Leadership (h/t Rich Kiker)

“You become busy when you mistake activity for productivity, when you mistake efficiency for effectiveness and when you mistake more for better. You become busy when you ask ‘What’s next?’ rather then stopping to consider ‘Why this?'”

Most Encouraging – Shelley Wright’s Beta: The Courage to Fail & Change

“I think all teachers must have times when they’re faced with the decision to continue on the safe road that they know, or radically depart on a way that they believe to be better, but the specific route and outcomes are unknown. At least I’ve been faced with this decision. And in all honesty, sometimes I’ve chosen the former, and sometimes the latter. Although for the last five months, I’ve consistently chosen the latter, and they have been the most challenging and fulfilling five months of my career.”

Best Parenting Advice – Leo Babauta’s Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else)

“We don’t get angry at the wind for blowing, and yet the blowing does affect us. Let the actions of your kid be the wind blowing — you just need to find an appropriate response, rather than being stressed that this phenomenon is happening.”

Truest – Jose Vilson’s Resolve

“Do they not understand how well I want them to do on this thing? What am I saying? Do I even care about this stupid test? Is it really a measure of what they’ve learned this year or what they wanted them to learn and not learn? What if they were only one digit off? Do they have to conform to the state’s thinking to be good students? Good learners? Good people?”

Must Read for This “Dada” – Katrina Schwartz’s Giving Good Praise to Girls: What Messages Stick

“Dweck understands it isn’t easy to praise process and emphasize the fun in challenging situations. Kids like direct praise, but to Dweck lauding achievement is like feeding them junk food – it’s bad for them.”

On My Nightstand – Amber McRee Turner’s Sway, Susan Cain’s Quiet, and Parker Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy

Through the Speakers in My Van – This month the boys and I have listened to Ingrid Law’s Savvy and Scumble, and we recently started Magyk, the first book in Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series.

My Most Popular Post in April 2013 – Diving Into Project-based Learning: Designing the Rubric

“I wasn’t completely comfortable with the wording of the rubric even as I shared it with the students, but we needed to get started. Together as a class, we discussed the rubric in detail, but I still worried that the boys’ understanding of the rubric was very different from mine. Nevertheless, this iteration of the rubric would serve as our guide.”

What about you? What have you read recently that’s left its mark on you? What’s happening on your blog?

Losing Google Reader

Mourning Google Reader
Photo by fallingwater123. Used with permission via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

This past week Google announced they have decided to kill Google Reader. Ugh. I cannot adequately express how much this frustrates me. I want to kick something. I’m a huge fan and reader of blogs. I subscribe to hundreds of them through RSS and Google Reader. I spend anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes a day reading online and my first stop has always been Google Reader. I use Zite and Flipboard, too, but they are secondary to Google Reader.

When I began connecting with other educators online, I would wait until I saw them tweet about a new post before reading their blogs. I learned so much from reading and thinking about their posts. I began rethinking what it means to be a teacher and a learner in today’s world., and my philosophy of education began to shift from a perennial viewpoint to one that is progressive (constructivist/connectivist). Unfortunately, I had to wait for people to share their posts on Twitter or I had to keep checking their websites waiting for new posts. Then, someone introduced me to RSS. (I honestly don’t remember who it was, but I am extremely indebted to him.) RSS allowed me to subscribe to feeds from blogs and only have to go to one place to read them all. RSS is like having a personal newspaper of content from writers that I want to read. I mostly subscribe to educational blogs (see my abbreviated educational blogroll), but I also subscribe to content from marketing geniuses, sports pundits, favorite authors, parenting experts, professional geeks, and others. I fell in love with RSS in general and with Google Reader specifically. I have used it almost everyday for the past 4 years. Imagine my irritation at learning Google was abandoning Reader. How can this be?

I wasn’t the only one irritated either. The blogosphere erupted with negative reactions to the news and with suggestions for replacement services, too. Here is a sampling of what I found:

Additionally, you might want to check out this crowdsourced list of alternatives to Google Reader.

For now, I am auditioning three replacement RSS services. I have used Feedly before but never loved it. I tried it on my iPad when I was having tech issues with Mr. Reader (I use Feeddler Pro on my iPhone). It worked fine, but I immediately returned to Google Reader and Mr. Reader as soon as my issues resolved. I’m trying it again to see if it’ll take this time. I have also paid for a one year subscription to Newsblur and have played with it a little. It’s been slow, but I’m guessing the many people moving to it from Google have overwhelmed the servers. I’ll continue to play with it for now. My RSS feeds hold enough value to me that I am willing to pay for a quality service. I’ve already paid for a few quality iPhone and iPad apps to use with it. Finally, I am also trying Good Noos. I started playing with it on Saturday night so we’ll see. For now the verdict is still out on these, but my frustration over the loss of Google Reader is still significant.

What can we do? I doubt anything will change this. Reader was a free service, and we should have known its days were numbered when Google shuttered Adsense for Feeds last October. Feedburner’s life is probably limited, too. Regardless, in trying to feel less powerless I have signed the petition to keep Google Reader running at change.org. I also left a flower for Reader at the Google Graveyard. You can, too.

Do you use RSS to subscribe to blogs or other website content? Are you as irritated by Google’s abandoning RSS as I am? So you know, you can keep your Google data, including your Reader subscriptions, by downloading them through Google Takeout. I recommend it. Reader has been my most prized online learning tool. What is yours? Why?

Rethinking My PLN

Three recent posts by members of my PLN have had me thinking. First, in September, Mark Schaefer pricked my heart g in his post “Social Media and the Big Conversation Fail.” (That post led to a cool Skype conversation with Mark.) Then, William Chamberlain posted “EdCampKC: A Rather Painful Reflection” in which he revealed his pain that his online connections are not a meaningful substitute for the face-to-face relationships he needs in his building every day. Finally, Hadley Ferguson wrote in “Why We Go to Conferences” about the need to solidify online connections by spending real, quantity time in each other’s physical presence. These posts struck a chord deep within me, and I’ve been stewing over them for some time now.

For the past year I have worked hard at developing an online presence and connecting with other educators online. I have built a personal learning network (both digitally and face-to-face) of folks that have become quite dear to me. Some are here in Memphis and West Tennessee while others are scattered around the globe. I have done this mostly through web 2.0 technologies and a handful of conferences, face-to-face meetings, and Skype phone calls. Most of these folks are professional educators, but not everyone is. My knowledge has grown exponentially and hopefully my practice has improved as well. The number of connections in my network has grown tremendously as well – a situation that is both a blessing and a curse.

What I long for is genuine connection and friendship within my network. I don’t have a personal need for lots of close friends, but admittedly I long for close friendships. I want to connect with educators around the world, but I want several of those connections to be real, primary connections. I want to know and be known in my network not just as a professional, but also as a real friend. I also want to be faithful in my relationships with my family and my off-line friends. So, I’m making some decisions about what I want to do with all of this, and I think I’m going to take a step back.

At one point I subscribed to almost 250 different blog feeds in my RSS. It was a lot of good stuff, but keeping up and reading that many feeds became oppressive. In trying to consume that much information, I wasn’t able to slow down, reflect, and comment on what I was reading. I also found myself spending way more time-consuming than creating. I want that to change. So, over the past few days I’ve unsubscribed from a lot of great blogs. I’m sure I’ll miss out on some great learning and conversations, and I’ll still check in occasionally, but those posts won’t be in my reader waiting for me when I log in. Instead, I want to spend more of my screen time reflecting and commenting on those subscribed blogs and to those individuals with whom I have connected. My goal isn’t to become a snob, but more to make a deeper connection with a few. If someone reaches out, I’ll still reach back in the hope of making a meaningful friendship.

I plan to take a similar approach to Twitter. If you know me, you know I believe in growing my digital PLN. I follow lots of educators and a smattering of people in other professional fields that interest me. I also like to connect online with members of my local community. I’ve met some incredible, fellow Memphians just by following them on Twitter. Having said that, my Twitter feed has become quite noisy with all the folks following me and my willingness to follow people back. (I don’t follow everyone back, but if I believe you might add value to my learning or I can add value to yours–you’re in. If you’re selling something, you’re ignored. Spammers always get blocked.) My new approach will be to establish a micro-PLN feed through a Twitter list or a Tweetdeck group. I plan to work hard to get to know those I include on a deeper level. My goal isn’t to be exclusive (I’m sure I’ll continuously add and subtract from the list) but to focus my energy on building real friendships where I can. I want to chat, call, and Skype with these folks, make plans to meet at conferences, and get to know them beyond their online personas.

I want to do more writing, so I am setting a short-term goal of averaging two posts a week from now until the end of the year – 12 posts, starting with this one. I’ll still do the occasional In Retro Cite from Diigo, but those don’t count toward this goal. I’ll also continue to share things on my Posterous, but I’m not counting those either.

As for my face-to-face learning network, I’m going to be intentional in those relationships as well. I want to spend more meaningful time with my wife and kids and more focused time with my friends. I’m going to try to silence the smartphone and be fully present in those moments. I also plan to write some personal notes to my co-workers, make a few phone calls, and line up to some gatherings with local friends. Who knows? Maybe we will even have a holiday party this year.

In conversing with Hadley after her post, we talked about the idea of a PLN road trip, and I invited her to Memphis to spend some time and see where I live. I’d really love something like that to happen. I’d love to introduce her to my family, to show off my school, and to tour her around town. I’d  love to deepen that connection and others, as well. (Let me know if you’re interested in a trip to visit and see Graceland, Stax, or the Civil Rights Museum.)

In my former life as a youth minister, I learned that quality relationships only happen through quantity time. I guess it’s time I prioritized mine.

Any thoughts? Do you long for deeper connections? How are you solidifying your face-to-face and online relationships? What are you doing to grow closer to other members of your network? What do you think of my plans? Feedback is always appreciated.