Tag Archives: teaching

Developing Positive Habits

I was talking with a teacher at my school the other day and the conversation turned to a topic that I had recently read an article on. When I referenced the article the teacher was a bit surprised that I (A) had time to read an article and (B) seemed excited about what I had learned. This conversation got me thinking about the time crunch that everyone is in and caused me to reflect on the way that I attempt to stay current with educational trends.

I have spoken in previous posts about the value of Twitter to educators (read here). Another great source of material are summary blogs and digests. One digest that I use to drive and focus my valuable time is Farnam Street (farnamstreetblog.com). A friend turned me onto this site featuring the thoughts and research of a guy that reads an endless amount of material and offers his thoughts on it. While the focus of his digest are not on education, the concepts he does talk about at length are pertinent to education when reflected upon and interpreted from a school standpoint.

Below is an excerpt from one digest of Farnam Street. It features a list, and I love lists since they offer the greatest amount of food for thought with the least amount of time commitment. Listed below are personal development tasks with Farnam comments. The ones that I have highlighted have the greatest connection to everyday education topics.

Insert links to previous posts and Farnam street. Include twitter handles

  1. Daily goals. Set targets for each day in advance. Decide what you’ll do, then do it. Without a clear focus, it’s too easy to succumb to distractions.
  2. Worst first. To defeat procrastination, learn to tackle your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning, instead of delaying it until later. The small victory will set the tone for a very productive day.
  3. Peak times. Identify your peak cycles of productivity, and schedule your most important tasks for those times. Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times.
  4. No-comm zones. With all the technology that we have, i.e. phones, email, etc. we have a difficult time “shutting down” the outside distractions. Allocate uninterruptible blocks of time for solo work where you must concentrate. Schedule light, interruptible tasks for your open-communication periods and more challenging projects for your blackout periods.
  5. Mini-milestones. When you begin a task, identify the target you must reach before you can stop working. For example when writing a book, you could decide not to get up until you’ve written at least 1000 words. Hit your target no matter what.
  6. Timeboxing. Give yourself a fixed time period – 30 minutes for example – to make a dent in a task. Don’t worry about how far you get. Just put in the time.
  7. Batching. Batch similar tasks such as phone calls or errands together, and knock them out in a single session.
  8. Early bird. Get up at 5am and go straight to work on your most important task. You can get more done before 8am than most people do in a full day.
  9. Pyramid. Spend 15-30 minutes doing easy tasks to warm up, then tackle your most difficult project for several hours. Finally end with another 15-30 minutes of easy tasks to transition out of work mode.
  10. Tempo. Deliberately pick up the pace, and try to move a little faster than usual. Speak faster. Walk faster. Type faster. Read faster. Go home sooner.
  11. Relaxify. Reduce stress by cultivating a relaxing, clutter-free workspace.
  12. Agendas. Provide clear written agendas to meeting participants in advance. This greatly improves meeting focus and efficiency. You can use it for phone calls too.
  13. Pareto. The Pareto principle is the 80-20 rule, which states that 80% of the value of a task comes from 20% of the effort. Focus your energy on that critical 20%, and don’t overengineer the non-critical 80%.
  14. Ready-fire-aim. Bust procrastination by taking action immediately after setting a goal, even if the action isn’t perfectly planned. You can always adjust course along the way.
  15. Minuteman. Once you have the information you need to make a decision, start a timer and give yourself just 60 seconds to make the actual decision. Take a whole minute to vacillate and second-guess yourself all you want, but come out the other end with a clear choice. Once your decision is made, take some kind of action to set it in motion.
  16. Deadline. Set a deadline for task completion, and use it as a focal point to stay on track.
  17. Promise. Tell others of your commitments, since they’ll help hold you accountable
  18. Punctuality. Whatever it takes, show up on time. Arrive early.
  19. Gap reading. There isn’t a whole lot of down time in the life of an educator. Taking advantage of the the spare moments to improve your practice is important. Use reading to fill in those odd periods like waiting for an appointment, standing in line, or while the coffee is brewing. If you’re a male, you can even read an article while shaving (preferably with an electric razor). That’s 365 articles a year.
  20. Resonance. Visualize your goal as already accomplished. Put yourself into a state of actually being there. Make it real in your mind, and you’ll soon see it in your reality.
  21. Glittering prizes. Give yourself frequent rewards for achievement. See a movie, book a professional massage, or spend a day at an amusement park.
  22. Priority. Separate the truly important tasks from the merely urgent. Allocate blocks of time to work on the critical Quadrant 2 tasks, those which are important but rarely urgent, such as physical exercise, writing a book, and finding a relationship partner.
  23. Continuum. At the end of your workday, identify the first task you’ll work on the next day, and set out the materials in advance. The next day begin working on that task immediately.
  24. Slice and dice. Break complex projects into smaller, well-defined tasks. Focus on completing just one of those tasks.
  25. Single-handling. Once you begin a task, stick with it until it’s 100% complete. Don’t switch tasks in the middle. When distractions come up, jot them down to be dealt with later.
  26. Randomize. Pick a totally random piece of a larger project, and complete it. Pay one random bill. Make one phone call. Write page 42 of your book.
  27. Insanely bad. Defeat perfectionism by completing your task in an intentionally terrible fashion, knowing you need never share the results with anyone. Write a blog post about the taste of salt, design a hideously dysfunctional web site, or create a business plan that guarantees a first-year bankruptcy. With a truly horrendous first draft, there’s nowhere to go but up.
  28. Delegate. Convince someone else to do it for you.
  29. Cross-pollination. Sign up for martial arts, start a blog, or join an improv group. You’ll often encounter ideas in one field that can boost your performance in another.
  30. Intuition. Go with your gut instinct. It’s probably right.
  31. Optimization. Identify the processes you use most often, and write them down step-by-step. Refactor them on paper for greater efficiency. Then implement and test your improved processes. Sometimes we just can’t see what’s right in front of us until we examine it under a microscope.
  32. Super Slow. Commit yourself to working on a particularly hideous project for just one session a week, 15-30 minutes total. Declutter one small shelf. Purge 10 clothing items you don’t need. Write a few paragraphs. Then stop.
  33. Dailies. Schedule a specific time each day for working on a particular task or habit. One hour a day could leave you with a finished book, or a profitable Internet business a year later.
  34. Add-ons. Tack a task you want to habitualize onto one of your existing habits. Water the plants after you eat lunch. Send thank-you notes after you check email.
  35. Plug-ins. Inject one task into the middle of another. Read while eating lunch. Return phone calls while commuting. Listen to podcasts while grocery shopping.
  36. Gratitude. This is often times a thankless profession. Sometimes the smallest amount of recognition goes the furthest. When someone does you a good turn, send a thank-you card. That’s a real card, not an e-card. This is rare and memorable, and the people you thank will be eager to bring you more opportunities.
  37. Training. Train up your skill in various productivity habits. Get your typing speed to at least 60wpm, if not 90.
  38. Denial. Just say no to non-critical requests for your time.
  39. Recapture. Reclaim other people’s poor time usage for yourself. Visualize your goals during dull speeches. Write out your grocery list during pointless meetings.
  40. Mastermind. Run your problem past someone else, preferably a group of people. Invite all the advice, feedback, and constructive criticism you can handle.
  41. Write down 20 creative ideas for improving your effectiveness.
  42. Challenger. Deliberately make the task harder. Challenging tasks are more engaging than boring ones. Compose an original poem for your next blog post. Create a Power Point presentation that doesn’t use words.
  43. Asylum. Complete an otherwise tedious task in an unusual or crazy manner to keep it fun or interesting.
  44. Music. Experiment with how music can boost your effectiveness.
  45. Scotty. Estimate how long a task will take to complete. Then start a timer, and push yourself to complete it in half that time.
  46. Pay it forward. When an undesirable task is delegated to you, re-delegate it to someone else.
  47. Bouncer. When a seemingly pointless task is delegated to you, bounce it back to the person who assigned it to you, and challenge them to justify its operational necessity.
  48. Opt-out. Quit clubs, projects, and subscriptions that consume more of your time than they’re worth.
  49. Decaffeinate. Say no to drugs, suffer through the withdrawal period, and let your natural creative self re-emerge.
  50. Conscious procrastination. Delay non-critical tasks as long as you possibly can. Many of them will die on you and won’t need to be done at all.
  51. TV-free. Turn off the TV, especially the news, and recapture many usable hours.
  52. Timer. Time all your tasks for an entire day, preferably a week. Even the act of measuring itself can boost your productivity, not to mention what you learn about your real time usage.
  53. Valor. Pick the one item on your task list that scares you the most. Muster all the courage you can, and tackle it immediately.
  54. Nonconformist. Run errands at unpopular times to avoid crowds. Shop just before stores close or shortly after they open. Take advantage of 24-hour outlets if you’re a vampire.
  55. Agoraphobia. Shop online whenever possible. Get the best selection, consult reviews, and purchase items within minutes.
  56. Reminder. Add birthday and holiday reminders to your calendar a month or two ahead of their actual dates. Buy gifts then instead of at the last minute.
  57. Do it now! Recite this phrase over and over until you’re so sick of it that you cave in and get to work.
  58. Coach. Hire a personal coach to keep yourself motivated, focused, and accountable. After several months of pep talks, you’ll be qualified to start your own coaching practice.
  59. Inspiration. Keep it new and keep it fresh, stay current. Read inspiring books and articles, listen to audio programs, and attend seminars to keep absorbing inspiring new ideas (as well as to refresh yourself on the old ones).
  60. Gym rat. Exercise daily. Boost metabolism, concentration, and mental clarity in 30 minutes a day.
  61. Troll hunt. Banish the negative trolls from your life, and associate only with positive, happy, and successful people. Mindsets are contagious. Show loyalty to your potential, not to your pity posse.
  62. Anakin. Would your problems be easier to solve if you turned evil? The dark side beckons…
  63. Politician. Outsource your problems. How many can be solved more easily if you define them in financial terms? …
  64. Modeling. Find people who are already getting the results you want, interview them, and adopt their attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.
  65. Proactivity. Even if others disagree with you, take action anyway, and deal with the consequences later. It’s easier to request forgiveness than permission.
  66. Real life. Give online life a rest, and reinvest that time into your real offline life, which, if you’re a gamer, is probably suffocating beneath a pile of dead smelly orcas.

The highlighted tips resonated the most with me. What hit home the most for you?


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Tech Shortcuts

If you have been reading my weekly entries, you have probably noticed a theme of technology and change. My reason for talking about these two topics each week is two-fold. The first part of my reason is that I am a techno-geek myself and enjoying finding new ways to use the latest technology in my everyday life. The second part of my reason is that technology is coming to education whether we want it to or not. In my opinion it is much easier to get small doses of technology over time than it is to be thrown into the deep-end of the pool surrounded by it. I like to think of this blog as a means of vaccinating teachers to educational technology; small doses over time to avoid widespread disease.

With that being said, I am always on the lookout for new and neat ways of doing things with an eye always focused on efficiency. Keeping that “e” word in the back of my head, I stumbled upon a TED talk that astounded me in its simplicity, yet still taught me a couple of things.

Of the ten tech tips, not all of them were new to me, but half of them were. It got me thinking about all of the small tidbits of information that are out there and how we can all learn a little bit from each other. I think this is the hidden idea about integrating technology into our instruction. Despite all of the increased focus and attention on using computers for instruction, the key point to keep in mind is that we all have knowledge that can and should be shared. Technology, through the use of webpages, blogs, wikis, etc., has the capability of pooling that large knowledge base together and enhancing all of our abilities. One of the challenges of the future in education will be integrating technology in a way that harnesses the benefits and minimizes the detrimental effects.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did you learn from the video?
  2. What types of information do you desire to feel more competent with using technology in your instruction?
  3. What steps can you take now to prepare yourself for the “educational technology epidemic”?

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Blended and Flipped Learning

Blended and flipped learning are two of the most thrown about phrases in education today, but they are different from one another. In my last post, I discussed how it is important for teachers to adapt their delivery to reach a student population that learns much different than the teachers themselves learned. In order to do so teachers need to be adaptive, reflective, and experimental. Though there are many ways to evolve your style as a teacher, one element that should be incorporated is technology integration. When I use this phrase, technology integration, I do not mean neglecting all of the face-to-face interaction that makes teaching such an exciting career. I do, however, mean allowing technology to become one of the vehicles of delivery of instruction (not the only vehicle). This in a nutshell is blended learning. Flipped learning is a blended learning, though unfortunately it is often lumped together with it. For those that work best in black and white, here is what I think about when it comes to these concepts:

FLIPPED LEARNING = instruction is viewed by students at home, while class time is devoted to higher level discussions and practicing of the concepts learned at home (usually through instructional videos). Primarily used to develop deeper understanding of the material and to maximize class time for student led discussions and practice

BLENDED LEARNING = using technology as a tool in the learning process to share the responsibility of instruction with the classroom teacher. This is primarily used in classrooms with the purpose of letting students drive their own learning. The teacher reduces the amount of direct instruction to the entire class and focuses on getting students through roadblocks to their learning and planning small group activities. Teacher time with students is more likely to occur in small groups of 2-3 students at a time.

The blog post linked here provides great insight into what blended learning can do for your classroom. It includes two videos that provide some insight into how to set up a blended classroom and some of the benefits of it. As I alluded to in my last post, teachers need to be flexible and ever-evolving in their instructional technique in order to best meet the needs of the diverse learners that we have in our classrooms. Blended learning, some form of it, may be the answer for reaching some of those students who would otherwise fall through the cracks.

We have many examples of this being used at Marine City High School today. Blended learning is used by teachers to record lessons when they are out and a sub is in the class, they are used for ACT Prep and MME review, they are used to carve out more time for in-depth higher-level class discussions, and for other reasons as well.


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Learners of Today

I remember sitting in the classrooms of my high school many years ago thinking to myself that some of the strategies my teachers were using were corny and gimmicky attempts to get me to learn. I also remember thinking that they were trying awfully hard to appeal to me on a personal level and connect the information with relevant examples (at least the good teachers). But I also distinctly remember having the thought that these teachers that I saw on a daily basis probably learned in a way that was very similar to the way I was currently learning. Cleanly stated, while there were pedagogical changes in the way students learned while I was in school compared to when my teachers were in school there was arguably no fundamental driver of instructional change. Technology, however has arrived, and with it an educational divide has been created between teachers and students in learning modalities.

A common feeling in education is that teachers teach the way that they learn best. Typically, teachers have been very successful at school throughout their lives and thus perpetuate the style in which they learned. Therein lies the issue that we now face with education; students now learn best in a style that did not even exist when teachers were doing the learning. I grew up with technology, but I was not born into it.  My family didn’t get our first computer until I was in middle school and it was another couple of years before we were connected online (queue the AOL modem connect). I really didn’t start using technology in my learning process for anything other than research until I reached college. Students in classrooms across the country have not only had high speed access since birth but they have been using it as long if not longer than some of their teachers. Students now engage in some form of active learning 24/7/365.

With a change in learners, must also follow a change in instructional practices. It would be naive to say that educational technology is a fad and refuse to get on board. Students know what they are looking for in a teacher and they know what teachers they will be able to learn best from. It is the teacher that is not necessarily an expert but the teacher that is willing to try to connect with them at their level that will be effective deliverers of information.

Below is a Wordle from a teacher survey of students about the most important qualities of teachers. The larger words are the most commonly used from the survey.

studentvoicewordle-mvq4hjReflection Questions:

  1. What would your students say are the most important qualities of teachers?

  2. Who is responsible to change in the education process, the teachers or the students?

  3. What one, out-the-box change, could you make in your classroom to enhance student learning and connect with them at their level?

    I will leave you with this thought. When I first got into education I was frequently asked what I liked most about teaching. My most common response was that everyday was something new and was a completely different challenge. We are now in an exciting time in education when not only is everyday something new and different for students, but also for teachers. Thanks for reading. I welcome and look forward to your comments and responses.


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Common Core

My most recent posts to this blog have been about change. Change that is happening as a result of technologies influence on education and change that is likely necessary in the way that we instruct our students. This post will also be about change, but not from those sources but rather from legislation and governmental influence. It is my intention to provide readers with a couple of resources to become more acquainted with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Smarter Balanced. I, by no means, consider myself an expert in either field but I do feel the need to start learning about them as they will soon be a change that we will be implementing with our students.

The James B. Hunt, Jr. Institute has put out a series of videos on YouTube to introduce people to the CCSS. They are designed to introduce the guiding principles and how they will inform the concepts taught at each grade level. Though there is a full series of videos available for viewing (click here for the link) I have provided just one that gives you some background for the reasons behind and driving CCSS.

While I do not completely agree with the data that was and is collected in comparing American schools and students to those overseas I do feel that a change needs to be made with our American educational system. To be completely honest, I am not sure that the CCSS are the answer, but they are what we will be using to try and find the answer. The more that we prepare ourselves for the CCSS the smoother their implementation will be.

  1. What are your thoughts on the CCSS?
  2. Do you feel that the CCSS have the power to change the American system or are they a fad that is likely to put us further behind?
  3. What gaps in their education, do you think our graduates have that make them “unemployable and unprepared”?


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Flipped Classroom – A Year-End Review

This past semester I tried a new approach to the way that I teach chemistry, the flipped classroom. It is an idea that I was excited, but also skeptical about from the start. At the semester change, when I started with an entirely new group of students I made the decision to throw myself completely into the idea with one of my three chemistry classes. I selected a small class (19 students) of advanced level students to pilot the idea. From my standpoint, the class was success, but more than that it changed the way that approached each day. Through the delivery of lecture at home, I was able to provide my students with a repeatable source of information about the topic. By freeing up time in the classroom, students were able to master the math concepts of chemistry and discuss topics in greater depth.

Below is a graph of the test grades of my flipped class versus the traditional approach that I used in my other two sections. A couple of points to remember when looking at this graph are: that all of my classes are composed of a mix of general and gifted learners, my flipped class was taught as an “advanced level” course which means that they learned at a quicker pace and learned more material in-depth, that my flipped class was a small group (19) in comparison with the two combined sections of the traditional approach (50), and that my flipped class had a different, more difficult test than my traditional classes. With that being said, here is the data.

On the whole, I am very pleased with the results that I have had from this study. Next year I plan on using the flipped approach with 3 sections of general chemistry. I am not sure what to expect, but there are some changes that I will make in order to improve the process and increase accountability. I did not have much of an issue getting students to watch my video lessons this semester due to the naturally high motivation levels of advanced learners. In fact, for the 65 lessons that I created this semester I received 14,060 views! I understand that all of those are not by my students, but judging by the conversations and questions that we have had in class, the vast majority of students watched every video.

Here are my plans for improving the approach next year:

  • Post all lessons for a unit at the beginning of each unit with a specific date to be viewed by
    • this semester I was writing and posting the lessons either the day before or the day that my students were required to view it
  • Embed all lessons as videos into my class website
    • this way, students will not have navigate in and out of different sites to view their homework
  • Include a small assessment (2-3 questions) with each lesson
    • provides student accountability
  • Use Remind101 to schedule reminders
    • send scheduled text message reminders to students to watch the videos
    • encourage parents to also register to receive the texts.

I could speak about the effectiveness of the flipped classroom all day, but whether or not I find the approach worthwhile is secondary to how students view it. With that in mind, I conducted an anonymous survey of my students earlier this week to elicit true opinions of the flipped classroom. Their thoughts can be found here:


Some of the highlights of the survey that jump out to me are:

    • 74% enjoyed the approach (15 of my 19 students submitted responses)
    • 67% claimed to have learned better with the flipped classroom
    • 86% took active notes and formulated questions to ask in class while watching the videos at home


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Flipped Classroom – Development and Progress

It occurred to me this past week that though I have spent time discussing the results of my flipped classroom approach from this semester, I have spent very little time describing the physical set up and the tools that have enabled me to make it work. Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to present my classroom technology tools and the flipped classroom at the annual state convention for the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals (GASSP). In preparation for my presentation I put some very serious thought into developing a resource that would guide teachers through the process of completely changing their approach to classroom learning. The result that I developed was the website that I have linked below. In the site, I have tried to explain some of the thought-process and planning steps that I went through in the preparation phase of the idea. I have also embedded some examples and results for peer review.

Ming Flipped Classroom Resource

Progress –As I approach the final 20 days of the semester, I am happy to reflect that flipped classroom has been an effective approach to student learning. Not only has it been effective for students, but it has also freed up a lot more classroom time for me to differentiate instruction and incorporate technological tools for further material enrichment. When I made the decision to flip one of my classes this semester as a trial run, I was concerned with the relationship building time that I had prided myself on through direct instruction in the past. I have found that though I do miss some of the lecture interaction/performance in front of students, the experience has still been very rewarding and I have developed a better understanding with the students in my flipped class than I have in any other classes in my career.

Development – The fun (and challenging) aspect of altering my teaching approach this past semester has been designing the video lessons and finding creative ways to work with the material in the classroom for student enrichment. The answer to the video lessons has been provided through the iPad app “Educreations”. With many available options available, educreations provided me with tools that I have needed for my class. The creative lessons part has been made even more interesting in light of the pilot with iPad2’s that I have been a part of this past semester. I feel invigorated with the energy of a new teacher and have challenged myself to create fun and insightful activities for my classroom. These have manifested themselves in webquests, formatted self-grading Excel worksheets, small group activities, labs, and iPad games.

Here is a picture of students studying their polyatomic ions with an iPad app called Mahjong Chem. Students were required to match up terms with symbols and mastered their list with a game. Getting them to study their polyatomic ions has never been easier!


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