Timing is everything with Sappyfest and over the years I've realized that you just have to let the magic happen. Two days after the festival I was driving back to Wolfville from Fredericton and stopped for a coffee at the Black Duck before hitting the road again and as I walked down the street, Paul (festival director) was taking down the Sappyfest 8 flag from the festival office. So appropriate, random, and unlikely that it really sums up what the whole festival feels like. It feels right. Feels like home.Read More
As part of the Making Learning Connected MOOC (#clmooc) I've been reflecting on teaching and learning over the month of July. Part of the process is making things and interacting during various cycles. One of the challenges for me in a larger and more unstructured environment is getting things done when there is a great deal of flexibility. One of the great things about the whole process is seeing the opinions and work of a diverse group of teachers from around the world as they share what they do and what they are interested in. This reflection fits into the fourth cycle of the Massive Online Open Course and the challenge was to share a credo about teaching.
Here are some of the things that I believe:
I believe in rigid minimal structure.
You set out the parameters and allow the learning to take place in that. Constraints can be wonderful as they provide a space to explore. The limits allow for focus and that makes things more manageable.
One of the best professional development opportunities that I ever had was the Great Teachers Workshop, which was started by David Gotshall. It's a process that allows teachers to get together and share what they do and why they do in a supportive and fun environment. The workshop allows you to reflect on what teaching means and it is an amazing jolt of energy for those who start to feel a bit lost in what they are doing. It's a great thing to do. That's where I first heard about the idea of rigid minimal structure as a way for organizing things.
I believe in people.
The biggest challenge in teaching and learning is helping people believe that they can do it. Fear of failure can end things before they begin. When it seems impossible it is hard for someone to do something. Believing in learners and their ability to do things is so important. People bring so much based on their experiences and helping someone realize that can provide a spark that allows learning to flow more easily.
Teaching always involves people and people are amazing. The challenges that are faced every day make people who they are and that accumulation of experience and battles lost and won will shape how someone approaches learning something new. Far too many people have had bad experiences in school and creating a supportive and encouraging space for learning to happen can make all the difference.
I believe in balance.
Work can be fun and amazing and sustaining, but there needs to be a break sometimes between work and life. Having friends and family outside of work is important and having space between them is better for all parts of the equation. It provides perspective and space and time to reflect on those other parts of our lives.
One of the best things to help keep things organized for me is to schedule things and keep my work email and personal email separate. Teaching can be all consuming, so your evenings can fill up with work and then it just never seems to end. Disconnecting and going outside and walking around is a good thing. More time doesn't equal better work and realizing that is an important step in finding the right balance between your life and your work.
I believe that learning is teaching and teaching is learning.
It is a journey and a cycle. To share and give and receive is a wonderful virtuous circle. Sharing always gives you more than you put in.
It's always great to find out something new and if you teach you will learn and if you learn something it makes you a better teacher. Listening and speaking, speaking and listening, and then repeating the cycle is a good thing. There is always more to learn and share which is why most teachers are in this for life.
As the school year ends I like to think about what I do and how I can do it better. You need to have a system to stay on track to be able to get things done. The key is to set up when things are not busy. When it gets busy there usually isn't time for quiet reflection and that is when you fall behind and just are trying to not all everything to fall apart. So this year it will be good to set things up and figure them out to be able to have tools that work well.
Here are some of the things that work well for me for staying organized and keeping track of what is happening and what has happened as I teach.
The OmniGroup makes great software for OS X and iOS that helps you stay organized and make things. At the core of my system for staying on track I use OmniFocus on three different devices - my MacBook Pro, my iPhone, and my iPad. Each version is slightly different and on each device it is used in a slightly different way.
The desktop is where I do my serious planning, so that's where I usually set things up. With OmniFocus you set up things that you need to get done. It's a supercharged todo list as every task lives in a context and a project. If you are a Getting Things Done person you'll be familiar with these concepts as that's the theoretical framework that the software grew out of. I keep track of most things that have to be completed. So each course is a project with all of the tasks inside there. It's a system that works with other more personal stuff as well, so there are repeating tasks that I have such as "Ride My Bike" or "Meditate" or more mundane things like "Take Out the Garbage".
You can include notes or attach documents or links within each task. This is really handy if there is something that you need to read or review as you can have the documents that you need together wherever you are. That is very useful. All of the versions of OmniFocus also seamlessly sync together so if you add or change a task on your iPhone it will also show up on the desktop or iPad versions.
The iPhone version is great to check or have reminders pop up when something needs to be done. One great feature is that the context of a task can be location sensitive. So if there is something that can only be done in a particular place, you can choose to have a reminder pop up when you are in that place. If you need to buy something at a certain bookstore that will appear as a reminder when you are near there. Or if I have to scan something in the office, it will only appear as available when I am in the building. That can help you maintain focus quite well. The other role for the iPhone version is a way to capture things that need to be done. It's quick to add things wherever I am and then flesh them out when I am sitting down later.
Another great tool from the Omni Group that has been a constant for me in planning is OmniOutliner. It's an outlining tool that is simple, clear and powerful. It's great for workplans as you can reorganize easily and set up complicated outlines and reveal or hide the details.
The columns give you all sorts of options with what you can do with different types of data. So while with some documents I'll just have a list of tasks, I also will use it as a gradebook. The columns can include numbers and there can be summaries, so you can see a total for the marks. You can also have things like checkboxes or dropdowns that you create so you could have a list of things to choose from. I keep learning new things about it and finding new ways that it helps me out.
The most recent addition is the ability to sync the OS X and iPad versions. That is fantastic as it gets things all in one place and I'll bring up the outline on my iPad to revise or review things. In the fall it will be very useful when grading things as sometimes it's nice to go somewhere quiet with some work and the iPad and be able to grade in that way.
OmniOutliner is also really great at planning out a presentation or a class. You can flesh out topics with notes and links and then export the whole thing as a Keynote presentation. That can save time and keep you organized as the outline will match the presentation. You can also import presentations so you can go the other way and reverse engineer the structure of a presentation.
To keep track of little things that are written down the best place for me is with Simplenote. It's a syncing service and application that deals with text files. It began as an iPhone app and there is also a web version of it. You create notes that are only text-based. No images or fancy formatting. This is great for jotting things down and for keeping ongoing notes for things that you need to stay updated on.
NVAlt is a text editor that is simple and clear. The notes can be stored and synced through Simplenote, so it's the perfect way to be able to write things down and have them available on the computer, through my iPhone, or just on a web browser. It's fast and simple and works well.
One of the great features is that the simple interface has a search field where you start to type and if something is found you can start editing it. If something isn't found you will be able to start creating a new note with that name. When I need to type a few sentences or a few paragraphs it will start in NVAlt as it keeps me focussed on the words and not on the formatting. NVAlt is where I'll write out assignments before I start to format them. It does what it needs to do and gets out of the way. If you are geekier it also gives you Markdown previews and it can use tags to keep your notes organized in whichever way you want to classify them.
TextExpander is a utility for OS X (and iOS) that allows you to create text snippets that can be expanded when you type a shortcut. If I type "ddate" for example, it will expand into today's date. If I type "bbio" my short bio will expand. It's great for keeping chunks of text that you use all the time. I have snippets for the class list for each class and for things like addresses for web sites, or my mailing address. It's fast and simple and works where ever you type. It syncs with the iOS version, so that means when I am typing a note in Simplenote on my iPhone the expansions work as well.
I have used Evernote for a few years now to store PDFs and some photos. Most of my notes are stored in Simplenote, but sometimes it's good to have a more visual way to store and organize things. So I'm upgrading to the Pro account with Evernote and will store more notes and documents there. Specifically handwritten notes, notes about classes, and pdfs of handouts and assignments. I bought one of the large Evernote Smart Notebooks to try out as I do take notes on paper as well. The dashed lines apparently make the text recognition work better and you take a photo of each page with your iPhone and it gets added to a notebook in Evernote. Usually I'll have one notebook for the school year and this time taking notes and then photographing them and syncing them to Evernote will keep the paper and electronic versions together. On Evernote each course will have a notebook and all of the material related to that course will be stored there.
The newest and final app that I'm using is the powerful Drafts, which is designed to get you writing quickly on your iPhone (or iPad). It's like a magic piece of paper that you can grab quickly and start writing. The whole point of Drafts is that it is the first place that you start writing and then you send the text somewhere else. You can tweet the text, create a new note in Simplenote or Byword, create an email, an appointment, an OmniFocus task, or even append or prepend the text to a note in Evernote. There are powerful actions for all sorts of things and you can customize them or create your own. It's a great way to capture bits of information or inspiration and then send them where you need it to go.
These are some of the tools I use in planning and organizing my teaching life. It's a system that evolves and changes as time goes by and it also creates a personal resource for reference so I can continue to learn and improve.
It's summer and over the past few years the goal for the summer for me has been to bike as much as possible. Over the years the goal has been to bike at least 1000 km during the summer. Officially summer began yesterday and in a wonderful coincidence it's also the first day of summer vacation as well as being a beautiful day, so there is a high likelihood of a ride today. It's fun to get out and move and explore the world on two wheels powered by your own body.
The big change this year is a new bike. A Brodie Voltage and it's surprising how much of a difference the new bike makes. It's a hybrid, so it is lighter than the mountain bike that I used for all of my other rides. So the newness meant that there was a pent-up energy for going for a ride since it was a Christmas present. This was the year with the earliest start biking. So while in past years it could be a bit of a struggle to reach the goal of 1000 km during the summer, the neat thing this time is that I am past the half way mark as the summer begins.
The broader goal for this year is to discover new routes and to go for longer rides. There is a lovely rhythm of going for longer distances and for me I really start to get into the zone after 30 or 40 minutes of riding. Some days the goal is to go as far as possible without stopping. It's great to not touch the ground and go for a ride and then get off the bike when the ride is done.
While I love my bike and the whole experience of riding, there is a balance to be struck. The whole thing has to be fun, so I'm resisting the impulse to get too into the whole world of cycling in terms of clipless pedals and a more specialized wardrobe. It's about keeping it fun and exploring the world a bit more while being healthy. That being said, there are some things that do make a difference as the clothes and footwear need to be comfortable. But tight biking shorts and a sleek, logo-covered jersey are not in the future.
To keep track of my rides I'm using the iOS app Cyclemeter to record the distance and then use Your Flowing Data to collect all of the distances together. I used to have a speedometer and odometer on my bike, but there is something nice about just having the road in front of me and not knowing the exact distance or speed until later. The great thing about using an app with GPS is that you get to see your route afterwards and can look through all sorts of data about your ride. My Fitbit also keeps track of my activity, so it is good to have a bit of redundancy with the systems that you use to make sure that you don't miss anything. But overall the best thing is to just get out and ride and explore the world in a more personal way.
The goal for this year will be more than 1000 km and I should be able to hit 1500, but maybe I should go for 2000 and really try to get out every day. But it is something to not overthink and calculate, but just to do. The journey is the reward.
This is the beginning of the Making Learning Connected Massive Open Online Collaboration (MOOC) or the more hashtaggy #clmooc. It's a neat summer project for educators to make, reflect, and connect using the principles of connected learning. We'll be sharing and connecting and making things each week. This is how I'm starting out by writing something about how I make coffee every morning.
One of the constant aspects of my morning for the past many years has been coffee. Making it is a good way to start the day and I've gone through various methods over the years and have settled into one that works for me. Maybe it's not perfect, but like many things it is comfortable and something I can do with very little thought. Mornings usually start early for me during the school year with the alarm going off usually around 5:30. Then it is time to get up, plug in the rice cooker and fill it with oatmeal and water and start it going. The great thing about the oatmeal is that it cooks until it is done and the rice cooker keeps it nice and warm for when it gets scooped into a bowl with some vanilla yogurt for a warm breakfast.
At first I had a drip coffee maker. A simple one with a filter basket and I'd grind the beans with a blade grinder and put them in the filter, fill the coffee maker with water and it would make a pot of coffee. That lasted for a few years and then I wanted to get a bit fancier so the next step was to start using a French press. The simple Bodum one was just the ticket. The challenge with that is that it is a bit more work to clean, but it does make good, strong coffee. It was in use constantly for a few years until a switch to a hybrid method of just a filter basket with boiling water poured over it into a carafe. Simpler and a bit less bitter than the French press. That worked well with a bit more effort, but a little less cleanup. The good thing is that it was quite simple to get going in the morning.
Then I found out about vacuum extracting coffee. The first coffee that I had made with that method a few years ago was from The Smiling Goat which has a Clover machine that makes amazing coffee using a vacuum extraction method. The coffee was great and then I saw the Bodum Santos which is a beautiful thing to behold. Two circular globes are arranged vertically with one having a glass tube that extends into the bottom carafe. They are held together with a rubber gasket and a plastic filter held in place with a spring keeps the coffee grounds in the top from going into the carafe. The carafe has water in it and you bring the water to a boil. As the temperature rises the pressure pushes the water up the tube and mixes in with the coffee grounds. As the water is almost out of the bottom you remove it from the heat and then as it cools the vacuum formed in the bottom extracts the coffee (but not the grounds as they are blocked by the filter) out of the top. Then you carefully take the top off and pour a flavourful cup of coffee.
Vacuum extraction is my favourite method and it is the most labour-intensive one as well. You need to watch carefully as the timing is key. If you let the bottom boil dry it will break. If you don't let it heat up enough there won't be a good vacuum and the coffee won't be drawn out of the top. The other challenge is that most of the apparatus is made out of glass and that is not good if you are a bit clumsy. Smooth and elegant coffee preparation is not that easy in the morning and that is why I broke my beautiful coffee maker. Thrice.
After three times with the vacuum method it was time to try something else as this couldn't be my primary method as it was becoming a challenge not to break things. I fell back to the pourover method with a porcelain filter holder over my travel mug. Then I discovered the Clever Coffee Dripper which combines the pourover methods with a bit of the French press method. The key is a seal at the bottom of the filter basket. The seal stays in place until you put it on top of a mug which opens the bottom and allows the coffee to drain into the mug. This allows the water to stay in contact with the grounds for longer than traditional pourover, which extracts more flavour.
The standard morning routine now is to get up, get the oatmeal going, put the filter in the Clever, weigh the beans (35 - 45 g of beans), fill the kettle and turn it on. Then I hop in the shower and when I get out I pour a bit of water into the clever to wet the filter. Drain that water and grind the beans and put the grounds in the filter. Then slowly fill the basket with water and set the timer for 3 minutes and 50 seconds. Part way through I stir the grounds. Then when the time is up I put the Clever onto my travel mug if it is a work day or on a regular mug if it is not. The coffee drains out and if I am making coffee for more than one person I refill it and fill the other mug. That's how I start every day and it works well for me.