Productivity Tools

Perhaps this post is better for the CN, but I really wanted to include some images and elaborate on how I stay on top of the 1000 things I do. Obviously these work for me and not for others but – hey – if they help even one other person because I shared I feel that the typing was all worth it!

First, my love of Post-it Notes.  Seems to run in the family: my sister’s favorite Christmas gift ever was an office-size stack of 36 pads! Anyway, how I use them.

  1. divide the note in half.
  2. take a section and divide it in half.
  3. Repeat 2.
  4. Repeat 2.
  5. Repeat 2.
  6. Repeat 2.
  7. Repeat 2.
  8. Repeat 2. Or stop at this point, it’s up to you.
  9. In the biggest portion write what ABSOLUTELY needs to get done.
  10. In the sequentially smaller spots write tasks of lesser and lesser importance.

post it

It works because I’m such a visual person – the larger the space the more important the task.  Keeps me motivated! Make sure you draw a nice thick line through each one as it gets done and then crumple the crud out of that sticky! Then recycle it.

Next: make a TO-DON’T list. Yes, TO-DON’T. Ignore these things. On purpose.  There’s a difference between forgetting about them and ignoring them! I stole this idea from the Harvard Business Review Blog but the basic premise is that if you make a list – a conscious list – of things to ignore you’ll adhere to this better. Writing it down means something. I go the next step and add times to mine up until a certain point (usually 10am) I ignore my email. Nope, don’t check it. Don’t even open that tab. Smartphone blinky? Face down on the table. No. Focus. I typed mine for your consideration cause my handwriting is horrific! It’s a little contrived because I added to it for the sake of illustration… stay tuned for a real one I might be able to post.

to dontFinally this last one I’m not very good at explaining but it does a wonderful job at what it was made to do. If This Then That. IFTTT (pronounced like “gift” without the g). Anyway, you can add “channels” (Facebook, Delicious, an RSS feed… there are sixty choices) that apply to the if portion

if an RSS feed updates…

and tell the program what to do when that happens.

then tweet a link to the article to my followers.

I find this incredibly useful for collecting articles with keywords, getting pinged when I have new followers on Twitter (and, Dr. Folwer! you can auto-tweet them a “thank you!” note. if new follower, then tweet “thanks for following me, @stupidtwitterexample!”)ifttt2

So just as a few random examples I have IFTTT send me a text message when the Yankees games start. If there’s a posting in the local Blacksburg Craigslist about a bicycle for sale I get an email. If it’s going to rain tomorrow I get a push notification to my phone. When a photo gets tagged of me on Facebook I have it downloaded to a Dropbox folder.  There are TONS of “recipes” out there and I’d be glad to show anybody how they work if you’re so inclined.


Later, people!


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My Doug Funnie Closet

Doug’s wardrobe

I grew up watching Doug, one of Nickelodeon’s original “Nicktoons” and have always remembered his closet. To the best of my knowledge this is one of the only cartoons that acknowledges the fact that characters wear the same thing day in and day out, which leads me to our discussion last week about what to wear when one teaches. Well, let me backtrack. Dr. Fowler said something to the effect that Steve Jobs and Gardner Campbell alike wear similar things each day, to closet, to Doug. And back to reality.

A short story:

I am currently teaching in a classroom where I teach 50-70% of the time and the instructor of record teaches the remainder. I started the semester sitting in the back row answering questions when we did problem based learning. I wore jeans and a t-shirt (pretty much like you all see me Wednesday nights). I wear that same getup to office hours and around campus so when students saw me, that’s how they saw me. The first time I was asked to teach I ironed a shirt, wore slacks and nice shoes. I walked in, set my stuff up, and we had class.  At the end one of the more vocal students mentioned in passing that I didn’t need to fake being a professor. I could teach in what I wore before. Which brings me to my “personal self.”

Students looked at me as if I was faking something that I wasn’t. They knew from interactions that I knew my schtick and when it was my turn to actually teach them that is all they wanted – to gain what I knew. That large delta (my life is all about the “delta” but that’s another long involved blog post) between TA Dan and Teacher Dan was more disconcerting to the students than their instructor wearing a t-shirt. My authentic self is pretty laid back. Relaxed. I shouldn’t NEED to dress up for the sake of dressing up. Heck, look at Mark Zuckerberg. Looking the part does command respect and I do feel that it is appropriate but more often than not it tells students they must respect you whereas respect should be earned with how effective a teacher you are. Not the clothes on your back.

When I start teaching full time I promise not to wear jeans and a t-shirt every day. Pinky promise.


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My classmate and fellow engineer (or so it seems!) “Prof T” wrote a great entry about gender related stereotypes in STEM fields at her blog here. Besides that horrible spider she keeps as her banner, I loved the post! She spoke well on having female role models for female students in STEM classrooms and slowly making the transition to a diverse set of allies instead of just women.  I’d like to expand on that a little bit more.

For my PFP topic I wrote on increasing the quantity of women in STEM fields and while I had the same thought as Brandi initially I found a few studies that seemed to indicate just the opposite, oddly enough.Using some work from Shapiro (J. R. Shapiro and A. M. Williams, “The Role of Stereotype Threats in Undermining Girls’ and Womens’ Performance and Interest in STEM Fields,” Sex Roles, pp. 175-183, 2012.) I’d like to introduce the concept of a multi-threat framework.

The Multi-Threat Framework (MTF) is a system where stereotypes are broken down into six distinct categories using two different factors: the source of the stereotype as well as the target. It leads to the stereotype threat conclusions that we’re already familiar with but casts a more critical eye on the actual source of the threat.  Some common ones (and easy to illustrate) are

  • self as source:  the common one we know of – and to hark on a favorite stereotype – a girl just KNOWS she’s bad at math.
  • in group as source: a girl getting a bad grade on a math test feels worse about it if her teacher is female, as she’s let down somebody in the same minority
  • others as source: this girl is afraid that she’ll hold up the general image of women being bad at math; she’s letting her minority down.

It’s this “in group as source” stereotype threat that makes assuming a role model of the same minority stance a dangerous assumption. A young woman who takes and fails an exam with a female professor is considerably more likely to feel discouraged than a female taking an exam with a male instructor. It all boils down to disappointment. Somebody who should very well be your friend but, in actuality, is an enemy…

Frenemy: Someone who is both friend and enemy, a relationship that is both mutually beneficial or dependent while being competitive, fraught with risk and mistrust.

These threats that not only emerge within but act upon the same group are deadly. If one cannot trust and confide in their own minority, who can they talk to?! Perhaps, as Brandi rightly points out, they should rely on allies. People who may share similar experiences yet not the identical one.  Relatable yet not similar enough to be able to pass judgement not receive it. This requires openness and an acceptance of vulnerability for everybody involved – just enough to make a relationship seem inclusive but not so much as to become a therapist.  Positive role modeling without asking the mentee to literally become the mentor.

I say much of this with a grain of salt.  I’m a white male in a field dominated by white males.  I grew up in a privileged community where our school system buys SMART Boards for our kindergarteners. There’s not been a whole lot of adversity in my life, honestly, so I fear I’d be a pretty poor mentor for those people who might need it most.  It’s why I’m here in class, honestly. For those of use without experience or knowledge of a minority lifestyle we must learn empathy where full understanding is impossible.

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Devil’s (Food Cake) Advovate

We talked last night more about Food Deserts and how they are affecting the folks who live across those proverbial train tracks from the upper echelons of society. For those people reading this (to my adoring fans: hello!) who might not know what a food desert is, the concept is pretty simple.

There are individuals (families, communities, neighborhoods) that don’t have easy access to food.  They’re without a car so driving to the nearest grocery store is impossible. They may be far from public transportation so even taking a bus is out of the question.  If they do have access to public transit it’s nearly impossible to bring home a week’s worth of groceries in a single trip. They live in a proverbial “food desert” where instead of a scarcity of rain there is a scarcity of healthy food options.

“How do they eat?” you may be wondering.  7-11. Or, you know, something similar.  Fresh fruit and healthy options simply aren’t available. Often “fresh” items are very close to their expiration date.  These underprivileged people are malnourished from eating Twinkies, say.

But wait. One can LOSE weight when eating Twinkies alone. Shed pounds. Increase good cholesterol and decrease the bad.  At least according to Mark Haub, a prof at Kansas State

Twinkie the Kid in Stew Leonard’s, Danbury(ish), CT. He sings and dances if you press the button.

University. This is a half-truth, though. He didn’t only eat Twinkies. “To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.” 7-11 junk.

I won’t pretend to understand the jargon in the article about triglycerides and obesity, antioxidants or glucose, but it seems like there is a way around this: Education. There appears to be nothing wrong with eating processed snacks so long as it’s in moderation. Professor Haub took in less calories than than he burned and hence he lost weight.  The lost weight lead to those increased positive health markers, an overall benefit. Is it possible, in lieu of massive infrastructure changes, to educate the inhabitants of a food desert?

Community gardens. Farmers markets. Health education in public schools. Co-op programs. Heck, let’s serve nutritious meals to students in schools such that they gain a taste for carrots and apples, take an interest in their growth, and plant something in their yard.

Segue… here.

I think that most of us live in something called “Food Oases.” (I thought I was clever when I came up with that but apparently it’s everywhere already.  So much for that!) Food is plentiful and everywhere.  I know I can drive to the store and get whatever I please. Even if I couldn’t the buses come often enough and are very convenient such that I could have fresh food every day if I pleased. But what I buy at these stores, what my contemporaries purchase, and what receives the largest advertising budget is the same junk 7-11 food from above! In a world chock full of GOOD FOOD, we all eat crap.

So instead, I posit a “Food Mirage.”  It appears that we privileged few are surrounded by healthy options that we are free to purchase and consume. The produce section of my local Kroger is large, well kept, and stocked every day. If I truly lived in a Food Oasis I’d walk out of Kroger with bags laden with fresh meat and vegetables. Instead I’d say most of what I consume comes in a box. I also think our Hidden Brain comes into play here – we’re conditioned to find specific things delicious.  Heck, when was the last time you saw a commercial for a bell pepper? Back to Professor Haub:

Before his Twinkie diet, he tried to eat a healthy diet that included whole grains, dietary fiber, berries and bananas, vegetables and occasional treats like pizza.

“There seems to be a disconnect between eating healthy and being healthy,” Haub said. “It may not be the same. I was eating healthier, but I wasn’t healthy. I was eating too much.”

Even with the best intentions, plentiful food, and a knowledge of what’s healthy and what’s not, many of us still manage to lead unhealthy edible lifestyles. So while Food Deserts do need to be fixed and remedied there remains a MASSIVE portion of our community/country that needs to realize that what we’re in is a Food Mirage, not the perfect Food Oasis.

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My Easy Bake Brain

So for class this week we read a little bit about the Hidden Brain, and idea written down by Shankar Vedantam but readily recognized by many. This article is under copyright restrictions, so I found this NPR interview that pretty much exhibits the same concepts (plus it’s audio, so you don’t have to read!).  “Hidden Brain” is, as Dr. F so aptly called it, our “lizard brain.” Our consciousness below our consciousness.  Autopilot. It has a lot to do with what we observe without being told explicitly.  Specifically cited in the article was a case of 3-year-old bigots who knew to feel negatively toward dark faces while making positive associations with lighter ones.

But really.  It’s a 3 year old – how can this be?

Parents, media, preschool.

What I want to get across tonight is a bit about the media (television and print advertisements) and how it has to do directly with preconceived notions of sexual identity specifically.

Exhibit A: The Easy Bake Oven

This is Hasbro’s website for the Easy Bake Oven.  When I looked this up the banner was brown with pink edges.  When the video started to play it was a pink sign on a purple background. The host of the video was a girl (wearing pink) giving cake decorating tips where both the cake and frosting were… pink. (I’m colorblind, so somebody correct me if I’m wrong.) Then there’s this, the Oven itself.

Pink and purple, right? What is this telling to any young men who want to learn to cook? Baking is for women. Nowhere does Hasbro advertise that the EBO is for Ages 8+ and only for those with two X chromosomes. But they might as well, labeling it with colors such as above.  Come on, let’s be serious for a moment.  What could their target audience be OTHER THAN young girls?

But kudos go out to the Hasbro folks who introduced an EBO in blue, black, and silver at the behest of teen McKenna Pope, who wanted to buy an EBO for her brother. Having a rockin’ older sister FTW. This new “gender neutral” toy is just one of many joining the ranks now that companies are beginning to realize the pigeonholes their products place young, impressionable minds in.

Some more research seems to indicate that this trend continues.  Exhibit B is a page from a Toys R Us catalog out of Sweden. Here we find a young boy playing with a doll (dolls are for girls! right?) A young woman enjoying a typically male Nerf gun, and two youngsters playing house together. While this won’t sway every boy or girl to want their “opposite” toy, efforts like this will act to make those who do desire them to feel okay about it.  The subliminal messaging used in the media and advertisements are starting to trickle away.

What’s more encouraging may be this advertisement (Exhibit C) released by JCPenny on Father’s Day in 2012. It features Todd Koch and Cooper Smith, a same sex couple and their two children. JCP should be commended for continued support of the LGBT community (which started with a feud over a commercial featuring Ellen Degeneres – an openly gay woman) in an era where such bold statements are still taboo.

Gay couples are becoming more common in mainstream television thanks to such shows as Modern Family and The New Normal. And now that I think about it “the new normal” is exactly what these types of minority exposure are becoming.

And it’s about time.

As we begin to incorporate more and more gender neutral toys, advertise with “off-market” models, use real American families to sell products and act in television our Hidden Brains will begin to become accustomed to them.  This is not only the moral thing to do but it is very likely the best way to do it.  We’ve all been conditioned a certain way and messages like this help to un-condition our lizard brains. Well rehearsed rhetoric and passionate speeches will never change the minds of those staunchly against certain causes but these unconscious implicit messages might. Slow subtle changes are the only way to alter the course of a swiftly flowing river and these progressive steps forward do a great job of setting a new course in our understanding and acceptance of not just gender identity but overall equality as a whole.


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One of these things….

… is not like the others!

A destroyed pod/quad. Oh the humanity!

Not much content here except to notice that one of our pods has been destroyed! I walked in this morning to find the tables a little bit rearranged. As you can very well see the tables are facing the board like a normal lecture hall… tsk tsk whoever you are.

The sole purpose that money was spent to convert this classroom to a SCALE-UP style room with PBL was so we wouldn’t have formations as shown. The pods/quads are a great breakaway from the normal industrialized style of classroom.  The linear abovce configuration is perfect to tell students to sit down and shut up, not encourage discussion and peer-teaching/learning like the quads do.

I really do honestly wonder who did it.  And why they thought it would be an advantage over the SCALE-UP style room it was meant to be.

Pulled off what I thought was a pretty good demo today about non-steady state diffusion.  Stay tuned for an update on what happened!

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My Mother the SMART Board

Okay, so my mother isn’t actually a SMART Board. But she has one and uses one on an almost daily basis.

I should stop and forward you here if you have no idea what a SMART Board is or does! Essentially it’s an interactive whiteboard that interfaces with a computer and an overhead projector to make activities come to life.  You can load physics engines, chemistry simulations, and grammar programs to teach lessons interactively.

  • Thing #1 you should know about my mother: She’s a teacher.

Kudos, Tina, for beating the curve and getting technological with your students! In the PBS documentary that we watched we all saw how well technology helped students learn and inspired them to be innovative. SMART Boards still have that “wow” factor where students want to “play” (read: learn!) with them. It’s amazing to watch a math lesson which could be as boring as 2+2=4 turn into a fun game where students can slide apples into baskets and sum them up.

  • Thing #2 you should know about my mother: She teaches KINDERGARTEN!

Okay, maybe I gave that away with the my apples analogy above but for real:  my mother’s an honest to God snot-wiping, shoe-tying, alphabet-singing kindergarten teacher! And yet she is incorporating technology into her classroom. A 5 year old knows how many quarters make up a dollar because she’s slid them on top of one another on screen and watched a dollar appear. Immediate gratifying feedback. Filling in the missing letter in the alphabet string using an e-marker taught many students that M comes after L but before N (you just sang that aloud to check, I know it).

  • Thing #3 you should know about my mother: she quintuple-clicks hyperlinks, writes emails in PowerPoint, and wants to rewind the DVD.

Read: she’s NOT tech savvy. Not one tiny bit. But she invested some of her time to be able to learn this technology! Part of my previous post was about the difficulties in getting those stuck in the status quo to change their ways. I’m pretty sure that she put up a fight when they installed the SMART Board (“what the ‘h-e-double hockey sticks’ am I gonna do with this?!”) but once demonstrated she saw the value that could be added. I really do think that it will take a lot of convincing to shift many teachers into this new style but it CAN be done. Those of us who support the idea of transformative education and increasing technology in the classroom need to be examples.  We need to produce repeatable work and share the results of our prospering students. And also share what didn’t work.  We need to learn from mistakes and push forward.

Moral of my story is that if my mother can do it, we can all do it.  We can all do it and we can be successful on ANY level! Success will come at the cost of a little bit of initial frustration and push back. But once successes are documented and valuable experiences are shared we can all come away with a more vibrant and diverse toolbox to teach our youngsters.

If somehow she stumbles across this… I love you mom!

Frydryk Family, Thanksgiving ’12.

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Effective Prompting

Finally! After a few failed attempts at a successful prompt in problem based learning, I got one to work!

We were asking the students to calculate the theoretical density of iron (which for the purposes of this post I don’t continue to show… isn’t it obvious? duh…). I had taken a different approach the first few times we prompted them to try something.  I was more or less “here’s something abstract and open ended.  Run with it, please!” and it always turned out miserably. Nobody knew quite what I was asking for and that’s entirely my fault. As you can see I asked EXACTLY what I wanted to know.  Please, insert name here, tell me the answer to this.

And what did I get? The answer! Surprise!

The first slide had some pretty basic data on it. If they had their books I wouldn’t have even needed to post said info. The second slide was about five minutes into the exercise. A few people were struggling and a few groups were done. So I asked those groups that were done to provide a few “hints” that they came up with.  I think that the fact that students were helping other students out really empowered both parties. And it made my life easier.

I want to caution myself (and my readers) against giving TOO specific of a prompt. There needs to be a line drawn between providing useful hints and successful nudges versus writing down, step by step, the solution to a given problem. I think that because this was the first attempt at using a PBL example (that worked) students needed some guidance.  A confidence boost, if you will.  I think that as I go and the students begin to realize that – no, I won’t always give you the answer – I can start to drop back on the amount of provided guidance. More open ended much like they’ll begin to see in their senior design teams and the workplace.  It SHOULD be up to them to come up with what they don’t know and then set the groundwork to find that useful data.

I’ve been asked to go teach on Friday in a standard classroom? I’m wondering how it will feel versus this new style I’m now used to.  Maybe I’ll freak some students out a bit and walk around the (ugh!) lecture hall…

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2012-08-12 18.29.53

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Not Cool, Robert Frost!

First off, this is unbearably awesome.  Secondly, it has quite a lot to do with the PBS documentary we just watched!

Granted, the concept of “inspire someone today” can be applied to many many different realms and is applicable to just about everything difficult people go through in life. I was looking for a medium with which to convey our pedagogical “tipping point” and I found one.

While I sat and watched the PBS series the common thread that I saw between the varying new takes on the education process was that they’re all markedly different than what exists in public schools currently (duh). What I would have liked to know was the back end legwork – what did it take to furnish a school with 30 PS3s, 25 smartboards, and the fancy green screen and recording studio? How incredibly hard was it to put the whole thing together? Which brings me to Kid President’s first quote:

and I took the road less traveled. AND IT HURT, MAN! really bad… ROCKS! THORNS! GLASS!

Enforcing and creating these new pedagogies is not going to be easy. In the Science Leadership Academy (40:30) the speaker mentions that schools had been based off of the industrial model for so long. Much like a manufacturing line, pumping out students became fitting given parts into a predefined shape. Breaking this status quo is surely to be a daunting task. Whether facing stiff resistance from school adminstrators, parents, or the students themselves (who are GREAT at learning how to sit in chairs! learning how to ace exams! [ideas from Wesch this week]), we need to remain inspired to push these changes. At which point the detractors need to be reminded that

if life is a game, aren’t we all on the same team?


boring is easy; everybody can be boring!

As educators all we wish to do is see growth in our students (and hopefully growth in ourselves). What new pedagogies that grasp onto technology and innovative theories do is scare people! We’re all used to boring, stale, overcooked. We need to team up and be united by the things that are exciting.

But what if there really were two paths? I want to be on the one that leads to awesome.

A young woman in the Digital Youth Network (15:30) perhaps embodies this theory exactly. Once she started down that more awesome path her life changed drastically.  She began to learn within the program, went home and shared her expertise with family and friends, and now is teaching students what she learned.  She is passing down the awesome message that got transmitted to her by people that weren’t afraid to take that road less traveled. First.

Anyway, I know these analogies and metaphors are trite at best but what matters most here is that even though we’re on the right path by enrolling in CP to begin with we must all avoid falling back into the old standard ways to teach and interact with students.  So if you ever get bogged down just come back and listen to Kid President give you a pep talk. And just remember that if you quit, you’ll be denying future generations the privilege if seeing your personal Space Jam.

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