Productivity with Wear Pomodoro

I think it’s safe to say that staying organized and using my time productively is something I struggle with on a daily basis.  I am excited to read other #saskedchat blog posts about this topic, since I have a lot to learn in this department!

One of the best tools I have tried out lately has been a Pomodoro timer app, called Wear Pomodoro, that I use on my smart watch.  Once I hit go, it starts a timer for 25 minutes.  After 25 minutes, it will buzz and make me get up and start moving around.  My watch can detect once I’m up and moving and once I am up a 5 minute timer starts, indicating it’s break time. Then, it will buzz again and it’s back to work for 25 minutes.   After a number of these, the app will give me a longer break.   The entire app is based on of the Pomodoro Technique.

According to Wikipedia, there are five basic steps to implementing the technique:

  1. Decide on the task to be done
  2. Set the pomodoro timer to n minutes (traditionally 25)[1]
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x
  4. Take a short break (3–5 minutes)
  5. After four pomodori, take a longer break (15–30 minutes)

I have also found that my breaks can’t be browsing Facebook or playing a game on my phone. They need to be completely different that how I am working, which is usually at a desk on my computer.  I have started to build in other items I need to get done, like dishes, or a laundry, or shovelling snow.   Now, not only am I getting more work done by focusing in for that period of time, but I’m checking more things off of my general to-do list.

I’m not sure how long this technique will continue to work for me, but I hope it will, at the very least, help me work towards using my time in a more focused way.

While looking up the link for the app, I also found another version for Android Wear that I’ll check out: Wear Tomato.



Where to sit?

This year, I have found myself having serious debates about seating plans and arrangements in my classroom. Having taught high school previously, I never had any major concerns about seating plans.  Students would come in, sit where they wanted to and, if there were a problem, I would simply ask the students to move. Problem solved.

However, I’m now teaching middle years and it is pretty evident that my students don’t have the self-discipline required to situate themselves productively in my classroom.

To start the year, I allowed my students to just pick a spot and see how things went. This was before I realized just how different a middle years classroom is from a high school classroom. Two weeks after this, I implemented a seating plan.  The seating plan was met with a lot of feet dragging and moaning and groaning, but I did find that my classroom management was more manageable for me.

Later in the year, I opened up my seating plan again.  I allowed students to sit wherever they wanted, with whomever they wanted. The only catch was that if they “blew it” by being unproductive or disruptive, they would need to find new seats separate from one another.  This worked for a couple of days.  Shortly after, the majority of my students weren’t getting anything done other than socializing.  I don’t mind kids talking to each other, as long as they are talking about their learning or using the large majority of their time working forward.  Reluctantly, I implemented a seating plan again.  It has helped but has not fixed all that I had hoped.

Recently, I came across two other blog posts about seating plans.  One post was from Brian Bennett and the other from John Spencer.  Apparently I am not the only one thinking about seating students in my classroom.

Brian, like me, believes that it is important for teachers to allow students the opportunity to make decisions that impact their day-to-day as much as possible.   However, he recently decided to implement a seating plan in one of his classes.  In his post, Brian says,

“I’d forgotten that structure and routine are what allow us to get to a point where students work independently reliably. I have to build the ethic into them, and part of that is restricting extraneous factors which can cause distraction.”

In John’s post, he talks about some of the myths surrounding the idea of an open seating plan.  I’m not going to lie, the three myths he shares are among the thoughts I battle with when I consider opening up my seating plan.  Each myth addresses what would be classroom management issues: students will talk more, students need to work with people they don’t know, and more discipline issues.   He gives some great thoughts for looking at those issues in a different light.  John ends his post by saying the following about seating plans:

“It’s a simple gesture that can build trust and empower students.”

The more I think about it, the less decisive I am on this issue.

I think what it really comes down to is finding ways to build self-discipline with my students and work them towards being able to make the right decisions for their own learning.  This has always been a goal of mine as a teacher, but one I will need to put more focus into moving forward.  It will be a tough sell at this point in the year, but we all know teaching isn’t much different from building airplanes in the sky.

Where do you sit on seating plans?  What works? What doesn’t work?

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The Amazing Pushbullet

If you are anything like me, you are constantly juggling multiple devices throughout your day – phone, tablet, computers. Each one of these devices serves a different purpose and I use them in different situations.

What I have found quite often is that I’m browsing Twitter or reading articles on one device and I realize that I really want to be able to look at it on another device. Or, I find an app for my phone while I’m on my computer or a program for my computer while I’m on my phone.  It never fails that I find myself using the incompatible device when I come across something I’d like to explore more.

Normal the following would happen next: Find the link to what I needed.  Open up my email and paste the link into the email.  Email the link to myself.  Get on my other device. Open up my email and get the link going.  I know this doesn’t sound too complicated or exhausting, but when you do a large number of times in a given day it does get a little old.

Then came Pushbullet to my rescue.  It has been around for a while, but I haven’t realized its true power until recently.  Pushbullet describes itself as:

“mak[ing] your devices work better together by allowing you to move things between them easily.”

It’s so brilliantly simple. All you need is a Google account to log in.  And, it supports almost everything now.  The only device no supported is a Mac computer, but any of the browser extensions will do the trick (I use it in Chrome in my iMac).  Here is a list of compatible devices.

After you set up your devices, all you have to do is share with the app and it will instantly pop up on the device you choose to send it to.  I was astounded with how fast it was.  And, even if you like sending yourself those emails for old times sake, you can add an email address to send whatever you have to it.

Here’s a quick clip that shows how it works


You are not just limited to links either.  Pushbullet can send addresses with maps, files from device to device (a tad bit slower, depending on size), and can even be configured to allow your texts and calls from your phone pop up on your computer, a neat feature which I do not personally use.

Head over to Pushbullet to find the apps for your devices.

“Don’t just consume things, create things” – Hour of Code 2014

I am writing this post a little late, but decided it was worth sharing my experience with the Hour of Code in December. The Hour of Code officially took place during the week of December 8th – 12th.

The entire purpose behind the Hour of Code was to introduce kids to computer programming and address some of the stereotypes associated with computer programming.

When I initially told my students we would be participating in this project, there were a lot of “are you kidding me?” looks on their faces, aside from the few students that were already interested in programming and build games during their Genius Hour projects.  I knew it would be an uphill battle getting my students sold on the idea of coding during class.  I pleaded for them to take a risk, something we’ve been discussing all year, and try to see what they can come up with. No marks, just trying something completely new out.

However, that quickly changed when I told them they could build their own Flappy Bird game or create an app that they could open up on their own phones.  To kick things off I showed them the following video:

This excitement to get going on this was met with some internet issues – a number of applications not opening or just not working.  For a couple of students they were able to use their own phones to access some of the activities.  I even gave up my phone to a couple of students to use too.

Just as I was about to completely lose them, the internet connection pulled through and we were flying!  Until that point in the year, I had not seen such a high level of engagement and interest from every student in my classroom.  This was differentiation and engaging learning at it’s best (for me anyways!).  Students that have a tough time getting excited about anything at school were ecstatically sharing their games and apps with classmates.  Collaboration and the desire to share and work with one another quickly emerged as each student learned something “cool” that they needed to share with everyone, so they could use it.

My hour of code quickly turned into 2 hours of code.  Why would I interfere in such a powerful and interesting learning experience for them?

By exploring this one hour of code in my classroom, I now have students who are making apps instead of Powerpoint presentations for their work – building their own games to play and share, instead of mindlessly playing what they download.  This made me think back to President Obama’s quote during his introductory video to students for the Hour of Code:

Don’t just consume things, create things

I think that’s something we all want in our classrooms. More creating, less consuming.

Luckily, the Hour of Code tutorials and activities are still live and can be used in your classroom tomorrow if you want. There are even activities that can be done without computers and without internet access, if access to those resources is an issue in your school.

I highly recommend trying the Hour of Code with your students – you won’t regret it and your students will be super thankful.  If you do, please let me know how your experience goes!

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The Retake Debate

Recently, I’ve been in heated discussions around whether or not we should allow students to retake assessments.  I teach both math and science currently, and the departments are in very different places with regards to their stance on retakes.

In my math courses, students are free to retake any quiz they please.  The thinking behind this is that if they are willing to put in the effort to fill the gaps in their understanding, they should be given the opportunity to show me that they have.  In order to be able to retake a quiz though, they must go through a quiz retake form.  It serves as a reflective process to help students identify what areas they need to work on and encourages them to look for recurring patterns in their assessments.  I would approach the retake process for a student whose mistakes are all computational much different than one who identifies that they didn’t understand the topic at all.   This idea of a retake form was inspired by a presentation at the NCTM Regional Conference in 2011 .

The retake form that I use can be downloaded here: .

Some have suggested only those that score below a certain grade can qualify for a retake.  I’m torn on this because I think all students should get the opportunity, but some students don’t need to do it.  Some students retake to show me they understand, while some only retake so they can bring their grade from an A- to A.

Others are completely against retakes, finding it either unfair to  those who were prepared or to much work for the teacher.  Some allow students to correct their mistakes as a homework grade, but I think this method fails to allow our students to use the reflective process to a level where they can show us that they have now learned.

I guess a lot of this comes back to what you believe a grade should represent.  Unfortunately, grades are driving our practice here.  I want learning to drive this, but I’m sure that won’t entirely drive it until we can abolish grading completely.

“Do you round up?”

At my school, we’re nearing the end of our second trimester.  Consequently, students are starting to see how their grades are stacking up now that most of their assignments and assessments have been completed and entered into our LMS.   Our LMS reports the grades to students as percentages, but we (teachers) report the grades to the school as letter grades.  We have a range that gives a student their letter grade based on their percentage.

Students are starting to see that they’re one percent off of the next letter grade. Some are even only 0.4% away from the next range, so immediately they are asking me if I round up (they have a point; who am I to say if my student knows 82.3% opposed to 82.7%?  I can’t accurately measure their learning to that sort of precision).  And when I try to tell them that they still have opportunities to show me their learning progress, they quickly jump to asking for extra credit assignments.   They are willing to do anything just to make that number go up, but that anything typically detracts from their actual learning and adds stress to their overstressed student lives.

I struggle with this mostly because these students are stressing about a letter instead of their learning.  It is unnecessarily sucking away their curiosity to learn and shift their attention to a letter that is not a good representation or measure of their learning.  I know that my students want to do well and learn, but their learning is distracted by the pressure to have a good grade, whether it is from a parent, college aspirations, previous grades or just pressure they put on themselves.

I spend all trimester working to shift their focus away from their grade and onto their learning.  Without fail, every time finals or report cards come around, it seems to completely unravel.  I wish I knew the solution, but I struggle to see this changing until we can eliminate our traditional grades altogether.

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