Sliding into Inspired Laziness

My laziness has been uninspired for a long while.

I have a confession to make. A Teacher Confession if you will.

I do not have my students use computers in our classroom.

There are many reasons.

Most are manifestations of my laziness and effective and efficient use of procrastination.

But lately, after seeing some great uses of Google Classroom and Chromebooks from a few co-workers, I have been feeling like I should be doing a better job of integrating technology in my lessons.

Inspiration came to me despite my laziness.

I started searching for ideas how to to best incorporate Google Classroom and I kept coming across posts by Alice Keeler. #25 on the list found on her blog here rocked my world.

How cool would it be to have each student create their own slide and be able to simultaneously see what others have done and share what their work? That convinced me.

My laziness was truly inspired.

I used the monthly required reading my students complete based on the work of Donalyn Miller and her amazing book The Book Whisperer.

I first created a slideshow in Google Apps. (I know, big deal right…I know there or others out there doing much more creative things with GAFE than this assignment.)

I set the first slide as a title slide and I include the period this individual slide show belongs to.

Then I create a slide with the directions.Then I create a slide with an example and template. Students then just click the \”add\” slide button and they are ready to create!

I make sure to enable the correct sharing settings based on my district\’s requirements.

I gave students two weeks to complete their slides. I had the assignment linked on our homework page by period.

I am going to share each class period\’s slideshow on our homework page next (I just have to delete all of their last names!). But here is my sixth period class…Please note, their may be grammar and other errors.

This assignment was more a \”proof of concept\” for me. Better writing and issues regarding fair use of images will be covered in the future!

A few things I really like about this assignment:

  • Students can see examples as they are creating their own slides
  • Students can be creative and express themselves
  • Students can comment on each other’s slides
  • Students are given greater insight into their peers
  • Students can go back and revise/edit whenever and how often they want
  • Students who are shy have a voice
  • Students have discovered they are similar to others they do not know or even dislike

I have extended this assignment to students creating their own Sacred Writing Time Prompts, too. The applications and possibilities are endless!

Book Review: Encouragement in the Classroom by Joan Young

I read Joan Young\’s excellent new book Encouragement in the Classroom: How do I help students stay positive and focused?  on the airplane to ISTE2014.

At first, I groaned at the title, thinking “not another feel good, impractical, hyperbole filled book of new age crap that I can read on #edchat!”


Nuance, research, and practical thoughts and advice permeate through-out this book. This book is an automatic gift to all my future student teachers!

Wait, stop…

I am going to try something different here. Instead of a typical  book review where I write three paragraphs of irrelevant background information about setting and context, I am just going to offer up some of the passages I highlighted on my Kindle. I am hoping these give you a glimpse into my mind and perhaps patterns will emerge.

The highlights listed below have caused me to think and wonder…I wish I could further elaborate on each quote, but I am finding the thoughts incomplete as I am still processing how I will integrate these concepts/thoughts into my own daily experience once summer is over.

I hope you will further provoke my thinking in the comments and we can dialogue back and forth…

Encouragement in the Classroom: How do I help students stay positive and focused? (ASCD Arias) by Joan Young Last annotated on June 26, 2014

If students did not have a particularly successful day, give them the opportunity to reflect further and decide on some action to take. Students can choose from a class-generated list of tips, available as a Google Drive document or a Padlet, for example, that usually help them concentrate or learn better. Read more at location 186

Challenge students to assess their focus skills by showing them the Invisible Gorilla video (Chabris &      Simons, 2010) on selective. Read more at location 194

Take a mindful walk. Read more at location 252

Teach the art of intention. Read more at location 258

Encourage students to write down their daily intentions and set alerts or reminders using timers or applications such as PhotoMind, Intend, or HiFutureSelf. Read more at location 263.

Consider designating a different theme for each day of the week. On Monday, students could engage in a “caption this” do-now that has them come up with a caption to an outrageous photo. Evoking awe is a great way to wake up the brain. Tuesday’s do-now could be a critical thinking and writing exercise in which students must evaluate whether a story is truth or fiction. Be creative. Observe which activities generate the most energy and engagement, and adjust the do-nows accordingly. Read more at location 293

Create a wonder wall. Wonder is a valuable asset to learning. When we wonder, we become. Read more at location 408.

f you need a boost to begin infusing your own classroom with wonder, visit Wonderopolis ( with your class and check out the site’s “wonder of the day.” Read more at location 417.

Maintain a “good news” folder and post the contents on a gratitude board.    Read more at location 443

I highly suggest you purchase  and support the wonderful work Joan Young has done with Encouragement in the Classroom: How do I help students stay positive and focused?

The Photography Interviews: Dan McDowell

Below is the seventh installment of an ongoing series on photography and those who are doing amazing things with their cameras.

I have reached out to many people in my Instagram feed, all who have captured and held my imagination, and asked to interview them about their art. There are teachers and non-teachers in this series, but each one brings something that can be applicable to the classroom.

I encourage you to check out their Instagram feeds and ask them questions!

Dan McDowell, @danmcdowell, shares his talents with us in this post. I had the pleasure of participating in a few photowalks with Dan and what stands out is his patience in observing the scene and not feeling  the need to take a picture of everything. Discerning eye that can teach us all a great deal.

What is your primary camera and/or camera app (stock camera/Hipstamatic/VSCO…)

I reluctantly have to say my iPhone 5 serves as my primary camera. This comes after years and years of using a DSLR almost exclusively. I wouldn’t even use my wife’s point-and-shoot camera. I lugged my D70, then my D90, with a small collection of lenses everywhere. On top of that, for the last five years, I added photography teacher to my history teacher persona. Taking high quality images with top notch equipment was important to model and fell into what I have always done.

Then 10 months ago I left the classroom to work at the district office. That gave me the excuse to move over to the iPhone almost full time. I need something quick, nimble, and unobtrusive on a daily basis. I didn’t even bring the DSLR to ISTE this year.

On the iPhone I use the main Camera app. Then move the photos to other apps for editing.

What are your favorite editing apps?

DistressFX is my hands down favorite editing app. It can really transform an average landscape into something spectacular or take a good one to the next level. I mostly use Photoshop Express to do all my base editing – I’ve used Photoshop and Lightroom over the years and this feels more natural than others. I’m also a fan of Mirrorgram, TangledFX, and my latest favorite, Circular +.

What is your favorite picture and story behind it? (Please include – link is fine, too)

This photograph was take in the hutongs southwest of Tiananmen Square. I was there consulting at a Beijing international school last year and was wandering the streets and alleys with some friends. As a former history teacher, I have always been taken with the idea of walking in the theaters of historical events. I imagined the chaos of the those hours after the Chinese tanks crushed the protest and forced thousands to flee through these streets. No doubt many found refuge in doorways like this. It was a typical smoggy, sunless sky so I decided to take out all of the color except for the red and add some grain. When we finally started back home, Google Maps brought us back to safety – navigating us through passages just 6 feet wide in some places.

It looks amazing as a 13×19 print.


Can you share a tip?

I have two:

1. Most photographs (on a phone or DSLR) need a little more contrast. It makes a huge difference. Try it.

2. Photography is a numbers game. First, it takes practice – to get good you have to do it a lot. Second, never take just one. Take a dozen or more of any one scene. Contemplate it and then take some more.

Who and what are your favorite photographers, communities, and hashtags you really enjoy and learn from?

As a photo teacher, I got a lot of inspiration from my students. When given the opportunity to be creative and stretch an idea, they always delivered. I grew more as a photographer in the last five years guiding teenagers through the creative process, than in the 20 before that. It really reinvigorated my own vision of photography. To continue to get inspiration today, I follow a number of my former students on Instagram along with a few pros and the likes of Nicole Dalesio (instagram: @magrelacanela), Karl Lindgren-Streicher (instagram: @LS_Karl), Reuben Hoffman (Instagram: @Reubenhoffman), Ken Shelton (Instagram: @kshelton) and you!

Why do you take pictures?

I have always had artistic inclinations, but do not have any drawing, painting, or sculpting skills. My dad took millions of photos, as did his dad. So when I was in high school it was a natural step for me to take photography. That led to working for the school newspaper. Which led to work as a photojournalist throughout college at UCSD, SDSU, and as a intern / stringer at a couple local papers. I also got a minor in Art Photography. When I decided to take the teacher path, I kept my photography up as a way to artistically explore my world and record the events that crossed my path. Today, I use it as a release from all the stresses of life. As I get into the zone of taking and editing photos all those worries blur into the background.

What is your style?

\r\nUnless it is my kids, I am a landscape photographer. I love looking at a scene and trying to find the best way to represent it. I certainly love a pure image that reflects reality at it’s best, but I also love a good edit. However, the transformation of reality into something surreal or otherworldly brings me great joy. Mirrorgram, TangledFX, and Circular + provide opportunities to expand the possibilities. On my DSLR have played a lot with motion, but haven’t been happy with the results so far on my phone.

My process has two distinct parts. First, you have to take a good photograph. I primarily use the Camera app on my iPhone. I think about lighting and composition styles – along with an special effects I might want to add later. I like to have the full unmanipulated image at my disposal. The thrill of capturing the right moment and angle gives me a rush. The second part involves editing. Sometimes I’ll just up the contrast and the clarity. Other times I add special effects, take out part of the image, blend a couple images together, etc. Most of the time, I’m thinking about the second part moments after that perfect capture, but they are two distinct phases. And two potential moments for victory!

How long do you wait to edit a picture after first taking it AND how long do you wait from when you first take a picture and when you post it.

For most of my photos, I generally have an idea of what I want to do with them when I take them. I look for opportunities to showcase the strengths of certain apps like Lorystripes or TangledFX. For those moments that I have an idea, I just have to do it. Other images I just have to contemplate and figure out what, if anything, I want to do.

I am a quick poster. If the image is done, I post it. Today that is final act of creating a finished image for me. I take enough images that in a few days, I’ll probably have something else.

What is the future for mobile photography?

Mobile photography is photography. People are not buying point-and-shoot cameras like they use to because their phone is almost as good. Many professional photographers I know use their iPhone for personal moments because of the convenience. I use to tell my students that the best camera is the one that they have with them. We might have to expand that idea to editing as well – the best computer is the one that you have with you – phone or laptop. It takes so much longer to take a photo on a DSLR and then edit it on my Mac. Unless I’m going to make a 13×19 print or shoot my daughter’s soccer game, my iPhone is my camera. I think this is the first time I have made that declaration.

Mobile photography in the classroom, any thoughts and/or suggestions?

Teachers need to find ways for students to use photography in the classroom. They have this amazing tool in their pocket – let’s empower them to use it. It could be they are looking to photograph a concept or idea. Or maybe they are documenting a process, a school event, or landmarks in the community. It can be the whole assignment or a component of a larger project. My advice to teachers is to just do it. Make it happen.

Thanks again Dan!


The Photography Interviews: Joe Montoya

Below is the second installment of an ongoing series on photography and those who are doing amazing things with their cameras. I have reached out to many people in my Instagram feed, all who have captured and held my imagination, and asked to interview them about their art. There are teachers and non-teachers in this series, but each one brings something that can be applicable to the classroom.

I encourage you to check out their Instagram feeds and ask them questions!

I am thrilled to introduce Joe Montoya‘s photography and joy! Montoya’s pictures inevitably bring a smile to your face, even if it is a picture of a classic car! He has a way of bringing out the joy in his subjects. Montoya often is featured in various groups on Instagram and I can immediately know when it is his picture featured because of his consistency of style across black and white, colors, and use of various applications.

What is your primary camera and/or camera app (stock camera/Hipstamatic/VSCO…)

I shoot with an iPhone 5 and 90% of the time with Hipstamatic.

What are your favorite editing apps?

My go-to editing app is Snapseed, but am hooked on Mextures right now. There’s a lot of versatility in the app, and just like Snapseed is easy to use.

What is your favorite picture and story behind it?


Sorry, I couldn’t find the original with higher resolution, but I this one has to be one of my favorites.

The model is my daughter, and I watched her play and her sister while they played with dandelions.

The late afternoon sun was a the perfect angle.

Even though my Hipstamatic app was set at a lower resolution, it still captured the pods as they were blowing away. I maxed out the contrast in Snapseed and converted it to black and white. I think this photo captures childhood. The silhouette gives it a dreamy look.

Can you share a tip?

Light is your best friend. Understand how light works and affects your photos.\r\nFor example, to get this silhouette I positioned myself to shoot with my daughter’s head blocking out the sun, but not fully to get the glowing effect to illuminate the dandelion. I probably got 20 shots in before we ran out of dandelions.

Who and what are your favorite photographers, communities, and hashtags you really enjoy and learn from?

I really do not know many historically great photographer/artists but I recently saw a documentary on Henri Cartier-Bresson and his images are amazing. I’ve seen Jay Maisel’s work and greatly admire his style. Mobile artists? I like Josh Johnson. My personal friend, Albert Montes (@mr_bearded_one on Instagram), is an amazing artist as well. His body of work is outstanding.

I belong to a couple of photography groups on Instagram and finding supportive groups on Google+ (like your Hipstamatic groups Stephen) and Flickr.

I am part of the AMPt_Community (checkout which has really stretched me as an artist.

They have great leadership and engaging community of mobile photographers and artists.

Why do you take pictures?

I enjoy telling stories. I want my images to tell a story.

What is your style? 

I’m not sure what you name my style. When I look at my gallery on Instagram or Flick I don’t take a lot of landscapes or portraits.

I like to shoot what I like, which happens to be old cars and people and things on the beach.I like shooting at close range at various angles.

How long do you wait to edit a picture after first taking it AND how long do you wait from when you first take a picture and when you post it.

I normally shoot in Hipstamatic, and if I like the shot and have the time, I will post the shot within minutes.

The shots that need editing usually won’t get edited until the evening and may not be posted for days.

What is the future for mobile photography?

Mobile photography is not a fad but will continue to be used as a “serious” tool for artists, professionals, and enthusiasts in various sectors of life: tv, film, print, education, medicine, design, news, etc.

Mobile photography in the classroom, any thoughts and/or suggestions?

I think it’s wide open. Field trips, Projects, Reports, etc. regardless of subject matter.

The ability to share wirelessly from a mobile device to a screen or projector is a game changer in education.

Thanks again Joe! Hope to see you in Seal Beach sometime soon! 🙂

Next up is @fodograff

Finished Early

I messed up. I let my hosting of my blog lapse and I am now trying to rebuild my blog. This is an old post from around May of 2011….

Many of my students finished their Math state test early today and, to keep themselves occupied until all were finished, decided to pass the time in a few interesting ways:

Lot’s of patience, happiness, and joy. Even connections being strengthened.No technology needed.’,

Seeking Contentment

I have been thinking much about contentment and to what extent technology, web 2.0, and modernity is adding to or taking this away from our lives.How many of us teachers are content with what we have in the classroom, even though it may not be the newest, best, technologically advanced item/concept/tool?

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn\’t come as a result of getting something we don\’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.\”  Frederick Keonig

How many of us are using to the full extent the things we already have in our schools?
I know that when I see a new app for the iPhone recommended by a friend or blogger, nine times out of ten I buy it – without researching! I am writing a post on being reactionary…stay tuned….

Why can I not be content with what I already have regarding all things education?

John Spencer wrote a post about only listening to only two albums for a month – an exercise in contentment.

Jerrid Kruse recently wrote a post on observations he made of his pre-service teachers prior to class beginning – a need for contentment.

The Japanese concept of Ma (Negative Space) is interesting – an answer to contentment? (I could get religious here, but I will not…)A while ago I noticed that I was, essentially, trying to lesson plan using on Twitter and following #edchat. The resources many of you share are amazing! I often get excited (err, reactionary) and want to try them out in class the next day.

I was a ship lost at sea, rudderless, waiting for the next current to direct me. Maybe I should think more on this metaphor and look at how sail boats tack and jib.Where is my sense of contentment?

More is not inherently better.I understand we need to grow personally AND professionally as teachers. However, at what point does the growth become more cancerous than beneficial?

What do you think about contentment and education?

Five Reminders Before State Testing

Here are five reminders I gave my students prior to beginning the obligatory state tests this morning:

1. Unwrap your snacks prior to the test so there is no crinkling of wrappers.

2. Blow your nose outside.

3. You know the tests stories are boring, do not be surprised by this.

4. You can tell your friends during the break that you bubbled all “A’s” or made a pretty design – but really try your hardest while taking the test. (Street cred is still important in Junior High.)

5. No test can really measure what you truly know; do not let this test influence your self-esteem.

Bonus Reminder: Before opening your Monster Energy Drink, go into the English office/book room (adjoining room), cover with your hand, and then quickly open your beverage.


I recently realized I use the word “nuance” frequently in my blog posts and tweets. It is my “go to” word. It is my “philosophical” word. It is my “argument” word.

Nuance is a pretty difficult word to define. I have touched thematically on this word HERE. There are the standard “shades of grey” and “wiggle room” definitions.

But I think there is more to this shape-shifting word, much like there is more to unicorns and hobos. While I use the word to in ways similar to the above definitions, I often use “nuance” as an excuse to cover up my arguments’ shortcomings on various issues.rr

Photo by Jeanyves Lemoigne

Nuance takes time and is a linked to one’s reputation.

People are willing to let some bands experiment with their sound if those band have the reputation for pushing themselves forward musically and lyrically. The Beatles come to mind.

People gave The Beatles time to develop their nuance.

Would The Beatles be as influential today if they only wrote songs similar to their first three or four? I doubt they would be influential to the same extent they are now. The Beatles did not go from “Help!” to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” over night. They began experimenting in the studio, with herbs, and with chemicals, slowly adding more “nuance” to their songs.

The Ramones perfected the two minute blitzkrieg bop. If they were to write a 23 minute epic about unicorns chasing ninjas, people would be upset. People do not expect, or even want, “nuance” from The Ramones.

Nuance is given to the writer by the reader after many blog posts and tweets.

Saying Nice Things to Students

For the thirteen years I have been teaching, I have a tradition I do around the last week of school.
I say something nice to each student.
No technology needed.
No pedagogy needed.
It started with me going around the room thanking my students for an amazing year of wild ups and downs my first year of teaching.
It has now become an emotional day for me and the students where I open up and tell the students how I really feel about them.
My students and I are pretty close and we generally know how we feel about each other. But there is something special about saying nice things to each student in front of their peers. In addition, there is the community aspect.
Often, we joke about certain events that happened through the year. Over the years, students have begun to say something nice to me, too.
It is pretty early for me, but I am already thinking about the things I am going to say to some students this year!
Try it with your classes…