Taking a Page

There’s a great quarterly magazine called “Make.” It’s about (wait for it) making things. A good read, if you’re into the DIY thing.

They’ve got a slogan for companies that are killing off software or hardware:

If you’re going to kill it, make it open.

You could apply this to Cisco, who killed the semi-popular Flip video cameras. Or to any small software company.

The classic example of this is Apple’s Newton handheld device. This was, in many ways, the iPhone before the iPhone was a thing. WAY before. It was ahead of it’s time, and Apple eventually killed the project. They never open-sourced it. But a vibrant community of hackers and makers have kept at it, and there are still Newtons running, now with WiFi, Bluetooth, and a myriad of other features that were never part of the device.

But think about it with education: A lesson that I’m maybe not going to use can be set free for other educators to use/modify/grow into a new and vibrant thing.

We are makers.

What we do is make content. We curate, we select, we cull, but first and foremost, we make.

If the thing you’re looking for doesn’t seem to exist, part of what we should do is to make that thing.


So when you’re frustrated that the thing you’re looking for can’t be found-

When you’re making do with something that only partially does what you want or need-

When you’ve given up on an idea because some piece was missing-


Make that thing.


Comfort is a danger.

When they grow the vines for grapes to make wine, they don’t fertilize them. They don’t even plant them in very good soil. In fact, the best grapes for wine are planted in poor soil and in conditions that stress the vines- doing so creates grapes that struggle but are far more flavorful.

When we’re comfortable, we take the easy choice. We become complacent. Soft.

Comfortable is an artificial creation that, while lovely for a couch, does not push us to our best work.


A potential Hack

I’m using “Hack” in the oldest sense of the word- as a positive descriptive noun for something clever and elegant.

So two companies I enjoy products from, Evernote and Moleskine, have teamed up to produce a physical notebook. That sounds odd, I realize, but it has a number of features that allow Evernote to digitize it’s contents more easily. One of these is a particular style of dotten lines on the pages that help the scan with error correction. That’s neat, but not what really caught my eye.

The notebook comes with a few sheets of stickers with tags on them- and the optical scanning in Evernote is keyed to see those stickers and automatically apply the tags you wish to those scans. That means I can sketch/write/draw ideas related to a project, slap a sticker on the page, and when I take a picture of that note into Evernote, it’ll automatically apply my tags to that note. That’s awesome.

The notebooks are a small premium in price above the already-premium-priced Moleskines. That’s understandable; they’re a more complicated book, and made in smaller numbers. That said, I have plenty of existing notebooks, almost all of which are Moleskine anyway. So I don’t really need another.

What I really want are the stickers- and I’m interested in either

a. Buying them, or

b. Having them made.

Any ideas about either of those two options?

Think about this:

If you’re doing something the same way a second time, what you’re really saying is:

a) It was absolutely perfect and can’t be improved, or

b) You’re too lazy/busy/overwhelmed to change it.


That put too fine a point on things?

Just a couple of days to go.

We start school Monday. It’s Friday, right now, and that means that this weekend is all that really stands between me and the school year.

I’m lucky, though, that my district runs a three-day professional development conference. It’ll have on the order of 97 sessions presented over the three days, and to whatever degree we can we’ll allow staff to choose what sessions they attend. It’s a lovely three days of getting revved up and ready for the school year. For connecting with coworkers you haven’t seen in months. For getting the motor on and warmed up before the kiddies pour through the door.

I should mention that when I say “my district runs” what I mean is “the Ed-Tech Team runs.” That’s not a complaint- heck, it’s why I’ve added “event organizer” to my resume- but it does bring me to my point:

I’d never been involved in the organization of an event like this before last year. I had no practical idea or experience regarding what would need to be done, how to do it, or any other aspect of this thing. So. What’s that mean?

It means it’s a great analogue to this year. I tried something totally new. I thought about the problem, tried to address as many potential problems as I could, planned (and planned and planned), and then did the thing.

And nothing caught on fire. We, as educators, like to joke that we can “go down in flames” when a lesson fails. Or that our rooms might “catch on fire” if something goes wrong. But the reality is that classrooms don’t burst into flame. Mostly (Chemistry teachers, I’m looking at you…). There were things at that first conference that didn’t go as smoothly as you’d hope. There were things that had to be changed/addressed/corrected. There are things we’re doing differently this year.

But I’m not sure there’s a better example for how we (and our students) should approach this year. Try something new. Give it the best shot you can. Know that despite your best efforts it might not go as well as you hope. Be ok with that. Do it better next time.

Good luck.

What have I done?

I’ve mentioned here before that my school self-publishes our senior year ELA textbook as well as our junior year ELA textbook. Not to go into too much depth, but for the last six years we’ve written and curated and had printed our own physical books. We use Adobe InDesign for the layout, and use the excellent Lulu for printing. It’s wildly cheaper than comercial textbooks. It’s so cheap that we can print and GIVE to students new books every year, and it still costs less than buying one set of hardbacks that we’d keep for TEN years.

I was heavily involved in getting this off the ground- I did the layout work for a few years, and early on was so keen on the idea that I paid for parts of it out of my own pocket. I still feel passionately about it, though I don’t have a ton to do with the project these days.

Or “didn’t,” I should say. Because I’ve gone and done something rash.

I’m taking all the existing files for the senior year book and I’m going to turn them into a decent digital version.

It exists already, as a matter of need (to upload to Lulu) as a PDF, but PDF’s are not an acceptable format for the distribution of a file like this. I’m going to be doing either (and maybe both?) an ePub and an iBooks Author file. Either will allow much of the hands-on work with the text that those teachers have come to expect from students- and either will be a. Cheaper, b. Not confined to the limits of a printed page and c. physically weigh nothing. All of which, as far as I’m concerned, are good things.

It’ll be some work. But maybe me doing this will be what it takes to get my department completely onboard.


Tangential’s not dead. Really.

I know there’s not been a new episode in a while- actually, something like two months. Fine. In that time, I’ve been super busy. Vacation (cause I needed it), surgery (cause I needed it), and tons of work & family time.

All that said, as the school year starts I thought I should run-down the changes I’ll be making to the show:

After a bunch of talking with Patrick Larkin, I came up with the following idea: I’m going to make two versions of each episode. The first version will be just like what’s up now. That means 4-6 minutes of high-speed delivery. These are meant to be jumping off points- things that you could use in a classroom to spark a conversation or lead into a debate. Or something. The second version will be longer- say, 10-12 minutes. The delivery will be slightly less… manic. And the depth I go into will be more substantial. These will be meant more as a flipped-classroom (as much as I hate the term…) tool. I think they will be too long for in-class viewing, but they might work well for a homework assignment that involves watching and then responding.

Anyway, since all the videos I’ve made thus-far are the short form ones, I’m going to be trying to go back and shoot long-form versions of the existing videos. Ideally, that means that I’ll be doing both types at the same time going forward, but there’s only so much time for me to shoot and edit, and there may be times when only one of the two shows up for a while.

First priority on the shooting schedule is the Red Head episode- and I can tell you that given start-of-the-schoolyear-crazy, I’ll be doing the short version first.

Just so you know.