I’ve been reading a book about checklists. It’s called The Checklist Manifesto. The author supposes the checklist that are properly design should free our minds from the mundane tasks that absolutely have to be accomplished and allow us to focus on the more demanding and difficult creative tasks that need to be addressed as well. He offers examples from the fields of surgery, investments, law, and, most important to him, pilots.



It turns out there’s been an enormous amount of research done on what makes a good or bad checklist in the realm of pilots. Not only that, but the work that’s been done look at the failures and successes of those checklists and updates them regularly. This creates a cycle of creating and re-creating checklists based on the needs of the environment they will be used

in. This, the author argues, is the reason why air travel is so safe in this country, and indeed worldwide.

The book contains a series of the students observations, all of which made me think about its applic
It was powerful for me, and I suspect will will serve to change the way I interact with complex tasks in my future professional career. I never thought I would be proponent of checklists in the classroom, but the clear, well argued, and profound examples offered in this book allowed me to see the virtues of them even in a tasks such as education.ation in the realm of education. I am sure, were we to propose a checklist for creating a lesson plan in the classroom, that we would receive blowback from educators the world over. The argument about us not trusting the capabilities of professional educators, and trying to dumb something down to the check list would overwhelm us. I suspect, having read this book, that argument might be valid for poorly conceived in designed checklists. Rather, a well-designed checklist should empower us, as educators, to free ourselves from the mundane but necessary tasks that need to be accomplished in the classroom, and allow us to focus on the more creative problem-solving endeavors that we must apply ourselves too.

Highest marks.

Remote Teaching

From time to time I get asked about remote teaching- that is, teaching when I’m not in the room. I talk about how I’ve Google Video Chatted into my classroom to teach when I’m not physically there, and people are often… skeptical.

Just yesterday, however, an former student of mine sent me a video they’d shot from the first time I’d ever taught remotely- my kids had kept me home sick, and I felt some obligation to help my students with Midyear reviewing. It’s a short video, but it’ll give you an idea what it looks like.


A new student project.

I was out sick the other day.

That’s not entirely accurate. I was home with a sick child, which is slightly different.

And, as is usually the case when that happens, I emailed my student the plans they needed for the day. I’m a big fan of that, by the way, as it eliminates the uncertainty of what a Sub might do. But I digress.

I sent the following text to my students:

English: Papers were due last night at 11:59. I’ll start looking at those shortly. In the meantime, you should have already read to the end of chapter 5 in TKAM. In class today, I’d like you to create a map of Scout’s neighborhood in Maycomb. You’ll need to do this in groups not larger than three, and you’ll need to do it digitally. I’ll leave the specifics of what you use up to you, but I do have a few other constraints:
1. Every item must be labeled.
2. Every item must have a page number where the quote describing it’s location exists
3. You must have a minimum of 20 items on your map.
I look forward to seeing these tomorrow. For homework, you’ll need to have read chapters 6 & 7.

I come from a pencil-and-paper era, so I had thoughts about students producing stuff that was analogous to that. I was thinking I’d get a stack of PDF’s emailed to me, and that’d be the end of it.

It wasn’t.

I got a few PDF’s and the like- drawings done digitally. What I expected. But by leaving the door open the way I did, I also go a few surprises. Two, in particular, were very interesting:

1. A small group of students built a Google Sketchup file that was a 3d model of how they saw the town of Maycomb.


2. A small group of students used the Eden World Creator app to build a Minecraft world of Maycomb.

I was, to say the least, blown away. The willingness and thoughtfulness my students displayed in choosing alternative means by which to fullfil the requirements of the assignment warms my heart for the following reason: They were willing to take the risk involved.

The students that chose “safer” methods have, I suspect, been trained to take the least amount of risk in order to maximize the payoff in school. It’s a reasonable technique that leads to (usually) reasonable results, but in my experience seldom leads to wild success. The willingness to risk can (and often does) lead to failure (of some sort), but with it comes the possibility- the slightest chance- of true greatness.

I guess I’m proud that I got some really good work. And I guess I’m even more proud that to whatever small degree I’ve not completely obliterated my student’s willingness to take risks in the classroom.


The Answer?

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years of Education about how we assess teachers in classrooms. Walkthroughs, mentoring, surveys, and a million other options have all been kicked around as possibilities. Being fans of “empirical data,” politicians have decided that using an assessment that wasn’t meant to look at teacher achievement as a measure of… wait for it… teacher achievement is like a good idea.


But I’ve stumbled across something that might actually be a solution. Really. Honestly.

Some lovely folks over at MIT published a paper on measuring brain activity via a small wristband. They do this by measuring electrodermal activity and using this to help measure cognitive activity.

Changes in skin conductance at the surface, referred to as electrodermal activity (EDA), reflect activity within the sympathetic axis of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and provide a sensitive and convenient measure of assessing alterations in sympathetic arousal associated with emotion, cognition, and attention.


Poh, M.Z., Swenson, N.C., Picard, R.W., “A Wearable Sensor for Unobtrusive, Long-term Assessment of Electrodermal Activity,” IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, vol.57, no.5, pp.1243-1252, May 2010. doi: 10.1109/TBME.2009.2038487 PDF

That PDF link will get you the whole paper. It’s a bit technical (though pretty readable…), but it outlines that there is now a way to measure the level of engagement a student is experiencing directly. In hard numbers. I’m looking forward to being able to monitor my own state- Can I actually tell when I’m engaged? Am I always right? Do the things that I think engage me actually do that?

The wealth of data that this can provide to educators would allow us to fine-tune our delivery and our instruction to maximize it’s impact on our students.

New coolness.

It’s no secret that I’m a bit fan of Kickstarter. If you don’t know it, it’s a crowdfunding platform that allows people to bring cool ideas/products/projects to life, and reward the people that back those projects. To date, I’ve backed eight projects there- and it’s been an adventure every time.

So I just backed project #8.

It’s different this time. I know the people involved- the excellent folks over at Bootstrap Productions, who besides being brilliant educators (Yes, you too Derek…), are brilliant writers and artists. They’ve hooked up with the folks over at Eyeformation studios and are trying to fund some genuinely impressive activities books.

I’ve got two young daughters, and it’s hard to find activities that aren’t princess based- never mind activities that have artistic merit on their own.

I don’t plug things much- but this is worth your time.