Brave or Stupid? Abandoning email #workflow #teacher5aday #wellbeing #productivity

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There are plenty of articles out there about email productivity, labelling, filtering. Colour stars abound. Branching labels grow unchecked. I won’t link to them here.

My workflow – for years – has almost always been manually controlled: Interesting / useful email message? Forward to Evernote for archiving and tagging. An action from an email message? Add it to my To-Do list. An email bulletin from a website or solution provider with an interesting article to read? Forward to my Pocket address so I can read it on my Kobo later.

But the email pile grows ever bigger, even with archiving, and searching for an email is just as frustrating as it was before. Add to that the 24-7 nature of email and the “respond now” culture that has evolved over the past few years and you have very little chance of switching off. France are making headway with this issue (but not banning after work email) as they realise this seriously impacts staff wellbeing.

It has got to the point where I want to abandon email altogether and work with a system that helps organise and track tasks for me and others in my department. I have a feeling this is a simultaneously brave and incredibly stupid action but want to explain my reasons behind the decision:

Last weekend (yes, weekend – I’m such a hypocrite) I introduced Trello to my team. You may already know about it but for those who don’t it is a collaborative system where you can have discussions within a card. These cards can be organised on a board. Those boards can be private or public. After a week or use we have reduced our department email to a whimper of what it was previously. Within a week. The boards are evolving and we are communicating almost entirely within Trello cards. It has been so successful at channelling and tracking our asynchronous communication that I’ve put on hold the plan to introduce Slack (which I thought would be an essential component) for the time being.

However my non-department school email continued to pile in. I realised that most of these were being actioned then archived to Evernote. I use Evernote for its tagging and have been archiving web pages, resources and documents of interest since 2010. I have a nice labelling system set up and had previously attempted a productivity system within Evernote without much success. The main issue then was that I had to manually forward actions from email to Evernote, then manually tag them in Evernote appropriately, then remember to manually check the saved searches, etc. It was adding to my workload, not improving it. By removing my department email threads I realised that I had an opportunity to automate some of my workflow for the benefit of me, my team and perhaps the rest of the school.

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I looked again at email filters. I created two new ones: The first to file department mail into a “Computer Science Department” label, the other to file all other emails from within my school into a “Whole School” label. I’m working on the simple premise that, if I know who sent it, I know (roughly) what area of my school it relates to.

Then I used the IFTTT service to detect when unread emails with either label appear in my inbox and forward the email text (not attachment) to Evernote. The IFTTT applet files them in my Action Pending notebook and tags them as department or whole school.

At this point I have some manual intervention. I read the messages within Evernote and decide if they need actioning. If urgent I tag them as “1 – Now”. Other levels of urgency are available but none are automated as yet. I realise this is just moving an email to another system however Evernote does not notify me of new notes so removes the “respond now” demand and allows me to schedule a time to check messages every day.

I created another IFTTT applet that looks for a note in Evernote being tagged as “1 – Now”. When this happens it automatically creates a Trello card with the message text and puts it on a private board called “From Evernote”.

From Trello I can now move this from my board to public department boards if it requires action or input from my department.

Other emails from suppliers or subscriptions remain in my email for the moment but this now allows me to take time to purge what is spam (I’ll bet most of it) and what I can automate into Pocket articles in the future.

Potential issues:

I realise that the emails that have attachments will still have to be manually viewed in my email. If I need to forward emails to Evernote instead of using IFTTT in the future it is a minor change as I already have an automated workflow which archives scanned student work for marking within Notability. At present I can upload attachments up to 25MB into Trello cards if required.

There is a daily cover email which is important to read and action if necessary. This one cannot be delayed until a quiet moment of Evernote contemplation. At present I’m not sure how best to filter this – perhaps a separate private Trello board for cover is required (at least until I can convince the school that this is the way forward)….

So my questions are: Brave or stupid? Do you think this will work? Do you have any workflow suggestions to share?

And now I’m going to spend the rest of my day with my family…

Quick test for www.feedmyinbox.com

Not much of a blog post, just a test to see if WordPress RSS can be fed into my Evernote account.

 

I set up an account with www.feedmyinbox.com using my Evernote email address, then changed the account settings so each post is delivered as an individual message with the post title as the email subject line.

Once they have arrived I plan to move them into my Postach.io notebook within Evernote, retag them if necessary and – hopefully – they will appear in that blog!

I’m now waiting to see the individual posts appear in my Evernote. Nothing so far though, hence the test blog post!

 

Has anyone else tried archiving their blog posts in Evernote? Do you have any tips you would like to share?

17 iPad apps for teachers #RGCdevicetrial

Tomorrow I hand over the iPad to a colleague, so I’m signing out of all linked accounts and removing whatever personal data I can.

I’ve also purged the apps installed and categorised them so the next person using the iPad isn’t overwhelmed with pages upon pages of apps to investigate. Here are the apps that survived the three weeks:

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When designing the timescale for each part of the device trial I thought three weeks would be enough. Judging by the feedback received from my colleagues it can either be too long (for example if they don’t like the device) or not long enough!

Some highlights:

  • Being able to create documents with the Pages (£6.99, link) app has been great although I do agree with reviews about its value for money. See my previous blog post about how I used it with my Higher Computing class.
  • I had really hoped to make better use of Explain Everything (£1.99, link) but, most annoyingly, I found it wasn’t able to record browser screens that contain HTML5. My planned walkthrough of Snap! on the iPad for the blog is still on the to-do list…
  • …Synchronised to-do list app Remember the Milk (free, link) to be exact. I use it as I’m still not 100% happy with my Evernote workflow (especially using the web version we access at work) as the searches suggested by The Secret Weapon do not always work. Remember the Milk is on my Android phone, in the Chrome browser on my laptop and I’ve made good use of it on the iPad too.
  • That said, Evernote (free, link) has been fantastic for helping me carry less paper around. Using the iPad to quickly scan documents (from my notebook) into an Evernote note has been a real eye-opener. At the moment I don’t have a notebook at all, but I feel I still need a small amount of paper to jot ideas down quickly.
  • Being able to create Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents is still necessary and given that it’s a three week trial I’m not going to throw away years of knowledge in an attempt to break away from Microsoft Office. I’ve used CloudOn (free, link) quite a bit although you have to be online to use it so I’ve made best use from home. It is fairly fast, allows quick sharing of files (great for discussing prelim marks over the weekend with your boss! Sorry…) and keeps documents compatible with the desktop at work.
  • Marking music has been essential and I’ve enjoyed the Podcasts (free, link) app. However apart from that I didn’t use it nearly as much as I had envisaged. I realised that I listen to most of my podcasts on the train or walk home and the form factor of the iPad doesn’t suit. Time to transfer what I’ve downloaded onto the Samsung Galaxy Y…
  • I never thought I would type this but my other half has made good use of the Kindle (free, link) app. Strongly against eReaders in the past, she was convinced to try reading on the iPad as her book group choice was 20p on Amazon and out of stock in the local libraries. Her feedback was that the iPad felt cold and it was a bit tricky to hold while in bed, so she would choose to have a suitable case to protect it if dropped and to make it more enjoyable for the reader to hold.
  • For image editing, Aviary (free, link), Luminance (free at the moment, link) and Snapseed (free, link) have been great. I hated the Photoshop app – everything seemed to require an in-app purchase – and it was quickly deleted.
  • iDownloads+ (free, link) allows iPad users to manage downloads and extract compressed files. I found this especially useful when looking at the Computing At School site, with email and also to access my zip files on Dropbox (free, link) which has always been a favourite app of mine since the days of the iPod Touch 2G!
  • Programming on the iPad was covered in an earlier blog post, but I still want to recommend Pythonista (£2.99, link), A.L.E.X (first 25 levels free, link), TouchDevelop (web link) and Snap! (web link). Textastic (£5.99, link) looks great for creating code but I haven’t yet had time to use it fully. Something else for the to-do list!
  • GoSkyWatch Planetarium for iPad (free, link) is such an amazing app to use. I downloaded this for my three year old son and he found it really easy to use. I don’t think I could use it to enhance my teaching, but it definitely enhanced our learning!
  • Flipboard (free, link) is such a beautiful app, full of interesting stories to inspire and inform your lessons, that I’ve just spent ten minutes reading it instead of finishing this blog post! Oops…

Using Excel, Macros and @Evernote for Course Planning

I use Evernote a lot. I store interesting tweets, grab sections of web pages for later, have a form of GTD in there (The Secret Weapon) to keep me focussed. I took part in the 30-day paperless challenge in September and had a lot of fun seeing what was possible. I’ve even started to get my colleagues interested in using Evernote. And last month I was very happy to discover my work opened up access to the web version of Evernote.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now: There has been a distinct disconnect in my workflow. Found an interesting link? Send it to Evernote. Got a unit to develop? Plan it up in Evernote and assign a task in my GTD stack. Plan my weekly lessons? A paper desktop planner with scribbled notes on which resources I need to have ready?! It’s really daft but, up until recently, it was the most accessible way to work. I’ve even found myself taking pictures of my planner pages and sending them to Evernote so I can check I’m ready for the coming week!

Two weeks ago I attempted to set up an electronic planner in Evernote from my workplace. The web version didn’t really like being pasted into from a Word document and screwed up all the formatting and numbering so I figured I needed a few hours investigation time and a desktop version of Evernote to make progress. This weekend I made time.

Firstly I wanted to be able to create a template with the correct number of rows for each particular class for each term, so I created a simple macro that took values (class name, start date, end date, number of periods per week) and used them to populate a new Excel worksheet. Here’s the VBA if you want to use it yourself:

Sub btnCreateTermPlanner()
Dim AddSheetQuestion As Variant
Dim StartDate As String
Dim EndDate As String
Dim noPeriods As Integer
Dim noPPW As Integer

StartDate = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(1, 2)
EndDate = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(2, 2)
noPeriods = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(5, 2)
noPPW = Worksheets(“Start”).Cells(4, 2)

AddSheetQuestion = Application.InputBox(“Please enter the name of the sheet you want to add,” & vbCrLf & _
“or click the Cancel button to cancel the addition:”, _
“What sheet do you want to add?”)
‘ create new workbook
Worksheets.Add
ActiveSheet.Name = AddSheetQuestion
ActiveSheet.Move After:=Worksheets(Worksheets.Count)
‘ add header text
Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Range(“B2:F2”).Merge
Cells(2, 2) = AddSheetQuestion
Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Range(“B3:F3″).Merge
Cells(3, 2) = StartDate & ” – ” & EndDate & “, ” & noPPW & ” periods per week.”
Cells(5, 2) = “#”
Cells(5, 3) = “wb.”
Cells(5, 4) = “Topic”
Cells(5, 5) = “Learning Objectives”
Cells(5, 6) = “Resources”
‘ number rows
Call NumberPlanner(noPeriods)

‘ date rows
Call DatePlanner(noPeriods, StartDate, noPPW)

Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Columns(4).ColumnWidth = 30
Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Columns(5).ColumnWidth = 30
Worksheets(AddSheetQuestion).Columns(6).ColumnWidth = 30
End Sub

Sub NumberPlanner(ByVal noPeriods As Integer)
Dim count1 As Integer
For count1 = 1 To noPeriods
Cells(count1 + 5, 2) = count1
Next count1
End Sub
Sub DatePlanner(ByVal noPeriods As Integer, ByVal StartDate As Date, ByVal noPPW As Integer)
‘ One date at the start of every week
Dim date1 As Integer
Dim wb As Boolean
Dim daycounter As Integer
Dim weekcounter As Integer
wb = True
daycounter = noPPW
weekcounter = -1
For date1 = 0 To noPeriods – 1
If daycounter = noPPW Then
wb = True
daycounter = 0
weekcounter = weekcounter + 1
End If
If wb Then
Cells(date1 + 6, 3) = StartDate + (weekcounter * 7)
wb = False
End If
daycounter = daycounter + 1

Next date1
Cells.Columns.AutoFit

End Sub

It’s not refined and I have to admit I can’t remember how to make the macro populate a Word document directly yet but the code above generates something a little (ok, exactly) like this:

A little manual formatting after copying and pasting into Word resulted in this:

Finally, copying and pasting into the desktop version of Evernote was a breeze. It even took in the document header and footer (I’d recommend removing the footer as an Evernote note does not have a page break!).

The time consuming part will be linking Evernote notes into the resources column for each lesson, but I’m happy the structure is there. The aim is that, once completed, these plans will not only be synchronised between home and work (reducing the need for those photographs of paper planners!) but that revising them will be much more efficient as I can immediately add in a new resource or interesting news article link when I find it (because they always appear three months before or after you actually need them). If my colleagues need to look at them for any reason I can send it quickly via email.

The ultimate goal? No paper planner at all for my lessons. These folk have already managed it and, if the web version can handle editing the newly created notes, it won’t take long until I manage it too.

TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2011

On Wednesday evening I once again found myself at MacRobert Building, University of Aberdeen six months on from the last one organised primarily by Stuart Brown. The wikispace advertising the TeachMeet can be found here and, in addition to this, Stuart made use of social media to extend the reach of the promotional material. This approach, along with the assistance of Jim and Linda at the University in selecting the optimum date for engaging PGDE and BEd students, resulted in over 60 attending the evening. At times the online stream had viewers into double figures but we were beset with technical issues, most disruptive was the lack of constant wifi and this seriously hampered our online impact as well as preventing the planned link up with TeachMeet Strathclyde. However the evening could be considered a success and as we were able to record most of the presentations on the laptop I hope we can – in time – share the talks with a wider audience.

To whet your appetite, here is a YouTube playlist of the May 2011 TeachMeet Aberdeen presentations.

When I find the time to edit and upload the individual presentations to YouTube I’ll update this post but I’ve included my notes on each presentation and relevant links to the web sites mentioned.

Stuart Brown – “Why de ye bother with aww that?’ – Justifying the use of ICT in the classroom

Stuart Brown: "the way we communicate is changing"

I felt this was an excellent start to the night. Stuart highlighted the fact that 19C teaching methods and environments are not suited to 21C learning. That most pupils have access to instantaneous information using devices which are often more technologically advanced than the computers and resources available in school puts today’s teachers at a disadvantage. I agreed (through gritted teeth as I recognised the phrase “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” from many unfocussed, confused presentations on implementation of Curriculum for Excellence) with Stuart on the need for all teachers to adapt, not rebuild to ensure that we are serving our learners sufficiently. I recommend you watch Stuart’s last TeachMeet talk (May 2011) which is a stepping stone to this presentation.

I loved the phrase Stuart used in the presentation “to stratify education” – but felt it needed explanation. Internet searches show this to be standarisation of education or use of standard tests and tracking methods.

Ian Simpson – “Becoming Orson: Podcasting the War of The Worlds”

I did this so I won’t comment for long on the actual presentation. On reflection this talk was a little early, my lunchtime podcasting group had only been working on this for about 5 weeks (30-40mins per week) and despite their excellent progress there was little evidence to share with the teachers present. However it was a good starting point for a future presentation (maybe TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2012?) on how these learners have self-organised themselves into an amateur radio drama production group. After working with them the day after the presentation and seeing how they continued to innovate and collaborate with the newly-arrived high quality microphones I have high hopes of achieving our ambitious target to have recorded and shared the full radio play by next October. Follow the progress via this blog or my twitter stream @familysimpson.

In addition Dave Adams, DO Curriculum and Quality Improvement Service for South Lanarkshire, got in touch in September and kindly sent his ideas based around the 1938 Orson Welles War of The Worlds radio play for CBS. I’ve emailed Dave to see if these lesson ideas are publicly available and will update the links section if this is the case.

Nikki Stobbie – Random Name Generator

Nikki Stobbie describes how she uses classtools.net with her classes

A presentation from a press-ganged student! Nikki showed us http://www.classtools.net and, in particular, the random name generator. Great resource to use in class and a great 2 minute presentation!

Mark Hay – ‎”Look what I did…” E-Portfolio’s using glow wiki

I didn’t see this presentation as I had to run to the shop for supplies but will update once I’ve extracted the presentation from the video clips currently sitting on my laptop.

Martin Coutts – “Maths is just a game”  – Using GBL to raise attainment

Martin showed how he used Mangahigh with an Access 3 / Foundation class to improve their motivation and attainment. Pupils were taught maths through combination of games and Prodigi technique. Competitive aspect through bronze, silver and gold and school leaderboard. Martin especially recommends sigma prime.

Kathryn Roper – “GeoBus – A mobile Earth Science Resource”

GeoBus: based at St Andrews University but a national funded resource for secondary schools (or P7 at a push). Kathryn seems very passionate about Earth Science and claims to be able to develop activities to suit your curricular area.

GeoBus launches January 2012 but those interested can get in touch with Kathryn now via kathryn.roper@mac.com

Gretchen Perk exemplified how she uses the Frayer model to enhance literacy

Gretchen Perk – “Frayer Model in Literacy”

Meldrum Academy English teacher Gretchen spoke about the Frayer Model which is a “vocab aquisition graphic builder”. She found it great for more effective learning of keywords through use of higher order skills such as analysis and synthesis. I personally found the use of non-examples especially useful. Gretchen highlighted the fact that it is a good teaching strategy for all subjects I’m already thinking about how to use this with Computing classes.

Charlie Barrow – An outward facing classroom using Augmented Reality – Junaio

Charlie repeated his May 11 talk on using augmented reality in the classroom but wanted to inspire teachers to build an Aberdeenshire channel for augmented reality. I’ve included the video of his presentation from May and hope to be working with him in the future on his vision for an Aberdeenshire channel.

More information on his own use of augmented reality in the classroom can be found at http://www.charlesbarrow.com

Stephanie Orr – Medieval Law and Order

Stephanie gave a quick 2-min presentation on using games in class to motivate and educate by stealth. http://www.tudorbritain.org/joust

Ed Walton – Fusion, Meta-cognition and The Learning Story

Presentation written during teachmeet! Ed shared how Fraserburgh Academy used Glow effectively to dissemenate work to pupils unable to attend school during snowdays. Three themes; fusion, meta-cognition And the learning story. Ed showed snow work posted for AH on glow featuring embedded prezis for self-directed learning, stagework.org which allows users to be the director for a scene from His Dark Materials. It looked fantastic! Ed showed Comic Life which he has used with classes and whole-school assemblies to explain meta-cognition. Finally Ed explained how Fraserburgh Academy has been using Honeycomb / I Can as a trial school to build an ePortfolio which remains with the child as they progress from primary through secondary. I was interested to note that because data is stored on a separate server from Glow there is no upload limit so videos and large image files can be posted. To be honest the presentation was actually 3 or 4 but there was lots of useful information.

Darren Gibb describes how he uses a variety of ICT tools to enhance learning and teaching in the English classroom

Darren Gibb – ICT teaching and learning tools

The last talk of the night was delivered by Darren Gibb, teacher of English at Banchory Academy. He exemplified many ICT tools that has augmented his learning and teaching. Again the audience was treated to a suite of presentations on different services from Todaysmeet to Evernote, Wikispaces to Glow.

Using iPod Touches in the classroom #2

In my last post on this topic I described the hardware setup process involved in getting iPods ready for the classroom. This week I had my first development day dedicated to the setting up appropriate processes for teaching staff to bid in to use the iPods with their own classes.

I began by creating a proforma for booking the iPods but wanted to keep it as short but as informative as possible. Therefore I sketched out a design for a database I want to build which will help me keep track of where and when the iPods are required but also keep track of how the iPods have been used and how well the teacher involved thinks their project impacted the learning of their pupils. Once I’d done this creating an appropriate single page was much easier.

I also reflected on how these proformas could be introduced to staff. A twilight training session might be involved to show the hardware but I felt that the best way to fill in the form was to provide an example for my colleagues to take inspiration from – much like we do with our pupils in class.

This is the initial draft which will be used to kickstart a dialogue with colleagues and SMT.

I have also been thinking carefully about how to ensure iPods and their accessories are used appropriately and safely by pupils. I can’t be with every class that use the iPods, nor would I want to be, but I do want to give the classroom teacher enough information about the resources they are issuing so that they can be used by pupils in a safe and responsible way.

For example, each iPod Touch comes with its own set of bud earphones. Sharing these between pupils is a health issue that must be considered. Buying one set of earphones for each pupil in a school of 900 if not an option. Luckily there are a number of individuals and companies out there who realise that using the earphones (and touch screens) in an educational environment needs to be addressed. From my research, there are a number of products which could be used to remove dirt and germs from the iPods and their accessories but costs are quite prohibitive. The solution I decided upon is to use gentle antibacterial wipes for the earphones and touch screens and provide hand gel with the iPods for pupils to apply before use in class. I spoke to other workers in other sectors who share IT equipment and this seems to be standard procedure now. Perhaps IT labs in schools also need to consider this more (but after their breakfast).

I don’t doubt that the processes and procedures I’ve come up with will evolve over time as the iPod administrators in each school share their experiences. However it is much easier to adapt an existing process than an ad-hoc idea and I want to ensure that my colleagues have the opportunity to investigate the iPods and reflect on how using them could positively impact on the learning of their pupils.

In the afternoon I had fun – there is no better way to describe it. I can imagine a fantastic INSET training day just using iPods to create content for individual subject areas.

I researched a number of other schools who use iPod Touches in the classroom – mostly primary / early years focussed to be honest – but got some great ideas for apps from them.

* Bump – originally great for transferring photos and contacts between iPods, the app has now been upgraded to allow sharing of music suggestions, app ideas and calendar content too. You need to have a wifi connection to use this obviously and this is an issue at my current school but I think it is possible to create a suitable wifi network (with no internet access) using the MacBook.
* Evernote – this has just been updated (1st March) and the difference to the iPod app is amazing. This requires that the iPod Touch has internet access to synchronise the account but can store local text, audio and image notes in the meantime. I’ll dedicate a blog post to my ideas around how Evernote can be used with classes in the future.
* SonicPics – this app (paid, but a cut down Lite version is available) allows you to create a photo slideshow using images stored in your Photo Library then create a video file with an audio track – basically a screencast with static visuals. Very simple to use, very quick and very very good.
* Comic Twist – again, use images from your Photo Library to create content. This time you can add speech bubbles, thought bubbles and captions to let your pupils create a story or a summary of a concept they have learned in class. Very easy to use with primary schools.
* Strip Designer – this has been mentioned by a number of my secondary colleagues as a good app to have. I feel that it is slightly more complicated than Comic Twist so could be used to differentiate on a task to create a visual learning resource.

Once I’d downloaded these apps, I set about creating an example exercise which could be easily replicated during a staff training session. I used a creative commons image search to find a suitable picture of Stonehaven then imported it into comic twist, opting for the two panel comic layout. I added a few captions and exported it to my photo library.

Then I used the same photo, a map image of Stonehaven and a few other random pictures from my photo library in Strip Designer. I found that there were much more options available to allow you to customise your comic strip. Again I exported it back to my photo library then used SonicPics Lite to create a photo slideshow with voice over. Here it is!

It was so quick and easy to do I think that pupils will find the iPod apps far more intuitive than traditional software packages. The limited menu options and functionality due to the small screen size could actually be more beneficial to an educational setting!

If you are interested in finding out more about how iPods are being used in primary / secondary education in Aberdeenshire there is an internal Aberdeenshire iPod Development Group in GLOW but, as that has restricted membership, I set up a wiki http://aberdeenshireipods.pbwiki.com where educators from anywhere in the world can read (or share) their own ideas or experiences of using iPod Touches in the classroom.