Remove the red ink with Google Docs

April 26, 2012 § Leave a comment


There are some who argue that feedback penned in red ink on student work are discouraging to students. I’ve seen some teachers instead markup their students’ writing in green, purple, and other, less intimidating, colors.

The commenting feature of Google Docs, however, goes a step further: it allows the instructor (or another student) to comment on the writing, and then provides a space for the writer to REPLY to the comment. Try that with red ink! I can just imagine the incredulity of my 6th grade English teacher if I had handed back my own paper with my responses to her markups.

Not only that, but those interactions—both the comments and replies—can happen in real-time.

How would you spend $50,000?

March 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

I am consulting for an academic program that is most likely going to be receiving a grant for around $50,000. Before they ask for the money they need to present a budget for how the money will be spent. I have my own ideas, but I am wondering how you would spend the $50,000 if it were up to you. Here’s a bit about the program:

40 Students
2.5 teachers
2 Americorps volunteers
1 director/teacher

The program is an alternative degree program for inner city at-risk students. Most of them have been in and out of school and are no longer eligible to receive a traditional degree. Many will go on to college, though others will enter the work force directly (construction and food service are among the industries). I can’t expect that they will have computers or Internet connections at home—or even homes.

The curriculum is an inquiry based, integrated studies, democratic/self-guided approach to education where the students are largely in control of their own learning. Learning can and will happen equally both in and out of the classroom; in the community, on the streets, in partnership with a local state university, etc…

Due to the constraints of the grant, we must spend the money before all of the teachers are hired and before the students are enrolled, so I unfortunately cannot ask these questions of the stakeholders.

This particular money will be spent on technology—salaries, non-tech supplies, professional development, and other start-up costs are already covered by other funds, so no need to include these.

How would you spend the $50,000?

Teacher Time

February 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

It is my dream to help a school come up with a way to give their teachers a 20% bonus—a la Google’s 20% time (read a New York Times article about the concept or a firsthand account of how one Google employee used his 20% time).

What if teachers only taught four days a week and one day were reserved for teacher time: self-guided professional development, blogging, professional and/or personal growth, exercise, pet projects, internships, etc…?

How much would that cost a school? And how much would the students benefit?

But why stop there?

What if students had class a period or block free every day to do the same? What would this school look like?

This is the solution I have found to the biggest problem(s) that schools face: Teacher Time. Want my help implementing it in your school? Contact me.

What a difference a sweatshirt makes

February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment


Last week, TSF gave all of the students in the CSA program sweatshirts at a sort of celebration of the end of the first semester of CSA. For the entire week since then, at least half of the students have been wearing their sweatshirts almost every day. They are proud of their accomplishments, their efforts, and the program in which they are enrolled.

That makes me proud.

I have also been wearing—almost every day—the sweatshirt they gave me.

CSA—the College Success Academy—is a program created and run by The SteppingStone Foundation (TSF). In my role at OunceIT I am teaching an ELA class once a week through CSA at the Edison School—a Boston Public School—where I am helping students first learn to blog so that later they can blog to learn.

Sometimes the little things matter as much as the big ones. Don’t forget that. My CSA sweatshirt will remind me.

[cross-posted on]

Personal datashed using Twitter, IFTTT, and Gmail filters

January 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

The more I attend inspiring conferences like EduCon, EdCamp, BLC, and the like, the more ideas I have about ways to improve my learning, my teaching, my business, and my life. These ideas strike me at all times: while talking, listening, tweeting, blogging, emailing, running… and I have found that it is difficult to remember, organize, evaluate, and improve upon my ideas after I have time to step away from them. Ultimately, I need to be able to separate the nuggets from the noise. If only I could go to Google and enter s search string like:

site:my_brain ideas

Alas, Google’s search engine is no more successful at searching the stores in my head than my own brain is!

This summer when I was at the BLC11 conference, I was inspired to create a service that would automatically collect and tag my ideas when I have them, and then make them searchable later when I need them.

By allowing such a service to eavesdrop on my digital life, it would follow my tweets, read my emails and blog posts, and like a jeanie in a bottle, I could call upon it any time to record my thoughts and conversations, and regurgitate those valuable nuggets at my request. It would need the ability to tag my nuggets with little intervention from me, and it would need a powerful search engine.

No such service already exists, but if I’m correct, I am not the only person with this need. Brad Ovenell-Carter hoped to use Twitter as a “data shed” in this way, and eventually as a “label maker,” and when I told Andy Marcinek about my plan, he expressed much excitement.

After months of procrastinating, I have realized that, though a single tool does not exist to realize this dream, I can combine several existing services to do much, if not all, of what I desire in this tool.

This is how I built my own datashed, triggered by Twitter and email, routed by, and tagged with gmail’s filters and labels features:

First, using (“If This Then That”) I create a few triggers:

  1. Forward all of my tweets and RTs to my gmail account
  2. Forward all mentions of me on Twitter to my gmail account
  3. Forward all Twitter direct messages to my gmail account
  4. Any email I sent to will be forwarded to my gmail account

Now that my tweets, RTs, DMs, and emails are being forwarded to my gmail account I just have to create some tags in gmail. That is, filters that file emails with specified keywords into specific folders (with tags, unlike folders, you can have multiple labels on each email, rather than filing an email into a single folder). These will be specific to your needs, but here are some examples of the tags I created:

  • Apps
  • Books
  • Ideas
  • Blog
  • Conferences
  • EduCon
  • BLC
  • EdCamp
  • Digcit
  • Web sites
  • Readitlater

I also created similar gmail filters to tag emails that posses the above keywords.

Here’s an example of how I’ve been using these triggers: while I was at the EduCon conference, I might have sent out a tweet like this:

@andycinek We should discuss our student-created #digcit blog posts. Loved your ideas #educon

Because IFTTT is following my tweets and direct messages, this tweet triggers an email to my gmail account that quotes the tweet and time stamps it, and the account “” delivers the email (alternatively, if I am having an in-person conversation with Andy, I write an email in the same format and send it to and it will be processed similarly). When the email is received in my gmail account, my gmail filters take over. First, anything from is archived (removed from my inbox) and tagged with the label “DataShed.” Then other filters kick in: I have already setup filters to tag emails that contain the word digcit (digital citizenship), blog, idea, and educon.

When my natural buzz from EduCon dies down in a week or two, I will remember that Andy and I had a good idea, but I may not recall what the idea is, so I will go to my DataShed and search for “@AndyCinek.” Or maybe I will remember that I shared with someone a great idea about how to teach digital citizenship, but I can’t remember who. In that case I can go to my Shed and search my digcit emails from EduCon and I will find the reference to Andy.

The next step might be to go in the other direction to share anything in my DataShed. That is, if I email something to and tag it with “#dshed”, IFTTT will automatically create a Tweet on my behalf and share it with my followers. But I’m not there yet.

For the past couple days I have been using these triggers successfully, and it has made it SO much easier to find these little lost nuggets from the EduCon conference. We will see if it holds up in a few more week. If you try out this strategy, please leave a message in the comments describing your successes, your questions, and your struggles.

BONUS 1: I created a DynDNS custom URL ( that takes me straight to my DataShed folder in Gmail.

BONUS 2: There’s an app for that! Since I use the default Mail app on my iPhone and iPad for my regular email, I configured Google’s Gmail app to log into the gmail account I am using for my datashed, so this app provides a searchable, portable repository for my thoughts!

Update – BONUS 3: Per Andy Marcinek’s suggestion, you have an iPhone 4S, you can have Siri trigger additions to your DataShed by voice – just dictate an email or Tweet to her and address it to!

Tweet and ye shall receive, part two

November 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Twitter conversation with Cybraryman1

Twitter conversation with Cybraryman1

I had another opportunity this evening to help out another educator with a subject that, in all honesty, I am not as expert in as I would like.

My quest: The school counselor at one of my school/clients is organizing a Health and Wellness Week, and she wanted my input on the technology aspect of the program.

My first suggestion was to steer the conversations during Wellness Week toward breaking down the wall between behavior online and behavior in person. How we behave is how we behave, regardless of whether the medium is the hallway, the chatroom, or the cell phone.

I then suggested we consult my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter by posing the following Tweet:

@cybraryman1 I’m looking 4 resources 4 a HS counselor. Do u know of any resources that address the intersection of health & tech? #psychat

“@CybraryMan1,” or Jerry Blumengarten, is (as he describes himself on Twitter) an “educator and writer trying to catalog the Internet for students, educators, and parents.” His web site, certainly lives up to his goal.

Jerry replied within moments with the following tweet:

@MyTakeOnIt My Tech Integration for Physical Education & Health #psychat

Our conversation continued:

@cybraryman1 Thank you, as always! Counselor specifically needs info that focuses on health hazards, addictive use of tech, etc… #psychat

@MyTakeOnIt Students worldwide share mobile addiction

@MyTakeOnIt My Cyber Bullying page: Digital Footprints:

In retrospect, I realize I probably should have used the Twitter hash #digcit (short for “digital citizenship” – a weekly chat where educators discuss these very topics). Regardless, in under 15 minutes I was able to send the counselor an email with the following list of links and resources, including a great PSA (embedded below):

CybraryMan’s page of Psych links:

CybraryMan’s page on Tech Integration for Physical Education & Health (the entire page is PhysEd, but this link takes you straight to “LESSONS and Technology Integration”)

“Students worldwide share mobile addiction” from “Digital Life on Today”

CybraryMan’s page on Cyber Safety and Cyber Bullying:

CybraryMan’s page on “Digital Footprints”

Michelle Luhtala’s ( @mluhtala on Twitter) page on Digital Citizenship:

Free Hugs… Suggested donation: $1.

November 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sometimes we all need a good hug. We live in a world where we hug family, friends, and loved ones. But what if a hug could change a life?

We are bringing the LetsHug campaign to Boston at Harvard square on Saturday, Nov 5th to raise money for The Steppingstone Foundation [] and we will be giving out Free Hugs… suggestion donation: $1.

LetsHug began with a class project at the Cambridge School of Weston [ ]. A class called “What’s Your Problem?” gathered five problem seekers on campus, and together the class developed the idea to raise money for the SteppingStone Foundation by organizing a FreeHugs for $1 rally.

Join us on Saturday, November 5th in Harvard Square and give us a hug – and a dollar! Can’t make it? Want to donate more? That’s okay! Send TSF a virtual hug now by going to – click on the Donate Now button and fill out the form. Please make the donation in honor of “LetsHug” so we can see what a difference a hug makes.

Help us spread the word:
What: LetsHug fundraiser
When: 11am
Where: Harvard Square Starbucks: (1380 Mass Ave across from the Curious George Store)
On Twitter: @letshugboston (and #letshug )
On Facebook:
(Note: This post was written collaboratively by my students at CSW)
How: Hug. Smile. Give.

(Note: This post was written collaboratively by my students at CSW)