Waterfall Lesson Planning

[Adapted from a post I made on another blog a few years ago.]

I often have the opportunity to sit on a panel of experienced teachers [1].  Being on panels like this where novice teachers [2] ask questions about teaching is always an enlightening experience. It makes me reflect a lot on my past teaching experiences.

I’m also occasionally lucky enough to have a brilliant description of a rather obvious process leave my mouth. One of the teachers asked the panel about lesson planning. I thought of my approach to lesson planning and opened my mouth. In that moment, I named my process the Waterfall Approach. It’s a process I’ve used for a long time but never named.

Waterfalls are beautiful sites. The fluid mechanics involved and the mark they leave on the terrain are incredible. A few years ago, I went to Calf Creek Falls. You can’t get to the falls by car—you take about a three mile hike to get to the bottom or last of the falls.I’ve never been to the top, but there is a small pool. When it is full, the overflowing [3] water creates a waterfall. This is the approach I like to take when lesson planning.

Life as a teacher is easiest for me when I first do all of the lesson planning possible at the beginning of the semester—actually before the semester begins if possible. The semester pool is very deep, so I try to do as much planning and prep as possible. What doesn’t fit flows into the smaller weekly pools. I try to set aside a time each week to plan for the next week. At this point, you might be thinking if there is anything that spills over into the daily pool. By now I’ve put so much effort into my classes that I can use the daily pool to customize the lesson based on the needs of the class. I’ve found that moving as much planning as possible to the beginning of a semester cuts down on stress and burnout and increased the quality of my teaching.

My image below probably needs some tweaking, but hopefully it represents my approach. The sand or dirt represents the time I spend lesson planning. If I spend a bunch of time at the beginning then my weekly and daily lesson planning time decreases.

It might not work for everyone, but it’s an approach that helps me.

[1] As much as I would like to talk about what makes a teacher “experienced,” I’ll save that for a later post.

[2] We’ll have to define “novice” sometime in the future, too.

[3] It’s always overflowing—all year long—you can create your own symbolism for that.

Google Fiber

Well, Google Fiber is here in Provo. I decided to sign up for the gigabit service, but I am a little concerned about the actual performance. If I navigate to http://provo.speedtest.googlefiber.net, I can test the speed. However, I get two sets of information from this google hosted site. (Note that they say it is powered by Ookla)

In Google Chrome:

In Safari and Firefox:

While 527.17 Mbps is nothing to complain about, I’m disturbed by the fact that Google Chrome gets a 400mbps bump . . . or that it is at least reporting 400mbps more.
So, I decided to get some info from a third party. I went to http://speedtest.net (also powered by Ookla). I was once again very disturbed. All three browsers seemed to be getting similar results.
So, what’s going on Google? Granted at these speeds and at this price, Google fiber is truly the way to go. I just wished I could explain this discrepancy.
Before I finish this post, I want to make it clear that these tests were done on a gigabit ethernet connection (not wifi) and that the results were all collected during about a 10 minute window.
Wireless is a different story. I knew it was going to be slower. I’m averaging about 225mbps up and down in every browser. Google Fiber reports ~225mbps while speediest.net reports about half that. The network box provided by Google uses wireless N which has a maximum speed of 450mbs. Many wireless routers are at 150, 300, or 450mps.
What do you think is going on?

First Day with the New Commuter Bike

In case you were unaware, I sold my trike to buy a commuter bike . . . . and so far I love it! Today was the first day of commuting by bike. I have always wanted to be bike commuter, but the trike just wasn’t doing it for me. It’s so hard to store and hard to take places. Plus, it’s an expensive piece of art that I couldn’t just leave anywhere.

I added 15 minutes to my total commute time, but also added 40 minutes of moderate exercise. Many of you may thing that 20 minutes to go 4 miles is slow. There is a giant hill I have to overcome! Check out the elevation profile.

Long story short. I like cycling and I like cycling to work!

Standing Desk

I’ve read all about standing desks. I like them. I’m never going to be a full-time stander though. I like to stand and work on days that I don’t stand in front of a classroom all day. But, after 4 hours of teaching, I prefer to sit.

I’d seen this great Ikea hack a while back about a cheap standing desk. We went to ikea this weekend, so I decided to give it a try. I switched out some of the ingredients mentioned in the aforlinked article. I used $3 brackets and a $1.99 shelf. I also went with the black-brown look.

Lack side table – $9.99
Ekby Valter – 2 X $3.00
Ekby Laiva – $1.99

It was still under $20! Hopefully it will continue to work for me.

If this then that

I’ve heard great things about using ifttt.com. I finally got around to using it. It’s a great way to automate repetitive tasks on the Internet. For example, you can make a recipe that automagically saves pictures from Pinterest to dropbox. I think I may have just made a recipe that will repost this blog on my professional blog to my family blog. If it works as well as it claims to, then I’ll love it.

Here is a picture. I wanted to see how this works.

(It worked, but the picture has been removed.)

Using Siri in the Classroom

This isn’t really a post about how to use Siri in the classroom. Well, it could be. This semester I have a deaf student in my class. He’s fluent in Russian, Uzbek, American Sign Language, and Russian Sign Language. He’s here to learn English. Communication with him involves an interpreter or a series of notes on paper.

Enter Siri. After class, his interpreter had to leave but he still needed to talk. Honestly, I got tired of writing/typing everything. It was slow and annoying. I opened up notes on my ipad mini and started using Siri. I could say whatever I wanted and it would be written in real time. He would then type his response. It sped up our communication and was fun for both of us. Siri, thanks for making my job easier and enjoyable!

A change of pace

The last few days have been miserable, yet they have also been a pleasant change of pace. I’ve been busy . . . . super busy. Perhaps even the busiest I have ever been. From January 1st to April 1st, I was working 60 hour weeks. The hours were spread out (not evenly) between 3 jobs and working on a dissertation. On April 1st I quit my job. Quitters really are the happiest people. I was subsequently brought on as a contractor/consultant for the company. I turned in my dissertation to my committee with a scheduled defense date of May 16th. So, what have I been doing? Three things really.

  1. I was the sickest I have ever been in my adult life.
  2. I’ve updated my landing page and portfolio.
  3. I finally went through and caught up on my RSS feeds and posted stuff to twitter and google plus.
This doesn’t mean I’m not busy working. I’ve got plenty to do; it just doesn’t take me 60 hours a week anymore.

Why do Interfaces always change?

It’s been a long time since I have written anything. I logged into the new blogger today with it’s new interface. I upgraded to Lion with it’s newer interface. Why do people always change the interface? Why are there so many themes, skins, or whatever you call them?

I think I might have an answer. Really I’ve boiled it down to two possibilities. First, perhaps the new interface is “better.” I’m assuming that software giants like Google and Apple do market research and usability testing. Then again, they might not. Better said, they don’t do it the way I think they should. Perhaps they get feedback via email or other communications. Maybe the designers who use the software just realize that somethings need to change.

The reason I think that they do it though, is to prevent the appearance of stagnation. If gmail still looked the same as it did when they released it, people would think that it was old and out of date. However, I don’t remember two many things about the interface that I didn’t like or that aren’t still around today. Firefox now updates every 6 weeks. OS X has had a steady two year average release time between versions. While the new features and abilities are welcome, the change in the interface seems to be the eye candy that draws you back in. Ubuntu does a good job with this. With every new release every six months I want to see what it’s like. I might even install the new version.

This post really doesn’t have a point. Well, maybe it does. I think the constant changing in interface layout, functionality, and overall look and feel is to keep people using their products. People just seem to like new things.