It’s just a notebook and it’s stupid

You may not know this about me. In fact, I’m almost certain you don’t because I don’t share it with many people meaning if you’re one of the 5 or 6 people that accidentally stumbled on my writing prior to this post then even you didn’t know it either.

Anyway, I want to be creative.

I work hard at it. I would not have considered myself creative just 5 years ago but once I graduated college I realized that, like most things, creativity was something that could be improved. So I read books, took a class, and gobbled down every article on creativity that came across my feeds. One thing became clear to me early on.

I needed a notebook.

All the creativity gurus and articles said you needed a place to store your ideas. Your mock ups (what the hell is this anyway?). Your designs. Your insights.

And while they didn’t explicitly say the brand of notebook you should buy, Moleskine was clearly the notebook of choice for many.

So I bought one. Well, four actually. Three Cahier journals and one large classic notebook.

I purchased these expecting that once a small one was in my pocket and the big one was in my bag there would be no stopping the flow of ideas.


It turns out that simply having a somewhat expensive notebook does not contribute to your creativity. It doesn’t give you fresh, interesting ideas. It’s kind of just a bunch of sheets of paper stuck into a binding.

In fact, I went an embarrassingly long time (months) trying to decide what I should write in the notebooks.

What should go in the big notebook?

Should I put ideas there or should they stay in the small notebooks?

Should I put my ideas in the small one and then move them to the big one?

Should I put ideas in a digital place too?

What about the backs of the pages, should they be used? Maybe for “lesser” ideas or sketches?

Should I write small to save pages?

Should I devote certain pages to ideas?

Should I devote certain pages to sketches?

What about journaling?

Should I develop a tagging system to mark notes into different categories?

What about sections?

After months of trying different things I came to a revelation.

It’s a friggin’ notebook and I can use it for whatever I feel like writing and most of it is going to be forgotten and useless anyway.

I don’t know when I got too snobby for a spiral bound notebook or a sturdy legal pad but that will be what I buy next. I know everyone uses notebooks differently, but I’ve reached the conclusion that notebooks should be one tool of many that help get thoughts and ideas out of the brain and into reality.

The absurdity of the nice notebook struck me when I read James Altucher’s post The Ultimate Guide to Becoming an Idea Machine. In this he talks about the importance of ideas, but a main thesis of the piece is to write ten ideas a day. And what does he recommend writing them on?

A waiters pad.


Well, mainly because they’re cheap, small and, most importantly for me, you won’t agonize over what the hell you’re going to write down.

I now write whatever I want in my notebooks. Like I should’ve months ago.

And my next notebook won’t cost $17.

Here’s a shot of me not using my expensive notebook because I hadn’t quite worked out whether or not my notes on vectors were worthy of it. 

Never stop learning – Life after my master’s

At the risk of writing too in depth about how much I plan to write, I’m going to explain my plan to write more and the reasons for it.

The primary reason I started a blog early on in my career is that many educators that I encountered on the internet via social media maintained blogs. These were frequently deep wells of resources and insights into the teaching profession from which I gained much. A recurring theme on the purpose of these blogs was reflection, and I see now that this is a form of deliberate practice for educators. It keeps reflection purposeful and useful, going beyond sitting at your desk at the end of the school day wondering what just happened and what the hell you’re supposed to take from it (e.g. how I spent many afternoons in my first couple years).

But ever since I started getting into the Internet I’ve enjoyed putting my thoughts out “there”. I used the “notes” feature in Facebook frequently (which nobody else really used and I’m not even sure exists anymore), including a time that I posted a term paper I wrote in college to see what people thought.

I can’t explain why I enjoy the process of creating something and putting it out in the open. But I guess I do and to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t matter. I like it so I’m going to do more of it.

I could end the post there I suppose. One of the purposes of this post was to pin down my reasons for changing my approach to my blog/site. Having done that, I’ll briefly explain the changes I plan to make.


I’ve avoided consistently writing/posting/sharing/reflection for a number of reasons but time is the main one. In the last five years I’ve had a child, got a dog, taught a college class, taught every high school math class we offer, sat on school improvement teams, presented at conferences, and coached quiz bowl. Oh, I also earned my Master’s in education technology. Not that this is unlike many young teachers, but it didn’t leave much time to work on my blog.

Now that I’ve graduated there are a few things I hope to accomplish with my site.

First, I want to increase posting frequency. I want to continue my weekly recap post. I plan on making it a bit shorter but I think there’s value in that post for me and possibly for others (see last week’s here). In this post I sum up a few of the things I’ve been reading, learning, listening to, and thinking about over the previous week. It’s good for my learning and maybe provides a nice curation of interesting stuff for others.

Second, I want to post some sort of reflection/idea/thought once a week. Topics will likely frequently be about education but I’m allowing them to veer away from it as well (you’ll see why in the upcoming post “Not letting my career define me”). I’m calling these “Backpages”. If your curious as to why, you can read about that here. I also hope to explore some more creative mediums for these.

Third, I want to do more researched posts on topics in education. I’ve found that many of the things I believed, especially before getting my master’s, I didn’t know that much about. Too much of the information that contributed to my beliefs was from sound bites on Twitter or short blog posts. I learned a great deal from the in depth research I had to do for my master’s. The purpose of these larger posts is to help me more deeply explore topics, but also to provide a post to other people that goes deeper than the typical reflection blog.JPEG image-09FB6197890C-1

Ultimately I hope to more effectively contribute to the conversations around education. I want to be a resource for other teachers that are trying to navigate the noise that is social media.

Also, I love writing. On mornings that I know I’ll be writing I wake up before my alarm. So, I’ll also be writing more because I simply love to do it. I view this as a form of deliberate practice to improve my writing.

I’d love to hear feedback, positive or negative, from you as I begin posting with more frequency. That’s the only way that I’ll get better.

Bring your cell phone, just don’t destroy your learning…

I’d like to start of by saying that I love technology, specifically Apple products but really any kind. If you were to ask my staff they would probably say I’m a “techie”. I keep an eye on the edge of both educational technology and technology in general. I’m getting my masters in educational technology. I’ve tinkered with technology since my parents got their first computer. I am a proud owner of the Apple watch and an iPhone. I browse the App store frequently, looking for the next great life-changing app. I learned to code HTML and CSS last summer. This is all to convince you that I’m cool with technology.
And for the longest time I was cool with my students bringing their technology to my class. But as of late I’ve been concerned with my students and their relationship with their technology. Also, as an extension of that, I’m concerned about how teachers interact with students and their technology. Before I specify my main worry, it’s important to note that technology is far better and more ubiquitous than ever. Most of my students have a smart phone of some kind, or at the very least a cell phone. This trend is only going to continue. Because of this I’ve been fairly lax in allowing them to bring, and use, their phones in my class. Sometimes we use them for educational purposes, but much of the time they follow guidelines set up early in the year (have them put away during a lecture, it’s rude during group work, etc.). I’d guess this is close to many teachers’ policy regarding cell phones, although I know it’s on a spectrum.
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Okay okay, so my concern stems from an observation I made last school year. When I gave my students independent work time, and sometimes even in collaborative groups, students were always “checking”. Whether it’s a notification, a text, a snap, or simply to check their twitter feed my students were frequently bouncing between my class and their phones.
I went a long time with no problem with this. When I’m in meetings or working I often check my phone, especially text messages and notifications. However, I noticed that I’m much more inefficient and unproductive when I’m constantly checking. In fact, the brain is not built to do two things at once. Although students think that they can easily switch back and forth from phone to focus, it’s an illusion. Check out this article that for gobs of research on the negative effects of multitasking on learning. From this the question becomes how do we adjust our policies or approach to account for this. How do we strike a balance between the usefulness of cell phones in class and their ubiquity, and the fact that they might be destroying learning in our classrooms?
My thought is that, as the aforementioned article suggests, we first give students the facts. Read them the studies and explain to them how it negatively affects their learning. Beyond that we also need to teach them how to balance it all. This first requires acknowledging that they will always have a device with them. So if that’s the case, how does a student balance the distraction against the need to focus?
First, set aside a time to “check” everything. For instance, when I’m working on something I might commit to work for 15 minutes before I check Twitter and Facebook. I then set aside an amount of time that I’ll do that and stick to it. I’ve found that no matter how hard you try, you never make it to the bottom of those feeds so there’s no point in trying. I’ll get as much out of 5 minutes of checking as I will out of 20 (and probably feel better about myself). This probably means students should flip on “do not disturb” so that there’s not even a buzz to distract them during the focus time. Second, we should explain that not only do they like knowing what’s going on with their friends, but they’re also likely addicted to Dopamine (video below). Every time they get a notification, text, or mention they get a shot of dopamine. The brain learns this and then seeks more of it in the same way (mentions, updates, texts, etc.). This is addicting and it’s not a particularly healthy addiction. Last, I think we should emphasize that the focus in class should be on learning and that multitasking detracts from that, not only for them but also for their peers.
I guess that’s a long way of saying that I’m going to much more intentional with my cell phone policy this year. As always, I welcome your thoughts in the comments or on twitter.

My Favorite Creative Space

For my current assignment in my Creativity in Teaching and Learning course I  was asked to find a space that I find engaging and conducive to creativity. The space I decided on may be surprising as I chose my classroom. I’m fortunate to work in a relatively new school that is well lit, and at least for me, comfortable. I especially like my classroom and try hard to make it a comfortable space for my students as well. I’d encourage you to take a look at the photos below as I tried to capture the things that make it most conducive to productivity and creativity.


This is a wide angle shot of my classroom. At first it may not seem particularly conducive to creativity (although my daughter jumped right in!). As you look at the photos below I’ll go more in depth about the aspects of my room that make it a space in which I enjoy creating. From a students perspective I hope that the room layout and design shows that I emphasize discourse, collaboration, problem solving, and ultimately learning.

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If This Then That Tips – Research Workflows

One of the coolest tools on the internet is IF This Then That. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out than you’re missing out on tools that can make everything you do on the internet run a little bit smoother. In this post I want to give you a few recipes that I created (or borrowed and modified) that have found helpful regarding research. I also want to point out that I’ve found that IFTTT is most beneficial when I have a problem and then look to leverage IFTTT to help solve it. When I simply browse recipes I rarely find something that would be super helpful to me, although sometimes other recipes will give me ideas.

Research Help

I’m toying with the idea of a makers or innovators club/course (super preliminary right now…) and am trying to gather research on creativity, innovation, the maker’s movement, design, etc. One way I’m doing this is following certain companies, people, or institutions on Twitter (The MIT Media Lab, Tony Wagner, The Harvard Innovation Lab, IDEO, etc…). This is great but I know that I’m missing a great deal of what gets tweeted by these people. One idea is to turn on notifications but I’m not on my phone constantly (nor do I want to be) to read every single tweet as they come in. Wouldn’t it be great if I could aggregate tweets from a group of people in place? (I know what you’re thinking…use a Twitter List. That works also, but remember I’m doing research and I’d love if the list of tweets was searchable and was located in a place with the rest of my research…)

Enter the recipe below. This recipe takes a tweet from a specific user and appends it to a note in Evernote. Since I have a notebook where I’m housing all my research and ideas for this already, I just added a note  called “creative people tweets”. When I made the recipe I just specified the notebook and note in which I wanted to store the tweets.

You may be concerned about the length of the note after a couple weeks and lots of tweets, but you can easily search the note for specific people, twitter handles, and keywords using “control + f“.
IFTTT Recipe: Append Tweet to Note connects twitter to evernote

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