Month: November 2014

Try Using the Pomodoro Technique Today

by Kristie Burk

In Monday’s post on time management techniques, we looked at a video called “How To Drop the Ball, Effectively.”  In it, Scott Hanselman talked about increasing our efficiency as well as our effectiveness.  On a work/collaboration day like today, how we be sure to get the most out of our time?

Try using the Pomodoro Technique!

The Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo to help with time management. I first became familiar with a similar technique as a computer programmer when we would work on “sprints.”

Start by using a timer to break down a task (a stack of papers to grade, lessons to revise, an assessment to design with a co-worker) into 25-minute intervals. During the interval, any distractions (an email notification, a text from your friend) are ignored.  Mark them on a piece of paper with a checkmark to see just how many interruptions there are.  After 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break and try another  interval. I think you’ll be amazed at how much gets done.

A few months ago, I met with two teachers from Downingtown Middle School who were interested in learning Schoology. We had about 25 minutes together, so I implemented the Pomodoro Technique.  We set up in a distraction-free area to work, turned off our cellphones, ignored incoming email, and spent the time learning some of the basic tools of Schoology.  We were all impressed with how much we were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.

Apply the Pomodoro Technique as you work today and let us know how much you get done at

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Tech Tip Tuesday: Use Popplet to Mimic Graphic Organizers

poppletby Kristie Burk

A few weeks ago, I highlighted a mind-map generator called Today, we’re going to look at another great mind-mapping tool called Popplet.

Popplet can be used on the Web or on an iPad and is simple to use. You start with a blank board and double click to create your first Popplet.  You’ll be presented with a window where you can type text, use the drawing tool, or upload images or videos. You can change the color and size of the Popplet as well as the color and size of the text inside.

Once you’ve created your first Popplet, you can drag or click to create a second,  linked one with all of the same features.

Sharing the Popplet is also easy; users can zoom in and out of the Popplet to examine detail more closely.  This would be an excellent tool to use with students who need to organize information visually!

Here is a sample Popplet on stars created by a student.

Want more ideas? Take a peek at this Pinterest board of Popplets for Education.

It’s Time to Drop the Ball, Effectively

by Kristie Burk

We’re now entering a stressful time of year. (Who are we kidding – isn’t the whole school year stressful??)

Do you ever wish that you could replicate yourself just so you could get your work done?

Scott Hanselman, a program manager at Microsoft, has some advice, “Just drop the ball.” Hanselman is going around the country giving excellent advice to people on how they become more effective by doing less.

For example, he talks about how people can scale themselves by waiting to check email and conserving keystrokes. He stresses the importance of spending time thinking about the work you need to be doing, reserving Fridays for reflection (our Food for Thought Friday articles should come in handy for that!) and trying the Pomodoro method.

Take the time today to read the article “How to Scale Yourself and Get More Done Than You Thought Possible” or watch an excerpt of his talk from Youtube.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what he has to say!


Food for Thought Friday: Do Students Have the Necessary Communication Skills?

Inside peek at a Reason editorial meetin by Colby Cosh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  Colby Cosh 


by Kristie Burk

This summer, I read an interesting opinion in the Philadelphia Inquirer about how graduates need essential communication skills to survive in the workplace.  “Use the Personal touch in a Technological Age” by Matthew Randall cites a survey by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania, which shows a disturbing trend. Respondents who “believed that professionalism has decreased in the past five years attributed that drop to a loss of communication and interpersonal skills due to technology.”

In his article, Randall gives six suggestions for students to hone their engagement skills, including staying positive and watching the group dynamics.  But, more importantly, it raises an important question for educators.  As we use more and more technology in the classroom, how can we be sure that students are losing the soft skills that are still necessary in today’s economy?

Some food for thought today. Post your comments at!

Check Out Google Templates

by Michelle Nass, Downingtown High School West Librarian

Disclaimer: I’m a huge fan of Google Apps in the classroom for many reasons, but one is because it is an equalizer. Everyone has access. As a librarian, I’m all about equitable and awesome access for all. However, I’ve run across a few problems that I just didn’t have time to investigate, and one of those problems was the lack of templates.

My husband needed help writing his resume and where is my resume wizard? And recently, one of my favorite teacher friends, Shelly Francies, had this incredible idea for a lesson, but it called for a newsletter template. Argh! Where’s my newsletter template!? In a time when we ask many of our students to work digitally and outside of our school environments, we cannot expect that they all have a particular software program at home. There had to be an answer. Enter Google Templates!

I’ve written before about the usefulness of the Google Add-Ons that can be linked to Google Docs, and this is one of those. Truth be told, I knew they were useful, but I spent little time exploring. Who has the time? Today, I took a quick dive into the apps that can be connected to Drive and found a wealth of potential for teachers and students. I’ve attached the screen cast that I developed for that class that needs newsletters.*  It shows you how to:

  • Find the apps to connect to your Google Docs
  • Quickly navigate through those apps, with a brief stop-over into the teacher and student section. (So much to explore here! Maybe another time…)
  • Search for specific apps and link it to your Docs.
  • Use the “research tool” to help create your product. (Do you know about this yet? You should!)

There are just so many applications and customizations to the Google Apps. Mrs. Francies and I were remarking today on what a useful skill set this is for our students… to know what tools are available to them (for free!), how to customize them, and then how to utilize them to create a product that best reflects their learning and ingenuity. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool.

*Note: The template app in this video is called Drive Template Gallery.

Website Wednesday: PBS Learning Media

by Kristie Burk

This week’s website PBS pbsLearningMedia contains thousands of digital resources for teachers, including interactive games, videos and lessons plans, that come from PBS programs as well as from organizations like NASA and NPR.

Teachers can search by grade level, subject, Common Core Standards or collections.  The newest resources on PBS LearningMedia include Math is AweSum, Cyberlearning in STEM, Art and Science of Growing Food, and Culture & Identity.

Other aspects of the site include interactive webinars; tomorrow, students and teachers can sign up for a live virtual field trip with Project C: Lessons from the Civil Rights Movement, which will focus on the role of citizenship in a democracy.

Tech Tip Tuesday: Poll Our Students

by Kristie Burk

Poll Everywhere allows teachers to gather real-time feedback from students in a fun, interactive way.   On the Poll Everywhere website teachers can create polls that are open-ended or multiple choice.  They can even include images.

Using simple keywords and codes, students can text, tweet, or manually enter their responses on a website and they will appear in an interactive, live screen instantaneously.  Students can watch the bar graph, ticker wall, or word clouds appear and see each others’ anonymous responses.  The teacher will get instant feedback from the students to inform her teaching.


The implications for use in the classroom are numerous and exciting.  Teachers can ask students to share portions of journal responses, to submit summaries of a text, or to explain key concepts.  They can use Poll Everywhere to assess pre-knowledge or to use as a formative assessment during a lesson.  They can even ask students to ask any questions they may have; in an anonymous format, teachers are more likely to get responses.  And the good news is that teachers can set their poll to be moderated for open-ended answers, so no embarrassing comments will make to the live screen.

One of the newest features in Poll Everywhere is the ability to use clickable image polls.  For example, teachers can put an image of a church on the screen and ask the students to “click” the flying buttresses.  Or, they can put up a map and ask students to indicate where a battle was fought during World War II.

If you’re using Poll Everywhere in your classroom, let us know what you’re doing with it.  And if you have a tech tool that you would like to see highlighted, tell us!