Hacking Together an Auto-Tweeting Spreadsheet

by Brian Bennett on 05/25/2016

A while back, I had looked at automating tweets from a Google spreadsheet to reduce the insane number of clicks it takes to do in TweetDeck and HootSuite (5 clicks? Really?) I hit some roadblocks and let it slide because in the long run, it wasn't really important to me. More of a fun experiment.

I jumped back into it a week or so back to try and solve the last little problems. I was able to create a script which loops through a spreadsheet checks the current date and whether or not the tweet has been sent. If those conditions are met (TODAY and NOT SENT), it will automatically post the tweet.

The sheet, like all the other Twitter sheets I've used, is run with Martin Hawksey's fantastic TwtrService library. It allows you to authenticate and tweet right from Google Apps Script and saves a ton of time.

I ran into a problem that is as-yet unsolved: I can't get the sheet to stop after posting one tweet. So, if you have multiple tweets on a given day, it will send all of them at once. That's not good, especially if you're promoting an event over a period of time. I've tried a number of solutions, but I can't seem to find one that works. I'd love to hear if you're able to take the source and tweak it to work.

In the meantime, Martin also took a (much more elegant) pass at the task. His sheet is also available and works really well. The goal is the same, but his mechanics and implementation are much more refined and effective.

It's a good example of multiple ways to skin a cat. I'm a novice coder (I tell people I know enough to break something) and he's an expert doing all kinds of things. The great thing is, all of this code is open and available. I can make a copy of Martin's page and dig into his solution. I learned a few tricks about checking for multiple conditions, which is what I was struggling with. I became better at scripting through my failure and his success.

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The Line Between High Expectations and Impossible Expectations

by Brian Bennett on 05/12/2016

I absolutely hate teaching bonding. The abstract nature of atoms, the minutiae of nomenclature, and the details of writing formulas bog students down and I struggle to meet their needs. So, we do POGILs, simulations, speed dating, labs, and drills. Lots of time is spent trying to correct patterns of work to meet the learning objectives.

This year, I just can't seem to meet those goals. I feel like I'm at my wits end and I'm just ready to move into something else for the plain sake of mixing it up a little bit.

I know it's not my fault entirely. I know I can rely on the multiple short assessments - formative and summative - that I've given over the last three weeks (almost) checking on progress. I know I've recovered and retaught major points of confusion.

I also know I can't force students to do something they're patently disinterested in doing.

Standards based grading is a double-edged sword in that regard. They've done plenty of work, but there is still a major lack of understanding of the main ideas, so I cannot report, through the grading system, that they've learned the objective. Ethically, I'm not willing to cross that line. At the same time, I question the level of expectation I've set up as students work to demonstrate what understanding they have. Am I expecting too much?

The line between high expectations and impossible expectations is thin. Trying to walk it is an exercise in rationalization and stubbornness.


The photo in this post is a Public Domain photo of a Penrose Triangle. It looks like it should exist, but in reality, is an impossible shape.

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Mercury’s Transit

by Brian Bennett on 05/9/2016

In 2012, we saw Venus transit the sun. It won't happen again until 2117, so if you missed it, you're our of luck when it comes to seeing that again. Today, you have a chance to see Mercury slide across the surface of our star.

It's cloudy here, so I'll be using NASA's special Mercury Transit website to show images of the planet as it crosses the sun during the day. If you want to learn more about the transit or what information will be displayed on the website, NASA has a good blog post explaining which regions they're focusing on and why we should care about observing transits like this. Also, be sure to check out the Solar Dynamics Observatory website from time to time for great images of the sun at various websites. They highlight solar phenomena (magnetic regions, sunspots, coronal mass ejections, etc) and really give our students a new view of our energy source. It's a powerful thing to show how complex our universe is.

Mercury repeats this trip thirteen times every hundred years (ish), so you'll have a chance to watch again in 2019 if you have to miss today.

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I Need to Remember to Post Answer Keys

by Brian Bennett on 05/4/2016

Everything I do in class is geared toward building understanding. I want students to be able to both complete the task and understand why they're completing it. Learning is more than a collection of disconnected skills. Especially in chemistry, the more you see the interconnectedness, the easier it is to learn.

Today, I gave a quiz that went less then spectacularly. We've finished a chapter on periodic table organization and have moved into ionization and simple bonding. We've talked about valence electrons, how to find them, whether or not an atom is gaining or losing those electrons, and finally, how to find the ion charge. We also practiced it in a lab yesterday.

Today, we fell flat pretty quickly.

As we looked back over the last few days of work, I told them that before every quiz, I can usually accurately pick out who will do well and who won't based on work leading up. It seemed to surprise them that yes, I do know when work is simply copied and handed in. To illustrate that it isn't uncommon, I closed my eyes and asked everyone to silently raise their hand if they'd ever done that. (Of course, most hands were slapped back down on tables or knees...not so silently...)

I gave my students the GIGO example - if I don't have accurate information, I cannot teach effectively. When I walk by and offer help, it isn't random. But they have to choose to accept the offer.

I found, years ago, that posting answer keys around the room while they're working significantly reduces the desire to just copy it down and turn it in. First off, because I usually won't take the work up. Secondly, they know there's no pressure on being perfect. I can still assess their learning (and they can easily self assess, which is more important anyways) and adjust as we go.

Lately, I haven't posted keys. It could be laziness, forgetfulness, or a combination of any number of things.

The fact of the matter is I'm still fighting a resistant culture. We're nearly there in some classes - a culture of learning as process, not as destination - but in others, we probably won't make it this year.

I still have 17 school days until summer break, so we'll keep the gas pedal down and see what happens.

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Minimum Viable Input

by Brian Bennett on 05/2/2016

In software, there's a lot of discussion about the "minimum viable product" when you're designing something: what is the bare basic you can deliver to customers that will solve a problem? It helps define the focus and set development priorities for the first weeks.

I think there's a similar process in learning. I have to have a minimum viable input from students in order to teach effectively. I try to design lessons that are low barrier for entry, ones that allow students to engage with an idea without being bogged down in the details. It takes some amount of effort and the bar is just above what's comfortable.

I haven't been receiving that minimum input from students lately. And as a result, we're struggling. Hard.

There seems to be the expectation that if learning doesn't happen in class, I'll drop everything and teach it later. Some are learning the hard way that it doesn't work that way. When we're together, I want to engage together. I can be flexible, but it's a two way street.

I've had some discussions with students. The nice thing about standards based grading is that it's less of a numbers game (mathematically impossible to pass, etc.) It's harder - it's a learning game.

Learning must happen.

Learning an entire semester's worth of material in four weeks is hardly realistic, but I'll support the ones who give it a try.

I hope there's a larger takeaway, whatever the outcome.

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