An Easier Way to Get Plain Text

Our school is moving to more active use of Lexile scores for reading selections. The Lexile website has a nice analytic tool which allows you to upload text (after you create a user account) for analysis. The pain in this process is that A) you can only do it from the website, and B) it has to be plaintext.

So much of the web is rich text now that it’s difficult to create plain text files. It’s even difficult to do so using Notepad or TextEdit on PC and Mac because they want to save as rich text. Most teachers don’t realize that there is a particular process that must be used.

To lower the bar for entry, I wrote a small JavaScript bookmarklet to grab highlighted text from a webpage and download it as a properly formatted plain text file to then re-upload to’s analyzer.


Head over to the dedicated page to install (or play with) the app.

Fair warning – this may never be updated again. Use it til it breaks. (And share it with your friends.)

My Robot Will Fight Your Robot

Spam on Twitter feels like an all-time high right now. Twitter itself is woefully horrible at taking reports of abuse and spamming and all a user can do is use the completely un-fulfilling “Report Tweet” option to block the user. When they spam hashtags, companies create robots faster than you can report.

Twitter spam is out of control. (I’m not linking because I don’t want to give them any web traffic) has been spamming the #flipclass hashtag for months on end. The problem is that they do it through bots with randomly-generated, vaguely eastern-European-named “users.” The feed is filled with junk and blocking individual users doesn’t make much sense because they just make more users.

Twitter spam is out of control.

I use Martin Hawksey’s fantastic Twitter Archiving Google Sheet (TAGS) script to grab tweets for conferences, archiving, and just playing around with data visualization. It’s now my own personal robot for fighting other spam robots.

This one doesn’t spam, though. It reports the spam.

Twitter spam is out of control, so I build a robot.

The TAGS library is incredibly powerful…it relies on the TwtrService library created by Google which allows you to interact with the Twitter REST API, which means if you can get a user’s information, you can then send it back through a Google Script to report the tweet.

I watched these bots and realized the all have the company website in their profile. My robot now has a weapon.

My robot will fight your robot.

With some help from Martin, I added a line to the core TAGS code library which grabs the user’s profile URL and puts in into the archive.


Then, I wrote a second script which scans through the archive looking for the URL.

Then, I used triggers to run the script every hour. It clears the archive, grabs whatever tweets were sent during that time, and then reports those that match the key. All day. Every day.

My robot will fight your robot.

Featured flickr photo shared by kurichan+ under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Natural Consequences

This is the hardest part of teaching, if you ask me. What are the natural consequences of not completing a task in the given amount of time?

It started with a tweet from Alice Keeler:

…and it really snowballed.

Homework – and whether or not to assign it – is extremely personal. It’s a methodological decision that (often) is tied very closely to the culture of learning a teacher tries to set up in their room.

Homework is divisive.

I teach high school…mostly 10th and 11th grade. Part of my responsibility to to teach responsibility to my students. Everything I do in my class rolls back around to life skills (this is called organic curriculum in the literature. See Glatthorn (1999) for more) and preparing them for their obligations once they leave the building.

I’m not naive. I know students are dealing with much, much more than I ever have. I have multiple students with children. Many with jobs. Most with clubs, athletics, and other extracurricular work. I also have some homeless, transient, and students dealing with significant adversity.

And it is my responsibility to make sure they’re learning.

We use class time to make sure that happens. I give plenty of time to work through content. I’m here to help. They work in groups. They can ask questions, make mistakes, reflect, and revise in a safe place.

But sometimes, students make decisions to not use the class time. That’s when it becomes homework.

Justin Aion wrote a great post which summarizes many of my thoughts on teaching responsibility. In particular,

At some point, the role of a teacher, in my opinion, slowly shifts to support, gradually handing off the responsibility for education to the student, helping them to become more and more independent before we release them into the world.

I struggle regularly with finding that balance. This year, with juniors and seniors, I am much more inclined to leave the responsibility up to them. I make myself available and do my best to support them, but the responsibility for learning and decision making is on them.

Is it irresponsible of me to ask that work not finished in the time given during the day be finished outside of class? For high schoolers, I don’t think so. Mainly because I know what support they’ve had during the day(s) of work on the task and really, anything leftover, should be minimal.

Here’s the problem: none of these conversations about homework consider the support already given.

It’s dogmatic. A kneejerk. And it’s hurting education discussions.

If I don’t finish work, I have to find time to do it. Period.

Why is it different for our students?

I’m here after school. I’m here before school. We have an advisory period. I can implore, beg, and even assign, but there is still a conscious decision made by a student to either take advantage of those opportunities or not. If they don’t, the only reasonable expectation that I have is that they do it at home.

Blaming the teacher for a student’s indiscretion is like blaming the principal for not getting your grades done on time. There is a set time period and it needs to get done.

Does homework – in and of itself – teach responsibility? No. Of course not. Neither does bringing a pencil to class. All I ask is that we start to look beyond the action and include the support system in place. What else is done? What could be improved? What might need to be dropped?

I left that discussion feeling angry and frustrated because we stuck to the idea that “all homework is bad.” To someone new to Twitter – and even someone old on Twitter – it comes across as a personal attack. I think Glenn Arnold said it best afterward:

I (usually) enjoy the discussion…this time, I’m enjoying the reflection (again, Justin’s post is great). We need to think big picture. Forget homework – it’s a single thing that can influence learning. Let’s talk about the larger systems or cultures we’re building…that’s a discussion I can get into.

An Experiment in Process

This post outlines a recent lesson and activity I designed for my integrated chemistry/physics students. Fair warning: science ahead.

The Problem

I teach a class called Integrated Chemistry & Physics. It’s meant to serve as an all-around physical science for high school students (they need one life science and one physical to earn a diploma). Being such, it’s a light touch in a variety of topics in both physics and chemistry. It also provides a lot of opportunities for students to experience the ideas, particularly in physics.

I’ve run into an issue where lab activities designed for physics students often bog my group down in procedure and over-the-top data collection, which muddies the purpose of the lab. I wanted to simplify our usual acceleration lab to make it a little more accessible from a less science-oriented perspective.

The Plan

Simplification was the goal. The difficult thing about acceleration is that you need to measure distance and time accurately. Doing this without equipment becomes a challenge in teamwork, which was an added bonus for this activity. Rather than having one student use a timer, I decided to go with a metronome so everyone in the class could hear the correct interval. Students released a marble from the top of a slanted white board and traced the path of the marble as it rolled through an interval from the metronome.

I hadn’t taught anything about acceleration yet, so I had the students hypothesize based on the following statement:

The distance a marble rolls will double if the time is doubled.

It provided an interesting discussion point as students argued over whether the marble rolled at a constant speed. Many didn’t consider the fact that doubled meant every interval (0.25s to 0.5s is doubling the interval) or just a single block of time.


The whiteboards had a nice record of the length of each trial. I know precision is just about out the window, but the generalities were helpful in building an understanding of what acceleration is. As they were taking data, there were exclamations of, “I can’t keep up! It moves too fast!” Having the kinesthetic experience through manual tracking is something that is lost when tech is used to get more precision.

The Results

Because this was done manually, the data were all over the place. Depending on how well the group worked, some had negative accelerations at the top of the board and very, very high accelerations at the bottom. I’m a fan of error in data because it reinforces the fact that being careful in the lab is very important. I had each group report their average distance rolled for each interval and I was able to graph the class data as position vs time and speed vs time to highlight the difference in shape for acceleration between the two.



Further Discussion

The nice thing about this lab is that it had components of very close teamwork, kinesthetic experiences, an achievable task, and great error for analysis. While we were discussing group results, students were noticing that their results varied widely between each group. So, I took the class data and animated how the graph changed as more and more data are added to the set.

Students immediately saw that the graph approached the correct shape as more data were added. I’m hoping this starts to end the question, “How many trials do we need?” in future experiments.

Next time I run this experiment, I’ll probably use ticker tape cars to remove the variability in data. I liked that they had to physically move the pen faster as the marble accelerated, but it caused a lot of issues in data analysis the next day and may have even introduced some misconceptions about acceleration.

What suggestions would you have? What changes could keep some of the kinesthetic experiences and simplicity in structure but improve on the task as a whole?