Getting Busy with todo.txt

Keeping a todo list has always been a struggle for me. I have a notebook, I have some stuff in Google Keep, I’ve tried Google Tasks, Any.do, Remember the Milk, and Wunderlist. I’ve tried apps with goal setting, apps with reminders, and apps with synced web and phone apps.

My main problem is that it’s just another window to have open at any given point. I run a minimal desktop and dock – I don’t like windows all over the place with a dock that needs two monitors to show everything.

Robert Talbert tweeted about todo.txt the other day and I fell in love. Instantly.

I work in code and the command line a lot. I usually have the Mac Terminal open along with Atom. I hop between projects and use key commands because it’s faster than moving my hands to and from the trackpad. Todo.txt is a command-line script which manages a text file called (wait for it) todo.txt. It also has a done.txt file to hold things that are finished.

I won’t go into the syntax here, but essentially, each item has a priority, a title, and a tag or two. Putting one task per line in the text file creates one new entry on your list.

The command line just makes it faster to work with because it gives built-in commands, much like the Git architecture, to create, edit, or mark tasks as done. For example, using todo add “(A) filter schools by content areas +curriculum” creates an item in the text file. Opening the file shows a single line. But, using the command line, it shows a sorted list of items based on priority.

Marking items is easy, too. Put an “x” in front of the task and – hey presto! – it’s marked as finished. Using the command line, todo do and the item number marks it as done and moves it to your done.txt file.

Putting the notes in your Dropbox is tiny and updates instantly. Any computer I use is synced to Dropbox, hence my list is synced. Pull up the Terminal, and I’m ready to go.

Then I found GeekTool.

Getting rid of window clutter even more, GeekTool takes scripts (called “geeklets”) and lays them on your desktop in modules you customize. You can set the refresh rate as well as define groups of geeklets for different setups. For instance, I have a geeklet set to use when I’m on my laptop and one for when I’m hooked to an external monitor.

Part of my GeekTool setup is displaying my task list right on my desktop. Having a color coded list right there, all the time, is really helpful. And I’m not promoting an unhealthy work/life ratio because I can turn the geeklet off whenever I want (namely, on the weekend).

In the end, I’m really happy with this system because I control it. The setup isn’t as easy as downloading an app, but I know where my data is and I know how it’s being used. It’s a little thing, but some of the best things in life are the little things.

All images in the post are mine. There are a lot of great tutorials online for todo.txt as well as GeekTool.

2017 End of Year Notes

In what’s become a half-tradition, some unfiltered thoughts as I finish another school year.

– Splitting time between teaching and instructional coaching is really, really difficult. It’s hard to pour into both equally. Next year, I’m going to be coaching 100% of the time.

– I still need to work on alternative assessment and measurement methods. Using Canvas has helped me implement SBG more effectively this year, but I still need to make improvements, especially giving feedback.

– I tend to close in on myself when working with other teachers. I need to focus on opening up and encouraging reflective dialog about effective instructional strategies.

– As I work with curriculum development and implementation teams, I need to bone up on my frameworks.

– I’m not teaching a class next year, which feels very strange…again.

There is a ton of change happening in the district and the implementation of the growth plan is wide open. My team continues to set high goals to make sure we’re constantly pushing the bar. It takes a lot of energy and effort, but the growth this year has been astronomical. Maintaining momentum and implementing new support structures in the fall is the big challenge ahead.


Featured image is Unpopular Opinions, a flickr photo by DarlingJack shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Using Someone Else’s Videos in Your Class

In November 2015, an independent model showed YouTube received around 500 hours of video content uploaded every minute. There are 1440 minutes in a day, meaning there was roughly 720,000 hours of video every day.

That’s a lot of videos.

Granted, many are of cats, kids, and Barbie Jeep Racing, so it’s not necessarily quality content uploading, but there is a lot of great video available for flipping if you’re not quite ready to make your own yet.

Where to start?

Before looking at how to choose videos, let’s define the goals of using video as an instructional tool (not method) in the first place. Don’t ask yourself, “How do I get rid of lecture?” because it’s too narrow a focus. The intent of using video should be to create space for students to explore ideas with the support of a teacher. Ramsey Musallam says it well: “Good teaching, regardless of discipline, should always limit passive transfer of knowledge in class, and promote learning environments built on the tenants of inquiry, collaboration and critical thinking.”

Flipping can help accomplish the goals of increasing student interaction with material and using existing videos is an easy way to start that process. When it comes to choosing videos to use with students, I focus on three main things:

  1. What value does a video bring?

  2. How well is the idea presented?

  3. How will the video expand on what is happening in class?

Using videos should supplement, not replace your work in the classroom. Your students have a relationship with you, not a video personality. It is important that you frame using outside content as a supporting factor in the interactive and collaborative work happening in the classroom. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing student trust because it appears that you’re taking the easy way out.

What value does a video bring?

There are situations when a video can help you immediately reclaim some time. Algorithmic processes – solving a problem, correcting grammatical mistakes, putting together a timeline of events – are great starting points. They’re usually short and to the point and they become a self-help library for students. When you’re in the middle of a larger activity, these can be a “first line of defense” when students ask procedural questions. At the same time, you can pay attention to which videos you’re referring to the most and address those in class as a whole.

The value here is that you’re not bogged down answering the same, small question over and over. You’re also not obligated to stop the entire activity. You’ll be teaching students self-reliance by curating helpful instructional videos to get the habit started. Eventually, students will go off and find their own help when they need it.

From another angle, resources are limited. I can’t always provide concrete examples in the classroom. Using videos to bring in those topics and examples is a great way to bridge the gap.

How well is it presented?

Presentation isn’t everything, but it’s important. As you’re vetting content, pay attention to the content, obviously, but also make sure it isn’t mind-numbing to watch. Audio is very important in this case. A video that is clear as crystal but sounds like a drive-through is just as bad as a video you can’t see. Don’t pick the first result in the search, either. Take some time to find a video that fits your need and won’t cause more confusion for you later.

How will it expand on what is happening in class?

Remember, you are the teacher and you set the tone of the course with your students. Any video you choose – instructional or exploratory – should fit in with your day to day work. Be explicit and specific about why you’re assigning a particular video to help students see the big picture. Without making connections for the students, you run the risk of looking lazy and the videos become another assignment, not a helpful tool.

Additionally, if you can’t make a solid connection to the learning process, perhaps a video isn’t the best means. It’s a good self-check to make sure you’re proving engaging and meaningful assignments at all levels of the learning cycle.

Big picture

Online video is here to stay. The amount of content available is staggering both in scale and in potential to positively impact learning behaviors. In the end, starting with existing video can help lay a foundation for using video as a learning tool. The major time commitment on your end is starting to curate those materials. Most video sites have playlists that you can create and customize, so start saving videos you like to build out that library.

You may find, though, that you can’t find one that really hits the issue you’re having. Don’t be afraid to make your own. I’ll repeat: you have the relationship with your students. Making a short video is easier than ever and you can find a number of tutorials online to help you get started.

Focus on enhancing the class time. Use the questions above to guide your thinking as you look for materials. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some of my favorites:

Channel Description
:———————: :——————————————–:
Smarter Every Day Mainly physics, some biology and chemistry
Veritasium All sciences, culture of science and inquiry
Bozeman Science Biology, chemistry, nature of science
It’s Okay to be Smart PBS Digital Studios, all content

The featured image is titled Audience Full Movie, a flickr photo by Emily Barney shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Update to Endnote Generator

If you’ve used Endnote Generator in your Docs, thanks.

I posted an update this evening which will retain the formatting of your footnotes. So, if you have text formatting (bold, underline, etc) or links, those are still there when the Endnotes are added.

You can grab the Addon from the Docs Addon menu. You can also take a look at the source (or contribute!) and test it out on a single document on GitHub.

You Are the Product

The New York Times profiled Google’s rush into education over the last eight years in a long piece this weekend. Some initial thoughts:

– The value behind the “Innovative Educator” title is completely created by Google. There is no value other than the fact that a company says it has value.

– Skills in a platform – even a cloud platform – are important, but not removed from the content students are supposed to be learning.

– If you don’t pay for it, you are the product being sold. Even if advertising isn’t targeted to students in GSuite, when you roll that data into a consumer account, it’s all there, ripe for auction.

– The marketization of education is pervasive and can erode the purpose of education: the holistic growth of students in all areas. Allowing companies like Google (among others) to direct what “good education” looks like is dangerous.

be careful what you buy into. Everything Google has done over the last decade in education is not altruistic. There is a company mission which drives all decisions and being aware of how those impact users is important.