My new favorite app:Productivity Challenge Timer keeps me motivated!

Not too long ago I wrote about the benefits of Pomodoro Timers, but last night I discovered the BEST APP EVER!! It’s called the Productivity Challenge Timer. While the name is not very sexy, it looks great and has it all. It’s free (though upgrades are available in app) and is available for Android and Apple devices.

First, here’s the home screen. How cool, right? It makes me feel productive just having it installed on my phone.screenshot_2017-01-04-12-37-08


Pomodoro it!

Having trouble getting things done? Feeling overwhelmed by the amount how much there is to do compared to the short amount of time you have to accomplish them? Or do you need to force yourself to rest because you go, go, go, go and never stop until you drop?

Pomodoro it!

I learned of the Pomodoro technique this summer during my Master’s program. Named after a tomoato-shaped timer (perhaps from the sauce?) by Francesco Cirillo, the idea is simple: 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of break. Here’s a quick video from perhaps the “official” (or at the very least copyrighted) Pomodoro Technique website with an overview.

When we heard about this, my fellow students and I implemented it immediately. Hours later groups of 2 or 3 or even those working alone all set times for 25 minutes. No emails, no checking Facebook, no suddenly “I-need-to-pay-that-bill-I’ll-just-do-it-real-quick-like” or trips to Google to find out if that guy you saw in the movie last night was the same guy who was in that bike movie with Kevin Bacon–and what is that name of that movie anyways?

No, during the 25 minutes of work time there is none of that. It is focused. When 5 of us were working on our movies near the end of our month in Ireland, we Pomodoro-ed ourselves. If someone got up to get a snack during a Pomodoro, cries of “wait 12 minutes!!” would shame that person (who may or may not have been me) back to work. And it is amazing how much work we got done, and how quickly! I’m a believer.

More recently I started Pomodoro-ing rest as I was recovering from a concussion. Sitting still is not easy for me, so I adjusted my work/rest times and rested for 25 minutes then allowed myself to get up/look at a screen/do something for 15 minutes.

Finally, if the timer on your phone isn’t enough, there are a bazillion fun apps. The one I am currently using is by TapTM. I like it because it tracks how many Pomodoros I’ve used and I can change my break and work times.


Not only did a Pomodoro Timer help me be productive in graduate school, but it also helps me clean out my house, grade papers and when I suffered a concussion in August and had to rest my brain, I Pomodoro-ed rest: 25 minutes on the couch with my eyes closed then 5 minutes to check email or change the channel.

I hope this simple little tool helps you as much as it has me!

My Vision

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats

We learn when we do. Education is active, creative and energetic. It happens anywhere and everywhere. Classrooms are loud centers of activity and collaboration. Lines between the subjects are blurred and students are engaged in a wide variety of activities. Some are reading; some, helping others. Some are on computers while others are building something. One student uses his phone to look up a fact while another creates a screencast for her online portfolio. All are learning at their own pace, pushing their own limits of capability. It may be difficult to distinguish between the “math” part of the “curriculum” and the “social studies” section.

Classrooms today generally do not look like this, however. Each subject is clearly delineated from the rest and the overall opinion of K-12 education in the United States comes under fire frequently, especially mathematics. But change is beginning to happen as schools and districts change to standards-based grading and libraries install maker-spaces and schools go paperless.

I want to be on this leading edge of change in education, both as an math teacher and technology specialist.

In the math classroom, I see students creating and maintaining online portfolios of their work throughout the year. These will display projects, movies, screencasts created and pictures of work done. Online portfolio become not only a timeless record of work done, but also a tool for future students to use. However, I would love to teach technology and one day become a technology specialist for a district or work in design for a company.

As a technology specialist, I want to develop creative projects that integrate technology and mathematics, and eventually I want to serve a school or a district as a technology integration lead, helping teachers to enhance learning by combining the best practices of teaching, technology and content. I want to teach the TPACK framework on a district-wide scale.

I am always learning, and will continue formal education with another graduate degree. I love design and technology. I am fascinated by what it takes for people to overcome to change social classes through education.

Moviemaker Joy: iVideo premiere!

In my Master’s program last week, we created a video.

From scratch.

In 4 days.

Here it is, with a reflection on the process following.

My [very first ever] iVideo is called BE YOU, and I am so proud of it! I thought about it often during the school year because coming up with ideas and sticking with them are two things that I struggle with. All that worrying before the actual assignment, however, didn’t do any good. I didn’t come up with the story until the night before storyboards were due and I have learned in this program, just like with my cinemagraph, that while the idea is important, it’s what I do with the idea that really makes or breaks the final project. My guiding principle when deciding on a storyline was “keep it simple”, and I then tried to incorporate everything our video expert Sean taught us about video.

Thinking in shots means a lot more to me now than it did before I started shooting!  I was so surprised at how hard it was to set up the shots! It took me forever in the cafe to figure out the lighting and arrangement of people, tables, chairs and the camera.

I was also amazed at how hard it was for me to ask for help!  Ideally I wanted no actors in my video but I knew that was because then I wouldn’t have to ask anyone to help me. I felt a sense of urgency while we were filming because I knew my actors were just as busy as I was; this led me to cut a couple of corners which I now regret. I originally had the main character walking in and out of TK Maxx and Life Style Sports, but I didn’t use a tripod because of the time it took to set up. Lesson learned! As you can see, those scenes didn’t make the final cut because they were too wobbly. I went back the next day, used the tripod and reshot the scenes without my actor. I really get it now: Take the time to do it right the first time. Someone told me once, “it’s all about the prep time,” and I keep finding this true in all areas of life.

What I discovered during this project is the same thing I initially dreaded: everything matters. Or at least, everything must be given consideration. And I love that the not only the visuals but the editing and sound and transitions serve as parts of the story, becoming analogies to the story being told. The best example of this was matching the audio with the mood change in the middle of the video.

I tried what felt like a million different ways of changing audio tracks and finally gave up. During my first “public” screening I knew this would be a cringe moment and it was!  It was jarring and I’m pretty sure everyone jumped.

However, I am so pleased with it now! After consultation with my professor and playing with it more, I am super happy with the outcome. I love that the two tracks just barely overlap as the first fades out and the second fades in. It inadvertently became analogous to the story of the video: when we discover ourselves, we don’t just get rid of who we were before, the true person just sort of takes over as time goes by. Just like an audio or visual “fade in”.

Keys to Success in Ms. Zaher’s Class-Adventures with Infographs

Our second project in Year 3 was creating an infographic on any topic. I have wanted to design a visual syllabus since last summer’s GREAT15 conference, so my topic was already clear. As often happens, however, as I put my ideas on paper, the purpose changed. Instead of a syllabus that is tied to a particular class, which is tied to a particular curriculum, I created a tool that I can use in any classroom I am in, independent of the subject matter. The result is so good! I am off to a great start, knowing that some items will change as I put this infographic into practice.

Infographic by Joy-01

The things I know need attention are the two JPEG’s- the visual QR code, which I created through Visualead, and the stacked bar graph, created with The problem I encountered was finding both of these items in SVG form. In retrospect (and in the future) I could create my own bar chart with Photoshop and export them as SVG.

Overall, however, I was so much happier with my design process on this project than any other project in all three years! I felt confident in my idea, and when I got stuck on how to incorporate the coordinate plane into the graphic, I didn’t change my entire idea! I stuck with it, persevered and eventually solutions emerged. I am so pleased with the result!


Our first project in Year 3 of MAET was an iCinemagraph, a project which introduced us to Adobe Photoshop. Here is my final product, followed by a reflection I wrote the same day I finished it. I want to publish the reflection “as is” to be transparent about my design process and open about the voices in my head that I assume are not unique to me. Knowing that other people experience our same struggles can be liberating!


My iCinemagraph design process began with a vague idea, which was the rewards that I see in teaching and learning mathematics with the Common Core Curriculum. My audience is parents and teachers anyone else who is skeptical about its implementation in math classes.  This was as specific as I got and I did not spend time chiseling this out or sketching out an idea for a visual before I began recording. Instead I wandered around Galway looking for a picture to strike me inspired. I got close once with a clip of a fish swimming upstream in a small rapids, and I think this would have been great and much easier to attach a thought to than the image I settled on. A fish struggling upstream is exactly how I feel in my job as a math teacher in Boise schools, and my audience then would have been specifically teachers who are struggling with the rocky implementation process in Boise. I did not use this footage, however, because I could not figure out technically how to make just the fish move; the water behind it also moved and so it looked quite tacky when it was done.

However, I chose to go with the moving flowers in color against the static, colorless backdrop of the water over the dam. To me this represented new ways of learning, i.e. the Common Core, sprouting out of and despite old ways of teaching. In my mind, the viewer can make other metaphors with math education: That struggle is worth it and brings color and vitality and enrichment to life, for example.  All of this was jumbled in my head, and my lack of clear direction was evident in my process, if not somewhat in the cinemagraph. I had a very hard time coming up with a statement for my image, and I realized during the process that it was because the statement is the purpose of the picture and drives its creation. I did this in the opposite order and now I understand why the purpose drives the product.

I did not begin with a specific vision or experience that I wanted my audience to have other than a vague feeling, and the production process as well as my final product, reflected this lack of focus. However, I really got a good picture of how I operate within the design process and the places in that process where I struggle. It is these points of struggle the derail me in designing. While creating my cinemagraph I really saw that when I do not feel inspired I tend to give up and change ideas totally rather than sit down and persevere through the difficulty. I am now consciously staying in a growth mindset about creating, and flushing out my thoughts thoroughly and persevering with one idea through iterations rather than throwing out entire ideas and starting from scratch whenever I get stumped.

This Spartan Did

As I come to the end of Year 2, I am delighted!

I am delighted with myself, with my colleagues, with what I’ve learned, how I’ve changed and what I have accomplished. In reflecting on the summer, I see three main themes. I have illustrated each storyline to demonstrate my experiences rather than tell of my experiences.

  • The journey from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

The Journey Comic Strip

  • The journey from practice as something for others to something for myself.

  • A diary of much of my work and notable revelations in the past 4 weeks.

spartans will hats v3
A stanza from a poem called A Morning Offering by Irish poet John O’Donohue further expression my experience of MAET Year 2.

May my mind come alive today

To the invisible geography

That invites me to new frontiers,

To break the dead shell of yesterdays,

To risk being disturbed and changed.

Practice, Feedback & Reflection Mini Teachmeet Collaboration

Today in MAET we did a super fast teachmeet-like exercise where groups of us investigated varying topics that we have covered this summer. My colleague Alicia and I chose to focus on practice, which quickly grew to encompass feedback and reflection.  Here is our thinking after an hour of collaboration. As you can see, the design process is messy and a bit scattered, but Alicia rightly thought it was important to model the skill of getting ideas shared so they become available for feedback and collaboration.

BY: Joy Zaher & Alicia Sansing

Unifying Definitions:

Practice:  the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method reproduced over time as opposed to theories relating to it.

Feedback:  information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

Reflection: 1)  serious thought or consideration.  2) a thing that is a consequence of or arises from something else.

Why reinvent the wheel? We borrowed and remixed ideas from Dan Meyer (math guy) who has an awesome blog post about changing teaching by modelling it after Angry Birds. Not only does this method work with students but it will also work with educators as we think about our own practice and the ways that we need to make it more obtainable to our learners, peers and leaders. Following are ideas that we can use as professionals and educators.

  1. Make it easy to start the task.111003_1lo  1

-start with something they already know how to do, and get them doing it

Don’t over plan- frontload, don’t plan the outcome

  1. Show, don’t tell.

111003_2lo  2

  • Wider audience, outside of the classroom, show your work with a blog, website and/or online portfolio w/reflective blog
  1. Give useful and immediate feedback.

111003_3lo  3

  1. Make it easy to recover from failure.

111003_4lo   4

  • Model with video, feedback
  • Having a mentor
  • Ask students for feedback rather than constantly providing them with feedback
  1. Complicate the task gradually.

why reinvent the wheel- borrow, remix, reuse (i.e. use yesterday’s exit ticket as a warm up for today)


Helpful information about methods of practice