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


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 infog.am. 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.

Learning and Understanding

What is learning?  I immediately recall a famous excerpt from a concurrence in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), a Supreme Court case about obscenity:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [of obscenity], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

Similar to Justice Potter and obscenity, I know learning when it’s happening.  Sometimes it is fun and obvious that I am learning–when my head hurts and I’ve been concentrating for a long time (often accompanied by crankiness), or I am at a dance class or mountain biking for the first time.  In these situations I can, after a few hours, perform a task I could not previously do.  Often there are accompanying bumps and bruises, such as when I learned to mountain bike.  Similarly, I know when learning is happening in my classroom.  I can feel it.  I just know.

Psychology seems to agree on a scientific definition of learning.  In The Science of Psychology (2004), Robin D. Raygor, Ph.D. defines learning as [a] relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience (p. 236).  This is a good, basic definition and melds well with Gee’s theory that learning is about finding patterns and making connections, though he is very specific about how this happens.  Sometimes the behavior is being able to solve a math problem that was previously impossible; sometimes it is over a long time, like learning to read a map through repetition, practice and mistakes.

Wrong patterns are easy to make, and this, too, is learning.  One of the hardest parts of learning is un-learning wrong or ineffective methods.  (Gee might say we have to re-pattern the brain in these cases).  In my math classroom I find that this is absolutely the most difficult task I face.  It is much easier to teach someone something they know nothing about, about which they have no patterns formulated, than it is to get a student to see that their pattern is incorrect.  It is the same experience as meeting someone for the first time and hearing their name wrong–every time I see them after that I get their name wrong.  Unless I have another experience that goes deep enough to dislodge the old pattern, I will continue to call them the wrong name.

This unwillingness to consider new patterns may be called “Lack of Paying Attention,” but it also can be called the mindset of a novice.  This is fascinating to me, as I teach novices most of the time.  Over and over again I have students the would swear on a stack of Bibles that their method works correctly every single time and that I am teaching it wrong.  It does not occur to the novice that her method may be incorrect.  The novice is in a hurry, which I believe is driven by an underlying belief that experts know everything quickly.  Often my students will shame me when I don’t know an answer, or I pause before I answer them: “Geez, Ms. Z, you’re supposed to be an expert?”

Experts, on the other hand, have a good sense of their place in the world.  Ironically, they may be the leading expert in a field of study, but they are acutely aware of where lie the limits of their expertise.  The buzz word is metacognition —the awareness of what one does not know (my own definition).  Not only do experts know what they don’t know, they also draw pictures, take their time, read carefully and chunk information.  The skills they use to comb through information are what have made them an expert in their field and what allow them to succeed.  This transfer is, in my opinion, the whole point of education: to teach skills in math or English or art class that will transfer to any subject or activity students may encounter later.

Finally, I am so grateful to be learning this in a program on technology.  I find that it grounds me and reminds me of my true purpose in teaching  It would be easy to get caught up and carried away with the technology tools, but I find that when I am refreshed on how people learn and their accompanying mindset, I recalibrate and am able to keep technology in its proper place: always in support of the content.