Planner Design: Setting Up

We’re wrapping up development of our Planner and we’re really excited for fall to start already so Greenwich High School can be the first to use it. Part of what this product gives to schools that they’ve never had before is a digital identity for students and teachers. To accomplish this, we put a lot of time into the schedule setup process. We knew that most student management systems do not allow third party access, so in most cases we would have students and teachers manually enter their schedules into our Planner. If the product was going to be successful, this experience had to be fast, easy, and welcoming. It also had to really feel like the school it belonged to, while keeping the quality and simplicity that we promise in all of our apps.

There is only one version of the app to download for each school, and users are presented with a login screen when first opening the program. It’s here that they tell the program whether they’re students or teachers.


Login screen for the GHS Planner.

After they unlock the program, they see their school colors and an inviting setup screen, specifically tailored to their school’s schedule. This makes the app feel personalized, unlike other generic planning applications. All of this is set against a beautiful photo of their school to create a first glimpse at a digital identity most high schools have never had.

New setup screen for the GHS Planner.

New setup screen for the GHS Planner.

Tapping “Select Class” takes users through a simple, guided setup process that retains the inviting and personal feel. It prompts for pretty standard schedule features, including a color for each class. It also accounts for classes linked to one another, like lab sections.  Here’s what it looks like:


Setting up a Chemistry class.

Users continue through this process until they finish setting up their schedule, at which point they can review it and hit the finish button. Here’s what a finished one looks like:


A finished schedule.

We feel that the setup process is the most important piece of the puzzle. Generic planner apps just aren’t personalized enough for the average user to feel connected to. Especially in a school, where schedules differ by building, the only way to ensure users can rely on us 100% of the time is to customize our app around our users. Making this clear from the first time the user opens the app was one of our goals, and we’re happy with how it works know. Let us know what you think! Maybe your school will be the next one we build around.

Greenwich AVID: A Feel Good Story

I’m am a proud member of the AVID Site Team at GHS. AVID is not a new program nationally, but at GHS this marks the end of its fourth year. I had the privilege of attending our AVID graduation ceremony last night, which culminated one of the most special experiences I’ve had while working at school. It was the first graduating class of AVID students from our school. Frank Kovac, our elective teacher for next year, and I constantly commented on how this ceremony captured the reason we became teachers in the first place.

AVID is a program targeted at students with potential who, among other disadvantages, would be the first in their family to attend college. The Greenwich Alliance generously donated the seed money to get this program started four years ago, and I hopped on board during its second year. I watched these bright students grow and learn about organization, study skills, and applying to colleges. Many of them recognize that they may not have even graduated high school without the support the program provided, although I think they’re cutting themselves short.

Still, the success of these 16 students can’t be ignored. Collectively, they’ve raised over $350,000 in scholarships and all 16 will attend college next year. They will all be the first in their families to do so. To commemorate this achievement, the students were showered with wonderful gifts, and I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear as each one was presented. First, a letter of special recognition from our governor was awarded to each student. Then, a gift certificate to each student’s college’s bookstore was presented by the Greenwich Alliance. Finally, another signed letter of special recognition, this time from Congress, was awarded to each student. When it couldn’t possibly get any better, their AVID teacher for four years and the Greenwich Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year, Melissa Brown, got up and gave a speech reflecting on the most amazing four years of her career, which brought everyone in the room to tears.

After shaking the hand of each and every graduating student and expressing gratitude towards the members of the Greenwich Alliance for their generosity, I left smiling ear to ear, my face hurting, knowing that I had just witnessed something truly special.  I summed up the experience later that night with a testament to the quality of these kids. As teachers, we look at some kids who take for granted the things they have, and who sometimes don’t understand the bigger picture of situations they’re in. That’s normal of most teenagers. These 16 incredible students, however, not only understand the gravity of their accomplishments, but express gratitude by being student leaders, ambassadors, and proponents for the program, the school, and most importantly, the other AVID students at our school.  What a night, and what an honor to have witnessed it!

iOS 7: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Apple recently revealed their iOS 7 during the WWDC. “Debate” about the decline of their products aside, let’s take a look at some of the new features.


Courtesy of

The Good

There’s a lot of good here, although nothing really extraordinary for schools. Some nifty developer tools like AirDrop are going to make sharing things a little different (perhaps Planner will incorporate this feature post-launch), but the truth is that this new operating system is design focused. As the technical end of our team, I am not an expert evaluator of the new changes, but I think they look pretty good. What’s most promising on the phone is the control panel, with the ability to quickly tweak important parts of your phone in fewer clicks than before is a user improvement. In addition, while I can’t provide details due to the Beta NDA, there are a plethora of animations in the interface that inexplicably bring it to life more than any iOS before.  It feels playful.

To be honest though, the most exciting change to me is not what’s on the phone but how it works with the car. The way iOS 7 is slated to integrate with touch screens in cars is plain awesome. The ability to use the phone navigation, music, maps, and siri-dictated text messages is something that should become commonplace in all vehicles soon. The latter is most exciting to me because I think it will make people shy away from texting and driving if listening to and dictating text messages is really as easy as it looks. The big question here is how well this technology will work, as Apple is kind of going outside their comfort zone by relying on outside tech (the car companies’ systems) for their products. Only time will tell.

As always, let’s not forget Apple’s trademark ability to have its products work out of the box. I’d call the Maps Mishap just that; a mishap. I don’t think we’ll see similar errors in this released.

The Bad

Those people looking for another Apple product that creates a whole new industry will be disappointed again. This is obviously an unrealistic expectation, but there’s been all this talk of the Apple watch and unfortunately absolutely nothing was hinted at during the WWDC. The biggest announcement, iOS 7, is not even an operating system packed with brand new smartphone features. Many people comment correctly that most of the features that everyone is excited about in iOS 7 are already standard on Android phones. While I have no problem with Apple taking the best of the rest and making it better, since that’s what great design is all about, you couldn’t call their new operating system a game changer, which may be disappointing to some.

The Ugly

What is with those toolbars? Brian and I both agree that those toolbars stick out like a sore thumb. Sometimes they’re blue on white, sometimes pink on black, and sometimes blue on black. They’re inconsistent and cramped. Oh well, can’t win them all.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of


I’m generally very pleased with the way the beta is working at the moment on my phone, and what’s the most impressive about it all is that Apple has managed to completely redesign how their operating system looks without changing the great way that it works. This is deceptively tricky, but they’ve managed to do it well.

Memes in the Classroom

A common notion behind using apps in the classroom is to focus mostly on programs that allow content creation, rather than consumption.  There exist some truly great content apps out there, but the most useful ones are the ones students go back to again and again to create content of their own.  I’ve been on the lookout for one that allows meme creation and a chance encounter in Starbucks linked me up with Over.

What’s a Meme?

First, since some people might not know, a meme is simply a picture with words on it that’s usually funny.  It’s a pretty big internet phenomenon especially on Reddit, Imgur, and Tumblr.  There are memes about everything, and are frequently the source of giggles.  Here’s an example:


Using Them In Class

Picking a topic to do a meme activity on should be pretty easy.  If you have Over, making them is easy too.  Over can import any photo from a device’s photo library.  This means students can either take pictures of their own with their camera, or save photos from the internet and use those.  The app is S&T approved for quality and ease of use, so all it takes is five minutes of playtime to figure it out.  Once finished, students can easily share their memes with their teacher.  It’s all super easy, and makes for a fun activity.  Memes are likely to become centerpieces of viral marketing campaigns in the near future as well (some already are), so dreaming them up is not as irrelevant as you’d think.


Here are some ideas to get you started, please feel free to post comments with additional ideas.  We’ll add them to the main post:

1.  Take a photo of a teacher demonstration and make it into a meme that describes one of the science concepts displayed.

2.  Take a historical figure’s picture and make it into a meme with one controversial detail about their life.

3.  Turn an animal fight into a heated discussion about evolution vs. creationism.

4.  Use text from one work of literature to describe a similar scene from another, for example, using quotes from Hamlet on top of images from The Lion King.

5.  Allow students to create encouraging memes for other students’ class presentations, snapping a photo of their favorite part and indicating why.  You can then send the most positive of these to the students they’re intended for.

Lessons From an Ad Campaign

Students in our integrated science classes are currently completing their quarter project, an advertising campaign designed to get people to move to their town using an environmentally friendly approach. They had to complete four different ads throughout the quarter and pitch the campaign to the “town council”, or everyone in the room. The students had to do a different advertisement each time, so I thought I’d share some lessons I learned from the different advertisements they made.

Time & Critical Thinking

It’s something that we underestimate as teachers all the time, but this project really brought out the capacity students had for critical thinking. It took time, however, and as teachers we need to remember that students need time to think. Sometimes, this thinking looks like twiddling thumbs, but it’s necessary to produce great work. As with any creative process, some things just can’t be forced, and to critically think, students need to be allowed time for it to happen. I had to remind myself of this several times throughout the project, and the results were rewarding.

Don’t Shy Away From Social Media

One of the ironies of the privacy battles being fought by almost any social media platform is that they’ve opened the door nice and wide for use in education. Creating a real facebook page as a project requires no fancy tricks whatsoever: student builds the page and sends you the URL. You can’t see who made it and they can’t see who looked at it. This is true for Twitter and Instagram campaigns, and should really be taken advantage of due to the extremely relevant nature of these projects to ones students might have to do in any job they occupy after college.

High Quality Examples

Using a relevant project type, like advertisements, allows you to make use of the plethora of blogs and magazine articles about creating an effective ad. Since a lot of people need to know how to create this kind of work, there’s a lot of people providing examples of how to do it. We used AdPitch a lot to provide students with clever examples, because with any creative project, the best place to start is with what’s been successful in the past. On top of this, AdPitch uses a lot of environmental related advertisements, which was an added bonus since our students were creating similar ones. Blogging is a similar topic I’d imagine, where there are lots of examples of good and bad blogs for students to see.

Eyes On The Prize

Especially with younger students (I teach 9th graders), it’s important to constantly remind them of the purpose of their creative project. Children tend to get focused in on minute details and have trouble seeing the “big picture” of many things. With creative projects, that can be bad. Throughout the course of this project, students would get too focused on the content required to go into their advertisement and forget their target market, which for ads is a mistake. Constantly reminding students of the goal behind their projects, assuming there is one to begin with, can go a long way towards making them effective.

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