New Toy: Coffitivity

I say this a lot: if I don’t work in a public space, I cease to believe in the passage of time. Without other people around, I can get sucked into the internet or Facebook or Twitter for hours and hardly notice. It’s not that other people are going to come around and sneer at my latest Wikipedia rabbit hole; instead, there’s something about the energy of having other people around that helps me get work done. It’s like that surge of chatter and movement propels me forward, and I can’t help but be caught up in it. Somehow, that little bit of activity helps me concentrate.

I read about a website today that offers “ambient sounds to boost your creativity!” That’s right, there’s now an app for that.  Coffitivity brings the coffee shop to you. This is great if you can’t be bothered to go find a coffee shop to work in–or, more likely, you can’t get a seat in one nearby because they’re all full of start-up runners using them as office space.

Coffitivity claims to have research that states that a little ambient noise can foster and promote productivity and creativity. Also, in addition to stating that “research shows” the things they claim, they include a link to scholarly research on the subject on JSTOR. This is for real.

The site offers the sounds of nearby cups clattering gently, low conversation, and general white noise. It also advises you on how to adjust your headphones’ music to be just a little louder than the ambient noise–you know, to maximize your creativity.

In all seriousness, I think this is awesome and I’m definitely using it as I work from home right now. It’s really cool and the site’s graphic design is appealing and the community it’s promoting is warm and inviting. Totally recommended.

Check it out here:



iPad apps for all!

The end of summer is fast approaching, and you may be wondering about new apps to load onto your iPad for the school year ahead. Your most important resource is Ms. Sena’s CSH iPad blog here. I highly recommend that you check out this website and start finding out about the iPad program at CSH, especially if you’re an entering student in the class of 2016.

As for my recommendations on apps: I did several blog posts on this subject last summer, and I still think those apps are good recommendations for you to consider. To find those posts, you can click on the word “apps” in the tag cloud at right: it’s the first link. This will take you to a series of posts that all talk about different kinds of apps.

The big thing to keep in mind is that there is no single app that serves all purposes, and there isn’t necessarily one app that I’d recommend that everyone run out and buy. There are the ones you’re required to have for school, of course, like iAnnotate and Dropbox, but others for productivity and organization have very similar features and no one of them is necessarily the best. It’s all about checking these apps out and deciding what you like. Which layout appeals to you most? Which interface makes the most sense to you? Pick the one that you like and that best supports your learning. That’s the most important thing, and the app that you use as the tool to support your work is less important.

Info Out: Generating and Capturing Information

When I walk around campus at school, I’m rarely empty-handed. You’ll notice that I’m always carrying three things.

Thing one is my water bottle, since I am neurotic conscientious about hydration. I work out a lot and I’m a singer, so I’m doubly obsessed with drinking liter after liter of water.

Thing two is my iPhone, which allows me to retrieve my personal and work email, check my Google calendars, get up-to-date news and information (thanks to Twitter and Zite!), monitor the Facebook homework groups for the classes of 2014 and 2015, and keep in contact with students and faculty members via text. It also allows me to make updates to WordPress (this blog!), Evernote, and Bento on the fly. More on these last two apps later.

Thing three is my trusty Moleskine planner. While I use all of these digital tools on my iPhone (and my iPad and my laptop) to keep organized and to learn new information, I am committed to my paper planner. There’s something about putting pen to paper that I find soothing and secure–by putting pen to paper I make a tangible record of the things I need to do and the order in which I need to do them. It makes tasks feel more real to me if I write them down and have to shuffle them in my mind before setting them down in ink.

Staying organized is a huge part of my day: I have lots of email to send and lots of people who I want to see, and my attention span is way too short to keep track of such things off the top of my head. The phone allows me to access information that I don’t have instantly on hand in the planner: Which final exam comes first? What did Ms. Denny post on the Facebook homework page this morning? My iPhone and my interactions with people help me become aware of the things I need to do; my planner is the tool I use to create and execute my plan of attack.

In the short term, that means having a list of to-do’s that looks like the image at left: lots of active verbs, lots of stars, and (eventually) lots of check-marks. The active verbs are the most important thing: they give clear direction on what action needs to take place, and you absolutely can’t check a thing off of the list unless you’ve taken a specific action. No wishy-washy “think about finals schedule” or “look at calendar” will do: it’s all about physically emailing, connecting, choosing, and just generally doing.

While those two tools help me manage my most pressing concerns, there are three apps that I use religiously to generate, capture, and distribute information: these are Evernote, WordPress, and Bento.

Bento is probably the easiest to talk about. As you might expect, I keep descriptive learning profiles for each of the students I work with. These confidential profiles contain information about past educational evaluations, feedback from teachers on what sorts of learning strategies best help each student, my own notes, and feedback from students themselves on their learning. As a spreadsheet addict and hyper-organizer, I wanted to have a great way to store this information in a format that was customized to my needs. Bento proved to be exactly what I wanted: it let me create a database with exactly the  data fields I wanted and it let me organize them into an attractive format. I have Bento synced with my work laptop, my iPad, and my iPhone so that I can update and reference this information whenever I need it. I’ve been using this for a little over a year and I’ve found it to be a great way to help advise students and teachers on approaching learning and teaching, respectively.

WordPress is another favorite. As you might gather from the web address of this site, I blog through a service called WordPress, a free online publishing tool. The web interface is terrific on a laptop and its mobile app for iPad and iPhone are equally sleek. For example, the designers were really thoughtful about which features would be most important to have on the mobile app (the ability to update quickly and view posts at a glance) and which were less important (long menus for choosing themes and layouts). I’ll usually use the iPad app to update this blog when I’m at a conference, but when there’s no wifi available (sidebar: why is this still acceptable to anyone?), I’ll tap out my updates on my phone.

Finally, Evernote is my favorite thing in the world. Evernote is a note-taking program: you can use it to take notes, tag your notes with different topics (“Math”, “English”, or “History”, perhaps), and even record audio of lectures. The best thing about Evernote, though, is that your notes are saved directly to the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere–from your computer, from your iPad, and from your iPhone. I use Evernote for taking live notes during meetings and conferences. I love that it works without an active wifi connection and will let you upload things to the cloud later. I love that it lets me organize notes from work and from home into easily separated ways. That sorting really helps: I have some silly lists on Evernote (including a standing grocery list, clothing sizes for my husband, and a list of potential meals to cook) and I like that I can find those easily when I want to and cast them aside when I don’t.

So that’s my current universe in terms of outward information flow. As for the water bottle? That’s what helps me stay awake long enough to use all of these things at once.