Friday, August 28, 2009

Warning Label Generator Can Be Very Effective in Reaching Students

When I was a freshman in college, my composition teacher, Mary Daly, insisted that we never use the word very in our writing because
it was a dead adjective that didn't describe anything. I still find myself using the word in my writing, but because of Mary, whenever I do, I am prompted to think of a more descriptive adjective.

I used the Warning Label Generator, which I found the link to on the excellent social media site Mashable, to create this warning label for my students. What better way to caution them against using the adjective very then to attach it to a skull and crossbones. I'm creating additional graphics to post on various Blackboard pages. That should get their attention.

There are several easy steps to create a graphic like this.

Step 1: Choose a warning label such as Warning, Caution, Danger, Think, Be Careful, Safety First, Safety Notice, or just plain Notice.

Step 2: Choose one of over 40 symbols. There are some really fun ones. I can't wait to use Godzilla grabbing an airplane.

Step 3: Type in your warning.

Step 4: Click "Generate Warning Label."

Step 5: Right click on the graphic and hit "Save As" to save it onto your hard drive.

The next warning label I'm going to post will address one of my biggest pet peeves at a writing instructor:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Top 5 Grammar Girl Podcasts that Every Freshman in College Should Listen To

I love Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for better writing. Her podcasts are awesome: so helpful and informative. As school starts this fall, I decided that a blog post with five great links podcasts and transcripts that cover some of the most common errors I see in student work would be in order.

  1. Comma Splice. If you ask a group of student what a fragment or a run-on sentence is, there's a good chance they can describe one to you, but ask 'em about a comma splice, and there's a universal blank that sweeps across their faces. So what's a comma splice? It's basically a run-on sentence with a comma seperating the two main clauses that run together. I guess they're hard to identify because there are so many reasons to use a comma, so there's not an obvious test to check for them during the editing process.

  2. Which versus That. Another area of contentions in student writing is the use of that verses which. I have found that most students use that correctly when they use it, but that it is not uncommon to mistake which for what should be that. Grammar Girl does a wonderful job explaining the difference by defining the restrictive that modifier, which is needed for the sentence to make sense, and the nonrestrictive which modifier, which can be left out and have the sentence still make sense. Another issue in the that/which debacle is punctuation. Just remember punctuation isn't necessary with restrictive modifiers (that), but is necessary with nonrestrictive modifiers (which), which can be left out of the sentence.

  3. Active Voice versus Passive Voice. Okay, so this isn't a common-error issue; however, I would be remiss if I ignored students' tendency to be overly wordy by using passive voice in their writing. To create clear and direct sentences, instructors typically prefer active voice in academic writing.

  4. How to Use Parallel Construction Correctly. Understanding parallel structure comes in handy in writing. It helps clarify your statements and has a pleasing rhetorical effect on the reader.

  5. Top Ten Grammar Myths. This podcasts debunks common myths about the use of language. Do you think that a run-on sentence is a really long sentence? Have you ever been told not to start a sentence with the word however? Do you use the word irregardless? These and many other questions will be answered in this podcast.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Google Reader 101

Ever see that orange RSS logo on a website and wonder "what's the deal with all these logos?" Been there. But I learned quickly that when you hit the button, you subscribe to the website in what's called a reader. There are a variety of readers available on the web, but since I'm a Google Girl, I subscribe to all my sites in Google Reader.

It's great. I can get updates from a variety of websites, pick and choose which sites I actually want to visit, and skim posts for the ones I actually want to read.

Once you start subscribing, you'll likely find that there's a lot of great stuff out there. It may then become necessary to organize your stuff. Google Reader allows you to do this by placing your subscriptions into folders.

I started using Google Reader soon after I set up my blog The Adventures of Mr. Busypants. At first, I subscribed to other mom blogs about autism. Then I branched out into other mom blogs. Next, because I want to publish someday, I started to subscribe to publishing and writing sites. More recently, I tapped into my love for teaching and have subscribed to countless teaching blogs.

One thing I love about having a reader is it keeps me connected to other bloggers. It's also a quick way to check out a bunch of blogs to see what you want to read at a particular time. If I'm not interested or know I don't have time for the blog, I simply scroll past it on my reader. If I decide it's something I want to review later, I check "Keep unread." If I really love the post and want to keep it handy, I star it. And if I want to share it with a blog buddy, I either hit "Share" or "Share with comment" if I have something additional I'd like to add. I can even email posts to others or to myself.

Once I started subscribing to blogs, I found that my reader became one long list of things to read. I'd open it up and panic that I had 200 items to review. It got a little overwhelming, so I created categories and assigned each site I read to a particular category.

For example, when I come across a new author who writes about things similar to what I write, I subscribe and put them in my "Author Blog" folder. Any site, discussion board, or blog that deals with autism either goes into "Autism" or "Autism Blog." I also subscribe to several Bible related sites, so those sites get filed under "Bible." All the general blogs I subscribe to go under "Blogs" although they may be better suited for a section called "Mom Blogs" since those are my people.

There's a "Blogging" section for subscriptions to blog carnivals, blog design sites, and my favorite blogging and social networking advice sites, ProBlogger and Mashable. In fact, one of the current stories on Mashable is Google Reader Gets a Social Makeover, Adds Likes and Followers. I'll mark that unread and save for later.

I have a section for each niche I'm interested in: "Publishing," "Writing," and "Teaching." There's also a section of unfiled sites, but when I click "Manage Subscriptions" at the bottom of the roll, I'll be able to easily categorize each unfiled site.

As I'm writing this post, I'm exploring reader more in-depth to be sure I haven't missed anything. Here's are some additional functions I've discovered:
  • I can take a look at all the items I share with others (including notes if I made any) by clicking on "Notes" in the upper left region of the page.
  • People can follow my reader and I can follow theirs. When we do this, the items we click on to share become accessible to everyone on our share list.
  • There are additional share functions found under "Share Settings." I can choose to share a link to my Google profile, customize my reader URL, and find people sharing in Reader.
  • That there's WAY more to Google Reader than I could even imagine and that I need to spend more time exploring and create a Google Reader 102 post later.
Related Articles

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Easy Screen Captures Anyone?

I must give credit where credit is due. I was reading a post in my reader from the Free Technology for Teachers site, and I came across this post that included one AWESOME web tool that you don't want to go without: allows users to capture any webpage with one easy step. Just add in front of any URL and boom, your screen shot is captured. You then have the option to edit and crop your shot, and save it as a pic to your desktop.

I tried it out immediately, but adding the Aviary url to my Mr. Busypants blog address: is my URL. is the URL that led me to a screenshot to my blog.

Then I simply cropped what I wanted, the header, and saved to my desktop.

Click here for their instruction page.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One Comment a Day Project

I love my Google Reader. I've connected to so many bloggers that I might not otherwise revisit as often as I do without the fabulous technology of a reader. Recently, I read a post from Steven at Blogging About the Web 2.0 Connected Classroom, that talked about a project created by another blogger, Andy, at iTeach called One Comment a Day.

The premise is simple (and copied and pasted from Andy's site):

Here is the process.

1. Read a blog

2. Post a comment that is insightful and constructive.

3. Tweet a link to the blog and your comment. Use the hash tag #OneComment

EXAMPLE: I just read a great piece on iTeach blog, check it out! #OneComment

4. Bookmark the blog and return to it another time.

It is just that easy! This Project will help create a positive forum for all who blog and comment. There are so many good educational blogs out there and I look forward to hearing your feedback and engaging in your comments!

The second phase of this project will be a featured blog a week project. This forum will review and promote one educational blog per week. It will also try and introduce new edu-blogs into the learning community. I will be setting up a Ning for this venture. The sole purpose of both ventures is to promote learning and create an engaging dialogue between so many great academic minds. The twitter hash tag for this will be #1Newblog

Please send me your thoughts, suggestions and feedback on both new ventures!I would also like to put together a small team to help with this venture due to the time consuming nature of the project. If you would like to help your fellow bloggers and be an integral part of this venture, please contact me at

I have also set up a separate twitter account for this second phase. It will be @1commentproject. Please follow it for blog updates and blog promotions. When we spread the word about great blogs, we all shine!

I would be looking for help with the following:

1. Finding new blogs

2. Posting Reviews of Blogs

3. Archiving a Blog roll on the Ning

4. Monitoring the Ning

I am very passionate about this project and am putting a lot of time and energy behind it. My belief is that we can all learn from each other and have endless technologies to help us collaborate! I really hope to see my PLN jump on board with me and help promote the edu-blogging community!

So join me, won't you, in using the web to share teaching best practices and encouraging others in our profession. And don't forget to customize and select colors for your own blog badge.

Friday, July 17, 2009

How to Create Successful Blogposts: Revision

On Wednesday we discussed the planning stage of creating blog posts, and yesterday we covered the drafting stage. Let's move on to an important, but often overlooked, stage of writing: revision

When I revise, I first check the sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph flow of the post. I make sure I've made all the appropriate transitions to keep my reader engaged. For example, in the "Jorie Spelling" post, I wrote a lone paragraph about Jorie's nasty antics: particularly the smurf bites. I was all over the place with that paragraph, unsure where and how to connect it. I eventually decided to connect Mean Girls with Jorie's mean girl behavior before bringing the text back to the Donna Martin thread. In fact, this paragraph was written after the next two, but as I thought through my transitions and the logical progression of how I revise, I kept moving it up until it placed where it is.

After I check the post's organization, I re-read it several times, focusing on word choice. In fact, I'll continue to re-read it after its published just to be sure all the wording is the way I want it. The first thing I look at are how active my verbs are. For example, I originally wrote "there wasMean Girls, which gave me . . . " but changed it to "Mean Girls gave me." Subtle change, but those action verbs mean the difference between telling a story to the reader and showing the reader the story.

Once my verbs check out, I move on to adjectives. I try to come up with unique wordcombinations that leave my readers peeing in their pants with delight--see what I mean. Part of the reason I re-read and revise so much is I find myself so darn amusing. Seriously, I love to crack myself up and so as I write, I look for ways in which I can do just that. Adjectives bring writing to life and set authors apart from others. Why say I had a C-section when I can say Mr.Busypants was surgically removed from my uterus?

Which would you laugh at? Which would you remember?

Finally, I make it a rule to re-read the entire paragraph (and sometimes the one before it) if even one revision is made in it--every time. This may seem tedious and time consuming, but the revision process brings on those syntactical errors that you probably wouldn't make in an initial draft. It's important to read each sentence fully each time you revise to minimize these sloppy errors.

Using these techniques really help me write the best blogs I can write. The time pressure still keeps me from making them all that I want them to be, but I'm usually happy each post that I publish. I love making those unique connections that make my writing my own version of the Donna Martin original. Ah, I'm ending on yet another connection.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How to Create Successful Blogposts: Drafting

Yesterday we discussed the planning stage; now let's move on to drafting a blogpost.

Once I've gathered enough compatible ideas, the drafting begins. Take my "Jorie Spelling" post. The Tori Spelling connection comes from the Donna Martin character, so my love for Beverly Hills 90210 became the logical starting point. Next, the voices in my head started shouting "Donna Martin graduates," which reminded me that while Donna was portrayed as a sweetie(and Jorie portrays herself as a sweetie), she also has trouble-making abilities (like someone else I know).

I started with the paragraphs about our wardrobe drama, but soon flashed back to my favorite teen dramas. Once I started writing about those, the connections came flying; it was almost too perfect. A rare event in the life of a writer.

First, there was the reference to my all-time favorite movie, Heathers, which I almost always contrast against its 90s and 00 wannabes, Jawbreakers and Mean Girls.

Once I knew I wanted to make these films connect to Jorie's nasty side, I started looking for ways to make that happen. The first, most obvious, came as I remembered hearing that after seeing Heathers, Tori Spelling mentioned Doherty to her dad as a perfect Brenda. Connection.

Next, I looked at Jawbreakers starringRebecca Gayhart and Rose McGowan. This film was a litter harder because it's a lesser version and is lesser known. I kept thinking of McGowan's signature line: "I killed Liz. I killed the teen dream. Deal with it." Of course, I didn't want to go there with my two-year-old, and I knew my audience would probably not make the connection to just "Deal with it," so after a refresher of the film's plot, I decided there weren't any connections worth making aside from Gayhart being a former 90210er herself. Then suddenly it dawned on me that Rose McGowan actually replaced Shannen Doherty as one of the three sisters on Aaron Spelling's Charmed. Cha-Ching! Connection.

Finally, Mean Girls gave me the perfect opportunity to weave in Jorie's newly developing mean streak. Connection.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow as we discuss the final piece of the puzzle: revision. You don't want to miss this one!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How to Create Successful Blogposts: Part 1, Planning

Ideas tend to fly all around me. When I don't write things down, I get frustrated because I forget really great writing material. It can disappear in a second.

That's where drafting comes in handy. On both my blogs, at any given time there are 8-10 drafts in the works. They start out as outlines of topics I'd like to write about like the numerous balloon stories I have on Mr. Busypants or a list of possible Tuesdays with Jorie topics.

For example, when I came up with the Tuesdays with Jorie column, I immediately started brainstorming catchy blog titles. I already had Jorie Costanza (George from Seinfeld) and Jorie Balboa (aka Rocky) titles, but I knew there were a lot of themes that worked well with a name like Jorie.

As I type, I have an entire draft of titles just waiting for stories to match. I'm certain I will come up with great posts to go with "Jump for Jorie," (we do have a trampoline) "Jorie Gilmore," (the mother-daughter relationship) and "Give me the Jorie Details" (which I may just tie in with my recent viewing of the mystery event Harper's Island and my love for the film that resurrected teen horror genre, Scream. This I could somehow connect to Jorie's recent bout of blood-curdling screams).

In fact, I will often review this list and write notes of stories that might just go with the title. It's how I came up with my latest Tuesdays with Jorie column, Jorie Spelling: Fashion Diva. The drafting process went like this:

The Initial List
Recently I've noticed that Jorie has strong feelings about wardrobe. It's the basis of most of our arguments. As I saw these battles increasingly occurring, I started making notes on which outfits created the most drama. Eventually, I decided that because of her role as Donna Martin, fashion designer, that the Jorie Spelling title would work well with this subject.

Notes and Connections
One thing I'm constantly looking for as a writer is connections. The kid stories generate throughout the day as those writable moments occur; I write them down somewhere--anywhere. I try to carry a small notebook in my purse. Other times I have a larger spiral in my work bag. I've also been known to jot ideas down on tiny pieces of paper that I pool together into a master list. And now that I have the iPhone, as I drive, I create voice messages. I get some of my best thinking done in the car.

When looking for connections, I look for similar themes or symbols, pop culture references that work well with the subject, and timely events that pull things together well. For example, it's really rare that I would go over a day in the life. While a story that chronicles the days events can work, I prefer to look for a specific theme (like fashion and fighting), symbol (like megablocks and the toilet), pop culture reference (like my favorite teen dramas/dark comedies), or events (like the Fourth of July).

Tune in tomorrow for How to Create Successful Blogposts: Part 2, Drafting, and then again on Friday for How to Create Successful Blogposts: Part 3, Revision.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Weeks 4, 5 and 6

Wow! Is it really week 6? It seems like just yesterday I was lamenting over week 3. So why haven't you hear from me since week 3? That's easy: I'm stinking busy!

The past three weeks have been a balancing act and in some respects, I seem to be on the losing end. I have 20 students between two sections for College 3 and it seems as if the workload is heavier than it was last time I had 20 students. The grading for this class is extremely time consuming and at times, tedious. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do for this class. It's just that when I'm in a time crunch, it's hard to enjoy the process.

Meanwhile, only about half of my English 1102 class is on board. This keeps grading at a minimum, but it almost seems harder to work with fewer students. I put so much mental energy into re-orienting myself to what's going on in the class, only to have a few assignments to grade.

There's been quite a learning curve here, even though I've been teaching online for five years at other colleges. The actual course I'm using was laid out differently than how I typically put classes together, which perhaps makes a difference in how students approach the class.

For example, typically I organize the class by week; whereas, this class is arranged by projects. It seems like a no-brainer to enter each project and complete the steps, and yet, it isn't happening. I think some of this may be because if a student gets behind, he or she gets lost. I thought I headed this off with an "Assignments" tab that lists all the assignments that need to be complete, but since I'm not seeing the results I'm expecting, I have to take into account that students might not be getting it.

Another thing I'm considering is that at College 1, online classes are a way of life and students tend to take them every term, so they have more experience. At College 3, I'm working with masters-level students, so they're just more academically mature.

At College 2, however, it seems like most of my students do not have experience with classes that are exclusively online. Couple this with the fact that most are transfer students trying to get the class "out of the way at the local community college," and that pretty much equals: Care about this class? Not so much!

I sent out an email last week expressing my concerns about the lack of work I was receiving and magically those blessed green boxes started to appear in the grade book, so it's becoming apparent who is serious about the class and who is wasting tuition money.

Summer school is tough.
Shortened classes are tough.
Online classes are tough.

Combine the three: crazy/tough.

We're all hanging in there together. There are a lot of things I'd do differently next time.

Related Links

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Working out of the Panera Office

Moms in the 21st century try to do it all: balance a career, raising the kids from home, and keeping the household together. I'm one of those WSAHMs (working stay-at-home moms). Since my daughter Jorie, now 2, was born, I've found it increasingly difficult to balance it all. And with today's economy including a salary reduction to our budget, it's become important that I take all the work I can get.

I am very fortunate to get more work than I can take these days, and being spread so thin, it's important for me to work overtime to maintain balance in my life--and sanity for that matter.

My solution: A solid morning routine and the Panera office.

Each morning I wake up at 6 AM and start my day with my Bible study. I find that spending time with God almost magically gets my priorities for the day in line. My heart and mind become more capable of handling the day's events and I'm less irritable, stressed, and overwhelmed.

Next, I try (and only do it about half the time if not less) to workout for 20-30 minutes in the morning to get the adrenaline flowing. I always feel so much better physically after a quick workout. It's great to achieve a sense of accomplishment before the kids even wake up.

Two days a week, I schedule a babysitter to watch the kids from 9 AM to 3 PM and I work out of the Panera office. It's a great location. The dining room is large, so I can usually find a nice, quiet table next to an electrical outlet to set up shop. With a bagel and OJ for breakfast (ya gotta get something), I'm ready to tackle the day's work: grading papers, planning classes, emailing students, and whatever else is on the menu.

To accompany my laptop, I have my husband's Verizon card, so I'm sure to always have a reliable signal. I have a portable, cordless mouse that plugs in easily, and all my files on my beloved flash drive. I wheel in my office in a black, leather computer case, armed with my textbooks, papers, and, of course, my microphone in case I need to correspond with a student via Skype. I've also been known to record a podcast or two.

My assistant, the iPhone, comes with me so I can make phone calls, check my To Do List on reQall, record voice memos, or check my schedule for what's in store that week. I juggle personal tasks with iPhone applications like Shopper, where I can add to my grocery list and Lose It, where I can log in my calories.

The time I spend at Panera is precious: it's my time to get caught up and refresh so that I can be a better, more focused mom at home with my kids. I'd better hit publish and get to work: my babysitter's on the clock and I need to get to work.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Week 3 for English 1102 on Blackboard

Well, we're a third of the way through the class already. Summer is sure flying by. I'm used to teaching in 10- or 12-week chunks, but 8 is pretty crazy.

And yet, I'm feeling pretty lonely this week when it comes to my online class.

As I look at the curriculum, I wonder if there are just too many short assignments and if the workload from week to week fluctuates too much. When teaching online, consistency from week to week has been the key to success. If students know that every week will involve a reading, a discussion, and an assignment, there should be no problem. Right? This class takes on a different approach than anything I've ever taught online before.

As I elaborated on and tweeked the course shell I was given for the class, I naively reminded myself that anyone who registered for this class should understand that the six hours a week they're not spending inside the classroom should be applied to their own schedule online throughout the week.

I think the class is intuitively laid out. Students are brought through the course item by item, so you'd think they'd just move through the curriculum and not miss a beat. Yet there are so many outstanding assignments, it's hard not to be discouraged. Where are my students? Why aren't they online six hours a week?

How is a student supposed to function within an online class unless they're, well, online. Student's attend class through their participation, and so while the traditional large chunks of time that a shortened, face-to-face class demand (like Tuesday and Thursday morning from 8 AM 'til noon, and no, there is no bathroom break), an online class demands shorter chunks of time with greater frequency of attendance (say, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week--and that's just being online to participate in discussions.)

I've had the entire week to think about this as I also wondered if students my are gauging the point value of this week's assignments with the value of the overall class. As an educator, it's annoying to think that students are cutting corners and not taking in the depth of my knowledge and preparation, which undoubtedly, if taken advantage of, will yield a group of excellent writers ready to tackle any research project, paper, or essay exam that comes their way.

But then I think of my own college days, when I'd look through the syllabus to see how many classes I could cut without being penalized and weigh that against the busy lifestyle of the 21st century college student, who likely works more hours than I did and may possible have kids and other distractions/obstacles or whatever you want to call them interfering with their ability to get everything done.

After all, as a mother of two little kids who is teaching five classes at three different colleges this summer and maintaining two blogs, how can I not relate?

And that's education in the 21st Centruy . . . and week 3 of my 1102 class.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mr. Busypants Isn't the Only Kindergartener That Podcasts

I ran across this article/video about Kindergarteners podcasting through my Google Alerts and I thought to myself, well, this is old news. See, in my rush to prepare for my English 1102 online class at College 2, I discovered podcasting. And as I podcasted, I thought about Mr. Busypants and his knack for the spotlight. The next thing I knew, were were both podcasting.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

SnagFilms Film Widget

Need a Documentary Now? Search from over 700 Documentaries Available Free at SnagFilms

Need a Documentary? You can choose from 700 documentaries available free through SnagFilms. This website both offers full versions of documentaries from new and already-established film makers and makes it easy to "snag" a film and publish it on the web.

According to its website, SnagFilms "can be summed up in four words: Find, Watch, Snag, Support." So when you go on the site, search for a documentary that interests you, watch it online, publish the film's widget on your blog or website for others to see, and check out the charity-related link provided to support an organization related to the documentary.

As you browse the site, browse tabs and links to find "What's Hot." You'll find links to the newest, most popular, top rated, and most discussed documentaries on the site. You may also browse by topics such as Campus, Environment, Health, History, International, Life & Culture, Music & Arts, Politics, Religion & Spirituality, Science & Nature, Sports & Hobbies, and Women's Issues.

Check out this the link to the documentary American Dream to see how a blogpost snagged from Snagfilm looks like.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Week 2 for English 1102 on Blackboard

Two weeks down, six weeks to go. This week marks the first week that students start researching for an actual writing project. They'll be choosing a statistic, and using that statistic to generate research.

Every week should begin with an announcement that gives students a peak at what will be expected of them not only this week, but next week. Students need the big picture to help them manage their time.

Because some students are still waiting for books to arrive and there are others who are registering late, I am allowing students another week to complete the week 1 assignments. I'm explained that this will not be the norm so that they understand that deadlines do matter.

My announcement includes a checklist of all the assignments they will work on this week. I've also created two, three-minute podcasts to further explain upcoming work. The first podcast explains Project 1, which will be worked on over a three-week period), and the second podcast presents a more in-depth look at the work they'll specifically complete this week.

Because this is a research-based course and students need to generate sources before they complete assignments, I constantly remind them to work ahead.

Later in the Week
I emailed students encouraging them to create some Google Alerts for their Project 1 assignment. I also sent emails to the two students who registered late. This is a slow week for me as I've put everything in place and am standing by for students to turn in their assignments. Since work is coming in at a slower rate than I'd like, I sent an email mid-week reminding students of deadlines and when discussion boards will close for good.

Jumping on Student Questions
One of my students emailed me because he was confused about an assignment. There was a document added to the Blackboard site, but the link was hard to see because it appeared at the top whereas the View/Complete assignment link was at the bottom. Thankfully, I was online and able to get back to him within 30 minutes (rare for a Friday evening.)

I checked out the grade book to see if anyone else had turned in this assignment yet. (It was due that evening.) No one had, so I posted an announcement pointing students to the assignment location and sent a follow-up email with the attached document.

No matter how much we prepare for these online classes, there are always bumps in the road that we need to act on quickly so we don't lose or discourage our students.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Using Google Alerts to Enhance Research

In my English 1102 class, I suggest that my students use Google Alerts to help them with research. After setting up a Google Alert, users are sent an automatic email weekly, daily, or as new information is generated on the web for any search term they create an alert for. Results can be from Google News, Web, Blog, Video, and Group searches. Users may also do a "Comprehensive" search to include Google News, Web, and Blogs.

Here’s how it works:

  • If you don’t already have a Google or Gmail account, you’ll need to set up a Google account. Go to

  • Click on ‘Sign In’ at the top right.

  • Where it says “Don’t have a Google Account? Create an account now,” click to create an account.

  • Once you’ve done this and signed in, go to “My Account” (top right)

  • Then click on “Alerts” or if you don’t see that, click on “More” under “Try something new.

From here, you can set up an alert for your research topic. Think of as many ways to search your topic as you can and create an alert for each topic.

For example, I have weekly alerts for all subjects I’m interested in possibly writing about. Here are some of my alerts:

  • Art and autism

  • Autism awareness

  • Elearning

  • Online teaching

  • Plagiarism

  • Twitter

I’ve set each alert to send me a comprehensive email once a week to my email address. Each week, I get an email for each alert that gives a list of websites, news sites, blogs, etc. that are covering my topics. Sometimes I find some really useful articles/websites through this system.

Check out Google's FAQ page for more information.

Related Links
5 Great Web Resources to Enhance Learning
Week 1 for English 1102 on Blackboard

My Journey with Gmail

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Journey with Gmail

I discovered Gmail after becoming increasingly annoyed with using Yahoo Mail. I was being spammed to death and I needed something new.

Enter Gmail.

I started with an address that mirrored my Yahoo address, then invited my entire address book to start using this new account. Next, I created my address. I attach this address to my Blogger account, so whenever someone email me through Blogger, I know exactly where it came from because each subject line came with the mr.busypants email address as a label right before the subject line.

In addition to blogging, I spend a lot of time online teaching writing and literature at three Chicago-area colleges. While I was having tremendous success managing my personal email, it frustrated me to have to check so many other email accounts regularly.

To alleviate this pressure, I created separate Gmail accounts for each college. The naming convention I used was: school initials (dot) my last name @ Next, I went into the settings page on each account, clicked on the Accounts tab, and added the address both to "Send mail as:" and "Get mail from other accounts."

I only use my email account for College 1 for the occasional outgoing messages that need my official email. All email in that account is forwarded directly to my account.

College 2 requires me to use my assigned email account, so I give my students the gmail address I created for that school. Then I set "Rules" in the College 2 email account that forward all emails from specified addresses (like the dean's and other important people in my department and others I coorespond with regularly) and specified key phrases (like English 1102, online classes, and Blackboard.) I still check this email pretty regularly, but the important stuff gets through more quickly and is not missed in the endless emails I receive that I delete after reading the subject.

As for College 3, I don't have many students , and it makes sense to use my college-given account. I don't get that much email to that account that I want to check it several times a day, so I have all email from that account forwarded to my Gmail account. That way I know when to check that account and respond accordingly.

Now I essentially have five separate email accounts going into one inbox: one personal, one blog, and three school. Each email I receive from another account has a label specific to that account, so it's easy to scan my inbox for email from each school. Once I've done with an email, I label it, file it, and I'm done with it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

5 Great Web Resources to Enhance Learning

Using the Internet to enhance the classroom experience is almost a must in 21st century learning. Here are five great ways engage students online and in the classroom.

Create a Class Wiki
Looking for a fresh way for students to work collaboratively? Why not create a class wiki. As a writing instructor, I love to bring my own interests into the classroom. One thing I love are movies. Recently I decided I needed a fresh way to write about film in a Freshman composition class. It all started with the use of a typical assignment I'd given over the years: to watch the film Rebel Without a Cause and write a character analysis. Students at College 2 found this assignment challenging as they they didn't have much experience writing an analytical, literary analysis. This came as kind of a surprise to me, as at College 1 dealt with this kind of assignment pretty regularly. As a way to better reach my students with this kind of assignment, I created a Class Wiki project.

After watching and thoroughly discussing Rebel Without a Cause, students were asked to choose their own film along the theme of teen drama--another love of mine. I then created a site on Wetpaint called Writer's Workshop.

The assignment: as a group, create a wiki page highlighting a teen drama. Students were asked to write a brief plot summary, three-five character analyses (depending on how many people were in the group), and a theme analysis. They were responsible for dividing the writing responsibilities, adding visual content (pictures, video clips, music, etc), and editing each other's work.

This assignment is unlike a typical group assignment in that every student is accountable in two ways: 1) they're required to turn in a one-page summary/analysis of their participation in the project, and 2) their work online is tracked on the wiki itself, so the content they add and edit is easily tracked.

After using this assignment for two semesters now, I have heard from many students that this was their favorite project for the course. More than half of my students stated that they were incredibly motivated to participate, enjoyed the process, and learned a lot about group dynamics.

Google Docs
After teaching writing for eight years, I still found it difficult to teach students about revision. Then College 3 introduced me to using Google Docs to teach revision. At College 2, I developed a revision assignment that students worked on weekly for four weeks. Each student created a Google account and uploaded their first paper onto Google Docs. They then shared their document with me so we both had access to it. Each week, I'd give students a new way to revise their papers: for punctuation, for word choice, for sentence structure, etc.

They also wrote a journal at the bottom of the document explaining what changes they either made or contemplated, or why they decided not to make any changes. This gave them an opportunity to reflect on their own writing process. After students made the assigned revisions for the week, I'd give them feedback and specific pointers. By making revision four separate assignments during four different classes, students got a feel for how to revise more extensively, reading their paper differently depending on what they were working on.

Google Alerts
If students are already logged in to a Google account, using Google Alerts is easy. With Google alerts they can create a search for a research topic, choose the types of websites they'd like results from, allocate how often they'd like to receive an alert (as they come, daily, weekly, etc), and assign an email address to which alerts will come.

For students doing research, this is a great way to generate ideas and possibly even sources. Links to news sites, websites, blogs, video sites, and groups related to specific searches are sent directly to email.

Making a verbal connection with online students is essential to their success. The more connected students are, the more likely they are to complete their assignments, interact on discussion boards, email the instructor with thoughts, suggestions, and questions, and succeed in an online course.

Podcasting is made easy through Audacity, which provides free, open source software that allows users to record and edit their own podcasts. Then either load podcasts onto Blackboard or find a free podcasting host site the podcast.

When I teach writing a narrative, I like to teach by example. I do this by introducing students to my blog, The Adventures of Mr. Busypants, and providing commentary on my own writing process. This works well because students get to see me not just as a teacher, but as a writer. This especially helps build that personal connection that helps motivate students to care about what they're learning. I also invite students to give me feedback so that I may improve on my own writing.

How do you use the web-based resources to enhance the classroom experience?

Related Links
Week 2 for English 1102 on Blackboard
Teaching Online Blog is a Good Read for Online Instructors
Might as Well Face it I'm Addicted to Podcasting
Need a Documentary Now? Search from over 700 Documentaries Available Free at SnagFilms

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Leadership Future: Are Students Entitled to Good Grades?

I read this great post on Leadership Turn's website. To give credit where credit is due, I must say I was originally pointed to this article from the Teaching Online blog.

This article brings up some great points about an overall student sense of entitlement. One of the three colleges I teach at has a huge problem with student entitlement. Check out the below links to read more about my encounters with student entitlement.

Miss Pre-Med at TV Commercial University
I Quess I'll Have to Repeated the Course
Book-Ended by Bull--it
End-of-the-Semester Excuse Makers Strike Again

Friday, June 12, 2009

Week 1 for English 1102 on Blackboard

Well, I've just completed Week 1 of my first online class at College 2 and I have to say, I'm pretty excited. First off, every student has now successfully logged in and started their assignments. Several are completely in sync with what's due, although I'm giving a little slack this week because the week 1 assignments are so tied to the book, which some are still waiting for from

Some things I've done to ensure a successful start include:

I posted an announcement, which I also emailed students over the weekend, inviting them to check out the course. I will also post weekly announcements reminding them about what's coming up.

Staff Information
I made the course inviting by posting my picture under staff information. It's the same one I use for my blog. Hopefully they'll see that I am human and that English doesn't have to be that scary or painful. Since I'm adjunct and I pretty much never check my voicemail, I included a cell phone number. We'll see how this goes. I tried this with College 3 and so far, the privilege has not been abused.

To mix things up, I added two teaching assistants to my staff list: my six-year-old son and his two-year-old sister. I added fun notes from each of them, which I hope fill add personality to the course. I want my students to see me not only as an expert in writing, but also as a person who cares about theirs. What better way to do this then to add some fun features that distinguish my online course from another?

My son Alex, aka Mr. Busypants "writes": My desk is situated right next to my mom's in our office. I work with her constantly and interrupt her whenever necessary. You can read about me at The Adventures of Mr. Busypants. I post my best artwork on Mondays. Click on the slideshow on the right to see examples of why I'm called Mr. Busypants.

As for my daughter, Jorie, aka Miss Chattyshoes, she "writes": If my mom isn't answering your emails, I am probably the reason. I demand attention all day long and if I even think I might not get it, I will throw myself on the floor and scream. You can read about me on The Adventures of Mr. Busypants every Tuesday in my supposed-to-be-weekly column Tuesdays with Jorie.

Discussion Boards
The primary work of week 1 was to participate on the discussion boards. The first board asked students to introduce themselves. I made sure I had a post as well and checked in several times a day to see who accessed the course. I also tried to respond to each student with some kind of connection, whether it be to the town they live in or a personal interest of theirs--I looked to make a connection.

The rest of the discussions assigned for that week had to do with completing exercises for the reading. Mid-week I noticed no one had yet tackled the first exercise, so I did the exercise myself and posted my thoughts and additional encouragement and pointers. As students started to post their assignments, I again looked for ways to acknowledge or encourage them. I didn't reply to every response, but I made an effort to respond once to each student.

Now I must admit, I'm addicted to podcasting. It's so fun! So far for the course, I've recorded three podcasts: the first went step-by-step through my Blackboard site; it was about twelve minutes long. The second went through the course introduction, which included an explanation of all the week 1 assignments, and was three minutes long. The latest podcast, also three minutes, discussed the first project, which will span over weeks 2, 3 and 4.

In my podcasts, I made sure I encouraged students to manage their time against their work, school and social schedule and to look ahead to the next project so that no assignment sneaks up on them. There are weeks where projects overlap (for example, I told them to look at project 1 this week so they could start thinking about a research topic), so I want to make sure they're aware of this. There will also be portions of the second project that may take time to execute (like scheduling an interview with an expert), so I don't want that part of the assignment to catch them by surprise.

Not only do I plan on posting a podcast for each project, but I also plan on posting weekly check-in podcasts to stay in touch. I have a tab called Podcasts on Blackboard and I also post each podcast on the Announcements page with a link, which is also emailed to each student.

Late Log Ons
By Thursday of week 1, I noticed that one student still had not logged on (you can check a student's last access through the grade book on Blackboard.) I emailed that student to find out what the problem was and encourage him to drop the course if he wasn't going to pursue it. I heard back from him within 24 hours. He was trying to access Blackboard through his old school account. Since the school recently switched over to a new system, his Blackboard account with his live classes came from a different log in. I am happy we resolved this issue so quickly and it was in part because of that personal connection.

Email Organization
One thing that I find to be difficult with working at several different colleges is email. It's time consuming to have to regularly check several accounts, several times a day.

To help with this, I created personal gmail accounts for each college, and forwarded those accounts to my primary email. In my primary email box, each email I receive is labeled with the address it is sent to, so it's really easy to see what emails come from which college.

For College 2, I went into my school email address and set up "rules" for forwarding certain email. For example, all email from important people in my department (like the dean, her assistants, key people from the library and other areas in the college) and with specific subjects (like English 1102), to my Gmail. That way, if something important pops up in that email account, I get it a little more quickly than I would otherwise.

Well, that's about it for Week 1. I'm looking forward to an excellent semester and will keep you posted on the ups and downs of English 1102 online.

Related Links
Teaching Online Blog is a Good Read for Online Instructors
Might As Well Face It I'm Addicted to Podcasting
Using Google Alerts to Enhance Research
My Journey with Gmail
5 Great Web Resources to Enhance Learning

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Teaching Online Blog is a Good Read for Online Instructors

I found this great blog, Teaching Online. This week's post asks for student excuses. Like I don't have any of those stories. I'm pressed for time, so I posted a recent blog link: End-of-the-Semester Excuse-Maker Strikes Again. If you haven't had a chance to read it, check it out. And check out Teaching Online.

As for this week's Highs and Lows:

  1. My first online class at College 2 launched on Monday. I got just enough students to be paid the full three-credit hours, and 10 out of 13 students have checked in. Not bad for the end of day 2.
  2. College 3 just scheduled me for two additional classes starting at the end of June. I'm able to afford a babysitter for the two monkeys for 2 days a week so I can get all my work done and enjoy the other 3 days during the week with them. The alternative: stressing all week and being a Nap Nazi, i.e. making sure we're home by 12:30 to put Miss Chattyshoes down so I can work.
  3. College 1 online class is at its halfway point. So far, no major problems, which I'm thankful for since last term was such a nightmare.


Absolutely none. I'm having a great teaching week.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Might As Well Face It: I'm Addicted to Podcasting

I was supposed to launch my first online class at College 2 on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, but it was cancelled because no students registered. Every other online section filled, so I was incredibly disappointed. Even the day, I waited anxiously for the registration love all the while wondering if any of the following reasons kept me from filling up:

  1. The college changed my 8-week, June 8 start to a 5-week start with six days notice, so not only is my class not published in the catalog, it wasn't available for all that long.

  2. Students had to pay for the class as soon as they register, so I was left wondering if some would register at the last minute for financial reasons.

  3. The link in the School Online section for my class was developed by another instructor, so my teaching-style was not reflected in a place where students go to make decisions.

Nonetheless, I worked like a crazy woman to get the class ready on the off chance that it would be a go. I only needed five students, but it wasn't meant to be.

I'm pretty proud of the class. It's organized, intuitive, and since I had to re-create an 8-week curriculum into 5-weeks, I decided to use my own assignments rather than the ready-made course I was given.

During all the training I've received to get started at this college (College 1 isn't as advanced in it's Blackboard capabilities, so I'm learning a lot), I discovered Podcasting.

The first thing I did was download free software for recording and sound edting at Audacity. It was a quick and easy process.

Then I just hit record and started talking. For some of my podcasts (I recorded five) I wrote scripts so there wouldn't be long pauses as I reviewed my lessons. For others, like the ones where I simply tell the students what they're going to be working on in the current unit, I just talked.

They take an eternity to upload onto Blackboard, but since I record and upload on my laptop, I can move over to my desktop to continue to work.

Now I also blog at The Adventures of Mr. Busypants, and with all these newly acquired podcasting capabilities, I decided to have a little fun. When Mr. Busypants came home from school, I pulled up all my blogposts that had his artwork and interviewed him about it. Some of his artwork included books he wrote that I scanned in, so I had him narrate.

He totally got into it, and like his mother, he couldn't stop podcasting.

Now we both have our mark on the world of podcasting. Every time I play one of his, he grins from ear to ear and listens to himself intently.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Say It Forward - Meet Beth L. Gainer

Mom It Forward Award

Say It Forward, hosted by 5 Minutes for Mom, is a new weekly carnival at 5 Minutes for where bloggers feature their loyal commenters!

I can't say enough about my blogger buddy Beth Gainer. She's my #1 fan. She dutifully comments on both The Writer in Me and my main blog, The Adventures of Mr. Busypants. She's the one who got me blogging again, so it's totally appropriate (and an honor) to name her as my first loyal commenter.

She writes about medical advocacy at Calling the Shots. My all-time favorite post of hers is A Train Car Named Quagmire, which is a narrative about her advocating for herself on her cell phone while the entire train listened in. I cried, and considering the amount of crazy/meds I'm on, that's quite a feat.

She also edits a blog written by her cat, Hemi, called Hemi'sphere. It's hilarious--and I'm totally not a cat person, nor did I ever think I'd ever enjoy such a blog.

Beth is a breast cancer survivor and advocate, teaches writing and literature full time at a Chicago-area college, and is in the process of adopting a little girl from China.

Check her out!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I Quess I'll Have to Repeated the Course

Notes from students I dared to fail:

Miss Quess: "I was wonder was my grade that i receive was correct for last semester. This was the only class that its showing didnt pass to get my diploma."

Me: "Your grade is accurate."

Miss Quess: "Ok i quess i got to repeated the course in order to graduate."

Me: "Yes, you got to repeted the course in order to graduate. But I quess there are colleges out there that will give you a diploma in spite of your atrocious spelling."


Email with commentary in italics

Hello how are you doing? Not so great. I'm being cyber-stalked by students scrambling for a passing grade that they spent ten weeks not earning.

I have a really quick question regarding my last quarter and my grade. Make it quick. I'm feeling impatient.

I know that I hardly tunred in any work due to the fact that I was not able to log in for the first 4-5 weeks and that caused me to fall behind. This is true. You hardly TUNRED any work in, but your Internet problems are not mine, especially since you didn't communicate them to me earlier.

So my question to you is, would it be possible for me to turn in my missing assigments and my grade to change at this point. Are you kidding me? No, due to the fact that I don't want to dedicate any more of my time to you now that we're after the fact.

This class is the only class that I would need to graduate, and if possible I would like to be finished instead of attending another 10 weeks of school. If only you'd thought of that 10 weeks ago.

So if you can let me know if it is too late I would gladly appreciate it. Thank you. Enjoy summer school.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Margo, over at Writer Mom at Home, has tagged me in a meme. Here are the rules:

1. Mention who tagged you.

2. List six unimportant things that make you happy.

3. Tag six more blogs, then go and comment on their blogs. Let them know that they have been challenged, and invite them to play along.

My six favorite things . . .
  • Spending the day alone. Even if it's just to do laundry, clean the house, and catch up on work stuff while intermittenly surfing the Internet, of course, having the freedom to hang out and get things done uninterrupted is time I have always cherished--even before kids.
  • Vacation. I love to travel and have been blessed to be able to do so often. We take the kids to Disney every November, which I love. I've enjoyed a Cruise to Alaska, two trips to Hawaii (Oahu, The Big Island, and Maui), and my first major trip after getting married was to Paris and Madrid.
  • Walking in the rain or on the beach: I love hot rain falling down on me in the summer, especially while wearing shorts and a windbreaker and walking barefoot through the grass. Walking along the coast on a beach with barefeet and the wind blowing through my hair is pretty excellent as well.
  • A weekend at Lake Point Towers in Chicago. Hanging out with Scott and the kids across the street from Navy Pier is so much fun. We've planned this several times around the autism walk, borrowing a condo owned by my husband's boss. Gotta love that!
  • Sleeping in a freezing cold room under enormous blankets. Need I say more?
  • Going through my mom and grandmother's things. It reminds me of my childhood and the things I held close from those times.
There you have it. I am going to ask the following blogs to list their own favorite things.

Beth at Calling the Shots and Hemi'Sphere

Alicia at Welcome to my Planet

Jill at Scary Mommy

Alisha at Confessions of a Moody Mommy

Susan, author of the hilarious memoir Angry Conversations with God at Gray Matter

If I’ve tagged you, please come back and comment.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bookended by Bull--it

The spring semester just ended and I'm already starting summer courses. Friday ends one term and the next begins Monday. The result is in the same week I get the "I'm not happy with my grade" whining and the "I missed the mandatory orientation but please let me in your class" requests.

As a result, my terms are bookeneded with bull--it.

On the one hand, there's Miss GPA, who coincidentally missed the orientation but ended up staying in the class anyway. She's a prime example of why I try to stick with the college's policy of enrollment being contingent on attending an orientation. The students at this college simply can't handle it otherwise.

Here's an email I received today from one of my students from last term:

I saw that I got a B as my final grade. A great majority of my assignments are A's and A+'s, except for week 2 when I lost access to Blackboard. I really need an A to keep my honors for graduation and I am hoping you would consider my request to adjust my final grade to an A. I already spoke with my advisor, Ms. T regarding this issue and was told to ask you first. Thank you so much.
Huh? This is so insulting to me. I would have loved to have graduated with honors, but I didn't earn 'em so I didn't get 'em. I reflect fondly on the hardest grade I ever earned: a C in Economics, which I studied for day and night one semester when I was at ISU. I am convinced that the C the instructor gave me was a gift because I'd been in his office for help on a weekly basis. So someone please tell me why I could give a rip about a student's GPA. She missed a test for crying out loud.

And now for the excuse of all excuses as to why Speedy Student missed this term's orientation.

I was suppose to be in class on Saturday but on Thursday I had a problem with the local police in which they informed me that my license was suspended and if I was seen driving in the suburb I would be going to jail. On Friday I went to the DMV and found out I needed to pay a fine which I did and my license would be valid on Monday so out of fear I didn't come to the meeting. Is there some way I can meet with you to receive the information that I need to start the class.
I conclude with this: PRICELESS. What more can I say?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Is Self-Tweeting Selfish Tweeting? One Blogger's Twitter Journey


I'm a newbie on Twitter and so far, I'm undecided. It's a great way to network with people in your fields of interest but it's also a great way to network with an overwhelming amount of useless information.

I got started when I found a list (somewhere in my Reader) of Tweeters in Christian publishing: publishers, editors, authors, bloggers, and literary agents. It seemed like a great way to start connecting with those in the field, so I started an account.

My first week went great. I followed a handful of people, and they were all in related niches; it was manageable. I'd tweet comments of encouragement and see occasional tweets back.

But then I started seeing some of the same faces over and over again, sometimes with seven or eight Tweets in a row to share useless information and spam-like URLs, one after another and of various kinds. I quickly grew to loathe seeing tweets from certain people because I didn't care if they were going to bed or that their poop was green today.

I was on Twitter overload.

I took a break (after about seven days) and decided to only Twit (or is it Tweet) when I posted a blog. After all, the masses needed to be supplied with a link to my site (note the opportunity for a link) because my posts are hilarious and contain useful information and fun artwork.

Of course, I soon realized that self-tweeting can be selfish tweeting. So now what did I do?
  1. I write about the Adventures of Mr. Busypants, my 6 year old with autism and I’d like to publish a collection of quirky, funny essays that celebrates in a if-ya-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry kind of way the busy antics of my son. I use Twitter to find websites of people that have similar interests to mine (i.e. autism, publishing, Christians, teachers, writers) and make good candidates for effective networking.

  2. I'm slowing the pace. I can't develop connections with everybody, so it's easy to feel like a twUtter failure. For now, I've designated one day a week (maybe two) to spend an hour connecting with 10 or more people I'm following by visiting their websites and commenting or by direct messaging them from Twitter.

  3. I don't follow someone without first checking out their website. If I like their site enough, I'll subscribe to it in Google Reader so updates are sent to one central location. So if I'm only following someone on Twitter, it's to bookmark them for future reference and occasional communication. If I subscribe to someone through Reader, there's a more authentic connection being made, and I'm not merely pretending to follow this person on Twitter.

  4. I make an effort to post comments on sites that I read to establish a connection. If the site's material doesn't resonate with me after a while or if that author doesn't reciprocate and they're not interesting enough for a one-sided relationship, I simply unsubscribe so my Reader stays manageable.

  5. As far as those "I just ate a cookie" and "oh, now, I just ate another one" people who clog my Twitter page with their smiling faces and useless information, I stop following. That's just TIM! Life is too short and nap time is only so long.

  6. I also don't follow everyone who follows me. If I'm not interested in a follower's niche, I would rather use my time to develop connections with those with shared interest. It's not personal. It's Twitterness.

Related Links:
Tweetiquette - Are you behaving yourself?
How to be a better tweeter
Twitter Etiquette: A Guide to Being Unfollowed by Scary Mommy.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Grammar Girl Rules

Grammar Girl is an expert on grammar, duh! She delivers weekly podcasts on various writing and grammar subjects as she responds to questions posed to her.

One of her latest podcasts discusses how to write a great blog comment. Check it out; it's worth a listen.

If you haven't subscirbed to Grammar Girl in your reader, do it right now.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

First Day of Me Blogging

I started this blog because now that I'm obsessively writing about Mr. Busypants and his chunky sidekick, Miss Chattyshoes, and am obsessively promoting my blog, I'm finding I need my own space to write about the things that I know: writing, teaching, and living the life God intended me to live.

So here I am.