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Monthly Archives: February 2014

If you have an iPad, you need to buy the Maglus Stylus

Before I write another in depth app review, I figured I should stop myself and do a hardware pitch first. No, it’s not a promotion for my favorite device, but instead it’s for a tool that takes your tablet’s capabilities to the next level – the stylus. If you’ve used an iPad as a whiteboard, notepad, or doodle pad, you’ll notice that it’s way harder to take handwritten notes with your finger than with a pen, and then you might try a stylus and notice your writing isn’t that much better. I’ve been using my iPad for the last year to record my flipped videos, in which I could use large, clunky strokes because the narration made up for any lack of clarity, but I didn’t do much else with it. As a note-taking tool, the iPad was just too hard to write on. I tried doing some research on better styluses, but there wasn’t anything on the market at the time that suited my needs, so I gave up on the endeavor immediately.

Finger drawing

Fingers are not meant to be pens.

I surrendered too quickly, it turns out. A few weeks ago, I saw one of my coworkers, an English teacher, write on his tablet with what looked like a pen. I tried to contain my excitement but instead immediately bowled him over with questions, so he showed me some examples of his writing. The strokes were incredibly fine and controlled, making it easy to annotate over PDF papers and Powerpoint presentations. I thanked him and immediately jumped on my laptop to check out product reviews.


The Kensington Virtuoso, a generic stylus, and the Maglus Stylus

My coworker uses an Adonit Jot Pro, and the Adonit ends in a metal ballpoint protected by a small plastic disc, which is how it writes so finely. Although this works well for him, I tend to use a lot of pressure when I normally write, so I was worried I’d snap the disc and scratch the screen. I chose to purchase the rubber Kensington Virtuoso Stylus instead, and was fairly happy with my choice. It had the weight of a normal pen, the nib was fairly small, the rubber didn’t stick as long as I didn’t press down too hard down on the screen, and all of my longer handwritten documents were not only legible, but neat. It also included an actual ballpoint pen on the opposite side, which came in handy quite a bit. I began to use my iPad a lot more and started taking most of lecture notes on either GoodNotes or Penultimate as opposed to using the Elmo or overhead projector. I decided to try out at least one more stylus though just to convince myself I was 100% happy with my purchase, and I’m so glad I did because it turns out the best stylus was still waiting for me!

Handwriting samples

FInger writing (green), generic stylus (purple), Kensington (blue), and Maglus (orange). Notice how much smoother the writing is in the last sample and the lack of drag marks present.

The Maglus Stylus is it. It writes so smoothly that I can’t imagine that there’s anything better. What sold me? I’m glad you asked:

  • The rubber doesn’t stick to the screen at all, so you don’t get any drag marks at the end of your stroke.
  • It’s astonishingly precise. You have the ability to make incredibly detailed marks and flourishes with it.
  • It’s got some weight to it, which I find makes it easier to write with. It’s also shaped like a carpenter’s pencil, ¬†and I thought that would be awkward, but it fits in my hand perfectly. (I also loved to do carpentry with my dad when I was a kid, so maybe nostalgia has something to do with it…)
  • Oddly enough, I actually use less pressure when writing now because of its weight and screen conductivity. My hand is super happy after a full day of drawing math diagrams and symbols.
  • Lastly, it’s made writing on the iPad super fun! This may sound nerdy to you, but if you’re a teacher, you’ll appreciate this – writing on the iPad with a good stylus is like writing on a whiteboard with every size and color of Expo marker at your disposal. It makes the office supply curator in me jump for joy!

A parabola I sketched in GoodNotes.


A doodle I made in Penultimate. This is about the highest quality drawing I can produce on paper. Looks about right on the iPad ūüėõ

If you use a tablet at all, buy this immediately (or tell us about another stylus you own and love!). Thirty-five bucks may seem awfully steep for a “fancy e-pen”, but it’s worth every penny. It will expand the capabilities of whatever tablet you own. Plus, you’ll be saving even more on paper and additional writing utensils ūüėČ Happy doodling!

Edited to add: If you are interested in purchasing the Maglus stylus, click on this link and enter MAGTEN for a 10% discount on your order!

Getting the most out of Gmail

My school has recently integrated Google Apps, and I couldn’t be more thrilled! I have been a HUGE Google fangirl since they debuted their basic search engine, and my husband has declared that our house is an Android house. Fast forward to their software suite 15 years later, and Google has since provided a platform to allow all my work files to be synced in one place and easily shared between collaborators and coworkers, making my workflow so much simpler and me more productive.

My favorite app by far is still Gmail, and if you’ve never done anything more advanced than reading and replying to emails on it, you’re missing out! I’d like to share some of my favorite features, which I think will make a believer out of you too ūüėČ

Note:¬†I tried to place this in order of importance for getting an easy and solid workflow going. If customizing your email app is intimidating to you, test out each tool in order one at a time. You could try implementing just one each week. The hardest thing to set up is filtering (which really isn’t that difficult), so if you master that, you’re solid!

Gmail messaging toolbar containing all the buttons described in this post

Gmail messaging toolbar


Search is Gmail’s most basic but most powerful feature. When you enter your criteria, it searches through¬†ALL¬†your messages in your inbox, sent mail, drafts and all other folders (except Spam) so you can find anything you want quickly and easily. This feature requires no set up – you simply type an email address, subject line, or word contained in the email that you’re trying to find.
To make your searches more specific, you can used advanced search operators in the bar without having to navigate through a search menu, and Google allows you use multiple operators at once. A few key ones I use regularly are “”, “”, “Subject:word”, “has:attachment”.¬†You can find a complete list of operators here.


gmail_labelsLabels are Gmail’s alternative to Outlook’s “folders” (fyi – I will use the terms “labels” and “folders” interchangeably for the rest of this post). What makes labels more useful than traditional folders is the fact that you can assign multiple categories to a single email.¬†For example, if there was an¬†announcement¬†in our faculty bulletin that asked the math department to relay information to students about a national math contest, I could label that email “Faculty Bulletin”, “Math Department”, and “Extra Credit” instead of restricting it to a single category. With Gmail, it’s possible for each of your folders to contain¬†every¬†email¬†pertinent¬†to its label!

When you open an email, you’ll notice a little tag icon at the top toolbar (next to the “More” button). Click on it, and a little drop-down menu appears so you simply check the folder (or folders) you’d like to store it in, and it also gives you the option to make a new label. That’s it! Another bonus: Even if you label an email, you still can access it from your inbox (unless you choose to move it out of the inbox completely), so you don’t have to traverse through multiple folders for a message.


gmail_filterFilters take labels to the next level. You may already know that Gmail has the best spam filter on the planet, and uses that technology to¬†automatically¬†sort through all your incoming mail and file it according to your needs. For example, if you already file all emails from members of your department into one folder – if you’d like all emails from your English class with attachments and the words “Critical Paper” in the subject line stored together – or if maybe you want to archive bulletin announcements and have them skip the inbox all together, filters are the feature you’ve been looking for. Gmail allows you to customize every aspect of your filter, and it sorts through your mail effectively. As we say in my house, a clean inbox is a happy inbox (and Twitter is not an effective form of communication in the workplace).

Setting up your first filter in Gmail can be intimidating if you don’t consider yourself tech-savvy, but¬†this article walks you through the process with screenshots and a video.


gmail_tasksI try to live by the OHIO principle – “Only Handle It Once” – but sometimes that’s difficult when you have to follow up on an email. Marking it as unread doesn’t work for me because the email gets lost in the shuffle by the end of the day (and maybe I have email OCD, but I HATE seeing that I have unread messages in my inbox). Gmail allows you to add an email to a task list so you can refer back to it later, and it gives you the satisfaction of checking off a little box once you finishing doing whatever you need to do with it. The key feature that makes the Google Task list better than the Outlook’s “Follow-up” is that you can add other tasks to the list that are not email-based, essentially using it as a virtual notepad, as you can see on the right. Tasks can also be accessed from your Google calendar (or the Task app for your phone), and you can set a due date to them on any of these apps. You can also create multiple tasks lists for different classes, to-do’s, shopping lists, etc.

To add an email to your task list, click the “More” drop-down menu that appears when you’re reading an email, and select “Add to Tasks.” To add an additional note to the task list, simply click the + button.


Undo Send 
Gmail undo send option
This is literally the greatest email feature of all time. The title says it all – you have about a minute to hit undo after you press send so you don’t have emailer’s remorse. To find it, click on the “Settings” button (it looks like a little gear in the top right corner), and click “Settings” in the drop-down menu. Then, click on the “Labs” tab, and scroll down to find and enable this godsend.


Important Mail
Gmail important flag
This is something I don’t implement in my personal email account at all, but I’m finding it incredibly effective for my work account. If an email is important, a little yellow tag shows up next to the sender’s name,¬†making it easier to determine priority mail in a packed inbox.¬†Gmail will automatically flag emails that it thinks are important to you based on a combination of criteria – who’s sending it, who else it’s being sent to, the subject line, etc. – and you can actually teach Gmail to better determine what’s important to you by clicking on the little tag icon to select or deselect appropriate emails. (I promise that you will not help Skynet become self-aware in the process… probably).¬†If you are new to Gmail, the earlier you start using it, the better!


Starred Mail
Gmail star flagI honestly didn’t get the point of stars for a long time other than that they were cute. Three years after I started using Gmail, my friend Ariesta showed me that she starred things she needed to refer to quickly, like Evites for upcoming parties, travel reservations, and shopping rewards numbers. When she didn’t need to refer to a specific email anymore, she simply “un-starred” it.

Since then, I’ve found an even greater purpose for stars. Because email has become such an integral part of my life and I now possess a record of the past 10 years, I also use stars to track the¬†most important messages I’ve ever sent or received.¬†Some things I’ve starred –¬†a notice that I won a contest to be guest editor on Seventeen magazine, the greatest eggnog recipe ever from my friend Michelle,¬†my master’s thesis with approval from San Jose State, and a photo of the birth of Ariesta’s son. It’s nice to sift through those every once in a while and smile.


Ok, this isn’t useful for your workflow per se, but it makes your inbox pretty, and isn’t that¬†conducive¬†to productivity? To change the background of your inbox,¬†click on the “Settings” button (it looks like a little gear in the top right corner), and click “Settings” in the drop-down menu.¬†Select “Themes” from the top menu and choose one! My personal favorites are Tea House and Bus Stop because not only are they totally adorable, but they actually update throughout the day based on the season, time, and weather!


Profile Photo
Gmail profile photo update linkLastly, don’t forget to add a profile picture! This photo will be visible to other Gmail users, and I have to say, it’s nice to put a face to an email address. Check out my post on DIY headshots if you need to update yours. To select a photo, click on the face icon in the top right corner, and select “Change Photo.” (Thanks to my friend Jaime for taking my current profile picture ūüôā )


Do you have any other favorite Gmail features that I missed? Leave a comment and share!


I’d like to dedicate this post to my husband who has transferred his email OCD to me 2 weeks into dating, which in turn made navigating through my Master’s Degree so much easier. That’s how you know it’s love!


Getting a good headshot with the camera you have

Most of our professional communication takes place online now, and more and more applications have the option to display a profile photo. I think this is a great opportunity to enhance the first impression you give to potential clients, a student’s parents you may not have met yet, or employers who are browsing LinkedIn. Ideally, you want an up-to-date portrait that shows off your best features, providing a friendly introduction that engages the viewer. Getting a professional headshot is expensive, and it may not be an cost you can justify for a profile picture. My goal in this post is to help you take the best self-portrait you can with whatever camera you have.

[Note: All photos in this post were taken with my camera phone, so you can achieve similar results. Side note: As a new smartphone user, I love this thing!]

First, I will address the #1 question I’m asked by my clients when taking a headshot – “What do I wear?!?” (with all the exclamation points and even more question marks). After discussing this with many friends who do hiring in various industries, I think the best thing you can wear is the nicest thing you would wear to work. Obviously, you don’t want to look under-dressed, but I think most people tend to¬†overdress¬†for online portraits, considering the casual environment the internet provides. In fact, when my husband had his last job interview, he wore a black t-shirt and jeans. When I confronted him, horrified, he told me he didn’t want to look weird. I protested a bit, so he accessorized with a dressy (but dead) watch I had given him to make me feel better (::sigh::). Well, apparently he was right because not only was he hired, he is now in a managerial position, and after meeting his coworkers, I could see he must have blended right in. Basically, if you would never wear a suit to work, don’t wear a suit, and if you’re looking for a new job, do some research and dress as you would in your ideal position. When a potential employer or client meets you, online or in person, you want to not only present your best self but also look like¬†you fit right into their work environment.

Our favorite outfits

Jesse and my favorite work ensembles, and Barney’s favorite accessory – dirt on the nose.

Once you find the right outfit, I promise taking the actual photo will be a lot easier. The first thing you need to do is find the perfect location and lighting. Whether you are using a DSLR or your camera phone, natural lighting is most flattering your face, and it’s also easy to manipulate. The best part is that you may literally find ideal lighting right at your front door! The front door of most homes generally have a porch or an eave to block out direct sunlight and shade your eyes, and the sunlight bouncing off the ground will then provide soft, even illumination. You can also stand under a tree to achieve the same effect. Begin by standing with your toes right at the edge of the shade, and then adjust your position until your face is evenly lit and you’re not squinting. FYI – the farther back from the edge of the shade you go, the darker your photo will be, so don’t back up too much.
Open shade illustration

Barney demonstrating how to position yourself in open shade.

Next, you actually need to take the shot! If you’re not used to having your photo taken, here are a few posing rules to follow:

  • Stand or sit up straight, young lady/man! Good posture relays a confident attitude.
  • Make sure to look directly into the camera. You’re trying to engage your audience, so try to pretend you’re actually greeting someone on the other side of that lens.
  • Tilt your chin downward. It’s flattering and portrays a friendlier appearance.

Below are a few easy poses you can try out while employing these rules. In each set, the photo on the left demonstrates how the subject is positioned, and the right photo would be the final headshot. Even though hand placement may seem silly since you don’t see them in the final shot, you’ll find that you’ll feel a lot more comfortable when you have something to do with your arms. And if you’re really nervous about getting your photo taken, practice your pose in front of a mirror first ūüôā

Male pose 1

Jesse posing in our doorway. Notice that the background hardly matters if you zoom in.

Female pose standing

How you position your feet translates to your shoulders and can enhance the male or female form. Also, I made a point not to wear makeup. Good lighting = good skin!

Male pose 2

Sitting on a bench and leaning on a tv table. This also gives you an opportunity to play with hand placement. (And thank goodness you don’t see the surroundings in the final product!)

As you can see above, when you frame your headshot, zoom in as much as possible.¬†Thumbnails of profile photos are really small, and you want to make sure your face is seen. Added bonus – the closer you crop in, the less background will be on display, so you don’t need a fancy backdrop.

When taking a zoomed in shot, take the following camera guidelines into consideration.

  • For a camera phone – walk closer to your subject to get “zoomed in”, then pinch in to zoom if necessary. Optical zoom tends to make your photo grainy.
  • For a camera with a zoom lens (whether a DSLR or handheld): use the zoom on your lens because longer lens lengths tend to be more flattering.

Don’t feel bad if it takes a few (or more) tries to get the results you want. Remember – photography isn’t about the camera, but the photographer. With a little legwork, you too can take a great photo ¬†ūüôā

February 21, 2014 - 9:45 am

Jaime Greene - This is a great post! I can totally hear you teaching this out loud! Maybe you can do photography workshops over the summer! ūüôā

February 25, 2014 - 6:17 am

Getting the most out of Gmail » - […] visible to other Gmail users, and I have to say, it’s nice to put a face to an email address. Check out my post on DIY headshots if you need to update yours. To select a photo, click on the face icon in the top right corner, and […]

April 3, 2014 - 9:28 pm

Chandani - Nice! Can I get a live demo please?! Dinner on me ūüôā

Cute shoes and happy feet don’t have to be mutually exclusive

I love to dress up, but as both a photographer and a teacher, I spend a lot of time on my feet and value comfort as well. Midway into the school year, I am always ready to give up on style and just wear my running shoes with every single outfit. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that – in fact, that’s exactly what my mom does, and it looks adorable with her nursing uniforms – but it really wouldn’t look right with my favorite work outfits.

Mom Uniform

My mom’s uniform complete with matching running shoes.

To remedy the situation, my first idea was obviously to try on as many shoes as possible and see which ones worked for me style¬†and¬†comfort-wise.¬†Lifestride¬†is a brand that consistently checks both boxes, and, oddly enough, Crocs is producing¬†heels¬†and¬†flats¬†that actually look like real shoes! In the last two years, I’ve patiently searched and made thoughtful choices, and now have a decent collection of professional footwear. But as happy as I’ve been with each pair, they still can be difficult to stand in for 8-hour stretches. I do not easily give up on my goals though, and am always looking for ways to maneuver around obstacles (it’s the engineer in me). Last summer, I decided to do some more research and finally solve this fashion puzzle.
Work shoes

My collection of work shoes.

I thought about what makes all my athletic shoes comfortable, and it all has to do with foot position. My dad always bought me specialized¬†insoles¬†and¬†arch supports¬†for my basketball shoes and running shoes, and my mom even had custom orthotic inserts made for me. All these products allow my feet to rest in their natural posture. Alternatively, heels place all the weight on the ball of my foot, and flats are just too… flat! Even flats make my arches sink and knees ache.¬†I’ve tried putting the above mentioned inserts into my dress shoes, but they were always too big. Enter¬†Superfeet. Superfeet makes two products specifically for dress shoes that have made standing for 8 hours relatively painless¬†–¬†Black Delux Dress Fit¬†and¬†Black Delux High Heel¬†(and I really like their athletic insoles too). Both of these low-profile inserts fit into all of my dress shoes, which also means I can keep my current collection as is!
Superfeet black dress inserts

Superfeet Black high heel and flat dress inserts displayed next to their corresponding shoes.

If you have never purchased orthotics, you may wonder how a hard piece of plastic could make standing comfortable. Orthotics are molded to your feet, with the plastic hugging your arches and supporting your weight so it is evenly distributed throughout the entire foot (even the high-heel inserts do this!). I don’t notice they’re in my shoes at all. The other great thing about them is you only need one pair – a little piece of velcro keeps them from slipping in your shoe, while still allowing you to switch them out. The black color also blends nicely into your dress shoes.
Shoes with inserts

Heels with and without the insert. The insert is held by a velcro tab.

Lastly, to get my foot in its ideal posture, I finally found the piece de resistance –¬†toe spacers. I also happen to have bunions, and if you’ve wondered what those are, they’re those bumps on the side of each foot in the photo below¬†(between my big toe and arch). I used to constantly stretch my big toe away from my other toes to relive my bunion pain. After perusing SkyMall on vacation (gotta love SkyMall), I found that there were such a thing as¬†bunion correctors¬†that effectively did the same thing. I looked into purchasing them on Amazon, and stumbled upon these¬†bad boys¬†that I can wear all day with my dress, walking and athletic shoes. Now, my feet are never sore. The only downside is that they are noticeable if your shoes have a low vamp, but since I already hate toe cleavage all my shoes already hide them pretty well.
All shoe components

Inserts + toe spacers = happy feet!

Good luck shopping, and remember – beauty isn’t always pain ūüėČ ¬†If you have some additional shoe magic that works for you, leave a comment!


February 17, 2014 - 9:08 am

Dina Mansuy - You have solved the mystery! Great post!

February 17, 2014 - 2:12 pm

Nubia Pineda - I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Clark’s shoes.

February 19, 2014 - 7:20 pm

Jaime Greene - What a great post! I hate heels and hate flats… but I’m more inclined to wear flats with a toddler for the sake of stability and safety! ūüôā

How I flip my classroom

I recently wrote a post on the philosophy behind flipping the classroom, so this post is to explain exactly¬†how¬†I flip my class. Here’s as basic overview of what I do:

  • For homework, I give students a sheet with skeleton notes on that they are to fill in. The notes are on the next day’s material. (Link to an example of skeleton notes)
  • The students watch the video and fill in the corresponding notes at home or in a school computer lab. (Link to corresponding video) They literally just¬†write down what I say¬†even if they don’t understand how it works. You have to emphasize this, or they freak out!
  • The next day, we review the notes from the video and complete practice problems. We also discuss critical thinking problems as a class, I usually give an informal assessment to see how the students are doing, and, if there’s time, we also play a game!

Flipping Graphic

I make all my own video notes using¬†Educreations¬†on my school-issued iPad. Educreations is SUPER easy to use, and the videos are published on the Educreation’s website, so, given a hyperlink, students can view it on their desktop, tablet or phone through a regular internet browser. Educreations is a very basic application – you write on it as if it’s a whiteboard while it records your voice annotations (your face will not be seen, I promise!). You can also add images to your presentation through Dropbox. There are other, fancier video apps out there, but this is perfect for my needs. For those of you on Android, I do have a personal Android tablet, but I haven’t found a (free) comparable app yet. I’ll keep you posted though as I’m always looking! Hyperlinks to my videos and notes are organized in unit calendars on my classroom website, hosted by Google Sites.

When deciding which lessons you can flip:

  • DO¬†flip lessons that are rote or task-based. For example, solving a linear algebraic equation (like 2x + 1 = 5) involves two steps: adding or subtracting the constant to both sides and then dividing by x’s leading coefficient. This is a lesson broken down into two simple steps that a student can learn at home in a video.
  • DO NOT¬†flip lessons that teach critical thinking skills or require discussion to master. Basically, any question you would pose to a student that does not have a single, definitive answer does not work well in a flipped lesson.
A common concern I get is how do I trust that students watch the videos? I was also worried about that at first, but it hasn’t been a problem at all. I do check their note sheets for completion, but I’m always tempted to skip it (because who likes checking homework?). I happen to trust my students because, first of all, the homework is super easy, so there’s really no excuse; secondly, now I can ask any student about formulas they copied and what not, so I randomly call on people all the time. If they’re not prepared, it’s kind of¬†embarrassing, so that fixes that. (I know that sounds harsh, but I like the fact that there are a lot more easy questions to answer in class, so I get to hear from¬†all¬†my students and not just the eager ones.) After 3 semesters, I have only received¬†one¬†negative review on my flipped homework the first semester I implemented it, and have¬†only¬†received positive comments on our anonymous semester-end reviews since. Ultimately, the students truly appreciate the videos, so they watch them.

Phew! I think I’ve exhausted the subject of flipping for now, but feel free to leave a comment if you still have a question. Happy teaching!