21 Ways to Describe Detectives

29 Apr

mysteryFor the next few months, I’m sharing word choice suggestions for categories of ideas. That includes:

  • colorful and original descriptions
  • pithy words and phrases
  • picture nouns and action verbs
  • writing that draws a reader in and addicts them to your voice

I keep a  collection of descriptions that have pulled me into the books. I’m fascinated how authors can–in just a few words–put me in the middle of their story and make me want to stay there. This one’s on how to describe detectives.

A note: These are for inspiration only. They can’t be copied because they’ve been pulled directly from an author’s copyrighted manuscript (intellectual property is immediately copyrighted when published).


  • No one drinks squad room coffee. You pour the stuff, let it sit and then dump it out and start over.
  • Run a trace on phones, credit cards
  • I don’t think, just follow the information. First thing we learn in PI school
  • Send picture of suspect to train depots, airports, toll plazas,  bus stations, police stations
  • Time would slow down for him now, so he arranged things in his shady nook to get some rest. Real sleep was not an option, not alone in hostile territory, but he could allow himself a light doze, just under the edge of total awareness, with his hand always on a weapon.
  • Buchanan’s security net had tracked Colonel Sims to Elmendorf
  • Watching where their arms were in relation to their bodies, watching for certain types of backpacks, watching for a gait that might reveal if they were carrying a weapon or an IED. Watching for pale jaws that suggested a newly shaved beard or a woman’s absent touch to her hair, possibly indicating her ill ease at being in public without a hijab for the first time

Read the rest of this entry »

No Comments

Posted in Musings


Summer Online Learning Questions We’ve Been Asked

22 Apr

In response to extensive interest from readers, Ask a Tech Teacher will be offering four Summer Learning classes:

1 of 4 Certificate classes

1 of 4 Certificate classes

summer online classes

1 of 4 Certificate classes

summer online classes

1 of 4 Certificate classes

summer classes

1 of 4 Certificate classes

June 20th through August 7th

3-4 weeks, lots of resources and hands-on help

You can find out more by clicking on the image. What I want to do today is go over the most common questions I’ve gotten regarding sign ups:

Q: What is the cost to register?

The full program is $249-$259.00. 20 Webtools in 20 Days is 4 weeks long so the price is a bit higher. You can enroll through the PayPal button on the website or with a school PO. If you attended before, or sign up really fast, you get a 10% discount. Use coupon code:


…when you check out.

If you have a group of five or more attending from your school, you qualify for a 20% discount. Email us for more information (askatechteacher at gmail dot com)

Q: I don’t know which class to take.

Here’s a quick checklist:

  • If you want a broad overview of integrating technology into your classroom, start with The Tech-infused Teacher. Follow that with the sequel, The Tech-infused Classroom (offered sequentially) if you have time.
  • If you took The Tech-infused Teacher last year and loved it, take The Tech-infused Classroom. It’s the sequel and lets you dig deeper into what you learned last year.
  • If you’re looking for specific help on tech tools, take 20 Webtools in 20 Days. This covers webtools teachers use most often in their classes, or want to use.
  • If you’re looking for help specifically with using technology to add creativity and zing to your writing lessons, take Teach Writing with Tech.

Q: What if I can’t figure out how to use some of the tools during the classes? I’m not very techie.

Email the instructor at askatechteacher at gmail dot com throughout the week and/or bring up your question at the weekend Google Hangout or TweetUp.  That’s what this class is for–to get you comfortable with tech tools you want to use in your class. We’ll even set up a separate GHO with you to walk you through it. Plus, you can chat with classmates through the Discussion Forum. They’ll be able to share personal experiences they’ve had with the tools.

Q: Who are the teachers for this PD? And what are their qualifications?

The Master Teacher is Jacqui Murray. She’s been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years and K-16 for 35 years. She’s an adjunct professor as well as a Master Teacher. She’s the author/editor of over a hundred tech-in-ed resources including a K-8 tech curriculum that’s used throughout the world. She will be joined as needed by other teachers from the Ask a Tech Teacher crew.

Q: I want to sign up with several other teachers from my school. Is there a group discount available?

Absolutely! Just email us with your group members at so we set your membership up correctly.

Read the rest of this entry »


20+ Books That Will Make You Sound Like an Intellect

20 Apr

pre-usna readingPerception is greater than reality. Give the impression to anyone paying attention that you are intellectual, even before you’re old enough to be one, and it becomes their reality about you. How do you do this if all you’ve got is a brief conversation?

Read the classics. I don’t mean Euripides or Voltaire, well, not only them. I mean the books that people quote, talk about, bring up in educated conversations and assume you have read. As you get ready for summer, here’s a starter list, compiled by teachers across the country:

  1. Shakespeare–pretty much anything he wrote, but Macbeth and Hamlet are a good start. In one study, 71% of people listed these two as must-reads for the well-rounded individual
  2. Any of the defining documents in US history–the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. 50% of people in the same study said these were critical.
  3. Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer–something by Mark Twain
  4. the Bible
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  6. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  7. Ender’s Game Orson Scott Card
  8. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn The quickest of Solzhenitsyn’s books, but Cancer Ward or any other is good, too.
  9. The Prince by Machiavelli (how else can you understand the term ‘Machiavellian’?)
  10. The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov This and Solzhenitsyn are required to understand Russian culture.
  11. The Iliad or The Odyssey by Homer Our very concept of ‘odyssey’ comes from the latter, and there is no better account of the ever-popular Trojan War than the former.
  12. Great Expectations or Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (think how often you’ve heard the analogy–It’s a tale of two ***)
  13. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (learn how tenuous is the fabric of western civilization)
  14. The Red Badge of Courage It will not take too many days in the ‘real world’ for your students to gain their own red badge of courage.
  15. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  16. The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. Students will want a label for what happens when they are judged and found lacking by small-minded people
  17. Plato’s Republic, one of the most influential works of philosophy and political theory
  18. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, rudimentary to American independence by focusing anger in a logical, well-reasoned manner
  19. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne There are more Pooh-isms in this book that will aptly describe your feelings, thoughts, worries, than in any book I’ve ever read.
  20. Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling (It’s a poem, but a must-read if for no other reason than the quote, ‘You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din’)
  21. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  22. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  23. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx A brilliant book about an ideal economic system that unfortunately doesn’t survive the harsh light of day or the realities of man’s selfish spirit.

Read the rest of this entry »


How to Use Social Media for Professional Development

18 Apr

professional learning networkTell me if this sounds familiar:

With the 2016 New Year, you resolved to build your Professional Learning Network–finally, to stop living in the 20th century where your world revolved around a sticks-and-bricks building, a landline phone, and the mailbox. You joined all the big social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, blogging–just for starters). The plan was to connect with the movers and shakers in education, learn from them, and have them as a resource for those times you needed help on a lesson plan or to select the perfect webtool for a project. You committed hours to it, and then days, eager to make this work because everyone you know talks about how much they learn from social media. Now, six months into it, you know too much about your followers’ lunch plans and almost nothing about their educational pedagogy. You’re frustrated, angry, and ready to give this whole failed effort up.

Without knowing anything about you other than that paragraph above, I’m going to predict that you didn’t manage your social media, got intimidated by the words ‘friend’ and ‘defriend’, and quickly became overwhelmed by the volume of information that flooded your inbox every day. The purpose of a social media-based PLN is to extend your reach beyond the narrow confines of the bubble you live in, but that isn’t what happened for you.

Before you unplug from the virtual world, try these six steps. They’ll clean up the clutter, smooth out the wrinkles, and put you back in the driver’s seat of your online life:

Keep your stream pure

Only accept or seek friends who are in your professional area of interest. This is less like a speed-dating party and more like a job application. When you come across a promising educator, visit their social media, pass judgment on whether they fit your needs, and then make a decision.

Read the rest of this entry »

No Comments

Posted in Musings


Tech Tip for Writers #115: The 3-Click Rule

13 Apr

Tech Tips for Writers is a (sometimes) weekly post on overcoming Tech Dread. I’ll cover issues that friends, both real-time and virtual, have shared. Feel free to post a comment about a question you have. I’ll cover it in a future Tip.

Q: Some writing websites/blogs are confusing. I click through way too many options to get anything done. What’s with that?

A: I hadn’t put a lot of thought to this until I read a discussion on one of my writer forums about the oft-debunked-and-as-oft-followed 3-click rule made popular by Web designer Jeffrey Zeldman in his book, “Taking Your Talent to the Web”. This claims ‘that no product or piece of content should ever be more than three clicks away from your Web site’s main page’.

This is especially important when writers create the websites/blogs to accompany their novels. Readers arrive at your site excited to find out more about your manuscript. This 3-click rule suggests you keep the number of mouse clicks to two or three as readers find out about your book, a summary, and where to buy it. More than three steps, you’ll hear the patter of virtual feet exiting the website you working so hard to build and market.

Whether you agree with the ‘rule’ or not, it’s a good idea to make information easy and quick to find. Readers have a short attention span.

Read the rest of this entry »


10 Ways to Wrap Up the School Year

08 Apr

end of school yearIt’s the end of school. Everyone’s tired, including you. What you want for these last few weeks are activities that keep the learning going, but in a different way. You want to shake things up so students are excited and motivated and feel interested again.

Change your approach to teaching. Provide some games, simulations, student presentations–whatever you don’t normally do in your classroom. If you’re doing PowerPoints, use the last few weeks for presentations.  Make them special–invite teachers. Invite parents. If you never serve food in your lab, do it for these presentations.

Here are my favorite year-end Change-up activities:

6 Webtools in 6 Weeks

Give students a list of 10-15 webtools that are age-appropriate. I include Prezi, Google MapMaker, Scratch, Voice Thread, Glogster, ScribbleMap, and Tagxedo, These will be tools they don’t know how to use (and maybe you don’t either). They work in groups to learn the tool (using help files, how-to videos, and resources on the site), create a project using the tool (one that ties into something being discussed in class), and then teach classmates. Challenge students to notice similarities between their chosen tools and others that they know how to use. This takes about three weeks to prepare and another three weeks to present (each presentation takes 20ish minutes). Students will be buzzing with all the new material and eager to use it for summer school or the next year.

Instead of webtools, you may choose to have students play educational games and simulations online and teach them to classmates.

Designed for grades 3-12. Here’s a thorough lesson plan.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tech Tips for Writers #102: Doc Saved Over? No Problem

24 Mar

Tech Tips for Writers is an (almost) weekly post on overcoming Tech Dread. I’ll cover issues that friends, both real-time and virtual, have shared. Feel free to post a comment about a question you have. I’ll cover it in a future Tip.

Q: Friends sometimes save a blank document over their MS Word file. How? None of the reasons make sense, but the fact that this is a big problem when it does–does. Is there any way to retrieve the copied-over document?

A: Absolutely, though I know from experience this isn’t always available. Still, it’s worth the try:

Bring the file folder up in Windows Explorer (the left side of the drive’s file listing). Right click on the file name for the lost Word file and select ‘Restore previous version’. Select the latest version that’s not today. 

Every time I do this, I’m a hero for ten minutes.

Read the rest of this entry »


21 Writing Tips Found on Twitter

16 Mar

twitter writing tipsI confess, I like the Twitter approach to writing. It’s pithy, cogent, brief, with headlines that stick. I don’t always believe them, but am often entertained. And the posters–love them.

Getting quickly-consumed tips from Twitter that inspire as I start my daily writing seems to be a natural, especially when Tweeple include images (which I wish I’d do more often). I don’t always believe these tweets, but am often entertained. About once a year, I curate a list of favorite Twitter tips. Here’s what it looks like so far this year:

  1. To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.
  2. When you’re writing, write
  3. As part of my editing process I read aloud my manuscript. What a telling experience. (This is one of the most common tips: Read your mss aloud. It’s a sea-change from reading it silently.)
  4. Note to thriller writers on Twitter: Don’t worry, you’ll get followed: By the NSA. Because of your Google searches.
  5. Rituals are a good signal to your unconscious that it is time to kick in.
  6. Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of the writer. –Kurt Vonnegut
  7. Show up and stay present (another reminding us that when we sit down to write, don’t get distracted)
  8. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite. –Elmore Leonard
  9. Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on the glass. –Anton Chekhov (I’d forgotten this one. It’s a keeper–and so true)
  10. Never use a long word when a short one will do. –George Orwell
  11. You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write. –Saul Bellow
  12. Finding an agent is as unlikely as a bus hitting you in the shower while being attacked by a shark. And still, we write.
  13. First person POV might be the easiest for beginners.
  14. If you’re a beginner, be kind to yourself.
  15. Love the process of writing. Or quit.
  16. The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
  17. To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard. –Allen Ginsberg
  18. Waiting until you feel like writing is like waiting for a train at an abandoned station.
  19. Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk. –Thoreau (OK, not so much advice as funny.)
  20. Your writing should be more feral and less domesticated.
  21. There’s a certain peace in knowing your place in the writing universe. Find it.

Read the rest of this entry »

No Comments

Posted in Musings


22 Digital Tools for the Classroom

29 Feb

digital classroom tools

If you don’t have children, you may not have noticed the massive changes going on in the local schoolhouse. Those geeky tech tools that we adults like to avoid are taking over the classroom. Every year, students face new iPads, apps, online grading systems, webtools, digital devices, LMSs, cloud-based homework, digital portfolios, and more. As a teacher for twenty five years (the last fifteen in technology), it has my head spinning.

But–this may surprise you–students don’t mind a wit. They’re ready for tech, wondering what’s taking us so long to adopt the tools they can’t get enough of at home. Technology is in their DNA where we adults–it’s like bringing out the fine china for a special guest.

This year, make tech your everyday china. Use it often, dynamically, bravely, and with a smile. Here are the top 22 digital tools your colleagues are using in their classrooms:

  • annotation tool
  • avatars
  • backchannel devices
  • blogs
  • class calendar
  • class Internet start page
  • class Twitter account
  • class website
  • digital devices
  • digital note-taking
  • digital portfolios
  • dropbox
  • email
  • flipped classroom
  • Google Apps
  • journaling
  • maps
  • online quizzes
  • screenshots and screencasts
  • video channel
  • virtual meetings
  • vocabulary decoding tools

Each brief description includes the appropriate grade level, whether the tool is critical/important/optional, a ranking from 1-5 scale for how intuitive it is, and popular examples.

digital classroom toolsDigital Devices

K-8, Critical, 3/5

Digital devices include PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, laptops, iPads, and Surface Tablets. They might be packed into a cart that’s rolled from class-to-class, collected in a lab, or offered as a 1:1 program that puts a device in every child’s hand. But one thing all programs have in common: They’re popular with students because they’re how kids want to learn. Because they blend rigor with passion, they should be part of every educator’s toolkit.

Annotation Tool

K-8, important, 4

A digital annotation tool allows students to take notes in class PDFs. If you use books or resources in this digital, portable format, you likely also have this tool. With it, students can take notes in their books, fill in online rubrics and quizzes,  and automatically link to additional resources without having to retype URLs.

Popular digital annotation tools include Acrobat and iAnnotate. Since student needs are not extreme, pretty much any tool your school makes available will accomplish student goals.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Power of Positive Writing

24 Feb

writing tipsHave you ever read a book and found yourself feeling depressed or angry, or maybe just fidgety as you read? You might blame it on the tension and growing crises that are part and parcel to a developing plot, but then why does your subconscious keep pushing you to take a break? A good book is a page-turner. You can’t put it down. So what is it about this one that has you tapping your fingers even during the chase scene?

One reason: It’s just too negative. Bear with me–I know good stories have lots of angst as characters try to grow and find themselves and the good guys claw away at saving the world. What these good stories don’t do is wrap this tension in a negative tone.

Tone in writing can be defined as attitude or emotion toward the subject and the reader. It conveys a particular message from the writer to the reader that while life is chock full of problems, there’s always hope. The story’s protagonist may fall, but s/he’ll get up. The addiction in a good story is how life’s unsolvable problems are defeated by a motivated main character whose core principles, motivations, and morality are just like yours. If the story’s tone turns negative, it quickly becomes pedantic, as though the writer is superior to the reader, lecturing because the audience is dumb. No one likes to be around that sort of person, much less choose to read a book that makes you feel that way. A positive tone, even as the world crumbles, conveys hope that this flawed, Everyman character is going to find his way out.

I hear you–you don’t believe you do that. Here’s a quick test. Search a chapter of your manuscript (use the Alt+F4 Find shortkey) for ‘not’ and all variations of that (including contractions). Every time possible, switch the negative for a positive. For example, instead of:

‘She couldn’t run anymore’

rewrite as

‘Throat rasping,  she screeched to a slow stumble’.

Instead of

‘She couldn’t see out the window’

rewrite as

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: