Noom: For a lifestyle change

Noom is spooky sometimes. Great, but spooky. Noom is an app for your phone, one that introduces a healthier lifestyle. Not a diet app, definitely. It is specifically designed as a mobile app. You carry it with you. It never nags, but does put thoughts into your head. Good thoughts. It uses psychology. A lot of psychology. To come at you from every angle. But never too much (well, maybe once or twice in the last month). You get set up to recognize three categories of food. You log your weight and food intake each day, but it is a lot less onerous than other apps. They ballpark some, but it comes out close to reality.

Each day, they have 3-5 short lessons, broken into a half dozen screenfuls, with a light approach to ideas like attitudes toward food in general, then to attitudes to missing your targets, and how to reign in your id without strangling it. On top of all this, you they pick out a couple dozen people from around the world in a similar situation, or a complementary situation, and let you help each other out. And then you get a coach, someone to organize all the psychobabble, so that it just turns into good advice that is pretty easy to follow.

The scary part is like the time I skipped breakfast. The next day, I get a lesson on how getting 3 squares is a good option to follow unless you are a forager type. See how they get you there? They know I am not a forager by my logging of food. But set that way, I am motivated to get my 3 squares and limit it to that. Healthy without being too constrictive. Last night, I came in under my calorie ceiling, so I had a nice chunk of dark chocolate. Today, I get that as an example, saying great to have rewards, but make them intermittent, better reinforcement. Touche. I have been too regular there.

On their website you can see they are a young company, with lots of female input. Offices in Manhattan, Tokyo, and Seoul. Versions of the app in those languages and more. My daughter works in tech in Tokyo, and she instantly recognized the name when I mentioned it. She is guessing the format will get applied to other areas besides health and lifestyle once they have the blueprint down. Looks pretty well done from here.

This has given me some ideas for language teaching, but that is for another post.

Attention! is important

The first of the 5 Digital Literacies in Howard Rheingold‘s book Net Smart is Attention. At first, I thought this was just a warm-up to the other literacies, one to get things going to study Critical Consumption (crap detection), Participation, Collaboration, and Net Structure. Then I started teaching with the book. Then I started doing research, and have come to the conclusion that Attention is the most important of the five.

I have noticed in my classes that there are more kinds of attention. I have noticed myself managing different levels of attention. Managing your own attention is key to all of the others. Indeed, meditation shows both how and why.

I have been able to focus more as a result of monitoring my own (lack of) attention. Here are 20 Ways to Win the War Against Seeing by Rob Walker (Medium). They are great ways to practice Attention, and will help you manage your own. Here is part of a newsletter (called Noticing) by Jason Kottke about, well, noticing things.

So here’s the skinny. The book is called The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy In the Everyday, will be out in May 2019, and can be preordered from Amazon right now. Walker describes it as a practical guide to becoming a better observer, “a series of exercises and prompts and games and things you can actually do (or reflect upon) to build attention muscles or just get off your phone and enjoy noticing stuff that everyone else missed”.

Edutopia and EdSurge, too many Edu-websites

Steven Herder interviewed me for the iTDi Teacher’s Room a few days ago. In it he said he liked Edutopia and I said that it was primarily funded by big tech stakeholders in education. The truth is a little more complicated.

Though I hold to my opinion, I will have to admit I was confusing Edutopia with EdSurge. Edutopia was created by George Lucas of Star Wars fame as a non-profit to look into ideas for education.

Edsurge, on the other hand, is a total creation of the edtech companies and is little more than a front for its PR. Audrey Watters in her essential weekly run-down of edtech news (that run-down can be taken both ways), often berates EdSurge as company pablum.

So both websites depend on money from large corporations and thus are suspect. Edutopia is a bit more balanced, as it is more separate from its corporate parent. But mostly I agree with Steven, that the articles in Edutopia are very uplifting.

So there you have it. I haven’t even covered EduCause and a couple of others.

Short URLs: going under

Graphic from Strategic Planet

News today (and not it is not April Fool’s) is that URL shortener. Here is the message:

Starting March 30, 2018, we will be turning down support for URL shortener. From April 13, 2018 only existing users will be able to create short links on the console. You will be able to view your analytics data and download your short link information in csv format for up to one year, until March 30, 2019, when we will discontinue Previously created links will continue to redirect to their intended destination.

I have hundreds of shortened URLs. They are good for making easy links for students. And everyone else. And I have a year to continue, and the links will continue after that, so not such a big deal.

Alternatives: I like better in many ways, you can make a custom URL. But they don’t do QR codes. All my students have phones, and using QR codes makes things even easier for them. Here are some alternatives (Thanks, Richard.)

I have discovered, which looks like a spoof of tinyURL, one of the first shorteners. It looks a bit iffy, but Web of Trust says they are moderately safe. The neat thing is that they incorporate QR codes right into the process, making it perfect for me. The add-ons for a pro account looks like they may be monitoring traffic a little too closely. Will keep you updated, but this is the direction I am looking for now.

Kind of reminds me of the problems with RSS readers, but that is for another post.

Games in Class

I have two games lined up for classes when they begin next month. I have been reading and exploring on ways to up the experiential level in a boring class setting.

Classcraft looked cool at first. Making classroom behavior into a group-based RPG fit right into my small group structure for teaching and interaction.  I considered my audience of college women and started to doubt whether they were familiar with MMORPGs. They could always ask their brothers, or even fathers. I asked in my class and happily about 25% (6/24) had played a similar type game on their Playstation or phone before. I was also wary about the thing being just a juiced up behaviorist trick, with the gold stars wrapped up in a pretty package. Not after the research. It is used in 20,000 schools. Granted, most of those are Jr. hi and HS, but close enough. The features lead to team-building and if my students can do that in English, perfect. I can build in using English as part of the settings as well. There are random events which spice up things, and make them more real. The only thing that still worries me is the reliance on competition, of which my students don’t have much of. Yet. Good for my first-year speaking and listening class.

Fantasy Geopolitics is a game to stimulate conversation about the world, about geography, and mostly about the news. I know my students are not familiar with Fantasy Football, but the concept I think they will latch onto quite easily. Instead of making up a team of football players at the beginning of the season, students choose a “team” or collection of countries (for my class, each student can pick 6). Then each class thereafter they can trade countries instead of players during the weekly “draft” at the beginning of class. The neat thing is that the countries are all rated by how much they appear in the New York Times. So instead of getting a hot running back for your team, you will be looking to see which countries have wars, revolutions, economic upheavals or other reasons to get in the news. After the first 3 weeks or so, goes the research, students start looking for signs that a country is ready to burst onto the newsfront, an embroiling scandal or whatnot. Each week, students are then rated on how much their exposure goes up or down. This means students need to keep reading each week. We use Newsela for graded reading access to news, but students can also look at authentic headlines in the NYTimes. The developer started with a Kickstarter campaign, but now the game resides at They have other version of politics in general, and one for elections, but my students need geopolitics more.

Both of these games were featured in one of the best games for education books I have read in years. The Game Believes in You by Greg Toppo has a dozen chapters, each using an exemplary software to show how games belong in and improve education. I will show my colleague who teaches English Literature the endless runner game Stride and Prejudice. Still in development is Eoghan (pronounced owen) Kidney’s VR (virtual reality) adaptation of Jame’s Joyce’s Ulysses. This has been in development for 3 years since getting money on FundIt, similar to Kickstarter, and it looks like a group at Boston U is starting up something similar called Joycestick (get it?). We can learn empathy and great storytelling through Inanimate Alice. Another way to center your thinking and do literature at the time is the game Walden, a game, now out in Apha ($18). We live in Thoreau’s world and learn to become more self-reliant and negotiate society on our own terms. Finally, we learn how to throw trucks and run like a chicken using our brains and an EEG collar as the only interface. What this really does is work like Ritalin or Adderall (the games are still in trial) to focus attention.

Each of these games is an example of a different kind of software, each addressing a different kind of learning. The book is highly recommended. As soon as I finish reading the book, off I am to develop the first two to fit into my class, and have fun with the others.