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MicroDeadlines are just what they sound like: small deadlines. These are particularly relevant in online and hybrid learning models where teachers need to provide extra structure to facilitate planning and ultimately learning. In traditional face-to-face learning models many informal structures exist that naturally create “microdeadlines” without intentionality; in an online setting (without physical teacher presence) we need to explicitly design for this.

Many advocates for online learning, myself included, advocate for student agency in online spaces. Choice and voice are common features to give students ownership over their learning process. This is not the space to flush out those ideas, but this is the space to think about how we support students. I provide three real examples that begin with the best of intentions, but lead to a lack of student engagement and buy-in. Then I provide a MicroDeadline solution to each.

First, a definition:

A MicroDeadline is a time cutoff for a small component of an assignment that holds students accountable for the components of a large assignment. Rather than just a due date for an entire assignment or task, a set of MicroDeadlines can provide multiple check-in points within a larger assignment.

Scenario 1:

An English teacher wants to provide opportunities for time ownership in their class. They introduce a persuasive argument writing assignment in their synchronous class on Monday. Students have the entire week to write their paper. Throughout the week, synchronous classes are broken into smaller groups to discuss and debate their arguments in draft form.

The breakdown: Students procrastinate. OK, not every student, but we all procrastinate (hey if you wait until the last minute to write a blog post, then it only takes one minute to write). So in the minutes before a synchronous class a student (maybe) jots down a few notes for their argument in order to share their thoughts and earn a few participation points. Then, Thursday evening rolls around and at midnight the student is throwing their paper together.


Before the first class meeting, the teacher records a 5-minute video for students to watch during the first five minutes of class (watching this video is the first MicroDeadline- referred to as MD from here on out). The video ends with the first ask for students: Choose your topic and write the first draft of your thesis or position by 30 minutes into class; teacher is available for office hours during class and checks for MD deadline. Then teachers checks with students “in the moment” and has confirmation that the student is making progress. Then throughout the week, multiple MDs are enacted (likely depending on learning objectives) for an outline, first draft, introduction, etc. Emphasis on feedback will likely come in many formats with the MDs, but can focus on the process, not just the final product.

Scenario 2:

A science teacher asks students to read two articles debating the ethics of genetic engineering. Students are to use an online discussion board to post their thoughts and then to comment on a classmate’s response.

The breakdown: This is why online learning gets a bad rap. “Read and post a response to Blackboard” is a quote I heard 20 years ago in college. At that same time, my innovative teacher dumped all the PDFs into Blackboard and asked us to write notes or questions to check whether we completed the reading. This is the exposure that many teachers had during college and initiation to online learning. It was not engaging then, and it is not engaging now. It serves merely as a check for completion. Unless…


The first step is to step back and understand the goal here (and make that goal public). Does a teacher want to check that students read? Then ask for notes to be posted. Does a teacher want to create an asynchronous mode for students to explore their ideas and interact with classmates? Try asking students to simplify their perspective into a 45-second FlipGrid. Or give students specific prompts to reply to and create subgroups.

So, where do MicroDeadlines come in? Have you ever been the first (or last) person to post on a discussion board? A few years ago an eager student (not just in this case, but on all assignments) wrote a post to a discussion post the day that the reading was assigned. They completed the reading and shared their response before anyone else even turned the first page. Then they never completed the assignment by commenting on their classmates’s work 

Scenario 3

A Math class assigns a problem set of eight challenge problems to be done collaboratively, due by the end of the week. Students continue traditional coursework through the week.

The breakdown: Procrastination combined with complexity equals one student completing their work, sending the solutions to the group text and classmates frantically copying. Then when there is an issue with number 3, there is an issue on everyone’s number 3.


Again, this is a time to be intentional. Do you want students just to try challenge problems to see how far they can go? Or do you want to work through them, receive feedback and nudges, then make more progress and finally end up with a proper solution? Whichever your choice: Design for that. If the latter (my personal preference), then ask for a rough draft. Maybe partner students for peer-to-peer feedback, then provide resources. Make each part its own assignment, with its own MicroDeadline.


There you go, MicroDeadlines provide all solutions. Clearly tongue and cheek, but when designing for learning in an online setting, provide the structure that comes naturally in face-to-face setting. Teachers could casually walk around a classroom and check in on students’ writing progress and help lagging students to move forward or pick up the pace, or allow a back-and-forth between students in an in person discussion, or nudge students in the right direction when working on a difficult problem set in class. The transition to asynchronous learning necessitates instructional designers to replicate those informal check-ins. MicroDeadlines is the solution to designing structure that helps students hold themselves accountable.

Intelligent Consumers of Information: Opportunity Zones

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I am incredibly proud of the Challenge By Choice component I have added to my Economics course (you can read more about it here). In short, students can choose how they want to demonstrate economic understanding. I am reminded of the value constantly. None more than June 3, 2020 when a student’s work provided me important perspective and intelligently interpret current events.

Tweet from 6/2/2020

President Trump tweeted about Opportunity Zones the night before. I did not know what opportunity zones were in September, but thanks to a student’s work, I learned about them and their (unintended) consequences and how they were being misused.

One of my goals is to help my students be intelligent consumers of the news. Without this student’s work I would not have been able to understand this misleading program.

Thanks to a student (permission granted, but identity withheld) for sharing some of his work that he did researching Opportunity Zones.

Connections: Challenge By Choice

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After writing about Challenge by Choice, from the teacher experience in previous posts, I was fortunate to be featured in Connections Magazine for that work, where Jessica More wrote thoughtfully about some great student work. I am thankful for her work!

AP Macroeconomics Free Response 2018

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2018 AP Macro Solutions

This file contains the released 2018 AP Macroeconomics Free Response Problems and my solutions.


A few days before the exam I posted this video predicting the first problem and came pretty close…

NCTM Presentation: Assessing Conceptual Understanding

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Below are resources related to NCTM Presentation: Assessing Conceptual Understanding (# 457; room 258B, BCEC)

Slides: NCTM Assessing Conceptual Understanding

Editable .docx: Conceptual Questions NCTM

What Is My Main Goal of My Calculus Course

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I recently ran into a student that I taught during my first year of teaching (ten years ago) what he remembered from my Calculus course. He remembered the word derivative and that we had to do problem sets and if he did well on those he would do well on the tests. But he didn’t really remember any “Calculus”. He works in marketing and- I assume- does not need to use any of the rules, theorems, or formulas particular to Calculus. But, I bet he has a better appreciation of the concept of change because of my course, even though he might not attribute it to my course; at least I hope he does.

So, What do I want my students to remember five or ten years after they leave my course? Really the question I am asking is “What is my main goal in my calculus course?”

For me, the answer is change. Algebra 2 and PreCalculus are about functions and points on a graph (I don’t love that description, but its serves my purpose), while Calculus is about the change at those points. Imagine Algebra 2 is about the point, and Calculus is about the slope at that point. So, as we returned from Spring Break- and were technically in the middle of our unit on the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus- I tried to gauge what my students remembered about Calculus after ten days away…

They looked in their notes and said things like chain rule, fundamental theorem of calculus, derivatives, and change. They also have every standard example in their notes (think volume of a balloon for related rates) that they can use in future Calculus courses as a resource (I have anecdotal evidence that they refer to these notes in college), but as I tried to dig deeper into what this course engrained in them, I was not sure that more than a few understood what I meant by change.

SO, I talked to a physics teacher who was excited to collaborate. I borrowed some “logger pros” and Vernier sensors to begin a two-day task/project/lab/experiment. Here it is:

The outcome of this “task” will be to:

  • describe a movement in words
  • By hand, graph:
    • distance vs. time graph of the movement
    • velocity vs. time graph of the movement
    • acceleration vs. time graph of the movement
  • demonstrate the movement
  • use the “logger sensors” to create an actual capture of the movement, including distance, velocity, and acceleration graphs
  • verify that the description, movement, and graphs all correspond
  • determine a means to present this information

We are going to spend two days on this task, then return to our normal progression of finding area between two curves. But for these two days we’re going to try to see if we can reinforce what I believe to be the central theme to Calculus.

Maybe in ten years, they’ll remember this.

Disruptive Innovation Transforms

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“There is an indirect relationship between the number of times an institution uses the term Innovation and how innovative the institution actually is.”

I came across a New Yorker article from the summer (linked here) that applied concepts from Clayton M. Christensen’s 1997 book “The Innovator’s Dilema” to the current culture of technology, start-ups, and education. Christensen’s premise is that innovation takes two forms: sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation. Sustaining innovation is analogous to R&D- it is based on improving the current product. Disruptive innovation is blowing up the system; it means starting from scratch or reinventing.

The article, written by Jill Lepore, briefly discusses the history of Harvard University and the introduction of Massive Open Online Courses. These courses were thought to open up opportunities for anyone not able to attend Harvard, and to be substitutes for the courses taught there. But are MOOCS, or online learning in general disruptive? Is teaching a hybrid class disruptive? Or are current trends innovating education simply sustaining innovation?

What would a true disruptive innovation to education look like?

The Schedule Makers

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I always assumed Major League Baseball’s schedule was constructed using some intense algorithm. It seems that for twenty-five years MLB used human intuition to construct their elaborate schedule. It seems like now programming and computer programming sophistication has caught up.

This is a worthwhile twelve minute video by ESPN’s 30 for 30 series (directed by Joseph Garner). Also a worthwhile graph theory application.

Challenging Routine

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Two months ago, as the school year was beginning, I read a handful of articles discussing the correlation between productivity and routine.  Business journals, blogs, tweets, and newspapers praise the importance of routine.  Wake early, exercise, browse headlines before leaving for work.  Work on creative tasks in the morning and mechanical tasks later in the day.  Make lists and wind down before sleep.  Setting a routine and completing tasks based on that routine would certainly make anyone more productive.

Whether we consciously follow a routine or not, we all have daily patterns.  As a teacher, my class has a routine; over time patterns emerge and habits form.  Deviations from our routine signal importance. We are doing something different for a reason.  I hope to encourage my students to realize that changes signal importance.  I hope to say: “Hey look, we are doing we are doing something different!”

Those moments only happen when the routine is broken.  This past summer, my day-to-day routine changed as I worked for a summer program on a rural college campus.  I had to run at different times of the day and worked until later in the evening.  My entire routine- mental and physical- changed and my body responded as if to say: “Hey look, we are doing we are doing something different!”Image

Ultimately, a routine will put us into a position to complete our daily tasks and be productive.  But those moments of innovation or ideas sparking in our minds will only happen if we consciously break our routine.  Consider Google’s “20% time,” which is the one day per week that employees spend time working on side projects. This time is a structured (our routine) break of routine.  This time has been lauded as the nest egg of innovation.

Personally, this blog is my opportunity to break away from my day-to-day routine of teaching, coaching, and economic researching.  I need to make this break of routine a common activity; it is an opportunity for me to think through issues and current events and put my thoughts on “paper.”

Breaking away from our day-to-day habits gives us opportunity and the signal that our task is worth the time.  Within the framework of the routine encouraged by productivity experts, we can incorporate intentional breaks to signal importance and generate opportunities for growth.

Designed in California; Assembled in China

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So now I know why I haven’t heard anything definite about the iPhone 5.  Joking aside, it is sad to see Steve Jobs leave the innovation sector.  My last post about innovation and patent reform should have just been about Steve Jobs.  He has been the leading innovator in our country over the past thirty years and his loss to the industry will be significant.  That being said, I am sure we all wish him health and happiness in his retirement.

The New York Times has an interactive review of Steve Jobs’ patents.  I found this great picture from a 1980s patent and could not stop thinking about playing Oregon Trail on this computer in fifth grade (when floppy disks were actually floppy… and existed).  Nevermind the elegant simplicity of the first generation ipods or the intuitiveness of our iPhones.

Earlier this week I was using our family’s new iPad, and noticed the text “designed in California, and assembled in China.”  I thought this was a great way to overcome the standard argument to buy USA only products.  Many advocates of USA only manufactured goods forget that the products being made overseas were invented in the United States and free markets pushed the assembly labor to China; we are not just buying the stuff China is sending us.

In any case, Steve Jobs has been on the cusp of innovation in America and although he is stepping down, I’m sure Apple with continue to provide the United States with the cutting edge technology we crave.  While Steve Jobs will no longer be the face of Apple, he will go down in history as the face of innovation in the United States.