All posts by ericnentrup

How NaNoWriMo Illuminates Craft.

Two weeks into #NaNoWrimo, I’m feeling the fatigue–not just of writing, but of our recent tumult in Kim’s job loss, and dealing with it accordingly. I took Friday/Saturday off and killed it today, netting over 4200 words, and bringing my running total up to 27,582. This translates into 110 pages of my manuscript thus far with plenty of story still ahead in my notes.

To be clear, this is a fun diversion for ME. I’m not doing it because I have delusions of grandeur in publishing what I’m writing. It’s the first big project I’ve tackled for sheer enjoyment in a craft for which I have a ton of experience as a reader, but not as a writer.

As a result, I’m thinking about the impact this mental workout is having on me. Aside from needing a break late this week, knocking out a bunch of words isn’t difficult for me. There’s absolutely no pressure to hit my daily quota of 1,667 words (6.6 pages a day). But being reflective, I’m thinking about how I cultivated this and will be spending MORE time on this reflection following the event’s conclusion after Thanksgiving. Here’s what I’m thinking about that has some substance:

• I couldn’t do this task if I couldn’t type about as fast as I can think up sentences. Writing this by hand would kill me. Writing this hunt and peck would kill me. Doing this any other way than with my ten fingers flying would kill me. And I’m eternally grateful for the two typing classes I took in high school over twenty years ago. See kids? You DO use your high school education years and years later.
• I wouldn’t be ready for this had I never encountered Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY and learned about her “Morning Pages” routine. Simply put, the first thing you do to start your day is to draft three free written pages as fast as you can. Longhand in a normal notebook. Every day. I did this for the first time about 12 years ago, and have long since migrated the practice to the very admirable Buster Benson’s site His data visualization is piercing. And the combined practice of typing and MORNING PAGES here on his site are blissful to an aspiring writer.
• I wouldn’t be as trusting in this process of the NaNoWriMo blitzkrieg if I didn’t know and believe in the work of Hungarian professor Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi. His theory of “flow” is LEGIT and I’ve thoroughly lost myself in the balance between a high enough level of challenge along with my skills in wordsmithing/storytelling to experience this amazingly satisfying sense of Flow.

Tori McCallister beat me to it with her post (, but I’m ecstatic to be making these connections, and better understanding my emerging craft as a writer, regardless of whether I end up making money as a novelist or not. I’m an English teacher by trade and NaNoWrimo is helping me shore up theory and practice as a man of letters.

So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments.

My NaNoWriMo Workflow

As I was talking to a friend about her process for NaNoWriMo, I couldn’t help but ask what she was writing with. I realized my process was a bit whackjob after describing it to her, but there’s a rationale. Here’s my workflow for the contest, starting ENTIRELY in the browser, of which I’m fond of Chrome:
I do my drafting here because I have a long-standing relationship with this phenomenal app and couldn’t even begin to do NaNoWriMo without its influence on my confrontation of the blank page. I love it that I have several hundred thousand words in there to prove its impact on me. I write my entry, then I quickly hit Command + A to select all, then copy…

…and paste it here. There is something afoot here with this amazing word processor, and this is such a project for me to put it through its paces. I love the HEMINGWAY mode and the version control. We’ll see what happens as I put longer form content into this tool. I get my running word count total here, and

Notational Velocity / Simplenote:
…and paste it here too, on my Mac. I live in this app. I’m writing in it now. I wrote my ENTIRE thesis here first, let alone EVERY grad school paper before moving it into Google Docs or Pages for pagination and other formatting. Notational Velocity is an OS X client that syncs with a bunch of things. Me? Dropbox and Simplenote, the latter of which syncs elegantly to my iPhone and iPad.

Then, I head to and update my word count total. That’s it.

So, my burgeoning book is backed up to FIVE different places, FOUR of which are servers of other trusted companies, all in about 30 seconds after I finish my session. I get my credit for those sites that accumulate writing for me and I’m protected. in several ways. As a work matures, like I alluded to, it then gets moved to another app like GDocs, or Pages. Scrivener could be another tool I put in here at this point too, but the important thing for me I’ve discovered is to have a running word count and also to get rid of the skeuomorphism of the 8.5×11″ US Letter page. If I’m writing for a novel, this isn’t in any way helpful. But word count is incredibly motivating.

What’s your process for NaNoWriMo?

Ohio’s Transformation Into Texas

We teachers who espouse progress and continuous improvement of our craft really need to consider the source when reviewing the criticisms and allegations of Mark Smith. This Buckeye is the president of Ohio Christian University, and leaving me in disbelief that neither John Boehner nor John Kasich are no longer the most annoying, paranoid, simple-minded, illogical politicians in Ohio. However, I can imagine such ignorance from this small time college President Mark Smith, who THINKS he’s in the business of education shepherding his flock of 3,300 Christian students. How he ever ended up on the STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION is beyond me, and how being president of a myopic evangelical Christian university gives you merit to weigh in on K–12 education policy is further YET beyond me. And yet he does weigh in on The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the subsequent and controversial PARCC assessments built upon the CCSS.

Granted, Smith is citing the PARCC Assessments as the impetus for his comments, these tests stem directly from the Common Core State Standards which education professionals behaving like Luddites deride. I don’t disagree with the strain that the PARCC assessments may cause, but I take great issue with the claim that the CCSS isn’t high quality. For most states, it’s an even wash, and for many in the South, they’re a major improvement.

In a transient culture where there is a HIGH degree of probability that students may start school in one state and complete their K–12 education in another, isn’t it FAIR to those families that their transcripts are based upon SOME common understanding of the skills they should acquire, filtered anecdotally through an artful teacher that chooses the content and makes the skill acquisition process (we call that “learning”), something local and germane to the culture and readiness of a student through differentiation? Did I lose you there?

Here are some thoughts I have based upon this guy’s rational thinking:

• By his logic, the US Constitution shares the same risks as the Common Core State Standards for upholding a communist agenda.

• By his logic, our currency system which so fluidly works across state lines could be cited for promoting socialist ideas.

• Evidently McCarthyism is ALIVE and well in this country.

• I’ve been teaching the CCSS for over two years with growing appreciation for their structure in preparing students for what comes next by giving teachers guidance for curriculum design. And though I do not represent the company itself, I know that the LearnZillion Dream Team of 225 teachers who have worked doggedly on CCSS lesson planning would likewise agree.

So, Mr. Smith…have you READ the standards? Have you visited a classroom where Common Core aligned lessons are being taught by actual, highly-qualified teachers to actual students? I’d invite you to my classroom where I’d help you with the most relevant skill you are currently lacking…writing sound arguments. Let’s look to the first writing standard for 11–12 graders:

The President will be able to (PWBAT) write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

But let me further unpack that for you so you know what the lessons will entail: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11–12.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11–12.1a Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11–12.1b Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11–12.1c Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11–12.1d Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11–12.1e Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

We’ll take it easy, make sure you have options for each mini-lesson that match your learning style, and if you need to change your stance because there is simply not enough supporting evidence, then hey. No problem, buddy.

The CCSS nor PARCC are NOT communistic, socialistic, or evil. If it hurts to implement them, then we’ll need to increase the state budget for aspirin. And that may not be a bad idea. Perhaps Texas will foot the bill.

How Poverty Taxes the Brain – Emily Badger – The Atlantic Cities

How Poverty Taxes the Brain – Emily Badger – The Atlantic Cities.

The article opens with a brilliant premise about the limitations of human mental bandwidth. Reminiscent of our shared desire to have supernatural Jedi telekinetic powers, we are all easily able to convince ourselves that we can handle more than we actually can with cognition. We can’t. We can’t move things with our minds, bend spoons, or put words in people’s mouths. We can’t multitask. However, we CAN do a bunch of things piss poorly, and that’s considering all of our most basic needs are met and have been met for the majority of our developmental time early in life.

The author tackles a subject of growing popularity, the effects of poverty on one’s actual person beyond the deprivation of material luxuries. Paul Tough and Eric Jensen have done so as well in recently published works, and the evergreen Hart-Risley study famously analyzed the verbal/linguistic patterns of those in affluent homes versus those born into struggling households. There is even a connection to last fall’s Vanity Fair story on the bandwidth monitoring habits of President Obama. Specifically, Michael Lewis reported on the president’s intentionally sparse wardrobe choices as a way to eliminate banal decisions he has to make. Steve Jobs did so to the nth degree with his ubiquitous black mock turtle neck, jeans, and New Balance running shoes. Both of these men seem to understand the importance of reducing the cognitive burden of decisions that don’t net them gains in the areas of their expertise they care most about.

However, many people can’t afford that luxury of streamlining their life that much. It’s more chicken or the egg with the way that choices are put in front of you. As a teacher at an urban charter high school, I am often up against the poverty of my students’ lives, and the reality of their hard choices to make without much in the way of an appropriate bulwark of cognitive resources to assist in making the best choices. Which leads to more disorder. Chicken or the egg. With the emerging research indicating  that the effects of living in poverty  are at best difficult-to-remediate and at worse permanent problems, then it’s no wonder so many of our children are suffering intellectually in the convoluted education system we have in place. Achievement gap? As others have written more eloquently than me, we have a Poverty Gap. And it’s widening.

Mark Anderson & The Common Core

We teachers are pats of butter skittering across a hot skillet every time the Common Core comes up these days. From the distaste of the Badass Teacher’s Association and their Luddite response to the CCSS, to the uproar over Tony Bennett’s recent political mishap, The CCSS is becoming a bucket to kick and that needs to stop. The standards are high quality. They are also young and unproven. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth the necessary rigor to implement and to do so well.

NYC Teaching Fellow, and also, fellow LearnZillion Dream Team member, Mark Anderson speaks on this with aplomb on his blog. Have a look and give me your feedback.

The problem is the problem | School Loop

This is my kinda guy.

The problem is the problem | School Loop.

The Designing Teacher

As teachers, we’re too often flying blind with the data systems provided for us. It’s not our administrators’ fault because so much of the education technology industry has gotten by releasing shoddy software. You know what I’m talking about. A Student Information System that can only easily allow a teacher to enter attendance and grades. There is NO data presented from that system that at a GLANCE allows a teacher to take action. The teacher must ALWAYS invest interpretation before execution. That applies to a student’s demographics, their academic mastery, etc. 

Additionally, this lack of tools has KEPT if not REPRESSED teachers from becoming the data hawks that they should be. We don’t know how to visualize data at a professional level. I believe that is going to be a prerequisite of Teacher 2.0. So, stats and probability, advanced spreadsheet construction (functions and formulas), and a general wherewithal on the RIGHT side of the brain about the color/shape/composition basics of a visual designer. Knowing what tools to use to achieve these results as it applies to pedagogy is an entirely different beast, but a requirement.
David McCandless’s work is such a great example of this. The Wired Magazine and GOOD magazine design departments as well. 

You can even see the writing on the wall with the shift to WHOLE MINDED software development. As you well know, you need designers who can code and coders who understand Design Thinking.
In spite of the controversial move from the Gates Foundation to invest $100M in the inBloom project, we teachers are still at a loss. I’m grateful for companies like  who recognize this deficit and are working diligently to own the data visualization layer and give teachers the critical vitals they need in order to assess their own data as professionals and make changes to their instruction that meet kids where their needs are greatest.

Audrey & Seymour

When I encounter fellow firebrands in the field, nothing is more exciting than when they connect and collaborate. It’s like the Monsters of Rock tour but with more brain cells than Metallica and Guns ‘n’ Roses shared cumulatively in the late ’90s.

Such an occurrence has happened with‘s luminary, Audrey Waters as she recently sat down with the ever brilliant education thought leader, Seymour Papert. Have a look at her write up and follow her advice by putting Mindstorms on your Amazon wishlist.

How We Explain.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how we explain things to each other, and what components make meaning happen. Starting next week, I’m teaching a visual communication course that I’ve been planning for, and a conversation I had today with Fahad Hassan (@FahadHassan), founder of the education data visualization company, reminded me of my affinity for the explanation stylings of Lee Lefever (@leelefever) in his CommonCraft Video Series (@CommonCraft).

So I visited their blog today and saw Lee’s post about another amazing pioneer in the visual communication field, RSAnimate.

Show and tell is being displaced by: Show. DON’T tell. Check out this post of his and a neat look into the process for both CommonCraft as well as RSAnimate.

Behind the Scenes of an RSA Animation | Common Craft.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | Video on

A timeless message from Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action #TED Thanks, @FahadHassan for the share!

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | Video on