Tech Tips for Teachers | Blog

How To Make Your Brain Detours Useful

How many times have you lost a great idea for a lesson plan simply because you weren't able to jot it down right away? Capturing ideas as the develop can be inconvenient, but here are five easy steps for recording your "brain detours" using a tool that's already close at hand.

As educators, we are some of the worst procrastinators! We have big ideas for awesome lesson plans and technology integration projects, but we just don't ever get them done because we don't capture them as they develop.

We've all done it: You are sitting in a quiet place (obviously not at school!) and a great lesson plan idea comes to your mind. You start to work with it and think, Oh, I should write this down somewhere, but you just keep thinking about how you can create it and what a wonderful lesson it will be. You go on with your day, and then poof! — it's gone, never to be remembered again. Or maybe you remember it but just can't remember enough of it.

Step 1: By far the best option when you have those great ideas is to stop right then and start typing. Most lessons will have to be created in a text format at some point anyway, so typing is usually the most efficient method. When that is not possible, you need some options.

Don't waste a useful brain detour! For example, I was sitting at my computer working on a project for a client and for some reason, this article popped into my head. I sat there thinking, I really need to finish this project, but, my brain had other plans — not wasteful plans, but a really beneficial thought process that I felt motivated to act on. Sometimes you just can't argue with your brain! So I started typing.

Step 2: Be prepared for those brain detour events when you're engaged and your brain is running wild. Of course, you can use the traditional paper and a pen or pencil, but there are some other options that I also use when writing is not convenient.

Most all phones now have an option to record audio. I use an app called DropVox on my phone that works with Dropbox. You can record a message, and it will send the audio file to your Dropbox cloud account. You can then review the file later to type it and make adjustments. There is also an option for text to speech called Dragon Dictation. It translates voice to text in a document, and then you can edit it when you have time. Or, if you have an app that lets you dictate an e-mail, just e-mail yourself your thoughts. It feels a little strange at first, but you'll become more comfortable with it as you use it more.

Step 3: Be sure you assign yourself some time to go back to those files to develop the content. By saving your thoughts and going back to them later, you allow yourself some time to develop additional ideas. You may want to discuss the plan with a co-worker and collaborate on the lesson.

Step 4: Use the plan you created! Educators sometimes get too overwhelmed with where to start and that can prevent us from ever acting on a great idea. Even if you only use one small technology tool each month, you are making the first step to technology integration and possibly more progress than many other educators.

Step 5: Don't be afraid to try something and then realize you have to make some changes. I tell my first period class every year, "Sorry, but you are the guinea pigs! This will be the first class of the day that we use some of these projects, and you guys will have to help me make corrections. Please tell me if you find an error or something that doesn't make sense." They usually feel rather special because they know they are helping me make improvements — and boy do they look for those errors! It is very common for me to make changes to a lesson before second period ever walks in the door!

So make good use of those ideas that come to you when you don't expect it! If you are anything like me, you hate wasted time! The lesson plan you create on a brain detour may be the one that gives you the extra time to spend on the couch or at the mall!

About the Author

Ellen Zimmerman is a faculty member at Western Governors University, where she mentors students in the College of Information Technology. Her master's degree is in Educational Technology Leadership, and she has a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting. Currently, she is a doctoral student at the University of North Texas with a focus on learning cognition and curriculum.