Get Your $%^%$^ Together

[Photo credit:]

I meant to say “stuff.”

It’s senior project and college deadline time, and from what I’ve seen, many of you are disasters. “I don’t know what to do.”

Yesterday I told someone, “Walk and talk,” while I spouted out steps to tackling complex problems. It occurred to me you need solutions. I have solutions.

Project management software.


Believe it or not there are nerds out there working for you. They want you to be happy–to have the apps and gadgets you need. You can even offer them feedback by going to “contact us” on websites or “feedback.” I do it all the time. It’s like having my own professional developer at my side making me the stuff I want. You’ve used some of the software they’ve produced in our classes.

The bottom line is this–when you’re struggling or overwhelmed with life, there’s an app for that.

Throw out those annoying flash drives! That’s so 2005! Free yourself! So what if Google knows what you ate for breakfast? It’s free. Your stuff travels with you! Between us, we’ve been using Google, Evernote, Piktochart, Google Class, Instagram, Twitter… the list is endless and will get bigger.

So, what’s project management software and how will it save my life?

I tell you to calendar in deadlines, backdating them to today to get the job done. Calendars don’t help you with the steps to completing the task, but project management programs do.  You can:

1. Enter in complex tasks like Senior Project or college applications, breaking down the steps into to do lists.

2. Collaborate with friends by creating a project, assigning out the tasks with appropriate deadlines, and share notes that the entire team can see.

3. Change deadlines easily, seeing what’s going on in your personal and professional life in multiple views, such as list view, project view, task view, and calendar view.

4. Send cat pictures to your team.

I said “Professional life.” Yes, indeed, I did. I use this stuff for real. It helps me as a professional. Really, I’m no better than you in life. What separates us is a few extra years of hard work, my five grey hairs, and all the mistakes I’ve made (like too much college debt) that I’m trying to save you from making.

Project management software can help. Get your senior project and college applications in check RIGHT NOW. I already showed you Asana. Basecamp is a good one, too. It’s free for teachers, but cheap for real people. Both of these have mobile apps so you can take them on the run. Asana’s app is improving and functional but not the full platform.

Other things to help your zen workflow: 

Slack helps you communicate in teams without email, and the mobile app is amazing. It integrates all your other programs, so you can compile docs, skype right from the platform, or just chat with teams right in one place. You could use it for projects. There is a free and a paid model.

Google solves your “I can’t afford Word” needs while letting you collaborate in real-time with teammates all over the world. It’s so easy, I don’t even feel guilty when I say, “Why don’t you make a spreadsheet, analyze it, and let me know what you found.” Google Hangouts lets you work with your team 24/7.

Twitter helps you find the top experts in the field you’ll be entering. If you’re serious about success, you should be there, your profile should be professional, and you should use Twitter to meet, retweet, and comment on material put up by intelligent people. The ability to do that is a game changer, trust me.

That’s what I have in my toolbox today. Share your must have’s below.

Take This to the Bank


I stole this picture just like the banks, credit card companies, and identity thieves will steal your money if you’re not careful. [photo credit:’s_Bank%5D

Do you love your bank? 

“What kind of weirdo asks that type of question?” you think. “Love my bank? I don’t even have a bank. I stuff my money under my pillow before I take my girlfriend out to the dollar menu and spend it all.”

Yes, indeed, big spenders.

In order to have money you have to know where it is. This means you need a financial institution and all the cards and statements that go with it.

“Miss, can you look at this, my bank keeps charging me fees.” The student was really upset, as I would be if a bank took all the money I’d planned to use for dates at the dollar menu. I told him to bring in his statements and ATM slips. Turns out, he went for gas on Friday, spent some money. The money didn’t come out immediately, so he checked his ATM balance the next day, and saw there was money in there. He didn’t put any more money in there, which would have been my first red flag, but he said, “It was there, Miss!”

“Sometimes it takes a couple days to show up.” We’re so used to everything being instant we don’t realize there are sometimes time delays. So, he was spending the same money more than once. The bank frowns on this. They’ll cover for you like a loanshark, he discovered, but slap you around with some $25 fees to remind you to be responsible with your cash.

You should know where your money is and what’s going on with it at all times.

Critical questions to ask yourself:

Do I have a financial institution I love?

What’s the difference between a bank and a credit union?

What’s the difference between a credit and a debit card? A checking and savings account? A CD and a CD-ROM?  Which of these things do I need to survive in the real world?

How do I tie together the stuff I’ve learned about financial literacy–debt, savings, planning–together with the best financial institution in the world–to get the ball rolling?

Am I “old school” or “tech” when it comes to banking? (Ye Old Paper Check and Ledger vs. Online Banking and the Digital Financial World)

What’s my liability when someone in some country I can’t spell steals my identity? How do I fix that?

Let’s take a look at all the financial institution stuff you never ever cared about, but if you have two bucks in your pocket and want three or four instead of zero, you’d better start to care about, now…

Fiat Isn’t A Foreign Car: Introduction to Bitcoin

imagesIn order to understand bitcoin and cryptocurrency (currency that’s somewhere in the cyberworld) you need to understand the concept of money. Have you ever wondered why money has value or how much money there is on earth? If you watched the link to the V-Sauce video, you’d say, “Wow, we can create money,” or “What do you mean money has value just because we say it does?”

In the past, money was concrete. For example, if you had a chunk of gold, it was worth whatever the value of gold was times the weight of your gold. That’s why people bit gold in old Western movies. It wasn’t that they couldn’t eat at the chuck wagon–it was that unscrupulous people would devalue gold by mixing in other metals. Gold is soft. If you bite hard enough, it should leave a tooth mark. I’m not really sure I want your dental records on my wallet, but still.

Paper currency and credit were invented because it’s heavy carrying all those coins. If we agree on the value of the paper I gave you, the that’s a good thing. We can do business without bringing our camel caravan filled with heavy metals.

Today, the value of our money doesn’t rely on every paper dollar having a piece of gold somewhere that it represents. The “gold standard” is dead. There’s a central bank for most countries that prints money. Printing too much money can cause an increase in the amount of money–more spending, but more inflation. Decreasing the money supply increases the value of the money (there is less money, so each unit’s got more value)

There are countries out there with really bad economies, and nations that play with the value of money. Cryptocurrency was invented to get around this. There is no centralized bank, and the money is not fiat money. Fiat money is all the money you have in your wallet–money that some government makes and you believe has value because the government says it does.

What happens to currency if the government collapses? Well, then, many people turn to commodity money. Commodities are goods that are traded on the market–generally foods or resources. These have value based on supply and demand. For example, if a pest wipes out the coffee supply and I own coffee shares, then coffee’s going up in price. If I sell then, I make cash.

“Hey, dummy, I asked you about bitcoin.” 

Oh, sorry. Here’s a little primer. Bitcoin is a decentralized form of money that only exists in electronic form. It’s transferred via the internet using a “P2P” (person to person) protocol. In other words, there’s no centralized bank, government agencies, taxes, or anything like that. It has a floating value. People mine bitcoins by finding them hidden on the internet–to unlock them takes some computer genius and for the average person’s probably not going to be a possibility.

“Can I buy bitcoin?”

Yes. The value is floating–meaning it changes based on market demand. You can therefore invest in bitcoin, hoping to buy low, sell high. The price has been over $1K/btc, but today rests much lower. You can buy bitcoin in exchanges. Only 21M btc will ever exist.

Who thought of this stuff?

Satoshi Nakamoto began working on the concept for bitcoin in 2007. It’s a pseudonym, and he may be one person or a collective group. This timeline gives a great history of the rise of bitcoin into mainstream.

Is bitcoin a good thing?

Depends. If you’re a person in a country with a destabilized currency–a currency with crazy inflation or no consistency–then it may be good. I lived in Russia when the government decided to reissue the ruble. This meant that after a certain date the old currency wouldn’t be accepted. People rushed to spend the money they hid under their mattresses, or trade it at banks (where they had limits to what they could trade in) or mafia kiosks which gave them fractions of the value for the purpose of trading them in. It was devastating.

These people would have liked bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. People living in China trying to get around government regulations, war-torn countries with crazy inflation, or places with chronically untrustworthy currencies and policies, like Argentina like bitcoin.

“Who doesn’t like bitcoin?” Governments trying to impose regulations, taxes, or trace money do not like bitcoin. Investigators do not like bitcoin because going off the radar means that shady people run to cryptocurrency.

“But I’m not a cartel or mafia boss. Can I use bitcoin, too?”

Yes. You can invest in bitcoin and speculate that the market will go up, especially now that it’s getting harder to mine bitcoin and the supply will be steady. But there is risk–if all of a sudden people decide this is just a fad and there’s no increase in usage, and some key investors say that’s currently the trend (that bitcoin needs more people to use it and more merchants to accept it).

What are the other uses of bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a ledger–a place where online transaction records are kept. The uses could be endless. Even for those who don’t wish to spend it, tech geniuses are seeing the value in developing platforms and ideas that support cryptocurrency. The data trail can be used as a date/time stamp, a transfer of information, or even to certify voting and elections. So, even though you probably can’t and won’t mine bitcoin, it doesn’t mean you won’t develop some technology that will still make you a pretty retirement.

Good Debt, Bad Debt

College is overpriced. Looking at amortization tables and college loan calculators might make you feel all’s hopeless. It’s not. You must recognize the difference between good debt and bad debt.

Good debt gets you to where you want to go. Bad debt puts you in a hole you can’t escape. How do you know the difference?

Here are some examples. You’re starting a business. You borrow a thousand dollars to get you off the ground, but you’re working your day job, so God forbid something happens, you can make the payments. Your business succeeds. You pay off that debt.

Good debt is debt that helps move you forward: 

You pay for your gas with a card and pay it off once a month. Good debt.

You finance a used car. You know it costs $200/month, but you can afford the payments. Your goal is to establish good credit with the loan.

You want to go to college for nursing. A degree is required. You look at several colleges, choose the one that gives you a great financial aid package, and borrow the least amount of money you can. You borrow some money but work a second job over the summer and pay down the debt as soon as possible.

You buy a car at 0% interest and pay only the payment–you don’t overpay the loan. Instead, you invest the rest of the money you have, making a return, effectively using that car loan to give you money to make money.

Bad debt is debt that can bury you. 

You fall victim to a credit card offer at a 21% interest rate then start carrying a balance.

You buy a car that you can’t really afford.

You take loans to pay for a college that doesn’t give you the maximum aid, then say, “It doesn’t matter, my career in XX should make enough.”

You overextend borrowing for your business or expand too fast using other people’s money.

Critical questions: 

How can you use debt to your advantage?

What types of debt can save you, and what types of debt can bury you?

What are the effects of compound interest on any loan?

Math moment: 

We’ve been using calculators to look at compound interest. Here’s the math behind the calculator. Try one or two compound interest problems. Have a victory moment. Here are a few you can defeat. Check your answers. Don’t cheat. You’ll get bad karma.

P.S. Compounding works both ways. You can spend money with debt but you can make it on the flip side investing. More on that later. Learn the effects of the math.

Suze Orman Says “Show Me the Money”

Financial expert Suze Orman makes a living giving advice. Her book “The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke” is a go-to book on how not to mess up your life, and how to fix it if you already have. I suggest you read it. It’s cheaper on Kindle. Suze would appreciate you saving a few bucks. Maybe you can buy a couple copies and share them, or one of you, an enterprising one, would like to rent it to others. Her surprising view on budgets is interesting. Don’t restrict, change a few things and head toward success.

Watch a few segments of her “Can I Afford It?” segment to see if you are on track to retire. Here, Josh wants to look cool and buy a Tesla. Is it a good call?

Let’s put this in terms you can relate to–not many Teslas in our parking lot. There’s a phone in every pocket, though.One kid said, “Miss, I’m going to be out Friday. I have to get my iPhone.” Hmmm….

The iPhone6 is a big consumer deal. People are camping out. Is an iPhone6 really necessary? Is an iPhone necessary at all? What about team Droid here?

In order to make this purchase, first consider needs vs wants. Do you need a phone at all? It’s a big expense. There’s an opportunity cost to your phone–it’s not only the cost of the bill, it’s the cost of the other things you could do or buy with that cash. You could invest. You could save for college. You could blow it on Pop Tarts and Monsters. Who knows. Give it some thought.

So, Suze Orman would say deal with your needs first, put an 8 month emergency buffer together, fund your company’s retirement plan for you, your 401K (you don’t have this yet) up to the percentage your company matches, then fund your Roth IRA up to the $5K allowed each year by law.

Ramit Sethi, of the I Will Teach You to Be Rich camp would say something similar but argue you can spend lavishly on things you really love and value, but don’t waste money on stupid things. And yes, fund those retirement accounts.

Analyze the smartphone purchase now:

Critical questions: 

  • Is it a need or a want? Some of you made the case that you use it as a laptop, and tech’s certainly going that way. If you are using it for work, internships, or school productivity, what’s the lowest cost option that will still be productive?
  • Are you falling victim to brand loyalty even if the data looks like you should be making another consumer decision?
  • Is the opportunity cost of having a top of the line phone preventing you from getting to other, more important, savings goals?
  • What will you do when you’re no longer freeloading off your parents? How will you pay this bill?
  • Consider price, features, and durability and give an honest reflection as to whether your communications budget is serving you well.

A Day in the Life of the Future

This guest post by future author and present genius Jakob Castro represents what might become of us in the future if we don’t “de-revolutionize.” 

Everything is automated. Getting out of bed, putting on my clothes, brushing my teeth. It’s all automatic. Technology has advanced to the point where it removes the need for a subconscious. Humans are carried throughout the day with the extreme convenience of these devices that do so much for you. It’s sort of depressing. We are no longer able to feel the accomplishment of taking care of ourselves. We’re constantly dependent of these things. It sort of makes me wonder what would happen to society if it all shut down; even for a day. Would we even be able to live? I’m afraid that people are so used to being risen out of bed by a mechanical arm. I’m worried that when someone walks to the kitchen and food isn’t immediately available, they literally won’t know what to do. 

Only the scientists and engineers creating these things use their brains anymore. The rest of the population is just animals under constant control and surveillance.  I’ve strived to try to break away from this technology as much as possible. I study how humans lived in the past and I attempt to embrace it, so that I may be self-sustaining rather than reliant on these materialistic things. I hope that my actions will be passed down to my children. I refuse to let technology take over my life. Convenience has inevitably turned into burden, and I seem to be the only won realizing it. 

We need to de-revolutionize. 



Wrapping Up Genius Hour…

We’ll be wrapping up Genius Hour in about 3 weeks with PitchFest.  

PitchFest is our first (hopefully annual) contest where you pitch your idea, product, organization, or creation to the world.  Rules will be posted shortly.

Over the next three weeks, you will wrap up your project for the purposes of our class, even if it’s not done. It is my hope that you will continue to work with this project until it is done, however. Whether you’re done soon or still working, you have learned some big-time real-world skills:

You have developed major entrepreneurial skills. You’ve: 

  • Identified a need in society. Identifying opportunities and needs in the market or the world is an entrepreneurial skill.
  • Taken that idea and moved it forward. Some of you are even walking away with an MVP. An MVP is a “minimum viable product.” This is your first draft in entrepreneurial terms. You’ll take that and make it even better.
  • Asked other teams and people for feedback. That’s called market research.
  • Taken the results of the feedback and changed your ideas and products. This is called a pivot.
  • Designed and done preliminary pitches to see what it felt like to sell your ideas and/or products to the world.
  • Swapped out teammates. This is real-world stuff. Sometimes, when you’re not a good fit for a team or idea, you move on and start something new. Recognizing when it’s time to part ways is an advanced skill. Doing it nicely with respect–even more advanced.
  • Asked other teams for help. So, you need an artist, a designer, a writer, someone with a fresh idea? I’ve seen you helping each other. This is real-world stuff. Sometimes, people get paid for this–it’s called consulting. Sometimes you do it for others because it’s been done for you. That’s called helping. Helping’s nice.
  • Networked and built your base of people around you. I see some groups really getting out there into the world, meeting professionals and people that will not only help with this project, but will help in real life. Some of you are making contacts, calling people, asking old teachers and principals, “What do you think?” and even getting out in the world promoting your passions.
  • Created physical products. I see books, apps, platforms, and posters emerging. Remember, if your product is too big to do now, save it in your “someday” file. Bite off what you can chew now.
  • Begun to study and master the art of public speaking. Most people hate this and refuse to do it. When you do it, even if you’re not comfortable, you’re miles ahead of your competition.

This is amazing, and I’m proud of each and every one of you. You have overcome obstacles to advance your causes, and learned in the process.

Everything we’ve done in this project has connected to current events–you’re working with your passions that are in the limelight every day–everything from animal rights, bullying, healthcare, family issues, fundraising, thinking about bettering the economy, filling consumer needs in society–I’ve seen a range, that all connect to our themes. Keep it up!

But… everything we’ve done also connects to your shops and technical areas. Most of the passions and needs you identified solidly connect to your shops–this is no coincidence. Your shops should be areas you feel passionate about.

Critical Questions: 

1. What can you do now that you couldn’t do before this experience?

2. Do you have any skills that you didn’t know were marketable skills? What? How could you use them in real life?

3. How can creating ideas, products, and platforms be a real job for you?

4. What parts of this experience were the most difficult for you? What parts of creating something–a book, company, app, etc–do you suppose are hardest for an adult?

5. How did you grow through this experience? Do you think we should do more (or less) of this type of project in classes?

6. How would you measure your success in this project if you had to give it a grade?

Here’s How We Get Things Done!

Yesterday, it snowed. I was supposed to go to an event–Choose2Matter Live, hosted at East Greenwich High School. I was excited, because the event is right up our alley–Genius Hour for two days straight resulting in things that really matter and continue into–real life. Because guess what–school is–and should be–real life. 

This year’s been all about themes that affect the world. We’ve talked about real world needs, and we’ve seen teens making a difference on the world stage. If you’re just reading a book and regurgitating information, guess what–you’re not making a change. Sure, we need to learn the fundamentals so we can apply them to stuff that matters. That’s the whole goal here. So, the next thing we’ll study is education throughout the world. 

Critical Questions: 

What’s school for? Seth Godin asks this in his TEDxYouth talk. 

Have schools, in fact, killed creativity? World-renown author, speaker and expert Sir Ken Robinson asks this question. Since he’s been knighted by the Queen, we should probably listen. If you enjoyed Sir Ken, here’s a bonus–a whiteboard anamation saying we must change the way we think about education. 


If the media and society is so up in arms about education in the US, we need to dig deeper, asking ourselves the questions

  • Is education so bad in the US? After all, we do educate everyone. Even though our “scores” might not match other countries, are they valid comparisons? Are we testing all our students? Are they? Are the tests equivalent? Maybe so, but never believe the media.
  • Where can we improve and how should we do it? How should schools look in this nation?
  • Should we have a national curriculum so that every student in the US gets the same chance? Or should local schools decide what to teach independently?

How’s the rest of the world doing? Really?

  • Which countries value education the most?
  • Do other countries offer free education for all citizens?
  • How do other countries rank against us?

The Big Questions: 

  • How does the fact you can get an answer to a question about China from a student in China, in real time, change the way we educate?
  • You wanted to get rid of the textbooks? And replace them with what?
  • Information is available about everything at any time. What skills do we teach to process this?
  • How will you use all this in your real life and change the world?

These are the questions we’ll be asking. Any one of them is big enough. All of them together is the beginning of a reflection about what education means to us, and how schools can make that happen. 

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Most of us use features on our phone that require GPS or geolocation. This means that our phones collect, store, and transmit data about our present, past, and (depending on Facebook) possible future locations. We tell it everything. 

This is convenient for me when I want to find my way around traffic or navigate to a new place. It’s great when I want to check in somewhere with a friend. 

It might not be great if you’re up to something, or if you just want a little privacy. Going to rob a bank? Geolocation will find you. Going to do a little Christmas, birthday, or Valentine’s Day shopping for that special person? Geolocation knows. 

Crimes have been solved using these features, cheating spouses have been caught and lies unfolded. Houses of vacationing people have been robbed. 

“What,” you say. “I’m honest.” So am I. So, for me, the convenience of having all things Google, geolocation notwithstanding, outweighs the risk of privacy. I’m fairly public and out there. You can read my thoughts or just ping me and ask. I’ll tell you. And I don’t get out much these days. Google doesn’t have that much to track… 

Or does it… 

Is there too much information out there? Even for the honest person? You decide. 
Review this Learnist board and add to the comments, both on the board and for this blog post.