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EssayTagger is a web-based tool to help teachers grade essays faster.
But it is not an auto-grader.

This blog will cover EssayTagger's latest feature updates as well as musings on
education, policy, innovation, and preserving teachers' sanity.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Corporate email accounts via Google Apps

I set up the EssayTagger.com email accounts today through Google Apps. I already use Gmail for my personal mail and my school district transitioned to Google Apps-hosted services last semester.

As far as I'm concerned, Google Apps for your organization is a no-brainer. My overall philosophy for EssayTagger.com is to leverage as much outside expertise as possible--which is another way of saying: offload as much as possible, wherever practical. Yes, I know how to do a whole lot of the tech stuff on my own, but there's a lot of it that I shouldn't be doing on my own because other people can do it better and more cost-effectively.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Time-out for: Summer!

From: Des Plaines, IL
This looks like a product photo but it is actually a shot from my cell phone. My neighbor sure knows how to cool off in the hot, humid summers! And his two-year-old daughter has shockingly good aim with that water cannon!

 Okay, now that we've cooled off, back to work!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Domain name purchased!

It's hard coming up with a good domain name these days. We decided that our domain name should:
  • Describe the service.
  • Be professional and appropriate for both teachers and students.
    • (no goofy, random names--like google, moodle, GoDaddy, etc.)
    • (and nothing that suggests teacher laziness: FasterGrading, EasyGrading, etc)
  • And yet still be at least a little memorable.
  • Be reasonably easy to spell since students may be typing in the URL.
  • Last, but not least: be available for purchase!
In the early phases when I was first playing with this idea I grabbed WritingBrilliance.com. But I think you'll agree that it's too long and too prone to misspellings.

After a lot of brainstorming and a lot of registrar lookups we ended up with: EssayTagger.com.

It fits all of the criteria reasonably well and, as you'll see in the coming weeks, it really does describe our service.

I went with Register.com as my registrar. I've used them for most of my other sites and I've been happy with them. I'm put off by the flashier registrars and their marketing campaigns.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Time-out for: Gymnastics (and Photoshop) fun!

From: Elk Grove High School
I'm proud to say that my gymnasts took home the 2011 MSL Boys Gymnastics Conference Championship this year! Everything came together at just the right moment and we beat the other 10 teams in our Conference (three of which were top-10 in the state! Oh, we're in Illinois, by the way--one of the few states that has a high school gymnastics league). And since it was our turn to host Varsity Conference, we got to do it in our own gym.

2011 MSL Champs!

There's a great article about the win from the local paper here:

The trophy is designed to have an 8x10 team photo mounted in it. The Varsity roster tends to change a bit by the end of the season, so I wanted to take a new photo to put in the trophy. Plus I wanted the trophy itself to be in the photo.

Here's how it turned out. Nice!

The trophy looks nice in "the cage"--our tiny, tiny gym!

And here's a closer look at the team photo:

Yes, I'm the shortest guy in the photo

But here's your brainteaser challenge: Notice anything odd about the photo?
The answer after the break.

Monday, June 13, 2011

First addition to the team: Yutaka, Chief Everything Officer

From: Des Plaines, IL
I'm the guy with the educational vision and the tech know-how.

But I kind of hate dealing with a lot of the nitty-gritty business details. But this project will get nowhere without someone solid working the biz side.

Enter Yutaka.

He is a UC Berkeley graduate and has an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and over 15 years of experience with a strong focus on software--everything from modeling client data/organizations to sales to business development. He's already doing an amazing job investigating and planning and projecting everything that needs to be done to keep us on target.

Oh yeah, and he's my brother-in-law.

Yutaka posing with my sister and their daughter. Photo by Kenny Nakai.

I love the title I've given Yutaka: Chief Everything Officer. But he tells me that in reality I would be the CEO (the traditional Chief Executive Officer role) and he would be more like the COO.  In these early stages we're playing things a bit loosely but obviously everything will be formalized and solidified in the coming weeks.

Watch this space for blog posts from Yutaka!

School's out! Let's get started!

From: Des Plaines, IL

I am super proud of what my Senior English classes achieved this year, but I am totally exhausted! As a second-year teacher I'm still struggling to figure out that life-school balance. So far: All school, no life.

Look at all that learning going on!

The killer for me is that I also coach. Girls gymnastics begins in mid-November and then runs straight into boys gymnastics (for which I'm the head coach) and that season runs almost to the end of May. Between teaching and coaching I've just been through five straight months of 80-hr weeks!

So I've managed to barely crawl to the finish line at the end of Year Two.

Celebrating graduation with one of my seniors

But there shall be no rest this summer! I have a vision for how essays can be graded faster and better than ever before. This summer is going to be all about diving into building this technology and building this company.

This approach will be the future of grading essays. Of this, I have no doubt.

English teachers, Social Studies teachers, and college instructors will suddenly find themselves with HOURS of their lives back, their students will get incredible feedback on their work, and administrators will have a plethora of real-world data that is more reflective of actual student achievement and critical thinking (or so I think) than any standardized test score.

How am I going to do this? Well, before I was a high school English teacher I was a professional programmer in the dot-com world for nine years. I graduated cum laude from Princeton with a degree in Computer Science. And I know a ton of super-talented, super-resourceful people who can offer whatever expertise or experience I lack.

We are currently in stealth mode so I can't share too much just yet.

But I can tell you that we are aiming at a mid-August demo/beta and a full-blown launch in September. It will take a ton of hard work throughout the whole summer, but words cannot express how excited I am by this idea and by this challenge!

Watch this space for updates on our progress, ruminations on the state of education in America, a lot of tech gobbledy-gook (despite being an English teacher I am a super-geek at heart), advice and lessons-learned for other startups and entrepreneurs, and other random tidbits.