Week 0


  • What is freewriting?
  • Why is maintaining a consistent email address useful?


Students will ...

  • experience freewriting
  • create a professional email alias
  • explore secure password strategies


Every class meeting begins with a short freewriting session.

During this time, students sit at their desks with scrap paper and pens or pencils. All screens are turned off. There is a prompt and a timing device visible to everyone in the room.

The teacher should have a timing mechanism that is visible to everyone in the classroom. A projected http://www.google.com/search?q=teachtimer Teach Timer is ideal but a wall clock is sufficient.

Students locate a piece of scrap paper. This paper can be taken from anywhere, even the recycling bin.

The duration of time given to freewriting will depend on the particular character of each group of people. A typical freewrite for a group of 14-16 year olds might be :30 but freewriting can be as short as :10 or as long as 5 minutes.

Freewriting need not stay on topic. It need not make an argument. It need not be in English, or any known language. Simply keep your pen or pencil moving and write EVERYTHING that comes into your mind! Even writing random thoughts like, "This is stupid. I don't know what to write. La la la," is OK!

Remind students that they will never be asked to hand in their freewrites. They will never be graded and they will never be collected. It is totally private.

Everyone in the room participates in the freewrite. It may be tempting to use this quiet time to conference with a student or prepare materials for class but students will be looking to the adults in the room to model freewriting.

There are many reasons for freewriting:

  • Flex your mind like stretching before athletics
  • Relax after a stressful class
  • Think more about a problem
  • Organize a thought before a class discussion
Students will discover more as the year goes on. It is useful to occasionally go meta with recurring activities like freewriting to see what the students think about them.

For this first class, I suggest the following freewriting prompt:

  • How many passwords do you know? What is the maximum number of passwords you can remember at one time? How did you select your most used password?
Budget a few minutes following all freewrites to chat. Did anyone think of something interesting they'd like to share? Was there a question from the last meeting that you can now answer briefly?

As this is the first class, you will need time to establish classroom norms and describe the features of your lab. Many schools also require students to sign a user agreement. This may also be a good time to pass out these forms.


Selecting a professional alias

Two primary goals drive this activity:

  • Avoiding spam filters
  • Tying your professional name to your email address
A few years ago, I had a student who could not seem to connect with an advisor for her senior project. Only by calling him on the phone did she discover that his email server was filtering her address: seximami92@hotmail.com.

Give students a set of hard limits. Perhaps their aliases must be 8 characters or fewer. Offer several examples but stress the connection between the name they will use professionally with the email address.

Password strategies

The ideal password is ''easy for you to remember but difficult for others to guess.'' Hand out the password worksheet and discuss a few strategies for creating such passwords. Next, give students 5 minutes to invent their own personalized strategy. This is a great time to circulate and check in with students.

Signing up for an email address

Each institution will implement this activity differently. Unless your school IT team can support all of the students, you may guide students through sign up for free service like Gmail or Yahoo. There could be an interesting discussion about the implications of selecting one service over another. Encourage students to share their experiences with these free services in the past. Does seeing ''@yahoo.com'' mean something?

Some people have more than one email address. For example, teachers! Why would someone want the hassle of maintaining two inboxes?


Share your email address with the students. They can then give you their new addresses by emailing you.


Teachers may wish to gather passwords from younger users. It is important to encourage students to regularly check these inboxes but inevitably a few students will forget their passwords each week.

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