From to!

We were quite enamored with our domain hack when we launched last summer – we felt that captured what students are doing when using Ponder and even captured one of our favorite sentiments.

Unfortunately, while in Europe we appeared on the first page of search results for “ponder”, in the US we were stubbornly missing. We thought the fact that the “.ng” domain is technically for Nigerian companies would wear off as various education resources began linking to us. But it

didn’t. It turns out that the the major search engines take these country designations seriously, and we needed a generic domain (.com, .co, .net, etc) in order to appear in searches globally.

Luckily, we found that the owners of were trying to set up a Ponder Family web site and would prefer to have, and then negotiated to buy, and trade it for

We miss, but will save it for some creative purpose down the road.

In the meantime, please welcome our new domain, and update your links to us so we’re easier to find!

Realizing Flip: Ponder for Video and eBooks

Pondering Video and/or eBooks for your class? Sign up for a pilot to alpha test.

Pondering Video?

If you’re flipping your classroom or simply have a lot of video content you’d like your students to watch outside of class, Ponder will soon be a way for you to engage and track student activity around video.

Just like Ponder for reading, Ponder for Video doesn’t require you to upload anything. Ponder for video will work on Youtube or Vimeo or Dropbox or Google Drive. Just like Ponder for reading, you will be able review visualizations of your students’ responses to the video along the video timeline. Even better than Ponder for reading, you will be able to manage a question queue and see where students are getting stuck watching and re-watching the same segment.

Pondering the Ring of Gyges

Pondering the Ring of Gyges

Pondering eBooks?

Ponder already works on any text that renders in a browser (including pdfs!), but we’ve been hankering after a way to organize Ponder activity around chapters and sub-sections for longer documents like books. So we were excited to discover an EPUB-lishing service called Thuze that integrates nicely with the Ponder browser add-on. Ponder + Thuze means you will be able to read eBooks in the Thuze web reader and organize Ponder activity around chapters and sections of long texts. (Continue reading)

Federalist Papers as an ePub

With Thuze, Ponder works on ePubs just as you would expect

Sign up!

We are looking for teachers and professors interested in trying out Ponder in these new contexts and providing us with feedback on the myriad ways it works and doesn’t work with your class.

For more information, fill out this short Google Doc form.

Learnings from the pilots will (of course!) be incorporated into the product and released for everyone.

Calling all Teachers: Ponder eBooks with Thuze and EPUB

Until now, Ponder worked on any text that rendered in the browser (including PDFs), but for longer texts we have been hankering after a way to organize Ponder activity around chapters and sub-sections of documents. EPUB is a widely used open standard for publishing structured documents which suits our needs well.

At the OpenEd 2013 conference, I met Victoria Kinzig from Bridgepoint Education who introduced me to Bridgepoint’s versatile new EPUB reader and textbook library, Thuze.

Thuze offers over 100 peer-reviewed e-textbooks across 23 disciplines from Health Care Administration to Ethics to Criminal Justice to various History texts, all of which you can read on the device of your choosing (Android, iPhone, iPad, and browser) for $35/textbook.

Signing up for a Ponder + Thuze pilot means you will get free access to a Thuze account (no textbook purchase necessary).

Federalist Papers as an ePub

With Thuze, Ponder works on ePubs just as you would expect

DIY Textbooks

But wait, there’s more. In addition to being a reader for Thuze texts, Thuze built a platform to allow instructors to publish their own compilations of text (e.g. EPUBS of any works in the public domain available on Project Gutenburg, feedbooks or mobileread; OR simply author documents through their editing interface.)

Ponder works on Thuze in the web browser as you would expect, with the same in-context aggregations of student reactions to the text.

The big new feature in Ponder + Thuze is we can now roll up student activity by chapter and section. The nicely paginated reading experience on Thuze doesn’t hurt either.

Sign up to try it out!

If you’re interested, tell us a bit about your class Ponder and some examples of EPUB texts you will be using.

Learnings from the pilots will (of course!) be incorporated into the product and released for everyone.

Learnings from the Classroom: Visualizing Reactions on Reading Assignments

Recently I wrote about the lessons we’re learning from our first K12 pilots this semester.

Our biggest challenge thus far has been adapting Ponder, which was originally designed around self-directed reading scenarios, to assigned reading.

Whereas a really active self-directed article might provoke a dozen or so responses…assigned reading can generate 1-200 responses from a class of 20 students.

This can easily overwhelm both the feed and the article page itself. In my last post I wrote about how we’re starting to ameliorate the issues in the feed.

Color Coded Sentiments

Red Light, Green Light, Yellow Light: React, Evaluate, Comprehend.

We’ve also recently shipped a change to the browser add-on to provide teachers and students with a forest (as opposed to the trees) view of student responses.

Those of you using Ponder might have noticed that our Sentiment tags in the Ponder response box are color coded.

We’re now using those colors on the article page itself, so you can see at a glance, where students are responding emotionally, where they’re having comprehension issues and where they’re exercising judgement.

Yellow are responses having to do with basic comprehension or incomprehension as the case may be of the reading:

What does this mean? I’d like examples. I need a break down.

Green are responses that pass judgement through evaluation:

This is hyperbole, oversimplification, insight!

Red are responses that express some kind of emotional reaction:

Disapproval, regret, admiration.

The tick marks are on the right give you a sense of the activity level across the entire reading, be it a one-page article or a 100-page essay.

Visualizing Sentiments By Type

Visualizing Sentiments By Type

It’s a small step, but it’s the kind of thing we want to do more of to help teachers get a quick sense of how the class responded as a whole to the reading.





Semester End: Class Archiving and Cloning

Happy New Year!

We just made a small but important feature release that Ponder teachers who are preparing for their spring semesters will appreciate:


You can now archive your classes!

Class archiving and Class cloning!

You will notice in your class settings that there are a couple of new buttons. The first is the “Archive” button. At the end of each semester, you will want to archive your classes. You and your students will still have access to all of the activity from the semester, but it will be put into storage, and frozen in time, to make room for new classes for the up-coming semester.

Archiving a class does the following:

Archived Selector

The group selector now has a separate section for archived classes.

  • The class is moved to the “Archived” section of the class selector
  • The class is marked “Archived” in the class settings control panel
  • Students can no longer join the class
  • The class is no longer available in the response box for either students or teachers
  • The class no longer counts against your maximum simultaneous class count

We have additional plans for archived classes which we will ship in the coming months, but for now you have the basics. Also, when you accidentally archive the wrong class, you can of course “un-archive” it by clicking the “reinstate” button.

Reinstate an archived class

Have no fear, you can always reinstate an archived class

The second important feature we released is class cloning. Many of you have patiently re-created your classes from one semester to the next, or even for multiple sections of the same class. We have heard your calls for help and answered!

Once you have the reading list and themes configured for a class, the clone button will allow you to create as many more of that class as you need. For example, many of our teachers teach 4, 5 and sometimes 6 different sections of the same class. Now, once they have the reading list and course packet configured the way they would like it, and the themes created, they can simply clone it for each additional section in seconds, and then re-name the clones to match section numbers or class periods.

Class Cloning

You can now instantly clone all of the settings of an existing or archived class!

Of course, if you accidentally clone it too many times, you can delete any extras by clicking the “remove” button. As before, if a class has any students or teachers other than you joined to it, we will prevent you from deleting it and losing your data. Once others have joined your class, archive it to make room or tidy things up.

Thanks and let us know if you have any questions!




Learnings from the Classroom: The difference between self-directed and assigned reading.

We’ve been iterating on and refining Ponder in the higher ed classroom for two years now and it’s been really interesting to compare that experience to the past two months of watching our K12 classes get going. (Early on, we hit an IT-related snag at the WHEELS Academy. Now we’re getting to the good stuff that has to do with how students are actually using Ponder to do close reading and how a teacher might use it to evaluate their students.

In many respects the K12 classroom is much more demanding than higher ed, though both present the challenge to us of figuring out:

How to make Ponder work for both self-directed *and* assigned reading.

What are the key differences?

One of the features that’s worked out really well for self-directed reading is that unlike most social media feeds which are built around individuals, the Ponder Feed rolls up student responses by article. That means in the feed, you quickly get a sense of where the conversations are happening even if students happen upon the same article independently.

However with assigned readings where even short two page articles can generate over a hundred student responses, rolling up responses by article is just disorienting and overwhelming and fails to provide teachers with a quick way to evaluate each student’s understanding of the reading.

3 classes in particular really helped us understand the problem better: Mr. V’s 9th grade Global Studies class at Stuyvesant H.S., Ms. Perez’s 8th grade English class at xxx in Chicago and Tom Lynch‘s graduate-level Curriculum Development and Instruction Planning with Technology class at the Pace University School of Education.

We knew this was going to be a problem but it wasn’t clear to us how best to address this issue quickly until the first assigned reading responses began to roll in…

As a quick fix we re-collated assigned reading responses around the student. It’s an improvement on what we had before. But it’s not entirely clear this is the best solution. We’ve gained clarity around how each student responded to the text. But we’ve lost the thread of conversation, how are students responding to each other.

The path to supporting assigned reading well is going to be a steep and rocky one, but we know the only way to negotiate it is through trial and error and paying close attention to what’s going on in our classrooms.

Lesson Plan: 8th Graders on the Boehner Budget Deal

This is a guest post by Cason Given, 8th grade social studies teacher at The Trinity School in New York City.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know I am a fan of Ponder. Ponder is a tool that allows students to read current event texts (student-selected or teacher-selected), and then tag those texts with sentiments and themes. It’s a great tool for increasing student engagement, for giving students a stake in their own learning process, for monitoring student comprehension, and, generally, for developing student awareness about what’s happening in the world around them.

This week, I had the pleasure of meeting Ponder’s founder, Alex Selkirk, at the 1776 Challenge Cup, a start-up competition in Chelsea. Personable, incredibly smart and humble, this guy is awesome! I got to hear all about Ponder’s origins, and how the tool really started out as an interactive reading tool for friends to have insight into what their buddies were reading. I’m so glad this idea was then applied to an educational setting; it has been a tremendous success in my own classroom.

Budget Deal Article View

Budget Deal Article View

In the wake of meeting Alex, I have had all sorts of ideas for the application and expansion of this tool. What if sentiments were differentiated for readers of differing strengths? What if articles could “talk” to one another (interactive debates from left-leaning and right-leaning sources reporting on the same issue; fact-checking; presenting the “devil’s advocate” position; supporting a point or elaborating on one with another source)? What if some of my elementary-school-teaching friends picked this tool up and began applying it in classrooms for younger students? What if tutors began using this product to monitor tutoree’s comprehension in the days between sessions?

I see endless possibilities for this product. I am excited about opening communication with the team. It’s so encouraging and energizing to be around people who want to promote learning tools for learning’s sake. After all, isn’t that why all educators (those of us who teach formally and those of us who teach in less traditional spaces) get into teaching?

As for my own use of Ponder, it was applied in a new way this week in my classroom. On Friday, 8s opened up their laptops to read three pre-selected articles regarding the recent House budget deal. Two articles were overviews (taken from CNN and Time, respectively), and one was a piece regarding how Senator Cruz is already pushing back on the deal because it funds Obamacare (taken from Politico). This lesson approach is a new application of Ponder for me; I have previously used it for independent reading and class discussion. Since our periods are relatively short (40m), we only touched on our discussion by class’s end. We will continue analyzing the articles on Monday after 8s finish taking their Intro to China quizzes (FUN!).

Some screencaps from student discussion [Note: I am limited by what I can show because of student usernames and protecting their identities; this is only a very small sample of the discussion going back and forth!]

House Shutdown Response Budget Compromise Myth





Cruz Problem: Budget funds Obama Care











2 responses from the same student.

Multiple Choice v. Free Response

Is multiple choice really so bad?

For the humanities, we answer unequivocally: “sorta.” If any of the truly important questions about the human condition had unambiguously correct answers, human history would have been a long boring tale of comity and well-being.

As a result, any attempt to assess subjects in the humanities through multiple choice cannot and do not broach the questions dearest to humanists. Instead they must skirt and skulk around looking for secondary signs of an engaged and thinking mind. We ask our students to identify metaphors and supporting arguments without also asking: How evocative is the metaphor? How convincing is the argument?

Why? Because multiple choice questions as we all know must by definition contain at least one unambiguously correct answer. And we also know, the more interesting the question the less clear the answer.

Still, is there a way to do multiple choice that’s open-ended and allows for asking questions with no right answer? We think we have a (nuanced, textured) answer to that question. We have embraced multiple choice, sorta …by turning it inside-out and upside-down.

In Ponder multiple choice, the questions are predefined and the possible answers are infinite. The questions are not questions for the students (e.g. Can you identify the topic sentence of this paragraph?), they’re questions for the author of the text, opportunities to “talk back” to the reading and it’s up to the student to figure out where and how to ask them.

After all, we learn by asking questions, not answering them.

Our readers have a more important task than simply finding examples of Metaphor versus Simile, Hubris versus Pride, Compromise versus Conciliation (themes predefined by teachers). They are also asked to identify examples that perplex them, intrigue them, shock, disgust, inspire, agitate, make them wonder if someone might be a touch hysterical or someone else is oversimplifying something that deserves more serious consideration (reactions predefined by us). They don’t simply observe and identify, they analyze and evaluate, both the author’s ideas and their own reactions to those ideas. In a word, they think.

Still, assessment is simple. Though Ponder is not a Scantron machine that can tell you automatically who was right and who was wrong, it’s concise, data-rich, and designed to call attention to good work. It is easy for both teachers and classmates to evaluate each response.

  1. Has it substance?
  2. Is the reaction apt?
  3. Are the themes apt?

If not, let’s talk about it!

2 responses from the same student.

Same student, 2 different responses. Both are invitations if not provocations to ask Why?

And Ponder is only getting smarter. While we can’t pass absolute judgement on student responses, what we can do automatically is build a nuanced profile of each student over time.

  • Who’s taking the time to read in-depth articles?
  • Who’s expanding beyond their comfort zone to read about new subject areas?
  • When confronted with something confusing, who’s able to identify exactly how they’re confused?
  • Who’s reacting emotionally? Who’s able to evaluate the soundness of logic?
  • Who’s figured out how to get their classmates interested in what they’re interested in?
  • Who’s good at starting conversations?

What we’re interested in is the ability to paint a portrait of readers that reflects their level of curiosity, comprehension, self-awareness and awareness of others.

We can’t produce a number with the finality of a Scantron machine.

But really, what does a 67 versus an 83 really mean when we’re talking about the Bill of Rights or the Leaves of Grass?

You’ll be able to explain that number better with the insights Ponder affords you into your students’ thinking. Multiple choice is really not so bad if you don’t let it kill the open-ended nature of intellectual inquiry. We like it, sorta.

In Flexibility, an Opportunity for Foreign Language Learning

Designing software is a balancing act between generality and specificity.

The more specific you make your tool. The clearer its purpose and how to start using it.

The more generic you make your tool, the more flexible and customizable it is, and the broader the range of scenarios it can support.

En El Ano 2019

Someone has translated many of the xkcd comics into Spanish!

For example, right now there’s actually nothing to stop a teacher from using Ponder micro-responses as a way to grade and provide feedback on their own students’ written assignments. Why not? Highlight a claim in their essay and ask for more examples to explicate and support it.

Similarly, Ponder could also be used to to guide students through a structured peer-review process where they evaluate and respond to each others written assignments.

However, we know that unless we bake an explicit workflow into Ponder to guide students and teachers through these scenarios, it will occur to precisely no one to use Ponder in these ways. We know because no one’s done it!

In the grand scheme of things, Ponder is more on the generic, customizable end of things. Student management is loose (just send your students a link and it’s up to them to join a class!). There is no explicit assignment workflow. (We’re depending on teachers to broadcast assignments and students to receive them “out-of-band.”)

In this respect, Ponder feels more like a general purpose tool (Google Docs), or nerdy Twitter, than educational software.

xkcd comics, on the other hand, are specific and often piercingly insightful, pretty much the opposite of generic, and quite hard to translate, not just linguistically, but culturally. (Amazingly, someone has done it anyway!)

Software people love generality. However, Ponder’s open-endedness has posed challenges to us on the adoption front. We’re continuously working on ways to get teachers up and running, both in the form of tutorials and FAQs as well as continuous iteration on design.

But we proceed with caution, careful not to undermine the flexibility that teachers appreciate and enjoy once they’ve figured out how to create that first Ponder assignment that gets the class reading together.

Perhaps Ponder starts out as a way of practicing finding topic sentences and supporting evidence in class. Then it becomes a way to identify examples of key concepts in reading assigned for homework. Then it becomes a way for students to bring in examples for class from outside of assigned reading, from reading they’re doing on their own that’s driven by their own interests. Then it becomes a way for students to do research for a paper, or work together on a group project. We’re still waiting for someone to start using it to support content-area literacy in Science and Math classes.

The sky’s the limit, anything could happen…including apparently, teaching Spanish.

Ponder Sentimientos

Ponder Sentimientos!

We just received our first Spanish sentiment set from teacher Federico Moreno at Sea Crest School in Half Moon Bay, California! As many teachers have said to us, what better way to learn the colloquialisms of a new language than to practice when to say you’re “on the fence” or when someone or something is “over the hill”? It’s early days, of course, the English sentiments have gone through many, many iterations and we’re only just getting to understand sub-sets by student level and subject area. But this Spanish set is a big first and that’s very exciting!

So, Foreign Language Learners (FLL) and teachers, let us know if you’d like to work with us on sentiments for your favorite language! We have teachers interested in applying it to Latin and French.

We’ve also had teachers point out the now obvious fact that really there’s nothing to stop people using Ponder to teach Spanish-speaking students ELA in their native tongue. (Duh, how obvious!)

Spanish teachers, let us know if you’d like to give these a trial run, and send us your feedback – when you create your class, just send a note to support through the “Ask Us” tab on the left of the site, and we’ll drop in the Spanish sentiments for you.

We’re excited for Ponder’s foreign-language learning potential and grateful for all of the teacherly enthusiasm!

Identifying Teaching Moments at the NYC DOE Shark Tank

On Friday we were invited to present at NYC DOE’s Teacher Shark Tank, one event in a series where three edtech startups get 30 minutes each to present and answer questions from DOE teachers.

The Teacher Shark Tank is hosted by iZone, NYC DOE’s Office of Innovation…which supports schools in personalizing learning to accelerate college and career readiness among our students.

Ponder is running in many schools across the country this semester, but in our hometown of New York, we are in one NYC DOE school (Stuyvesant H.S.), as well as one NYC Charter (WHEELS) and one NYC private school ( Trinity School). This was our first opportunity to formally present to DOE educators at a DOE-organized event, so we were excited to be there!

Other presenters included Quill, who has figured out a way to blend learning grammar into an interactive reading experience and Fast Fig, a word processor for math that enables teachers to cleanly and easily create equations and graphs online – a long sought after solution with many applications!

We had a late start, but this didn’t deter the great group of interested and engaged teachers who are clearly the vanguard of technology users at their schools (City as School, High School of Telecommunications Arts and Technology and P.S. 64 the Robert Simon School)

We wanted to impress this audience in particular. Fortunately, over the past two years of watching classes use Ponder (first graduate business classes then undergraduate philosophy classes then 12th grade English classes and 9th grade global studies classes and now 2nd grade ELA classes!!) we’ve evolved how we present and explain Ponder.

In our presentation Friday, Ben and I focused on one key concept: the speed at which a teacher can review student micro reading responses. How fast can a teacher review Ponder micro-reading responses you ask? Real fast. Fast enough that teachers can encourage their students to make as many responses as they’d like, knowing they will have time to grade them all and provide meaningful feedback. In fact, our conceit (which has proven true in higher ed and is starting to prove itself in K12 as well) is that not only will the instructor be able to review everyone’s responses, they’ll be able to do so *before* class starts, and actually use their students responses as the basis for in-class discussion.

To prove my point, Ben and I put up four different Ponder micro-reading responses from a single 8th grade class in the Chicago Public School system and asked the teachers in the room how quickly they could assess each one.

Number 1: A solid response.

No. 1 Coherent and appropriate.

No. 1 Coherent and appropriate.

The excerpt that the student chose is coherent, though it’s not making a particularly controversial or insightful point. The sentiment s/he applied is appropriate though not particularly nuanced (I empathize.) nor does it exhibit a deeper insight or independent thinking.


Number 2: Exemplary!

No. 2 Real insight and independent thinking!

No. 2 Real insight and independent thinking!

The excerpt is coherent and interesting, making a surprising, counter-intuitive argument.The sentiment applied is spot on, demonstrating the student clearly understands the author is making a claim and now needs to substantiate it with supporting evidence.

Number 3: Red Flag!

No. 3 Incoherent and inappropriate.

No. 3 Incoherent and inappropriate.

The selection itself is incoherent. And the sentiment is clearly inappropriate. Either the student is completely lost and doesn’t understand the point of the assignment or is simply not trying at all.

Number 4: A Teaching Moment.

No. 4 What is there to agree about?

No. 4 What is there to agree about?

This is where things start to get interesting. This is an opportunity for what would pedagogically referred to as a “teaching moment,” an invitation for further discussion in class. First of all, the selection itself is interesting. The author describes an interaction that is clearly intended to provoke some sort of emotional reaction from the reader. However, the student chose to agree with it – not the reaction the author probably intended! So, why did you concur? What are you agreeing with? What is the idea that you thought emerged from this quote? Or, perhaps, you’ve identified a moment in which the student wasn’t reading very carefully at all, which is valuable in and of itself.

We maintain a long list of ideas on how to better support this process of evaluating reading responses. It changes week to week as we watch our K12 classes settle into how to use Ponder while discovering new uses for it as well.

Still, I think we’ve reached an important milestone in delivering on the promise of providing a way for students to “practice critical reading” while giving teachers a way to respond to and build on that practice.

And, let it not go without saying, we are lucky to have such thoughtful students and teachers using Ponder that we can so easily find a mountain of interesting responses!