First Day of School

My Colleagues in Fresno and Central Unified are starting school today – congratulations!

It’s now been two years since I have worked for a school district and three since I was in the classroom. My last ‘first day of school’ was 2013 – 4 years ago!

I usually tried to go straight to something that would set the tone for the school year – do some math! Often I started with the four 4’s game – where you can rearrange using exactly four four’s(or 8 or 6, etc) in any sequence in order to get different numbers with order of operations – exponents are excused from the 4 requirement to make it more interesting.


0: (4-4)*(4-4)

1: (4+4)/(4+4)

2: (4*4)/(4+4)

3: (4+4+4)/4

4: (4*4) / (4^1 * 4^0)

5: ((4*4)+4 )/ 4


Usually in high school kids started off confused but one thing I might do was show multiple ways to make 1 to get them started, and have it on posters around the room. Once one group got it others would go and ask how they did, which would spurn new ideas. I’d say only work on a number for 2 minutes and the goal was to get to 10 in the class period. Then I’d say for homework try to get 10 more number of any number. Often kids would come back with up to 100 almost filled in and really excited to be working on math in an open ended context.

My first year teaching I was watching my car wiper blades clean the windshield during a rain and figured that would be an interesting task, so bought several different windshield blades from Autozone across the street from McLane and brought them to class. It’s no understatement that being exposed to Dan Meyer and #MTBOS in 2011 or so while at the same time moving to a new grade level in middle school was revolutionary to my teaching. Moving to a new grade gave me a new reason to dive into the content and think of creative ways to teach it because there was no, “we’ve always done it this way.” I even used to write my own three act tasks which often weren’t that great or adapted ideas from memories of previous tasks.

So as school starts up, focus on relationships with your students. Focus on engaging them with rich content/low floor high ceiling math tasks. Affirm their struggles and point them towards a growth mindset. Don’t give pointless assignments. Use testing as a means to improvement.

Be inspired by your students.

The Open Education Ecosystem

The image on my Twitter profile (albeit sort of ugly because I made it in Google Draw for now) represents what I hope to see in the future of education. I didn’t come up with the idea but I’ve been playing with/thinking about FOSS in schools since at least 2001. More recently I read a book by Charlie Reisinger about what his school system has actually DONE in Pennsylvania with open source software!

The Open SchoolHouse is written for those who are in educationand probably should know a bit about technology like Linux, Apache etc to really get excited about what they’ve built over there in Penn Manor. Administrators would love to hear about it as well when he talks about the student-run helpdesk and other cost savings!

I took my current job at OpenEd because I was very interested in the idea of freely available, remixable educational resources – both creating and curating them. I’ve been excited to see more consumer devices being built on top of linux (chromebooks, android phones etc), and while Google Docs aren’t open source, they export to anything and satisfy the 5 R’s of OER albiet not the part of ALMA that talks about proprietary software because you have to give up privacy in order to use Google services.

So I made this diagram to represent and guide my thinking. I feel like we’re almost there already, but still don’t have open source alternatives in education to things like SIS’s, curriculum mapping tools (spreadsheets? no thanks…), and probably a few other things I haven’t thought about! oepoer-1


ACT Leadership Cohort Trip 2: Chicago

The purpose of the trip to Chicago was to show us the efforts that inner-city students must go through to get through the school system and hopefully onto college – and also what can happen when they do not.

We met with many amazing leaders from Chicago Public Schools, non-profits doing work that is being used as a template for many others across the country, University researchers, and former government representatives.

On Monday the first day, we visited two very different schools – Tilden Career Community High School and Kenwood Academy. Tilden was almost haunting in its age and the character of the students and staff. Raw, passionate, innovative, yet almost acting as a symbol of the neighborhood in that the school with a capacity of 1500 only currently carries around 400 students. The cavernous front entrance, adorned now by a metal detector, welcomed students to a nearly empty school. Yet Principal Sweeney was full of passion, the students there spoke highly of teachers supporting them and of scholarships with plans to go beyond their school. A GREAT non-profit called Umoja partners with the school to offer Restorative Justice Training, Social-Emotional Skills, and Curriculum to advance students lives. Students shared how the restorative approach had helped them along with being around peers and staff that believed in them.

From there we went on to Kenwood Academy. This was a high performing school that was both selective in nature and a, “neighborhood,” school. Students that were asked to talk to us there had plans of going to Ivy League colleges with scholarships, performing on Broadway, had watched Barack Obama’s speech that morning at the University of Chicago… amazing. One student noted that the ACT LOVES right triangles which drew some laughs. Here the model was all about supporting students through a multi-faceted approach aided in part with research from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research(Link to Research). The differences in the facilities were striking. At Tilden, the library was bare of books and technology. At Kenwood, it was bright, relatively modern, full of books and new computers.

Heading to the Swissotel for the evening (I snuck in a short run in the hour we had between arriving and dinner!) in downtown Chicago was great – I’d only been to Chicago once before in 2013 other than airport transfers, so loved seeing the river walkways and new additions to Millennium Park.

That evening, we had the privilege of listening to several members of the Chicago community who had grown up in a very poor area – the Cabrini-Green projects. Inspiring stories born of community, forged by hardship and rewarded with successful lives. One thing that stuck out to me was how they instantly invited us into their lives. As one person started – “You’ve all heard of Cabrini Green right? Ok good,” even though I at least hadn’t. I also loved hearing the nicknames and how those youth-oriented identities played a big role in shaping future lives. My own youth nickname of B-Dawg doesn’t quite stack up!

Tuesday morning, we heard from Aarti Dhupella from National Luoius University and Lila Leff from the Emerson Collective. Both 18158015_10155296724577386_935245371016558923_nspeakers talked a lot about ways to encourage students to succeed with alternative undergraduate pathways. I was most taken by the reliance again on GPA rather than standardized test scores – to me grades are subjective, but apparently also an indicator of the persistence one needs to succeed in college. There were also comments that they feel the ACT doesn’t necessarily indicate success in college, which was a pretty bold statement to a room full of ACT leaders!

Our next visit was with a community college Associate Vice Chancellor discussion credentials and career pathways. Chicago Community Colleges used to have 500+ courses and pathways for students… now they’ve narrowed it down to less then a dozen pathways to make more productive pathways. This was a meeting where I personally really felt at home because it was all of the familiar concepts from my years in both public school education and as an adjunct faculty.

Finally, we went to a pizza restaurant called Roots for a final set of meetings. There we met a young man named Kyle Westbrook of the Partnership for College Completion ( I could not find a website). This organization attempts to make sure once students get to college they are able to finish and enter into careers -not jobs.

We heard a lot about how micro-credentials and the ability to track workforce-ready skills throughout a students K-16 career and beyond would greatly assist students who may have trouble completing a program a study. In addition, more data throughout an education career can help become a formative measure of future success, connect those students with mentors, identify social-emotional skills that the student is lacking, and more. It was a timely trip that cemented ACT’s commitment to underserved learners and how the entire company needs to move towards enabling technology to help accomplish those goals.

A few quick ideas:

  • If a school system sees what social-emotional skills a student is weak in, they can connect them with a mentor that is strong in those skills
  • If the CASE file format (standards) is well-integrated with Badges/Micro-Credentials, we can have true portability of informal skills to degrees and credentials down the line
  • Connecting academic formative assessments to social-emotional skills is something that should be happening in the next few years here. For example, if we notice that a student is working on a problem and doesn’t know how to try a different method, that can be translated into a Navigation skill that talks about trying different approaches in a different context and then circle back to the academic skill.