Sugar Pine message of encouragement

I was given the opportunity last week to talk to Sugar Pine staff as part of their weekly devotional time, and chose to talk about FOCUS.

When I worked at Sugar Pine in 2002 and 2003, leadership awarded bricks based on character traits at the end of one of the summers.  I was awarded “focus,” because I was almost always focused on the kids. Thus, I used that word as an acronym for the message I wanted to deliver. I also included usually a biblical application or humorous/serious story for each of the themes to tie it all together and be somewhat more engaging than a 33 year old bald guy talking to 18 year olds.

Forgiveness: I once had a camper who was very, VERY excited to be at camp. He was so excited in fact he grabbed someone’s bug spray and sprayed it around the cabin like champagne after the world series. Unfortunately a kid next to him also got a mouthful. As he frantically indicated he could not breathe, I ran up the hill to the restroom and nurse’s station to wash out his mouth. The student said he forgave the “celebratory” kid and also thanked, “Brandon from saving my life.” The two had a moment of saying sorry and they actually became friends going through the scary moment together. While I have never sprayed bug spray intentionally in someones mouth, I have been involved in conflict with others. Often difficult relationships and situations end up forging the closest of bonds. We have to let down our guard and make forgiveness be the mantra not bitterness.

Outward : There’s an interesting story in Exodus 33 where Moses is asking God how others will know that God is with them. God says basically you’ll know because “I am God.” Well, Moses wants more and challenges with “Show me your glory.” Moses sees the end of God’s glory and his face shone like the sun to the people. I tried to tell them how so often working at Camp is a chance to be God’s love to people. To be drama-free, to smile, to take advantage of the small acts of kindness that can make a persons day and let them know they are loved.

Complacency in our jobs, our relationships, our lives. As camp staff, we could be interacting with students who didn’t want to go to camp but were forced too, we could be interacting with kids that have gone to church all of their lives but have never really known what it means to be a Christian… we don’t know and we shouldn’t act differently. Every day we should be treating kids as if it’s their only chance the whole summer to meet people who are filled with God’s spirit of love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness…

Undeniable: gods role in our lives and the lives of our campers. Camp is great but not always real life. It’s easy to get distracted from what God is doing in our lives – whether we think it’s ourselves or other factors. But one thing I have always found is much like Elijah looking for God in the earthquake, then the fire – He is often found in a whisper (1 Kings 19). We need to make time to be still with no agenda.

Sarcasm kills relationships. This was and still is a bit of a catchphrase at camp! Yet over my years of working with people in close environments, so true! Especially for a guy like myself who is pretty serious most of the time, when I am trying to joke or be sarcastic – people don’t get it or outwardly show they see the truth in my statement. It’s not a good place to be – I’d rather just be truthful and not resort to aggressiveness hidden behind cleverness.

Thanks Chrissy for letting me come talk to what seemed like a great group of camp staff!

Remembering a friend

Note: I don’t know details, I just know that Will passed away last week. 

Before there was thewillshat and May the Forms be With You, there was a man named Will Kimbley. I first met Will as so-called Re-Entry student at Fresno Pacific around 2003. Unbeknownst to me, for a year he was writing a paper about me for a class he was taking as part of the scholarship . He shared it with me after writing it – he’d been watching how I interacted with people not just during the semi-monthly Senate meetings of which I presided over but also how I came early to help set up, cleaned up afterwards, made time for people, and genuinely cared about the issues and the people involved. We also had long email exchanges arguing things discussed in Senate (in particular I found an email exchange we had that if printed out would be about 8 pages around the issue of Commencement and units transferring or not etc). Will would often talk about how I was the first person he knew who had a address and I actually ‘gave’ an account to him in the days when that was a thing circa 2004.

As we both started teaching – him in Elementary and myself in Secondary, we stayed in touch a bit but this was really before Facebook was everywhere and Twitter even existed. I went to a few CV CUE conferences and would see Will, but it wasn’t until around 2010 that we reconnected.

Funny story: I don’t remember the circumstances, but one time I didn’t have my phone and needed to call my wife to tell her something important – but couldn’t. So I messaged him on Facebook to ask him to call my wife and ask her whatever it was I needed… he actually did as awkward as that probably was because she had no ideas who he was. That’s the kind of guy Will was – always willing to be helpful when needed!

In 2011 we both attended a CUE Rockstar Camp at Minarets High School and for the first time I saw just how popular he was in Ed-tech circles. He really was a rockstar with his knowledge and ability to put practical technology in the hands of kids, and train their teachers as well.  But more importantly, he welcomed my wife and I, introducing us to people he knew and speaking highly of us. A few weeks later we both found ourselves teaching at Computech Middle School last minute and did quite a bit of cross-curricular partnerships!

It was Will who first encouraged me to present at the smaller CV CUE conferences to get my feet wet; I’ve presented all over the country now.  None of it would have happened if Will had not encouraged me, given kind yet useful feedback, and been a role model for how to take what he was doing in the classroom and make it accessible for other teachers. He actually gave me the CUE conference registration where I ended up meeting the CEO of OpenEd and was offered a job in 2014 (didn’t end up leaving until a year late).

The last time I saw Will was a year ago at the Lead 3.0 conference in Redondo Beach. He was preparing to leave for Monterey so had driven down that day I believe – a long haul! We had a great time catching up on our different careers in a limited amount of time and wished each other well, talked about meeting up etc in the Bay Area/Monterey but it just didn’t quite work out with my own schedule with kids.

Rest in peace Will. You inspired many and we learned a lot from you. Your life touched us to be better, to get involved, to smile and follow the mantra:

I measure myself, not by how well I teach, but by how well my students learn.

I measure the technology I use, not by how cool it is,
but by how well it helps my students learn.” 

AIMS Zone of Proximal Construction – Tools for Productive Struggle

The AIMS Center on the campus of Fresno Pacific University is an organization that I’ve admired for at least 15 years. I actually was an AIMS scholarship recipient as an undergraduate mathematics major and as a teacher I used AIMS activities whenever I could.

AIMS has changed a bit in the past few years from producing print curriculum – they realized there was a bunch of OER stuff out there that it was getting hard to compete – and focusing on professional development and research.

My wife Meagan and I were invited to speak last week on behalf of their Colloquium Series – research-minded talks to math and science teachers going through an AIMS-related cohort.

We spoke about ways to help teachers let their students experience productive struggle. Emphasis on productive. Meagan, a special education teacher and adjunct professor, focused on environmental factors and things that teachers can do specifically for the learner. I focused on making the math connections when possible, as well as technology tools for formative assessment and PD to give the best information to both students and teachers. Formative assessment should really be called feedback in my opinion, and I made the comment either on the podcast or during the talk that if our formative assessment tools aren’t giving the STUDENTS feedback we’re missing the point.

Universal Design for Learning – designing learning not to accommodate learners with special needs, but thinking about those accommodations and then designing the lesson to reach ALL Learners with those methods – was the biggest takeaway so much so that Meagan and I are planning on attending the CAST conference in Boston this summer. It was a great night with feedback from the, ‘students’, conversations with Dr Brownell for the podcast, and overall feeling like being home and fun to be in front of people with great questions. My main points:

  1. Make formative assessment something the students themselves can learn about  – don’t keep the ‘dashboard’ confined to the teacher!
  2. Give students multiple ways to express their learning and struggles
  3. Design your classroom in a way that there are no questions for what is expected of students – the less outside stressors, the more they can focus on the academic tasks at hand.


Video Archive of the Presentation


Thanks Lori Hamada, Dr Chris Brownell and the entire AIMS staff for making our visit welcoming and great! We can’t wait to be back!

Part 2: My MathStory in College

When I last wrote, I had overcome a hatred and perceived incompetence in mathematics my senior year of high school after struggling with it for at least five years.  The story of how I ended up at FPU is another one, but essentially it was a college I didn’t want to go to because it was small and Christian and ended up loving it for those very reasons.

At FPU I learned to not think of math as something to be memorized but instead to be chewed on, picked at, and the creative art of problem-solving.  Three stories illustrate this:

  1. Being Mentored: I remember getting an A- in Principles of Mathematics, the very beginning math class. I went to Chris Brownell’s office on a cold, raining December day with a cold and sat in his small, cramped office in Marpeck center(?).  I asked him if I should continue, and he looked at me like I was crazy and said that of course I should if it’s something I want to do.  That encouragement sustained me when I began to really struggle.
  2. Perseverance: Ron Pratt subbed for Chris at one point in Calculus 1 and was talking about the Derivative. I was having a hard time with the concept not quite sure WHY the exponent multiplied the coefficient  and vice versa. He showed it on the board as it was something we should all know and I blurted out for him to show it again. As he was wont to do, Ron had a confused look on his face as to why that was difficult and said, “Oh ok you want to see that again,” and for whatever reason the second time he did it – I finally saw what was going on!
  3. Quaternions are strange mathematical objects. I found some computer program in Linux that took about 5 minutes to render even on my blazing fast 400MHZ AMD Athlon with 128 megabytes of RAM And 16MB Graphics card computer… I ended up not understanding ALL of the math but it was the first time I realized that complex numbers could have more than one imaginary component which was mind-blowing. Anyway, in one of our classes we were told to solve a, “difficult problem,” and I took on this topic – it was way beyond what I knew at the time but the joy of discovery was very empowering. There was also one time in the class Problem Solving that all of the really smart people (Steve Strand, etc) couldn’t figure out a problem involving circles and rectangles and I did using a simple yet elegant Pythagorean Theorem-based solution
  4. Community makes things better: Yes I said three things – but all of these experiences took place within the framework of a community of math majors and minors that I could not have gotten through FPU with out. I was able to help too, but leaned very heavily on folks like Jennifer (Ribb), Luis Jaramillo, Chris Wood, John Posten (Physics) and others. The Mathlete club that really took shape once Crystal Dearman arrived also was a HUGE amazing thing. That was where I also first learned about a mathematical reason for celebrating PI Day.

Through taking about 17 math classes if I recall (including Abstract Algebra which made everything finally make sense in a very theoretical way!), the close-knit FPU community also gave me the confidence that I’d never had to be involved with others in leadership and service. Seth Yates invited me to run for student body vice president after hearing about a senior citizens computer lab project I’d started. Loren Neufeld (Computer Science, Physics) although taught the only class I have ever failed – taught using variables in a way that really made sense and that I tried to emulate in my own teaching. At FPU even the University President ate lunch in the cafeteria and professors were revered but you could call them by their first name. It’s still a bit strange for me when I meet Dr.’s (the academic type) NOT being ok being called by their first name.

I left FPU with a far stronger mathematics knowledge base and problem-solving strategies. Something most people don’t know though, is that my early struggles at FPU took their toll and my math major GPA was below a 3.0 even though my overall GPA was about 3.5. (C’s in Calc 2/3 and Computer Science mainly skewed it downward). Thus, I had to take the CSET tests for mathematics and it took a few tries before credentialing, which was the main reason I worked at CVC Middle School for my first teaching job instead of finishing final student teaching…

Ditching Textbooks for Higher Ed

A lot has been said about ditching K-12 textbooks in favor of 3-act tasks, innovative websites, and digital learning platforms.  But this blog post isn’t so much about that as it is how I’ve managed to evade using an expensive textbook in my higher education classes that I teach.

The great thing about a textbook is that they’re consistent. They’re the same from one year to the next, and a course can be planned around that consistency. For the past 3 years, I’ve planned my higher education courses around a few different PDF’s instead. They’re not the same each year, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Currently my class (technology for student teachers) is planned around PDF’s from the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. Specifically, the 4C’s – Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication. I have my students read each PDF and write/turn in Notes using a program called Mendeley, which was a life-saver when I was writing my own masters thesis in 2013. Exporting notes is a great option to capture student thinking… and make sure they read and reflect on the entire article.Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 9.16.26 AM

The hard part about relying on PDF’s (the current set of readings was only published in October 2015!) is that I need to constantly update the class, but I feel especially for higher education, it’s necessary and makes for a better experience for students!

With tools like Mendeley, the extension Kami and other real-time collaboration tools, anything more than six months old doesn’t need to be used in a higher education class when we’re trying to educate tomorrow’s leaders!

Thank You PiApp

About six months ago I became aware of an app called Pi. ( It was at its core a chat program designed for higher education. Similar to Slack (and Hall) before it was bought by HipChat) which I’d first heard about and used in my consulting work with, I enthusiastically embraced it for my classes at Fresno Pacific University.

But before I did, I was invited to talk to their social media manager Jon Koop and AJ Nelson, one of the founders. We talked about my philosophy towards education and I talked about why I wanted to use their app in my class. Over the summer we participated in twitter chats with other faculty and talked about how we envisioned it being used. I fully used it with my masters-level class CRI 709 this past Fall, unsure after all this talk how it would actually play out.

My students (for the most part of course) loved it. Being able to converse during the week for a fully online class created a real community for those who chose to be a part of it. Some of my most tech-apprehensive students found themselves answering questions by the end of the class, and students began organically sharing tools on their own. pi

Yes, I could have had a twitter chat set up. But many of my students are very new to that and wouldn’t have been able to jump right into it as they were to Pi. Plus the confidentiality factor of being a closed group was important to many.

I’m sad about seeing a fellow startup end, but the lessons learned will live on. I am thankful to the employees of PiApp for being a part of the testing, discussions and beta testing of PiApp. I’m going to try Ryver this next semester, but already I’m disappointed in the interface (too much going on for what I need).  Either way, my classes will no longer be bound by the LMS I’m using or once a week video chats for sure! Conversation and community in online classes is the best part about teaching, and with asynchronous communication tools, it can happen!


A Tool I use in my Higher Education Class

Another day, another blog post!

One of my absolute favorite tools that I use in my Fresno Pacific classes is   – so much so that I pay for the premium version on my own. I use it to have embedded discussion on awesome lectures from the likes of Alan November and Sugatra Mitra. (I also use the interface). Since Zaption integrated with Moodle via LTI, it saves me a whole bunch of trouble as well in regards to grading.

Three Ways I use Zaption in Higher Ed (audience: Teachers)

  1. I used to have students watch a video then do a forum post on it. Now, I ask students to mark a quote that they loved and write about it within the video stream, then others can comment on that and suggest ways they would apply that into the classroom, etc. It’s a MUCH more dynamic class.

2) And of course, I can use the tools from Zaption to provide what is essentially formative assessment on the principles and technology itself in my class. When I do a screencast lecture on how to use a certain technology tool, I also have uploaded that to Zaption so students can comment on where they got confused or want to see more information; that I can then provide. Paired with PiApp, I feel like this semester I always know what my students are struggling with or have questions about!

3) Finally, I always suggest to my teacher-students that they have their own students create zaptions as well! I would grade my students based on the quality of the question – does it cause others to think deeper about the topic or is it very surface level?

Those are a few use cases, but check it out if you haven’t!

*I am not affiliated with Zaption for money in any way. I’m a Zaption Pioneer and have been since before I worked for OpenEd.


This will take some time, but no more than an hour or so. BYU (Brigham Young University) has an excellent tutorial on copyright and fair use complete with games etc! On the “Copyright” thread in PiApp this week, simply 5 things you learned and 1 thing that you have been doing completely wrong if applicable.


First read about the SAMR Protocol – basically an easy way to assess where you stand on the technology integration continuum.

Then read this blog post on the RAT or TAR Protocol which simplifies SAMR.

You will need these resources for your assignment later this week.

example: If you have students using flashcards right now, what kind of learning might result from them switching to a computer-based system for this. What about if they start to make their own problems and write a computer program using basic code to randomly flash numbers to themselves and check to see if they’re right or not?


National Standards for Technology

Who is the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)?

Follow this link to find out.Did you know that there are national standards for technology? You can find them in the appendix of your book or download them from the following links.

After you visit the link above, go to our discussion forum and describe 3 current students without using their actual names; using the standards, identify how each student fits on the continuum of technological literacy and why you identify them in this fashion, as well as how your lessons help improve the technological literacy of these students. Post an example of a lesson from your current classroom.