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.

Curriculum Mapping

I first heard of Curriculum Mapping during student teaching, but it was one of those things that sounded great but means nothing until you really get more into actual teaching and planning. Even then, when concerned with just your class(es) it sounds great but the full scope of issues – interconnectedness of standards, big ideas, etc aren’t relevant. Essentially it’s seeing your entire unit or year in a way that is visible and shared with others in your school/department/district.

Around 2012-2013 I was working hard to redesign curriculum at Computech Middle School to address Common Core Standards and getting my Masters Degree. As part of the Masters Degree project we had to do a simple exercise to count how many days we actually taught throughout the year – take out test days, holidays, etc.

Once I had that template in a spreadsheet, I just kept adding and got this spreadsheet:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 11.06.22 PM






Admittedly I didn’t know it was going to be a whole year thing when I started it and did the best that a spreadsheet could, but I saw the power of mapping and in some ways using mostly OER materials to teach.

Why is Curriculum Mapping So Important?

This is the year that Open Educational Resources(OER) are finally getting noticed in K12. Everyone is talking about the need to be able to reuse and remix them… and a ton of companies including my own are working on how to find them. But teachers themselves are often then grabbing for isolated instances instead of cohesive resources on a unit level. (Advertisement of Free Stuff: OpenEd collects and organizes student-facing learning resources and assessments in “Lesson Plans“). I loved this graphic the other day from Andrew Stadel talking about his classroom lesson time:

and thought about its application across a course or even a students entire K-12 career. While vertical articulation is the purpose of most curriculum departments, that kind of conversation often fails to include what is happening on the daily classroom instruction tied to those overarching goals. Or worse – holds back more authentic learning because of the schedule of district quarterly benchmark tests.  I am an “Understanding By Design,” schooled educator, so have a lot to say about teaching what amounts to a formative assessment. Not sure what to do about it, but activities having students map out their own year of learning would be an interesting project to see what they think they’re doing and what they actually remember.

Ways to Go About It

The best freemium curriculum planning tool I’ve seen is . It allows for long-view, monthly weekly and daily view, attach standards and the teacher resources as well as collaboration and sharing – including copying the whole map for the following year to allow modification. (Video demo not done by me)

If you want to use google spreadsheet, it does have some advantages:

    1. Anyone can collaborate but you can track changes easily with Revision History
    2. You can see the whole year and hide parts you don’t need to see
    3. Color coding is nice (in retrospect) because you could see where your performance tasks are etc.
    4. Embed results/examples (If using google classroom etc) from your performance tasks/formative assessments as links underneath certain activities to be able to remember how students did and adapt for the upcoming year.
    5. Check for broken links in your documents automatically and fix them. (Chrome Extension)
    6. To put a link in a Google spreadsheet you have just enter:    =hyperlink("URL","Description")   with the quotes!
    7. I would start with your number of days, distractions, then tasks (and of course heartily recommend as much as possible Geoff Krall’s PrBL maps).
    8. Formative assessment should be planned (that’s a whole other post!) ahead of time as well with modifications the day of for the best information from your students.

Of course, the best thing to do would be to have something like Common Curriculum integrated into an LMS as an add-on so it would work on all LMS’s and be able to then assign the student resources AND have the teacher resources all in one place. Good teaching is always preceded by good planning.

My Place in Education

When I decided to leave the classroom around the beginning of 2014 for a TSA job in Fresno Unified, I was conflicted. I thought I’d do the job for a couple of years and go back to the classroom. The job provided a higher income, so my wife would be able to stay home with our baby. During that job of course I was offered the job at OpenEd and given life and professional circumstances, it seemed like the right time.

So for the past year or two as I’ve gone from classroom teacher and leader into roles more removed from the classroom, I’ve often struggled to define my place in the education landscape. To talk about “what I do” in the classroom doesn’t make sense because I’m not in a K-12 classroom anymore. I can talk about things I would do, but I feel self-conscious because obviously I’m not.

This past weekend at Lead 3.0 though my mind changed. I gave a presentation on formative assessment and of course included 13007359_10154142665687386_8311858812135345621_nOpenEd – I strongly feel that opening more education resources will continue to play a role in the education arena, and OpenEd is doing innovative things to make that happen. (Example 1, Example 2, Example 3 ). I also included some amazing tools and stories from my time in Fresno Unified – particularly last year as TSA in Professional Learning with the iPD Grant.

It felt great to share stories and dialogue with practicing administrators about ways to incorporate technology and innovative thinking for formative assessment and professional development decisions. I realized I may not be in the classroom or at a school site, but my ideas are still relevant, in many ways I have more technical knowledge and a broader view, and in all honesty more energy to help make things happen. I am excited to continue as Lead Content Curator at OpenEd, serving the CMC as volunteer for Social Media , helping more students have access to quality educational resources.

Huge thanks to the organizers of Lead 3.0 and all of the education conferences out there – sharing on Twitter is great but so much more can happen in dynamic, innovative places such as this past week! Adam Ebrahim, I have often looked to you as someone who isn’t in the classroom but still able to present with authenticity outside of it. Also thanks to my bosses/team at OpenEd for allowing me to attend!

Favorite Lessons: I Bless the Rains Down in… Fresno

You know in movies/tv shows usually at a moment of desperation they say something like, “Well, we’ve been testing something but it’s not quite ready yet…” but then they release the weapon or whatever and it saves the day? (Think the ‘crashed’ alien spaceship in Independence Day.)

Yeah, this lesson was sort of like that.

California has been in a drought for a number of years, and this took place in early to mid 2014.  I was working on an investigative lesson for students involving rainwater, perhaps wolfram alpha etc. In the spirit of a three act task, I wanted to have them estimate something and then actually solve it.

Well, one day it started raining during a block period (so I had twice as much time with first period) and I just went for it.

Craig Kohlruss, Fresno Bee – part of another great lesson I’ll share later

I had a graduated cylinders in my class due to using density to teach about ratios. So we set them outside and for an hour they collected rainwater. I asked the students what questions they could ask about the rain and then we voted what to solve for. Questions of course started out as, “How much rain is coming down?” but other students correctly reasoned how could we figure that out. Eventually they realized if we knew how much rain was coming down inches-wise, and we found the area of Fresno (roughly) we could figure out the ‘volume’ of water coming down and then even the weight. Of course some exceptionally thoughtful kids realized that rainfall wouldn’t be 100% consistent but we decided that was ok to not include for now.

Wikipedia was used to find the area of Fresno; kids also printed out maps of Fresno and used their skills in creating/finding the area of irregular polygons to find the square miles of Fresno. We talked about acres vs square miles and other measurements of area. Some kids found an approximate answer (I don’t remember) but not everyone did and the period was over.

Here’s the cool part. Towards the end of the class I told them that sure, I had something else planned for that day, but wasn’t it fun to do something spontaneous? Most kids were ambivalent (we’re talking about 7th graders here) but one kid wrote me a note after class saying something like, “That was really fun, thanks for making math interesting and a class I look forward to every day!”.

Lesson Idea: How Heavy is the Rain on Your Town?

Necessary Supplies: Graduated Cylinders, Access to Internet

Standards: 6.G.1, 7.G.1, 7.G.6, probably others

Math Practices: 1,2,4,5,6

Teacher Leadership

From my very first year teaching, I was called a teacher-leader, but I didn’t know what that really meant until probably the last year or so.

For the last year I’ve seen the amazing #connectedtl Twitter chat but Tuesday nights have quite literally always been busy since September of 2015 – between classes I was taking for my Admin credential and classes I was teaching for Fresno Pacific in the past year. But last night as I was putting my 16 month old daughter to sleep between 7-7:30pm I saw some posts that compelled me to respond. Specifically, this one from Matt Vaudry:

I responded in kind that teachers who work for Ed Tech companies can still be leaders too. If everyone left that wouldn’t be good, but I feel that once you’ve taught for at least 5 years or so to really know the day-in, day-out of teaching, you can be an excellent resource for an ed tech company. I am fortunate that my company, OpenEd, actually encourages me to be as active in the teaching and conference community as I can. I have grown SO much as an educator and leader working for OpenEd it’s hard to quantify – technical skills for sure, communication and collaboration, being able to see a much bigger perspective, and more. Most important for me personally has been a renewed focus on thoughtfulness. I see things from a classroom teacher view but also from a system-wide view since every day I talk to teachers across the US and even the world. When I talk about educational resources now, I’m referencing every textbook, video, game, manipulative and any other resource a teacher might use in their classroom to teach or learn.

As I was writing this I came across a post by one favorite blogger of 2015, Ross Cooper on how to be a teacher leader. I strongly agree with his points. From my experiences in Fresno Unified, ALL teachers have something to contribute, the key is to finding platforms that everyone feels comfortable speaking up. Technology is not always the answer for that.

It was someone I consider to be a mentor and a friend Will Kimbley who first really encouraged me to share what I was doing in and out of the classroom with a wider audience via CUE Rockstar camps in 2012; since then I’ve tried to share more and more. I often feel like I’m not knowledgeable or experienced enough to speak on a particular topic.  What I’ve learned, is that even sharing just what I’m doing on a day to day basis can be encouraging and thus helpful for another teacher. It is through the sharing of experiences that we learn, and lead.

CMC North

There were a ton of great ideas, discussions and quotes at CMC North last weekend.

However I’m going to focus on one quote that I tweeted out regarding teachers working with one another:

A large part of my work last year in Fresno Unified was working with teachers to take and upload videos of themselves for the Teaching Channel’s Teach Teams platform (I’m even on video  talking about it). We did some good work and were getting there by the time I left – it takes time to develop trust, technical skill, and the desire to do so. Technical problems are probably the biggest issue – while cell phones are the easiest medium, it’s also hard to get

While blanket statements are popular at conferences (ie Worksheets/homework/textbooks are stupid), I think there is a lot of truth in this statement but shouldn’t be directed at individual teachers per se but at a system. In the schools I worked at, those of us on a team often had the same prep periods. Many teachers are unsure the purpose of such a visit as well.  The question should be begged – if you aren’t doing anything, “interesting” that day, what are your students seeing too?

I feel a better conversation is more vertical articulation. Although this happens occasionally, it is too easy for the upper division teachers blaming the lower for not preparing students. What Fresno Unified was starting to do and all districts should, is teaching middle school teachers the high school standards (the actual MATH, not just the methods). This is a positive step in the right direction, as well as systemic time set aside for learning, collaboration and planning every couple of weeks with colleagues from different schools.

I started writing a lot more about curriculum mapping to facilitate this etc, but had to stop and keep it focused on the topic at hand. Definitely lots to chew on about what makes a professional educator from this weekend!

Reaching out to help kids who know how to hide


My first year teaching, I had sophomores in a portable building behind the pool and tennis courts at McLane High School. I remember after year of studying and subbing and student teaching, the isolation felt when the door closed for the first class for first period. The isolation was good though, as it really meant when that door closed I was on my own, with only my training and self to rely on.

In the kind of grandstanding that I would never in later years have, I announced to the students at the start of the school year something like:

“Some of you have slipped through the cracks with what you’re supposed to know because you know how to play the game. You know you shouldn’t have passed Algebra but you figured out how to do the bare minimum. You should be upset about cheating yourself of really learning algebra last year because you’ll need it this year – talk to me and I’ll help before it’s too late.”

There was sort of a silence after that and I felt like I’d been a bit too harsh, but awkwardly continued with the lesson like normal. After class, a tall sophomore who I knew was on the football team and sometimes in trouble approached me and told me that he was one of those students who knew he had slacked his way through school.

Eventually, he started coming in three days a week in the morning around 7:15 to get math help. We started  with addition, subtraction, multiplication etc and then worked from there. After a few weeks he didn’t even need it but kept coming to keep the grades up. Later, he and I founded Tri-This Inc after one of those morning conversations and the triathlon effort in turn helped change or improve hundreds of lives; not just students too.

So today, this story reminds me that asking the tough questions and saying the painfully obvious, is often what needs to be done. Especially when it comes to kids and education, we need to stand up for what is right. If a colleague refuses to learn a new teaching strategy or their attitude is bringing down others, we need to have the kid-first attitude to confront them within the PLN/school and help them see that they have been able to slip through the cracks thus far, but no more.

*I actually found some pictures online of that first classroom in the portables… here

**thanks to Janet Woodthorpee for the title and graphic idea!

Thoughts on what my math classroom would look like

This school year marks my second year out of the classroom.

Yet, I still consider myself a teacher. If anything, the last school year and this one thus far has given me a lot of time to think about what I did, how I taught, and how I would teach.

  1. Technology, but not all the time: Admittedly, there were times when I wanted to use technology so badly it not only defeated the purpose but resulted in a worse learning opportunity. I once spent hours constructing a geogebra lesson that was over in twenty minutes and did nothing but frustrate my co-teacher. It was a great lesson to be sure, but could have just as easily and probably better been done with a protractor and compass.
  2. Use Twitter/Social Media more: Admittedly, Twitter itself was founded in March 2006 and I started teaching February 2006. Yet, I would have made a concerted effort to share what I was doing with more people and not been afraid to share as much. In the last year or so of teaching I probably overshared because I was so happy to have opportunities like Teaching Channel Teams, Twitter and Facebook groups (plus Math and Beer nights!) to share ideas of projects. Shout out to Zach Niles, Tommy Fredrickson, George Finocchio, Denise Klinger, and Jonathan Muster among many others for responding to my emails, texts, and project ideas. Not sure HOW, but i would probably try to Periscope what my lessons were about before the day started to share and solicit feedback.
  3. Become Google or Apple Certified: Might not be too late for this yet, but I would have done this BEFORE I had a kid and moved from Fresno. However, a Masters Degree was pretty cool to be able to do and Tri-This took 90% of my free time for a good 4-5 years and was WELL worth it!
  4. Tech tools I would love to use/have used more:
    1. OpenEd: Only formative assessment tool with a strong content library that actually shows students resources based on formative assessments. And I work for them/wrote hundreds of questions. I’m really excited about our new Textbook Lesson Plan feature that can help engage students who might otherwise be stuck with boring, non-engaging textbooks.
    2. Desmos: Another fantastic math tool that has grown SO much than being just an online graphing calculator. Aside from Function Carnival, the student-facing tools are top notch as well. I really see Desmos as a tool for students and teachers to EXPLORE mathematics, not just see it. It does things I wish Wolfram Mathematica Demonstrations did, but viewable on any browser without the need for a large plug-in.
    3. Teaching Channel Teams/Interactive PD tools: While I wish I’d been able to use it most often in my early years, peer-based professional learning through video is incredibly powerful and PD tools make it easy to do. It’s awkward, difficult at first and no tool is perfect, but like OpenEd with videos to immediately give positive reinforcement, it’s well on the right track. I also really like what I’ve seen of BloomBoard but haven’t used it.
    4. Plickers: I can’t help but love this ‘plucky’ tool that bridges the low-tech/high-tech divide. For rapid multiple-choice questions to get discussion going, nothing beats it for ease of use and simplicity.
    5. MARS lessons – is a treasure trove of great tasks that help kids get thinking and more importantly to me, guidance to teachers.

I made the decision to come to the private sector to help more teachers. While it’s an adjustment in pace and lifestyle, I couldn’t be happier with the quality of the work I’m doing!

Thank You Fresno

When I started student teaching at McLane High School in 2005 I had no ideas what the next ten years would hold!

As I have mentioned in other places online, after 10 years in Fresno Unified and 14 years in Fresno, Friday June 19th is my last day.

Fresno Unified Career Synopsis

McLane (2006-2011): Taught a lot of different classes, coached probably more than I taught between a year-round sport I invented at the school and water polo+swim programs . Made lasting relationships with kids and teacher friends here.

Computech (2011-2014): Really developed as a math teacher here. Less emphasis on coaching, but really developed some mentors and friends there.

Teacher on Special Assignment+Admin Cohort (2014-2015): Main focus shifted from math to technology and literacy knowledge. Admin Cohort was intense but very powerful and I wish I’d done it sooner. The TSA job stretched me far beyond any other job I’ve ever had and I loved most parts of it!


This is obviously a simplification of the variety of experiences I’ve been able to have that have shaped me- Turning Points Academy at McLane was HUGE for me, and none of this can top outside events like getting married and having a beautiful daughter. But that’s not what this post is about.

So in a simplistic format, here are the top 5 lessons learned in Fresno Unified School District:

1) Kids first, subject matter second:  My first principal, Frank Silvestro often said something like – “We are teachers of kids first, THEN our subjects.”  That resonated with me at a time when the focus seemed so much to be on test scores. Data-driven instruction is good for the big picture, but the day to day needs to focus on kids being kids, not numbers.

2) Be creative in how hard you work: Do I miss the 6am runs to Fresno state and back before school then hours of water polo practice after school? Sometimes, but it was the relationships being built that mattered more than the physical workout. It also meant I had less time to devote to being a math teacher and sharing my work with others.  “Working hard” looks different for different people – and is often working ‘smarter’ not harder.

3) Be cynical only when it’s necessary: What I mean by this is some people that I know seem to always assume the worst. I’m an optimist by nature and look for the best in people, which means I do get taken advantage of sometimes. I know this. But I would rather wholeheartedly support a kid/teacher/administrator and have it pay off then never trust or believe anyone when they say they want to do good. Being cynical and not trusting of kids and adults is a necessary skill sometimes, but should never come at the expense of seeing the bigger picture.

4) *Sarcasm kills relationships: Ok, this one is actually from Sugar Pine Christian Camps (Timber summer ’02, ’03). But time and time again I have found it to be true. Especially with kids – and I never feel better for talking bad about someone.

5) There is always more to learn. 15 years ago, I discovered Statistics my senior year of high school and loved it. That changed the course of my life. I have studied and loved math as a subject for 14 of my 31 years, and this past year learned quite a bit about ELA (anchor standards? ELA Standards in Science and History?! I had no idea about any of this until about July of 2014) and got to practice/use a lot more technology – video-based reflection, etc. Now I am much more confident and aware of my place in the world thanks to the  colleagues, bosses, and friends I’ve made in and around Fresno. I would have been happy always being a math teacher, but my life path is much more diverse now and I’m better for trying new things.

Everything I have done before has prepared my amazing family and I for this next step. God knows where it will lead, but I am reminded of this verse from 2 Corinthians 4:7

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

The meaning of this verse is basically that we as humans are so frail. But what we can do (through God in this case) is so much more powerful and lasting than we can ever know. Some of you reading this will know about another recent event that really contextualized this thought as well.

I don’t have the next 30 years of a job practically guaranteed  anymore, and that’s scary. But my wife Meagan and I know that this next step is on the right path. For my family, I couldn’t be more excited and ready to face the challenges head-on.