ACT Leadership Cohort Trip 3 (Iowa City, Iowa)

This third leadership cohort trip was the best professional learning experience I have ever had. Considering I was in education for 9 years and have been leading learning experiences as well as attending conferences for the last three years at least, that’s a tall statement!

It wasn’t just the way the content was presented (a mix of discussion, lecture, panel, experiential, small group, active movements), but the content itself was deep, organized and immediately able to be applied to my day to day work as well as a resource for the future.

A day by day summary would be boring to read, but what I got out of it most was the focus on product development. Coming from education I have realized I am sorely lacking in many concepts of business and as I came to OpenEd later, much of the planning and conceptual thinking behind the product had either already been done, or as Content I wasn’t privy too the leadership brainstorming.


This graphic in particular(source unknown) was encouraging to see! As I’ve worked on OpenSALT it’s been eye-opening to see how much leadership thinks something will take when in reality it may take a lot longer (or shorter!).


The best part though by far was hearing about how ACT’s “horizon 3” division thinks up ideas and how to make them into actual products. The process is rigorous but designed to allow for numerous failures. Since this is a public blog I shouldn’t reveal the details, but let’s just say a lot of ideas come up and most of them don’t make it past stage 1. The ones that do go to another team for review and eventually they are turned into actual products. We had a chance to take ideas of our own and go through the same process in one day (normally the initial idea staging takes three days, as the presenters were keen to mention…). It was intense and full of great debate back and forth, but eventually we came up with a product that we think would serve a need based on market research. The next time we meet in October we’ll dive deeper into the product and see if it will actually be turned into something that the market needs and ACT and provide.

In my own career, I’ve gone from being a teacher and not thinking about products or the implications thereof to being deeply involved in making OpenEd a successful product that helps students and teachers around the glove -over half a million teachers and students have signed up and used the site over the years… and that number is only going to grow as we become the official remediation site of the ACT test.

I was immediately take away some of these ideas and use them with developing OpenSALT.

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.

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!


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!

Integrating OpenEd resources with your LMS Course

Learning Management Systems are great, but you have to bring your own content! As more districts find ways to go one to one or close to it, I expect more and more innovation in K-12 in this crowded business space – and OpenEd to lead the way in delivering quality content for students.

The whole premise of a one-stop shop for students and instructors alike can be realized even more thanks to what’s called LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability). This allows students to take quizzes on outside sites and have those results sent back to your LMS. Most major LMS’s support this protocol (Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, Schoology etc).

This blog post is about some ways to use OpenEd’s amazing resource library of videos, games, assessments and more to add to your LMS.

All setup information is on OpenEd’s page, as well as videos.

For me, the best kind of lesson for a student would have the following setup:

OpenEd formative assessment before the lesson to engage prior knowledge. To use this, use the LTI instructions to get student scores.Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 7.21.11 PM

Game or Video for students to play as class starts that day to get them thinking about the upcoming lesson. To play a video or game, you have to either link directly to that video or game, or use an iframe if you want to keep students within your LMS.

For most LMS’s, create a ‘page’ and then edit the HTML and insert something like this (replacing the link there with whatever resource you need to show up):

<iframe style="width: 1000px; height: 600px;" src="" width="320" height="240"></iframe>

Discovery Based Lesson: Depending on what’s being taught, I would try to introduce the topic using something discovery-based now that I know where all of my students stand in their understanding of a topic. I highly recommend activities from and if you are 1:1 or even if you can get students in groups of 2 or 3. The combination of formative assessment to drive the learning activities is well supported by research and I really can’t imagine a lesson that doesn’t benefit from technology integration done well.

Performance Assessment: At the end of the lesson, a cool assessment idea would be for kids to create either an interactive Zaption video of a screencast of them explaining the topic to future students. The questions they ask other students to ask about the topic are more important to me than the actual content they’re discussing.  Students should be creators whenever possible not just consumers!

Enhance and Extend the Online Experience in Higher Education

Teaching fully online classes is great for most students, but on the other side of things it’s been hard to have those spur of the moment discussions that lead to real breakthroughs in understanding or lead to otherwise uncovered topics that end up being exactly what the students need.

In Fresno Unified we started using Yammer a couple of years ago, but as a teacher it wasn’t very useful because the constantly-on nature of it was not practical for teachers who were tied into a certain schedule. But it at least gave me a context for the ‘end of email’ kind of communication.  When I started consulted at OpenEd last summer they used a tool that allowed the same – even more important for a team that has never met in person before!

Now I’m very excited for my Fall semester of class to take this concept to my class. I’ll be using a product called PiApp which applies the idea of a, “useful chatroom” to higher education. I had tried todaysmeet sessions before, but studen’ts didn’t seem to find it useful and/or I got very little engagement. With PiApp I will be able to have office hours, have students themselves host discussions on targeted topics (instead of boring/one dimensional Forum posts is my plan). Sure, you can use Twitter, but I want students to feel completely safe and for some topics, don’t feel the public forum is the better forum.

Engaging college students in higher-level discussions on sometimes targeted, sometimes not will help everyone. I plan on using this to introduce the concept to my students:

This semester we will be using a live-chat service called PiApp to extend and enhance the online class experience.

My office hours will be X-Y pm every Xday on PiApp, but the general forum is open for discussion at all times! With PiApp, you can:

– ask questions and get answers

– Post links, images, documents

– Favorite posts you really like and reply individually to certain topics. 

If you have a question on something instead of emailing me or reading the syllabus you can ask your colleagues and often get an answer sooner. 

For more information there is a video here on how to use it, and know that participation is mandatory in addition to your Moodle materials. If you feel uncomfortable with this platform please let me know, or want to go through a webinar before using it please let me know. Please go to and use this code to sign up:  

PiApp also hosts a weekly Twitter Chat every Wednesday at 4pmCentral time using #PiChat   -very engaging chat among adjuncts/thinkers on different higher-ed topics.

Can’t wait to see it in action and feel more connected to my students!


Periscope in Professional Learning

I recently downloaded the app Periscope from twitter – a few days ago finally release on Android! I’d heard of Meerkat and Periscope itself for a while, but only on iOS devices which I don’t have.

For the past couple years first as a teacher then a, “teacher on special assignment,” I’ve been fortunate to work with the great folks at Teaching Channel. Until I took the job, I hadn’t given much thought to formal PD, although I’ve been involved with the CUE Rockstar camps – participant and some presenting at local CUE conferences. Teaching Channel’s Teams (a safe system for sharing video between teachers and groups within a school district, and much more!) and others posit that when teachers record themselves on video and then are able to use that for more targeted instruction, student learning will increase. In addition, the culture of a school just might change from, “Shut my door and let me teach” to a more welcoming and colleagial tone.

Periscope and other live streaming apps could finally open the door like Uber has with the world of taxis. While I can’t quite say I’d recommend live-streaming a teacher teaching kids, I think live-streaming PD would be amazing! Instead of having to wait for conferences, people could randomly see PD from across the globe or nation (or even city!) that they normally wouldn’t be able to see at all.

One morning recently Periscope popped up that a teacher named Don Wettrick was going to be Periscoping a discussion about 20% time. I’ve of course heard of this concept in education and even gone to sessions about it, but was curious to hear more again. So I popped on. There were about 20 of us from all over able to ask questions to which he was able to give an immediate response too. (By the way Don, can I see a syllabus of your course?). It was an incredibly productive discussion and he was even able to pan around his room so we could see the ‘innovation chamber’.

So now I’m hooked! Some other great articles I’ve read are:

Periscope and Privacy

5 ideas for using Periscope in the classroom

Here are my own ideas for how we can use Periscope in professional development (Fresno Unified calls it Professional Learning to emphasize the continual nature of being a professional.)

1) During Training Sessions: If the training is done right, there is probably some lecture and guidance and then lots of time in groups and collaboration. Imagine leading a session on say the Math Practices, and as you walk from group to group having people take what they’re seeing and suggesting ideas to make the lesson or suggested practice even more robust, and perhaps offering to connect later around what that teacher has done.

2) During planning/brainstorming sessions: I’m imagining a group of leaders sitting down and talking about how to communicate the C3 to teachers. As they start writing ideas down on a whiteboard, again others from the Web can ask questions or make suggestions, broadening the reach of the room to more than just those in it.

3) Teacher Feedback: I can honestly say I don’t see this happening for any K12 teachers I work with, but for college perhaps I can see it possible to allow your entire session to be streamed on the web and allow others to chime in with questions and ideas. I teach a Technology for Educators class at Fresno Pacific University and we tried Periscope the other day – but I set the stream to be public so we got some non-helpful comments like “do you like burritos” because I said we were in Fresno.  (Reminds me of a live-streaming Teacher coaching  system we dreamed up nicknamed GUIDE at Learning Forward in 2014. Pretty much has everything except the formative assessment colors built on, but combined with PLICKERS and even OpenEd we’re getting there… Jason and Jason)

Privacy is a huge concern both with teachers and students, but this kind of live streaming opens up a huge world. Looking forward to being a part of it even as I exit the world of a school district and enter the exciting waters of a startup in Silicon Valley at!