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 piapp.co 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!


OpenEd – Usage in College Education Programs

As I’ve stated elsewhere, I learned about OpenEd in the summer of 2013 while looking for flipped-learning style videos for my 7th grade math classes. After years of going to school at Fresno Pacific University, in the summer of 2013 I was asked to be an adjunct faculty member. Specifically, Education 644, a one unit technology in education class for student teaching candidates.

I received the course shell from the amazing Stacey Stansberry and the first semester, didn’t change much of anything! But I eventually focused the 8 weeks and 4 class sessions I had available to me on four main areas:

1) Google Apps for Education

2) Digital Storytelling tools

3) Assessment

4) Presenting their Technology Based Lesson Plans

The part I’m going to talk about in today’s blog is Assessment. I started incorporating OpenEd into my previous professional development presentations in the Fall when doing a training session with new teachers. They wanted to know about flipping the classroom, and I told them they really shouldn’t need to make their own videos – OpenEd already had it organized! Then as OpenEd starting making assessments, the coast was clear. I had Adam and Lisa Blum, two of the founders of OpenEd, do a webinar with my student teacher candidates in the spring of 2014, and became very intrigued by the company and its philosophy of assessment to instruction.

The assignment I gave on the most recent iteration of my EDUC 644 class had them take two assessments from OpenEd that I had assigned. I gave them access to the teacher account to be able to view the Mastery Chart.

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Next, I asked students to put themselves back as the teacher looking at this data and analyze it to make meaningful instructional choices. Teachers are able to see individual student answers from this view as well as resources viewed by students in response, so I got some very detailed responses.

According to the statistics in the class mastery chart I will need to conduct a full class review of “Write Claims and Counterclaims”. The class average for this assessment was 43% which is far below mastery. No student reached the nearing mastery level of 70%.

This particular student went on to explain that offering the same content in a variety of instructional methods Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 11.41.29 AM might be more conducive to  some students. In addition, because OpenEd allows the teacher to assign resources to that student before they come to class the next day, a student could in effect get a head start on the learning through the use of the technology available.

Other things I’ve tried with my student teachers is creating a formative assessment tool matrix and analyzing each tool’s strengths and weakness as part of an overall discussion of ed-tech effectiveness. However I found that was a mostly meaningless task because it should never be just about the tool being used, but the “why” of the tool and if it is being used to help teachers and students or just is shiny and new.

This kind of thinking demonstrates that student teacher candidates were able to quickly look at assessment data and make the needed adaptation to instruction. Doing this in the university setting allowed for more time and sharing of responses to the mastery chart on a forum (Moodle) where others could learn, comment and even disagree on next steps. The week after this assignment, we were able to talk about it on context and highlight that too often as teachers we see data, but aren’t able to uncover the root causes of the poor or stellar performance. OpenEd makes it easy to re-assess students, help them with specific misunderstandings and bring the entire class to mastery of a topic through personalized learning.

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.


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 OpenEd.com!

The Power of Formative Assessment in the Age of Common Core

Originally posted on LinkedIn

Recently I was asked for supplemental instruction for an Algebra 2 student. The person asking is a college professor who has a friend who has daughters in high school, and since “all math is the same” of course assumed this friend knew exactly what was studied in Algebra II… right? While the CCSS in Appendix A do suggest what topics be included in the different levels of mathematics, they are not an exact specification and many states, then districts, and often local schools will tailor the breadth and depth of content students receive.

Products like CC Quest – formative assessment app for Math and ELA – do a great job showing what learning needs students have so that teachers can target their instruction better. (Disclaimer: I work for OpenEd, so of course also recommend the Premium product which has more assessments per standard for a more complete picture of a students needs.) Without rapid and even non-intrusive formative assessment and a way of keeping track via a mastery chart, teachers cannot know for certain where students are at – aside from guessing! Research shows that formative assessment helps students themselves know what they are struggling with and how to do better, which is what we want – more student motivation and less teacher monitoring of knowledge.

What I told my friend was to have the kids start off with CC Quest so he could see what topics they knew well and which ones they didn’t. Then, move on to using perhaps the Problem-Based curriculum maps from Geoff Krall’s Emergent Mathematics to use rich tasks designed to stimulate thinking from multiple standards to help kids APPLY the skills they have learned. I also recommended breaking up these activities with some interesting math problem solving scenarios from estimation180 and visualpatterns.org for great algebra stimulation.

A simple chart is below if you’ll excuse my Microsoft Word skills.

There is no one magic bullet for education. Yet, technology-based formative assessment paired with teacher knowledge of inquiry-based tasks and valuable classroom discussion hold the keys to addressing the 8 mathematics practices essential to our childrens math education.

Why I’m Moving to Santa Cruz

Note: My blog/website just got wiped out by my hosting service; we're working on restoring it. Until then, I'm starting with a fresh template and content!

The flipped classroom was going to change the education world in 2008. But as more teachers started trying it, they often realized students were uninterested in watching a whole video and the class-time itself – which was supposed to be then tailored to activities and thought-driven instruction – often was not.

When I started looking at better ways to serve my students in 2012, I thought I would have to create my own videos. I wasn’t happy with Khan Academy, and didn’t see much other quality content for middle school mathematics. Enter OpenEd in the summer of 2013. All of a sudden there were great, pre-approved videos at my fingertips already aligned to standards! OpenEd_Final

A year later OpenEd introduced assessments, and everything changed. Now students can take a formative assessment quiz, then watch only the video concepts they need too based on their responses. What’s more, the rationales in an OpenEd assessment give students hints (but not the whole answer) so they know what to look for in the videos.

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There are other companies out there giving assessments and providing videos. But none I have seen do it in the way OpenEd is.  The name OpenEd itself demonstrates how access to content and learning activities should be free to all students, something I’ve been passionate about for two decades. OpenEd is committed to this as well, with over 2,000 free assessments written by a (paid) team of content specialists. The Premium subscription more than doubles the amount of assessments for every K-12 ELA and Math standards! It’s really an amazing deal for teachers and schools to give kids an opportunity to practice skills needed for success.

My job will be Lead Content Curator. I am responsible for making sure all of the content on the site is aligned to the correct standards and helping to think of ways to engage students and teachers to learn standards, skills, and concepts!

And… being based near Santa Cruz  – 10 minutes to Redwoods and the ocean – helps! 🙂