Imagine K-12 Educator Day

It has become a lovely fall tradition to attend the product kick-off for the most recent round of Imagine K-12 start up companies. I always love this afternoon of events. It is exciting to see the newest in educational innovations, some of which have not even been fully constructed yet. It is also refreshing to see so many educators, from a wide range of backgrounds and settings, rubbing elbows with the product designers and inventors (often the same people).

I also love to sit down and write this blog post. It is a point of pride for me that I am able to provide feedback to the aspiring edtechers on my first impressions of their products, how I plan to integrate them into teaching and learning situations, what potential I see for truly changing education for the better, and sometimes what I feel would make this product more useful to me, the teachers I work with and the students we serve.

First up was EDpuzzle, a group from Barcelona. I had the pleasure of seeing EDpuzzle in more embryonic stages and providing the founder with some comments on feedback, as well as ideas for refining and improving. We had a great discussion about the Flipped Classroom model, about Blended Learning, and about how technology can support learning. It was clear to me from his passionate stories about his students that he truly loved being in the classroom. EDpuzzle is designed so that teachers everywhere can take advantage of the plethora of video tutorials that exist, and make that they can make sure that the video is still perfect for what they are teaching. Many teachers would like to assign a video tutorial for homework, so that students can preview material or get extra help, but finding the exact right video can be tough, and making the video can be time consuming. EDpuzzle allows users to edit existing videos, crop what is not needed, record over the original sound so that movies can be dubbed into any language or students can simply hear the familiarity of their teacher’s voice, and teachers can insert questions along the way. I see great potential in EDpuzzle. For our teachers who are using a blended learning approach I see them being able to easily provide differentiation by inserting different questions into the videos. Additionally, those teachers using (for more on this tool read my previous post) to organize their courses online can upload these videos and students can access these whenever they need to and work at their own pace. And lastly, for the past few years students have been using Upside Down Academy to showcase their own video tutorials, a rich project that has connected students learning in mathematics across the years as the new 9th graders get to watch the now 10th and 11th graders videos. I think that using EDpuzzle as one step in the editing process will allows students to really reflect on what helps them learn, and how to recreate this for others.

One of the other groups that caught my attention was netclick. This product presents a very simple concept that I think enhances the educational experience. Now even though I know that using powerpoint slides and the stand-and-deliver method of teaching, there are times when this is most effective and appropriate. Not only that, but our students must learn how to given succinct and powerful presentations, and modeling what this looks like is a part of that process. So, what netclick does is enhance the educational potential of this instructional practice. This is achieved by allowing your audience members to log in from their own web-enabled device and follow along with your slides. Firstly, just this feature is great for any students with visual impairments or attention challenges. And it doesn’t stop there!!! Netclick has developed a system wherein the audience can click on the slides, netclick then aggregates the responses and then reveals a ‘heat map’ of what the group is thinking. For example, we were shown a slide of a cell (at least, I think it was a cell) and we were asked to identify the mitochondria. Once the aggregate of everyone else’s clicks showed up, I actually learned where the mitochondria is! And it doesn’t stop there, because any biology teacher would want to know that I had no clue, right? Well netclick can do this for you too. The back end provides a simple spreadsheet of how your participants responded, if students log in then this is attached to their information, and with a quick scan the teacher can see who the outliers are. Netclick has a fine product, I get the feeling they have been at this start up stage for longer than some of the other teams, so this is not a free product.

Another interesting idea was Class Central. This site proposes to aggregate MOOCs from a variety of sources, including the big providers such as Udacity and Coursera, so that users can find and attend a variety of courses. This seems like a very useful tool and I look forward to its completion.

From down under geddit brought us a unique take on the ‘check-for-understanding.’ Rather than always having kids answer a pretty low level question about the content, really the only type of question that a teacher can ask that can be answered quickly, geddit suggests having the students rate their confidence on the subject matter. While this, of course, got many scoffs from the back of the room about the absurdity of leaving it up to students, the presenter was not naïve about this reticence on the part of adults and he simply stated that kids get better with practice. I like this idea. Of course this would not be the only source of data in the room. The teacher would have to use other ways of checking whether kids are moving along or stuck on a concept. But I really like the idea of involving the students in being metacognitive about their own learning, and instilling the practice of reflection and honest self-assessment. This routine can only lead to more thoughtful learners, learners who think about how they learn and whether they are learning at this moment in time.

Here are my quick mentions:

I also love the idea of Kodable, an app for kids that introduces them to the fundamentals of computer programming. I would like to download it for myself!! As well as our schools ipads, of course, and see if students are interested in learning more.

Classroom IQ was interesting. They tackled the problem of grading, specifically, written answers. This is a challenge for teachers, and will only become more intensive as we move towards Common Core and teachers must prepare students for these types of non-multiple choice questions. However, the solution was a little lack luster. The idea is that teachers scan all of the paper results and upload them to the IQ system. Then the teacher can select the part of the page where the answer is, and the IQ system will replicate this selection across all scanned pages. This produces a number of small screenshot looking boxes where the answers are, and teachers can click and grade. Supposedly it saves time, and I am sure once all the stuff is scanned and uploaded and selected, it would be faster than flipping through paper, but all the scanning and selecting takes time too, not to mention dealing with all the other people who need to use the school’s scanner. What would be great is if they had developed a system that could use handwriting recognition to read and grade the selected answers. That would truly be a time saver!

Finally, Front Row presented a math app the focused on providing differentiated math practice, using Common Core standards. This is built for 1st-5th graders, I believe, so there wont readily be wide spread use in my teaching context. However, there are some students who are really struggling with math and this may be the perfect thing. Additionally, I am very curious to learn what common core math means to them. This is such a nebulous new thing that each new product or assessment, for better or worse, will end up defining what we mean by common core in some way.

In summary, I want to thank Imagine K-12 for bringing us all together, for the tasty snacks and adult beverages. It is not very often that teachers get to feel like experts with other adults, as so much of their days are spent with the students. This is a great way to honor the teacher’s know-how, to build collaborative relationships between the designers and the classroom, and to insist that the newest Edtech products are as relevant as they claim to be. Thank you!

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After the amazing results we saw last year in our Algebra I Blended Learning classes, on of our math teachers decided that to truly take advantage of everything technology has to offer he should take matters into his own hands. After playing around with some different ideas and programming languages, this dedicated teacher spent the summer teaching himself how to program specifically so he could build the best possible tool he could imagine. Let me proudly introduce

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Now where to begin… I guess I will start by describing the user experience. On the second day of class the students were asked to log into their chromebooks, proceed to the url, and create accounts for themselves. This initial set-up process is similar to other social networking sites, add a photo, send friends requests to all your friends, write a short blurb about your interests etc..

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What sets this apart from other tools such as Facebook, instagram, or twitter is that there are lessons that you can do, there are quizzes, there is a spot to keep track of all your homework from all of your classes, there is a forum where you can ask questions about the content and where you are encouraged to discuss mathematical ideas. For the first few days of class the students focused heavily on writing blog posts about a variety of math related topics. Writing in math class? I know, it’s amazing!!

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From a teacher’s perspective this tool provides a centralized system for reaching all of your learners, both during and after the school day. All lessons can be uploaded so that students can work at their own pace, and so that you can spend valuable class time focused on higher order thinking tasks, class discussions, projects etc. Not only this, but our wonderful developer ( by day Algebra I teacher) is very focused on generating a system that has Learning Management System – like features, but that actually work for teachers. For example, certain quiz grades are posted to the students’ pages so that they know exactly what grade they have, and what they need to work on. Student attendance is also posted to their page. This may seem trivial, but there are many students who do not realize exactly how much school they are missing until it is easily accessible, right there for them to see. This system also allows the teacher to specifically generate modified versions of course assignments, or quizzes and post these for students who require these modifications.

Now I know that this sounds very similar to something like Edmodo, and indeed I think that this is probably the existing platform that most resembles However, there is one significant design objective that sets us apart – a vision that we hope to nurture into existence over the coming months. Envision Schools has a unique pedagogical perspective that, among other things, highly values deep and engaging tasks or projects. All Envision Schools students must generate several tasks and present this work in portfolio defenses throughout their high school career. This new platform that we are building will not only support the acquisition of small skills and applied practice, but teachers will be able to develop and implement portfolio tasks and projects using the system, and be able to personalize and individualize, as well as easily monitor student progress. This is an exciting new territory for all of us and I look forward to sharing our learning with the educational technology and blended learning teaching communities as we forge ahead.


What the students have to say

In the weeks leading up to the winter break I had the pleasure of spending time at our school in Hayward Impact Academy (fondly referred to as IA). These Algebra I students are in the unique situation of being co-enrolled in a second math class, a course we call Academic Numeracy or Ac-Num. The design of this course has been to support the learning in the Algebra I class by reviewing previously learned concepts, by allowing time for remedial and/or extension work, and by enhancing the instruction taking place. In years past the Ac-Num teacher was the only teacher who had a class set of computers, in this case netbooks. Last year the students used FlexMath to practice their basic numeracy skills and also participated in UpsideDown Academy (read previous posts for more information).

Because this year the program is structured do differently I wanted to take some time to hear from the experts about how these changes are impacting learning and classroom experiences. So who better to let me know than a student.

This student took Algebra I and Ac-Num last year and is taking these courses again this year, and here is his story:

My name is Benjamin B. and I am a student here at Impact Academy located in Hayward. Recently, this year, we were given a whole cart of Google Chromebooks that was received from google after a teacher wrote a grant for Impact, so that we could get some new computers. From my experience these Chromebooks are way better than the Dell computers we had last year. The Dells experienced major problems last year. There were many malfunctions, whether it was from not being able to connect to the internet or to shutting down by itself, and many of these unknown errors were really affecting my school work.
But this year all the students here at Impact are really happy that we received these new Chromebooks and it has really improved many of our learning experiences. Last year when we would go on FlexMath or Khan Academy on the Netbooks, it was a really slow experience for a lot of us because the Netbooks were so out of date. Sometimes we would even be late on our deadlines for projects, so it would bring down our grade. But with these new Chromebooks there are almost never any malfunctions when we are working. These computers are also very fast and effective whether it’s practicing math drills on Khan Academy, working at our own speed on problems, or just writing reports for other classes.
So I would like to thank Google and the teacher who wrote the grant for us. It has truly improved our learning experiences here at Impact and we are very grateful for this wonderful gift of Chromebooks that were given to us.


This student clearly has noticed a difference in how these tools allow his to progress through his material from a purely practical point of view. Pedagogically, this allows the teachers to plan for and implement lessons that take advantage of the technologies transparency and as such are less about the tools and more about the content.

Lastly, this student is thankful for the gift that has been given to his school and he sees how this increases his chances of success. Thanks for sharing Benjamin B.

Who Am I? and other essential questions


Envision Schools is committed to Project-Based Learning  (PBL) and interdisciplinary work. Please visit our website for a more in depth description of our pedagogical stance towards deeper learning, 21st Century skills, and our Exhibition projects. Last year Envision Schools partnered with Puzzle School to design a web-based platform called Upside Down Academy. Early posts on this blog, as well as a soon to be published article in Unboxed, describe in detail how this tool played a central roll in one of our first math-based Exhibitions. As well, this was our first exploration into bringing Blended Learning into a PBL environment.

Blended Learning is characterized as a student based approach to learning, in which the use of technology can support individual student’s learning path and pace. We usually see this implemented in such a way that it focuses on skill acquisition. This is great. Learning specific discreet skills is an essential part of the education process. PBL, on the other hand, aims to engage students such that these discreet skills work in consort and generalize across domains. This is what builds the much needed critical thinking and meta-cognition, skills that we know are essential for success in today’s work force. This is a long way of saying, envisioning how PBL and Blended Learning mate can be a challenge.

Rather than wax philosophic I think I would like to share one of the projects that is happening at METRO right now. The 9th and 10th graders are working on a project of self-exploration that is bleeding into almost all of their classes. In Digital Media Arts they are creating silhouettes of themselves, using photoshop, that incorporate images of different things that represent them. In History the students studied political, economic and social structures and systems. They are creating visual webs that represent which systems they would uphold and which ones they would rebel against. In Science they are studying their circulatory and respiratory systems and are grappling with the concept of Homeostasis. In Math they are designing and graphing their own personal symbol that represents their place in all of the above. The project’s Essential Question is “Who am I in a complex world.”

I would like to take this opportunity to dive deeper into the Math portion of this project. This project allows students to work at their own pace by only introducing the tools and then letting students define what their outcomes would be. Also, access to technology and web 2.0 tools made what is usually a tedious and inflexible process, more fluid, visual, and problematized. For the Math portion of the project

the students first drew their personal symbols using graph paper.





While they were perfecting their personal symbol they got on Desmos and began manipulating and testing and playing. For homework they were given this:

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And had to start thinking about how to gather all the information from the graph to represent it mathematically. Then they did the same with their own symbols.

This project engaged students in multiple ways, mathematically, artistically, and rhetorically. They could use Desmos to manipulate and copy features from existing designs, but ultimately they needed to establish an understanding of how the formulas change the outcomes. Lastly, students needed to think about how their symbol is reflective of their character and who they are within systemic complexity.

Chromebook Roll-Out


Last week the students at Impact Academy were introduced to their Chromebooks.

The teacher put together a little prezi that ensured students were using them safely and that the routines for starting and ending class were crystal clear.


It is Friday

The time is 1:30 pm

The location is hot and sunny Hayward

I hear the soft beep that accompanies a gchat. It is Denise (algebra I teacher)

Imagine my surprise when I read the below message.

Apparently each block spent the day:


1. logging in to Chromebook,

2. getting on Khan Academy,

3. setting up their profile with their Algebra I teacher as their coach, and

4. Participating in a little friendly competition.


The Challenge:

Which block can get the most energy point!!! Nothing like a little competition between blocks to get students excited. Needless to say, I am excited that the students are happily working away on math problems late on a Friday afternoon, and this makes me hopeful for the success of our blended learning project.





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Kick off for 2012-2013 school year

The new school year is officially underway and, despite a delayed start, the Blended Learning programs and my coaching schedule is up and running. I spent the first two weeks of school helping our tech department get our Chromebook carts ready and in classrooms. Due to an overwhelming number of orders (note to self, order Chromebooks in February if possible) our order arrived on the first day of school. To make matters even more complicated they all arrived at our Support Office in Oakland in giant piles.

photo taken with photosynth

So I sifted through them all and organized them into piles for each site, arranged for their transportation, unpacked boxes, charged them, turned them on, enrolled them into our domain, tagged them, inventoried them, carted them etc… All this set up is nothing in comparison to that of a macbook cart, for example, but it is still a significant number of days work.

Envision School is embarking on two new ventures this year. We are expanding the use of Chromebooks in Algebra I classes to all four sites.

Metropolitan Arts and Technology High School – known as Metro, in San Francisco

City Arts and Technology High School – known as CAT, in San Francisco

Impact Academy – known as IA, in Hayward

Envision Academy – known as EA, in Oakland

We are using a Flexlab model at two of our schools (Metro and CAT) for language classes, credit recovery, and extension classes. We are also continuing to work with our highest need students individually to provide blended learning opportunities through integrating technology with the general education curriculum. My role as Blended Learning Coach is to support the teachers in implementing these programs, continue to monitor the effectiveness of the each program and, of course, write about it.

Our efforts are unified in that we are focused on individualized and differentiated pathways to success within the structure of A-G requirements and standards aligned courses. We strongly believe that all students will experiences success when given appropriate opportunities and tools. An important part of this equation is using technology as both a tool and thus an opportunity to access individualized and differentiated learning experiences. I look forward to sharing these experiences with you over the coming school year as I write about what is working and what is difficult. I always welcome suggestions, comments and feedback as I learn from active engagement with my audience.

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Summer situation update

There are many great things about being a teacher. We all go into the field for different reasons and have different high points and challenges. However, one things that many of us can agree on is the importance of summer vacation. Its our time to relax, read a novel, prepare our curriculum and revitalize. Being that I am both a teacher and a student, summer vacation is a chance for me to rest, relax with a novel and do research. Yes, research.

Supported by the Graduate Schools of Education at UC Berkeley and a generous gift from Google I had the pleasure of spending the summer delving into the literature and research in the field of technology and teacher practice. It is difficult to ignore the presence of technology both in our everyday lives and in the work-force. As we prepare students to be educated in and work in this technology rich environment, we must teach in new ways. One of my driving questions was to better understand the skills that teachers need inorder to skillfully integrate technology into their teaching practice and how teacher preparation programs either do or do not teach these skills.

In hopes of gaining clarity I need to gather the perspectives of teachers. To this end, I have developed a short questionnaire that I hope you will find time to complete, and please pass along to all your teacher friends. find it here:

Stay tuned for my findings and recommendations.




Wrapping up the year.

The end of the school year has come and gone and in the calm after the storm I find myself reflecting upon how our projects have faired. I also realized that in the frenzy of the last weeks of school I failed to post my final thoughts about Upside Down Exhibition at Impact Academy. As the student were rapidly prototyping on their lessons and the teachers were prepping for final reflections, I was working on finding funding for next year. The Gates Foundation has kindly extended its interest in Blended Learning and is continuing to support brick and mortar schools, like Envision, find innovative ways to bring Blended Learning into more traditional models. The process of preparing and revising a grant is something that is new to me and I am so grateful to our superintendent and our head of development for the collaboration and persistence that they both displayed. This was by no means an isolated or individual effort. And it is certainly a testament to the power of bringing the different expertise of an organization together in pursuit of one goal.

Thank you Gates for the opportunity to continue what we believe to be transformative work; both for us organizationally and for the students we serve.

And speaking of those student… I went to Impact academy in the last week of school. I was actually there on the day of graduation and saw many of my previous students walk. That is always a tear jerker.

The 9th grade students were busily finishing up their video reflections so they could make it to the hall on time. In conversations with a few of the students and the teacher I could clearly see that the impact of providing and receiving structured peer feedback was turning out to be very positive. The teacher had led the whole class through the process of determining feedback, and then emphasized the difference and importance of warm and cool feedback. These distinctions are ones that the adults at Envision Schools use frequently in our protocols for working on a variety of projects. It is amazing to see how this skill has now been introduced at all levels and connects staff and students as humans and agents of teaching and learning.

After engaging in this process in groups, and filling out rubrics on each others work, the students logged on to Upside Down Academy and publicly reviewed their peers lessons, the evidence of this is something I encourage the readers to check out for themselves.

The project iterations has convinced me that this process is one that provides multiple layers of learning. Students clearly explore their own strengths and challenges as teachers and learners, this process provides new ways to practice and prepare material, and its an authentic avenue for students to practice their multi-media talents. My hope is that next years Algebra I teachers will draw on this years tutorials as part of their instructional tool kits, and that students will continue to share their learnings with each other and the world.

In closing, please stay tuned for our final posts about using ipads. The two week end of year project was exciting and gave us a glimpse of how this tool can change the learning space. And lastly, have a wonderful summer.

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A student reflects on upside down academy

Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time at Impact Academy. The students were deeply engrossed in their second round of video productions and their final lessons. The students had the opportunity to do their first video on an Algebra I concept of their choice. This was their chance to play around with the filming and editing techniques. Their teacher, Ms. Sudow reflected that in many cases the final products were well made videos that were lacking in math rigor. In some cases the math was even incorrect. This first round of reflection allowed the students to think about how to balance the draw of making an engaging video with the importance of focusing on actual teaching and learning, and not being seduced by an over emphasis on fun.

The students took this learning into their second round of video production, in which they focused on Functions. Here is an exemplary video:


This video demonstrates the students ability to create engaging material, supports a unique way of remembering the definition of a function, and provides examples.

In my visit to Impact Academy I had the opportunity to speak with the student about the process.

student interview

Tomorrow is the last day of the project. I will going to Impact to participate in the round of scoring and reviewing student work. The teachers have invited community members and stakeholders, and along with fellow classmates we will be providing students with feedback on their lessons. Visit UpsideDownAcademy to share your thoughts with the students.

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ipads in math class!

Last week the 9th grade students at City Arts and Technology (fondly known as CAT), which is one of the two Envision Schools in San Francisco, were able to use ipads in their last math classes of the year. Due to the tireless work of our Senior Director of Technology we were able to benefit from  a loan program that Apple has. Their rep just dropped them off and our math teacher was able to start right away (well it was almost that simple). Luckily the math teacher at CAT has been working hard all year to incorporate technology in his teaching practice and was ready to take full advantage of the loan.

When I went to visit the students were working on graphing and exploring how all of the elements of the equation impact the end result. Their first task was to create graphs that looked the same as the samples provided. Once they had visually matched the graphs they then noted the different values for x, y, and a. For this they were using an online graphing calculator called Desmos.










After this they were asked to use at least three different equations at once. This prompted many of the students creativity and ingenuity. A couple of students used simple line and circle equations to create a picture. ” its a plate, some chopsticks and a…meatball” she exclaimed. I think this got other students thinking outside of the box, I saw kites, flowers, and a baseball. Some students went to the samples to see how other shapes are made, and even copied or changed these equations to better understand how they changed the image. One pair of students wanted to have a filled shape and did so by making multiple lines that seemed to blend together. 










This website offered students a more hands on opportunity to engage with the graph, by allowing them to adjust all aspects, by making it possible for them to play and move and experiment. One student called me over because he, and I will use his words ” am lost in my graph”. He had gotten so deep into the manipulation and moving that he could not locate where x and y intersect. Luckily there is a button to bring you home. I asked him what he was working on and he said that he was following the two lines he had created, “they just kept going”. I flippantly said they would keep going forever and never touch, and he looked at me in a way that I am having a hard time describing. I realized that even though he knew this (someone told him, his teacher taught him, he memorized it) he had not experienced it until now. It was made real for him in that moment.

So, apart from testing the ipads in algebra I, we are going to be using them for the next two weeks in what we refer to as “workshops.” This is a time when each teacher creates a larger project that the students can engage with, and students select which project they want to work on. So stay tuned for more exciting stories and more learning.

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