Monthly Archives: May 2012

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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Project update

A few days ago I had the pleasure of going to Impact Academy and spending the day with the 9th grade team, students and teachers alike. The project is well under way. The students had spent time reviewing and critiquing other online instructional tutorials, whether on Khan Academy, on UpsideDownAcademy or other web-based lessons. They used cleverly designed graphic organizers to detail their thoughts and keep track of this learning. On the day of my visit they were in the middle of finishing up their scripts and filming their first lessons. These lessons were created in pairs, they also got to choose which Algebra concept they wanted to focus on. Naturally, the outcomes were varied. Students chose very different concepts and different approaches.

In my discussions with students they all seemed interested in the project but not entirely enthusiastic. They were apprehensive about what was being perceived as a lot of work. They did express excitement about uploading their video tutorials and the idea that people all over the world could see them and comment on them.

I captured a small bit of footage that demonstrates a taste of the productive flavor. Students are collaborating, discussing strategies, being creative, and iterating as they go.

In the next few days the fruits of their labor will be uploaded to, and I hope that you will view them and provide the students with feedback. This will help them immensely as they delve in to their final project of the year, video tutorials about functions.

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Blended learning reaches all student

In thinking about how the landscape of blended learning has progressed in the past years there seem to be several themes that drive the innovation and change. While there are many physical manifestations of blended learning, i.e. flex models, learning Labs, cyber schools, and all other verbage that goes along with it (remixing, flipping, video tutorials, data analytics, personalized learning), the conceptual foundations seem less disparate. Reach all students!

As a teacher who has spent many years working with atypically developing students, this premise resonates loud and prominent, like the tremors I feel in the Berkeley hills from the Hayward fault. Reach All Students!!!

Early pioneers in the blended learning space, as described in tech& learning, were curiousabout the potential gains that could be made by flipping how and when the direct instruction was delivered. Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, authors of  Flip Your Classroom, started creating vodcasts of their lessons in 2006-2007. This instigated alternative approaches to instruction that they felt allowed the in-class activities to “transition [ing] from the old industrial model of education to the learner centered, active class of the future.”

We know that inquiry and authentic learning opportunities, and critical thinking, and group work are all approaches that support learning and prepare students for college and beyond. We want our students to develop 21st century leadership skills and Project-Based Learning is one way that we achieve this goal. In addition, Flip Your Classroom states

Flipping helps students of all abilities to excel. Our special education teachers love this model. Because all the direct instruction is recorded, students with special needs can watch the videos as many times as they need to learn the material.” This establishes skill development as an essential component of a students education and at the same time emphasizes individual pathways to skill mastery.

At Envision Schools we have been exploring these concepts in a couple of ways. One of our math teachers has begun to test the power of having students watch and rewatch instructional tutorials for key algorithms in mathematics. Struggling students in his classroom spend time reviewing the days lesson on educreations while others are working in small groups, and others are doing extension or reach problems. Embracing not only the technique of flipping but reintroducing a station approach has allowed the students and teacher in this algebra I class to have multiple and personalized pathways to success. Stay tuned for more exciting new from this classroom!!!

The other way that we are building our competencies in technology integration in the service of individualized learning is the work that I am doing with Learning Center staff and specific students. Leslie Wilson recently wrote a blog post about the significant role that technology can now play in the educational experience for students with Individualized Education Plans. We have learned that there are many free web-based tools that provide scaffolding to our students so that they can become more independent and successful. There are also a couple of programs that we have invested in that are worth the money we spent.

I will start by describing the tools we paid for. Each Learning Center has what we call the “Assistive Tech” laptop that the Learning Specialists can use with students. These are equipt with Co:writer, Write:Outloud, and Dragon Dictate, among all the other programs that the schools computers have. My favorite is Co:Writer by far. This program has a predictive text feature that supports students with dyslexia or low literacy skills by offering them options based on phonetic spelling information. It also reads the complete sentence back to the writer. Its great. It really helps students engage in writing as though they are having a conversation, and hear when their writing is not what they want it to sound like.

I will now mention a few of the free tools that have been successful and why we like them.

  1. Allows students to summarize readings so that they can ensure comprehension.
  2. Dragon Dictate app. This allows students to access the tool on the go without the laborious set up.
  3. Khan Academy. Students get to work on skills that they may not have mastered.
  4. Bookshare. Free audio books and reader. Allows students to access text.
  5. Allows students to do paper corrections and learn at the same time.

Looking ahead to next year I am certain that we will continue to find innovative ways to meet the learning needs of the diverse student body we serve. I am sure that there are many more tools that others have used, and that students access on their own. I welcome any suggestions and recommendations.

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Upside Down Academy takes a trip to Hayward

I am in Hayward today sitting in the 9th grade academic numeracy class. Today is the roll-out for their end of the year project, which is going to take place in both this class and Algebra I. Both teachers have worked together to figure out how to balance the conceptual and the applied parts of the project, so that the students remain engaged and focused, and are able to reach a high level of rigor. To kick it off today the teacher had the students think about a memorable moment in learning that had occurred.

One student remembered “this thing called Project X. My teacher had some students sit in the corner and do pointless work, and other students got to do some meaningful work, and then others got to chill. It was like this for a whole week. Students got so upset, and rebelled, that it even became a problem outside of class. This really made me think” Yet another student reflected on how “our science teacher always sings and makes songs about what we are learning. She has so much energy”

Then some 10th graders came were invited in to talk about some science lessons that they had just taught. This group of students talked about what strategies worked well, which lessons were memorable, and what they would do differently next time. The 9th graders listened attentively and asked questions.

So what is in store for this lucky group of 9th graders? For the next week they will learn about teaching strategies, take learning styles inventories and discover their learning styles, they will watch and analyze video tutorials on Khan Academy, BrainGenie, and UpsideDown Academy. Yes, stay tuned for cross school commenting as the students at Impact Academy will be watching and providing feedback to the lessons created at Envision Academy.

Then the students will delve into flipping the teaching and learning cycle as they become teachers. This is Upside Down Exhibition II – Spartan Style (the Spartan is Impact Academy’s mascot)

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