Category Archives: Digital Learning

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.


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.




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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A day in the life

Since the beginning of the school year Envision Academy has been piloting the use of Chromebooks in the classroom. We decided that we wanted all of the incoming 9th graders to have access to Chromebooks in every class. We wanted to instill a stong academic identity and sense of scholarship to start off their high school experience with a unique and transformative experience. As a result of these conditions we have noticed a couple of interesting things.

Firstly, the students have become fluent in accessing their emails, google docs, google sites, etc. They remember their passwords and use them both inside and outside of school hours. This is a big change from how other 9th graders perform who do not have access to these resources in all of their classes.

Secondly, the teacher’s practices, routines, and curriculum have changed to incorporate and integrate the technology in ways that support more diverse learning.

Following is a day in the life of a typical 9th grade student

1st Period – Math

I always use my Chromebook in math class. My teacher usually starts off the lesson with a warm up that is on the board, then she will teach a short lesson. This lesson usually relates to the Unit we are learning and could be one of the skills I am working on in class. Then we open our Khan Academy accounts and get to work. We each have a plan of the modules we need to complete and we work on this in small groups. I can get help from the people sitting at my table, or ask my teacher to check over my work. My teacher spends time with each table throughout the class and teaches us something that will help us understand the lessons on Khan Academy.









2nd Period – Academic Literacy

This class is fun because we are using our Chromebooks to work on our websites. We had to interview family members and turn these into narratives. Our teacher also has us do lots of research on the Internet, we have learned how to evaluate sources to make sure that they are reliable. Also my teacher often has me take short quizzes on Google forms. I think he likes to see if I have learned the lesson or not because sometimes he will reteach something that I was a little confused about.

3rd Period – Digital Literacy

This is the one class inwhich I rarely use a Chromebook because I am in the lab, here we work on imacs. This class is fun because I learn how to use all the programs on the computer like imovie, Keynote, and Photoshop. I also often have to work on projects that relate to what is happening in my other classes. For example, we learned how to make a good website so that our website in Academic Literacy were well designed.












4th Period – Science

In my science class we built small gravity powered cars and used Google templates to open a spreadsheet to record our data and calculate the velocity or acceleration of our cars. This was a fun project because we got to incorporate many different skills. Our teacher also had us use the Chromebooks to create small visuals that compare and contrast different Physics concepts; for example the difference between elastic and inelastic collisions or showing different forms of heat transfer.

Also my teacher always gives us our Science quizzes on the Chromebooks.

5th Period – Language Arts

It is finally my last class of the day. My teacher has had us writing essay using Google docs, but luckily that is over for now. We will be watching short clips on Youtube that relate to the book we are reading. Then our teacher wants us to create a presentation using Google presentations or Prezi that shows the main themes of the book and specific pieces of evidence from the story that show the themes. This should be a good break from essay writing, but we still have to write our blogs of course.

Envision Academy gets recognized

Last week I was approached by a journalist who was writing a short piece about blended learning and upside down academy. He was curious how the project had gone and wanted to hear about our take aways.

As part of this process I worked with 3 students to answer all of his questions, convey the essence of what we do at Envision Schools and what Upside Down Exhibition was all about. I was so blown away by the articulate nature of these students. They were so clear about what they had learned, why it was important, what they would do differently now as a result of this process, and what other students and teachers should know about making math videos. These students saw this project not only as an exercise in math, but as a forum for exploring creative video production and filming techniques, and a platform for showing the world their thoughts and capabilities. One student even reflected on the process of getting public feedback. She had re-filmed her video and in the end found that this critique made her work stronger.

I can’t say enough about how powerful this process was, and in general how amazing it is to see youth empowered by learning. Please take a moment to read about this mindshift and hear of the ripples this project made across the country.

Travels with Kiera: an educator on the road

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking my work on the road. My first stop was The California Charter School’s Association held its annual conference in Sacramento and I lucky enough to get a last minute invitation. Looking over the Conference schedule the night before it was striking how much emphasis was placed on Blended Learning by the programming board. Perhaps this reflects the demand of their constituency, perhaps this is a local representation or perhaps this is demonstrative of a national wave in digital learning.

I had the pleasure of being a part of many interesting discussions and got an in depth view into some specific examples of blended learning approaches. What is fascinating is to realize how broadly the field of education is defining blended learning approaches. For example, there are charter schools that have built their buildings to accommodate a large learning lab. A new elementary school in rural California, Grimmway Academy, has lab space for up to 70 students or so. A team of learning specialists monitor the students progress through a handful of different software programs, pull small groups off the computers to reinforce or re-teach certain concepts, and this team communicates regularly with the classroom teachers to both share data on the students progress and plan upcoming curriculum. This fledgling school approached its design with an idea of blended learning as a pillar around which other decisions were made. Their model cited the previous example of a similar model, Rocketship Education.

Other schools have embraced different aspects of blended learning. For example, Greendot has pulled together a variety of resources that they use to techno-phy the existing curricular structure. Some examples of these are Google apps for education, edmodo, and dropbox. This is similar to the approach that we are exploring at Envision Schools. When I think of the blended learning that we are working to establish it is one that incorporates the affordances of certain new media into an existing physical and curricular structure. Each approach has pros and cons, and is a response to different condition sets.

There were also a plethora of companies and institutions approaching blended learning from a more historical perspective. From what I know the term ‘blended learning’ was first coined to describe distance learning or online learning opportunities that were primarily computer based. Under this particular umbrella there are a wide variety of programs that offer different levels of curriculum, programs that are designed on different approaches to learning, different levels of scaffolding, different levels of technological support. Making educated decisions about which of these are the right fit for your school can be overwhelming. In fact there was a very interesting presentation that touched on the important areas to consider when constructing a rubric and protocol for making these types of decisions for your school community.

Lastly, even the exhibition hall was all a flutter with the accouterments of blending learning environments. Many booths were holding raffles for free ipads, kindles, laptops etc. All of the poster sessions were organized around blended learning. Overall the conference had some interesting points to ponder and exposed me to many companies and organizations that are building and selling blended learning.

Imagine K12 Educator Day

Later in the same week I was invited to attend a bi-yearly event held in Palo Alto. Imagine K12 is an opportunity for new EdTech companies to partner with educators so that the creators and the stakeholders can co-contribute to the development and refinement of new venture. This was an exciting and interesting experience for me.

Firstly, the event was held in a manner similar to a TED Talk. They were punchy and well prepared and got right to the heart of each product. In most cases the person presenting on behalf of the products were the founders or co-founders. This resulted in a really inspired and heartfelt pitch.

Secondly, there was a wide variety of new products and platforms so there was something there for everyone. Prior to the event I had spent sometime on the phone with the founder of Hapara. This New Zealand based company has designed a platform that organizes and manages google apps for education. Really a great product for administrators to look at if the school is using google apps consistently. There were other companies that presented more data management tools that seem really comprehensive and smart, but that I was less drawn to because they were not directly applicable to my current position. I was able to meet and chat with the creators of educreations. This is an exciting tool that one of our math teachers is using to create short videos of his classroom for students to access after class. I have been using educreations to take notes in my statistics class. I can write what the teacher is saying and record the lecture at the same time! Genius.

Lastly, there were two new resources that I feel everyone should spend sometime looking at, so I want to introduce them here. The first is BrainGenie. This site provides instructional tutorials and practice in a variety of Math and Science topics. It is nicely divided into grade levels and is being aligned with Common Core standards. I had a long conversation with the co-founder and he indicated that while he realizes that their platform is very much like Khan Academy, they hope to develop into a tool that is differentiated by the feedback that teachers can provide. So use the site and let them know what you think. The second resource that I saw a lot of potential in is a search engine tool call InstaGrok. This tool can be used to scaffold web-based research in a number of ways. The site organizes information by identifying key vocabulary, by providing a relationship chart for said vocabulary and concepts, by providing images and audio-visual resources, and the most interesting feature is you can adjust the reading level of the resources provided. I can see this search engine being particularly helpful in late elementary and middle school, but I also see how it can be useful even for adults.

All in all both of these experiences have given me many ideas to take back to my schools. I was reminded that it is important to get outside of the classroom every once in a while, to interact and brainstorm with other educators. This process of rejuvenation is essential to being sustainable in ones role, and I believe it is essential to ensuring that the innovations of blended learning approaches continue to cross pollinate and breed.

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