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.

Tools of the day

In the spirit of open source collaborative design-based experimentation in the service of learning, I want to share the tools I encountered today.

I watched a Webinar about differentiation that discussed how technology can support the need for more individualized approaches, and more specifically what. The presentation was given by two teachers so the suggestions that they make are really practical and you know that they will work.

Some ideas that I have been tossing around recently are using Voicethread for students to create digital stories. This could work well as an alternative assignment in any class. I have most often seen this used with Language Arts, but I also think it can be very powerful in Science and Math.

Googlelittrips has kmz files that can be overlaid into google earth and show the highlights of major works of literature. This seems like a great activity to support the reading of one of the books. Could also be applicable to historical analysis.

Educreations is great for making videos of your lesson, or encouraging students to create videos of their own. This can be used in any classroom and even outside.

animaps is a great way to create interactive informative maps. I love this idea. I have not had a chance to use this much yet and would love to hear how others have used this.

Google search stories is also a fun way for students to engage in a short project that captures the essence of any lesson, story, process. Could be a great way to teach the story arch and have students apply this knowledge.

I also recently found this interactive whiteboard site that is free to use. Although I have yet to really test it.

In the interest of sharing, I would love to hear from others who have used these resources. Also, if there are other tools that people have come across that are useful and you have had success with please feel free to share these as well.

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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.

Exhibition Post Script

On Thursday evening last week, Envision Academy was a whirl of excitement and nerves as the community gathered to participate in a demonstration of learning. For the last 5 weeks, the 9th grade students have embarked on an exploration of themselves as teachers and learners. The essential questions: What teaching strategies and methods best support my understanding of algebraic concepts? driving their inquiry

As parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends filled the seats, our students prepared their lessons, and assessments. The students began by sharing what self-knowledge about their learning style and their educational biography informed their instructional choices and as a result their teaching artifact. They then shared their video tutorials with the audience. Lastly, they gave short assessments and provided face-to-face support and scaffolding as the audience completed the quizzes.

It was interesting to see the students truly embody their inner educator as they assisted the audience members. Many parents struggled to remember, or had never learned, the algebra and geometry concepts that the students were teaching. It was exciting to see how students provided assistance to the important people in their lives who were there to support them, and to strangers alike. This made me feel that they took the job seriously and felt responsible for ensuring that their lesson was successful.

Some students even went off script and provided extra instruction while classmates translated the presentation into Spanish. This video captures a couple of these magic moments.

In the post exhibition reflection overwhelmingly students reported that they were thoughtful about their learning style while creating their videos. In response to the question “When you were making your video did you think about ways to make your video for someone who learns like you?” 68% of the students responded positively.

We also asked the students consider the “strategies that you saw your classmates use that you think worked really well?” This elicited some very interesting responses including the below:

“Because I am also a kinesthetic learner, which means hands on learning, and I felt that it worked because different people are different things (meaning different types of learners). For example, my mom is a kinesthetic learner because she mostly understood my friend who had a different teaching method and another lady was a visual learner because she learned best with my method of teaching (visual).

To examine the students lessons in more detail check out:


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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Students Speak out

As exhibition night rapidly approaches I thought it would be interesting to capture how the students are feeling; take the proverbial temperature so to speak. With that in mind I spent the morning hanging out in the Digital Learning Lab talking to students.  The room was a perfect example of controlled chaos. The students all were at different places in the process, knew what they had to work on next, and there was much activity and chatter in the effort to achieve these goals. The teacher used this time to check in with students individually and trouble shoot technical issues should they arise.

By this time I am a familiar face to the students. I got the attention of the class and announced that I wanted to capture their quotes in response to the following questions:

  • How things are going with the exhibition?
  • What are you excited about?
  • What part of the process was the most engaging?
  • What part of exhibition night are you looking for?
  • What is your biggest learning from this project?

After this announcement I made my way around the classroom and conversed with students individually.

The first student was working on imovie, editing his second draft.

“I made my script over break. I even filmed two videos. But I’m only going to use the second one for exhibition cause I was looking down to much in the first one. Also realized that I need to speak louder.”  After this I asked him about his feelings towards exhibition night. He responded that he is “excited about the focus of exhibition night.”

I moved on to check in with another student. This student is one that I know well from working individually with him. His most prominent feeling right now is “I’m nervous! I am not good at talking and even though it’s on the video I still feel nervous.” This was similar to the experiences of others who stated “I am nervous about my parents seeing the work I have been doing.”

The next student I spoke with wanted me to review her lesson write up to check it for grammatical errors. Through talking with her about her project she exclaimed“ I am looking forward to seeing other students math presentations.” One of her classmates, Zuri chimed in, “ I think that exhibition is going to be hilarious. We have a lot of creative people and natural comedians. They come up with things that aren’t really Normal, and it makes it funny”

Some students shared with me their thoughts about what the exhibition is going to be like and what the participants should expect. Asiay said “Most parents probably ain’t that good at math, so be prepared to become a student again.” Taylor shared that  “I think people should be looking forward to learning new skills, and new methods for learning this math.” One student shared this, “I want the participants to leave knowing something. People might see me all dressed up like this (baggy pants, hoody, headphones) but they’re just clothes, not me, and they can learn from me.” This struck me as a profound statement that hinted at the transformative nature of this project. Lastly, Dominique shared her rational for how audience members should approach the exhibition.

“If you guys come you can remember the math you forgot.  I decided to teach my lesson like a teacher to show my parents that I can teach and not just be a student. I experimented with titles because I talk really fast sometimes and I want people to read the instructions at the bottom so they can go back. So people can listen and read and review”

a students speaks about about Khan Academy

Today I had the pleasure of sitting down with an old student of mine. He was spending some time in the Learning Center working on math and I asked him about his experience using Khan Academy. We had a great conversation, some of which is captured here:

I really appreciated this conversation because he was so thoughtful about his learning style and how Khan uses strategies that support his learning. I also thought his suggestions for improvements made a lot of sense. It is a good teaching strategy to break ideas down into smaller, more manageable parts so that the learner and integrate each new schema. Also, if the videos were made into visual chapters or sections it would be easier for the viewer to skim through and find specific information. This would address George’s concern that he has a hard time finding small bits of information in the longer explanation.