AIMS Zone of Proximal Construction – Tools for Productive Struggle

The AIMS Center on the campus of Fresno Pacific University is an organization that I’ve admired for at least 15 years. I actually was an AIMS scholarship recipient as an undergraduate mathematics major and as a teacher I used AIMS activities whenever I could.

AIMS has changed a bit in the past few years from producing print curriculum – they realized there was a bunch of OER stuff out there that it was getting hard to compete – and focusing on professional development and research.

My wife Meagan and I were invited to speak last week on behalf of their Colloquium Series – research-minded talks to math and science teachers going through an AIMS-related cohort.

We spoke about ways to help teachers let their students experience productive struggle. Emphasis on productive. Meagan, a special education teacher and adjunct professor, focused on environmental factors and things that teachers can do specifically for the learner. I focused on making the math connections when possible, as well as technology tools for formative assessment and PD to give the best information to both students and teachers. Formative assessment should really be called feedback in my opinion, and I made the comment either on the podcast or during the talk that if our formative assessment tools aren’t giving the STUDENTS feedback we’re missing the point.

Universal Design for Learning – designing learning not to accommodate learners with special needs, but thinking about those accommodations and then designing the lesson to reach ALL Learners with those methods – was the biggest takeaway so much so that Meagan and I are planning on attending the CAST conference in Boston this summer. It was a great night with feedback from the, ‘students’, conversations with Dr Brownell for the podcast, and overall feeling like being home and fun to be in front of people with great questions. My main points:

  1. Make formative assessment something the students themselves can learn about  – don’t keep the ‘dashboard’ confined to the teacher!
  2. Give students multiple ways to express their learning and struggles
  3. Design your classroom in a way that there are no questions for what is expected of students – the less outside stressors, the more they can focus on the academic tasks at hand.


Video Archive of the Presentation


Thanks Lori Hamada, Dr Chris Brownell and the entire AIMS staff for making our visit welcoming and great! We can’t wait to be back!

#TT4T Book Study – Turn Weakness Into Strength

Note: This is an ongoing book study started by Chase Orton about Tim Ferris' Tools of Titans. Intro Post

I was reading this week about how different people have taken what were considered weaknesses and turned them into their greatest strengths. Take Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about his heavy accent even after being in the United States for several years:

Arnold was able to use his biggest “flaws” as his biggest assets, in part because he could bide his time and didn’t have to rush to make rent. He shared an illustrative anecdote from the Terminator set: “Jim Cameron said if we wouldn’t have had Schwarzenegger, then we couldn’t have done the movie, because only he sounded like a machine.”

He took what critics told him was preventing him from further roles and made it something that became his trademark.

As teachers we often face the same thing. I’ve read books (can’t remember from where!) where they talk about some teachers on teams maybe aren’t great teachers, so make up for it by being really nice people. Or maybe the teacher who is always involved in fundraising and supervising sports never comes to the professional learning community collaboration time. For myself personally, I found that while I understood the math well, I wasn’t very good at things like recognizing kids birthdays, or even sometimes recognizing when discipline wasn’t quite what I needed it to be in a classroom. In other words, I was so inside my head about the lesson I would miss the bigger story of what was going on in my classroom.

This flaw was pointed out to me by the principal who became my friend that shaped my teaching career the most, Jeremy Ward at Computech Middle School. He had a good way through feedback in Google Docs and in person about being honest about what he saw. Organization was the root cause of my struggles – often I’d be fumbling from class to class for markers or materials that I would miss the cues from kids coming into class.  So over time I was able to become a minimalist teacher, and with less, “stuff,” I became more effective.  Likewise, I was able to point this out to both students and other teachers who may have struggled with being able to focus on the task at hand.

What are your weaknesses that you have turned into strengths?

#TT4T – The Damage Done In Not Waiting

I’m reading Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers after a gentle nudge from Chase Orton, whom I’ve gotten to know through CMC conferences recently.

There is a part in the first part of the book where it’s talking about learnings from Siddhartta Buddha. A merchant is asking what Siddhartha can give him if he can’t give him possessions. A short portion of the exchange is follows:

Merchant: “Very well, and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give?”

Siddhartha: “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.”

He can’t give money, he can’t give things. But he goes on to explain a bit – if he doesn’t have food, then he can fast.

Let’s take the same ideas and apply it to teaching mathematics:

I can think (Math Practices 7,8)

Tim Ferris extrapolates further that because he can think, he can make good decisions.

We can teach kids how to memorize things, or we can teach them the why behind the algorithms. We can give them a goal without support, or we can teach them a system of how to study and achieve in education and in life. Specifically I’m thinking about being able to give our students the foundational skills needed to really engage deeply in DOK 3 level problems – we know that we can’t immediately engage kids with a DOK 4. I once saw a chart from an administrator who thought the DOK levels were like a ladder, and that the end of every quarter should automatically see DOK 4 level problems… a blatant misrepresentation of the paradigm

I can wait (Math Practices 1, 3)

In the book, Tim expands – because he can wait, he can play the long-term game and not make short-term bad decisions.

This idea of waiting for students to understand things hit me pretty hard. When I moved from high school to middle school, I noticed that I was quicker to help the middle school students – probably because I felt they needed it. This was incorrect! I only discovered this fact when I recorded myself teaching over the course of several days and then watched the recordings on fast-forward to be able to spot trends.

I didn’t wait for kids to answer incorrectly or not. I was not giving kids a chance to struggle. This affects equity and as is talked about over and over again in Mathematical Mindsets, my classroom was not a safe place to learn by making mistakes and then being able to apply that knowledge in a new context. I made immediate changes to pre-write questions I knew I wanted to ask and adapt those questions from class to class as needed.

I can fast (Mathematical Practice 1)

Obviously we aren’t going to ask students to not eat here. But we can stop, “spoon-feeding,” them answers (see what I did there?!). Too often I would catch myself asking leading questions without even realizing it – but why should I be asking guiding questions at all when students should have the tools to self-diagnose.

What to do about it

Some ideas I had while writing this post:

  1. Use puzzles during warmup to help remind students that just as they can find different ways to solve a puzzle, they can find different ways to solve a problem.
  2. Have students explain their steps out loud to another student or explain it back to me using an app such as Recap. I would also often have students in a group be recording into an audio device and then the next day, have them play back parts of the audio to be able to hear themselves solving problems – their own insights to their thinking process was often quite interesting!
  3. Strategies/activities I have used to stimulate students perseverance include the Four Four’s activity, Grazing Goat, and having students find multiple ways of solving the same linear equation. When appropriate, three act tasks are also great to see results!

What tools/tasks do you use in the context of “Think, Wait, Fast”?

#ShareYourLessons – Youtube

Introduction Post

The Problem

Youtube is by far the most popular video platform on the Internet with over a billion users. But a standard youtube license quite simply isn’t good enough. When you upload to youtube you are given a choice of these two licenses (and one has to navigate to the ‘advanced’ tab to find it):screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-2-57-42-pm The problem I have with the Standard Youtube License being the default is that others can’t remix the content which is one of the five R’s.

The Solution

Since 2007 Youtube has allowed users to remix others content to make their own original content. Go to the Youtube Video editor ( ) then click the CC button.


You can add multiple videos to include, trim for size, add your own text, change the audio settings… and it doesn’t even have to be your own video!

As the image shows, you can also add your own free music tracks to the videos!

While I’m a huge fan of students using tools like WeVideo and others, why not use Youtube itself for basic editing/discovery? The native platform is almost always the best. Imagine the possibilities of students with youtube accounts now able to make their own mix-type style videos to share with friends and teachers. More education content could be created faster and with more fidelity then waiting for Khan to get around to recording more videos, that’s for sure!

Here’s the problem – if I search for just “math” on youtube, I get about 6,910,000 results. However if I filter for Creative Commons-licensed videos, I only get 279,000 or 4% of the total videos out there.

Share It Better!

  • When you upload your video, use a CC license
  • Write a good description – many education videos on youtube have terrible or NO description and thus are harder to find. Please write good descriptions!
  • Always include contact information in your description as well. As I watch videos on youtube I hate having to track down someone through their channel, then website, then contact page…
  • Make sure no background music etc that you use is copyrighted. It will get taken down.
  • Share your content on social media! Twitter, Facebook, you can even just take a screenshot to share it on Pinterest and Instagram! People are hungry for quality content…


output remixed video

#ShareYourLessons – Intro

This is the first in a series of posts designed to help teachers share their lessons and learning better.

I’ve gotten quite involved in the OER(Open Educational Resources) movement the past couple of years, building on a love of open source software in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. While the idea of OER is getting to be more commonplace in higher education, it’s still relatively new in K-12. Even within the US Dept of Ed’s #GoOpen movement, there is a lack of understanding of what it means to be open source.

A common definition that I will use here comes from David Wiley over at :

  1. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)

  2. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)

  3. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)

  4. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)

  5. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

Mr. Wiley also uses the ALMA framework to determine if a resources is sufficiently accessible.  Essentially, if something is published in a file format like PDF that may make it not able to be edited, then it would be difficult to call it truly ‘open’.

Some common content types (*my own analysis which may be flawed!)

Retain Reuse Revise Remix Redistribute Blog Post
Youtube Video Can't download natively IF CC-licensed Yes - but only by owner if not CC-licensed IF CC-licensed Yes - shareable Here
Google Doc YES YES YES with caveats around proprietary technology (google sign-in) YES with caveats around proprietary technology (google sign-in) YES
Word Doc YES YES YES with caveats around proprietary technology YES with caveats around proprietary technology YES

I’ll be taking a look at some of these content types and how teachers can actually share with fidelity in the coming weeks!


I’ve been having fun lately playing with puzzle games on my phone as I rock my daughter(s) to sleep. One is called Roll the Ball and another one introduced to me by Daniel Rocha is Flow Free.

I used to read books on kindle but sometimes it’s nice to have a little more stimulation. What I like about both of these games too is they offer a variety of ways to play the game.

Roll the Ball

My favorite mode here is when they will put stars in different parts of the tubes. It’s a fun way to engage my brain in thinking about different patterns and ways to solve things with or without a time or star challenge.

Flow Free

Flow Free is Roll the Ball’s bright, easier-to-play and faster brother. You start with dots throughout the screen and create paths to the other dot of the same color. I love it because it allows you to easily overwrite past paths. Daniel Rocha, whom I’ve only really met on Facebook/Twitter and we have a fair number of mutual friends – posted a great video of his kid playing and the conversations they were able to have about the experience of solving the paths. Hoping he’ll blog about that… my two year old was not interested 🙂

I would love starting off class every so often with these kinds of puzzles to get the students minds thinking, have some fun and of course occasionally remind them that solving a math problem can be very similar – we may take different ways to get to the answer but that doesn’t mean it’s invalid!

AIMS Center Colloquium Series Video on Puzzles as Models:

Puzzles as Models of Thinking from AIMS Center for Math and Science on Vimeo.

Git idea?

I’m still thinking about ways to somehow see if Git can be utilized in ways other than it was intended – code.

The idea behind this mockup (click to expand) is this:

  • screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-9-00-07-pmWhen all lines are ‘approved’, a regular git commit happens.
  • Other than that it will kick back comments, and if you select ‘reject’ the program  will just not make the change to that line.
  • The idea is that this would help with editorial changes, curriculum perhaps etc…
  • A clean commit file would actually be even better by forcing the line number to be appended to the Commit section.


Thoughts? (probably best on twitter but I welcome comments here too!)


CMC North Recap

This past weekend at CMC North I was fortunate to not only be very engaged in social media work with CMC, but present as well! It was my first time presenting at CMC North so I was very excited. Specifically, my talk was on Math Practice 3- Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. I wanted my talk to start off with showing teachers how to get information into their kids in equitable ways so that the students would have the knowledge needed to construct said arguments – and then I would give them tools to create those arguments.

Things started off well enough but once I started trying to show some of the internet tools, too many people were online and the internet shut off. I lost about 1/4 of the audience due to that, which was understandable – next time I’ll make short screencasts of each tool in order to carry on with the presentation. It’s funny – I used to do that before presentations but didn’t this time because, “it’s never actually happened.”

However I wanted to take a few minutes of your time here to highlight some of the tools that people loved and why I think they’d be great for any classroom:

OpenEd: Formative assessment tool that provides targeted feedback and learning resources based on questions missed. Aside from the fact that it’s my day job, it’s nice to be reminded what a cool thing we have going. We have learning resources (videos, games) aligned to standards of all types (CCSS Math, ELA, NGSS, Social Studies, and fine-grained standards as well now that will be public soon.) that actually get judged over time based on how well students do on an assessment after interacting with the resource. For example, a kid watches a Khan academy video on adding unlike fractions, then takes and assessment on that standard). If they get 100%, the efficacy of the video increases. If they get a 0, it decreases. This leads to a library of resources that intentionally isn’t the largest out there, but is curated and we think is the best. Plus, our formative assessments do more than just test, they help teach.

H5p: I’ve written about H5p before, but it’s an interesting suite of assessment and interactive tools written in HTML5 so thus platform-agnostic. The tools I was showing off this weekend were the text tools that let students fill in the blanks – great for developing sentence frames for geometry examples, proofs or other areas where helping scaffold student understanding can come from text-based. Putting an image up on my screen for example and then allowing students to discuss/define the attributes of that shape or even move further along in a proof. Another great way that I’ve used tools like it before would be for the Interactive Video type – have students create a screencast describing how they solved a problem etc, and insert questions addressed to other students to help them along as well. I would grade the students questions ask to their peers as well as the content itself – we can often learn much more about what a student understands by the questions they ask then the answers they give.

Recap: When I was doing work with Fresno Unified’s Teaching Channel initiative, I became a big fan of the Swivl Company for their hardware and software to make capturing teachers teaching easier. So it’s only natural that their student-focused software is interesting as well. Essentially it makes it easy for teachers to ask questions, students to respond via a 30 second video, and the teacher can then comment further if desired. I haven’t had an actual class to try it in is the problem, but my students (who are teachers) at Fresno Pacific have loved it as I’ve introduced it to them. What i think I like most is the capturing of student voice when possible – no barriers really to get kids at least talking and then the mathematics discussion will come. If someone from Recap reads this – please reach out about an API agreement!

We had a great time of practice – some teachers already made sample H5p elements for their classrooms for the following week! My reviews pointed out some flaws in how I presented – I should have had portions pre-recorded for example so if the internet went out I’d have a backup – I was happy that people were honest as well. What I want to do next year is come up with a new presentation for next year that is focused on one particular math problem/three act task and then shows a variety of methods of assessment around it!


Creative Commons License Add-On

cc_logoIn the course of my adjunct work at Fresno Pacific University, I’ve done a lot of work with current and future teachers to develop a sense of mission around sharing the resources they create. In my course “Developing Digital Rich Curriculum” I actually have them go through a mini-course on OER as part of the overall course.

This semester I was gearing up to include hyperdocs to supplant a long-held Webquest assignment in a course I was taking over.  At the same time, my day job and passion is all about Open Educational Resources – finding good ones, making more available and doing so with fidelity and curricular coherence. Hyperdocs – essentially google docs that allow for a certain degree of student voice – are interesting because they are being collected and published online – then often modified and submitted back to the collection! This is truly the essence of what makes open educational resources both compelling and sometimes hard to understand for school administrators.

Regardless, I saw some Hyperdocs with CC licenses and others hyperdocs-with-bulb2without. This is important if the author wants credit and also to send a clear message about the fact that these Hyperdocs ARE in fact intended to be remixed, reused, and shared widely.

So I decided a couple months ago to build a google doc add-on, partially inspired by OpenEd’s recent success with a Lesson Planning Tool add-on.

I mainly used as a template their sample script code about a google translate sidebar – kept the javascript I needed and scrapped the HTML which is instead based off the code from  (License Chooser). I eventually had to use Upwork a bit to fix some of the errors in the code and publish to Google but felt good about what I was able to contribute (and with the idea.)!

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-2-17-25-pmSo the Creative Commons License Chooser was launched in the Google Docs Add-on Store! So far the response has been very positive – especially for teachers publishing documents that are meant to be widely shared. I also see uses for STUDENTS publishing their work and using it as a way to teach about copyright and free/closed licenses etc.