Category Archives: Technology

Day in the Life #MTBoS



Wake up, shower, get dressed, coffee, and give the dog a treat.


Just got off the phone with math department chair asking me to check up on a teacher whose students say there’s trouble connecting with the online resources for a textbook, now I’m driving to work.  Today I’m listening to How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg on my Scribd app.  Sometimes I catch up on Voxer chats if I’m not listening to a book.  Scribd is slightly less expensive than audible books (it used to be unlimited for $9/month subscription and now it’s $9/audiobook).  I love it, so long as I can find a good book.  If you’re looking for a good book to check out I suggest both Make It Stick and Switch.  My commute is not too long, but the parents dropping off students can slow things down quite a bit with our one way in/out route.

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I’m kicking myself because I’m pretty sure I mentioned to a teacher that I would meet them during first period prep to follow up on a question.  For the life of me I can’t remember.  Normally my calendaring skills are better than this.  While walking around I drop in on a teacher that had asked for help during first period the day before but I happened to be off campus for that day.  When I got there, the teacher had already figured out how to update the links for his online material so that this semester’s students would have access.  Gave a high five and good job and went on my way to check in on the peer tech tutors.


Chromebook 11

The peer tech tutor (PTT) program is new this year and we are figuring it out as we go.  In general the site instructional technology coach is in charge of these students, but it is more like an office TA than an actual course.  Still the students are guided in learning about hardware, software, communication skills, and digital citizenship such that they can go out and help other students and teachers on request. Currently I oversee 27 of these students throughout the day, about triple what I had last semester.  When meeting up with these students I inform them of their portfolio due at the end of the semester, most focusing on the 4 areas I mentioned earlier with a fifth dimension of their own personal choosing.  We also chat about their first official assignment: learning about Google sites.  This is actually meant to prepare them for a classroom activity support helping others students build portfolios with Google sites next Wednesday.  After checking in with the PTTs I run over to check in with the teacher whose students were struggling with connecting to the online resources.  I gave a couple of tips and mentioned how I would redirect the students as needed.  So far – two periods down and two problems solved.


As we are changing from second period to third, I’m reading email from a teacher asking for help with getting a student and parent to gain access to the district app by getting some code.  I didn’t know how to get the code for the student because I don’t login as a student.  I share this with the PTTs when they walk in and one jumped in with confidence showing exactly how it’s done.  Teachable moment. I mention to the PTT that this is a chance for her to show skill in two focus areas: software and communication.  She drafts the email with screenshots and replies to the teacher’s request for help.  Three periods, three major problems solved.


Screencasts are a great way to show others steps and procedures for setting up things on a computer or website.  One thing we have to be careful with is student or teacher information included in the video that may need to be private.  A fellow instructional technology coach made a video, but I couldn’t share it because it had IDs and teacher info all over.  A quick search online and 5 minutes later, I learned how to use blurring boxes with Camtasia to turn the video into something shareable with others.  Over the next hour or so I check in with PTTs, finishing the video editing, and close one other problem with a counselor working with Google calendar.


I’ll be the first to admit that when a teacher asks for support/help/planning/guidance with something to do with instruction and/or technology I have to learn a little bit extra myself about half the time.  A teacher wants to use Google sites for student portfolios.  I know of this thing called SiteMaestro that could help, but never actually bothered to look into it.  So I did.  It’s amazing.  You should go check it out yourself.  The punchline is that it pushes out a copy of template site to a roster of students from a spreadsheet, then you can use that master spreadsheet to manage all the sites as needed.


I check in with the teacher on what she wants for the template for the students and inform her that I will have students in the classroom to guide and support the students in building their portfolios.  When I check my watch I gasp and excuse myself so that I can make it across town for a 1:00 meeting at a middle school in preparation for our upcoming edcamp.


Eating in the car as I drive.  Catching up on Voxer.



I join a group of other leads who are putting together the edcamp hosted by our district.  We have most of the big details already worked out but this meetup is to try and figure out on site where things should go, what paths attendees will walk, and where do we need signs and people for the actual event.  Everything went really well and we are all pumped for edcampPerris.  If you are reading this, and you’re in reasonable distance to Perris, CA, and you’re free on Feb 6th, you have no reason not to be there.

2:30 (almost)

At this point, I could return to my school site, sit in student pick-up traffic, say goodbye for the weekend, then turn around and go home, or…… I could go bug the assistant of director of technology from my district. Shane is just one of many awesome people that I get to call a coworker.  I love that he embraces my crazy ideas, often making them more reality than fantasy.  He couldn’t keep track of my ideas so we created a shared spreadsheet for them.  He titled it “Jed’s Hair-brained Schemes.”


It’s fitting.  One such scheme is we are currently piloting a self hosted blogging setup using the platform and our own servers.  It works, but it needs improvement.  This idea came from teachers wanting to get their students to write more and continue that writing throughout high school.  There are challenges and security issues with expecting, requiring, or even suggesting that students create a blog for a class from a third-party site, on third-party servers, with third-party policies.  After talking through this and 3-4 other schemes that needed attention from the sheet, my wife sent me a text (and I replied).


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Time to go home.




My day jumps around a lot.  One BIG thing that I do most days but didn’t do this day is meetup with 1-2 teachers that I work with every week in a coaching fellowship.  It’s one of my favorite things to be able to work closely with teachers, focus on student learning, and do some really cool stuff.  I hope to share more of that in future posts.  I’m glad to get back on this horse, writing.  I’m also glad to be a part of this awesome group called the #MTBoS.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go take a peak and let’s talk about it after.

What’s Your Short Term? #JulyChallenge2014 4/31

I just spoke with my brother, @jakebutler, just catching up on the latest. We eventually go into a conversation about concept development, and how it accelerates as history progresses.  The gist was something like Moore’s law applied to the topic of impactful ideas.


A standard long term example he posed was the idea of language and documentation, tracing from spoken, to written, automated, then digital, and now multimedia.  The next big thing comes faster than the last, and sometimes it feels like we’re always playing catch up.  My brother works for an awesome company based out of Boston that focuses on a lot of the social aspects of healthy living, especially in the realm of technology integration.


He told me that they have long term goals, but when it comes to comprehensive and detailed planning, each of their sub teams never looks further out than 2 weeks.  We started applying this format to technology in general and I in turn added the context of education and #edtech.  For the most part, I would argue (as would my brother) that successful technology enhancements have gone away from the secret projects behind closed doors that take at times years to reach a level worth any public reveal, and instead have more of a micro step process.  Upgrade a few things, and often.  The short term plan to update and implement smaller, more frequent changes has been a necessary adaptation to the accelerating progress of technology in general.

As teachers are upgrading their curriculum and technology for near future integrations I think we need to consider the value of this short term cycle.  Instead of having an entire year planned out to the day, we can maintain long term bench marks with the intention on updating our planning through small frequent upgrades.  I doubt that teachers trying to implement formative and interactive technologies in the classroom would have predicted the introduction of @peardeck (read more here).

This hard for an educator to manage.  We already have plenty on our plate between and the hard requirements and soft skills necessary to achieve them.  If a teacher truly wants to match the current culture of technology and conceptual progression we need to have an appropriate design for our planning.  We need to anticipate the change and build in the flexibility so that we can adapt on the fly.

I don’t know if I’d take it as far as this guy…

…but refusing an adaptive attitude is assuming we can predict the future of every step in growth of our students.  And that sounds silly.


I’d love to hear how others have integrated this adaptive planning, with small frequent updates, into their classroom planning (tech and non-tech contexts)

Quick #EdTech tip IWB Mobilized #JulyChallenge 2/31 #MTBoS

I have some ideas for the next few days of posts, mostly dealing with metaphors for teaching.  So far on that list is Farming, Cooking, and I’ve heard that there’s also some thoughts on fishing.  Let’s take a quick commercial break brought to you by the folks at Waco, Swordsoft, Peardeck, Google, and I’m sure some others might creep in.

I used to loved interactive whiteboards.  Yes, that is a past tense reference.  Most of my experience with these is with the Promethean Company.

I learned to be proficient with the standard slide software ActivInspire in which I made plenty of flipcharts.  It was awesome.  I could make interactive presentations, I could screencast the material or export it to multiple other standard formats.  Then I realized the down sides.  Cost.  The handcuffs that anyone in the education industry is all to familiar with.  These boards are expensive.  The accessories are expensive.  And one major downside to the standard entry level interactive whiteboard was it’s own built in shackles.  The board required that you be within arms reach to interact with it.  Of course, one could buy a mobile tablet that goes with the board/software, and that brings us back issue #1: cost.  Companies justify this cost by showing the awesome capabilities of the hardware and software that comes with the package.

I tried some alternatives, like Johnny Lee’s low cost interactive whiteboard that was even featured on TED.  This worked every once in a while, but it still required close proximity to some board as well as constant recharging and calibration.  It started me thinking on how to find low cost alternatives, something more practical for the average teacher.

I tried some Wacom tablets, starting with my first, a bluetooth model refurbished from eBay.

Photo from

This again was alright, but still inconsistent and cumbersome.

A little more than a year ago my student teacher and I tried a newer model of the Wacom Tablet with an added RF wireless adapter.

I LOVE IT.  Here’s why:

  • connects over RF, no wifi required (you can go wireless anywhere, up to about 30′)
  • low weight, I can easily hold it in my hand without feeling a strain as a roam the classroom
  • reasonable cost: $80 tablet + $40 Wireless adapter kit
  • battery: single charge easily lasts more than a full day of HEAVY use, often I get at least a week off one charge

But wait, what about that fancy software?  Aren’t all the built in math tools wonderful?  Yes they are, but Google Drawings, Google Slides, Geogebra, Desmos, and EduCreations have pretty much matched anything I’d done before.  Also, that screen annotation available in those fancy software packages have been replaced by ScreenInk by Swordsoft for a whopping $2.

For those of you that are partial to iPads and apps like AirPlay mirroring,  Reflector, Splashtop or SlideShark, I respect that.  A tablet stylus tends to not be as precise as the Wacom technology, and this tablet with RF adapter doesn’t have a time delay like the others.

With many classrooms incorporating technology into the classroom, teachers need to be mobile now more than ever.  I would also qualify that with maintaining a balance of tech use in the classroom.  Electronic does not imply engaged, and a mobile teacher is needed to manage the 21st century classroom.  By the way, if you didn’t catch the primary advantage, the total cost of this Wacom package (~$120) is about %10 of most other solutions.  Go bug your principals and edutech purchasers to look into this.  I’d be more than happy to field any questions or comments on the issue.

If you have another alternative, I’d also love to hear about that.

Sounds Familiar #MTBoS30 10 of 30

My brother was in a band called “Sounds Familiar” back in high school.  They played up the idea that no one should forget their name.

My dad posed the question, “Isn’t it possible that we can run out of songs.  Don’t they eventually sound familiar?”

VSauce breaks down the countable differences in music with a video:

(in which he mentions a website to compare familiar sounds)

And recently highlighted a talk discussing the culture shifts in sharing and sampling sound from one another.


These reminded me of a question on counting and probability.  If you haven’t already, let yourself get distracted with Incredibox.  You won’t be disappointed.  How many unique songs can one make with it?  I think this would be a great project for a math class discussing counting principles.  Let the students determine parameters for uniqueness.  Maybe there can be more than one level of uniqueness (same beat+different melody <different beat+different melody).  I’m laying this down, #MTBoS.  Who’s up for the challenge to break it down?

Circles, Triangles and Kites oh my part 2 #MTBoS30 7 of 30

It’s Thursday.  Yesterday we talked about circles, chords, and kites.  Today we asked a very similar question:


Here’s the applet in action: (click the animation to open the applet)

Circle Inscribed Find Area of Triangle


This was similar to Wednesday.  We asked the same type of questions.  We saw similar relationships.  But it stood out enough for a unique post because a student enlightened me with  an observation I didn’t articulate.  When I repeated yesterday’s question, “What shapes do you see inside the triangle?” one student almost immediately replied, “Is that a kite?”  I had to look at it myself.  “Yeah, wow, that makes this conversation easy.”  My original plan was:

  1. Focus on the Right angles/right triangles
  2. Question if certain segments were congruent
  3. Look at the reflection or congruence theorem that helps confirm the congruence
  4. then finish off with some color coding.

Instead this students recognizes the 3 kites, then refers to her knowledge of the symmetry in kites.  Congruence, simplified.

To help students in transcribing the diagram onto paper to start doing some hand calculations we took a tip from a student in the first class:

  1.  Lay Chromebook on its back
  2. Increase brightness of screen, turn off some/all light in class
  3. Trace

Student Tracing on Screen

This was another good introduction and discussion with segments in circles.  We of course spent the last 1/3 or so of class practicing and becoming fluent with the skill with problems like:

Perimeter of Polygon with Tangents



At the end of the week we took a short quiz.  2 questions, same as these.  Today/tomorrow I’m going to try something new with how I grade them (thanks to some inspiration from Michael Fenton, Michael Pershan, and Ashli Black).  More on that later this weekend.

In the meantime, let’s keep rounding out this circle thing and see what other shenanigans we can come up with.




Circles, Triangles and Kites oh my part 1 #MTBoS30 6 of 30

In geometry we had some fun with kite like shapes for the last couple of days.  On Wednesday we asked:


See it in Action (click image to open)

Circle Chords and Kite


I asked the students to play with the applet.  I prompted them to ask for more information.  Some noticed the sample questions below the applet and asked those to start the discussion.  The key question had to do with decomposing the shape into other shapes that we had more familiar tools to work with.  The students were quick to see the right triangles.  Once we were able to identify that, the next question was, “How does that help me?”  Getting students to connect and then apply relationships they know into a seemingly new context is a constant challenge, but they are getting better.  I reminded them to recognize what are we trying to find.  Once they narrowed in on the task of finding a length, and the length was a part of a right triangle, some started to see it, “Pythag Thyrem.” (this seems to be a tongue twister for the general high school math population).  “Okay, how do you mean?” was my reply.  Some didn’t see the given values for the hypotenuse that was also a radius.

Circles seem to be a pain for many geometry teachers, and I feel that it’s because so many people approach circles as a never ending list of formulas.  We need to find ways to simplify the overall question and give students an opportunity to fill in the structure(s) needed to respond to the question.  I know there are some awesome activities out there dealing with volume and area with round objects.  Here I’m trying to put together a series of interactive questions the see the overlaps and relationships with circles, segments and angles.



Now for Some Real User Power #MTBoS30 3 of 30

I enjoy math, thoroughly.  I also enjoy design and technology.  Recently I’ve had a wildfire like experience in processing and learning material through Geogebra and Desmos.  I’ve been learning and experimenting with these much faster than I could possibly archive organize the material.  I look forward to the upcoming extended break at summer to truly polish this material.  Currently I’m feeling more like

Greetings Programs

This little presentation I had tonight was a breath of fresh air.  It was a mixed crowd and we had a great time.  About half mathies  in the room, and half techies.  It wasn’t a large crowd, so we had a casual, yet productive time.  At around 2/3 of the way through the time allotted, one of those in the room inquired about the coding behind some of the applets.  Others seconded the question, so then we transitioned from math to tech.

Technology geeks, myself included, often dive into the code and lose some of the social part of the experience.  Working on the backend of a program experience too often is a lonely one.  Talking about this experience in a real life, social platform was great for myself and them.  I was able to reflect and process on my wildfire experience of learning, and from what it seems they were about to start their own versions of something similar.

On the other end of the screen, it all looks so easy.

Geogebra and Desmos both use clean user interfaces that allow for wide audience.  Knowing some of the coding and design on behind the scenes still has it’s place though.  Recently education has seen growth in the art of coding.  It has become more accessible with drag and drops like scratch, tutorials and screencasts shared freely online, and organized movements from large institutions like Khan Academy.

Now I would like to throw another idea into the mix of developing a coding mindset.  For those of you that know me, you could probably guess that I’m thinking of Geogebra (and Desmos as well).  Tonight we talked about the object oriented code experience it offers, and it’s simplicity with design and interaction.  To toggle a picture or make an object move, all you need is a slider control and some checkboxes.  I’m not sure where this can go from here, but I like it.

If you haven’t already you should check out these online interactive tools.  And when you do, look at them as tools for tech and coding, not just math.

End of Line


PS: bonus points if you get the geeky references.

Paper, Rock, Technology #MTBoS30 1 of 30

The Battle Begins

So I tried something, and some of it worked.  We did an entire math unit, without paper.



So how do you do math, without paper?

It wasn’t easy.  First we needed the technology platform to work with.  My district has gone 1:1 with Chromebooks in a program we call #ScholarPlus.  Using the Chromebooks in the classroom has been awesome, especially when it comes to visualization and assessment.  We can show graphs, diagrams, geometrical shapes, 3D perspectives, real time effects of changing numbers.  It can and does get really fun.  There are some major downsides as well so let’s break down the basics.


Paper Rock Computer Small

The following are some excerpts of common comments I heard from students throughout the last 3-4 weeks.

Paper beats Computer:

My battery’s dead.  I forgot my chromebook.  The network crashed.  My computer is acting slow.  Where is the document again?  Where do I click?  How is this math?  I miss paper, I learn better that way.  My computer , is going, sooooooo, s   l      o        w.

Computer beats paper:

That was easy.  I can see it.  Can I add this to it?  So you mean I don’t have to turn it in?  What do you mean I can’t lose my copy…it’s always there when I need it?  Can my parents see this?  How will I be graded?  I’m not a good artist, does that matter?

The biggest advantage to using the technology, discussion opened up.  I had high level comments from students on congruence, shape transformation, making sense of values with number talks and problem solving methods I hadn’t even come up with.  The content being pre loaded and interactive allowed us to focus on this discussion time.

Start with the interactive text.  We took a unit created by another school district and turned it into a Google document.  This required a lot of screenshots for pictures, copy and paste for text, and tables tables tables to keep things aligned and organized.  Here is a link to the actual online document we used.

Repeat the success

  1. Google Drawings: These worked awesome in getting the students to accurately draw lines, decompose figures, and label appropriately.
  2. Doctopus and Goobric: Probably the best document delivery, collection, assessment, and overall management system to help organize the workflow of digital content.
  3. Geogebra Applets (examples: 1 , 2, 3): These weren’t embedded into document.  That needs to change, but incorporating them into our discussion was powerful.  Also allowed students to use as instant feedback device.  If the applet disagreed with me I need to check my work.
  4. Desmos: for graphing data from investigations (look at rectangles with fixed perimeter section).
  5. Lot’s of coordinate plane examples.  This needs to happen more in Geometry type of units.
  6. Practice using an equation editor.  Preparing for tech like questions on SBAC and other CCSS computer based assessments.
  7. Use headings for Table of Contents in Google Document
  8. Have students reflect with written responses.

Learn from the struggles

  1. Shorten and Simplify.  Don’t rely on long explicit directions.   If document is getting too long (too many pages), split into smaller chunks
  2. Practice Paper for fluency.  Digital was great as a curated portfolio like experience.  Pencil and paper is still preferred for practice and repetition.
  3. Build in quick assessment opportunities into document for student to explore and get own feedback.
  4. Find something else to do besides staring at a screen for more than 20-30 minutes.  More discussion and activity outside of seat/desk whenever possible.
  5. Start every day with starting up device and opening up document page (hardware and network sometimes need a minute to get functional).
  6. If your going to do constructions, like a perpendicular line, just use Geogebra with shortcut commands.  The conceptual understanding does not require compass and straight edge style of work.
  7. Incorporate Parallel and Perpendicular relationships of lines earlier and more frequently.
  8. Discussions are great, archiving them somehow (reflections with feedback built in) would be even better.

This experience has taught me a lot, but I think the main ideas that hit me square face every day of the unit are balance, preparation, and assessment.  In terms of balance, digital tech needs to be near 50/50 with non-tech experiences.  It get’s overwhelming and students get disconnected.  Preparation, like for any solid learning experience, is much higher when technology is involved.  We need to get the kinks out first.  For assessment I’m now focusing on more than just mathematical understandings.  I’m grading for using tools appropriately, precision and fluency, and articulation.  My best brainstorm so far is to have a rubric for digital notes with categories: Precision, Process, and Problem Solving.


This isn’t my last thougths on the paper(less) debate, and I look forward to hearing other perspectives too.

Now it’s your turn:

  1. Do you teach math?  If not, what do you teach?
  2. Have you gone paperless?  What did you learn in the process?
  3. What do you wonder about going paperless?
  4. How would you assess the experience?


Sum it Up, Angle Edition: Part 2

There is a little bit of mystery and magic to these relationships, if you don’t believe me just ask Mr. Vaudrey.  Students trust that a triangle is simple, yet if you asked them to communicate anything beyond the magical balance of 3 angles, and 3 sides, most wouldn’t know what else is true.  Sometimes students see triangles as  snowflakes, each one of them unique.  Little do they know how much all these triangles are alike.

The Hook:

  1. Get quarter sheets of graph paper
  2. Draw your own unique triangle
  3. Color in the angles in each corner
  4. Cut Out the triangle
  5. Tear off each corner
  6. Piece together the puzzle, and what do you see?



Describe in your own words what’s happening.

This is HUGE.  Students need time to digest this transformation.  If it feels like the engine is stalling, change gears:

Start practicing lo-tech with some paper examples.


Recursive Reflection

Constantly bring back the triangle with the transforming corners.  Have the students take some


Then go back again to the applet.  Get the class to a point where students are articulating what is happening in the triangle.  Have them say it in multiple ways.  These angle relationships have patterns and consistencies, but often get lost in the multiple perspectives (what about this corner, or that one, or the inside, or the out, or what does a parallel line have anything to do with it).  If students can transform a triangle and its angles, then adding in the relationships with parallel lines is only a half step away.

Don’t forget to check out the other gems over at Transformulas.

One Formula, to Rule them All

Two-dimensional area starts and ends in pretty much the same place, with base and height.  Kids in elementary school calculate space by counting grids.  Calculus classrooms do the same thing (on a more complex level of course), but through the short cut of integration.  Somewhere in the middle, with geometry and the like, it gets complicated and students lose the conceptual understanding.

How do we get from the simple to the complex

How do we get from the simple to the complex

Here’s what we did instead.

Start with a few applets:

  1. Rectangle vs. Parallelogram
  2. Triangles
  3. Kite / Rhombus
  4. Trapezoid

Then we document our thoughts.  Some people call this notes.:

Students watch in amazement as if this were a magical experience.  Audible comments of “wow” and “that’s cool” are common.

So then we conclude that there really is just one way to calculate 2 dimensional straight line areas:

base times height (and sometimes half)

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