Category Archives: how teachers teach

Teaching Advanced Placement U.S. History at Los Altos High School: Technology Integration

I observed Gabriel Stewart’s 90-minute class on September 15, 2016. Stewart, wearing a maroon polo shirt over a muscled upper body with dark slacks, is a 19 year veteran teacher* at Los Altos High School** (and baseball coach). In this lesson, he had set aside this period to give a 75-item multiple choice test on early 19th century political and social changes during the first half of the class and then do a practice Document-Based Question in the remaining 45 minutes. The AP course is geared to the spring exam. Stewart alerts students often during this class about the importance of being aware of time in answering questions and knowing basic knowledge of the period under study. The text for the course is American Pageant by Thomas Bailey and David Kennedy.

The furniture arrangement is five rows of desks facing the front white board and teacher’s desk in one corner. Bulletin boards are filled with newspaper articles, maps, announcements and photos. On one side of the room bulletin board sheets of paper carried previous AP classes’ records in passing the AP exam (getting a three or higher).


During the test, students filled in a Scantron sheet recording their answers to such questions as

9. John C. Calhoun’s “South Carolina Exposition” was an argument for:

a. Secession.

b. Protective tariffs.

c. Majority rule.

d. States rights

23. As a cure for the panic of 1837, the Whigs recommended all of the following measures except:

a. Expanded bank credit

b. Higher tariffs

c. Subsidies for internal improvements

d. The “Divorce” bill.

74. Most of the utopian communities in pre-1860s America held ______ as one of their founding ideals.

a. rugged individualism

b.cooperative efforts

c. capitalism

d. opposition to communism

During the test, Stewart would walk around the room and from time to time tell the students how much time was remaining to finish the test. Early finishers turned in their filled-out Scantron forms and worked at their desks using their tablets and laptops, reading, etc.

After 45 minutes, Stewart asks for sheets from few remaining students. The student-produced video announcements come on the screen and for next five minutes those in the class are rapt and listening, laughing at the student anchor’s one-liners and funny events scheduled for the next week.

After the announcements Stewart asks students to take out their devices and go to the DBQ they will work on for the rest of the period. When he starts speaking there is a rising level of talk, and a few students say “shush” and the class quiet’s down.

There are six documents in this DBQ that the students are examining. The task is for the class to write an essay agreeing or disagreeing with the statement: “Reform movements in the United States sought to expand democratic ideals.”

Stewart directs the class to use the template that he has used with class before in analyzing each document and then begin writing “a coherent essay” about the six excerpts from primary sources.

The practice guide students use has the following directions:

For each DBQ document fill out the columns of the chart [see below]. Then write a thesis/introductory paragraph for the DBQ.  After completing the first two tasks complete the chart by filling in your examples of outside information (the last row).

The three columns are labeled: Document, Context of Document, How will you use the document/outside info in your answer?

Below the three columns, the DBQ practice template leaves space for each student to write a thesis paragraph.

The documents for the students to analyze are quotes from leading figures in the various reforms in the early 19th century such as Charles Finney, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Samuel Morse, William Garrison, a chart about growth of political parties in the first half of 19th century, and a contemporary political cartoon on the temperance movement .

As he moves swiftly through questions on practice chart, he salts his sentences with “homeboy,” “dude,” and “my bad.” On one question about the Seneca Falls Declaration (1848), he asks what the word “domesticity” means. One student offers an answer and then without saying that it was correct, he calls on another student who says that Mary “nailed it” and she doesn’t want to add to it.

I scan the class and do not see any disengaged students, or ones off-task.

The teacher asks the class to work on filling in the DBQ practice chart with each document. “You can work together,” he says. “See if you can knock out the 6 items in 10 minutes.” Students turn to a partner sitting next to them or across a row and begin reading each excerpt and filling in chart. Teacher walks around to check what pairs and trios are doing on their screens.

After about ten minutes, Stewart takes some student questions about the timed AP exam next semester. The teacher says that time is crucial, he begins snapping fingers in time, saying: “Remember you are paying $93 and you spend four hours taking the test.”

Now, Stewart turns to next task of writing a “coherent essay.” He asks them to begin with a thesis statement for the essay. Again, he stresses the importance of time and how each student has to figure out how long it will take to read document, get at its essence, and begin writing a sentence that summarizes the excerpts. He asks students to “estimate how long it will take you to write a thesis statement .” Students respond with different amounts of time. Stewart listens and say let’s take 10 minutes to write the thesis statement. “You can work together.”

Before releasing students to the task, teacher says “let’s go over these ‘dudes.’ “ For the next 10 minutes, Stewart asks who each person is, what reform movement they were involved in and the connections between the reform and democracy in early 19th century U.S. For example, when Stewart comes to abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, he asks class what “compact” means in excerpt. Student says the correct answer, “the Constitution.” This back and forth teacher guided discussion of the facts embedded in each excerpt including the cartoon continues for about 10 minutes.

Interspersed in the exchanges between teacher and student are references to the AP exam, in particular the importance of putting in details they know outside of the document. One student mentions the Masonic political party and Stewart says that such a detail may well convince the readers grading the exam that student is knowledgeable about this period.

“Can anyone think of outside details that can be brought in and discussed that would show you know this stuff?” Students mention Brook Farm, Transcendentalism, literature of the day. Another student offers example of Webster-Hayne debate over tariffs. Stewart adds in other topics such as states rights and nullification. “ You know a lot so remembering what you know when you are writing an essay is important.”

Stewart then asks students to write thesis statement for the essay: “Reform movements in the United States sought to expand democratic ideals.”

I scan the class and see that all pairs and trios are talking to one another, clicking away on their screens, and occasionally asking the teacher a question as he traverses the perimeter of the class.

A few minutes later chime goes off and Stewart reminds class of assignment for next class meeting and students leave. There is the scheduled brunch break for 15 minutes. Three students linger and ask content questions about the various reformers. Stewart listens and comments. Students leave after five minutes.


*I have known Stewart since he was student in my team taught social studies Curriculum and Instruction course in a university teacher education program nearly 20 years ago. I have not seen him teach since he was in that program although we have seen one another on occasion since we live in the same neighborhood. When I visited his high school to see other teachers in September, I stopped into his classroom to say hello, hearing about my observations, he then invited me into his AP U.S. History class.

** Los Altos high school has over 1900 students (2015) and its demography is mostly students of color (in percentages, Latino 28, Asian 21, African American 2, multiracial 2, and 45 white). The percentage of students eligible for free-and-reduced price lunches (the poverty indicator) is 22 percent. Fourteen percent of students are learning disabled and just over four percent of LAHS students are English language learners.

Academically, 99 percent of the students graduate high school and nearly all enter higher education. The school offers 20 AP courses—37 percent of the student body take at least one AP course and of those students taking AP tests– 83 percent have gotten 3 or higher, the benchmark for getting college credit. LAHS has been rated repeatedly as one of the top high schools (52nd out of over 1330 in the state and 339h in the nation’s 26,000 high schools). The gap in achievement between minorities and white remains large, however, and has not shrunk in recent years. The per-pupil expenditure at the high school is just under $15,000 (2014). See here, here, here, here, and here.


Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

Policy-to-Practice Metaphors: Chain of Command, Pasta, or Medley Relay Races?

Metaphors can get people to think about the essence of organizations and how they work.

Take the U.S. Army’s command-and-control structures, generals believe that their decisions can steer what infantry platoons do in the field. Yet the metaphor of the “fog of war” and a history of misunderstanding orders at the company and platoon levels during battles suggest that even in command-and-control structures,decisions moving down the chain of authority may turn out far differently than intended. Novels and memoirs from War and Peace to Jarhead, films from The Longest Day to Platoon, and officer and enlisted men reports make that point.

School district organizational charts resemble military organizations with structures showing authority flowing downward from the board of education to teachers. Here also, the belief that policymakers can frame problems, adopt solutions, and steer classroom practice prevails. Yet school districts are hardly command-and-control operations since new policies get interpreted and re-interpreted by different actors at each link of the supposed chain of authority as they proceed downward into classrooms.

And it is in classrooms where teachers make decisions about what the policy is and which parts, if any, get implemented. What was intended by policymakers may well turn out to be something quite different. The metaphor of a linked chain for putting educational policies into practice is inapt. A better image than links in a chain is pasta to represent the policy-to-practice journey. Consider the following two examples.

Mrs. O., a veteran California second grade teacher in the late-1980s had embraced a new math curriculum aimed at replacing students’ rote memorization with mathematical understanding. A researcher observed Mrs. O teach and interviewed her many times. She saw herself as a success story, a teacher who had revolutionized her mathematics teaching. But classroom observations revealed that her practices were really old wine in new bottles. Yes, Mrs. O was now dividing students into groups–an innovation–but the groups memorized rules taken from the new text. In short, Mrs. O’s blended traditional and innovative practices to create lessons that transformed the state policy directive into something quite different from what policymakers had intended.

Interactive whiteboards. Replacing traditional classroom chalkboards, TV monitors, and DVDs, these wall-mounted electronic devices connect a desktop computer and projector to a whiteboard where teachers can click keys to show videos, visit websites immediately, and call upon other sources of information. A stylus permits teachers and students to write on the whiteboard to do math problems, point out aspects of lava flows from erupting volcanoes, and allow teachers to record their lessons as digital video files for students to review at a later time.

Promoters have hailed interactive white boards as a technology that will transform teaching and learning.

A reporter described Spanish teacher Crystal Corn’s high school class in Cumming, Georgia: “[Corn’s students] … use a stylus at the whiteboard to match pictures and vocabulary words, they use it to visit Web sites that feature news from Spanish-speaking countries, and they even made a music video and played it in class on the whiteboard. This school year, Corn plans to use the interactive whiteboard to hold videoconferences with classes in other countries.”

Sounds terrific. But over years, I have observed nearly 30 classrooms using interactive whiteboards in different districts. I saw versions of Mrs. O again and again. Consider the dozen high school math teachers that I observed using whiteboards daily. Nearly every one began the lesson with a “brain teaser,” or “warm-up,” reviewed homework problems, had students use the stylus on the whiteboard to show how they solved particularly difficult ones, introduced new material, asked if students had any questions, then assigned new problems for homework. In short, these math teachers in different cities used traditional math lessons with an innovative high-tech device. Yet those teachers spoke rapturously about how these interactive whiteboards had enhanced their teaching. Hello, Mrs. O.

So what if the policy-to-practice continuum is best captured by the image of spaghetti than iron-welded links in a chain? The answer is again found in the four questions I have raised in previous posts:

  1. Was the policy aimed at altering how teachers teach fully implemented?
  2. Did teaching practices change as a result of the implementation?
  3. Did those changed teaching practices lead to changes in student performance?
  4. Did those changes in student performance achieve school and district goals?

There is a catch, however, to answering the second question. I do not know if Mrs. O and those math teachers using their interactive whiteboards captured their typical teaching practices before the researchers sat down in the back of their rooms. Perhaps the new curriculum policy and high-tech device did. We won’t know until more systematic classroom observations occur. Very little occurs now in districts. School policymakers facing their own “fog of war” can only guess how teachers teach daily.

Yet teachers make daily policy decisions in their classrooms. When teachers work collaboratively within schools and districts, when policymakers work closely with teachers to make decisions that touch classrooms, when teachers run their own schools as in Minnesota, links-in-a-chain and pasta metaphors are inappropriate. More apt may be metaphors of organizational collaboration such as a team white-water rafting or a medley relay of swimmers in a meet. Seldom are those images used.

Links in a chain? Pasta? Medley relays? Without more documentation of that journey from policymaking suites to, say, a 5th grade classroom lesson, rival metaphors will continue to vie for attention in capturing truly what happens in schools.



Filed under how teachers teach, school reform policies

Teaching Spanish at Mountain View High School: Technology Integration

The 50-minute Spanish 2 Honors class began September 27, 2016 with a “bell ringer” exercise. The teacher has a slide on the screen with 10 sentences. The task is for students to put the verb into the past tense (Pon la forma del verbo en el preterito Pon la forma del verbo en el preterito).The class had worked on conjugating verbs and the past tense during the previous class. The 29 students have their laptops and tablets out and are working at their desks for the first 10 minutes.*

Desks in the room are arranged in a horseshoe with two rows on each side and in the middle leaving a large open space where the teacher stands. The teacher’s desk is in the front of the room where whiteboards and screen are located. Walls have posters of artist Diego Rivera, a toreador, and other art objects. On the ledge above the front whiteboards are paper mache figures of dogs, parrots, and a crocodile.












David Campbell has taught 16 years, the last eight at Mountain View** High School. Tall and confident in demeanor, he is wearing dressy dark jeans and a light blue shirt with a multi-colored bow tie (he tells me that “it’s bow tie day at the school). The class, except for a few instances, is conducted entirely in Spanish.


Campbell signals the 10th and 11th grade students that the opening exercise is over. He asks students to lower the lids of their devices. They do. Then he goes over each sentence with the class—using a laser pointer to hit each sentence on the screen—focusing on the correct past tense of each verb. The teacher asks choral questions, that is, ones that are undirected to particular students. Many, but not all, students quietly, almost murmuring, answer. This call-and-response pattern of questioning continued throughout the lesson. Occasionally he will direct a question to a certain student who answers. Often, Campbell says “excelente” and “muy bien” to both class and individual responses.

The teacher then segues to another activity. Using the game-based software Kahoot, students open their devices to the program and click to the slide on their screen that is exactly like the one showing on the screen in front of the room. This is a timed exercise. A bouncy tune starts and students go over 10 sentences selecting from among multiple choices the correct past tense for a regular or irregular verb. A countdown of how many seconds are left to complete the exercise shows on screen. As students tap in their answers, the number of students who submitted answers hits 10, 18, and then 29. All of this appears on a slide on the screen as well as the teacher’s laptop where he can see each of his student’s answers. When all students have submitted their responses, Campbell taps a key and a bar chart of the students’ responses appears on the front screen (there are no names) showing how many students have picked the correct answer and how many erred. For most of the sentences, around 20 members of the class got the correct answer. For a few sentences, less than half of the students did. In all instances, Campbell would explain what made the answer correct and go over the wrong answers, explaining why they were incorrect. In effect, the teacher was re-teaching the rules for determining the past tense for regular and irregular verbs. Below is an example of the series of exercises Campbell used with students.

Pon la forma del verbo en el pretérito

  1. Yo (cerrar) las ventanas anoche.
  2. Los estudiantes (escribir) las respuestas en la pizarra.
  3. María y yo (nadar) en la piscina el sábado.
  4. Tú (vivir) en la casa amarilla, ¿no?
  5. Mis abuelos no (gastar) mucho dinero.
  6. Enrique no (beber) ni té ni café.
  7. ¿(Tomar) tú la última galleta?
  8. Todos los jugadores (oír) las malas noticias.
  9. Yo (decidir) comer más frutas y verduras.
  10. Ellos (olvidar) la dirección de la tienda.

Then Campbell shows a scoreboard on the screen of how many points individual students accrued in each exercise. The class watched eagerly to see who got the highest number of points. There would be much buzz and murmuring and even a few handclaps for the winner. The teacher gave the student with the highest score, a rubber eraser.

For the next 15 minutes, this flow of activities continued. Foot-tapping tune—some students would sway to the melody or move their feet—10 or more sentences with multiple choices for which verb was stated correctly in the past tense. Then bar charts showing the class’s answers followed by the teacher’s explanation of both correct and incorrect answers. Finally, the scoreboard appears with first names of those students with the highest scores.

After closing this activity, Campbell asks all of the students to stand. They do. Then on another slide is a set of verbs that students conjugate in a ditty and clap at the end of each line. It is a song exercise that these 10th and 11th graders are familiar with and seemingly enjoyed.

Fui – ser

Fui – ir

Di – dar

Vine – venir

Tuve – tener

Hice – hacer

Puse – poner

Estuve – estar

Quise – querer

Pude – poder

Supe – saber

Dije – decir

Traje – traer

Vi – ver

Anduve – andar

After sitting down, the teacher moves to the next activity, again another way for students to practice using the past tense for regular and irregular verbs. He uses a software program called Pear Deck; students’ screens show the verbs—some accompanied with photos) as they also appear on screen in front of room. He asks students to talk to their partner and run through the conjugation of the verb ( e.g., boot) in the question (habla con tu vecino y explica que es un verba de bota (ejemplos)

Campbell follows up each slide with choral questions, students responding in unison and explanations for each verb. He then asks individual student to conjugate the verb, returning to choral questions.

For only time in lesson, he speaks in English to differentiate between regular and irregular verbs.

Campbell then returns to Kahoot with its catchy tunes, lists of sentences with verb that has to be converted into past tense, multiple choices for students to click onto, bar charts for class answers, and the piece de resistance, the scoreboard revealing top scorers.

Examples of these sentences students had to parse:

Senor Campbell (leer) los libros de Harry Potter

Las dos chicas quebradas (servir) la comida anoche

In looking around the class periodically, it seemed to me that nearly all of the students compete with one another and are engaged in the tasks the teacher has directed them to complete. The degree of understanding students had of regular and irregular verbs was less clear for me to determine since most questioning called for choral student responses.

Class worked right up to the chime sounding the end of the class. Students stowed  their devices in backpacks and shoulder bags and left the room.


*Bring-Your-Own-Device began two years ago in the District after teacher-led pilot projects at the two high schools demonstrated its viability.  For students who do not have a device at home or when one breaks down, the school provides chromebooks.

**Part of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, Mountain View High School has just over 1800 students (2015) and its demography is mostly students of color (in percentages, Asian 26, Latino 21,  African American 2, multiracial 2, and 47 white). The percentage of students eligible for free-and-reduced price lunches (the poverty indicator) is 18 percent. Eleven percent of students are learning disabled and just over 10 percent of students are English language learners.

Academically, 94 percent of the students graduate high school and nearly all enter higher education. The school offers 35 Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses across the curriculum. Of those students taking AP courses, 84 percent have gotten 3 or higher, the benchmark for getting college credit. The school earned the distinction of California Distinguished High School in 1994 and 2003. In 200 and 2013, MVHS received a full 6-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Newsweek ranks MVHS among the top 1% of high schools nationwide. The gap in achievement between minorities and white remains large, however, and has not shrunk in recent years. The per-pupil expenditure at the high school is just under $15,000 (2014). Statistics come from here and mvhs_sarc_15_16


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Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

Teaching Advanced Placement Physics at Los Altos High School: Technology Integration

Stephen Hine invited me into his 90 minute AP 1 (there is also an AP 2 course at the school) Thursday, September 15, 2016. Hine has been teaching at Los Altos High School for three years. He also graduated from the school and, as a student took physics courses from the teacher who has an adjacent classroom to his in the two-story building housing math and science classes.

The room is spacious and furnished with lab tables and science desks with the latest equipment for students to use. Pods of four desks are arranged throughout the large space. There are 24 students in the classroom when Hine begins the lesson.






Hine begins the class by asking students to copy down the objective for the day printed on a slide showing on screen:

Students will be able to (SWBAT) create instructional videos using whiteboard animations in order to demonstrate problem solving skills and provide instructional support to peers

Students at the various tables have a notebook and pen next to their tablets and laptops. As they write and click away, the teacher takes attendance and asks about a few missing students.

Hine then points to the agenda for the day printed on the whiteboard:

  1. Lab Peer Review
  2. Problem Solving Videos

He then asks students to review each other’s lab report on the Projectile Launch that they had completed (See lab questions here).  Hine wants class to use rubrics matrix that he had given to students to assess the quality of their lab work and that of a partner (see rubric here).

Accessing the rubric, however, from the mixed set of devices and operating systems students have such as Apple tablets, laptops, Windows and other devices including Chromebooks, is cumbersome. The district mandated a Bring-Your-Own-Device program two years ago and students bring in Apple, Google, and other devices. The school makes available Chromebooks to students who lack a tablet. Each type has its own operating instructions and sharing documents from one device to another becomes an oft-repeated procedure in the class.

Hine gives three sets of step-by-step directions to students with different devices. Expressing frustration , the teacher gives another set of directions for students using Chromebooks. In asking students to share lab reports across computers, Hine gives more instructions for how students can share.

Students turn to task and they begin assessing each other’s lab reports using the criteria in the rubric. I look around the room and see that all students appear to be on task. Hine moves among students’ desks checking their screens, solving technical glitches and answering questions.

Teacher tells class that they have 10 more minutes before end of activity. He tells class: “If you see anything missing on their partner’s lab, tell them and help. Give constructive criticism, please,” he adds.

Hine gives five and three minute warnings.

For those, the teachers says, “who have finished, submit your review and go ahead and read overview on your screens about instructional videos.”

He then asks everyone to submit their review and to close the lids of their computers when they have clicked “submit.”

Now, Hine segues to second and last activity of the 90-minute lesson: students making instructional videos to show how the class, divided into pairs and trios, will solve problems about different projectiles’ velocity, range, etc. that teacher had assigned to them. For the next seven minutes, Hine, standing at the white board in the front of the room, reviews each of the five steps in making a problem solving video: diagram their solution of problem, write the necessary formulas, do the story board, take photos of what they have done, where they put their names, and doing voiceovers, etc.

Hine assigns a problem to each group (e.g., “A basketball referee tosses the ball straight up for the starting tip-off. At what velocity must a basketball player leave the ground to rise 1.25 m above the floor in an attempt to get the ball?”). For a list of all the problems assigned to students, see here.

Some students ask questions about whether they can use paper and pen (Hine says “yes”) to questions about the different problems including : “when is the video due?” Teacher points out the tubs of materials on the front lab table (e.g., markers for the white boards attached to each cluster of desks; iPods to do the filming for students whose devices lack a camera).

The directions that Hine gives to students identifying the problems and what they are to do are available to students on each of their devices (see below).

Overview:    In a pair, you will be solving one of the problems below using our perfect solution format.  Once you have correctly solved the problem and confirmed the provided answer(s), you will be creating an instructional video using a whiteboard animation of the process.  Once everyone has completed their video, we will have a class folder with all of the videos to help you study for the unit test.

Perfect Solution Requirements:

Please use Actively Learn for examples of solving these problems

  1. Simple diagram of the scenario with important quantities or characteristics labelled.
  2. List of given and known conditions. For kinematics this should include initial and final position, initial and final velocity, acceleration, and time.
  3. Initial formula used to solve the problem written entirely in symbolic form.
  4. Complete algebraic solution to the problem that is written entirely in symbolic form.  The final step should involve your desired quantity isolated on one side of the equation.
  5. A final boxed numeric answer with correct units.

Whiteboard Animation Requirements:

  1. Either a school iPod or your own smart phone can be used to film.  Smart phones must only be used for this academic purpose and nothing else.
  2. Whiteboard must fit entirely in the field of view of the camera and must be at a perpendicular angle to the lens’ axis.
  3. Partner first and last names must be written on the whiteboard either at the beginning or the end animation.
  4. A single shot of the entire solution or single images of each animation step are acceptable.  Proper video formatting must be performed depending on which method you choose.
  5. Video must be easy to follow and not sped up too quickly (check with Mr. Hine about speed concerns).
  6. A voice-over must be included explaining the solution process.

He asks students to pick their partners and after some milling around in the room, students divide themselves into two trios and the rest, pairs. Much background noise from students ensues. He counts down from 15 to 0 and students quiet and begin work with their partners at different pods of desks in the room. Hine tells them they have about an hour to solve the problem, create a diagram of their solution, write the formulas as directed, do the story board, film it, decide on the voiceover, etc.

As students begin work, Hine stamps their homework and passes back a quiz students had taken before.

For the next 40 minutes, student groups work at different paces moving through the five steps laid out in the assignment and covered by the teacher earlier in the period. There are many student questions from different partners for Hine. Mostly they are specific queries about the diagrams they have drawn, formulas they are using, the visualization of the problem (e.g., dropping a water balloon from the two story building they are in), and technicalities about camera shots, and voice-overs. Students continually raise their hands and Hine moves from one group to another, listening carefully, asking questions of the pair, listening again and seeing whether they are OK to move on. During these 40 minutes, Hine is in perpetual motion working with different pairs and trios listening and explaining, often visually simulating what tossing a basketball in the air might look like, etc.

From time to time, I scan the classroom and see that every student seems to be working on the assigned tasks. I move around the room querying the pairs about which problem they are working on, which step are they on, and what do they do next.

A few pairs are setting up their story board with their diagrams and filming at one the lab tables in the rear of the room. As other pairs and trios create the formulas to solve the problem, they too move to the rear tables. With about 15 minutes left, more than half of the class has drawn storyboards and taken camera shots of the boards. One pair has already completed a voiceover.

With less than 10 minutes left, all but four pairs are at the back of the room videoing their diagram, displaying formulas, and in various stages of doing audio.

After an alert from teacher about the few remaining minutes, students return the iPods and markers to the tubs on the lab table in the front of the room.

A few students are packing up as the chime sounds. AP Physics 1 is over for the day.


Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

World Studies: Technology Integration at Mountain View High School

Carson Rietveld invited me into her 9th grade World Studies class on September 16, 2016.  She has been teaching for four years at Mountain View High School.*  The class is furnished with four rows of desks facing the front whiteboard; the teacher’s desk is in the far corner. Music is playing as students enter the room.  Student work, historical posters, and sayings dot the walls above the white boards (e.g., “I want to live in a society where people are judged by what they do for others).


Rietveld, wearing a long flowered dress that reaches her ankles, welcomes the 14- and 15 year old students by name as they come in. Students put their backpacks on the floor near a side whiteboard and bring their tablet or laptop to their desk. The high school policy is Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD).**  I ask a student why do all backpacks go on the floor and he tells me that students rooting through their backpacks during a lesson distracts both the student and teacher from what is being taught. Thus, the rule.

The 27 students sit at their desks, take out their devices, surf the Internet, and talk to one another. Bell rings to begin class. Music stops. School announcements come on the public address box in the room. Many students listen and some whisper to one another or continue looking at their device. After announcements end, Rietveld directs students’ attention to front whiteboard with a slide showing the agenda for “Happy Friday Fresh Friends.”

*Mindfulness exercise
*Partner presentation practice
*Roman Republic presentation
*Whole class discussion
EQ: what makes a good presentation?
EQ: how much influence did the average citizen have in the Roman Republic?

(EQ refers to Essential Question. See here)








Teacher goes over the agenda and asks students to close lids of  their computers.  They do. The first agenda item is a mindfulness exercise. A video comes on with a soft, soothing voice asking everyone to “ground themselves in the now.”  The voice asks viewers to close their eyes—I look around the room and all students’ eyes are closed—and the soothing voice asks viewers to concentrate on relaxing their toes, ankles, legs then “shifting awareness” up through the entire torso to their head. Teacher participates with students.  Rietveld tells me that she now has her students doing up to three minutes of the daily exercise.

Rietveld segues to next activity, listed as “Partner Presentation Practice” which will give students a chance to practice getting at the substance of the lesson, the relationship between the Roman Republic and democracy. Students will be making presentations and the teacher wants students to practice getting at the essential point they wish to make in their presentation and the argument (including evidence) that will support that essential point.

To get students to practice this task, Rietveld asks them to take two minutes to find a photo of the cutest cat or dog they can find on the Internet. Then write a paragraph why their photo is the cutest and afterwards turn to their partner and explain why—what features of the pet make it the cutest, etc.

After a few moments, she says ,“20 seconds left to finish.” Teacher has a stopwatch in her hand and uses it to announce time. Then she says press “submit” wherever you are in the paragraph so I can see what you have written (Rietveld uses Pear Deck and has access to each student’s work).

“Now present the animal to your partner, “ Rietveld says. “What kind of animal did you pick? Why did you pick this animal? Explain why you think it is the cutest.”

After two minutes, teacher asks the listening partner to present their “cutest” pet photo.

I look across the classroom and all pairs and trios appear involved in task.

After time is up, teacher asks each partner to write down “ a thoughtful idea they did well.”

“OK,” Rietveld says, “let’s go over your awesome thoughts—I see partners making eye contact and directing the other person back to photo. Give multiple reasons and focus on different features. Talk slowly.”
She then asks students to open up their computers and write down they could have done better. What mistake did partner make. I see nearly all students clicking away on their devices. But some are talking and seemingly off-task. Teacher says: “OK, guys, self-regulate, self-regulate. Don’t have photo of pet on screen; it will be distracting. Get rid of it,” she says.

After waiting a few minutes, Rietveld segues to next activity of small group work to give practice to students in presenting their answers to the “essential question”: Based on what you have read, “How democratic do you think was the Roman Republic.”

Students have been thinking about this question and have made posters with illustrations and text to state their answer to the question when they present to the entire class.

Rietveld directs students to get into small groups after designating the different roles that students will perform in the group they are in. Teacher points to one side of room and says that these students are “time-keepers”; another side are “facilitators”, in the middle are “resource managers”, and in the rear are “harmonizers”—specific roles that apparently students are familiar with. Then she directs that each member of a group will present their answer to the “essential question: “How democratic do you think was the Roman Republic.”

After presenting in their small group, each student will resume their role as the next student presents answer to question. Students rearrange themselves, move desks and chairs as they settle into their groups to present to one another their answer to the question:

Using the stopwatch, Rietveld announces how much time is left.  After ending  the task, she then asks students to critique presenter, that is, what one thing the presenter did well; what one thing that can be improved. Then she announces that the next student is to present. Students circulate their posters and present for another two minutes.

Looking around the class, I see all small groups engaged in listening to presenter and showing their posters. Teacher walks around listening to each group. One group looked off-task to her so Rietveld goes over and asks presenter—“What is one piece of evidence in your poster about Roman Republic being democratic?”

For the next six minutes presenters in the small groups shift from one student to another with the teacher announcing when the two minutes are up. In each instance, Rietveld asks group to go around their circle and tell the presenter one thing they did well and one thing they can improve upon.

After stop-watch alarm rings, the teacher brings the activity to a close. She asks students to close their computers and segues to the final task of the period, The Four Corners Discussion of a slide flashed onto the whiteboard: “The Roman Republic a True Democracy.”

She tells class that each student should consider whether they strongly agree, somewhat agree, strongly disagree or somewhat disagree with the statement and then “vote with your feet.” After waiting a few moments, Rietveld directs students to go to a corner of the room for strongly agree, another corner for those who strongly disagree, etc.

Teacher looks where students are. Most are either in one of two corners expressing  disagreement or agreement with statement. Rietveld asks entire class, “why there is disagreement among you about statement. Some students in one corner call out and say that not everyone could vote—women and slaves; teacher pushes back and asks for evidence; student give example and teacher probes again. Then another student in an opposite corner gives evidence of democratic practices. Students around her nod their heads.

“Why don’t we totally agree,” teacher asks? A few students say there is evidence on both sides. Another student says that there is a lot of “subjectivity on what is a true democracy,” a peer adds that the conflict is over differing values that students have about democracy and which ones are most important.

Then the bell rings ending the period. Rietveld asks students to return desks to their original position.  They do. She wishes them “a safe weekend.” Students go to pick up their backpacks lying on the floor near the wall and leave the room. World Studies is over for this class.


* Part of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, Mountain View High School has  just over 1800 students (2015) and its demography is mostly students of color (in percentages, Asian 26, Latino 21,  African American 2, multiracial 2, and 47 white). The percentage of students eligible for free-and-reduced price lunches (the poverty indicator) is 18 percent. Eleven percent of students are learning disabled and just over 10 percent of students are English language learners.

Academically, 94 percent of the students graduate high school and nearly all enter higher education. The school offers 35 Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses across the curriculum. Of those students taking AP courses, 84 percent have gotten 3 or higher, the benchmark for getting college credit. The school earned the distinction of California Distinguished High School in 1994 and 2003. In 200 and 2013, MVHS received a full 6-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Newsweek ranks MVHS among the top 1% of high schools nationwide. The gap in achievement between minorities and white remains large, however, and has not shrunk in recent years. The per-pupil expenditure at the high school is just under $15,000 (2014). Statistics come from here and mvhs_sarc_15_16

**BYOD began two years ago in the District.

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Teaching Algebra II: Technology Integration

I observed an Algebra 2 class at Hacienda (pseudonym), a Northern California high school, on September 9, 2016. The high school has over 1900 students, mostly minority (Asian and Latino). About 20 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch–a measure of poverty used in U.S. public schools. Over 98 percent graduate and a very high percentage of those graduates enter college. About one-third of students take Advanced Placement exams with well over 80 percent qualifying for college credit. Less than 10 percent of students are English Language Learners and just over that percentage have been identified with disabilities. This is a high school that prides itself on academic and sports achievements and is recognized in the region, state, and nation as first-rate.

Beverly Young (pseudonym) is a veteran teacher of 22 years at Hacienda.  A slim woman of average height, wearing black slacks, white blouse with a beige sweater, she has been department head and very involved in coordinating the math curriculum at the school. Since 2008, she has embraced different technologies for the efficiency they brought to her in making out quizzes and tests and their help in connecting to students. She has been using an iPad with educational apps particularly Doceri for her math lessons since the tablet appeared.

The 50-minute lesson on Friday morning went swiftly by as the fast-paced, organized teacher taught about factoring quadratic equations. Announcements about upcoming quiz are posted on bulletin board next to whiteboard: “9/14—9/15, Quiz 4.1 to 4.2” –and upcoming test—“9/21—9/22, Test on 4.1 to 4.4.” The numbers refer to textbook sections.

There are 26 students in the room sitting at five rows of three desks next to one another, all facing the whiteboard. Young, carrying her iPad with her as she walks around, uses a remote to post slides and videos on the whiteboard during the lesson.


For the first five minutes, Young shows a video about the Rio Paralympics. As students watch the brief video, Young, holding her iPad, walks around recording who is present and then stamping homework that students had laid out on their desks. I look around the class; they were watching intently athletes with disabilities who perform extraordinary feats.

Two minutes later, school announcements appear as a video on the whiteboard. Hacienda students prepare the daily announcements. A student anchors the announcements showing clips prepared by other students for different daily and weekly school activities (e.g., upcoming mini-bike racing event in Quad). In most schools where I observe classes, announcements are on the public address system and generally students ignore them as they drone on. I looked around and saw that all but a few of the students watched each announcement.

After announcements end, Young turns to the lesson for the day. The slide on the whiteboard is the objective for the day: “Factoring and Solving x²+bx+c=0.” She asks if there are any questions on the homework. No hands go up. Young then passes out handout for the day and directs students to go to Google Classroom on their devices (I see those students sitting near me have a mix of different laptops and tablets). She then asks students to go to Socrative, a software program, and gives instructions how they should login. She walks up and down aisles to see what is on students’ screens. After all students have logged in, she clicks on a short video that explains factoring quadratic equations by using an example of jellyfish.

Young explains what the key terms are, the different variables described in video and then applies it to factoring. She gives examples of binominals and asks questions as she goes along. She encourages students to talk to one another if they are stuck. She walks up and down aisles with iPad in hand as students answer. She then reviews binominals and moves to trinominals. “Now, look at polynominals.“ One student asks for clarification of terms. Young clarifies and asks: “You guys understand?” A few heads nod.

(For readers who wish to delve into the details of this lesson’s content, the teacher has made a five minute YouTube video for students that explains the content of this lesson.)

Young moves to next set of slides about “x intercepts” and examples of “distribution.” She then asks: Why do we do factoring? A few students answer. Young explains what the key points are and the differences between factoring and solving an equation. She asks students more questions, encouraging them to talk to one another to figure out answers.

The teacher segues back to a Socrative slide and to a question that she wants student to answer.

Young encourages students to help one another—as she circulates in the room. “If you don’t remember, write it down. It’s OK.” She checks her tablet to see what each student is doing and says aloud—“I see two guys who got it right—I am waiting for 15 of you guys to finish—talk to one another.” A few minutes later, looking at her tablet, she says—“most of you got it. I will give you another minute—I am waiting on eight more here.”

She talks to individual students answering questions and complimenting students as she traverses the aisles.

“Looks like most of you have the idea,” she says.

I scan the class and all students have eyes on screen, and are clicking away or whispering to a neighbor what appears to be an answer to the teacher’s question.

“Now you guys work on the second question.” She chats easily with students—“do you have answer here?” she asks all the while checking the iPad she carries around.

She then directs class to go to next question. “Do it and give me an answer for this—it’s a little tricky. You are more than welcome to ask one another.”

One student asked a question and then the teacher used the student question to correct misconception about solving a quadratic equation. Young answers the student and refers back to jellyfish video.

In scanning the class, all students look engaged. “If you guys have an answer like this—pointing to what she wrote on the whiteboard, then you got it wrong. Here’s a little hint—[could not catch what teacher says]. I’ll give you another 50 seconds—I just want to see what you guys remember”

Again, checking her iPad she can see each student’s work and can help student in real time as she cruises through the classroom.

“Now let’s go to fun stuff.”  After she posts slide from her iPad on the whiteboard on how to factor trinominals, Young explains each problem.

Young sees that some students are confused so she starts over. She continues to work on the numbered problems appearing on the slide, explaining what she is doing at each step. Then, she asks students to factor particular parts of equations. She checks her iPad and says: “I hear guys having an answer already—that’s great!”

“When is a 9 equal to zero or a plus nine equal to zero—now can you answer no. 8?” Students talk to one another, as I scan the room. Young circulates and listens to different students to further explain if they are stuck.

She asks: “Are we ready?” Teacher walks students through how she solves problem on whiteboard using the iPad. She then asks whether students know the difference between factoring and solving. One student says yes. She then asks students to jot down their answers to central question of the lesson —she walks around and talks with students as they click away.

The teacher ends class a few minutes before bell rings and then talks to different students, answering their questions. Other students begin packing up their things to await the end of the class. Bell rings.


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Teaching Advanced Placement Composition: Technology Integration

Room 409 at Los Altos High School in the south San Francisco Bay area is one of the most spacious for an academic subject —nearly the size of two regular classrooms–I have ever seen in the many schools I have visited over the years. I marveled at its carpeting, recliner chairs near the teacher’s desk and horseshoe arrangement of 3- and 4-desk clusters facing a table in the center of the room where Michael Moul, a 12 year veteran teacher, presides over his AP class.

Well over six feet tall, the stocky and goateed Moul is wearing a blue shirt, and dark slacks. He looks out on the 32 students in the room. He is also faculty adviser for the Talon, the school newspaper. Twelve desktop computers sit on the ledge below a wall and tall windows in the rear and side of the room that Talon staff use.


Los Altos High School is a Bring-Your-Own-Device school. * The high school district adopted BYOD two years ago for its three schools after teacher- and administrator-initiated pilot projects established that well over half of the students had laptops or tablets they could use for their classes and enough teachers were sufficiently skilled to integrate the hardware and software into their daily lessons. For students who lack a device, forget theirs, or if one dies suddenly in school, students can easily get a device elsewhere in the school. Teachers decide how to weave technologies into their lessons; there is no district prescribed one-best-way for teachers to follow.

The lesson I observed on September 6, 2016 is the final part of a four and a half week unit on the Narrative Essay that began with the first day of school on August 15th.. In this unit, Moul spent the first two weeks of the semester on building community in the class, setting norms for small group work, and reading excerpts from Machiavelli, George Orwell, James Baldwin and others. Students then analyzed the structures of the essays they read. Moul also uses Socratic Seminars during the unit to have students discuss various writers’ essays and reflect on their own writing before beginning their assigned narrative essay (see here).

Moul’s 50-minute lesson (the class meets four times a week on a modified block schedule) begins a moment after the tardy chime sounds. There are 32 students in the class sitting at clusters of three and four desks facing the front white-board. Today’s lesson is divided into four parts.

1. Since there was a national holiday on Monday, Moul asks the students to close the lids of their devices and then begins with a question: what “good news” do they want to share with class? For a few minutes he listens to what students call out about their long weekend: “it is a four day week,” one says, for example. Then he reviews the assignment of writing two drafts about a story they read and how this AP class differs from Honors English class in the number of drafts they will do. More drafts, more revising, he says, is crucial to writing essays. On Friday, the class had looked at the first draft of a student-written “model” essay entitled “The Vulture” (see here).

2. He segues to the next part of the lesson where he tells students to read the second draft of the student’s essay, make comments and then re-read the first draft and make comments on what changes they see between the two.

Students open lids of their tablets and laptops and proceed to read and type in comments for the second draft. From my perch in the back of the class sitting at a student desk, I see that every student appears to be on task. Moul walks up and down aisles between clusters of desks pausing to see what students are jotting down on their screens and stopping to answer student questions.

After about 10 minutes, he asks students to re-read first draft—“I’ll give you 7-8 minutes”—and asks them to put in their notes the differences they see between the two drafts.

3. Watching the wall clock, Moul asks students to stop and to form their groups. Here is where the clusters of three and four desks closely set together become a venue for small group discussion. Moul reminds students to turn their desks to face one another since eye contact is important in looking at group members and not have one’s eyes glued to screen.

In this small group activity, students discuss what they saw as differences between the two drafts of “The Vulture.” I scan the groups and note that all are engaged in talking to one another. I see no student off-task. Moul continues to walk around and listen in to different groups’ exchanges. “In a few moments,” he says, “we will start chit-chatting.”

After a one-minute warning, the teacher ends this activity and asks students to turn around their desks to face front where he is sitting.

4. The final activity is a whole group discussion of the differences between the two drafts and what students saw as improvements in the second draft. About one-fourth of the students raised their hands to respond to teacher’s request for thoughts in this 12 minute activity. After he called on a few students and they spoke—Moul, sitting at a small desk in the center of the classroom horseshoe said, “let me call on people on this side now.” After students comments, the teacher would offer his opinion of the second draft, saying, for example, “I didn’t see much in the conclusion; there needs to be a balance between narrative and exposition.” When one student comments on use of dialogue within a narrative, Moul points out how dialogue helps the flow of the essay.

I scan the class and see that most students turn to listen to one another during the whole group discussion.

Chime sounds to end the period. Moul says “wait” and students sit as he goes on to remind class that their draft is to be turned in Thursday, two days hence—school is on modified block schedule. Teacher releases students and says: “have a great couple of days.”


* The high school has over 1900 students (2015) and its demography is mostly students of color (in percentages, Latino 28, Asian 21, African American 2, multiracial 2, and 45 white). The percentage of students eligible for free-and-reduced price lunches (the poverty indicator) is 22 percent. Fourteen percent of students are learning disabled and just over four percent of students are English language learners.

Academically, 99 percent of the students graduate high school and nearly all enter higher education. The school offers 20 AP courses—37 percent of the student body take at least one AP course and of those students taking AP tests– 83 percent have gotten 3 or higher, the benchmark for getting college credit. LAHS has been rated repeatedly as one of the top high schools (52nd out of over 1330 in the state and 339h in the nation’s 26,000 high schools). The gap in achievement between minorities and white remains large, however, and has not shrunk in recent years. The per-pupil expenditure at the high school is just under $15,000 (2014). See here, here, here, here, and here.




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