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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Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

Bankers and Teachers: Scandals and Accountability (Part 2)

Part 1 described how Wells Fargo bank and the Atlanta public schools defrauded large numbers of customers and students. At the bank, over 5,000 employees were fired. The bank’s CEO admitted responsibility for the fraud before a U.S. Senate Banking Committee yet the fine levied by federal regulators ($185 million) wasn’t even a slap on the wrist, given the $80-plus billion in revenues that the bank took in last year. Nor did the bank admit in that agreement to pay the fine any responsibility for for their actions. The CEO is still CEO.

The Atlanta public schools cheating scandal found evidence of 178 principals and teachers in over 40 schools tampering with student scores on state tests. Eleven teachers were indicted, tried, and convicted (over 20 other educators took plea deals).  Those 11 are in prison.

Two questions occurred to me as I read and pondered these instances of corruption Wells Fargo and the Atlanta public schools.

First, why did employees scam customers with bogus bank accounts and educators tamper with test scores?

The familiar answer is: some bad apples caused the problem–which is basically saying it was individuals acting badly not an organizational problem. Over 5,000 fired at Wells Fargo is a lot of “bad apples, however.” Over 40 schools and 178 educators is also a lot of “bad apples.” The “bad apples” answer side-steps the pervasive culture in Wells Fargo and Atlanta public schools that top leaders shaped and drove unrelentingly.

Top officials created an organizational culture of producing results at any cost. Ample evidence exists of top managers  setting very high performance goals that were difficult to meet; the company and district created fear among employees who didn’t meet those goals. Penalties for low performance and retaliation for those who complained fostered a culture of fear. Compliance to do what expected even if it disadvantaged customers was a powerful reason to keep a job. In short, the culture caused employees to peddle bogus accounts and fix test scores.

But–you knew a “but” was coming–not all of the lowest paid employees engaged in the fraud. While cultural pressures can be strong and influential, they do not always determine individual action.  Sure, 5,300 Wells Fargo employees were fired but many more retained their jobs by figuring out ways to perform and not defraud customers. Similarly, all Atlanta  educators experienced the same intense pressure to raise students’ test scores but many principals and teachers followed the rules and did what they were supposed to do in administering and scoring tests. Yes, organizational culture surely shapes behavior but it does not determine how every individual acts.

Top officials were greedy; they thought they could get away with the fraud and cheating and boost the reputation of their organizations.   Over the years, bipartisan policies deregulated industries (e.g., financial companies, airlines) creating a climate where profit seeking is highly prized. Billionaires become American heroes dispensing donations, advice, and encouragement to aspiring millionaires. The  language describing unvarnished greed has softened, euphemisms abound describing the unceasing chase for more and more money (e.g., “being entrepreneurial,” “individual enterprise”). Not only in the corporate sector, this profit-seeking culture has now spread across public institutions such as schools, hospitals, and prisons (see here, here, and here).

None of this should surprise any reader since individual profit-seeking is in the DNA of a capitalist democracy. From John Jacob Astor to John D. Rockefeller to Cornelius Vanderbilt, billionaires made their money in trade and real estate, oil, and railroads. They became legends in their own time. They were admired, inspiring their fellow Americans whether they were poor, working class or just got a hand-hold in the middle class to get rich In the U.S., the job of curbing the unrelenting search for profit has been the role of government, as it has in most developed countries. We have lived in a mixed economy where both business and government have interacted constantly checking and balancing one another for nearly two centuries.

When that partnership breaks down or one side becomes too powerful—too much government regulation or too much business influence on governmental policy then shifts in political power  occur to correct that imbalance. Consider the New Deal following the Great Depression  of the 1930s. Or deregulation of industries since the 1980s and reforming the tax code to benefit the wealthy. The U.S. is in such a moment now of inequalities in wealth that call for restraining the richest of the rich from re-shaping government policies to make it easier for them to become even wealthier while leaving middle class families trail far behind in increasing their salaries.

Second, why are there differences in holding public and private employees accountable for their crimes?

Since the late-1970s, The U.S. is in a moment when business success, corporate entrepreneurs, and keeping government regulation at arm’s length has dominated public policy. “Government is the problem,” as Ronald Reagan put it. Getting rid of government rules and bureaucracy, conservatives argue, will unleash business owners to invest and create more jobs for Americans. Anti-government rhetoric morphed into state and federal laws–e.g., tax cuts, incentives for investors to locate their monies in off-shore accounts and not pay taxes, low interest rates, fewer IRS audits– that benefited those who ran companies and had large investment portfolios.

Corporate leaders, backed by large sums of money, hired lobbyists to influence legislators to deregulate airlines, banks, pharmaceuticals, and other industries so that more money would flow to the already rich. To the rich, public institutions were  feeding at the tax-payer trough and were not as efficient and effective as private sector companies. Accountability was needed, business leaders said, to hold public officials in schools, hospitals, and prisons to be responsible for student outcomes, curing illnesses, and punishing criminals.

And that is how I explain why no CEO of a company heavily involved in the chicanery of the Great Recession of 2008 has gotten convicted while some Atlanta school employees went to jail.



Filed under Uncategorized

Bankers and Teachers: Scandals and Accountability (Part 1)

Wells Fargo, a bank that made more than $80 billion in revenue  and has a market value of $277 billion, was fined $185,000,000 by federal regulators for creating 1.5 million fake credit card accounts. In the plea bargain that regulators made with bank officials, Wells Fargo admitted no responsibility for the financial misconduct. The company had fired more than 5,000 of their lowest-paid employees but neither the senior vice-president for community banking where the fraud occurred nor the CEO lost their positions. CEO John Stumpf, named in 2013 as Morningstar’s CEO of the Year and earning about $20 million a year, did face U.S. Senate Banking Committee questions about the phony accounts last week. In testimony, the CEO did say “I take full responsibility for all of the unethical practices in our retail banking business.”A member of the Banking Committee, Senator Elizabeth Warren (Dem.-Mass) said what the bank did was a “scam” and that Stumpf “should resign… and you should be criminally investigated.”

Looking back at the fallout from the Great Recession of 2008 in lost billions of investors’ dollars, millions of home foreclosures, and crushed hopes of a generation of hard-working American retirees–apart from one senior trader at Credit Suisse who was convicted and served 30 months—not one single CEO of an investment house, bank or insurance company hip-deep in deceiving and defrauding Americans was indicted or served a day in jail.  Yes, federal regulators fined other banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America billions of dollars but they like Wells Fargo admitted no unlawful conduct and took no responsibility for their actions (see here, here, here, and here). Contrast that with the savings-and-loan bank failure in the 1980s when over 1,000 bankers  went to jail for fraud and similar charges. That was then, this is now.

Immunity from accountability is currently widespread in the private sector. But not in the public sector.

Take the case of the Atlanta Public Schools and the cheating scandal between 2009-2015. Superintendent Beverly Hall led the district between 1999 and 2010. In 2009, she was named Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. After an investigation by state officials in 2011 triggered by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution revelations in 2009 that nearly 180 teachers and officials in 44 schools raised students’ test scores, Hall  and 31 teachers and administrators were indicted and stood trial.  Most of these educators took plea deals; Hall died of breast cancer during the trial. Eleven educators accused of tampering with students’ test scores were convicted in 2015 and are now serving from one to seven years in Georgia prisons.

No immunity from accountability here.

Lawyers and historians say often that before rushing to judgment, one must become familiar with the circumstances, the organizational setting and the mind-set of those who committed the crimes. So what were the contexts for Wells Fargo’s fraud and Atlanta’s cheating scandals?

Wells Fargo

Beginning as early as 2009, individual employees, many of whom earned less than $15 an hour, were expected to sell Wells Fargo products (e.g., credit cards, over-draft protection, checking and  savings accounts) to existing customers in order to meet their monthly goals. If they  fell short, sales representatives were written up, reprimanded or let go. Managers put intense pressure on their employees to meet these targets. Rita Murillo, a bank manager who left the company said: “We were constantly told we would end up working for McDonald’s. If we did not make the sales quotas … we had to stay for what felt like after-school detention, or report to a call session on Saturdays.”

Wells Fargo quarterly profits continued to climb in the years following the Great Recession. Investors were pleased.

As the years passed, word of bogus credit cards, checking and savings accounts and angry customers leaked out. The Los Angeles Times published an expose of the practices in 2013. The intense race to meet monthly goals created a culture where sales staff were pushed again and again to meet their targets or else. Phone calls from bosses were dreaded. After newspaper articles appeared, managers fired employees. Even after the LA Times‘ revealing of these practices and the dog-eat-dog ethos at Wells Fargo, bogus credit cards and new accounts continued.  Then state and federal regulators entered the picture. Fines were levied against Wells Fargo but not one senior executive was either admonished or forced to resign.

This is the context for Wells Fargo (see here, here, and here).

The Atlanta Public Schools

The high-poverty, mostly black district had struggled for decades with low graduation and high dropout rates and state test scores near the bottom of Georgia’s public school systems. Within the segregated district–there are a few largely white schools and the rest are largely black–academic gaps between white and black have been large and persistent (e.g., majority white Grady High School graduates 82 percent of its students while majority black Douglass High School is 42 percent).

Pressure to raise state test scores and graduation rates rose and fell as superintendents came and went in the 1990s. With the appointment of Beverly Hall in 1999 and the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law (2002), that pressure increased considerably. Rewards and sanctions accompanied goals of raising test scores across the district. All teachers in schools meeting 70 percent of their goal, for example, would receive bonus payments. The superintendent’s contract had a similar provision for increases to her salary. Sanctions for low test performance under NCLB led to closed schools, firing principals and reprimands for district office administrators not meeting state and federal goals under Adequate Yearly Performance (AYP).

Hall was determined to improve Atlanta’s student performance. And the numbers rose over the years. Bonuses went to many schools and the superintendent. Rumors of tampering with test scores circulated and were dismissed. A number of teachers reported principals fiddling with test score results. Nothing happened except strong district office messages to be quiet or leave. A culture of fear blanketed schools. Then the Atlanta Journal Constitution investigated the rumors and published their startling report in 2009 on how much adult cheating occurred on district tests. State officials then completed their investigation in 2011 (see here).

The results of that investigation led to charging the superintendent, principals and teachers in over three dozen schools with changing student test scores. The report pointed to the high-stress placed on raising test scores and the pervasive fear among school employees of retaliation if anyone reported abuses. Some quotes from the state inquiry:

*“Throughout this investigation numerous teachers told us they raised concerns about cheating and other misconduct to their principal or SRT [School Reform Team] … only to end up disciplined or terminated.”

*“[T] message was: ‘Get the scores up by any means necessary;’ in Dr. Hall’s words, ‘No exceptions and no excuses.’”

*“In sum, a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation permeated the APS system from the highest ranks down.”

At both Wells Fargo and in the Atlanta public schools hard-driving managerial pressures created fear-strewn workplaces where success-filled data became the goal. Similar contexts in a public and private institution turned up.

Yet accountability for fraud in these two institutions differed greatly. How come?

Part 2 tries to answer that question.


Filed under school leaders

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.


Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

Cartoons on the Pluses and Minuses of Technology

Living in Silicon Valley as I do and seeing every-day technologies around me in people walking, eyes down, looking at their smart phones, electric autos, and driver-less cars, so much is taken for granted. The cornucopia of technology runneth over. Yet it is never too late to poke at the pomposity and “irrational exuberance” that accompanies such love for the next new thing. So this month’s cartoons does that. Enjoy !





























Filed under technology use

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.




Filed under how teachers teach, technology use