Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Revisited: My Favorite WSQ

Over the next year, I'll be revisiting some of my favorite (and most popular) posts from the last (almost) 5 years of blogging.  I hope to add extra insight and reflection to these posts from my experiences both in my classroom and in training and coaching other teachers with flipped learning.  Any changes from the original post are changed to blue font.

My Favorite WSQ was originally published on January 23, 2012. 

The WSQ method has been the most impactful strategy in my flipped classroom experience.  It gives some structure and a consistent routine for both teachers and students to thrive in what is most likely a new learning environment.  In addition, I believe it answers what I have come to believe are the "5 Questions Every Flipped Classroom Teacher Must Answer".  While there is definitely more than one way to answer these questions, I have found that the WSQ method addresses all of these questions and allows you to have all 5 X's in the image below.

If you are interested in learning more about the WSQ strategy, I recommend that you check out my book, Flipping with Kirch: The Ups and Downs from Inside my Flipped Classroom, which was released in May of 2016.

  1. How will you organize  your content and materials in a way that is easy for students to access and follow?
  2. How will you hold students accountable for actually watching and engaging with the video content?
  3. How will you structure in processing time for your students to make sense of the material and internalize it?
  4. How will you gather feedback from your students before they come to class, so you can effectively structure class time to meet their needs?
  5. How will you facilitate discussion, collaboration, and higher-order thinking among students during class time?

See original Google Drawing at

~Original Post Below~ 
Any changes from the original post are changed to blue font.

A "WSQ" (pronounced wisk) in my class is what we call "homework" in my flipped classroom. It stands for this:

[read an update on the WSQ after using it for several weeks in my classroom here]

W - Watch

Students must watch the video for the assigned lesson and take notes in their SSS packets (this stands for "Student Success Sheets" and I have them for each unit/chapter; see more info on my FAQ page here) I have created for them. I check to see that these notes are complete and thorough and that everything I wrote down the students have. Because they can pause and rewind, there is no exception for these notes not being well done and complete. I don't spend class time specifically checking notes - I look at them while the students are working and I'm visiting with each group.  So, they know the notes will be checked at some point, but I'm not going to waste 5-10 minutes of class time checking them.

Some of my very high achieving students have asked "Do I have to watch the video" and under certain circumstances, I say "no", but you still have to complete the notes on the SSS packet. A lot of times these students know how to figure out the problems without my explanation and I have no problem with them completing the notes that way. They have to check their SSS page versus the finished SSS page on Edmodo to make sure their notation and answers are correct. I rarely had a lot of students do this - only the top few each year would consider it. 

A few issues I am already noticing with this is that there are still important things that I say about the concepts that students miss if they don't watch the video. This includes details about how/why we do something, details about notation, etc. Some thoughts that have come to my mind to alleviate this is to divide the videos into sections (whether this becomes separate videos or just a heading on the video). The first portion of the video must be watched by all students of all levels and will cover the basics, vocabulary, notation, purpose, etc. Then, the second half will cover the few examples I go over for the students before their first class day. I'll still have to think about this. Thoughts? Update: As time went on, this is what I did. I normally had an intro to the concept and all examples were worked out on separate videos.  Sometimes there was one example video, other times there were 2 - an "easy" examples video and a "medium" examples video.  "Hard" problems were almost always reserved for class time where there was collaboration and immediate support. 

For my Algebra 1 students, I already have been making an additional "part 2" of most videos that has even more extra examples than in the main video for students to watch or go back to later. I like that setup because the main video covers 2-3 examples, depending on the length of the problem. However, in my SSS packet I have at least twice as many examples for students to work through. I still want those to be explained to the students; I figure the more the better! Then they have no excuses! Having the extra examples was valuable.  When students need additional practice or review, they are right there for them.  When I need to fresh example to help explain something, I don't have to go find one.  I definitely recommend this!  There is also the underlying thought in the back of students' heads of "Gosh, I'm glad the video didn't cover ALL these examples!"  They are grateful that it is shorter.

S - Summary

Students have to write a summary of what they watched in the video. This is supposed to be completed immediately after watching to pretty much judge "Did you understand what you just watched?" I tell the students that their summary tells me if they understood the video or not. If I can't make sense of their summary, then they probably didn't understand it well enough because they couldn't verbalize it. I tell them that if they can't summarize it, they need to re-watch it because they didn't get it. If you have read other posts on this blog, you know that this evolved to consist of lots of types of summaries - full summaries, guided summaries, guided summaries with sentence frames, etc.  Whatever scaffolds my students needed to help learn how to effectively summarize and show their ability to process the video content, that's what I found a way to do.  You can learn more details of all the ways to approach the "S" part of the WSQ in  Flipping with Kirch: The Ups and Downs from Inside my Flipped Classroom,

In class, we talk about the summaries. Since I just started this, we are doing this mostly as a whole-class activity to train the students on what I expect to see. We put a "WSQ" on the screen and read through it. Then, I have all the students vote if they think it was a "Great" "Good" or "Bad" summary of what we watched. Yes, I have had all three levels of summaries and students have realized that if their summary is bad we will say so and talk about it. I ask the student whose notebook is on the screen what they would vote for themselves and then we talk as a class or in their small groups about what is missing, or what pieces that are in there are the REALLY IMPORTANT pieces that should definitely be included. I have students look at their individual WSQ's, give themselves a grade, and add anything they were missing. This was a hugely important "training" piece to what I now called "WSQ Chats".  It's just one of about 20 methods I describe in Flipping with Kirch: The Ups and Downs from Inside my Flipped Classroom,  The whole-class norming takes up more class time than you may prefer, but as I always tell teachers when I'm training them - better to spend a lot of time those first few weeks setting the bar high for what you expect than to spend the entire year frustrated that students continually are falling short of your hopes.

My ultimate goal is that we only have to do the whole-class "norming" process once a week or even once a unit. The rest of the time, the students will be sharing and discussing their summaries in their small "WSQ groups" of four students. That way every student has a chance to talk every day and they are all held more accountable. I want students to be okay talking about what is both good and bad about their summary and realizing what important pieces need to be added. Reflecting back now about 4.5 years later, I never really did this past the beginning of the year and I think it would have been helpful to do it once a month or once a unit.

In my Algebra 1 class, I actually wrote an entire summary with the class all the way through one day. It was a pretty complex lesson on Graphing Systems of Linear Inequalities and I wasn't really happy with the WSQ that was put on the screen. I realized that my students might need a better model of what I am truly looking for, rather than always calling their summaries "bad" or "good minus" (I let them grade themselves as Great +, Great, Great -, Good +, Good, Good -, Bad +, Bad, or Bad -). I think it was one of the most beneficial times for my students to realize what a good and complete and DETAILED summary should look like. That also may be something I need to model once a unit or so to get my students back on track.

Most of all, the purpose of the summary is to get my students Thinking & Writing (at home), and Reading, Speaking, and Listening (at school) - it all comes down to TWRLS... we need to support our students' language development at all grade levels and in all subjects.

Q - Question

At the end of the WSQ, all students must ask a question. The first few days I did this, I had a lot of students respond with "I don't have any questions". They quickly learned that is not an acceptable answer. The question must be related to the content and can be:

(1) A specific question about an example that was worked out and where they got stuck or confused
(2) A general question about the concept and something that was said or explained
or (most of the time)
(3) A question that could be asked and expected to be answered after watching the video. This may be a question you think your classmates might have, or just a good question you think I (the teacher) would ask and expect you to know.

I've streamlined this to be "Ask a Question that is either a Confusion, Clarification, Discussion, or Example".  

In class, we look at a few questions as a group, and I always ask the writer "Is this a question you know the answer to or don't know the answer to?". Then, I have the students answer the question in their small groups and then we share out to the class.

The purpose of this is two-fold:
(1) I want my students comfortable asking and answering questions of each other, especially when they are confused.
(2) I just want my students asking questions, period! That is where discussion and deeper thought come from!

Every day, students ask their questions in their groups of four before getting to work on the problem set. That way, students who have a question they DON'T know the answer to can get it answered, and students who asked a question they already know can see if their group members also know it. I am there to help if the group gets stuck on answering a question.

I found lots of other strategies in working with questions as time went on since this original post.  I'm sure I'll have a repost explaining that soon ;).  

With my Math Analysis Honors students, we go a step further... I challenge them to make their questions "HOT" and move up Bloom's Taxonomy past the basic Knowledge and Comprehension level. I have them tell me what level they think their question is at. I have given them the question starters for each level of questioning (see link on top right) and I think that helps them. The better their questions, the deeper we can probe, and the better discussions we can have.


When I came up with this WSQ idea at the start of the new year, I really didn't have a clear vision of what it would look like. What I described above came out of random thought, to be honest. Every day though, I was able to think about what I liked and didn't like about the process, and the students got used to what I expect. Reflection Reflection Reflection is key to any teacher's success, not just a flipped classroom teacher.  You've got to continually Reflect, Reach Out to others for ideas, and Refine your practices so they are meeting the purposes that you have intentionally set.

I am already SOOOOOOOOOOOO HAPPY with what I have been seeing and we have only done this for 9 or 10 class days! I really hope my students continue to develop their TWRLS, which ultimately I hope leads to them not only understanding the math BETTER but DEEPER!!!

I asked my students to submit a picture of what they thought their "best" WSQ was from the last two weeks. Here are some samples for today's post.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Reflections on Recent Readings (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

GUEST POST: Improving Student Learning through Instant Feedback & Constant Communication (Tracy Dawson)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

Technology has transformed my classroom this year!

I have infused technology in my lessons in previous years but through this Technology Fellowship I have created a learning environment that is dynamic, effective, and efficient for my students all driven by the purposeful use of technology.  I teach Human Body Systems (HBS), AVID, and Biology CP and I have integrated technology into each of them in different ways.  

One of the major shifts this year in HBS is making my labs digital.  There is a lot that goes into digitizing a lab so the process has been quite an undertaking but the benefits make it completely worth the time invested.  I utilize Google Classroom in HBS (as well as in AVID and Biology).  The organization of Google Classroom and Google Drive has been a great way for my students to have a place to go to for all labs/handouts/links/announcements/etc.  It avoids students being confused on where to go to get the document or link and it allows for students to have a “homebase”.  In HBS, the students complete a lab about once a week and before digitizing my labs I was not completely satisfied with the way I was checking their progress or their understanding besides informal assessments and check-ins and Friday Quizzes (which at that point was a bit late).  I now can give every student real-time feedback as they are completing their lab through the great collaborative feature of Google Docs.  I have a running dialogue with my students about their lab and it is a place they can ask questions and I can clarify key points as well as checking in on their progress on the lab.  My HBS students are very comfortable with Google Classroom and Google Drive so I can ask them to take pictures of their dissections spur of the moment and they are able to digitally label them in a Google Drawing and upload them to Google Classroom so I can grade their dissections more thoroughly and they can have their labeled dissection to review. Here is an example of a labeled Digestive System from the Fetal Pig Dissection.  

Here are a few other ways technology impacted teaching and learning... with samples for you to look at!
  • I embedded Quizlets into GoFormative for all three of my classes as formative assessments as well as review for the students.  Here is an example of a quizlet embedded into GoFormative for a Biochemistry review for my Biology CP class.  

  • Google Drawings - The students created Google Drawings of concept maps for the Endocrine System as well as for the Insulin/Glucagon Feedback Loop in the Human Body.  Here is a Student Sample of the Insulin/Glucagon Feedback Loop.  In previous years, I had the students draw their concept maps and feedback loops on paper and I was not able to fully review them until they turned them in which was on the day of the quiz so it was too late to fix major misconceptions.  Having the students create them on Google Drawings allowed me to write comments on them as they were making them so misconceptions were dealt with right away.    

  • I also used Quizizz, Socrative, Let’s Recap, and GoFormative to do concept checks and for the students to review for the quizzes and tests in our class.  Anatomy has a lot of terms that the students need to know and the spelling is important so the Quizlets I embedded into GoFormative were particularly helpful because they tested my students on definitions, spelling, and being able to label diagrams.

  • I also utilized Google Forms (for reflections and to collect data), Padlet (get to know activity, summing up lessons, and reflections), and ThingLink (making a diagram of a cow eye more dynamic by adding “tags” to label each part, stating its function, and inserting videos).

  • AVID - Digital Journals (student-teacher dialogue), Google Forms (grade reflections, submitting questions for Socratic Seminars).  All of these allowed me to actually read and provide timely feedback to each of my students which was more difficult and time consuming to do when they wrote their journals on paper.  Before I digitized the journals and reflections in AVID, it took me so long to read them and I felt that in the time it took for me to get my written feedback back to my students, part of the impact of the feedback was lost.  Now, I am able to give immediate feedback and it helped me in the beginning of the year to get to know my students very quickly.

  • Biology - Collaborative labs on Google Docs, Google Forms (submitting lab data, reflecting on test/unit/grade in class), Google Slides (visual vocabulary), Google Drawing (Karyotype Activity), Quizizz, GoFormative, and Padlet.

I am very excited to continue to refine my use of technology in my classroom next year.  This summer, I plan to complete the certification and exams to become a Google Certified Teacher (Levels 1 and 2).  I am also planning on taking two technology courses online (“Flipping the Classroom” and “All Things Google”).  Finally, my new obsession, Twitter!  I will continue to connect with educators on Twitter to grow and develop my purposeful use of technology in the classroom.

I cannot begin to say how impactful this fellowship has been on my teaching practice.  I went from someone who would sometimes shy away from using certain things because I assumed the students wouldn’t have their devices (mostly in Bio) or not knowing if it was going to work well to now wanting to try every awesome idea that I come across!  Like most things in a teacher’s classroom, if it is set as an expectation from the beginning of the school year, then a teacher will have a lot less trouble during the year.  In my class, having your device everyday is like having a pencil and paper.  I also found the more willing and open I am to trying new things in my classroom, the more willing my students are.  There were times when I used a certain technology in my class and I thought “that was okay” but I can make it way better by tweaking a few things or using a different technology to accomplish the same goal in a more effective manner.  But the fact that I was not afraid to try the technology and my students were willing to engage in their learning through the use of a specific technology helped me to discover the things that worked best in my classroom and worked best for my students.

Tracy Dawson is a Human Body Systems, Biology, and AVID teacher at Beckman High School in Irvine, CA.  She is an innately curious person and considers herself a “lifelong learner”.  Tracy is a self-professed science and tech nerd and loves to be constantly adding to her “tech toolbelt” and enhancing her teaching and her students’ learning through the purposeful use of technology.  Tracy also serves as AVID Coordinator and a mentor teacher in the science department.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

GUEST POST: Going Forward with GoFormative and Desmos (Hanalee Chung)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

Technology has streamlined the teaching process and has made it easier to demonstrate concepts that were once too abstract to explain in the traditional manner (verbally and visually on a PPT or whiteboard). Technology has put the learning into the hands of the students as manipulatives, examples, and exploratory tools (GoFormative, Desmos, Socrative, and Quizalize) -- providing students of different learning styles and preferences the opportunity to see mathematics in a different manner.

In GoFormative, students are able to move at their own pace, and many of them enjoy receiving instant feedback; however, what was traditionally done on paper and needed time to grade and return, we can do it instantaneously on GoFormative. For instance, I uploaded a graph onto GF and had students graph their lines on the program. From there, I would grade their work using the colorful bar on the bottom of the screen. This can all be done simultaneously as the students are working.  You can check out the assignment shown below with the Teacher Share Code: KDXH246

  In Desmos, students were allowed to go at their own pace, and many students who were able to finish independently were given the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge/skill in a creative task that applied their new knowledge/skill. (student names have been changed to be anonymous)
  In this activity, students were taken through a series of slides that helped students “discover” the equation of a circle by guiding them and allowing them to experience the functions of the different parts of the equation -- facilitating their understanding of the different parts as well as the equation as a whole. Activity can be found here:

Next year, I want to start incorporating more resources on Haiku (OfficeMix PPTs, videos from Sphere, which is our document camera recording software) that students can access before, during, and after the unit -- in a way, it would be great to start gradually flipping my classroom so that the instructional time can be used for in-depth, creative, and higher-order-thinking activities (rather than the distribution of information).

The Tech Fellowship provided me with the safety and confidence to try various technological tools and devices that I would not have normally explored on my own. In addition, because the fellowship was based on collaboration, it was great to receive input and learn about new tools online that I would have never come across. For instance, I would have not known about Quizizz, GoFormative, Quizalize, and OfficeMix if it had not been for the Tech Fellowship.

My name is Hanalee Chung.
I was born and raised in Guam for 14 years before moving to Rancho Cucamonga, California before my freshman year in high school.
I obtained my undergraduate degree at University of California, San Diego in Psychology.
I became interested in becoming a teacher when I volunteered as a math tutor for a research study that mapped brain waves of young learners. In order to explore my interest further, I interned as a Teaching Assistant at The Preuss School, a charter school located inside UCSD's campus.
I then went on to get my Secondary Teaching Credential in Math at University of California, Irvine.  I love coming to work everyday, and I have enjoyed improving my practice by being a fellow this year!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Reflections from reading my own book...

My first book, Flipping with Kirch: The Ups and Downs from Inside my Flipped Classroom was released just a few weeks ago.  It is such an honor and privilege to be able to share my journey and experiences with all of you and to facilitate conversations that will ultimately improve teaching and learning for all students.

What better way to spend part of my two-ish weeks of maternity leave than to actually read through it... on paper (not digitally)!  I've read through it so many times on the computer in the process of publishing that my brain just gets a little muddled sometimes.  However, there is such a difference in reading a physical book that you can hold in your hand!

While everything in the book obviously comes from the lens of a high school math teacher, I was reminded of how much #flipclass really is a pedagogical approach, a mindset shift, and a way of doing things differently with your time.  I am excited to begin the Book Chat in mid-July on Slack (join in here) and share even more ideas with teachers from multiple subject areas and even further refine the ideas I share in the book.

No matter your experience or interest level in #flipclass, I encourage you to check out the book ( to order straight from me!) if you haven't already and join in the summer reading journey with other passionate educators.  
  • I know I always had more to learn, so even if you are an experienced flipper, I hope my book gives you an ignited passion for what you are doing and a few new ideas.  
  • If you are a newbie flipper, I hope that my book gives you the proper mindset and strategies and ideas for successfully starting out.  
  • If you aren't really interested in flipping right now, I hope that my book helps you to reflect on your practices and take some strategies that can even be implemented into a "traditional" classroom to improve and deepen student learning.
I'll end today by sharing the last two paragraphs of the book with you:

In the end, it’s not about flipping your classroom – it’s about constantly growing and reflecting on our practice as educators, striving to facilitate a classroom that is more student-centered, focused on active learning, and where students are given higher-order thinking opportunities and challenged appropriately. My journey led me to the flipped classroom, where I was able to use video as an instructional tool to remove direct instruction, content delivery, vocabulary, and background information outside of the group learning space. This allowed class time to be more effective, efficient, engaging, and enjoyable, where I was able to construct learning experiences for my students that allowed them to collaborate, communicate, and engage in critical thinking and creativity.
My version of the flipped classroom, as I’ve outlined in detail in this book, allowed the goals I had set for my classroom to be accomplished. There is definitely not one “right” way to flip a class, but there are definitely best practices and experiences from other educators that we can all glean from in order to support our own journeys. My hope as you read through my journey is that you were able to take the pieces that apply to you, tweak them to fit your teaching style and to meet your students’ needs, and continue reflecting and growing in your own journey. (pp196-197, Flipping with Kirch: The Ups and Downs from Inside my Flipped Classroom)

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback as you read through the book via Twitter (use #FWKirch and #flipclass), your own blog post about what you've learned (share it with me!), and reviews.


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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

GUEST POST: Improving Student Interaction Through Technology (Chris Veitch)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

Entering into this fellowship, my goal was to see how the use of technology can improve my student’s learning. As someone who is relatively proficient in tech and can navigate my way around most software I know the importance of being “tech literate” in the 21st century, however as a new teacher I question where to efficiently incorporate that technology into my teaching.

Being a fellow this year and exposing my students to the opportunities that technology can bring to a learning setting, I am convinced of its importance and will be planning my future instruction through the lens of how technology can enhance my lesson. This praise should also come with a qualifier. Technology is not a band-aid that can “fix” poor instruction or take over for a human teacher. Technology is simply an ingredient that should be a part of  the “dough” of education, in that technology provides tools to enhance a lesson and force students to take control of their own education.

Through technology students can collaborate in ways not possible before, students can become “historians” whereas before they were simply note takers, and students can challenge the material where before they simply had to take the information provided to them on face value. As a history teacher, one of the most important aspects of my teaching is that students are historians in my class. And by analyzing multiple sources, students begin to pick out of the nuances of a topic and discover that the issue is not simply “black or white” or “right and wrong”. One of my favorite sites to gather these multiple historical documents is the Stanford History Education Group. (Featured on this site)

This site follows the current Common Core standards of multiple text analysis and finding the many perspectives that are inherent in this types of lessons. In addition, this site provides for guiding questions and pre-built lessons that educators can use or modify as they see fit. One of the most convenient aspects of this site is that the the primary sources can either be used modified (to fit the learning styles of all readers) as well as the full documents themselves. This allows for differentiation among classes. This is important for me as a CP U.S. History teachers as students enter into my classroom with all different skill levels. As such, it is important to challenge all students to rise to their own ability level and this site provides several helpful tools in order to accomplish this goal.

Another powerful tool that I have been able to utilize this year has been Google Classroom. My students and I have all been well versed in the multiple Google Drive suite of applications and their wonderful collaborative uses. However, there was never a centralized hub in which to properly distribute those lessons and activities out to the students. This problem has been solved with the use of Classroom. Google Classroom allows teachers to set up their classes similar to the Haiku platform and make use of the already existing knowledge students have of
Google Drive.
This classroom is then used by your students as their resource hub. Classroom contains all activities and additional material you would wish to use for your classroom. Students also turn in all material that you assign them through classroom no the need for huge stacks of paper and the question of “What did I miss yesterday” becomes a thing of the past as students know where to locate their material as each assignment is dated and appears in a list-like format.

This application has made life easier because it already utilizes everything I had done last year in terms of assignments and Google drive, but now it all exists in a centralized and organized location. Adding announcements and additional links are as simple as hitting the plus button on the lower right of the screen and pasting your announcement or link and documents can be uploaded from either your Google Drive folder (recommended) or uploading documents off of your desktop. Overall this tool, while simple, has made the biggest impact in my teaching this year.

Additionally, I was fortunate enough to be selected to speak during the TECHstravaganza where I was able to introduce the collective power of the Verso discussion app and the collaborative power of the Google Drive suite of applications, specifically utilizing Google Docs. As mentioned above, I have pushed this year for my students to think more like historians and through the interaction of primary source documents (from the SHEG group mentioned above) I wanted my students to interact with history as historians. By utilizing Google Docs and SHEG i have allowed students to interact with these documents in a group setting, using Google Docs, and address essential questions on their own. Normally this is where the lesson would end and the students would turn in their material. 

However, I have also wanted to push my students to interact critically with each other’s writing and this is where Verso comes into the picture. Verso allows for anonymous interaction between students with only the teacher being aware of any one commenter's identity. I found this to be important because students tend to interact with people they know and often choose not to step outside their comfort zone. With Verso students do not know who they are interacting with, which produces more meaningful interactions. Students are tasked with posting their essential question responses on Verso and other are randomly assigned to engage with the question and determine where there can be improvements. After receiving this feedback students then revise their questions and repost their responses. This allows for students to assess their own writing style and get a chance to review others at the same time. Slides from the presentation are provided here.

I knew going into this year that being a tech fellow would provide a challenging and meaningful opportunity for me as I would be exposed to more technology and classroom training. As mentioned above, this is my second year in the teaching profession and new teachers are always looking for some simple ways to make their lives easier. Being a tech fellow has improved my teaching confidence by giving me the tools to succeed. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my coach, Crystal Kirch, and know that while there is no real proper way to thank her for all that she has given me, I can show my appreciation by using all the tools she has given me to be the best teacher that I can.

Chris Veitch is a second year Social Science teacher at Beckman High School teaching U.S. History and AP Human Geography. He received his bachelor's degree from U.C. Santa Barbara in the field of Law and Society. Chris sees technology as not simply a component of education but a tools that needs to be in every teacher’s toolbox.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

GUEST POST: Evolving (Darin Hallstrom)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

When I first started teaching, I promised myself that I would be an innovator…and I have been.  But, this year, my growth has been exponential, and the impetus for that growth resides in my role as a fellow.  

Crystal Kirch, my DLC, will tell you that the word “purposeful” has driven our work this year.  For instance, I am not interested in blindly adding a tech factor to my lessons, or using technology just to be different and edgy and current.  The technology I have incorporated this year has aided my instruction – or I have not used it.  Rather, I have developed lessons solely because of the learning opportunities that the technology allows.  If an app will allow me to provide students with more immediate feedback, I’ll use it.  If a website will allow my students to collaborate more effectively, I will use it.  If software exists that will allow my students to learn with greater facility, I’ll use it.  These principles have guided me this year.  Fortunately, apps and websites and software DOES exist that will allow my students to learn and grow with greater ease, and incorporating them into my curriculum has been the most rewarding work I have completed.

A few examples…


This is the website I use most often simply because it works so well for feedback.  I can immediately see the progress my students are making on writing assignments, and I can help them modify and improve their work before they submit.  The assignment below was an evidence-gathering activity used in conjunction with The Old Man and the Sea unit in my Freshman Transitional English class.  Timely feedback is critical in this class because most students are not as adept at writing as they should be.  It is incredibly beneficial to correct writing and grammar errors as they make them; doing so helps students learn to make modifications in their own grammar and syntax.  For example, my typical procedure for a Formative assignment is to 1) introduce the assignment, 2) model the assignment, and then 3) allow students time to start.  After 5 - 10 minutes, I’ll log in to “Live Results” on Formative and start reviewing students’ work.  It never fails:  Almost immediately, I will observe a “teachable moment” that I will bring to their attention.  I’ll project one or two students’ work on the screen and then commence the compliment/issue/problem. In the example below, for instance, I used the partially completed student examples to discuss the effective incorporation of quoted evidence into an argumentative literary analysis.


A terrific app for collaboration.  The assignment below was a collaborative effort involving three or four students per group.  Immediately after submission, students were able to evaluate the work of their peers anonymously (each was color-coded only when viewed in class) and determine superior and exemplary models.  The comments students offered were carefully contemplated as well.  It was extremely meaningful for students to have their opinions taken into consideration in the evaluation process.

I am routinely looking for insightful, relevant articles for my students to read, and this website provides them.  In addition, the fact that the reading level can be adjusted is incredibly helpful.  For example, I will adjust the reading level for my English 1 Transitional class to account for their language facility.  I do not automatically adjust the level to the lowest level either.  Instead, the lexile is adjusted based on the complexity of the article and the purpose (annotation, comprehension, etc.) The good news is that the articles do not get “dumbed down;” the content and message remain the same.   

Kami/Google Classroom:

After an entire year of searching for an effective annotation tool for text and poetry, Crystal introduced me to Kami.  Kami is an app you can find in the Chrome Web Store; it gets connected to your Google Drive so you can open PDF files with it in order to annotate. The annotations can be highlights, underlines, strikethroughs, text boxes, comments, or drawings.It has a terrific, easy-to-use interface that my students adapted to almost immediately.  It syncs perfectly with Google Classroom, making it both easy to use and easy to grade.


I really enjoy PearDeck; it may replicate my style of teaching better than any other app I have tried. A significant part of that feeling comes from the fact that the teacher can control the pace of the lesson on PearDeck.  I can control the slides and the flow of the questions.  Therefore, when we are completing an activity like the one below for example, where the students need to consider possible symbols and metaphors in The Great Gatsby before casting a vote, this opportunity becomes essential.  Why?  The one drawback to many apps is what I call the “behind-the-screen” factor:  Too many students simply put up the screen and disappear.  I want my students collaborating and talking and communicating and sharing.  PearDeck allows me the control to encourage discussions rather than simply having kids “disappear” to complete an assisgnment before the end of the period.  I can delay the next slide or I can push it through, based on the level of discourse in the room.

How do you want to continue to grow next year?  What are your goals and plans for progressing from where you are now?

I am definitely going to continue my growth next year.  Although I am a little worried that my time will not be as well-managed without a set weekly appointment to discuss technology, I am bound and determined to keep innovating.  I can keep myself motivated and focused on change.  In addition, I have forged new relationships with other teachers - in and out of my department - who are enjoying similar levels of innovation and experience with apps and websites and new tech-based teaching styles.  It is gratifying to collaborate with others - even if they are completing a math lesson as I plan a poetic deconstruction.

My plan for next year is two-fold:  I will continue to find apps and websites that supplement my teaching style and my objectives, and I will continue to utilize those tech aids I discovered and implemented this year.

What impact has the Tech Fellowship had on your teaching practice?

I sincerely cannot overestimate the impact that the Tech Fellowship has had on my instructional practice this school year.  The weekly appointments, the regular check-ups, the opportunity to keep a journal, the reflective requirement … all of it has combined to provide me with a lifetime of technology assistance in just one year.  Best of all, however, has been the guidance and support provided by Crystal Kirch.  She is the consummate professional:  approachable, knowledgeable and capable. I am often amazed at her willingness to assist.  Best of all, she does so with a steady focus on student achievement.  Working with her, I am often reminded of one of my favorite quotes:  “If you are too comfortable, you will never change.”  Crystal respectfully makes you just uncomfortable enough to want to change.  With great facility and endless expertise, she demonstrates that there is a better way for kids to learn, and she provides the support and patience and time necessary to make that change happen.  Honestly, this has been one of the best years in my 25-year teaching career, and I owe a tremendous amount of that credit to her influence.

My name is Darin Hallstrom. I have worked as a public school instructor for 25 years.  I love my job.  I work very hard to make lessons meaningful and purposeful for my junior Honors and freshman Transitional students at Beckman High School.  My room is always open; please feel free to come by and watch my amazing students learn and grow.

Follow me @DarinHallstrom

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