Skill Mastery: Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk!

By Adriana Cruces

Currently, our school is using a new textbook, as we have navigated through the textbook in our second year after adoption, it has been found that most of the specific skills to become proficient in the subject and level have been missed by the assessments given by the publisher and or are at a higher level of study since the adoption was a college-level textbook.

Untitled drawing (2)One particular idea has been brought to the table: using the textbooks as a resource and not as the main tool used to drive instruction.  Why not select and construct mastery assessments that each student be given with multiple scenarios of assessment for one skill and be required to pass and master the skill at least at an 80% rate. This could possibly set the stage for students to know that the particular skill, one, it’s not going away, and two is really needed to understand the skills and know how to apply them in order to move forward in a real-life situation.

As a reflective practice, I have asked the question: What are those essential skills that each student must master in order to function and be successful in the next level of study? And How can I provide real-life scenarios where each student must depend on knowing how to apply this skill that will allow them to internalize and retain the learned objective? Finally, how can I continue to spiral those skills to ensure the use of the skill becomes automated and mastered?

Image of students and teacher discussing work

Educators need to work together to identify which skills students need to master in order to be successful in the next level.

Together with all reflective practices, I have come to terms that one single textbook cannot be and should not be the main nor the only driving force that provided practice for students. But rather, as a district, as a department, and as a single classroom, we could study the possibility of finding which essential skills must students master at each given level of subject matter in order to go on to the next level of study. How will students show they can walk the walk and talk the talk!

I would appreciate feedback on ideas that would help construct data-driven skills based level assessments when individuality in each class and each school and each district will be a factor as students transfer from one class to another or from one school to the next school or even from one district to the next. On more than one occasion, I have discovered that although we believe we deliver quality instruction in our individual classrooms, if one student transfers from one class to the next, or one school to another, the delivery and expectations of each individual classroom  hinder students success, as there is no common ground currently for some subjects here at SUSD! Shouldn’t we as educators be part of solutions! Shouldn’t we walk the walk and talk the talk?

What is an asynchronous classroom?

By Allen Emmett

In this week’s blog, I consider what is an asynchronous classroom, and what is the value of an asynchronous classroom.  If you are like me the first time I heard asynchronous classroom I had no clue what the presenter was talking about. In this blog, I will share an explanation and then consider some positives and weakness.

Traditional classroom       

20180419_092333The first day of school the teacher welcomes all of the students to the class and set the rules and gives the first assignment, along with the due date and any chalkboard, whiteboard, or flipped lecture notes or assignments.  Students do their homework. Grades get entered into the grade book be it paper or computer program.  The next day the same routine is repeated, and so goes the year.

If a new student enters, the name goes on the roster and the student begins where the class is.  The class moves through the year. Students move with the calendar.

What about the assignments not completed or material not mastered?  A gap is created but the class must go on; the summative tests will show the non-mastery. Some remediation will be administered but the class must move on.

This is the traditional sequence and the way to keep everybody in step or in other words, synchronized, and on schedule to complete high school in four years.


  • Teacher controls when students study which  topics
  • Fits the assembly line pattern established decades ago
  • Easy to know what work has been done and who is missing work
  • All students are doing the same work
  • Makes it possible to pass high school in four years


  • Teacher controls what topics and when student study
  • Students with absences or are slow learners or already have gaps may not be prepared to learn new material will continue to fall behind and have more gaps
  • No established time to fill-in-the-gaps
  • Students with mastery must follow the class and do needless repetition
  • Students waste time if the students already know the material
  • Students have no early graduations

Asynchronous classrooms   

20180308_094648.jpgIn short, an asynchronous classroom refers to a classroom where students enroll in and move out of according to the amount of time needed to master the material of the course, even to test out of material already mastered by the student.

Asynchronous classrooms have fixed amount of work and time is flexible. Amount of time to complete the course depends on the amount of time used to acquire the skills, learn the knowledge and master and completed the required work.


  • A student can work independently at their own speed and skill level.
  • A student is in control of how long it takes to complete the course.
  • A student could complete courses in a shorter time frame than regular schools.
  • A student could take longer to complete a course than a regular schools.
  • Students graduate when they achieve all the needed credit.
  • More one on one teacher time.
  • The teacher is more like a mentor or “lead learning advisor.”


  • Students unable to work or study independently is not a good fit.
  • Students with time little or not time management skills have difficulties
  • Few opportunities for group discussions and collaborations
  • An asynchronous classroom may have several subjects and/or grade levels
  • The classroom is usually independent study and very little direct instruction
  • The teacher is present in the classroom and helps with clarification and feedback.


Traditional classrooms and asynchronous classrooms are not conflicting pedagogy environments competing for status of which is better or worse.  Asynchronous classrooms are alternative education environments. They allow flexibility in differentiation, reduced class sizes and adjustments to time in school. Emotional needs, anxiety, can be supported.  Teachers have more one on one time.  Asynchronous classrooms can be boon to students who don’t survive in large comprehensive high schools.

Schools with asynchronous classrooms:

Stockton High School, Stockton, California 
Middletown City School District, Middletown, New York




Breakout EDU Games

Breakout EDU is an immersive learning game platform where students use critical thinking skills and teamwork to solve a complex puzzle in order to open a locked box. You may have heard of Escape Room activities that have become very popular and are popping up in cities all across the country. Stockton has two Escape Rooms that opened in early 2018. Breakout EDU is the educational version of an Escape Room. In an Escape Room, a group of people works together to solve puzzles, search for clues, open locks, and escape from the room before the time runs out. In Breakout EDU a group of students works together to solve puzzles, search for clues, open locks, and open the final locked box before time runs out.
A unique thing out Breakout EDU is that the games can be completely physical with real locks or completely digital with virtual locks or my favorite a hybrid of both physical and digital locks and problems to solve. Click on this link to see three types of digital puzzles and locks. See if you can unlock all three locks before the time runs out.

A physical Breakout EDU will require you to purchase some items (separately or as a kit). Once purchased these items can be used over and over for different Breakout EDU games. The kit that is available for purchase from the Breakout EDU website comes with:

  • Large Box
  • Small Box
  • Key Lock
  • 3-digit Lock
  • 4-digit Lock
  • ABC Multilock
  • Directional Multilock
  • Hasp
  • Color, Shape, and Number Mulitlock Wheels
  • Invisible Ink Pen
  • USB Drive
  • UV Light
  • Hint Cards
  • Reflection Cards

There are hundreds of Breakout EDU games already created for all kinds of curriculum and content topics and for different grade levels.  You can also create your own or easily adjust one that has already been created. In addition to the content knowledge that students will be learning or applying, Breakout EDU games require the very important skills of critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication.

Students use critical thinking to solve the problems and puzzles.  This may involve sorting, ordering, synthesizing information, making connections, evaluating, and comparing.  By collaborating on solving the puzzle students will utilize the different strengths of each student. You will probably not finish in time unless you work together and collaborate.  Communication is also key to finishing the Breakout EDU in time. One person may find a clue that another group needs to solve a puzzle or open a lock. When one locked box is opened there may be something inside that will help another group solve their puzzle.  Without good communication, the group will waste a lot of time unnecessarily. Creativity is important because solutions to puzzle are not always obvious and require students to think outside the box and come up with creative ways to use the information and solve the puzzles.

Students will be engaged, working with others, and actively learning.  Breakout EDU is adaptable for any subject and grade level. Once you do few of the ones available on their website, you will be ready to create your own Breakout EDU games with the help of their creation programs.  If this sounds interesting and you want to know more about Breakout EDU, I will hopefully be presenting this during the beginning of the year Professional Development days.

Desmos in the Classroom

I would like you to go to and type in the class code: D7YNE5.  This card sort will help students convert between fractions, decimals, and percents.  In addition, students will visualize these representations using an area model.

This card sort is just one type of interactive activity that teachers can find or create on their own to engage students through the use of this online application. Not only can teachers get students to be more engaged but teachers can monitor and control the flow of the lesson from their dashboard. Teachers can see in real time what students are doing on the activity. This is not just a high quality graphing/scientific calculator! Of course, we do want our students to know the ins and outs of this calculator tool since it is the one used on the CAASPP (SBAC Exam). To get a teacher account, go to To use the calculator, go to And, it’s all FREE!!!

ren2Okay, a little background on my journey. This is my second year playing with this online application. I was exploring it last year and used it here and there with what I could find online to supplement lessons in my classroom. I did not learn how to create my own activities. I found it extremely limiting but wanted more because I saw the potential of such a program. This year, I went to my second training at the annual ETC Conference in Stanislaus. I took the wrong class because it was meant for 5th grade and I teach high school. However, I did gain lots by getting resources to libraries created by other educators for Desmos! I was excited about that. Still, it did not satiate my need to create my own activities. Finally, I went to another training that same day that was meant for high school or intermediate level. Once the instructor directed us that way, I continued. He did not give time for going beyond but I dived in and continued and played with all the tools till I finally understood what I needed in order to start creating. I created my first activity and I was so excited to bring it back to my classroom.

Ren1I went back to my classroom and I implemented lesson after lesson ranging from basic warm-up activities to two days in-depth analysis that had my students creating, modeling, and analyzing all in the program. Students were highly engaged, even the ones that try to get away with not doing work. Browse through the teacher page and tools and you will find many interactive, fun, and enriching activities for your students that are common core aligned.

I came across not just an application, it became a pedagogy. This is a dynamic resource that we can utilize to meet the needs of our students from many different backgrounds. The pictures below are my students’ answers and work. I have students with special needs and students who are newcomers to the USA as well. It is amazing to see the progress they have achieved this year just by reading their reflections.  Take a chance and take that leap. Discover. Ignite that fire in your students that captures their minds and makes them want to learn again. Do something different. I teach high school math but you can make anything yours, you just have to put in time and love.

Here are some screenshots of what my students worked on from my teacher dashboard. I anonymized everyone so they are all famous mathematicians for the day! 😊


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