Using tech to promote equity: technology equalizer

Technology can be used to level the playing field for learning. You may ask how can this be? Imagine a classroom where all students receive personalized learning plans that support their learning styles and social-emotional needs.25733957In the book, “For White Folks that Teach in the Hood …and the rest of Y’all too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education,” Dr. Edmin states, “ The technology alone was not enough to engage them. What they cared about was how it was being used.” Below I will list a few uses for technology that can engage urban youth by creating the cosmopolitan effect which is a feature of Reality Pedagogy.

  • Design a digital scavenger hunt related to the content being taught. Components: a powerful driving question, a quick assignment for students to complete and a short lecture.
  • If your district and students age allow: Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another social netting site as a platform to share homework assignments with classmates, plan school activities, or create profiles dedicated to topics being taught. Create a Facebook, Twitter, etc. that highlights your class name, homework assignments, members of the class, books being read, links to Youtube videos related to classroom content. You can invite experts on the field of study to join the discussions.
  • To teach students these same skills with actually joining an internet-based social media group use the following ideas. A Twitter board can be created in your classroom. This is equivalent to a Twitter timeline. Students will need to create a handle. The process begins with students writing their handle on a paper tent that is placed on their desk for all to see. Next, the teacher sends tweets about what is currently being discussed in the class to one student using their handle. When someone has been tweeted they have to come up to the Twitter board and respond. A person cannot be tweeted more than 5 times. Students must answer the question and then ask someone else a question. If they don’t have an answer, they must ask a question about what they don’t understand. All questions must relate to the main hashtag( topic) set by the teacher and the beginning of the activity. This event ends when the teacher writes a closing Tweet.

Social media is a powerful engaging teaching tool. In order for students to see it as a tool for learning, teachers should teach this skill. If we don’t Dr. Edmin states,” …as a result of excluding social media from schools is that students then infer that these platforms are completely unrelated to learning.”

Emdin, C. (2017). For white folks who teach in the hood – and the rest of yall too: Reality pedagogy and urban education. Boston: Beacon Press.

Education for the iGeneration

If we define today’s world in one word, it would be “change.” The 21st century is truly an age of change and if the education system does not change according to today’s needs, it is sure to collapse. As pointed out by Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert, we have to “change paradigms” in order to cater to the educational needs of the 21st century. For this reason, I think most of the countries today are thinking of reforming their public education system. Educating tomorrow’s children, with yesterday’s methods is not at all a good idea.It is true that a change in our education system is the need of the hour.

A quote from the article.

 The reason for this need may be the economic efficiency of our students or the ability to be a global citizen who still has a hold on his/her cultural roots. The iGeneration is the first American generation to be born, almost literally, with a smartphone in hand. Today, our children are flooded with information coming to them through technology. They have access to endless information at their fingertips. We, as educators, can use this for our advantage or this can actually become a distraction for our students and a problem for us. It is due to this, that more and more schools are shifting their curriculum and methods to incorporate technology and media in everyday instructions.

Some schools are providing technology and some schools are following the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) policy for this. According to Project Tomorrow’s annual Speak Up survey, fifty-eight percent of high school students in a national survey said they use their own mobile devices for learning in school, and 47 percent of teachers in the survey reported that their students have regular access to mobile devices in their classrooms. Along with this, most of the schools also provide chromebooks, ipads or some other device with wi-fi connectivity from the school, for most of the core classes, and students can use these on a daily basis in the class.

Due to this, digital literacy has become very important for all of us. As Eric Sheninger pointed out in his article, The Need for Digital Literacy, “although technology enables students to access more information in much less time, it does not always foster learning. Teaching digital literacy helps to manage all of the benefits of technology while helping students understand how to safely weed through the vast amounts of information online.”


This vast amount of information online is the number one distraction for our students these days because they find it interesting and engaging as compared to the traditional and “boring” class work. We need to make our lessons more challenging and engaging for today’s generation. Otherwise, we will and we are losing our students to the more magnetic digital world of technology. This has been rightly pointed out by Marc Prensky in his article, “Engage me or Enrage me.” The students who are truly self-motivated are rare in today’s classrooms. We usually have students who go through the motions and think that they know how to manipulate school work, to get a good grade or we have students who “tune us out” because we fail to engage them and their senses in the class work. Technology can come to the teacher’s rescue here. It can make the lesson not only more interesting, but also challenging enough for our students to perform to the best of their abilities.

But this brings up another problem and I have personally faced this in my class and this problem is of digital equity. Forty-seven percent of surveyed school and district technology leaders said digital equity and students’ out-of-school internet access are among their most challenging issues. “Today, as many as 7 in 10 teachers, assign homework that requires access to the internet and broadband,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner, at the Congressional briefing. I am also one such high school teacher. But we need to remember that as many as 1 in 3 households in this country do not subscribe to broadband and this leads to what is called the ‘homework gap.’ I have students come to me and say that they could not finish the homework because they do not have access to the internet or a computer at home. To tackle this problem, I give more time and opportunity to my students to work on these assignments in the class, using the school chromebooks and assign homework which can be completed without the use of technology. This can be an example of using “Blended learning,” and it is showing positive results like the forty-five percent of surveyed districts, where blended learning programs are showing positive results.

Online and blended learning can increase self-directed learning even outside of the classroom, foster divergent thinking and creativity as well as develop and maintain trusted collaboration among students. Collaboration fosters learning, innovation, and development. According to Burns, Crow, and Becker, “collaboration spurs innovation because bringing together groups of people who have different ideas, approaches, experiences, and areas of expertise creates a fertile environment for generating new concepts and methods.”

We need to stop alienating our children from who they actually are and what they are actually interested in. We need to use their interests and capacities to challenge them to improve, learn and innovate. The “factory line” system of school can only create a generation of students who are clearly uninterested and find school boring and irrelevant. This will keep reinforcing our idea of “Fictitious ADHD epidemic” that we think is responsible for our students’ lack of interest and ultimate “failure” at school.

Using technology, along with divergent thinking and creativity, is one of the most important 21st-century skills that our students must have. For developing this skill, we should be using technology more and more in our classrooms for challenging our students’ capacities and engaging them in the process of learning. For this educators should become more digitally literate themselves and then use this knowledge for the benefit of the students of the iGeneration.

What is My Argument?

by Melody Swars

Teachers should participate in professional development because not only does it train you in new strategies but the time at professional development sessions allow teachers with similar growth areas to collaborate.

I sat in an amazing train with Karin deVarennes on a recent Saturday that was focused on how to get students to write an argument. I walked away with not only knowledge that Karin provided but also that of the colleagues that were at the training. We want our students to be successful in collaboration with each other to help build language and content knowledge. This also creates students that are college and career ready. During the training she showed us many ways to get student to collaborate, whether it is for the purpose of writing an argument or in one of the many aspects of student learning.

As a group of teachers that all have varying  years of experience, we got to collaboratively developed a list of ‘getting to know you’ activities that we do in our class. Some teachers had students write a letter about themselves, while another teacher mentioned that in her letter she has students write their future goals. She said this is important because she can incorporate this into her teaching strategy. Some strategies that were collected were:

4 corners
Fish bowl
Equity circles
Shares and celebrations
Quotes of the day with student reflections
Team Building games

As a group of educators that were learning, we didn’t just watch a PowerPoint presentation;  we became collaborators through different strategies. One strategy that I really like was a silent debate. One student needs to write their opinion and the other student then responds by writing back their side of the argument. It was intense because you want to respond quickly but you have to take the time to write out your thoughts. I think this could be incorporated into a google doc where two students can write possibly from different classrooms.

Quote from textAn argument debate topic was “should a student have to be passing their classes in order to get their driver’s license.” The room was split in two sides; pro and con. Each side then got into small groups of three and had to discuss ones reasons why we felt this way. After that, the representative of that triad group had to share with the other side. The guidelines were set that we need to listen while one person gives their opinion. After both sides had time to share we returned to our groups and had to develop a rebuttal as to why we do not agree with something from the other side. We were also provided sentence frames to follow to help guide the conversation. While teaching it is so important to have a universal design for learning so that you can meet the needs of all your students.

Another fun strategy I felt was very beneficial for all ages was the 7 chair countdown. You can use any number but the idea is you can count out so many chairs and then stop at the last chair and find a brand new partner. You then get to share, after you share your partner paraphrases what you said. It could be used for ELD students to build language and background knowledge, or to have a better way to access the curriculum in a way that is taught to them at their peers language level.

While I could continue with every aspect I learned that day these were my biggest takeaways. I felt like I have added to my teachers toolbelt of skills as well as meet many teachers in our district with a wealth of knowledge. I would think to give thanks to Karin deVarennes for giving such an interactive professional development.

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?

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! 😊


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Gaining “Experience” Without Becoming Stagnant

By Sam Jones
 ***Disclaimer – I don’t mean to make any implications in this post, other than the idea that everyone could benefit from a little more education about how to use technology in the classroom environment.

Recently, I was on a hike and came across a pond that appeared to be completely stagnant.  As I briefly gazed into the pond, and to no surprise, I didn’t see my reflection. However, I did reflect on something that has been happening in education in the last few years.  As I have entered my second decade as a teacher, I have noticed that there are some negative connotations surrounding the word “experienced” when it is attached to teachers. Maybe this has always been the case and I am only starting to notice it as I have gained 10+ years of experience, but maybe this is also a new symptom of the greater challenges that face education, and to a greater extent, our society.  I know it plays into the whole “can’t-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks” trope, and sometimes it may be warranted, but sometimes it also seems to be very misguided. When did “experience” start to become a word that generally meant something good, but now also has the possible implications of being a bad thing?

Picture of stagnant water

Don’t let your teaching become stagnant.

I will be the first to admit that when I started teaching, I observed some “experienced” teachers that appeared to be “burned out” to a certain degree.  I pledged to myself that I did not want to end up like that. But what I can’t help thinking about now is the amount of experience that veteran teachers have.  I am no way saying that all veteran teachers are advanced or competent merely because they have taught for a long time, but maybe veteran teachers are not always being utilized in a manner commensurate to their skills.  And, as I ponder this predicament, I can’t help but think of myself and how I can avoid “burning out”, as it were, as I begin to settle into “veteran” teacher status. As a member of the Edtech Cadre, and as a minor league tech-friendly sort of person, I have seen many teachers that are still progressing in their personal tech journeys.  My thoughts might be a little scattered on this, but it would be remiss of me to not make the connection between technology and its swift and steady progression in all areas of our lives and avoiding stagnation as a teacher.

I can't help but think of myself and how I can avoid "burning out", as it were, as I begin to settle into "veteran" teacher status.I don’t have data to back this up, but of course, I believe a teacher can be successful and avoid stagnation without ever using technology in their classroom.  And of course, technology, on its own, is in no way going to make or break a teacher. However, as technology continues its prevalence and dominance in nearly every aspect of our lives, it only makes sense that teachers have a healthy and abundant relationship with it as well as an ability to facilitate its use in the classroom environment.  (On a side note, why there are not required programming courses at the earliest levels of education is beyond me, but I digress.)

Ultimately, the objective of this post is to further the conversation about how learning new skills that involve technology could very well be the single most impactful thing that could help a teacher – veteran or rookie, experienced or novice – overcome the very real threat of becoming stagnant.  For better or worse, much of the content will stay the same. And there probably won’t ever be a better substitute for organized, systematic, charismatic and dynamic teaching. But, even the most organized, charismatic and dynamic teacher could still be enhanced with some technological tricks up their sleeve.  Now, if I had all the answers about how to best implement that, then I would probably have a book or two under my belt as well as many scheduled speaking engagements across the educational landscape.

One thing I do know (or at least, think I know), is that if we don’t learn to harness and control the technology that is so prevalent in our lives and the lives of our students, then this technology will almost certainly harness and control us.  I’m not getting all SkyNet/WALL-E/Future-man conspiracy theorist now, but I think it’s plain to see that technology is strengthening its grasp upon our society in a potentially, if not already, controlling manner. This is no more true than in our classrooms and with our children and students.  I will always be one of the first to say that it begins at home with the parents, but this does not eschew teachers of a shared responsibility of staying ahead of and on top of technology and how students develop their own relationships with it. Teachers, administrators curriculum developers, and even legislators need to take a more active approach towards learning about technology and how it can fit into the curriculum…and I’m not talking about using more PowerPoints or simply using a SmartBoard as a basic projector.  And obviously, parents have the most responsibility in teaching their kids how to manage their technology, and thus need to be the most vigilant in establishing proper protocols and parameters when it comes to their child’s use of it.

Unfortunately, much of this is either not going to happen, or it will take a long time for it to occur, ya dig?  Teachers cannot always wait for the slow wheels of bureaucracy to change the system. This is just as, or even more true with the teachers that want to avoid stagnation in their careers.  

Hopefully, we can be more encouraged to try to learn some new technology tricks, tweaks, and twists.  Hopefully, we can be more proactive in learning how to infuse technology in our classrooms in a way that enhances our lectures and lessons.  And hopefully, we can all avoid stagnation so that we can enjoy teaching until the end of our careers which will lead to a better educational experience for all participants.