Category Archives: .P2 Practice differentiated instruction.

Reviewing the Atomic Model Using ImageQuiz

ImageQuiz is a beta which lets you use pictures to review content.  Check out a sample I made here:


SnapChat Leak: An Educational Opportunity?

If you’re following this story, then you know that SnapChat, a super-popular App that a large number of my high school freshmen have on their phones, had a security problem that allowed a hacker to get the usernames and phone numbers of 4.6 million SnapChat users.

[Was your data leaked?  You can check using this look-up tool.]

I was eager to see if any of my students were in the set of leaked accounts.  I wanted to create conversation around why data leakers do this, and what appropriate responses would have been for the users and creators of such technology.

So I did some poking around.  I downloaded the data (46MB ZIP).  I to open it as a CSV in Excel 2013, but it couldn’t.  I opened it in Notepad+ and searched for my number.  Not found.  I searched for anything in 425 area code (Bellevue-Redmond).  Nothing.  I searched for anything in 509 area code (eastern WA).  Nothing.  So none of my students were in the leaked data.

It turns out only a select few numbers in 76 area codes were shared.

And it’s interesting that only 10,623 numbers in 206 area code (Seattle) were shared.  That’s only 1 part-per-thousand of the total numbers in 206.  Which is either a comment on the importance of SnapChat in Seattle or the underestimation of area codes to include from the hacker.

Or take a look at 815 area code in the picture above, if 215,953 numbers in 815 use SnapChat, that is 21 out of every thousand phones (or 2%)!  Not bad for a small App that doesn’t care about security.

So, can someone get me all the 509 numbers at SnapChat please?  It would help me in lessons at school next week.  Smile

Voice and Choice in Physics

This past week I asked my students what they wanted to study next in our Advanced Physics class.  (Note:  this is not an AP class, since I’m just a physics teacher padawan.)

I listed the remaining chapters in the book (12-31) with their titles and sections.  I asked the students to rank each chapter in interest from 1-5.  Sample size is N=11, 3 females and 8 males.

I took all the ratings for each chapter and averaged.  I also averaged across the ratings for each section, so I could see if there was a pattern of interest across the sections.

Here are the results.


When you group the Chapter Ratings by Section, you see a trend that you might have suspected, namely that students want to study Modern Physics.  However, if you note the Standard Deviation for Modern Physics, it is definitely wider, in other words, some students do *not* want to study Modern Physics.


Either way, next week we are off to Chapter 20, Electricity.  I can’t wait to talk about analogs to F=ma that exist in electronics , i.e. V=IR.

I should also note here that some of my inspiration for this move was some reading I was doing in the “Physics First” community.  Let me put some references here that speak with particular persuasion in favor of teaching Physics to 9th graders.


High School Committee of the American Association of Physics Teachers [AAPT]. (2006). Physics First: An Informational Guide for Teachers, School Administrators, Parents, Scientists and the Public.  AAPT. Retrieved November 9, 2013 from

How I Got Some Freshman Science Students To Read “The Economist”

Last week I was grappling with a way to teach the Washington State Science Standards, in particular the INQUIRY A piece.

As is often the case, inspiration came in the nick-of-time.  I would have my students

  1. gain an appreciation for the breadth of science
  2. practice some literacy skills
  3. generate some “scientific questions”
  4. work in groups
  5. practice some creativity

Here’s how it went.  The room is arranged in groups.  At the beginning of class, we review science as a pervasive quest for knowledge, which often looks like questions.  Define/Review scientific questions, and propose a form that students can use “How does ____ affect ____.”  (Is this Act 1 for Science, a la Dan Meyer?)

Tell students that there are pages from a magazine (suitably shuffled) on their group tables and that they are to get with partners and create a poster of 5 scientific questions which will be generated the following way.  Your partner takes a page and finds a noun on that page.  You take a different page and find a noun on that page.  You then come together and form a question “How does noun #1 affect noun #2.”  (Act 2, you have a tool/method, now apply it.)

Where this spins off into greatness is when students:

  • find themselves reading snippets of articles from the Economist for context, since they have been “struck in the curiousity bone
  • find themselves posing questions like “do bees affect cancer?” which might lead to a long and fruitful career in science for this 9th grader
  • realize that sometimes science questions look superficially quite silly but hide an incredible profundity, like “will dry ice slide down a sand dune?

Finally for Act 3, we have a wall full of questions, from 4 periods of science students, which we can now take to the next level of refinement of the question, and posing more questions.  Take a look:


Two Days of Professional Development

I spent the past two days in PD at my school.  The topic was formative assessment and the task was to build 5 formative assessments that can be used this semester in our classes.  We were broken out into our subject matter groups, which will also be our Professional Learning Communities for the year.

Our pacing guide for Algebra 1 [need link] seems reasonable, so we started with the 9 standards that we intend to cover before our first benchmark exam.  The general approach we are taking is that our formative assessments will be shared questions that we all ask for each standard.  We will record the results of these formative assessments and then discuss (in our PLCs) how our delivery of the content or the assessments for understanding could be improved based on the results.

Just how much process here should be shared was a topic of discussion.  Some people will do pre-test vs post-test comparisons, or exit tickets, or red-yellow-green paddles.

Naturally, if we are staying close to the standards, the question also comes up if we shouldn’t just do standards-based grading as well.  I have to say it makes a lot of sense to me, but overall the team is relatively new already to formative assessment, so adding another layer of complexity to the year—which starts very soon—was deemed to *not* be ideal.  There was also some hesitation since administration will need to be informed of what we are thinking.

GREAT WORK:  results from the EOC tests are back and it looks like overall Wapato students improved math scores from 20% to 51% [outstanding!]

Technology Investigations / Applications / Tools

I describe below some activities or tools I have discovered during the 2011-2012 school year around technology.  I argue that if a technology or tool helps the teacher / staff person save valuable time, then it has indirectly had impact on student learning.  If a technology or tool has been used by the student, then it has directly had impact on student learning.  At least, that is the case I intend to make below.


Description Student Learning Impact Teacher / Practice Impact
Student project check-in form (Google Form).  A method was proposed whereby a teacher could review and record student progress on a project.  Goal was to facilitate the capturing of current state and next steps in a student project. No evidence that student work on projects has been increased or become more rigorous as a result of this work. Was used in April briefly by Jessica.

Samples were given to David, Angie and Steve as well, but this idea has not gained any traction yet.

Field trip calendar (Shared Google Calendar). 

NOTE:  although I didn’t create this tool, my adoption has meant that others can find the tool useful.

Students who need record of field trips to prove hours have found this invaluable.

I would also argue that the list of field trips is P2, H1, H2 and H5.

Although originally created by Megan, the calendar has been useful to both Dan and me, in the tracking of our trips, record of activities, weekly planning, and even keeping track of van usage/reservations.
Big Picture High School Transcript (PDF Form).  How I Made the PDF Transcript. Creating a durable record of student progress is useful for students, parents/guardians and teachers.  Enables quarterly progress reports, helping students know where they are at. I’ve already heard back from our office manager, from a senior advisor, and from my mentor teacher on the usefulness of this tool.
LTI Timesheet (PDF Form).  This was my first conversion of a paper form to a PDF Form. Enabling students to report their internship conveniently and accurately is a significant impact on their learning. I already cited a reply from the LTI Coordinator (Megan) about how the form has been gaining momentum.
STEAM Contact Triage (Google Form and Google Spreadsheet).  At the beginning of the year, as Dan, Jeff and I were brainstorming people and activities that would enrich our students, we decided to create a Google Form that talked to a Google Spreadsheet. By keeping track of contacts that may want to host students for tours, shadow days, informational interviews and full internships, we are having impact on their learning.  Every contact is a potential internship site, is a potential mentor for a student.

Just two examples: 

Fernwood contacts have led to significant interactions with our students.

Criminal Justice Training Center has also provided an internship for our students.

By putting a process into place whereby staff can share contacts and meet to triage new contacts and strategize next steps, I am improving the efficiency of my colleagues, I am sharing information with them and in the end I am making them more efficient at their jobs and our school’s mission.

NOTE:  I do not have proof that Dan or Jeff are using this tool actively, but I am and therefore it is an immediate resource for anyone who cares to see it.

LTI Site (Google Site).  This site is owned by Megan and is being used to store and communicate BPHS processes around LTI.

NOTE:  although I didn’t create this site, I have helped Megan edit/customize the site.

Students are impacted by easier access to LTI documents and a repository for more standardized process that they and their mentors can follow. Helping Megan be efficient at her job in the helps the entire school, staff and students effective.  By unblocking her understanding of how to edit and make the site truly her own, I have unleashed her creativity.
YouTube Videos of guest speakers at Big Picture High School. Students are obviously impacted in the live events, and by having the video available for future events, there is potential for more students to be impacted. Staff sometimes cannot make a lecture, so I have filmed the lecturer and gotten their permission to post on YouTube.  Speakers I have taped include:

Roger Fernandes, Native Storyteller.

Josh Ginzler, Licensed Mental Health Care Professional.

Adele Mitchell, Forensic Specialist / Geneticist.

Google Cloud Connect (Google Docs Toolbar for Word PowerPoint Excel) Since our school relies heavily on Google Docs, this tool that allows native uploading, downloading and sharing of Office Documents has been essential.  Not very many students have discovered it. However, certain staff (Ed first) have been very enthusiastic for the tool and I believe it has changed his whole workflow.
MailChimp (bulk e-mail tool for students, staff and parents involved with SAT Prep course).  Here is an archive of recent e-mails sent for the SAT Prep course. When a parent of a student in the SAT Prep course wanted to be kept aware of what was going on, I created a MailChimp Account Since this tool allows you to track when e-mails are opened, read, forwarded, and *not* read, they would be invaluable anytime an advisor/staff person is sending out bulk e-mails.
BPHS SAT Google Site This was a web site used to communicate between the staff and the students for coordination of the SAT Prep course. By keeping a calendar of activities in the course, I kept students informed of what was happening when, what we had covered, lesson materials, and links to YouTube Videos of class sessions. This web site enabled better collaboration with staff. (SMS Polling Tool)  By creating an account on this service and using in the SAT Prep course, I was able to engage students in learning activities. Initial results from an Action Research paper that I am producing for EDU6173 is that students rated their mathematics self-efficacy higher on days that we did SAT sample problems (from a sample test) higher if there were engaged via SMS/Cell Phone polling. General opinion of staff is that this service in general and my application on SAT Prep in particular has been beneficial / fun. (Bulk SMS Sending and Polling Tool)  Used in the SAT Prep course. Similar to PollEverywhere but different, this tool allowed for students to register their mobile device in a virtual course.  Once they did that I could send them messages or take quick polls related to content / activities in the SAT Prep course. When I realized that students were not reading the class e-mails that I was sending, I was able to get them to register their mobile devices and thus have a more direct means of communicating to each of them en masse or individually.
YouTube Videos of me solving SAT QOTD (Questions of the Day) Similar to Khan Academy (person talking while solving a problem on a virtual blackboard / whiteboard), I created 20-30 videos of me solving some SAT Questions of Day, which the College Board puts out daily basis via e-mail. Making the videos was fun.  It gave some insight into Khan’s style and some of the technical challenges which he has solved to create his massive library of videos. for shortening URLs  
Fluid Math from Fluidity Software tool I used to create the YouTube videos for SAT QOTD. Let’s you do math on an interactive whiteboard or laptop projection by using a tablet.
Vimeo This is another video sharing site and one which I had used extensively for my CSI Middle School Elective until I realized that YouTube had more space and no weekly upload limits. I am big on archiving instruction.  I think I have video for almost every classroom + teacher session that I have engaged in, except the Video Game elective I did in the High School.

Wiggins, G. (2010). What’s my job?–Revisited

In a prior blog post, I commented on this essay by Wiggins (2010).  As I re-read that essay here near the close of my internship year, I have the following thoughts.

Wiggins starts the essay with a startling confession that he taught for many years without being either having to prove he could teach or being evaluated more than twice.  As I read this again, I am reading it in the context of being an employee of a school district and a member of a teacher’s union.  As I read this again, I read it having spent 8 months in the whirlwind that is public education, bathed in the sometime shrill debates on value added evaluation, and standardized testing.

I still agree with Wiggins, namely that teaching is more than just activity, it is about causation of learning, interest, and confidence in students.  However, I now have perspective that this is harder than it sounds.  Treating teaching as just activity coordination without goals is hard enough, but working toward these goals, consistently and creatively is an extreme challenge.  Thus it comes as no surprise that many teachers don’t like to keep those “results focused responsibilities” in mind, to keep them as the “bottom-line goals.”

As I look back on my internship, Wiggins would prompt me to ask 3 questions.

  1. Have my students experienced successful learning?
  2. Have my students been bored, or engaged?
  3. Have my students discovered new competencies or confidence?

More specifically let’s look at a class I have been teaching since February.  The students in the class are juniors who are looking forward to taking the SAT this June.  They have not taken a formal math class since 8th grade.  Let’s see if there is any evidence in this short time of my moving the needle on those three questions.

Have my students experiences successful learning?  For this SAT prep course all the students (approx 15) took a full SAT, diagnostic, pre-test.  At the end of March they also took a single math section of a sample SAT.  Here are the results for a nearly identical set of students on a subset of questions that deal with geometry.  (More details here.)

Geometry Improvement

I would conclude that based on the improved percent of correct responses that indeed successful learning has occurred.  Or, as always might be the case, more effective test-taking skills have been developed.  That might especially be the case in that the percent of questions left blank has dropped off, and the percent of questions being answered wrongly has skyrocketed.  However, the combined percentages of wrong and blank are still less in the Sample Test than in the Pre-Test.

You may ask given the above evidence, sure, based on a score on a standardized test, but are my students bored or are they engaged.  Here’s a moment of engagement, check for yourself.

[We are discussing the following slide, and the transcript of the video is in the comments]


And finally, have my students discovered new competency or confidence?  Well, I asked them that myself, or maybe not in so many words via a SMS/Text poll.  Here’s what some of them said in reply


Now that is not a scientific poll, and I have some ideas to do some Action Research on things I can do in this class to improve perception of self-efficacy.  However, I am hopeful that at least 2 out of 3, if not 3 of Wiggins’ criteria for what true teachers should be doing in the classroom are being addressed.  But most of all, I am grateful to be at a school which enables some of the flexibility and personalization that Wiggins thinks is essential.


Wiggins, G. (2010). What’s my job? Defining the role of the classroom teacher. In R. J. Marzano (Ed.), On Excellence in Teaching. (10th ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Internship Reflection Week of 2012-04-02 [32] (the week before Spring Break)

My Monday SAT Prep class had some very interesting discussion.  Since I taped that session, I am able to go over the discussion which we had in class again, in greater detail.  I would like to reflect on the whole class, but highlight that discussion.

I was just wrapping up the following slide on proportions…


When the question was asked by KJ:  “With proportions, is cross-multiplication and division the only way to simplify?”  My answer:  “No,” and some elaboration led to a bunch of student voice stemming from some mass confusion.

As I look back on the slide, the step where I multiply both sides by 12 could have been elaborated upon, or taken a little more slowly.  It is interesting to wonder if that was the root of the ensuing 20 minute discussion.

A few students were confused about what it means to “multiply both sides by 12”, and one student, AO, asked about where we were multiplying 12 in the numerator or in the denominator.

Another student was confused that we didn’t just compute (doughnuts/package) and then multiply by 5.  At which point I realized that students were not confident that I could take the inverse of both sides of the equation, i.e. to have doughnuts/package on both sides, and thus get the same answer for x.


When one student (F.R.) pointed out that this method would work when the numbers weren’t so neat and tidy, I thought we were making headway, but just then… a student asked “But why does it have to be that difficult?  Why can’t you just say 12 divided by 2 times 5.  Why is that so hard?”

And another student chimes in:  “I get what SL just said!”

“Maybe this question wouldn’t have been so hard if the numbers hadn’t been so easy,” said another student.

“Why do we have to be taught the more complex way?” says SL.

After about 8 minutes of students taking positions on cross-multiplication-and-division, or the algebraic method, we get at one root of the matter.

“When you write something over another number, it just looks so much more confusing than it has to be,” says SL.  We conclude that fractions are scary.  And that you have to work on them until they aren’t so scary.

“Fractions are, like, my worst enemy,” says SL.  And a couple of other students agree.

I have to say this animosity towards mathematics is very interesting, and a little dismaying.  No other subject seems to be determined to make the learner feel stupid.  No other subject seems to offer simplicity and then once a student is lulled into thinking they understand, there is a sudden change in difficulty.

Overall, I think the first half of the class was very valuable.  I think many students had chances to voice their frustrations or challenges with the content.  I need to keep those students in mind when I prepare a lesson.  I need to brainstorm other ways to connect the math to those students so that it feels authentic and non-threatening.  I am really thinking that a Mighton-esque approach where the numbers are easier at first and then the problems only get minutely harder as the student progresses.

The second part of the class (slightly better camera angle) was a little silly, but folks seemed attentive.  The break seems to be very helpful, and students seemed refreshed and ready to go after the break.  After I gave out the homework handout many people interpreted that as the end of class, that wasn’t so helpful, but it was used by some to get some work done.

This was the first class where I tried both a handout in class, and giving out the homework and letting some class time be used on it.  I don’t think I will get any better return or completion rate on the homework by doing this, so I may not do it again.  I was able to collect quite a few worksheets that were done in the first half of the class.

Einstein Quote (Fish Climbing Trees)


Internship Reflection Week of 2012-01-30 [23] (Visual Studio, AIE, TESC)

Spent a lot of time last week and this week getting Visual Studio (via DreamSpark) installed on machines in the media lab.  That exercise will help us be prepared for the Computer Game Design elective start which will use that room.  And it turns out that getting Visual Studio was very timely, because when students came back from the field trip the Academy for Interactive Entertainment (AIE) they were very eager to start learning C# or other programming.

The AIE ( folks gave us a great presentation on computer game industry and what to do at each level of high school in order to some day be successful in their program or in the industry.  The speakers were Dr. Earhardt (director, and veteran game producer) and another professor.  I learned that the game industry shows no sign of slowing down, and that the game-player we should all be designing for are 20-30-something soccer moms.

One Big Picture student, KE, was so excited when he got back from AIE that he wrote his first computer program ever this week.  In addition he shows no signs of stopping as he devours new concepts and enjoys seeing his ability to control the computer grow.  I have to say that has been a pretty amazing.

I also finally learned why the Academy of Interactive Entertainment has a campus in Lafayette Louisiana.  It turns out that many of the major studios have shops there and that many movies can actually be filmed in Louisiana.

Taking three students and college admissions counselor to The Evergreen State College was also quite an experience.  One student in particular, SD, is making TESC his first choice so he was quite excited to get an official tour.  I also took the opportunity to show this group around Olympia, since I went to high school there.

Since that was my second or third college field trip, I got a chance to reflect on the difference between work-site field trips and college field trips.  Both seem to have an extremely motivating impact on students, but also somewhat polarizing.  For instance a student that before the trip was ambivalent toward the college, either came back really excited to pursue that option or definitely decided against that school in particular.

I really appreciate the chance to drive the vans.  Since there is a shortage of people at the school that have clearance from the district to drive, my skills are in demand.  However, I with Dan’s (mentor teacher’s) caution against volunteering too much for those activities.  The benefits of driving are that I get to talk to students and staff in some depth, the disadvantages of driving are that I was pretty much not engaged with any other students for a whole day.  On this day in particular I, as I had to get to SPU for evening classes, I realized that I had spent about 2-3 hours in the car today.

Finally on Friday there were two special events.  First, I attended a guest presentation of the group Red Eagle Soaring which was coming by to meet students in Big Pictures Native Student Association.  Second, I attended an all school assembly called a Send-Me-Off where announcements are made, and demonstrations of student projects and interests.

Rough Timeline (no need to evaluate)

Monday (1/30):  milk carton collection continues, KN presentation on Worms, Helping out in 7th grade math, covering for Stan absence in his advisory

Tuesday (1/31):  field trip to Academy for Interactive Entertainment which is located in the Seattle Center House 4th floor.  Dan and I each drove a van, so we had a full crew.  Students were very excited upon return to campus.

Wednesday (2/1):  very early start to the day in order to get the van and drive some students down to The Evergreen State College in Olympia.  Here is Malini and three of our students in front of the native longhouse on the campus of TESC.


Thursday (2/2):  special teams meeting led by Dan.

Friday (2/3):  Working with students on their portfolios (LD) and autobiography (MJ).  Walked around a copy of a section of an SAT exam to try and get some students (JG, BV) more equipped for their preparations for the March SAT.

Got some good feedback from a student on my YouTube videos that I have created to help students solve the SAT Math Question of the Day (QOTD) which comes about every third day from the College Board.  My channel on YouTube is here:

From: John Weisenfeld GMAIL []
Sent: Thursday, February 02, 2012 11:27 AM
To: RK
Subject: Re: YouTube and SAT Math Problems

Thanks RK, some are more clear than others, so feel free to ask if you have some questions.

On Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 9:59 AM, RK <> wrote:

Hey John,
your youtube channel displaying the SAT questions of the day are very helpful.

On Wed, Feb 1, 2012 at 6:08 AM, John Weisenfeld GMAIL <> wrote:

I’ve created some YouTube videos that walk through the solutions of some SAT Math problems, there are about 40 of them so far, and I intend to add more as time goes on.  Check them out some time…

John Weisenfeld
STEM Specialist/Intern
Highline Big Picture High School
206.631.7724 (work)
425.301.7404 (cell)

Here’s an e-mail I wrote detailing the progress we made on Thursday to student advisors.

From: John Weisenfeld GMAIL []
Sent: Friday, February 03, 2012 9:04 AM
To: David Levine; Jessica Rottweiler
Cc: MJ; LD; DP; KE; Dan Dundon
Subject: Status Report 2012-02-02 (Thursday)

All four of the scholars (LD, DP, MJ, KE) spent time in the media lab on Thursday 2/2 from approximately 9:30am to 2pm.

All four were given printed copies of the application for Summer Cyber Camp at the Academy for Interactive Entertainment.  Based on the copies left in the room at the end of the day, very few of those were actually taken home.  All four have expressed interest in the camp, pending finances and a firmer commitment from their parents and/or both.  Phil McGilton, Dan Dundon and I are tracking these applications.

KE spent much of the time before lunch programming in C#.  He has become more acquainted with "for" loops (which we had started on Weds) and also learned about "if" statements and "switch" statements.  We are working our way through a tutorial in C# which is on MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network).  The URL for that is here:

LD got signed up for DreamSpark, so he now has access to professional training in C# as well as programming tools that we have installed in the lab.  He spent some time on some games on the PC and since I brought the iPad, he also looked at some games on the iPad that were both familiar and new to him.

MJ spent a little time listening to some PluralSight training (which we get free for 90 days through DreamSpark) and a little time programming, and more time playing some of the other games that the other students were playing which he wasn’t familiar with yet.  I think Michael J was interested in Android app development.

DP also got signed up for DreamSpark, as well as PluralSight so he could also listen to some training.  He is interested in Windows Phone 7 development or iPhone. 

Popular gamed today were:  a iPad app that records peoples statements and plays them back via an animal avatar (this was quite a hit and does very well with pre-schoolers, too!) and a tower defense game  ( | Frontline Defense HD 2).  When we visited AIE this past Tuesday all of these students learned that the targets for game development for the near future are "Soccer Moms", which is not necessarily the games these students like to play, so if they want to work in the game industry, they should familiarize themselves with games they might not particularly like.  So occasionally I now ask these students if they have played a soccer-mom-game today.

I’ve asked all of these students to start a google doc that keeps track of the games that they have played.  I plan on using such a tool in my high school elective on computer games when it starts up after exhibitions.

Some interesting observations from these students:

"Wow programming is hard."

"Programming is a lot of work/math."

P.S.  Hey students, if you have other observations from yesterday just reply-all to get your comments heard.

John Weisenfeld
STEM Specialist/Intern
Highline Big Picture High School
206.631.7724 (work)
425.301.7404 (cell)

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