Our OER Journey – The Backstory (Part 1)


In the Grossmont Union High School District, we have started the process of developing several OER curriculum collections to eventually replace some of the traditional textbooks currently found in classrooms across our ten high schools. We have started to share some of the different pieces of that journey in different venues and thought it was finally time to document with some more detail in one place.  

Part 1: The Backstory

In January 2014, we started rolling out carts of Chromebooks to teacher teams that committed to attending at least two full days of professional learning. Before this time, most of our schools had outdated computers and technology-related PD was mostly non-existent at the time. Over the next 18 months, we deployed over 5000 Chromebooks and trained over 400 (of 800) teachers. For many teachers this began to change everything. The demand skyrocketed as the team model did not provide the regular access many now wanted. A group of high-level users came together in a training we called the GUHSDtech Google Ninjas program. This group built leadership teams at their sites and lobbied for more access. In May 2015, the board approved our FutureForward program – a teaching and learning initiative that provided every student with a Chromebook over a three year period.

As the GUHSDtech team advocated for digital learning opportunities, we kept getting stuck on the question about digital content vs print content. We have all these devices and great web 2.0 applications, but the official content still sits in textbooks. Many teachers had already abandoned their textbooks for found and self-created materials. Teachers started exploring options in open content through Gooru.org and CK-12. In August 2015, the #GoOpen movement was announced.

My superintendent (now enjoying the good life of retirement) and I got the opportunity to attend the #GoOpen kick off event at the White House in October 2015. When we returned, I started drafting a proposal to bring OER materials into the district in a systematic and scalable manner that empowered our teachers to help shape the content for their classes.

In many ways, this is about timing. We needed to start the exploration of digital curriculum because our students had access to devices every day for the first time and many teachers wanted to harness that capability. It came in an environment where teachers were being encouraged to take risks, to innovate, and to redefine instruction in the classrooms.

The big idea was easy. The details are daunting.

Next: Selling the Proposal

I’m not the tech guy.

Yes, my current job is about getting computers into the hands of kids and teaching their teachers how to use them. Yes, I’ve got an MA in Educational Technology. Yes, I’ve done hundreds, yes hundreds, of tech-related workshops. Yes, I have integrated various forms of technology into my classes since my student teaching. Yes, I believe in the power of technology to transform and amplify an educational experience. But, no, I’m not the tech guy.

In 18 years in the classroom, most of my time with students was spent away from a screen. We talked. Read from different perspectives. Analyzed. Made decisions. Worked together. Found problems. Solved problems. Explored the world. Created. We created so many different things. Sure, the screen opened up the world, but the real connection happened in front of and between us.

And, in 20 years of facilitating workshops and professional development, most of my time with teachers has been about teaching differently. About students coming first. About using that tech to give students a voice and a space to create. About letting students find their way with the teacher lighting a multitude of paths.

Real education technology is about all those things. It’s not about word processing, online assessments, or replacing instruction; it is about preparing them for life in a digital world. Often we can get stuck in the weeds of technical difficulties — learning is bolder and bigger than that.

I’m not the tech guy. I’m a teacher, a learner, and an administrator who operates beyond the confines of the traditional four walls of a classroom or office. I use tech to blow up and expand what can be done; not because it’s cool, but because it is the right thing to do for our students. Who are you?

Our Social Citizens: Students Posting Above the Line

Social Media has reshaped the landscape that our students travel across each and every day. For better or worse, their lives straddle online and offline worlds. Relationships and friendships are stretched and pulled in directions that many of us can’t imagine. Too often our collective gut response involves cutting it off or pretending this force doesn’t frame the lives of the students who sit in our classrooms everyday. It consumes them. Like all other school districts, teachers and administrators in the Grossmont Union High School District grapple with the balance between it being a positive force or a distraction. Too often we get stuck in the negativity, but in the last two months there have been two instances where our students have risen to the occasion in the social media realm.
graniteresponseThe first involves BurnBook. In early March, this app swept through our schools and caused a significant disruption here and across the country. Students anonymously posted terrible statements about their peers, teachers, and anything else they could attack. While bullying in schools is hardly a new idea, the nature of this app facilitated and encouraged it. Our district quickly reacted and issued a statement to the media and parents informing them of the situation, along with suggestions to deter its use. Luckily, it fizzled out almost as quickly as it started. Despite the negativity that BurnBook brought us, it gave a small group of students at Granite Hills High School the opportunity to stand up and take action. Dismayed by what they saw in the feed associated with their school, these young men decided to flood BurnBook with posts about potatoes, vegetables, and fruit. This was much to the dismay of many contributors who demanded with less-than-kind words that they stop. They didn’t. Within a day or two, the self proclaimed Potato King spammed BurnBook with so much nonsense, that the threat at Granite Hills dissipated. These students did the right thing without prompting, and should be considered heroes.

The second event ripryanfollows the tragic car accident in front of West Hills High School on April 30th, where Junior Ryan Willweber lost his life. News of the accident and then his passing spread rapidly on social media. Within 24 hours, over 2,500 unique posts and over 20,000 retweets with the hashtag #RIPRyan appeared on Twitter and Instagram. The simple addition of #RIPRyan instantly created a community where anyone could view or contribute to the stream of photos, condolences, memories of Ryan, and support for family and friends. On Thursday evening, a message requesting that students across San Diego wear blue in his memory went viral. Friday morning, hundreds of students at over a dozen schools showed support to a grieving family and school. Photos were taken at several schools and shared out on Friday via Twitter. While nothing will take away that pain, people directly and indirectly touched by tragedy had the opportunity to instantly reach out and come together in a way not possible ten years ago.

Social media continues to redefine what happens in and out of school. It presents a new set of challenges on top of the challenges we educators already face. However, we can’t ignore it or shut it off. We must face it and embrace it so we stay relevant in this new world. There are no special online and offline rules. We can use the term “digital citizenship” to quantify this new frontier, but really, it’s just citizenship. This new territory will require us to build resources and guidelines in the coming months, but we can always learn from the ways our students continue to adapt to technology and the times they rise up to surprise us along the way.

Cross posted on the GUHSDtech Blog.

Students Are Bored

Recently I was invited to be a guest speaker in an education pathway class full of high school students who are interested in becoming teachers. I looked forward to getting in front of students for the first time in six months to speak about my job and what role technology should play in the classroom.

I decided to do an experiment. I started off with a Google presentation slide packed full of great information. Then I changed the slide and asked what they remember. As expected, I got a lot of blank stares. In fact, I knew I lost them right from the beginning. When I asked how much of their day is spent sitting and listening, the response varied from three to five periods each day.

The next part of lesson plan was to have them read a short article and then respond to it in a Google Form on a Chromebook. Soon, every student was working through the quick 15 minute assignment. Some answers were more thoughtful than others, but everyone did it. I projected their responses and we had a short discussion. They were spirited and filled with opinions. One of the questions asked students to list five words that describe school. I took those responses and put them into a Word Cloud. I wasn’t expecting these results, but I also wasn’t surprised by them.


There were only 30 students in the class, but I bet if we widened the sample size, this is a theme that would be found across many school.

Many don’t have any idea what they are working towards – other than not being in high school any longer.

Student engagement has never been more important. The traditional, teacher-centered model does not work for all students. We need to be more innovative in how we draw students into our content. In how we make them want to learn. Which is most likely very different from the way we learned. We need to define the purpose of what we do with students and students need to put their learning in the greater context of their own life goals.

My Purpose as an Educator

My number one goal as a teacher, and now as an administrator, has been to prepare students for what’s next. Whatever that may be. Whenever that occurs. It could easily be a skill needed in the next grade level or an understanding of the world that will help them in life. The content itself, I loved and could talk endlessly about any of the many subjects I taught, but it served as a vehicle to my greater purpose. It also continues to be the driving force behind my belief that meaningful and relevant technologies should be integrated into the classroom.

When I taught AP World History, I could have probably worked my students a lot harder and maybe more of them would have passed the AP exam. Not that the class I taught wasn’t rigorous or that it didn’t provide a good foundation for them to be successful on that high stakes exam, but I also didn’t let the test constrict every moment or the spirit of the class. It was never our singular purpose. We took time to discuss current events, apply skills to content that wouldn’t show up on the exam, do simulations, collaborate, and have fun. At the end of each year, the students walked out of my class improved writers, empowered, appreciating history, understanding the bigger context, and better prepared for their next challenge. They were part of the class community I built and fostered each year. Most of them passed, but many didn’t. I’m sure those who didn’t pass wished they had, but it did not define their experience.

And it didn’t matter subject area or level of student.

As I have moved out of the classroom and into a support role, I have the opportunity to influence more students through the culmination of my passion of technology and my purpose. When I interviewed for the job (Director of Instructional Technology) last October, I remember saying something to that effect – this is the job I’ve been working towards since I started teaching. I loved teaching (and miss it terribly), but I have a desire to lead more classes into the 21st century than I could do while working as a teacher.

I’ve been lucky to get to develop, grow, and evolve doing what I love. It motivates me and inspires me to do more.

Thanks Moss for setting up this weeks #slowchatED for the opportunity to reflect.

The Last Eight Years – Part 3

(Part 1 and Part 2)

Year 17 (World History and Photo)
After a three year hiatus, I was back to the course that defined my first ten years – CP World History. The course was in dire need of an overall and I was able to implement a series of new tech projects, especially since my photo lab was available every day. My second Digital Imagery Pathway cohort finally got the luxury of a full lab and took great advantage of it. We officially moved away from film and pushed the digital limits. It included an amazing mix of talents who will do amazing things as seniors in the capstone pathway class.

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Year 18 (Photo and US History)
With my good friend Dave Burgess taking a leave of absence to tour the tour the world on the wake of his book, Teach Like a Pirate, I was able to grab a US History section with another fantastic group of student in what would be my final year. I started my career desperately wanting to teach my major – US History, but got locked out of it most of my years. It is fitting that I was able to enjoy it for my last eight weeks of teaching. My colleague, Jarrod Carman, and I threw everything out we had done in previous years and started completely from scratch. I have always loved the challenge of developing a class, especially when working with someone with the same mindset. One of my big take aways from this last 18 years is that I have been lucky to have had a series of amazing collaborative experiences. I am who I am because I worked with smart, motivated, and resourceful peers.

The most bittersweet part of my departure this year was leaving my cohort of senior pathway students. In many ways, it was like a family reunion. We formed a close knit community in my class two years ago. They spent last year with another teacher, some occasionally visited and I caught up with others in the hallways in between classes. Then they came home. It was eight weeks of educational and artistic bliss. No time spent building rapport or setting class norms. It was the most natural beginning to a class. We just started rolling. And then I left.

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So there we have it. A self-indulgent and nostalgic snapshot of a series of milestones that characterize my adventure in and around the classroom. It all came down to five words – students, technology, collaboration, creativity, and relationships. Ideas that I take with me into my next world.

And it is now officially added to the historical record. However, make sure to consider my POV.

Those 18 year will forever define me as an educator.

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The Last Eight Years – Part 2

(See Part 1)

Year 13 (AP World, CP World, WASC)

Again I had another epic group of AP World students. This was the year of the revolution. My period 2 AP World History class staged a revolution in the weeks following our French Revolution unit. They had a series of demands. While I may have granted a few of them, it was only because I was secretly crushing their spirits. To this day, I reference it as just a mere failed rebellion. They closed out the year by putting post-its all over my car on the day of the final. I was neck deep in couple PBS projects all year and this when I took on the role of WASC Coordinator.

Year 14 (AP World, Photo, WASC)

After a part time Photography position opened up, I convinced my principal to let me take it on while keeping my two AP World History classes. As it turns out, this decision once again changed everything. I would find and embrace this new challenge by teaching a purely project-based class while getting my academic fix with a couple AP history classes. When I walked into the photo class, there were five digital cameras and six computers. We spent most of our time doing black and white film. Which is fun and all, but not as relevant in today’s world. When I left in October 2014, I had 60+ digital cameras and a computer for every kid. It also let me rediscover, refine, and redefine my style as a photographer and artist. Photography was always a personal journey for me, teaching brought together my worlds. I also stopped wearing ties.

This year’s AP students were the best I would have in my 6 year run. A huge group of them were pure academics, who embraced the class. Unlike most groups, they were also a community before and after my class – one that I would continue to be a part of for the next two years as many signed up for my photo classes. It was my finest and most rewarding year as a history teacher. Everything clicked. I just about fully flipped the classroom second semester and redefined my perception of being a teacher. It was my move to a totally student-centered class. This was also the year of the field trip-gone-wrong – one of those students made a pretty bad decision on a field trip that resulted in her arrest and the five other students getting suspended. The day after the trip was my lowest moment as a teacher.

Year 15 (AP World and Photo)

Can’t say I remember a lot about AP World History. Matt and I continued the transformation of the class to move it away from regular lectures. In photography, I was able to grow the digital resources. I connected with an inspiration photo teacher from another school and figured out how to teach the course in a way that made sense. We held the first annual READ contest (that continues in my absence today). I had a mixed Beginning and Advanced Photo class that pushed all the limits (artistic and others) and made me laugh every day (full of former AP World students from the last two years). Reuben and I began presenting workshops together as we took over the BTSA technology requirement.

Year 16 (AP World and Photo)

This year was another turning point. It was a year of travel. I started the summer with a trip to Philadelphia for ISTE, a trip to London and Paris with my wife, a week in Beijing doing technology staff development for my friend Scott’s international school, a trip for CUE to do PD in Cleveland, and finally 15 days in Europe with 25 students. I still have vivid memories of walking through the rubble of a Beijing hutong and along the Great Wall on a foggy afternoon. That summer trip allowed me to finally bring one group of students to Europe, fulfilling a teaching bucket list item from my own high school days.

While technology professional development was a constant throughout my career, Reuben and I stepped up our game significantly at the district, SDCUE, and around the county. It was also my AP World swan song. I had so many projects and plans that something had to give. We closed out the year with what I would consider the soul of the course – the movie Lagaan. In photography we, officially started our CTE Pathway with a great group of students demonstrated streaks of artistic genius and who would become family.

The Last Eight Years – Part 1

Perhaps I have always thought this way, but about eight years ago I really started to live and breathe my life as a teacher. I certainly worked hard enough in the beginning, but as I transition to AP World History and then Photography, teaching became who I was in a much more definitive manner.

Six months ago, I officially left the classroom for the job I always wanted – an admin educational technology job. I started this blog post about that time, but I started to avoid it when I got about halfway done. It is still a little surreal and I’m a sentimentalist who craves change. An odd mix, but here I am.

It has been eight years since I celebrated my 10 year anniversary of the classroom. At that time I felt it necessary to reflect on what had happened in those first ten years (Part 1 and Part 2). While I don’t update the blog much these days, I had planned to reflect on the next ten when I hit year 20. Since I didn’t make it 20, I wanted to get it down before the dark side of being an administrator clouded my thought process.

Year 10 (AP World and CP World)

While I covered this year in the first edition, it was a pivotal point in my teaching career that would take me a couple years to fully feel its significance. This was when I started teaching AP World History.  That six year journey would shake everything I knew about teaching and really changed everything. I got to teach to a level that satisfied my intellectual yearnings. The course itself changed my worldview, forcing me to look well beyond the context of the Eurocentric world history class I had been teaching up to this point. My systems theory worldview just clicked about halfway through the year. My connection to this group of students was especially strong, we all journeyed through 10,000 years of history for the first time together. That year was also when I finally completed my MA in Educational Technology from SDSU.

Year 11 (AP World and CP World)

While the year before was amazing, the workload was suffocating. Four sections of AP World was just not healthy. My good friend Matt joined me for the AP World journey.  My three CP classes were exceptional this year as well. I made a series of game changing steps in my ed tech trajectory when I became a Google Certified Teacher, joined the PBS Advisory Board, and started writing curriculum for PBS. It was also when I moved classrooms and started sharing an office with Reuben Hoffman. On a personal note, my daughter was born that December.

Year 12 (AP World, CP World, and Web Design)

By year three, I finally felt comfortable with the AP curriculum. This was when I started using Google Docs with my students and our collaborative review project included another school from the Northern California. I worked on the World Without Oil curriculum and then implemented it in the CP classes. It was one of those moments where kids connected to the world in an authentic manner. I added Web Design to my class load. This was a tremendous challenge because I do not have a knack for code, but I was able to have a handful of my year 10 AP World students in my class again. Really solidified my connection to this group. This was also when I took over the school website. Towards the end of the school year, I was nominated for the school and then district Teacher of the Year award. I wouldn’t win at the county level, but it was an honor to make it as far as I did. It also kept me at West Hills when I was seriously considering a move to a different school.

(Part 2 and Part 3)

Students Choose Their Own Adventure

After three years of teaching photography in a "traditional" manner, I needed to change something. Basically, I assigned all the students the same assignment and gave them two-three weeks to complete them. There were a handful of other smaller assignments thrown into the mix, but the end result was that many of the students wasted time. This year, I got a full lab of computers, up from 20 last year, which was up from 10 the year before. This was going to allow me to move away from film and focus more firmly on digital imagery. This was my moment to take it to the next level.

The first thing I did was meet with a Digital Arts jedi over the summer (no matter who are, there is always an expert out there to help you along). We talked philosophy and some logistics. However, I didn't have his foundation, yet. And photography is just different enough from digital arts, that I needed to find my own path.  I did some changes at the beginning of the school year, but I still got a little hung up on some of the fundamentals of photography and my WordPress multiuser site was hacked and all my student lost their blogs. Then a few weeks ago, as I prepared for the second semester in (and battled the flu), it came to me. Some clarity in a fevered state.  This is exactly where I wanted to go for years now. I just didn't know what it looked like.  

Here is my revised syllabus:

Studio A3 Expectations

  • If you try, you will succeed!

  • Push yourself creatively and technically.

  • Respect Studio A3, yourself, your work station, the class resources, and everyone around you.

Updated Format of the Class
There are a wide array of skills you can learn in photography.  During first semester, most of our time was spent learning the basics of compositional styles, the camera, Lightroom, and Photoshop.  As we enter second semester it is time for a structural shift.

While we will continue to learn the fundamentals of essential topics, we will also many opportunities for you to explore the side of photography that you find most interesting.  If you love shooting, you can take more photos. If Photoshop is your happy place, spend more time there.  It is up to you.  

This is all based upon an idea I learned when I did a training at the Google office in Santa Monica in 2008. They call it 20% time. Basically, for 80% of a Googler’s work week, they do their assigned job.  Then, one day a week, they get to explore their own passions. Some great ideas have filtered up as a result, because when people get to choose what they work on, they generally are more engaged and work harder. For this class, these opportunities are called Challenges.  I have provide a long list of ideas to start with, but I am more than happy to let you go off the map and explore something of your choosing – as long as you give me some justification and show me what you are doing as it unfolds. As the semester continues, I will add more Challenges to the list.

Now this isn’t a free for all. In order to better track your progress, you will complete a Weekly Photography Goals and Accomplishments chart that will be set up in class. You will be responsible for updating this chart at the beginning and end of the week.  This will help you plan your week and ensure that you have time to complete the required elements of the class and any challenges you choose to complete. It will also let me see more clearly, where you are at any given time. Don’t worry if something changes mid-week, just report what changed and what you did instead on Friday.  You might even spend some time stewing over an idea, that’s OK too! We have a couple big conceptual projects in the next few months, I want you to spend some time pondering your way through the creative process.

Images of the Week
Additionally, every two weeks you will upload your best stuff to the appropriate Picasa Album. Not only will everyone else see what you are doing, but I will print a few of them to put up in the classroom.  When I trade them out a couple weeks later, you get to take nice 11×17 prints home!


It goes on, to describe my grading policy here.  The class website can be found here.

Putting Yourself Out There

As I get ready to share the power of Twitter and a PLN with a new crop of SDSU Ed Tech students this week, I am preparing for the standard reaction I always get – I don’t have anything to say.  Part of the issue that many face when they explore the nature of a PLN is that people feel strange putting themselves out there. Who am I to say things publically about education? What can I contributed? My response is that you need to develop and explore what it can be for you. Not every tweet has to point to a golden resource or encompass that perfect moment of zen. Make it what you want it to be and then when you are comfortable, push it a little further. This all part of the beauty of the democratization of the web, we get to lurk or contribute, but the greatest rewards come with our interactions. The strongest PLNs are social. They aren’t just a collection of resources, but people. And to maximize this potential, you have to put yourself out there.

This didn’t come easy or naturally for me, but it dramatically enhanced my professional life.

It is hard to believe that I started this blog in August 2004. So much has changed and evolved since that time, both in my life and in the educational technology world. Back then just handfuls of edubloggers existed, we had our own little PLN going. Some of today’s big fish, were just swimming with the rest of us at that time (I remember Chris Lehman blogging about teaching English, he even commented on my blog a few times).

That’s when I started to really put myself out there. I had already presented at workshops and some conferences, but getting a regular online presence and laying down some of my thoughts and classroom practices for all to see was a big step.  But, it wasn’t one that I did without caution. In the beginning, I didn’t have my name attached to my blog. I was an anonymous history teacher. Plus, I never talked about it to my face-to-face colleagues, even after I put my name on it. Who was I to blog about what I do? How am I any better than anyone else? I am certainly not a better writer than most.

But, I did it for a different reason. Right off the bat, I saw the value of reflection – probably the introvert in me. I think I do a lot of things pretty well, but they can always be better. Or maybe even changed all together for a superior idea. Plus, this crazy thing happened along the way – I became part of a community that was enriching, supportive, thoughtful, collaborative, and inspiring.

Along the way, Twitter happened. That group of edubloggers moved into this new realm, where the conversation expanded exponentially. Life and work pushed me away from regular blogging, but the community that I had come to rely existed in a medium that I allowed me to remain active on my own terms. While I crave reflective time to blog, I can always seek inspiration, ask questions, and participate in the ongoing discussion about the educational world in Twitter.

I think the benefits of opening yourself up and building a network of people that you can reach out to, is well worth the initial anxiety and apprehensions. Like most things in life, it is a process that takes time, but the rewards can change your life.