Jack West

Sequoia High School


I teach at a 2000 student public high school in Redwood City, Ca. Our population is as diverse as California itself. We are an IB school and a title 1 school. I have taught math, science, electronics, video production, and epistemology. Right now I am teaching mostly conceptual physics. My colleague and I intend to teach physics in a blended, one to one environment next year, and I would love to follow any teachers considering or already doing the same.

I teach: Physics, General Science, Math, Philosophy


November 12, 2012

I got the pocket edition of Minecraft for my son two months ago. He is 7. I would not consider myself a gamer, and am a bit concerned about whetting my son’s appetite for gaming too early. However, I got a great recommendation for Minecraft from a trusted source, so I took a risk. I am glad I did. My son loves it. I am satisfied that he is constructing, thinking, strategizing, and now he is even consulting the game wiki to figure out how to unlock more game capabilities. Awesome.

June 5, 2012

I just started using Youtube for schools through the ed.ted.com filter. Love it! The ed.ted.com filter allows you to flip the videos with discussion questions. The featured ed.ted.com vid's have multiple choice questions too, which would be better for self-assessment, but they have elected not to allow m.c. question creation for the youtube videos. Go figure.

I was skeptical that I would find anything useful. I was wrong. Every physics concept I searched had at least 10 relevant hits, and two decent videos (though they were mostly lecture). Check it out for sure.

April 26, 2012

Just spent my first day on GoSoapBox with two different classes of conceptual physics students, grades 9-12 in a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse public school. I checked out one of the schools rolling laptop carts for the day and every pair of students had a wireless connection from their desks. Normally, I would wait until I'd had more experience to write a review, but this can't wait. My students and I loved it.

From the teacher perspective, getting up and going is easy. It took me less than five minutes to understand the basic functionality and to begin creating my "event." The formative assessment polling is just like any other polling tool you find out there only GoSoapBox has cooler colors! The discussions function is my favorite. I post a question that goes beyond the multiple choice and kids have at it. I delete responses that are distracting in real time and I know who posted them (the names are anonymous between students, however). The social Q and A proved a little distracting for the students and they told me as much when I asked them to evaluate the tool, but I anticipate the distraction is largely due to the newness of the tool. I could really see the Social Q and A function working well in an asynchrous blended environment.

Students unanimously stated they preferred GoSoapBox to our old clickers. They had zero trouble following my directions and responding to questions in a timely fashion.

There are some things I would add to the tool. A default abcd or 1234 option for multiple choice questions qould be nice, instead of having to type that in every time. And an import function to bring in slide shows of questions would make this my new favorite tool. Maybe that already exists in the management dashboard? I'll have to take a look. In sum, I will be using it again.

April 23, 2012

Just visited this site for the first time, featuring some of the work of Bill Nye, and a blog of Bill Nye's current adventures. I was particularly interested in the videos for my physics class for two reasons. One, several of my students over the years have said that they like Nye's videos. Two, the videos are streamed here for free.

Similar to Brainpop, these videos have high entertainment value and are very short. Brainpop videos are about 5 to 10 minutes. These Bill Nye cuts are about 2 minutes. I certainly would not use these videos the way you would use Kahn or Braingenie – to thoroughly introduce a topic, but they might be an entertaining way to inspire interest in what your students are about to learn.

April 12, 2012

Your experience mirrors my own, Jennifer. When I started teaching in the late nineties, Dreamweaver was one of the only reasonable options. Since that time, many free, plug and play options have opened up for creating sites. I also migrated to Google sites for that reason. Recently, however, I have been getting frustrated with the limited functionality and control of the Google sites environment and have been considering a move back to Dreamweaver.

April 12, 2012

I share your frustration with the privacy settings, Jennifer. I certainly appreciate Google's concern with my privacy. However, I wonder if there is a way to set public sharing as a default? Maybe we can get some google apps people to weigh in here.

April 8, 2012

I have used Google sites as an interactive wiki in a small epistemology class – the capstone of the IB diploma. I would post a reading or a video and ask students to react in a structured way. Then, I encouraged them to comment on each other's work. This could certainly be done in any wiki tool, and there are other free tools as well, but I like to keep as many of my applications within my single sign-on of the Googleverse as I can.

I have attempted to use Google sites to create a class website and found it incredibly limiting. Even just organizing tables is a hassle. I began making class websites back in 2000 with Dreamweaver. The customization offered by many other website creators like Dreamweaver puts Google Sites to shame – but, hey, its hard to beat free!

March 5, 2012

I used to use google bookmarks, but they never developed it. After a little online review comparison with sites like tumblr, and delicious, I settled on diigo. I can only speak to the free version. Like any other bookmarking site, your bookmarks are available to you wherever you go. I particularly like the ability I have to mark things as 'read later.' This allows me to bookmark, but not read in the moment when I have less than full attention available. Diigo is social too, though I have yet to take advantage of it. I added powernote to my android phone and can bookmark anything from my phone. I can also take notes on my phone through powernote that will be stored in my diigo bookmarks.

I love being able to take notes on a given site directly onto the site itself. They are there when I return. I have not used this with students, but can see major potential here. I can make the notes public or private. I can send links directly from within diigo to friends through many different communication channels. This is a powerful tool and I am not even using half of its capabilities.

March 4, 2012

I downloaded MotionMath for my children's iPad. As I do with all educational apps on the iPad for my kids, I simply let them discover MotionMath on their own. Only, they didn't discover it. So, I pointed my seven year old to it. He enjoyed the fraction game with the bouncing objects for a few minutes, then lost interest. My impression from watching over his shoulder was that he was learning, and the game was appropriately adaptive, but the fun factor was limited. That is fine with me. Not all learning games need to be fun so long as they inspire real learning. I think this one does that, and the Gamedesk study of Motion Math done in SoCal corroborates this.

In sum, I think MotionMath is likely a good supplement to a basic math skills curriculum, but it may not be as sticky as the more immersive environments like Dreambox, Sokikom, and MangaHigh – and that's okay.

February 25, 2012

I have used Brainpop since they were in beta at the turn of the century. The videos are great filler when you under-planned a class by ten minutes. The characters are well targeted at the K-8 set, but my high school students still find it funny; maybe in the same sentimental way they find Dora and Boots funny. Anyway, I wouldn't put too much stock in Brainpop as anything but a conceptual introduction to a topic. The videos are very general, and sometimes have factual erros. But you gotta love Mobi's irreverent, robot humor.

February 25, 2012

Common Sense Media is a must bookmark for any educator that works in an environment where students have frequent access to digital content. Hmm.. Now that I have written that, it seems that would mean CSM is a must bookmark for all educators.

Their color coded, age rated reviews of movies, red for caution, green for go, help guide both parents and teachers on what may or may not be appropriate for children and adolescents. Their collection of digital citizenship resources can serve as both guide and curricular content for times when a teacher must address issues like cyberbullying, privacy considerations, and online preadators. These makers really care about mindful media consumption.

February 24, 2012

I am a wordpress fan, and use it for my own blog. I would not agree with their self-assessment that it is easy to use, however. Perhaps easy to get started, but mastering the full suite of tools at your disposal on the dashboard requires some skill and experience.

A better student blog tool might be google sites.

February 24, 2012

Look no further for your STEM content resources. Gooru has done the heavy lifting for you. Ednovo, a nonprofit incorporated to take Gooru out of it's 20% time birth at Google, is soon to become the world source of curated k12 STEM content.

Oh, and did I mention that it is entirely free! How do these people do it?!

February 24, 2012

Two words: awe – some! Educreations allows you to record presentations with your own guiding hand evident on the screen. Write and speak over images or on a blank screen and then play back your presentation, share it with your students, or with the world. You become Khan, but you don't need to become an expert with an artist's tablet. Any interactive whiteboard, iPad, or android tablet will allow you to do the same thing Khan does, only better becuase you can imbed images.

If you are lucky enough to have a one to one device classroom, put your students in charge of the presentations. Wow. talk about student engagement.

February 24, 2012

It feels silly to even write this review. Google docs has such widespread adoption by educators that writing a review for it is like writing a review for air or water. It is the ingress for most teachers to cloud computing. The simple interface allows an author to create any simple document they want with basic formatting. Sharing is simple and powerful. It makes asynchrous collaboration a cinch. I do have on pet peeve, however. If someone shares a document with you, there doesn't appear to be a way to get it out of your home menu. If many documents are shared with you, home gets pretty cluttered.

February 23, 2012

Wordle is an excellent alternative formative assessment tool. The interface is a bit clunky, but the end product is cool and can be insightful when you have a group of students writing about the same topic. For example, I want to know how kids think we get the seasons. I ask them each to write a paragraph and then I pump a few of them into wordle. The frequency of keywords is translated into size and color. The words 'close' and 'sun' appear the largest. This give me a clue about the misconception I need to address.

February 23, 2012

Love! Prezi breathes new life into presentations that the digital slideshow almost killed. Effective use of the tool, however, requires some study of best practices. Students using the tool for the first time are likely to create presentations that make you dizzy if they aren't trained on do's and dont's.

February 23, 2012

Lesson planning has moved into the cloud for my science department, and I frequently collaborate at night from home with my colleagues. Sharing a google doc is cool. Using a chat box can only take you so far, however. Sometimes you have to speak to each other if for no other reason than efficiency. Using google hangouts seemed like a nice free solution to this issue; particularly for multiple collaborators.

Unfortunately, both times I have tried it, the transmission was choppy. At least ten percent of my time was spent waiting to find out if my colleagues heard what I said. Sticking with Skype for now.

February 23, 2012

It has been several years since I used imovie as a video making teacher. Back then, before Apple made it work more like Final Cut Express, the functionality was limited, but the learning curve was not nearly as steep as it is now. It is still the gold standard for entry level video editing software, but I wouldn't try to use it without doing the tutorials first.

February 23, 2012

Agree. Some of the simulations even lend themselves well to a simulated experiment in which a student can track (usually by hand or on a separate spreadsheet) how a dependent variable is effected by an independent variable.

February 23, 2012

Starfall was the very first edtech tool I used with my own children. Their letter recognition interactive videos, and incipient reading games entertained both my son and my daughter. It is like "Old School Sesame Street," simple, slow moving, and full of bell-bottom jeans.

February 23, 2012

I have used pixlr when I needed to adapt an existing image for an instructional purpose. I found it simple to use. The exporting capabilities fit my needs. And hey, it's free!

February 23, 2012

Though I teach high school, I have subscribed my onw children, 5 and 7, to Dreambox. I facilitate their use of Dreambox on the weekends for about an hour. My 7 year old loves the adaptive challenges, and enjoys exchanging coins for game time. My 5 year old has a more difficult time focusing on the tasks and loses interest quickly, despite her apparent ability to handle the material. I am impressed with the simple analytics that give me a guage of student progress through common standards by grade level.

February 19, 2012

Hapara sits on top of Google Apps, and for $4 per student per year, provides teachers with all of the functionality of an LMS with the basic Google Apps functionality. Combine this with other edshelf tools and you have a complete LMS. It could even provide an online course teacher with the fundamental course management course structure that the teacher needs in that environment.

February 18, 2012

I have used this tool in every class I have taught. The videos have a consistent, and predicatble format. Each one is approximately 20 minutes long. They are all lectures in which the speaker introduces a novel idea or reviews the great work they are doing. Topics span the spectrum of humanity.

The maturity level of the content is high because of the sophistication of the language. Showing these to any class in grades 6-12 will need scaffolding. Probably over the heads of any k-5 class.