Dennis DiNoia of Mr.D Math, has been serving Sage Oak families for years! In this episode, Mr. D shares his personal stories about becoming a teacher, tutor, and business owner. He opens up about turning challenges into opportunities and credits many of his students for teaching him valuable life lessons.
Mr. D offers a wide variety of online courses to students including Math, American Sign Language, College and Career Readiness, and Music.
Mr. D Math Website
Thank you for listening to the Sage Studio podcast presented by Sage Oak Charter Schools and hosted by Tiffiny Webster, M.A.Ed. We invite you to follow the show and leave your review below. Sage Oak Charter Schools is an independent study nonclassroom based TK-12 personalized learning public charter school serving students in Southern California. Visit sageoak.education for more information.
Sage Oak Website
Welcome to another episode of Sage Studio. I'm Tiffiny Webster, and today I am thrilled to be joined by my guest, Mr. D. Mr. D, welcome to the podcast. Oh, yay, Tiffiny, Ms. Webster. I'm so excited to be here. This is going to be fun. Oh, it's going to be so fun. I love chatting with you. You always have so many great things to say. You always have so much going on with your programs. And I know that our families and our students who already know you are going to love this conversation as well, so that they can also hear. Everything that you've got going on. And if you are new to our Sage Oak community and you have not met the wonderful Mr. D, you are going to love this conversation as well. Mr.D has been one of our Sage Oak community providers for several years. He brings a lot of different courses. I'm going to let him talk all about that today, as well as the partnership that he started with Sage Oak this year, and then some new offerings that are coming up on the horizon. So, a lot to dive into for sure. Let's start first with your background as a teacher. Take us back to those days and tell us how this whole thing got started. Wow. Okay. Well, ready? Here we go. We're going way back 1988, right? So it's, yeah, 1988 is when I first started teaching. I was working in the public school system inFlorida. And and what's funny was inFlorida, you know, I was kind of a young hip dude, right? So, you know, so what do they do? So they send me out to this, it was a, it was a, they sent me to a school program that actually was for kids that were, it was their last stop. Yeah. Before they were kicked out of school. So it was a dropout prevention program. And back then in the day, they, you know,Florida was dealing with a pretty high dropout, dropout rate back in the late 80s. And so they were like, yeah, we're going to send you in. And it turned out they were the coolest kids ever. They were just so great. So I started, started working in this dropout prevention and they taught me so much. I mean, I think sometimes it's like our, our students are the ones that teach us how to be teachers. Right. And so, because these were not motivated young people, right. And they were 17, 18 years old. And this was like, they, you know, whether they graduate or not, it was kind of up to me. Like to kind of, yeah, this is a tough crowd. It definitely was. Actually I wrote a book a couple years ago, and I credit them with the beginning of the book because they taught me so much about what it was to be a teacher. And it was just really, really awesome. As, as a new teacher I wanted to work in the summers. And so the dropout prevention program said, Hey, It'd We got a great summer gig for you. And I was like, really? And I said, okay, well, what is it? They said, we're sending you to jail. What? Get out of here. Are you serious? Yeah. So yeah, the summertime I worked in the in the Juvenile detention center, right? And they had summer school for those for the people that were there. And so I got to work with them. Same thing. It was like, you know, these were kids that didn't want to be in school. For them going to school was kind of a privilege. Like, it was a way that they didn't have to be stay in isolation. Right? So they got to come out. So they, their, their behavior was really, really great. And they were really fun. They, you know, they, again, they were my teachers, right? And then from there, I ended up in a gifted program. So I, you know, I went from so for me, they're all gifted, right? Because, you know, I was working with a group of kids that were considered that dropout prevention group, but they were kind of gifted kids because they were into some cool stuff and they had some real talent, real talents that weren't necessarily The academic side, right? But they were in things and so I was always learning from them and we could take the academics and see how to apply it for them. And then in the gifted program, then it was just, you know, reverse of that. Right? But along the way I did what I did what most what most school teachers did that wanted to. Have a better income than the state ofFlorida was paying and that was I had my second job Right. So all along Math has always been something that people, you know, they they need help with and so so I started doing private tutoring And so I was running a tutoring company in addition to being a school teacher So I was doing that inFlorida as well So for me, it was like, that's how I got trained, really started to get trained in being a math curriculum person. So the students taught me how to be a teacher, when I was a middle school teacher or high school teacher, like I taught, you know, algebra one and geometry. All day long right middle school grade seven all day long, but in the tutoring business I was seeing first graders third graders fifth graders college students high school students. Oh my gosh, what a wide range Yeah, it was great, right? So I was seeing them all in fact, I took took count one time where we had the High school kids come in and there are all these algebra 2 kids that came in they came in five different schools five different textbooks five different teaching styles and i'm like home run for me because I was learning all of it. And so as I, I left that and I you know, and I, and I really kind of, I discovered really discovered the homeschool market. And this was now about, oh, about 15 years ago. And I was working with some homeschool kids and still doing tutoring. And one of the moms said to me, she said, man, she goes, you're so good at this. She said, why don't you just write your own book? And it's something I always wanted to do. So, fair enough. You know, I started thinking about it, right. And, you know, as we started to put our mind to something, things happen. Next thing I know, I find the technology to start doing videos and how to do that. And I, I had then got to practice a little bit with editing and I was like, okay, I can do this. So I started writing courses and that was in 2010 and it took about it took about five years to write the first five courses, right? So every year was a new course and it was a lot of work, but, but it was great. And then. I start doing the homeschool conventions, right? So one of the homeschool conventions, and I want to say this had to have been 2013, I wander into Ontario, California, and I'm at the homeschool convention, and I, I see all these banners for charter schools. And I was like, I don't even know what that is. Right? Right. And who do I meet? I meet Traci King. Right, Traci King, our high school principal. That's right. So, so we sit down and I see Sage Oak and she's got the T shirt on and I'm like, all right, Miss King, I don't even know what say what tell me about Sage Oak. So she kind of like, introduces me to the world of what charter schools do and how they work. And then, you know, and she says, well, what are you doing? I'm showing her our program. And I said, well, we have this math program. It's all digital. It's online. She goes, Oh, my gosh, she goes, all right, we'll just show me everything. Okay. And that actually, really Sage Oak was the first school that I got to start to work with. And that's why I just, you know, love, love working with you guys, because it's like, you know, kind of like you have that, that sweet spot, you know, for me. Yes, I love it. Yeah, that's kind of my story, you know, tutoring, I've been in math all this time. And but it was the tutoring business that really kind of got me schooled in math. And then when you write your own courses, you're learning again, because you have to really dig into, how am I going to say this in a way that it makes sense to everybody, not just me, right? Definitely. And I love that you went through that time of exploring and revisiting all of those different math curriculums and all of those different grade levels. I mean, to go from teaching those high school students all the way down to, those lower elementary grades, right? I think a lot of our parents could relate to that idea of like being at one level and having to start back over again when you are starting to work with your students. Yeah, I think what happens for people, because I know this was for me too, and I'm sure a lot of the moms that are doing like the, you know, they're doing their independent study, right? And they've got the older kids and younger kids. It's like, you start to see something an older kids doing. It's like, oh, my gosh, this is what the younger one needs to know. So that when they get, you know, the third grader needs to know this now, so that when they're in fifth grade or sixth grade, this is going to make more sense. And that was what always shaped me. It was like, I kept kept looking at, well, what's the future that these that the kids are moving towards? Yeah. What is it they need to know now so that when they get to what's going to get harder, what's going to make sense to them? So, yeah, that that's kind of shaped me all along. I love that. And I think that you know, that because you approach it with that philosophy, I think that that's why your courses resonate with our students and with our families is because I think they. Feel that one course leads them right into the next course and that the skills that they are gaining from you help prepare them for the next course. So that definitely is evident in your course structure. What grade levels do you really serve now on the website and on the courses that you offer online? So we're we're trying to be more vertical, right? So vertical, we started with where we were more like a seventh grade to 11th grade course. And so now we're more like fifth grade to 12th grade. So we start with a course called preparing for pre algebra, which can be taken around grade five or six. And then we go all the way up through calculus one now. So we've been adding vertically when I say vertically, like we go down a year, we go up a year. So now we kind of at the top of the up. So if we're going to add new courses, we might go down. But We're also kind of exploring and wondering into some different subject areas too. So, so that's been cool too. I love that. I love that you have all of those different. Topics that you are covering, and I want to get into that for sure. But one thing I want to touch on about your math courses that I think is really interesting is that you provide a couple different options. You have a live option. You have a self paced option. Tell me a little bit about the different styles of courses you offer. Absolutely. And we also have the Sage Oak option, right? Yeah, right. That's right. We continue to add members to the family. Right, right, right. So, so basically when I first started writing courses, my intention really was to create self paced courses where you know, basically I'm going to be in your living room talking to you by the video you know, providing instruction what we found out they wanted that time face to face and they wanted to see somebody and so realized that, doing that live option where we meet once a week. Our curriculum is the same either way But you can have that added once a week meeting with the, with the teacher in person where we're going to do the guiding. So it's more about the pacing. It's a little more fun because you're in a group and we're talking about doing some different examples together, but then you've got all of the curriculum and all the videos, which are still there. So that's part of our live classes. And it's like, you know, how can we make them engaging so that that the kids are interested and they want to be there and participate during that time. We're together. So that's that's the difference between the 2. and for some people, the self based option works better because they're busy. They're doing things and they're athletes or they're, you know, they're in the arts performing arts or their speech and debate or, you know, they've got all these different things going on. And so to where they're traveling and they've got to be somewhere that the live class isn't an option for them. Or, you know, we record it, but often, oftentimes they just want to, they've got two weeks, they're going to work on math for the next two weeks. They're not. So they can do the self paced version at their own pace and do that. And then this past year the staff at Sage Oak came and said, Hey, we want to try something new. And I was like, all right, well, what's that? And they said, well, we want to use our own teachers to teach a live course and then have our students do the course. And I said, absolutely. Of course, and then they said, well, will you train them? And I'm like, yeah, you better believe that. Yeah, absolutely. Right. Cause usually we want it. We wanted to have our materials still be represented the way that they were designed. So we met over the summer and we met with a group of new teachers who are just phenomenal. It was just so much fun to do that with them. And so this year the students can actually, if they're doing the live class, they're actually doing it with Sage Oak teachers. So that's been even better. And they've been learning even more about our curriculum this year. And as far as I can tell, it's gone really, really well for people. So it's been great. And here's how I know. Actually, I can say, I can't say as far as I can tell. Here's how I know it's been going well, because we had students that were doing classes with our regular Mr. D math team last year. And when they found out that they were going to do, you know, with different teachers, they were all like, we don't want to, right. I said, well, if it's not going well, I said, you can, you always can. You send us an email and tell us what's going on. Right. We haven't heard a peep out anybody. So no news is good news, right? Because if it wasn't going well, they would tell on you guys, right? Yeah, they would. Yes. You know, kids are very honest, even high school kids, probably even more honest. So right. Well, I think you must have trained them well in the Mr. D way and it translated and felt familiar and was in a style that that they could relate to and be successful with. So I think that's. That's probably why, which is great. Agreed. Absolutely. I think so as well. That's so cool. So students have, those different options. They can enroll in the courses that are there with the Mr. D staff. They can do a self paced course if that works better for them or for our Sage Oak students. They can also enroll in our own Sage Oak Mr. D courses. So that's it. Okay. So that's the math courses. Talk to me about some of the other course offerings because I know I've personally had my Sage Oak students that have taken other courses from you like sign language and college and career. So tell us about some of the other offerings that you have. Absolutely. Well, I'll start with the American Sign Language, because this is what's so great about it, right? We have some other courses, and our other courses that have been offered have literally grown up inside of our programs. So, our ASL teacher was a math student of mine when she was a teenager, right? Oh! How cool is that? I know, right? So, what was great, because she knew how we did our math courses, and , she went off to a university in Washington, D. C. that is the only university for for hearing impaired and for deaf. And so she went to school there to become a, to become an ASL teacher. And now she's working on her master's degree. So super cool. But when she was doing that, she started doing courses at her co op. And so she called me and she said, Hey, She goes, could I use your platform to put my, put my assignments on there and have kids be able to, you know, get our videos and we can set up the quizzes. Yeah, of course. Right. Well, little did we know that this was going to turn into a whole business for her. Right. And so, you know, that was that start off with this just small group of kids. It's now turned to ASL 1, ASL 2, ASL 3. She has a ASL immersion as well as an ASL class. That's for elementary school kids like our 4th and 5th graders. So if they're interested in learning American sign language, but it actually came from one of our math students who had this interest in going beyond and the platform from there. So even our our, we have a grammar class. Our grammar class was done by parents of our former math students. And so it's like, we just keep going economics class, same thing. It's by parent, I'm a former math student. So we keep going from there. And and you mentioned the college of career readiness for me, that's probably my favorite class that we have. And it's a class, that's a class that I made. But it's a, it's really like a leadership class for kids. So it's the class that's designed to help them prepare for college or prepare for business. Like, that's why we call it college and career readiness. Like, well, what is it that you're up to in your life and then where you're headed? And then, okay. So this is actually really cool. And you're part of this, you're part of the reason why this happened. So I have to tell you, this is really this is really going to be part of you. So we belong to a, to a group where we get to work with a lot of charter schools and they brought on this brought on this guy. His name is Brent Daniels and he does like Marvel, Marvel movie the audio for all the Marvel movie movies. He's doing some stuff like Netflix now, HBO. I mean, super cool guy. And he came on and he was on, he was talking about it and he played this video and in the middle of the video, there you are. Yeah. And you're talking about how he had done these assemblies with Sage Oak on music production. And I was just like, oh my gosh, so cool. So, so I called him and I had him do, he's done some assemblies for our students. And then I said to him, I said, Brent, I said, man, you should have a course for homeschoolers or for the people that do the independent study courses, like our charter school students. And. He said, well, he goes, really so we're getting ready to launch a course in music production that was made by Brent, but I really, it really came because I saw you in that video as a testimonial to how great his program was. And then I got to meet him and find out he really was awesome. Yeah, I am just so excited about this partnership between the two of you because I know you guys are both just dynamic individuals. But yes, we have had the privilege of having Brent on our Sage Stage which is our virtual guest speaker series that we host every Friday here at Sage Oak. And he is just such a phenomenal guest and he is so passionate about music. He's a lifelong learner and student of it. And he's always evolving and creating all this new type of music and he uses technology. And so I can only imagine you know, that the course that he's putting together for you is probably just as dynamic as he is. It is super cool. Yeah. So I like my 18 year old looked at it and he's just like this is cool, right? He's kind of like an 18 year old would say, right? So, yeah, I love this. Is this course going to be available to our Sage Oak students and other students this fall? Yep. So we're gonna, we're gonna release it in June actually. So it's coming out, we're going to release it. So we're getting ready to put out a big announcement and let people know about it. Yeah. That's so great. I mean, I will have to say, I think one of the things that that makes you and your business such a great match for Sage Oak is that our core values are so aligned. You know, at Sage Oak, we are constantly trying to grow and change and challenge ourselves with what's the, what's the next thing that we can do? How can we do something different? How can we do something better? How do we make, you know, another iteration of what's working? How do we bring more offerings to our students. And I know that you embody those same values as well. I mean, clearly from the continual list of courses that you are continuing to create and promote, and just the way that you have allowed the people and the students even that come through your program to grow and to try new things. And to even evolve those into courses for you. It's just, it's great to see that. And I think that's why there's such an alignment to your style and your personality and to our Sage Oak family. So I love seeing that. Oh my God, absolutely. Yeah. It's just, it's fun. It's like, you know, it's like, I've been, I've actually been going through this process of turning over a lot of the functions that I've always done. And so, and the book is all about being an independently responsible learner. So it was like, you know, so it's like being able to take 35 years of, of practice in education and turn it into a book has been just awesome. And when I say practice, it's been like, I've been the student of all of our students, right? Cause they just keep teaching me, you know, what it looks like. And so there was that, we started a podcast, we did that. And then we also started the CAASPP test prep program. And so, you know, we just keep looking at like, well, what else can we do? And where else can we make a difference for students? And we found that one of the things that was missing was test prep. We do SAT and ACT test prep, and I've always been big on test prep ever since I've been, ever since I've been in education. But we noticed that one of the things that we could actually make a difference in was giving test prep strategy. So it's not just like on the CAASPPtest on the cast. When you're taking the CAASPPtest, it's not so much about the content it's more about the strategies about how to take a test like that. And so we focused on the strategies and we partnered up with a, with a program that does the English language arts, the ELA program. And and they came in and they put together and kind of worked with them on this is what it should look like. And they did a great job. So we've got that available from grades 3 all the way up through 11. graders don't take the test, but they have that. And we're seeing that is something that now it's becoming popular. And then we decided this, this is something we're going to do this summer. And we're exploring gamification in that particular course about what it looks like to, how do you gamify a math course? And so that's what we're working on. Depending on how that goes with the, with the, with the test prep programs, we may be able to start to bring that into some of our math courses as well. So just, you know, it's just, it's just like the next fun thing that we're going to do. Oh, it's so fun. And again, too, I mean, that just speaks to that innovation side of you, that iteration, always coming up with something new. How can we make this more fun, more engaging, more meaningful to our students so that they can, you know, maximize Everything that the course has to offer. So I love to see that. How exciting. I know our students are going to love that piece, too. And I know, too, that a lot of our students had a chance to take that CAASPP course with you this semester, and they had a chance to use that for preparing for the CAASPP test. So, so awesome that you continue to have all these offerings. What else is happening this summer? So Brent's course is starting in June. Anything else coming up over the summer? Let's see. Well, a little bit of downtime. Nice. So summertime for us is we do a lot of conventions. In fact, we'll be back. Actually, we have one of our other teachers that's coming out to Ontario again. So they'll be in Ontario, California to come out to the convention where a lot of the charter schools come, homeschool families come. So, we've got a little bit of the whole, the the track this summer of going out and do some conventions and I'll be at a few this summer. And then the gamification process. So that's something that is going to take pretty much kind of a whole summer project of what we're working on. So we just put together a team of of young people and some of our staff members that you know, like, you know, our gamers, like we went out and found, okay, young people that are into gaming, like, okay, so if you were going to do a course and it was going to be a game, what do you want to see? And now we got to go back and apply that to our platform. So that's that's, that's going to be a full, a full summer project. Oh, sure. Yeah. That is a big undertaking. That's so awesome. Well, it's so great. I always love these conversations with you. You always have so many amazing things going on. I know that our families Definitely are walking away from this learning about some of the new things to look forward to with Mr. D and the courses that you're offering both on the website and through Sage Oak. So always good to know about what's on the horizon. I think our parents and our kids are really going to be interested in the gamification and Brent's courses coming up. So fun. So right. So much for sharing all of those great details with us. Always great to have you here and I can't wait to see what comes out of the summer. It's going to be a lot of fun. Me as well. We'll bring it at your way. So don't worry. It's it's coming. I love it. Thank you for being a blast. Always good to see you. All right. Take care. Bye Dennis.