What is a student tracker and how do I use it?

What is a student tracker and how do I use it?

When I started teaching in 1989, we didn’t have standards.  We had textbooks and the common sense we were born with to cover what we thought students needed to be successful in this world.  As an English teacher, I chose which books I wanted to teach.  I knew I needed to cover writing which included grammar, spelling, sentence structure, transitions, word usage, parallel structure, voice, and ideas.  I also knew I needed to cover both fiction and non-fiction comprehension.  To assess student learning, I created quizzes and tests that usually had fill in the blanks, short answer, and essay questions.  I didn’t assess by standard.  I didn’t know to make sure my assessments were balanced with a fair amount of questions to assess each skill I had taught.  Basically, it came down to whether students remembered what I had said and whether they could imitate what I had shown them.  My teaching was teacher centered.

Fast forward 30 years.  We now have standards telling all teachers what a student needs to know on a continuum from K-12.  We have No Child Left Behind which focuses on the collection of data and the proof of growth.  We also have competency-based learning and personalized learning along with Project Based Learning and blended learning to name a few.  What all of these learning methods have in common is the tracking of student progress.

While working with a high school, our focus was on students tracking their own mastery as a boost to student agency and ownership. Setting up a tracker is easy if you base it on standards.  Below are trackers I created for my teachers who were using USA Test Prep, a software system that both teaches and assesses and works quite nicely as a complement to classroom teaching. (Disclaimer: I do not work for or get any compensation from USA Test Prep.) Spreadsheets are best to use for creating trackers because they are already set up in a grid system.  You can choose to have students run horizontally or vertically with the standards and indicators running perpendicular to the students.

The trackers below are for a wall and could be used for celebrations instead of the long-held belief that they are for shaming. If we celebrate every student who shades in a block to show mastery, every student will want to shade in another block.  If used as a positive, community-building chart, tracking data can be powerful.

Another way we can use the tracker for community-building is for helping one another.  From this tracker students know to whom they can turn if they haven’t mastered a standard yet. If I am a student struggling with standard 6.1 Theme, and I see three other classmates who have mastered it, I can ask them to explain it to me.  Sometimes, students communicate better to one another. It definitely helps if the teacher schedules community time and encourages students to seek and give help as needed.

Sample Student Trackers

English 2 EOC Skills Student Tracker

Student tracker for English 2

English 2 Student Progress Tracker

Algebra I Skills Student Tracker

Algebra I student tracker.

Algebra I Student Progress Tracker.

Biology Skills Student Tracker

Biology student tracker.

Biology Student Progress Tracker.

US History and Constitution Skills Student Tracker

US History student tracker.

US History & Constitution Student Progress Tracker

Within USA Test Prep, there is a Student Dot Rank, which tracks mastery of skills within specific categories like assessments or within all categories including games and activities.  Green=80%+ mastery, Yellow=60-79% mastery, and Magenta=1-59% mastery.  Here is an example of what you will see:

Software programs that help track mastery are a blessing because they are able to track amounts of data that humans could never track manually.  However, it is possible to track data without the aid of a software program. That topic will be covered in my next blog, so stay tuned.

If you are tracking student data and have questions or tips to share, please use the comments area below.  Also, feel free to contact me directly for a conversation about student skills tracking. This is an area that many of us can still grow in.

If you are interested in receiving a copy of any of the trackers, please click below on the respective trackers.

HS Biology
Algebra I
English 1
US History

Free Background Remover to Improve Green Screen and Presentations

Free Background Remover to Improve Green Screen and Presentations

Are you curious about green screening?  Do you lose too much time looking for the just-right graphic to work in presentations for teachers and students? Me, too!   All too often, I find a graphic that I like; however, it has a colored background on it.  Why is this a problem?  Check out the image below: a soft yellow background with an hour glass for time.  That blue square around the hourglass is ruining the look.  Yellow slide with hourglass set in a blue square.   Thankfully, I don’t need to worry about it anymore and neither do you.  I recently discovered remove.bg, a site that removes backgrounds for free. Neither you nor your students need to create an account, so you don’t have to worry about data collection on your students or whether or not this is a 13+ app. Here’s what the site looks like.  
            Notice the drag and drop or upload feature on the opening page. While there is a Login/Sign up button in the top right, this is not necessary to use the site. If you do not login, your picture will not be saved and will only be downloaded to your device.  

Before and After

When I drag my hourglass image anywhere onto the webpage, it automatically removes the background for me. I didn’t have to do anything else. The simplicity of this site makes it usable by K-4 students through adult. This is what I see after the site does its job.  Remove.bg removed the blue background leaving the transparent checked background.
Remove.bg results window showing before and after backgrounds.


What If Too Much or Not Enough is Removed?

If I am happy with the image, I can download it. If too much or not enough of the image is erased, I can hit the Edit button. Once in the edit window, I can choose the thickness of my tool, choose erase or restore, and work to make the image exactly what I need. Here is a view of the edit window in Restore.bg. With a simple swipe of the restore tool, I restored the bottom background and word “hourglass.”  
Remove.bg edit window showing restore feature.
Here is a view of the “Erase” choice in the edit window. Notice how I was able to erase the orange sand in the top half of the hourglass.  
Remove.bg edit window showing erase feature.

Final Product

Now, I can insert the transparent background image to my slide for a much more professional look.  
Final slide with transparent background image. Slide with transparent image background.
  Technology is becoming more and more user friendly. This is especially important for teachers in the classroom who want to increase creativity without sacrificing time from content.  

Green Screen

If you are wondering whether this software removes backgrounds for green screening, it most certainly does. Check out this selfie with my living room in the background. Now I can embed myself into any digital environment available to me.    
Before and after photos removing background.
Here I am in someone else’s graduation photo!Selfie overlaid onto someone else's graduation photo.
Here I am in a background from remove.bg!
Selfie overlaid onto space background.
    Please, leave a comment letting me know what you think of this free graphics tool. If you use it yourself or with students, please stop back and let us know in the comments section, or post it on social media and tag me at @EFPTech and/or @CultivateLearn. Enjoy!  
How Is It Possible That AP Students Hate Learning?

How Is It Possible That AP Students Hate Learning?


If you don’t know me personally, you might not know: I am insatiably curious.  I love learning. I always have and hope I always will. Imagine my shock and surprise when 3 of my 4 children revealed that they hate learning.  I think appalled better describes the emotion I felt. How is it possible that people in general but more specifically people with my DNA do not like learning?  I turned to my husband with a quizzical if not disgusted look on my face. His nonchalance, and perhaps lack of eye contact, let me know everything I needed to know.  He didn’t like learning either. What?!!?? Say it isn’t so!!!

What does a person do with information like that?  I know my kids are bright. They have all honors and AP courses.  Don’t AP students do so well because they love learning?  Apparently not.  Child #3, my daughter, is the one who told me. Get this…she wants to be a molecular biologist.  What does she have, at least a bachelor’s and master’s degree looking her in the face? How can those two things co-exist?  How can a person hate learning AND want to be a molecular biologist at the same time?

I thought about it for days.  It probably kept me up at least one night trying to work out the logic if any existed.  Here’s what I came up with: my daughter (and 2/3 of my sons) doesn’t like learning things she doesn’t find interesting or important.  That I can accept. That I can work with.  How does she do so well in school?  I don’t know.  Maybe she has a photographic memory; maybe she is really good at memorizing (yes, sadly, many AP courses are 80% memorization); maybe she has figured out the system.  I can’t explain it.  Really, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that my children are spending at least 60% of their lives doing things they hate.

Reacting Like a Teacher

Now, how does that affect my teaching?  Having children has made me a better teacher than my 29 years in the classroom.  Everything my students couldn’t reveal my children have. My students probably thought it wouldn’t be wise to let me know they didn’t like learning.  What high schooler wants to be honest with a teacher about that? My own children, though, know they can be honest, and I will still love them. Of course I would have still loved my students, but they couldn’t be sure of that.  I get it.

For too many years, I did not realize that who-knows-how-many of my students did not like learning as much as I did.  As an English teacher, I would geek out over clever wording, powerful passages, rhyme and rhythm, plot twists. The list goes on and on.  Thankfully, my students did not deflate me by telling me they hated literature. Maybe they felt sorry for me or didn’t want to hurt my feelings or didn’t care enough to bring it up.  Am I better off knowing it or not knowing it?

Hmmmm.  I don’t know how things would be different had I known.  At that time, I knew that most kids didn’t like literature and writing.  That, I was okay with because I figured I could help them like it because I loved it.  I figured they didn’t like it because they didn’t feel confident at it, or maybe someone had turned off their love for it, and I was the one challenged with turning it back on. Or maybe they couldn’t relate to it, and I could help bridge the divide or connect the dots.  Sure, there were some students who were unreachable. They didn’t bring anything to the table, and we all know the “lead a horse to water” adage. However, I did get some kids to smile and laugh during class. I even heard the holy grail of teaching, “Wow! That class went fast!”

What Would I Change?

If I could do it all over again, would I change anything?  Of course!!! My teaching changed daily based on new findings from that day.  I was the crazy teacher who couldn’t use the same lesson plan twice because I saw flaws in it while teaching it, my students had changed, it was a different time of year, we had covered different texts that applied better in comparison.  You name it, my brain is always churning trying to find a more efficient and more effective way to teach kids. What I wouldn’t change is the believe that everyone has the capacity to love literature and writing.  I would not label anyone with a can’t-do label.

What does all of this boil down to?  Get to know your kids. Assume nobody thinks the way you do or values the things you value.  Don’t let it get you down. Use the information to make yourself a better, more effective, more powerful teacher.  Believe in every kid.  Why? Because the kids deserve it.

You can do it.  Now, go out there, and conquer that classroom!

Changing Climate and Culture Building-wide

Changing Climate and Culture Building-wide

As a coach assisting teachers with technology integration and personalized learning, I notice patterns arising from teacher to teacher.  One pattern that I have noticed is that a teacher, no matter how strong he/she is, hits a wall whether earlier or later when it comes to progressing to the next level.  In every situation in my experiences, the reason is the same: absence of climate and culture.  Although I didn’t see it early on, I see it clearly now. The importance of climate and culture in a classroom and across a school are imperative to positive technology integration, personalized learning, and empowered learning. In this post, I share my experiences and ideas for how to improve climate and culture both in the classroom and across a school.

Climate & Culture at the Classroom Level

Students need to a non-threatening method to measure their behavior. This is a sample Code of Cooperation Rubric.How a person feels is paramount to achievement because if a person does not feel safe, appreciated, or successful, he likely will not be motivated to work hard.  He will not want to come to school at all let alone spend 6-8 hours there. On the flip side, a person who feels appreciated and feels success will work harder to continue feeling successful.  It is a cycle that can be reset, and some schools are already trying to do that through PBIS and Capturing Kids’ Hearts. However, that is not enough. Students must feel that they are part of a classroom family and a larger school family.  They need to feel responsible for the successes and failures in the classroom.  One successful catalyst to changes in student behavior and empowerment is the Code of Cooperation as seen in the sample above.  Self-control, organization, accountability, and respect are four powerful pillars to start from.  Students are tasked with self-reflection and self-evaluation. Even the youngest learners can be successful doing this. Even the youngest of learners can self-reflect and self-evaluate.

In addition to the Code of Cooperation, students often need to drill down and work on respecting one another.  Often, they need to learn how to speak to one another politely and have civil discourse in a safe environment. Classroom teachers can help facilitate that through the introduction of sentence stems, blogging, and Socratic seminars.  With the opportunity to use positive sentence stems, students can change the climate and culture in their schools, and this should be celebrated! (More on that here.)

Goal Setting

Classroom Code of Cooperation as a first step to positive classroom climate and culture.

In addition to treating one another with respect, each person should be celebrated at his own level with high expectations in place. Expectations is a generic term that encompasses so much: behavior, soft skills, achievement, etc.  How can we do that with so many different levels in our classes? The answer is by personalizing learning and allowing students to set goals for themselves. As with yoga, we all start in different places, and we grow at our own pace. For too long, students have been passive learners sitting and getting instead of digging in and getting their hands dirty.  Making decisions is a skill of which we have deprived our students. Ownership in learning is key to academic and personal growth. This can be accomplished through student goal-setting, tracking, and reflection. Too often, students don’t know where they stand in a class because the teacher controls the grade. What if the student decides what his goals for the class are based on his long-term goals for his life? What if students are given time to reflect upon their learning, failures, and successes? Ownership provides students the opportunity to care about, get involved in, and be active in their own growth.

Ownership goes beyond the individual as well. There are rules and SOPs in a full school that contribute to culture. How schools deal with behavioral issues is changing. Research shows that many behavior problems are merely reactions to boredom or frustration.  The former, boredom, arises when students are not being challenged. As a result, they act out. At the classroom level, personalized learning, which is not possible without positive climate and culture, encourages a student to set his own goals for achievement and move at his own pace, thus mitigating boredom. The latter, at the other end of the spectrum, reflects the low-skilled student who feels so overwhelmed and frustrated because of skill gaps.  At the classroom level, the incorporation of blended and personalized learning is key to filling these gaps. Students are allowed the time needed to master a skill with support during station rotation or targeted instruction. However, climate and culture within the classroom are not enough.

Administrators Supporting Climate & Culture


How do positive classroom changes extend into the full school?  Sometimes students make bad choices and are not focused on their personal learning goals.  Some student actions will warrant and office referral. How are they dealt with there? Are classroom teachers 100% responsible for climate and culture.  The answer, obviously, is no. So how does an administrator contribute to climate and culture? What if student goals are reviewed during disciplinary discussions?  What if someone takes the time to talk the student through how his actions are affecting his attainment, or lack thereof, of his goals? What if the student owned his actions and tried to decide whether he wanted to avoid the situation in the future and work to develop a coping mechanism for future incidents?  This would take goals to a whole new level and deal with a student more holistically and on a personalized level. There would still be consequences, and the student would be involved in a fair, transparent process.

Leading By Example

Using Twitter to praise growth.

A vital factor to all-school change is the administration.  In business, the people at the top sell the product by their enthusiasm and belief in the product, not by ordering everyone else to walk the walk.  As a result, the administrative team must be trained and believe in the change and walk the walk. Training admins in climate and culture and having them set goals empowers them to lead by example.  

Initiating Change

As a leader interested in changing the climate and culture in your school, here are some steps you can consider trying out:

  1. Create a tool to measure success before you start, i.e. backward design. Get feedback from teachers and admin to identify the change you want to see.
  2. Present the WHY with examples behind building a school-wide climate and culture that promotes student ownership, agency, and empowerment to all schools.  WIIFM: What’s In It For Me is important to stress at this stage.
  3. Poll teachers and admin to measure interest and create a pilot or cohort group to support for the year.
  4. If you are a district leader, target schools that show interest in modifying school-wide climate and culture.  
  5. Create a focus group made up of the schools with the most interest.
  6. Create a Climate and Culture Team at each school made up of teachers AND administrators who are invested and passionate about creating change.
  7. Create school-wide initiatives with the Climate and Culture Team coupled with classroom initiatives to be shared with the faculty throughout the year.
  8. Use the train-the-trainer model and give intense training to building-level instructional coaches who will be available for support, too.
  9. Track data all year with celebrations and share outs.  Recognition and healthy competition are true motivators.
    1. Digital Badging 
    2. Professional Development Bingo boards for freedom to jump in at your own level (see below)
    3. Incentives at each grade or building level

Professional Development Bingo Board

Providing Support

As society moves forward with technology in the 21st century, we in education need to lasso the opportunities available for support.  Here are some ideas for how technology can help us help ourselves:

  1. Virtual trainings and webinars – you can create screencasts for asynchronous trainings that can be uploaded to EdPuzzle.com with multiple choice questions, comments, and thought questions embedded. EdPuzzle also allows us to track who has watched the video and evaluate their answers
  2. Teachers can videotape events in their room to share with support leaders or the Culture and Climate Team for analysis and debriefing
  3. Teachers can be coached virtually via Google Hangout or InMeetings.com
  4. Travel for teachers can be minimized by holding online meetings or webinars for teachers to share out their questions and successes
  5. Like students, teachers would set goals for themselves dealing with climate and culture and how they relate to achievement and behavior. The measurement tool will come in handy here, so teachers can measure their growth.

Scaling Out Positive Climate and Culture 

As you try to scale out the positive changes you see, be aware of the business model dealing with adopters: Innovators, Early Majority, Late Majority, Laggards. Use this model to avoid getting discouraged.  Figure out where each person in your school falls, and pull them onboard based on his/her category. Round one participants are the Innovators: not afraid of change, like to be first to try out new things, adaptable and open personalities. As they share their successes, the second level adopters will encompass the Early Majority: those who want to know it works and need a purpose for change.  This group will be larger than the first, so additional support & resources will be needed. The third level/year will encompass the Late Majority: those who want the kinks ironed out for them and want to be absolutely sure this is not just another “flavor of the year” that will be gone in 2 years. The final group (year 4) consists of the Laggards who will either retire, leave education, or adopt only when forced.

Change is difficult for most people, and education seems to draw that personality; however, teachers historically will do anything it takes to help their students.  If you can make this change about the students and not about referrals or school report cards, it will work. If you want your teachers to create a student-centered atmosphere in their classrooms, you need to revamp everything you do at at your level.  If you do that well, the rest will follow.

7 Steps to Stronger Student Collaboration Activities

7 Steps to Stronger Student Collaboration Activities

If you are trying to encourage collaboration in your classroom and are having trouble, read on.  You will see 7 steps that will help you build stronger student collaborators in collaboration activities.

What’s All the Hubbub?

Why is collaboration such a big deal all of a sudden?  Everybody wants to collaborate: songwriters, businesses, school districts, teachers, and now students.  What is it, and what, if anything, is its importance?

Well, as it turns out, collaboration boosts creativity and thinking.  Teamwork works for big jobs and also for small jobs.

According to P21.org,

“The ability to work in teams is one of the most sought-after skills among new hires, yet research suggests that students may not be graduating with the level of skills needed to succeed on the job.”

That’s reason enough for me to start incorporating collaboration into my classes to allow my students the opportunity to practice and attain those collaboration skills.

New Information

For two years, I encouraged collaboration in all of the classes with which I worked.  After awhile, I started to wonder whether all the work to set up collaboration was really that important.  Then I was present for a presentation by Anthony Kim of Ed Elements.  In that presentation, Kim shared some data with us from John Hattie’s Visible Learning.  What caught my attention and subsequent dedication to collaboration is the graphic below.  

John Hattie's Visible Learning Growth Chart

Taken with permission from Anthony Kim’s presentation. @anthonx

In it, Hattie shows that 0.40 is the effect size for one year’s growth.  The highest growth effect comes as a result of … you guessed it, peer collaboration and discussion coming in at a whopping 0.82!

That means that, according to Hattie, peer collaboration and discussion result in students learning more than twice what they would learn in a traditional classroom with a traditional teacher.  Even more than differentiation and immediate feedback.  

That’s worth restating.  Peer collaboration and discussion result in students learning twice what they would learn in a normal year’s growth.

Whoa!  That’s amazing!   With growth like that, we should all be collaborating and discussing all day long, right?

Were We Successful?

Well, my teachers and I worked on collaboration in our classrooms.  We learned about, planned out, tried out, and reflected on blended learning station rotation that required a collaboration station.  The results were very telling.

At our end-of-the-year meeting we reported out our findings.  Of our group, 95% said that the collaboration station was the least successful.  Upon reflection, here’s what we surmised: students don’t need just the opportunity to collaborate; they need to be taught how to collaborate well.

 How Can We Improve Collaboration?7 Steps to Building Better Student Collaborators

All summer I thought about why we failed and how we could succeed.  I knew there had to be a way to teach students how to collaborate well, and I processed and researched and finally put together this infographic called “7 Steps to Building Student Collaborators” (see right) for teachers to follow as a scaffold for building strong collaborators.  As everything else in education, this is a work in progress, so please try it out and send me some feedback to improve it for all who might happen upon it and try it out. Here is a detailed description to help you get started.  As it is a progression, feel free to jump in wherever makes the most sense for your students.

Step 1: Begin with open-ended discussion questions for the students to process their thoughts.  Google Classroom is a great tool for this because the answers to Classroom discussion questions are hidden until after a student submits his/her answer.  No copying, folks.  What you see is what you get.  Set the settings to allow students to respond.  (This allows them to see other’s answers).  However, you must go into the Student section and change the rights to “Only teachers can post or comment.” (see graphic) You want this because in step 2 you have to teach your students how to write an appropriate response to a post.

Step 2: Teach students what makes an appropriate, well-written response to a post.  To do this, share How-To videos 1 and 2 below and Accountable Talk/Moves charts like the one below that demonstrate well-written responses, and practice, practice, practice.  Maybe your students could be empowered to create their own video, blog, vlog, or infographic for others to use.


Step 3: Give students the opportunity to practice using accountable talk (found here and here), and practice responding as a whole group to one another’s posts in Google Classroom.  As a modeling exercise, the teacher will type the responses as the students formulate them together.  You can start out whole group and move toward small groups formulating responses as one entity.  There are plenty of apps to assist you.  Socrative allows students to post their answers and then vote on the best one.  Google Classroom allows teachers to post a discussion question for group responses with only one person per group submitting a response.  A shared Google Doc with a table can be used to share out the final group responses.  A shared Google Drawing can be used with post-it note style text boxes for each group to claim and fill.  Please know that once is not enough.  Students need the opportunity to practice, practice, practice.  Once you are confident that students know how to write group responses, change the Google Classroom settings to “Students can post and comment.”  This will open up discussion questions for peer response.  Once you feel confident that students understand the phraseology in writing, you need to transition to verbal responses.

Step 4: Move to an on-the-spot, think-fast, response system that requires accountable talk or sentence starters.  Socratic seminars are just the activity for this.  If you are not familiar with Socratic seminars, they are basically student-led discussions with the requirement that everyone has to contribute something to the discussion.  The teacher is responsible for formulating questions that are open-ended and draw out student interpretations that should then be supported with text or some other data.  Great Book, Junior Great Book Shared Inquiry discussions, and Fishbowl discussions are similar to a Socratic seminar.  It doesn’t matter what system you use as long as students have to piggyback on one another’s responses.  This is where the accountable talk comes in. It gives students the phraseology to have civil agreement and disagreement.  It also encourages deeper inquiry instead of superficial analysis of a topic.

Step 5: Now that students are becoming comfortable with more academic phrases and sentence starters as a whole group with teacher monitoring, it is time to set them into small groups to monitor themselves.  Create simultaneous small groups each with the same task: run your own Socratic seminar or Great Books discussion for shared inquiry.  Formulate starter questions as a whole group or as small groups, and then share out before beginning the activity.  Formulating questions is a skill that our students could practice more.  Scaffold here as needed.

After the activity, debrief and give students time to reflect upon what went well and what could be improved.  Practice these small group synchronous discussions a few more times until you and they feel confident that they could monitor themselves completely during a station rotation class period.  It’s now time to move toward asynchronous collaboration.

Step 6: Today is the big day!  Your students should be better prepared to rotate into a collaborative station without needing your help.  This is a huge accomplishment and should be celebrated by you and your students!  Your job is to create 3 or more stations: Independent, Collaborative, Teacher Directed.  If you are not familiar with Blended Learning Station Rotation, check out Blended Learning Universe through the Christensen Institute.

Step 7: Finally, take time to allow students to reflect on the experience.  Debrief with them to get their feedback, so together you can build a better station rotation each time.

Reflection Tools: Journal, blogs, Google Classroom, Google Forms, Think-Pair-Share, ClassKick, Nearpod, Seesaw, Vocaroo, audio recorder, video recorder, Screencastify, etc.

The Power of Feedback

If you are ready to try collaboration with your students, please try out this scaffold and send me some feedback.  I’d love to hear about your successes as well as your recommendations for how, together, we can make this process better.  It’s all about the collaboration, right?

Here is the infographic in case you’d like to print it out.

Virtual Coaching Helps Build Relationships

Virtual Coaching Helps Build Relationships

There is only so much time in a day for teachers and instructional coaches, and with emails, meetings, and traveling, the time to actually meet with teachers is whittled down. So what are some tricks to coaching teachers long-distance? Have you thought about virtual coaching to need your teachers consistently and in a timely fashion? Using the tech tools to coach teachers virtually makes perfect sense.

Google Hangouts Enable Virtual Coaching

Use Google Hangouts to enable virtual coachingThe most obvious tool is Google Hangout to meet with teachers without having to travel to see them. Scheduling your time and sticking to it is going to be the most important factor. If the person isn’t at her desk to pick up, the meeting will never happen. For this, I recommend getting the teacher’s number to text her to make sure she is ready for the hangout.

You have to find a quiet place to hold the hangout. If you have an office, you’re all set.  However, if you travel among multiple schools, Starbucks and Barnes & Noble probably wouldn’t work.  Instead, try to schedule an empty conference room in the office or media center.  The first few Hangouts are a little awkward; neither one of you wants to see your own face or hear your own voice.  But don’t let that stop you. After a while, you will both get used to it and will figure out what works best for you.

Google Classroom

A second simple way to coach teachers virtually is to register in their Google Classrooms as a student and stalk them (not in a weird way). Do NOT turn off your notifications. Yes, your inbox will fill quickly as teachers use Classroom more and more; however, you have a birds-eye view of all of the activities teachers are doing via Classroom.

As you see the titles pop up in your inbox, click on the ones that catch your attention.  Dig in, and read the directions. What better way is there to evaluate an activity. You can quickly see where it falls on the SAMR scale, whether it encourages the 4 Cs, whether it incorporates authentic learning, blogging, encourages innovation, etc.

I use Classroom to communicate directly with the teachers by posting a private comment right in the assignment window. It’s fast and direct.  If it is something that might help another teacher, I ask permission to share the idea.  Most teachers are so thrilled and flattered that something they created is good enough to share; I have yet to be denied the request.

Here is an example of a reflection exercise posted by one of my teachers in her English 3 classroom.  As you can see, I posted a comment reflecting how impressed I was and asking for permission to share it.  She communicated right in the same window.  You can see from her response that she was flattered by the compliment and that she gave me permission to share it out.

Google Classroom Assignment

Building Relationships Through Virtual Coaching

Teachers who have support and collaboration are much more creative and content in the classroom.As a coach, building relationships is foundational, so be careful only to post positive remarks. Can you imagine how uplifting it would be to get an unsolicited, positive comment about one of your activities in your inbox? You can also use your positive comments as a reason to meet. What teacher does not want to spend a little time with someone with good things to say who builds them up.

At the same time, can you imagine how blindsided you would feel if a coach left a negative comment in your Classroom?  If someone did that to me, I would remove her immediately from my Classroom roster.  If you see something that concerns you, save it for your in-person discussions.

As things get more and more busy with your schedule and theirs, be creative in ways to reach your teachers. Coaching teachers virtually some of the time is a win-win situation.

The Evolution of an Authentic Activity

The Evolution of an Authentic Activity

Being a teacher can be stressful and time-consuming!  When I was in the classroom teaching 4th-graders through 12th-graders, I wanted to make every lesson important and effective. Doing something new was important to me because I bored easily, and my students did, too.  I was not the type of teacher who could use the same lesson year after year or even period to period.  

Analysis and reflection are important parts of being an effective teacher.  Sometimes our lessons are a huge success; other times, our lessons fall short or are complete failures in our eyes. As I completed lessons, I would reflect on what worked and what could be improved, and I applied what I learned as soon as possible.

Why do teachers put so much pressure on themselves to have the perfect lesson on the first go round?  The following shows the growth of an activity that was good in its first iteration and grew and improved with each iteration into an amazing, powerful, authentic activity.  If you want to grow with the lesson, read on.  If you are really only interested in the final project, jump to the third take.  Either way, be confident that your lessons can grow and improve with each iteration.  As you read along, pay close attention to how real-world involvement and application grow with each iteration.

Authentic Activity: Take 1 

Setting the Scene

The teacher is Ms. Heyward.  The class is English 4: British Literature, and students are mostly seniors with a few juniors sprinkled in. Paradise Lost by John Milton is the literary work of study.  Students will participate in a mock trial to put the characters of Paradise Lost on trial. Students choose which group they want to belong to: 1) characters/actors in the live trial, 2) defense team, 3) prosecution team, and 4) news media.  Each group is responsible for knowing his/her role whether it be developing a character from the story or becoming a lawyer or media blogger.  

The judge listens as the prosecution questions the witness, God.

The judge listens as the prosecution questions the witness, God.

This authentic activity includes the trial of Eve for the fall of man.

Eve is sworn in before being questioned regarding her involvement in the fall of man.

Increasing Collaboration

The concept of a legal team was daunting because only one or two lead lawyers were needed.  To include all members, each team developed a research team responsible for digging into the text and researching things on the spot.  The presence of iPads made using a back channel as a collaboration tool possible; the back channel used was Today’s Meet.  The research teams used it to feed questions and information from the story to their team’s lead lawyers to support the questioning and cross-examination of witnesses.  Everything occurred in real time, on the spot.  You either were prepared or you were not.  There were no re-dos.

This authentic activity revolves around the trial of Satan and his involvement in the fall of man.

Satan is cross-examined by an attorney.

This authentic activity involves defense and prosecuting attorneys in a mock trial.

An attorney for the defense returns to his seat after questioning a witness.

To include more students in the process, there were three media teams tasked with reporting and blogging in the style of three major news outlets: NPR, CNN, and Fox.  Understanding political bias came into play with a review of powerful propaganda words.  A Google Original site was created for each class (see them here: period 1 and period 3) documenting the project.  

Student Engagement

In preparing for the mock trial, students knew they had a responsibility to their team.  The actors had to know their storyline, the legal teams had to know the characters’ stories inside and out, and the media teams had to cover the events in the room while writing in the style of their specific news outlet.  There was not a student in the class whose job did not matter.  Engagement was high, and students left the room talking about the experience.  The use of an authentic activity raised the level of engagement and understanding.

Authentic Activity: Take 2 

Activity Edits

A real judge presides over the authentic mock trial.

A real judge presides over the authentic mock trial.

Fast forward 2 more semesters.  Ms. Heyward saw an opportunity for growth and improvement. In an attempt to make the activity more authentic, she brought in real lawyers to train the students in actual trial proceedings and booked a journalist who recently covered a high-profile trial as a guest speaker to share her insights with the class.  Ms. Heyward also booked a real judge to oversee the trial and had 12 adult jurors from the community serve, deliberate, and assign a verdict.

There was much excitement as the trial date approached.  Students worked on their teams to prepare.  Witness statements were taken, pre-trial hearings were held to determine what will and will not be admissible in court.  Arguments were developed.  Media teams created their own mock news sites and started blogging.

The Big Day

For this authentic mock trial, a 12-person community jury is sworn in.

For this authentic mock trial, a 12-person community jury is sworn in.

The prosecution worked collaboratively to prove guilt.

The prosecution worked collaboratively to prove guilt.

Each attorney is trained in how to properly address a judge in court.

Each attorney is trained in how to properly address a judge in court.

This authentic activity has a bailiff to swear in each witness.

This authentic activity has a bailiff to swear in each witness.

Finally, the big day arrived.  The Media Center was reserved, increasing the feeling of authenticity.  A table at the front was reserved for the bailiff, judge, and witness box.  The jury sat to the right of the judge with the Defense and Prosecution teams sitting opposite the judge and the news outlet teams behind them.  It was very exciting.

Witnesses were sworn in, attorneys stood to address the judge and question witnesses, jury members sat stone-like listening to the proceedings as Eve, Satan, God, the Son of God, and even Sin were called to the stand, sworn in, questioned, and cross-examined. Finally, it was time for the jury to deliberate.

Jury Deliberation

The 12-person jury deliberated in a private room to decide the fates of Satan and Eve.

The 12-person jury deliberated in a private room to decide the fates of Satan and Eve.

As one of the jurors, I can tell you we had a tough time agreeing upon a verdict. Assumptions were made and called out, outside information was brought up and disregarded.  We had to focus only on what was said in the courtroom.  Information we wanted had not been sought by attorneys, so we did not have the information we needed to find both defendants guilty.  Upon returning to the courtroom, the jurors stated the verdict, and the judge took one guilty defendant into custody.  Before wrapping up, the jurors were asked to share their experiences deliberating over the fates of two people.  It was important that  the students see and hear the points that jurors disagreed over, questioned, and finally voted on.


In debriefing after the activity, Ms. Heyward and I found the following strengths:

  1. Each student fully took ownership in his/her role.
  2. Students showed mastery of the themes of Paradise Lost.
  3. Students gleaned information about our justice system and the roles different people play within that system.
  4. Students collaborated well on teams working toward a common goal.
  5. Some students had increased creativity in developing the backstories for their characters
  6. Some defense and prosecution members increased their creativity as they built arguments to defend or prosecute characters.
  7. Students thought critically about the parameters of our justice system and tried to manipulate it in their favor whenever possible.

We also found the following weakness:

  1. Students were not able to think quickly on the spot.  Per the jury, the legal teams’ follow-up questions were weak or non-existent.
  2. Some of the characters did not develop their backstories on the stand leaving gaps in understanding for the jury

Upon reflecting, strengths and weaknesses were identified.  In general, the students clearly understood the text and its themes; however, their questioning skills were weak.  We surmised that perhaps the final project was too much all at once.  Perhaps the students needed more scaffolding along the way to prepare for the culminating project. Our new challenge: to find ways to incorporate similar types of activities throughout the entire curriculum.

Authentic Activity: Take 3 

Upon returning from winter break, Ms. Heyward was excited to share with me that she had revamped her entire curriculum to address the issues making “Trial” the theme of her course using British Literature as the content covered.  Each unit provided a guest speaker including lawyers from a local college and court reporters from the local CBS news station.

New Curriculum

  1. Unit 1: Composing an Opening Argument
    • Content: Pursuit of Happiness
    • Students will present themselves to the class in the format of an opening argument
  2. Unit 2: Innocent Until Proven Guilty
    • Content: Canterbury Tales
    • Witness statement
    • Gathering evidence
    • Creation of Google websites with character analyses
    • Regular blogging as a character
  3. Unit 3: The Art of Argument – Building a Case
    • Content: war protests and speeches
    • Voices of Protest
    • Silent discussion on War
    • Socratic Seminar on women’s rights
    • Today’s Meet backchannel analysis of Edwin Starr’s song War
    • Student analysis of song of their choice
  4. Unit 4: Hearings and Motions – Pretrial Hearings and Motions
    • Content: Hamlet
    • Refining witness statements
    • Witness prep
    • Deconstructing trials in teams
    • Pre-trial hearing
  5. Unit 5: Closing Arguments
    • Content: Beowulf
    • Argument of Good vs. Evil
    • How to make a strong appeal – rhetorical triangle
    • Final product: individual paper
  6. Unit 6: Do We Have a Verdict?
    • Content: Paradise Lost
    • Full trial proceedings including all skills in units 1-5.


The next class to experience the trial will have completed each step once in advance and will be compiling and returning to all of the lessons learned throughout the course: opening arguments, creating witness statements, collecting and analyzing evidence, building a defense, interviewing witnesses, creating follow-up questions, making objections, and addressing the judge.  

I’ll be back to share the details of the big trial.

Ms. Heyward and I have already decided for the next iteration we need to transport the students to a real hearing room in the county. We’re not sure we can pull that off, but as my mother always says, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Just remember you, too, can develop a lesson like this.  

Don’t expect to do it all on the first try.  Give yourself time and room to grow with the activity.  If you take on too much too early you might be more likely to fail or get burned out.  

Good luck, and please share your ideas, comments, successes and failures here with the rest of us.

If you would like to receive more stories like these to your inbox, please subscribe to our blog.

Human Touch In Schools

Human Touch In Schools

How do we interact with students?

Recently, I decided it was time to treat myself to regular yoga classes.  I had been too busy with work and family for too many years and realized that I needed to do it to stay happy and healthy.  While participating in the classes, I experienced three different instructors, and the differences opened my eyes to how we interact with students in our classes.

Currently, there is a movement in education to make connections with students called Capturing Kids’ Hearts.  It works off the premise that “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” ~John C. Maxwell.  In capturing kids hearts, step one requires teachers to greet students at the classroom door shaking hands or fist pumping or high-fiving their students.  The point is to make physical contact with each student using appropriate human touch as a physical connection and a way to say, “I see you, and you are important to me.”  If human touch is important, why stop at the door?

What’s yoga got to do with it?

Here’s where yoga comes in.  My three instructors all knew their trade and were pros.Teachers care enough to get close enough to touch you while encouraging you. However, only one made a real contact with me and made me feel important.  I’m sure you can guess which one.  It was the one who got close enough to touch me gently on the shoulder or arm or torso while she encouraged me with, “good” or “nice” or some other word of support.  The other instructors gave verbal support, but honestly, I never really knew if each spoke to me.  However, the instructor who touched me on the shoulder and said, “Nice,” affected me 10 fold.  I knew she was speaking to me, and I knew that I was improving.

Why is human touch important?

The power of human touch.The idea of touching a student has gotten so perverse that teachers are afraid to touch students in any way, shape, or form.  Obviously, this can be detrimental because touch is important in so many cultures.  Surely, there are situations when you would not touch students even on the shoulder or arm as in the case of autistic students or children who might have been abused.  Their reaction to touch might be very detrimental.  However, with this restriction in place, think about the many, many students who do not fit these categories and who would benefit from human touch.


According to Rick Chillot in a 2013 posting for Psychology TodayThe Power of Touch,” brief social encounters with appropriate human touch is something that is welcomed and even appreciated:

“More recent studies have found that seemingly insignificant touches yield bigger tips for waitresses, that people shop and buy more if they’re touched by a store greeter, and that strangers are more likely to help someone if a touch accompanies the request. Call it the human touch, a brief reminder that we are, at our core, social animals.”

Think about what you can do in your classroom and building to let people around know, “I see you, and you are important to me.”


Chillot, Rick. “The Power of Touch.” Blog post. Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Steward, A. Lee, and Michael Lupfer. “Touching as Teaching: The Effect of Touch on Students’ Perceptions and Performance.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology17.9 (1987): 800-09. Chrome Web Browser. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.


Authentic Learning – SharkTank Meets UN Grant

Authentic Learning – SharkTank Meets UN Grant

Improving the World One Grant at a Time

Making English class relevant is not always easy.  Knowing how to read, write, and communicate effectively are important life skills; however, this seems to escape teenagers.  English class can be made relevant through authentic learning activities and authentic assessments.  If you are looking for an authentic learning activity including Sharktank, a United Nations grant, a jury, and a solution to social issues, read on.

Project Structure

Mrs. Collier teaches block scheduled English I classes.  This means that she has 3 classes a day for 90 minutes each.  For a unit on the rhetorical triangle, Mrs. Collier decided to challenge her students with a problem-based scenario; her students were challenged to present to a panel from the United Nations offering a $4,000,000 grant to support the most innovative product to solve the social problem caused by fast food.  Think Shark Tank here.  The students were expected to apply their knowledge of the rhetorical triangle and their skills of research, analysis of information, creative problem-solving, and presentation to convince the panel that their team and their product was the most viable and deserving of the $4 million grant.

Student Research

First, students collaborated in groups of three and were tasked to read one chapter in Fast Food Nation dealing with a specific social problem created by fast food.  After reading the chapter, students had to research the social problem and come up with a Shark Tank-like product to solve the problem.  Next, the students had to create a presentation to try to convince the United Nations Grant Committee that their product most deserves the $4 million grant.

fast_food_safety global_business_effects_on_minorities how_fast_food_affects_earth lower_qualitygreater_profit

Persuasion and the Rhetorical Triangle

The students were tasked with applying the Rhetorical Triangle within their presentation to persuade the United Nations Grant Committee to choose their project idea as the most deserving of the $4 million grant.  Having had training in applying logos, ethos, and pathos students were required to utilize all three in their presentations.

United Nations Grant Committee

Authentic Learning Activity: United Nations Panel juries student presentations on solving social issues created by fast food.Then, to make the activity more authentic, Ms. Collier invited
community and district members to judge the presentations over two days.  Along with Lainie Berry, the District Director of Innovation and Digital Learning; and Caroline Mullis, a representative of the 
Coast Community Foundation of SC;  I had the honor and thrill of serving on the UN Grant Committee to judge 4 of the 8 projects.  The 4 products included a citizen watch-dog project to monitor pollution, a government-led pollution-monitoring system, a machine that detects E.coli in fast food burger meat, and a biodegradable and edible food packaging.

Jury Decision



The Google Slides visual presentations were of varying quality as were the live student presentations.  Overall, the 3-person jury was impressed with the level of research and creativity presented by each group.  Mrs. Collier provided each jury member a rubric to judge the product, the presentation, and the rhetorical triangle and invited the jury members to ask questions for clarification before making our final decision.  We three jury members discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each group, narrowed it down to two, and finally settled on one group to receive the grant.  The winner was the biodegradable packaging to slow the pollution in the Arctic Circle.

Authentic Jury Feedback


Finally, understanding the power of outside influence, Mrs. Collier invitedun_panel_addresses_students3 the 3 jury members to give constructive feedback to the teams.  This particular team was powerful because one member is a former high school English teacher, one deals with budgets and deciding longevity of a project, and the third deals with grant applications daily and knows what to look for.  The feedback given to the students included standard points about body language, confidence, volume, diction, and eye contact.  After that, the jury explained the strengths of each group’s idea.  Finally, the jury explained how important it is to cover all of the research thoroughly, and that knowledge of the subject matter is what ultimately gave us the confidence to grant one group $4 million.


Authentic Learning Take-Aways

This experience raised the level of engagement for the students because they had an authentic audience.  Mrs. Collier did a fantastic job creating a real-world scenario with a real-world issue.  Kudos to her and her students for their hard work and dedication to learning.

If you are interested in creating more authentic experiences for your students, I recommend heading to YouTube for a basic search.  We found plenty of examples that served as an outline for what we wanted to do.

If you have participated in authentic activities with your students, please leave a comment to start a discussion.  I’d love to hear from you about how things went and what we can learn from one another’s experiences.

Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to receive more to your inbox.

Are You Leading by Learning?

Are You Leading by Learning?

It’s early Saturday morning, and I am at the stove, my back to my family.  My husband reads out the quote on the back of my t-shirt: “Inspire learners to lead.”   My 16 year old son, however, immediately sees the irony in the statement and flips the wording: “Inspire leaders to learn.”  He’s right. Are you leading by learning?

Turning It On Its Head

Many of the messages being generated in education are about what students and teachers should be doing, and so LITTLE focuses on what the leaders should be doing.  All too often, building and district leadership are the least trained in technology, personalized pathways, and new innovative practices that are spreading across more progressive classrooms.  Without leadership buy-in, innovation too often goes nowhere.

Many teachers are trying new things, some because they are too young to fear, and others because they are experienced enough to know what they can and cannot get away with.  Sadly, the masses are in the middle, worrying about whether they can try something new or recovering from an observation that did not reflect what was really going on in their classroom.  How can this happen?  Perhaps, the observer was not aware of what to look for.

ISTE Standards are a great place to start.  As an international body, the International Society for Technology in Education has a global reach as well as a global view.  Of course there are technology standards for students, but there are also technology standards for teachers, technology coaches, and administrators.  That’s right!  Standards for admins!

ISTE Standards for Administrators

“So, what are these well-hidden standards for administrators,” you ask.  Well, here they are in a nutshell:

  1. Visionary leadership: Educational Administrators inspire and lead development and implementation of a shared vision for comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformation throughout the organization.
  2. Digital age learning culture: Educational Administrators create, promote, and sustain a dynamic, digital-age learning culture that provides a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education for all students.
  3. Excellence in professional practice: Educational Administrators promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators to enhance student learning through the infusion of contemporary technologies and digital resources.
  4. Systemic improvement: Educational Administrators provide digital age leadership and management to continuously improve the organization through the effective use of information and technology resources.
  5. Digital citizenship: Educational Administrators model and facilitate understanding of social, ethical and legal issues and responsibilities related to an evolving digital culture.

ISTE A.3 Excellence in Professional Practice

Standard number 3, Excellence in professional practice is the one I am drawn to.  Here is how it breaks down:

a. Allocate time, resources, and access to ensure ongoing professional growth in technology fluency and integration
b. Facilitate and participate in learning communities that stimulate, nurture and support administrators, faculty, and staff in the study and use of technology
c. Promote and model effective communication and collaboration among stakeholders using digital age tools
d. Stay abreast of educational research and emerging trends regarding effective use of technology and encourage evaluation of new technologies for their potential to improve student learning

Wow!  How powerful!  I have to admit that I have come across a few admins that are succeeding in this standard and its indicators, but all too often, the admins are the last to know about innovation and technology fluency and integration.  Well, it’s not that difficult to stay abreast of the latest educational research.

Recommendations for Staying Abreast of Technology in Education

There are so many sources for technology information, and now it’s easier than ever to receive that information.  No longer do you have to seek out information; it comes right to your inbox, your Facebook page, your Twitter feed, and your Google page.  If you are an admin, and you don’t have one of those four technological connections, it is either time you let your students teach you, or it’s time for you to voluntarily remove yourself from education.  Being connected is a great way to understand and connect with your students and faculty.

Using your email to #connect with educators and #innovate. Email Resources

Many educational websites have newsletters and blogs you can subscribe to.  If you aren’t receiving at least two educational resource emails per week, here are some websites I recommend:

Using Facebook to #connect with educators and #innovate. Facebook Resources

Most people have a personal FB page, so why not let FB send you educational materials to help you become a better educator?  Here are some of my favorites:

Join Twitter to #connect with educators and #innovate. Twitter Resources

While I was not a Tweeter a year ago, I am now getting most of my best educational information through Twitter.  Twitter is not for wordy people or even full messages.  Instead, it is an opportunity to share links to great blogs, tidbits of wisdom, and periodically a funny comment.  When you create a Twitter account, do not leave your profile picture as an egg head.  Immediately add a saying, a meme, or a photo of yourself to your profile. Choose a few key people to follow.  I have given you a few recommendations below.  Choose whom you follow carefully, and don’t overdo it.  You don’t want to get overwhelmed.  Wade in slowly, and if you like it, jump in.

Using Google to #connect with educators to #innovate. Google Plus Communities and Collections

Google 9-square or 3x3.If you have a gmail account, you can create a Google Plus, G , account.  To do this, go to the 9-square in the top right hand corner.  See graphic at right.  Choose the red circle with G on it.  This will take you to your Google Plus account.  Set up your profile, and then go to the menu on the right and choose “Collections.”  Here, you can engage in dialog with educators, administrators, and innovation leaders around the world.  You will receive an email for each posting, and your post will go to every member in that community.  This can get overwhelming very quickly, so only choose one or two communities to join at first.  Click the JOIN button to become a MEMBER.  To leave a group, click the MEMBER button and choose LEAVE.

Here are some recommendations for administrators and educators looking to connect with and learn from innovative educators around the world:

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-6-23-31-pm  screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-6-22-54-pm  PBL Google plus community.  screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-6-22-21-pm

After joining a few Google Communities, check out the Google Collections.  These function more like Facebook business pages, so only the owner(s) can post, and you can reply.  It is still a great place for resources and getting connected.

As an admin, you have a unique power to make change.  Be the voice and catalyst for change.  If a teacher comes to you with ideas, research it, and support the teacher.  Without administrator and building leadership buy-in, most innovation falls to side.

Share Your Experience or Leave a Comment

If you have an opinion that you would like to share, please leave a comment below.  I’d love to get a discussion going.

Moving from Substitution to Modification in SAMR

Moving from Substitution to Modification in SAMR

Previously posted on Monday, May 23, 2016, on Digital Learning Cohorts – CCSD Ed Tech

Today, Señora Stewart’s Spanish I students at West Ashley High School worked on their family naming project on iPads. Without technology it is usually a written project; however, Señora Stewart and I worked to move it from the substitution level of SAMR to modification by including audio recordings, too.

The usual project was to create a poster of their imaginary family tree with photos of their imaginary family members and Spanish naming to go with each one.  For example, a student might choose a picture of Johnny Depp as her father, and his picture would be labeled “Mi padre es Johnny Depp.”  Without technology, this poster project usually takes two 45 minute periods.

As a member of the CCSD Digital Learning Cohort, Señora Stewart shares a cart of iPads with another cohort member.  Wanting to digitize this project, Señora Stewart decided to use the iPads.  Using either Keynote or Google Slides, the students were given requirements to create their family tree with the same titles and pictures AND a 2 descriptive sentences in Spanish.  At this point, the project is purely substitution/augmentation on the SAMR chart, so Señora Stewart and I worked to add something new to the project.

Because foreign language standards require heavy duty communication activities, we wanted to work in a verbal recording of the presentation.  To solve this request, we decided the students could insert their slides into iMovie and then record the words on the slide for each slide.  Now, we are at modification in the SAMR model.

On the day of the project launch, I met with 1/3 of the class in a quiet space to teach them how to use iMovie.  It took approximately 25 minutes to go over how to personalize  a Google Slide show, take and insert a screen shot, add an audio recording, lengthen or shorten the picture to match the recording, add transitions, and more.

Once the training was complete, that first group became the “iMovie Geniuses” for the class.  Upon returning to the class, each Genius took on two trainees and trained them on iMovie.  The students were not told to stand and teach, but some chose to.

In the end, Señora Stewart’s class doubled its skills assessed because it included both written and spoken Spanish.  This type of active assessment moves students from a fun exercise to one that is more challenging because it uses 21st century skills and incorporates the 4 Cs.  I am curious to see how class achievements will change as Señora Stewart becomes more confident and comfortable with the iPads and as she progresses in the Digital Learning Cohort in her district.  It is time to start collecting data from the students about their interest levels and their skill levels when it comes to Spanish.  There is no guarantee that student learning is improving using digital devices, and it is our job to analyze the data and share the results.
If you are interested in collaborating about World Language learning using digital devices, please do not hesitate to contact me directly or leave a comment below.
Grammar and Writing Differentiation

Grammar and Writing Differentiation

Previously posted in May of 2016 on Digital Learning Cohorts – CCSD Ed Tech

For differentiation in the ELA classroom, No Red Ink is a godsend.  Although it has always been available via the noredink.com website, many teachers learned of it through Edmodo as an app. However, it is migrating completely to its website on June 30, 2016.  See the company announcement below.

As you may have heard, NoRedInk will no longer integrate with Edmodo starting June 30, 2016. On that date, we will transition your account to the NoRedInk website. Your data and classes will travel with you, and the site will look and behave just as it always has. The only change is that you will begin logging in at noredink.com rather than through an Edmodo app.

On June 30, we will send instructions to this email address. If you’d like to use a different address, please launch the NoRedInk app and go to your settings page. You can learn more about the change here. Also feel free to reach out with questions.

Thanks for all that you do,
The NoRedInk Team

If you haven’t already been using No Red Ink, now is the time to go to their website and set up an account.   This app offers grammar practice with parts of speech, sentences, commas, parallel structure, MLA citations and more.  This app could take you from 3rd grade through college.

If diagramming sentences did not excite you, try No Red Ink on for size.  It just might surprise you.

Organizing Thoughts Through Voice

Organizing Thoughts Through Voice

Previously posted on April 7, 2016 on Digital Learning Cohorts – CCSD Ed Tech

As an English teacher, I saw my job as teaching people to think well and write well.  The thinking was not nearly as difficult as the writing portion, and after leaving the classroom to coach teachers on how to effectively integrate technology into the classroom, I realize that writing was just a byproduct of what my real job was: to teach people how to communicate effectively.  Writing was just one way to effectively communicate.

With technology becoming ubiquitous in our personal, professional, and now educational lives, we have so many opportunities to communicate; learning how to communicate effectively is becoming more important than ever with the organization of ideas and the quality of speech and text being the main focus.

If organization of ideas is one of the big three factors, why does written text take precedence over spoken word?  Perhaps it has been that way because writing is permanent and digital writing is searchable.  However, things have changed.  Now, video is streaming live through Facebook and it is searchable on YouTube.  Audio is also more prominent and is also searchable.  While writing used to be more permanent, it is now just as temporary as audio and video because most of it is saved digitally.  So then, why are we still focused on writing as the apex of communication?

Organizing ideas for verbal communication such as a speech or a podcast is just as challenging as the written word save the grammatical hangups.  For our more verbal students, organizing thoughts for speech might even be a stepping stone to better writing because the student will process the information in a way that is his strength.  Just as with scaffolding, this could scaffold for a hesitant writer.  Check out this slidedeck by Professor Tamika Taylor with instructions for how to prepare for a speech.

Graphic organizer for organizing a speech.

That’s where podcasting comes in.  Podcasting is much like a radio broadcast.  There are no images or written text. Everything is recorded in audio form.  Some great examples can be found in iTunes and on StoryCorps.Org  1100+ of which have been shared on NPR.org.  There are free audio apps available on all mobile devices from regular phones, to smartphones, to tablets.  Apple or Android – it doesn’t matter.

Apps and Websites
For Apple users, the Voice Record Pro App is free and powerful.  Among the many features it offers, it allows you to import and export from Google Drive, offers editing, and saves into multiple formats.  The age  label is 4+ which means it is easy enough for kindergarteners to use.

For Chromebook users, Vocaroo.com is a simple, web-based voice recorder that offers a simple record, pause, and stop dashboard.  The recording is saved on Vocaroo’s servers for 2-3 months and then is deleted.  It offers the user a link that can be copied and pasted to share with others.  I love this app for simple checking for understanding especially for the younger children who can speak more easily than write.  I have used this successfully with students as low as first grade.

The world is changing, and the good news is that it now offers us many new ways to interact and assess our students.  Check out podcasting for a new and different experience.

Up Next: Changing Tides – Take 1

Up Next: Changing Tides – Take 1

Previously posted on Thursday, February 4, 2016, on Digital Learning Cohorts – CCSD Ed Tech

How exciting are tides and currents?  Very exciting when you have an awesome teachers and Chromebooks.

Students learning about tides on Chromebooks.Students in Keith Pridgen and Francine Brewer’s 5th grade science classes are researching tides and presenting their information in various formats.  They are working both independently and collaboratively to complete the task.

Screencastify screenshot.

To prepare technically for the unit, all users installed the Screencastify extension from the Google Web Store.  This was done whole class and was completed within 5 minutes.  According to the Google Web Store, “Screencastify is a simple video screen capture software (aka. screencast recorder) for Chrome. It is able to record all screen activity inside a tab, including audio. Just press record and the content of your tab is recorded. So you can easily create a screencast for video tutorials, record presentations, etc. (Learn more here). Students were directed to explore the app and then were walked through some settings to make sure it will properly download and save into Google Drive. These settings will differ based on your school’s filter settings, whether you are a GAFE school, and whether students are using Google Drive.

Students are learning about tides through collaborative group work.The unit began with a rubric for their presentation which provided voice and choice: choose your group partners, choose additional information to share, and choose the format of the final presentation.  Instruction began with a brief overview of the most common terms the students needed to know.  Because the teachers were using this unit as a jigsaw in which students will learn from one another, they provided the students with questions to be answered.  The students completed their research independently and then collaborated to create the final presentation.

5th grade students use Chromebooks to research tides.Students were given the options to present live with a slideshow (Slides), verbally through a recording (Vocaroo), or in YouTube fashion (Screencastify). Not surprisingly, this generation who cut their teeth on YouTube videos unanimously chose to do screen cast presentations.


Because the students worked at their own pace, each group progressed to different stages at different times.  A group of boys was ready to attempt the screencast using Screencastify.  They wanted to be the stars of the show, so they set up their Screencastify settings using the CAM tab with the built in microphone and the built in camera turned on.

Students work together to prepare for their tides presentation to the class.

After getting the webcam lined up properly, the boys started their first take few takes.  See the video below.

After watching the preview, the students came up with the idea to use a second Chromebook to run as a teleprompter, so they wouldn’t be looking at their paper while recording.  To complete this, the students were shown Google Docs and shared a file with one another.  The next step is to complete the teleprompter file and then practice and record again.