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Thursday, December 31, 2015

What will your theme song be for 2016?

As 2015 comes to a close, it is tradition for many of us to reflect on the past year, make resolutions (that we may or may not actually keep) for the new year, and set goals that we hope to reach in the coming months. As many of us are enjoying two weeks of vacation catching up with family and friends, our #TOSAchat organizers decided to forgo the regular weekly chat and hold a two-week long slow chat, hosted by guest moderators. I volunteered a couple of weeks ago to moderate one day of the slow chat and then realized that I had no idea what question that I wanted to pose to the group. In the spirit of wrapping up the past year and preparing ourselves for the next, many of my #TOSAchat colleagues wrote questions for the slow chat that asked us to think about our past successes, challenges we’ve encountered in our careers, dreams we have, and our plans for the coming year. I find goal-setting to be very powerful—setting goals and communicating them to others helps me focus my work and gives me purpose. I wanted to keep with the theme of reflection and resolutions in writing my slow chat prompt.

And then I thought about music. Most of my #TOSAchat friends are big music lovers—we often find our chats running off course and into the world of music, musicians, and memories associated with our favorite songs. How often do you hear a song on the radio and your mind takes you back to a specific place, person, or time in your life? Music creates powerful emotions in people, so what better way to plan our goals and mindsets for 2016 than with music. The theme song we choose for ourselves can be a constant reminder of how we plan to be, and what we want to accomplish, in the new year. 

So, on day 9 of #TOSAchat's holiday vacation slow chat I asked my #TOSAchat friends what song will be their theme song for 2016 and, more interestingly, why. Participants in the slow chat named everything from "A Whole New World" from Aladdin to "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten to "Black Water" by The Doobie Brothers to the theme song from Growing Pains.

Below is a summary of the amazing responses we've received so far.
(Click to view our YouTube playlist of #TOSAchat theme songs for 2016)

And hopefully the conversation continues! Feel free to add to our collection of 2016 theme songs using the #TOSAchat hashtag on Twitter or by commenting below.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Join us for EdCamp Silicon Valley 2016 on February 27th

Join us on Saturday, February 27th for EdCamp Silicon Valley (#EdCampSV) at Palo Alto High School. It will be a fun and free day of personalized learning and networking with Bay Area educators. Teachers, administrators, coaches, librarians, TOSAs, anyone and everyone in the education field is invited to attend!

Link to the EdCampSV registration page is available on the EdCampSV website:

Follow us on Twitter at @edcampsv and please help us spread the word by posting the below flier at your school sites and by sharing on social media using #edcampsv

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Keeping coding going in K8 after Hour of Code

Just because Computer Science Week (CS Week) only happens once a year doesn't mean that students' exposure to coding and computer sciences has to end, as well.  

Coding is a powerful skill for students to learn and practice. Our job as educators is to prepare students for life outside of school. In this day and age, that means preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist. We need students to learn flexibility and collaboration. We need our students to be critical thinkers and creators. According to a study out of the Oxford Martin School at Oxford (2013), approximately 47% of U.S. employment could be automated in the next 20 years, with "highly routine tasks" being at highest risk of being replaced by robots or computers. This information would suggest that rather than preparing students to simply follow directions and regurgitate facts and algorithms, we need to prepare students to create new technologies and to work in the "non-routine" industries that cannot be automated due to a robot's current inability to mimic human critical thinking and creative intelligence. Coding is one of the ways that we can better cultivate students' abilities to think creatively and solve problems.

So how does coding help students become better critical thinkers and creators?

8 Mathematical Practice Standards
1) Coding activities provide students with practice in important math skills including geometry standards, algebra, numbers and operations, and the 8 mathematical practices. Manipulating code, and/or creating it from scratch, demands that students make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, attend to precision, make use of structure, and look for repeated reasoning.

My favorite student quote from "Hour of Code" activities at one of my school sites:
"Look Ms. Haughs, it's a pattern!"

2) As a math TOSA/Coach, I am particularly excited about the math skills/standards practiced in the process of coding including:
  • Direction and ordinal numbers
  • Counting
  • Angle measurements
  • Distance (think, distance object will travel in terms of pixels)
  • Algebraic expressions
  • Input/Output (function tables)
  • Patterns
  • And more!
Other subject area skills learned in coding:
  • Sentence structure/syntax (ela)
  • Problem/Solution (ela)
  • Cause/Effect (ela/science)
  • Giving directions (ela)
  • Engineering design process (science/engineering)
  • And more!
3) Coding can also be another creation outlet for students. What if students use tools like Scratch or Hopscotch to create a game or animation that describes what they learned? Or coded a RaspberryPi to create a machine or robot that can help solve a problem on their school campus? For students that learn to code, the sky's the limit when it comes to creative demonstrations of knowledge!
During hour of code, many teachers exposed students to introductory block coding using the website, and students followed directions to practice using code to make things happen. As students become well versed in block coding, they can begin to use blockly apps and others to modify code and then move on to creating their own code to make things happen.

Apps & websites for learning to create with code:

  • (ages 6-adult) -- Work through guided, game-like tutorials and use block coding to learn basic programming skills
  • Scratch Jr. (iPad, Android, Chrome; ages 5 & up) -- A good intro to block coding, students can create animations with up to 4 different scences using basic movement, repeat, and audio blocks

Using Scratch to model multiplying
  • BrainPop coding games (ages 6-adult) -- Students are introduced to block-based coding by playing games and completing challenges
  • Kodable (iPad; ages 5-11) -- Learn foundational coding skills and then learn to read and write code using block code
  • Hopscotch (iPad; ages upper elementary) -- Use block coding to learn core coding concepts while creating your own games
  • Scratch by MIT (ages 6-adult) -- Use block coding to complete tutorials or to create your own projects; much more freedom to create your own projects from scratch (no pun intended) and share them with the Scratch community
  • CodeMonkey (ages 6-adult) -- In a game-like setting, students learn how to use simple text-based coding by completing challenges. Each level focuses on a different coding skill and, with a classroom subscription, teachers can view their progress in the reporting tool. Students also use what they learn in lessons to start creating their own games.
  • AppInventor by MIT (ages 9-adult) -- Create Android apps that can be used on any Android device via tutorials and use of block coding
  • Khan Academy (ages 9-adult) -- More advanced coders can complete free lessons in
    4th grade on AppInventor
    JavaScript and HTML and practice coding in these popular programming languages; students can edit others' projects or create their own from scratch; once students have a strong understanding of Java or HTML, they can begin to use these languages in other programs to create applications or websites (Google Sites is a great way for students to start using their HTML skills to edit website designs or create new designs from the ground up)
  • PythonRoom (ages 10-adult) -- Let's anyone learn or teach the Python language in a self-paced environment; individuals can practice learning Python on their own or teachers can create a class online and monitor student learning for free
  • Codecademy (ages 10-adult) -- Free, online, self-paced resource for learning popular coding platforms including JavaScript, HTML/CSS, Python, Ruby and more. 
  • Google Apps Script (ages 10-adult) -- Google Apps Script uses a JavaScript platform and students with a solid understanding of JavaScript can make their own add-ons for Google Applications by creating Google Apps Script; Alice Keeler has also written a few nice tutorials for those that want to get started making their own Apps Script
  • (ages 14-adult) -- W3Schools provides free online lessons in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and more; self-paced lessons for older students who want to explore commonly used coding languages

Favorite tools for learning physical computing and coding:

  • Arduino -- An electronics platform and robotics controller, run on the Arduino programming language, for creating interactive projects. 
  • MakeyMakeys -- Complete circuits to control the keyboard. 
  • RaspberryPi -- Credit card sized computer for exploring physical computing and learning to code using Scratch and Python. Create a traffic light, build a security camera, develop a digital weather stations, hack Minecraft, assemble a battery powered vehicle, and so much more using a RaspberryPi computer!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Taking steps to make PD fun!

Having fun in PD
Inspired by one of the first #TOSAchat conversations that I participated in on Twitter (Monday evenings at 8pm PST), I decided to focus this year on making professional development (PD) and meetings in my district more personalized and fun. As a classroom teacher, these were priorities-- how could I give students choice in their learning, how could personalize their learning experiences, and how could I make the experience fun and memorable? Why shouldn't I use this same mindset this year as a TOSA (teacher on special assignment) when planning PDs and meetings for adults?

Here are some of the ways that I, and several of my colleagues, have taken steps to change PD in our district:
  • Get the session started with a fun playlist!
    • One of the topics we talked about in TOSAchat was using a fun playlist to get the energy up in the room before beginning a PD... something so simple, but so effective.
    • I've built a couple of fun playlists in YouTube, one made up of contemporary pop music and the other made up of fun 80s pop songs, that I like to play as people are arriving at my PD sessions.
    • Also fun-- holiday themed PD playlists! Thriller and the Monster Mash were big hits during my Halloween week PD!
  • Game time
    • Just because we've grown-up doesn't mean that we don't still like to have fun!
    • My colleagues and I have been trying to incorporate more games into the start of our PDs to help get our teachers up and moving, getting to know each other, and just having a little fun.
    • Some of the games/tools we've incorporated into our PD:
    • Engineering Challenge
      • Blackout Bingo (We use questions that help attendees get to know each other & give out prizes to the top 3 winners)
      • Kahoot! is a fun way to open a PD and build in a little healthy competition (I like making my Kahoot using fun trivia related to the PD session)
      • Mini-engineering challenges (paper tower challenges, Save Fred, Marshmallow Challenge, paper table challenges, and others are great for getting the energy up before a PD)
      • Raffles (We use swag we've collected at various conferences, meeting, and events as giveaways in raffles... have teachers fill out a little ticket as they sign in and close the raffle box at start time... very low prep & everyone likes to win a prize!)
  • Provide Choice & Differentiation
    • Campbell University was one of my favorite changes in PD in my district... a variety of PD options are provided during the day and teachers get to choose 3 sessions that they want to attend
      • Facilitators are a mix of teachers from the district, county office of education trainers, and outside consultants
    • On a smaller scale, my TOSA colleagues and I have been trying to incorporate choice by offering break-out sessions and independent learning opportunities within our PDs... teachers can choose sessions to attend based on interest and need
      • At our Google Apps PDs, we start whole group to explain Google Drive and how it works (those already familiar with Drive are offered a self-directed "advanced" session on Google Extensions and advanced Apps), and then offer break-out
        Blended PD model
        sessions on the standard Google Apps (Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides, etc.); teachers get to choose the sessions they want to attend
      • In our "Blended Learning in Math" series, my colleague @LindseyBlass1 and I created a menu of tools (hyperlinked to screencasts and other self-guided instruction) and allowed teachers to choose which tools they wanted to learn about in each session; different levels of learning are offered and we are then freed-up to provide small group and one-on-one support as needed
  • Interactive & Self-Guided Learning
    • Hyperdocs and hyperlinking is a great way to create an interactive & differentiated PD and allow teachers to work at their own pace
    • Hyperlinks for self-guided learning
      • I try to use hyperlinked slide decks or websites to allow teachers the ability to explore tools and ideas while I'm presenting them and/or to guide their own learning
      • As mentioned above, including hyperlinks to more advanced tools or strategies also allows for learners to move ahead at their own pace while I work more with learners needing extra support
      • For more information about using hyperdocs, visit @LHighfill's hyperdocs website
  • Model the Practices you Want Teachers to Try in their Classrooms
    • Design your PD & meetings so that they model the tools and teaching strategies that you want teachers to try in their own classrooms
      • Makerspaces 
        • Fellow TOSA @juliegoo2 and I incorporated a Makerspace into one of our last PDs to get teachers creating, building, and having a little more fun! Teachers & admin were asked to build something that represented their learning that day.
          "Making" at PD
      • Blended/Flipped Learning
        • Use websites, screencasts, Blendspace, Versal, hyperdocs/slides to blend instruction and allow for more individualized learning and one-on-one face time in PD
      • Technology integration
        • If you're going to present tech tools to teachers in a PD, build your PD using those tools so teachers can see how to effectively integrate those tools into instruction
  • Just in time/Independent Learning
    • I worked with our Manager of Technology Integration @HeatherHaggerty to start a website of tutorials for our district so that teachers don't have to attend an entire PD after school or on a weekend to learn how to use specific tech tools. The site includes:
      • Teacher-created screencasts on how to use specific tech tools
      • A section dedicated just to Google tools since we are a GAFE district
      • Examples of teachers in our district using the tech tools so that others can see how to integrate the tool into instruction
      • Links to the blogs and websites that some of our tech integration coaches write
  • Coaching
    • Although we've had district coaches for some time, now, the position seems to look a little different every year. This year we've been lucky enough to spend quite a lot more time at sites and in classrooms than in years past. Our time in classrooms and at sites has been very powerful this year and teachers have been commenting on how much they appreciate our work with them this year in the form of:
      • Site, grade level, and one-on-one PD... TOSAs have been providing individualized PD (based on teacher requests) to sites, grade levels, and individuals
      • Demoing/Modeling lessons... after pitching specific teaching strategies and tools, several teachers have requested demo lessons in their rooms to see the practice in action before taking it on themselves
      • Co-teaching/in-class support... my TOSA colleagues and I have spent a number of hours in classrooms this year just being an "extra body" for teachers as they try something new (having someone there "just in case" has made trying new things a little safer for a number of teachers)
  • Digital Office Hours
    Image courtesy of
    • Something new I'm trying this year is to offer digital office hours via Google Hangouts
    • Although I've only had a few takers so far, those couple of teachers have already expressed gratitude at having us on-call as a resource when they need in-the-moment support
These are just a few of the ways that I'm working with my TOSA team to improve on our current PD practices. I still have a few more ideas on my wish list, and am working with my team and my bosses to see if we can get some of these additional practices up and running, soon (flipped PD, badging systems...). If you have any other suggestions or examples of ways to continue to innovate PD for our teachers, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Favorites from #FallCUE 2015

Saturday I attended my very first Fall CUE in Napa and was feeling pumped, energized, and inspired all day! (Only the one day, unfortunately, since I still had to work on Friday...sad.) And in the spirit of #connectedtl month and a #bettertogether attitude, I wanted to make sure to share out my finds since sharing is caring, after all.

So here, in no particular order, are my biggest take-aways from this year's #FallCUE at American Canyon High School in Napa:
  1. Want to add a little dramatic effect to your next presentation? 
    • Throw a blank slide into the slideshow and watch everyone in the room pause to look at you! 
    • Love this tip from @RooseveltBSD and can't wait to see all the looks of confusion in a room full of faces when I try this one!
  2. Recognize the shared wisdom in the room...
    • @Kfairchild6 and @msjlura reminded us that when presenting to or training adult learners, don't forget that most will come in with some kind of knowing more about something than you do
    • Utilize the shared wisdom... how can everyone in the room contribute something to the learning?
  3. Badging. That is all.
  4. Badge my colleague made for
    me on Sat. after I figured out the
    Table of Contents feature in GDocs!
    • I might have known before last Saturday, but now it's confirmed... badging is THE thing right now!
    • I earned badges as a Girl Scout years and years ago... pretty sure they still do that, so really I guess it just never went away and now we're expanding the idea into different industries as a motivator. Works on me! I started earning my CUE badges as soon as I arrived at the event!
    • I didn't attend any sessions myself, but I learned a great strategy for using badging in PD from my CampbellUSD TOSA PIC who dropped into a session-- have teachers earn badges for completing trainings, level up, and earn compensation for earning certain numbers of badges or levels... I like this idea! And the idea that some teachers might also be able to "test out" of trainings and earn badges for topics that they are already proficient in. 
  5. @ArcherEdTech is way better than me at playing "Remember When..."
    • Turns out I need to work on my creative story-telling skills...
    • AND I love this as another way of "funning up" my PDs! ...Been focused a lot on making PD fun since our #TOSAchat on the topic last month , so I'm adding this to the bag o' tricks!
  6. @TheWeirdTeacher is just as cool in person as he seems online. 
    • Thanks for the selfie :)
This guy!

Click to view our notes from Fall CUE 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Thinking about blending instruction? Tips for getting started!

Thinking about blending instruction? Blended learning environments (classrooms utilizing a mix of face-to-face learning and digital instruction) provide a number of benefits to student learning. Students can work at their own pace, instruction can be differentiated across multiple levels, and the use of technology for learning prepares students for the future.

One of the biggest changes for students in a blended learning environment, though, is the need to work more independently and to rely on peers as resources, and less on the teacher as the main source of information.

That being said, there is some scaffolding that you'll need to do in order to create a blended learning environment in your classroom that runs smoothly:

1) Don't take a teacher group during the first few blended sessions
-Students will need to practice independence
-It will take students some time to get used to using resources other than the teacher when they need help
-Provide a poster or "cheat sheet" for students to access when they help figuring out where to go when they have a question

2) Put "tech help" policies in place so that students won't get slowed down and won't need to disturb the teacher group when a tech issue arises.
-Consider having student tech leaders in class to assist with this

3) Create an "Ask 3" rule to encourage students to use each other as a resource for help first.

4) What other resources do students have in class for help?
-During whole class lessons, take notes on chart paper, posters, or have students take notes in journals
-Create a subject-based/topic-based walls
-Create a class website where lesson notes are posted (or a YouTube channel where video notes and lesson videos are posted)
**Make sure that students have a variety of places to access information

5) Be thoughtful about what lessons you blend.
-Some lessons might be easier for students to understand if taught live by the teacher (in which case, maybe you do a station rotation as opposed to differentiated instruction) or whole class (ie. multi-step problem solving lessons, etc.)

6) Don't expect things to go perfectly the 1st time... or the 2nd, or the 3rd... students need to learn the model and practice the model before they get good at it.
-Try blending a couple of simpler lessons the first few times, that students can feel successful learning independently in a digital format

7) Keep it short!
-If students can't sit still listening to you lecture live, a video doesn't make it any better. Think 1 minute for each year of their age.

**Have some more tips for getting started with blended learning? Share them below!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why we can ALL use a coach

In his book, Visible Learning for Teachers, John Hattie notes that "...the greatest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching..." In his 800 meta-analyses of 50,000 research articles (looking at the effects of learning on more than 240,000 students), Hattie found that teachers who receive formative feedback regarding teaching practices had a .90 effect size on student learning (ie. one of the highest impacts on student learning). Meaning, teachers who let others see them in action, who receive feedback on their practices, and then reflect on, plan around, and act on that feedback (especially when doing so collaboratively with their peers), have a much greater impact on student learning than those who do not.

This is huge! Of the 138 instructional practices reviewed, Hattie ranked formative evaluation of teachers' instructional practices as the 4th greatest impact on student achievement!

I was a huge fan of coaching while teaching my own class. I often invited coaches in to help me problem solve the instructional challenges that I was having with specific students. If after trying everything that I knew how in order to reach a specific student and he/she still wasn't showing growth, it was time for a second opinion!

So why do many teachers shy away from coaching? In my experiences so far as a coach, I am getting the impression that many of my teacher colleagues now see me as an evaluator of sorts. It is important to note that although Hattie describes this practice as "formative evaluation," this does not at all mean that coaches are coming into teachers' classrooms as "evaluators" deciding who the "good teachers" are and who the "bad teachers" are. We are around to help all teachers grow! And we all have some growing to all of the time. The world is always changing, students are different every year, and we need to change with them!

I also notice that many teachers are afraid of people seeing them "fail." Teachers are perfectionists and have a hard time letting someone observe their room when it is functioning at any level other than perfection-- which we know is silly, because we also know that there is no such thing! And yet, it is hard to shift out of that mindset. Somewhere, and sometime, long, long ago someone put it into our heads that teachers should be the holders of all knowledge (which is impossible, of course), and so to admit that we are not is a challenge-- it means a HUGE change in mindset.

What we really should be modeling as teachers is our commitment to lifelong learning. Aside from the data that tells us how powerful coaching is to boosting student success, it is our job as teachers to instill a love of learning, or at least an understanding of the importance of learning, in our students. What better way to model the importance of lifelong learning than by inviting a coach into your room to show your students that you are just that-- a lifelong learner.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Edmodo-- a powerful tool for personalizing instruction

All teachers know that good teaching involves differentiating instruction for our diverse group of learners. We also know that this is not always an easy task; trying to teach to the individual needs of our 32 (give or take) students is a challenge! Many of us try using centers or "Job #2"s to engage our early finishers and give us more small group time with struggling learners, but still, the work that we put in those centers end up being 1 or 2 of the same activity for all students to complete.

The growing availability of technology in the classroom has made differentiating and personalizing instruction so much easier than it used to be! I don't claim to be an expert in differentiating instruction, but I do claim to be a thousand times better at it now than I was five years ago, since I've learned to harness the power of thoughtful technology integration.

Enter Edmodo. (Never used Edmodo before... click here for a guide I used to help teachers in my district get started.)

My district originally introduced us to Edmodo as a tool for connecting teachers, but I immediately saw the potential power of using Edmodo with my grade 5 students, and I got my first digital classroom set up about a week later. Below are some of the ways that I used Edmodo to better personalize instruction for all learners in my classroom:
  • Flipped instruction in class: 
    • Flipped instruction allows students to work at their own pace... not being tied to the teacher's pacing or to the needs of the rest of the class is a great way to personalize instruction!
    • Teachers deliver new content by assigning a video, slideshow, screencast, reading, etc. for students to watch (either as a note or assignment)
    • Students can demonstrate their learning by leaving comments on the video post (which can become interactive with their peers when they also respond to other student comments), blogging, attaching their notes for peer/teacher review, completing some type of creative reflection and submitting it as an assignment or posting it to the class wall for their peers to review
  • Differentiated work groups:
    • Teachers can create small groups within a class (for organization's sake, I created a different class on Edmodo for each major subject taught in my self-contained classroom)
    • Sort students into small groups based on the data you are using to level students
    • Assign digital instruction or practice to each group based on their specific needs (whether it's more advanced work or extension activities for students excelling, or reteach lessons for student performing below grade level, etc.)
    • Students can see which of their peers in their small groups, so they can go to their team mates with questions or to collaborate on assignments
    • It's easy to move students around, so teachers can rearrange groups as needed based on changes in student data
    • Blend learning! While some groups work digitally, teachers can pull other groups for face-to-face instruction or reteaching.
  • Empowering students to take responsibility for their learning:
    • Take the "ask 3 before me" rule to another level
    • Create a class on Edmodo specifically for students to help each other
    • Students can become the experts and "help desk" for each other
    • Students needing extra help have the option to go to their teacher OR to work with their classmates... they have multiple options for figuring things out
  • Students become the teachers:
    • In Edmodo, students have the ability to post to class walls and share resources in folders
    • Have students post their findings to the class wall to share information with their peers and create opportunities for conversation 
    • Ask students to choose topics for conversation or study and then post that topic to the class wall for their peers to work on/comment on
  • Individualized learning opportunities:
    • Be honest... what typically happens to the questions that students put on parking lot boards, KWLs, or inquiry charts? They often get forgotten in the rush to teach the required standards, right?
    • Now, when students have to parking lot a question, teachers can go into Edmodo later that day and send direct messages to students with information related to their questions
      • Example: One day a student had a question about inflation and the effects on our economy (definitely not a 5th grade standard that I had time to get into in any detail)
      • I found a couple of videos about inflation and sent them in a direct message to the interested student for independent study
    • This is also a great way to show students that you really listen to them and know their interests... see something online that you know a specific student would love? Send it to them in a direct message on Edmodo!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fanastic Free Digital Content Sources for K12 Classrooms!

Flipping your classroom? Blending instruction? Or just trying to find a way to better personalize learning for your students? Technology has made it so much easier for teachers to differentiate instruction and design personalized learning opportunities for all students. We can do so much more for our students than ever before with as little as one computer in the classroom!

That being said, it can sometimes be daunting to search the web, trying to figure out where to get reliable material at the right level for our students.  Below are some of my favorite... and FREE!... resources for digital instructional content:

PBS LearningMedia
PBS has curated the best of their educational content, and partnered with other well-known educational organizations (Library of Congress, NASA, etc.), to provide teachers and students with free access to standards-aligned educational videos, articles, games, interactive lessons, and primary source artifacts that support learning across all subject areas in the K-12 classroom. material is being added every day!

Teachers can browse by standard, grade level, or subject area to find digital content to support instruction, and create folders to save their favorites. Teachers can also create lesson plans, quizzes, and learning storyboards that can be shared with other teachers or students using a share link. Students over the age of 13 can sign up for their own accounts and teachers can assign lessons right from within LearningMedia. Schools also have the option to upgrade to Custom Accounts, which provide teachers with access to an extended content library, performance reports and analytics, and the LearningMedia content management system (CMS).

Khan Academy
Khan Academy has been around for a while now, and just gets better every year! Math instructional videos and practice problems are available for all levels, K-12, and when students sign up for an account (or log in using their GAFE accounts), teachers can track progress and areas for intervention, and assign lessons to individuals based on their needs.

Khan Academy also offers instructional videos in science, the humanities, economics, and computer science (mainly for older students) as well as some awesome lessons in coding and programming (using JavaScript, HTML, and CSS). In addition, Khan Academy has partnered with numerous museums and other educational institutions (NASA, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pixar, etc.) to provide access to instruction produced by experts working in their fields and link student learning to real world experiences.

Newsela brings non-fiction and current events into the classroom by providing stories from major news agencies modified to 5 different reading levels. Teachers can assign the same article to different students and choose the appropriate reading level for each group of students. Students can annotate the articles while reading, using the highlighting and note-taking tools. Each article comes with a set of Common Core-aligned digital quiz questions (and many also come with a writing prompt) to test students' comprehension of the article. Teachers that upgrade to a PRO account can also track student progress on quizzes and grade writing assignments.

LearnZillion provides teacher-created Common Core-aligned lesson plans and instructional videos in math, close reading, and writing skills for grades 2-12. Students can use the LZ Code linked to a lesson in order to watch the video and complete the lesson, or sign up for account and use an enrollment code in order to join classes created by their teacher! Many lessons also come with additional teaching materials including slideshow presentations and practice worksheets or graphic organizers for students to use during the lesson. All math lessons include interactive practice questions that ask students to demonstrate their learning by drawing, dragging and dropping, balancing equations, or responding to open-ended questions.

LearnZillion lessons are also available on NearPod and Edmodo.

... So how do I know if students are actually watching the videos that I assign?
There are some great tools out there for creating interactive viewing options that also hold students accountable for watching the instructional videos assigned. Check out EdPuzzle, Zaption, and eduCanon if you're interested in making your instructional videos interactive and want to collect data about students' viewing habits.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

More than just a whiteboard app-- Using Explain Everything to enhance instruction & support student learning

One of my favorite presentation apps for the classroom is Explain Everything (available for iOS, Google Play, Microsoft Store, and Chrome Web Store, $3.99). With a plethora of whiteboard apps on the market, the tools included in Explain Everything make this particular whiteboard app a powerful tool for enhancing instruction in the K-12 classroom... and more than worth the cost!

First off, some of the tools:
-Create new presentation from blank template or saved image
-Multiple width drawing tool
-Text tool
-Variety of writing colors
-Insert objects including images, videos, sounds
-Group & ungroup objects
-Record video and audio
-Pointer tool for presenting
-View audio/video timeline for editing of specific clips of audio or video
-Export slides/recording as image, video or pdf
-Save in Explain Everything app and/or export directly to camera roll, mail, iBooks, or other linked 3rd party apps (GDrive, Dropbox, Evernote, iTunes, YouTube)

So, what does the use of Explain Everything look like in the classroom? And how can you use Explain Everything to enhance instruction and improve student learning?

Teachers can improve instruction & support student learning by:
  • Delivering direct instruction from tablets (combined with AppleTV or Chromecast) allowing the teacher to "untether" themselves from the front of the room and circulate to students while teaching
    Recording a lesson
  • Recording lessons for students to access later (I like to record my direct instruction in the moment and then post the videos to my class website for students to access anytime they need reteaching or help on classwork/homework)
  • Blending/flipping the class environment with teacher-created instructional videos (and being able to download videos means they can be uploaded to websites/blogs or burned to disc)
  • Quickly sharing slides or videos to specific students in class by uploading into Google Drive
  • Allowing students to record (using audio/sketches) their ideas before writing
  • Having students take notes (while reading, during lectures) on multiple slides using text, audio, images, diagramming

Students can demonstrate their learning by:
Primary source analysis
  • Solving math word problems and explaining their work using annotations and written/spoken explanations
  • Creating models or animations to show their thinking in all subjects
  • Creating their own story problems
  • Recording videos or images of a science lab and then annotating and explaining observations and results
  • Documenting real world examples of subjects being studied in class and then recording an explanation of the connection between learning and the artifact found (ie. recording the weather one day and explaining how it connects to learning in science, etc.)
  • Creating teaching videos for their peers
  • Turning written stories into digital stories and videos
  • Importing primary source artifacts or art and recording their analysis
  • Creating collages and murals to show what they know

Have more ideas for how to use Explain Everything in the classroom? Share them with us in the comments below!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tips for Teaching Digital Citizenship in your Classroom

Our Dig Cit poster
According to a 2015 survey by the American Optometric Association, nearly 2/3 of American children now own their own smartphone or tablet. It's no wonder this generation of children are known as "digital natives"! However, owning a mobile device does not mean that children understand the ins and outs of safety and responsibility online. In the same way that we teach children how to be responsible and respectful citizens in the "real world," it is important to teach students how to be responsible and respectful citizens in the digital world.

When getting started teaching digital citizenship, I surveyed both students and parents to find out their background knowledge regarding digital citizenship topics. I found that most families had
never explicitly discussed with their children how to be good citizens in an online world. This was especially surprising to me because I live in the middle of Silicon Valley! About 90% of my students have some type of computer or device at home and access the Internet pretty regularly. With this information, I realized that if I didn't teach them digital citizenship skills, who would??

Ready to teach dig cit skills, but not sure where to begin? Below are some tips for getting started teaching digital citizenship in your classroom:
  • What grade level should you start teaching dig cit skills in? If students are using devices, teach the skills. I've taught mini-lessons in Kinder!
  • Are you a PBIS school? Align your dig cit instruction with your PBIS curriculum. 
    Internet Safety in Kinder
  • Find out what your students already know and what experiences and/or problems they've had online. Use that to lead discussions.
  • Not sure what topics to start with? My students do a lot of communicating and research online so I usually start with the big 3:
    • Respect (be kind to each other; ignore trolls; etc.)
    • Safety (don't give out personal info; report sketchy characters to teacher/parent)
    • Responsibility (use devices/Internet responsibly)
  • If you wouldn't do it/say it in the 'real world', don't do it/say it online!
  • Make it a discussion, NOT direct instruction-- have the students help with determining the digital citizenship expectations in your room... you might be surprised at how much they've thought about this, even if it hasn't been taught to them yet.
  • Take advantage of teachable moments. If students make a bad choice online, use that moment to teach or reteach a digital citizenship/social media skill. Like David Theriault said at his #FallCUE keynote, we didn't take away desks and textbooks when we found inappropriate language in them, so why would we take away a digital tool? (Side note... if you didn't go to FallCUE2015, take the time to watch this keynote... it is incredibly inspiring!)
  • Don't forget to talk about Digital Footprints... students don't always think about the fact that whatever they put online will be there FOREVER (even if they delete it). What do they want someone to find out about them 10 years from now...?
  • Reteach, reteach, reteach! Dig cit should be an ongoing conversation.
  • There are lots of good resources out there to help you teach dig cit skills:


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Engineering Mini-Challenges for Back to School

The way that you choose to start off the year in your classroom helps set the tone of the room. In my classroom, I wanted to set the tone for collaboration and creativity. I wanted students to know right from the start that we were a team, we would collaborate often, we would learn to solve problems with a little creativity, and that it is okay to fail because that is how we learn.

For those teachers wanting to delve into a little engineering this year, these are also great activities for introducing the design-thinking process. These challenges get students thinking about how to work with a team, how to manage resources, how to use iterations to make corrections on a design, and how to reflect on the process in order to improve next time. 

Below is a list of some of my favorite back to school engineering challenges:
Paper Tower
  • The Marshmallow Challenge: Students are given dry spaghetti, tape, string, and marshmallows and are challenged to create the tallest free standing structure within a certain amount of time (I gave 12 minutes). Materials were distributed in a brown paper bag and teams were not allowed to open the bags until time started. And no, students are not allowed to use the bag in their design (I modeled failure as a learning opportunity when I messed up those directions last year). The official Marshmallow Challenge web page has videos, photos, and details about the challenge.
  • Paper Book Tower: In a simplified version of this activity, we provided 10 sheets of paper and some tape to each group and gave them 5 minutes to create a structure that would support at least 1 textbook. Winning team is the one who's tower can support the most weight! 
Earthquake Engineering
  • "Saving Fred": Technically not an engineering challenge, but a fun, collaborative, problem-solving activity nonetheless. Fred is a gummy worm stranded on top of his capsized boat (a plastic cup) who needs to get to his life preserver (a gummy lifesaver). The challenge is to get Fred into his life preserver without touching him with your hands. Teams are given 4 paper clips in order to move Fred.
  • Earthquake engineering challenge: There are a lot more in depth engineering lessons out there for this one (linked to one example), but I decided to keep it simple for back to school. Teams were given 1 package of 4x6 index cards, 1 foot of masking tape, and something sturdy to use as a base (we used clipboards). Students were given 20 minutes to create a structure at least 12 inches high that would withstand our simulated earthquake (used iPad cart as a "shake table"). 
  • Lego/playing card bridge: I don't know where this one came from originally, but we played it at a PD and I liked it so much that I tried it with my students. In the first variation of the challenge, teams are given a piece of 8" wide paper (river to cross), 5 playing cards, 4 paper clips, 6 dominoes, some Legos (including 2 flat Lego pieces for the river bank edges), and a strip of painter's tape (around 6"). Teams must build a bridge across the river that will support a Lego car. In a second variation on the game, each team is given a different size river to cross, but the same amount of materials as in the first version. In this version, it's fun to see how the challenge morphs from a team collaboration project into a whole class collaboration project! 

  • Lego Bridge Challenge
Challenges I've Collected, but Haven't Tried Yet
I've collected a number of mini-engineering challenge resources over the years, but haven't been able to try them all. Here are a few more to check out:

Have more mini-engineering challenge ideas or resources? Share them in the comments section below!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mind-blown Moments from CUERockstar MB

Last week I attended my first CUE Rockstar event, and I loved every minute of it! It's always fun to spend time with like-minded people, bounce ideas off of each other, and try new things as a team. 

The highlights of this particular conference were in the details for me. It was the little things that blew my mind! Here is my list of biggest mind-blowing moments from my time at CUE Rockstar, Manhattan Beach: 

Force copy a shared Google document
Dan Bennett (@dabennett7) showed us how to change the word /edit at end of a share URL to the word /copy before giving out the URL. This will force the recipient to make a copy of the document coming their way. For those using Google Classroom, this may not mean much to you as far as sharing docs to your students, but I'm seeing major possibilities for future PDs! And does it work with the Google URL shortener? Sure does! Just change the link ending before shortening your link. 

Try it!

Updated share link:

Are you kidding me with this one?? Accidentally close a tab in Chrome? Hit this magic combination of keys to reopen the last tab closed. Want to reopen the last two tabs closed? Click this combo twice.  And on and on... This little trick could have saved me so much heart ache in the past...Amazing! Thanks Lisa Nowakowski (@nowatechie)!

"Magic Button" in Google Sheets
@dabennett7's term for the little button in the top, left corner of your GSheet that highlights an entire sheet when clicked. You mean I don't have to click and drag to highlight the whole area? Yes, you can click Ctrl or Command + A to select all data, but this little guy will select the entire sheet. So nice for formatting purposes!

"Choice Eliminator" add-on for Google Forms
Last year I used GForms to create sign up sheets for class parties and events. I could embed the Form right into my class website (created on Google Sites) and all parents had to do was click a button to let me know that they could volunteer in class or donate butter for our baking project. It was great! Except... every time that someone signed up for something, I would go in and delete the item so that I didn't get repeat sign-ups. According to Jason Seliskar (@JasonSeliskar) I needed the "Choice Eliminator" add-on that automatically deletes choices from a Form once they have been selected by a user. Um, yes, it would appear so and I am so happy to have it now!

Notifications on GForms
Why did no one tell me about this before?? Luckily @JasonSeliskar was nice enough to do so! Want to know when someone fills out a Form? Turn on email notifications by going in to the spreadsheet attached to your Form (or click on "View Responses" from within the Form), clicking on "Tools", then "Notification Rules." Again, such a simple little thing that I knew nothing about and that is now going to be a lifesaver for me.

Google Public Data Directory
Adina Sullivan (@adinasullivan) introduced me to this fantastic resource! Need some real-world data to work with? Here it is! I'm already imagining the math/social studies/science possibilities...