Monday, December 10, 2018

Gettin' Sketchy With It!

Third grade GATES students at Lakeview Elementary have been focused on Architectural Design. As an introduction to their learning, Mrs. Blake read aloud Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty. They also spent time researching famous structures around the world using various depth and complexity icons to identify patterns, details, and how their structure has ethically impacted the environment. This then led into an architectural details hunt, where students viewed houses and identified exterior details from their research. Their language of the discipline deepened throughout this initial study as students prepared to design their own city.

With inspiration from Iggy Peck’s Blue River Creek Challenge (found in the Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book) students began focusing on attributes of a town and what it should include. The components outlined in the book included: school, library, factory, office buildings, shops, city hall, zoo, fire/police stations, and a building design of their choice (ex: a church or museum). Students set to work on creating their own town with the outlined parameters. As part of the project requirements, they were tasked with creating both an aerial and street view rendition of their town.

As part of their studies, experts from the field visited their classrooms. Brandon Blake, from Blake Architects, visited to discuss the design process from the architect’s perspective. He showed students examples of blueprints and models from projects he’s personally been a part of. These artifacts provided an up close look at how important scale images and models are to both the client and the builder. Blueprints and scale models allow both parties to visualize the client’s request and identify areas that need additional attention to detail. He stressed the importance of getting to know the client and understanding their vision. 

Lisa Payne, Town Planner in the Community Development department in the Town of Trophy Club, also visited to discuss urban planning. She deepened their thinking by sharing the importance of long range planning that is mindful of the community and its resources. Relevant information was introduced as she spoke about future projects planned for the Town of Trophy Club. One of the projects specifically shared was the Byron Nelson Field House, currently under construction. Knowing that many of these third graders will one day utilize that facility brought much excitement to the room. 

During both of these visits, students were able to ask the experts questions that would lead them to be more successful in their own design process. They developed a language of the discipline that would be carried with them throughout the project. It was especially neat to watch students roll up their “blueprints” in true architect form, just as they saw Mr. Blake do during his visit. Annabell said she has enjoyed this study because, “as a little kid you might want to grow up to be an engineer and this project is a really great start”. Providing relevant, real world experiences for students can open the doors to so many possibilities. 

Initial designs were done by hand on paper as students made decisions for how their town would be mapped out. Once their drafts were complete, it was time to begin digitizing them. Google Sketch Up was the tool selected for students. Sketch Up is a 3D modeling tool that proved to be the perfect solution for bringing their towns to life. As a way to familiarize students, Sketch Up provides a curriculum of tutorials for all levels. Students were introduced to the tool by completing the Turtle Sandbox lesson. This lesson provided foundational skills necessary to be successful with the tool, such as learning basic navigation within the tool bars, learning to draw circles and turn them into cylinders, and learning to add color/texture to designs from the materials library. Natalie was excited to share her Sketch Up thoughts as she found value in the ability to let “her imagination to come to life on her computer.”

Their digitized town projects are still a work in progress. Ilaisaane has found herself thoroughly engaged and challenged throughout this project. “I love that I can see my town from all different angles and I can easily see what needs to be improved. The most challenging part was designing my town. There are so many things I want to include, but only a limited amount of space.” Mrs. Blake is very excited about submitting their finalized projects to be considered for Expo presentations. Students would like to present their towns, give a demonstration of Sketch Up, and possibly provide an interactive session where participants can design something of their own. Either way, this group of students can’t get enough of the design skills they are acquiring and they are eager to share their new learning with others. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Permission to Be Creative!

Mrs. Johnson (a 5th grade teacher at Granger Elementary) created a collaborative Google Site with the purpose of expanding learning in the ELA and social studies classroom. On the homepage of the site, students find permission to be creative! The site reads, “This will be a place for you to take your learning to the next level by using your creative mind to build on what you’ve already been learning about in class. Think outside the box, explore new ideas, and discover topics that you’d like to know more about.” The license to be creative has led to student ownership that can hardly be put into words.

How did this site come about? Mrs. Johnson states, “Some students finish their classwork quickly and need to have a project to work on, or they need to be challenged to take their learning to the next level. I also have students who simply thrive when having projects to work on. I had many students who fell into these categories this year, and I really wanted provide them with more than just the everyday ELA and social studies classwork. With a blue crayon and a piece of notebook paper, I began jotting down their suggestions. We came up with a few ideas, such as making Google Slides, designing games, and creating Kahoot quizzes. Then, I asked these students about some of their topics of interest. That afternoon, I took their suggestions and organized them into a Google Site. By adding their ideas to the site in an organized way, many more ideas started flowing. I added more ideas of my own, and then I gave about seven students access to this site so that they could add more ideas. Together, we formed the basic structure of this enrichment site.”

Here is how the site works. 1. Students use the “Topics” and “Activity Option” pages to gain inspiration and decide on a creation project that they are interested in. 2. Students click on the timeline spreadsheet and sign up to create a project. 3. Students create the project of their choice using the tool of their choice. 4. Students insert their project into the “Finished Projects” page.  5. Students record a FlipGrid video explaining the what, why, and how of their project. They also explain how their project will impact other students and reflect on what they would have done differently if they were to do the project again.

Students lit up as they shared about their projects. Samanvita, Amari, Kaden, Shabbeer, and John could have chatted for hours about projects they had created and project ideas that were marinating in the back of their mind. "It's not like other classes because we’re getting to chose what we create" said Kaden. "It's really cool," says Amari with a smile, "It's like we are student teachers!" 

Samanvita shares a little about her creation, “I made a Powtoon about point of view, a WeVideo about story elements, and there is is lego website that I’m hoping to make a Stop Motion video from. Right now, I’m using Tinkercad to create a gun from the Revolutionary War. I also made a George vs. George quiz. I think I made it a little too tricky because most people only got 30%.” Samanvita asked me to take the quiz and I’m sad to say that I failed as well. All that said, she had feedback woven within the quiz and was able to help me learn from my mistakes.

Other created projects include, a 3D print of the Boston Tea Party ship, a mini Lexia series to help others who may want extra practice, various Kahoot and Google Form quizzes over covered topics, and even stop motion videos. According to these students, the most challenging aspect of the project is time management and choosing the right tool for the resource that they are making. They are learning that some tools are limited and they need to be purposeful when choosing. Many of these students get excited about their projects and end up working both at school and at home.

John's Mini Lexia Quiz and a Point of View Google Form
Kaden's Boston Tea Party Scratch Game

 In closing, Mrs. Johnson points out, “I was most surprised with how smooth the transition has been and how little guidance is needed. My students are extremely self-driven and self-motivated with this website. I am impressed with the variety of products that they have created as a result of this website. I am also thrilled about how excited they are to create so many different projects.” She adds, “One of our campus initiatives is to raise the level of Masters scores by 10%. I definitely believe that by doing these types of self-initiated projects, our students will show growth in their reading and thinking abilities.”

Be on the lookout for some of these student created products at EXPO 2019!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Book Snaps: Snapping for Reading

Walking into Mrs. Guy’s classroom is such a delight. She has set a goal to take risks this year and try new things that enhance student learning outcomes. With that goal, she is committed to incorporating relevant technology into her lessons to help students reach her yearly student learning objective, or SLO.

Mrs. Guy wrote, “When developing my SLO I noticed that students demonstrated weakness in the area of critically thinking about reading and that students had difficulty drawing conclusions with logical text evidence. This lead me to create my SLO as follows: When reading, students will draw conclusions, evaluate relationships within texts and provide text evidence to support their conclusions. Shelly brought the idea of book snaps as a way to have students showcase their evidence, so I introduced book snaps in one of my reading skills groups.”

#BookSnaps are a digital representation of the text with annotation. Mrs. Guy’s 3rd graders were given the task of choosing one difference from schools in the past and schools now in their reading skills group. They also used book snaps to showcase their favorite book with evidence on why they choose that book. Mrs. Guy said, “In my opinion, it is more than just a reading response. It is hits our SLO by having the student frame exact book evidence to support their answer in a way that interests them.”

Tyler said, "Books Snaps are fun, you can use them to tell about your favorite book.
Book Snaps is a great a way for students to find text evidence and make connections with their reading. Taking risks and finding relevant ways to get your kids learning and reaching goals is invaluable. By using Book Snaps and other useful technology integration tools, they can reach their learning goals easily and more often!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Say “Oui!” to Performance-based Assessments

If you’re anything like I was as a classroom teacher, you’ve spent many nights drowning in papers to grade. You understand the time spent in coffee shops, trying desperately to get caught up. And yet, if you’re anything like me, there have been times that, after all those hours and lattes, you weren’t satisfied that your students’ grades actually reflected their knowledge and ability. Where was I going wrong?

I assigned and graded vocabulary worksheets each week, but students were still scoring low on their diction in writing. I graded reading quizzes that assessed plot and character knowledge, but in the end some students couldn’t talk about the major themes of a novel. Between what felt like wasted class time and weekends spent grading, it never failed that when it turned out an assignment didn't actually tell me whether or not my students truly “got it”, I was left frustrated.

I understood that traditional assignments and tests work to show if students “know” something, but quickly learned that they fall short as an indicator of whether or not students can actually use that knowledge. Of course there is a time and place for each, but it is important for teachers to challenge their students with performance-based assessments if they want to know that students can apply their knowledge in meaningful ways. Northwest High School’s French teacher, Madame Blanc (Mrs. White), made this shift in her classroom this year, away from traditional tests and towards a performance-based method of assessment -- and it seems to be paying off.

Each six weeks, Madame Blanc gives her students both creative tasks and opportunities to apply and demonstrate their learning through student-created products that are ultimately shared through their ePortfolio, a personal and digital collection of their growth and learning. As a basic example, she asked her students to create an article for a French magazine that explains an American holiday and custom as a way to assess their application of many language skills they are working on.

French student Elise Reuman recounted one assignment where she and her classmates were asked to create a video that described their partner’s family as a way to demonstrate their ability to use adjectives in French. Using Adobe Spark video, she described her classmate's family. Elise reflected, “...using the vocabulary in a way that applied it to a likely scenario really helped to ingrain the information. Projects like this usually only require the [written] portion of the vocabulary… [but] Mrs.White, went a step further and required a vocal response as well. This really solidified some of the pronunciation and helped me become more comfortable with actually speaking the French language.”

As Elise shared, performance-based tasks engage students in more authentic opportunities to practice real-world skills. It’s important to note that, in a performance-based classroom “teachers do not have to “give up” units of study or favorite activities” (ASCD). According to ASCD, it’s because these “authentic tasks are rooted in curriculum” that “teachers can develop [assignments] based on what already works for them.” It’s ultimately through small changes in how teachers ask students to learn that “assignments become more authentic and more meaningful to students.”

For example, in another assignment in Madame Blanc's class, students were challenged to learn about multiple perspectives, including the likes and dislikes of French teenagers. They had to go further to compare/contrast these perspectives with those of American Teens. Students interviewed their peers (some opting to collect data through Google Forms), graphed and visualized the data they collected (through Google Sheets), and then wrote of summary of their findings in both French and English, finally sharing their work through their ePortfolio (a website created on Google Sites). Assignments like this require students to be strong in their content knowledge, but more than that, they develop skills outside of French language studies -- skills like the 6 Cs: creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, character education, and citizenship.

Watching performance-based assessments work for Madame Blanc has reiterated what hindsight and experience taught me: It was when I focused on creating rigorous and authentic learning tasks for my students, rather than assigning simple checks-for-understanding for grades, that I best served them. It is through rigorous, performance-based learning tasks that we can empower our students to think critically and create, and that we can most accurately and authentically assess their learning.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Juxtaposing Student Voice & Choice w/ AP Exam Test Prep

When your Senior level AP course doesn’t have TEKS and is primarily focused on preparing for the AP exam, there is not much room for student creation and choice, right? WRONG! AP English IV (AP Literature and Composition) teachers Denise Tennison and Brittany Harper at Byron Nelson High School look for innovative ways to prepare the student, while engaging them in the learning that goes beyond traditional test prep. What better way for students to learn question analysis than to create AP-level questions themselves. Futhermore, they stepped into the teacher role and used formative assessment websites, like Quizizz, Socrative, and Mentimeter, to create student-made quizzes with a future audience of their own peers. Talk about real world application, authentic audience, collaboration, and student choice - all wrapped up into one!

This task’s purpose was multifaceted as it aimed to 1. Analyze Othello, and 2. Apply knowledge and syntax of the 12 English Literature and Composition Question Types. Specifically, it challenged students to CONSTRUCT AP questions in order to be more prepared to DECONSTRUCT them on the exam as it will be easier to answer high-level questions if students have an understanding of how they are originally developed.  

Project Instructions:

In the past, this project stopped at Step #4 above in which the student solely created the questions on a collaborative Google Doc. Although these did provide a sample set of study questions, they weren’t interactive, thus many peers read over them without truly applying their thinking to answer and engage with the content. Furthermore, there wasn’t an authentic audience since it was simply a paper turned in to be graded by the teacher. To provide a more engaging experience and incorporate student choice, Tennison and Harper brainstormed applicable product choice websites using the Tools that Make IT Click resource to identify a set of options that would work well for this assignment.

Benefits of designing student choice lessons with multiple tool options:
  • Students have power over the tool they chose.
  • They are more engaged in the process because they were able to break out of the “one-size-fits-all” approach in which every students' experience is identical.
  • Students can apply prior experience with tools they have used in other classes to understand which tool most appropriately applies to their content.
  • Neither the teacher or students need to be “tool-expert.” There are so many resources that are Google-able to understand how a tool works; plus, students typically are able to figure site features out quicker than many adults.
  • If a tool doesn’t fit one groups’ needs or isn’t as easy to understand, just pick another platform!

Example #1:
Students: Cavnar, Dumble, Felten, Pham, Cobb, Hinshaw
Formative Assessment Tool: Socrative
Play along HERE! Room Name: CAVNAR

Example #2:
Students: Edwards, Ye, Holt, Plocek, Mauer, Young
Formative Assessment Tool: Quizizz

Students’ feedback on this project was very positive. Because of the collaborative group nature, these teachers overheard really good conversations taking place as students discussed Othello, compared the 12 question types to best assign various formats to their content, and wrote a challenging question and designed relevant distractors. When it came time to enter these into the formative assessment site, students were able to collaborate in discussing their prior experience with various sites as they weighed the benefits and downfalls of each in order to connect the best type of tool to their content needs. Additionally, they were able to design the type of experience they would most like to participate in such as choosing sites that use gamification, whole class/group vs. individual quizzes, and embedded opportunities for detailed student feedback. The final products will support students two-fold: allowing the student to be the “teacher” in designing the content, as well as letting the student be another peer's student by taking each other’s assessment’s now and in the Spring to prepare for the exam. Adios traditional, boring test prep!

Monday, October 29, 2018

All Aboard: Where Hovering Dreams Become a Reality

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.” 
-Colin Powell

          I think back to when I was a kid, thinking about how there would definitely be flying cars in the future.  Shows and movies like “The Jetsons” and “Back to the Future” made these dreams a quasi-reality for us.  Unlike three of Prairie View Elementary’s finest leaders, I was waiting for someone else to make this idea come to fruition, it never happened.

          It all started when Christopher and Ethan dreamed up the idea to transform the transportation world with a hover train that would exceed all current travel expectations.  Beginning the design process by sketching out what they imagined, their idea began to take shape.  After coming up with rough sketches of what their hover train would look like, they needed help to take their project to the next level.  Inviting Ian into the group seemed like the best addition, as he had experience designing futuristic models as well.  Additionally, Ms. Natalie Spann, Librarian at Prairie View Elementary, was asked to oversee this passion project, as the students eventually hoped to use the brand-new 3D-printer the school had won through having the most involvement at NISD’s Summer Techno Camps!

          Under the direction and guidance of Ms. Spann, the three 5th-grade engineers began to set-off on developing their idea in Tinker Cad, a design program that can then connect to a 3D-printer to print out their designs.  In discussing their design process, Christopher stated that “We know that it has to be aerodynamic, which is why the front of the train will be rounded, to allow the air to push around it on all sides.”  Through the process of designing the train itself, they have had to problem solve how they intend to make it hover.  Ethan suggested that “electromagnets within the train and surrounding the tunnel will allow the train to stay off the ground,” as he pulls up his Youtube video research.

          The beauty of learning in a district such as NISD, educators know where there is a will, there is a way.  It just so happened that the NISD STEM Academy at Northwest High School had recently posted about their culminating project after experiencing first hand what the engineering process looks like.  Ms. Elizabeth Mitias, the teacher of the Aerospace and STEM Principles classes, gladly accepted the challenge of having some of her seniors mentor our three emerging scientists.  Coordinating schedules, Ms. Spann and Ms. Mitias set out to schedule a Zoom Conference between the two groups of students.  The Prairie View students were excited at the opportunity to hear from “experts” in the field that they were working in.  They began preparing talking points and questions that they would ask the seniors.

          Finally, the day of the meeting arrived.  Ethan, Connor, and Marla, senior students from Ms. Mitias’’ class, were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the young engineers.  The meeting commenced with an introduction to the engineering process where the seniors discussed their experiences in creating their spacecraft.  Connor reiterated the idea that “It is necessary to get feedback from multiple perspectives when creating a project because a fresh pair of eyes can help you see things that you may have missed before.”

          Throughout the course of the meeting, Christopher, Ian, and Ethan held their own when challenged with scientific questions.  The level of discourse between these two groups of students was like none that this writer has ever experienced before.  Following a protocol where the Seniors gave reflective feedback and encouraging words of praise to the 5th-graders, who were silently listening and absorbing, the 5th-graders who once thought they were ready to print a prototype of their project and submit it for testing, knew that they had to comb through their plans and make adjustments to account for all of the new learning they had acquired.

          When asked about their experiences throughout this whole passion-project, the boys were ecstatic to share how they were feeling.   Ian stated, “I feel smart. I feel like a brainiac. I feel like I’ve done something nobody’s ever done before.”  Ethan expressed, “It feels like what we are doing is experimental. We are figuring out problems that we’ve never done before.”  Excited by the opportunity, Christopher shared, “I am just so eager to learn more about aerodynamics and electromagnets, and it feels like this is something that we can really make happen.”  Ms. Spann, who supported this project from its conception, expressed, “I love that this whole project was intrinsically motivated.  The students had the idea and set out to find a way to make it happen, all on their own.  They never had a question of if, just who would be willing to give them the space to make their dreams come true.”

          By empowering our students to find what they are passionate about, these Prairie View Leaders exemplify the necessity to fulfill the mantra, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”  This truly embodies Leader In Me Habit #4 as this is a WIN-WIN for all involved.

Monday, October 22, 2018

"Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" Chromebooks in Kindergarten Classrooms

A told B and B told C that “Kindergarteners using Chromebooks is something you should see!”  NISD’s technology department opened the door to endless possibilities when they transformed the login process for our youngest learners.  Kindergarten and first grade students are now able to quickly log into Chromebooks by simply scanning a district issued QR code that connects to their credentials. Kindergarten teachers at Roanoke Elementary with the support of their Library Media Specialist, Kelley Valdez, were eager to take advantage of this opportunity and voluntarily piloted integrating Chromebooks during the 2018 Spring semester.  

When first implementing Chromebooks with Kindergarten students last year, Library Media Specialist, Kelley Valdez, was focused on two main goals. Her first goal was to show that Kindergarten students truly were able to handle utilizing the Chromebooks and the Google Suite apps as long as the task were developmentally appropriate.  Her second goal was to model for teachers how to use Google Classroom and a variety of other tools by integrating them with the curriculum. Kindergarten teachers worked closely with Mrs. Valdez and continued to implement Chromebooks to amplify the learning experiences currently happening in Kindergarten classrooms.

The Kindergarten teachers at Roanoke Elementary were amazed at the progress their students made in such a short amount of time during the spring.  Not only were their students engaging in innovative learning experiences they were also developing foundational keyboarding and mouse skills as they gained exposure to the device they will be using in the upper grades.  By the end of the school year Kindergarten learners were able to:

  1. Login to the Chromebook using the Rapid Identity QR code.
  2. Join a Google Classroom and learn to locate activities and turn them in.
  3. Click on the Google Chrome icon, "rainbow eyeball", and then tap on the red flag icon for the NISD portal. 
  4. Practice keyboarding and mouse skills - through games and Google Slides activities that supported learning goals.
  5. Log out of the Chromebook using a simple 6 step process:  Touch your icon, touch Sign Out, Touch your name, Touch the arrow pointing down, Touch the Blue words, Touch the Red Words.

Mrs. DiBenedetto says one of her favorite things about the Chromebook is the QR code option for signing in efficiently.  She believes this is a big help for her students to meet their learning goals. Mrs.  Valdez said Google Classroom was one of her favorite tools she used because she could easily assign activities and monitor work in progress and completed work.  She also created Master Slide templates in Google Slides to build exactly what she needed to support learning goals. The Chromebooks were labeled with colored stickers on the left side to help with locating keys (red, yellow, green, blue).  Round stickers in the top left and right corners with L and R These are just a few helpful tips adapted from Christine Pinto to help students navigate the Chromebook with success. Mrs. DiBenedetto helps her students stay organized by keeping their login QR code in a baggie in their book box. This makes it very easy for them to get their login cards quickly and get started using the Chromebook independently.

As the 2017-2018 school year came to an end Mrs. Valdez created a Google Apps for Littles book study course for the summer.  This book is an excellent resource for any PK-2 educators looking for ways to ease their way into the Chromebook and Google World.  Skip scat scoodle doot. Flip flop flee. Everybody is saying a Chromebook might be the key.