Monday, January 20, 2020

Seesaw Superpowers: Able to Read and Reflect with a Single Bound!

Unit 2 of Lucy Calkins Units of Study for Teaching Reading introduces Kindergarten students to their reading SUPER POWERS. Just like superheros kindergarten readers begin to call on their reading superpowers to read emergent storybooks, shared reading texts, and unfamiliar level A and B books. During this unit children will learn how to unlock their pointer power, snap word power, persistence power, and picture power to mention a few.

In Northwest ISD, our youngest learners develop life longs skills of selecting, reflecting, and sharing their work in a digital format called ePortfolios. The standard program our district uses for primary ePortfolios is Seesaw. In partnership with district ELAR Coaches and Instructional Technologists they were able to offer kindergarten readers the opportunity to utilize Seesaw to reflect and set goals for their reading superpowers.

Casey Dibenedetto, Kindergarten teacher at Roanoke Elementary, is definitely a Super Teacher who is out of this world! Casey looked over the activities provided by the coaches and added audio instructions so her kids could listen to them independently. Before students began the activity she reviewed the Super Reader Powers and gave students time to think about a power they used frequently with ease and a power they often forgot to use - basically a celebration and a goal.

Students leveraged the creative tools in Seesaw to reflect on their learning and set goals. Specifically, they were thinking about the “Reading Super Powers” they had learned in their most recent reading unit. As a Kindergarten Super Teacher she knows students can talk about their learning much easier than they can write about it. By using this Seesaw activity her students were able to easily share their strength and their goal with their teacher and their families.

Casey believes “Seesaw is absolutely amazing! I love that there are so many tools available for students to utilize as they communicate about their learning. They can draw pictures and add text and drawings to annotate work or a provided image. It is also easy for students to collaborate and complete work together. The aspect of Seesaw that most helps to augment my students’ classroom experience is that they can record their voice and I can listen to their responses. The multi-page activities have also been a game changer in the way I am able to use Seesaw with my students. Communication with families is another key feature of Seesaw. Parents love seeing what their kids are doing at school. I also use it to share newsletters, links, announcements, and other information with families.”

In Mrs. Di’s classroom, her students use the NISD Portal to access Seesaw and Google Classroom often. She provides visual instructions to help her students remember the steps and follow them independently. Students in Mrs. Di’s classroom use Seesaw almost every week to share their learning. Sometimes this is an open ended Journal prompt where students share a piece of work and talk about it and sometimes it is a preloaded Activity that they access and complete. Students also use Seesaw to practice reading aloud and sharing their writing. Her students really enjoyed this opportunity to reflect as Super Readers in Seesaw. They loved getting to color themselves as a Super Reader, and they loved sharing their strength and their goal.

Please check out Casey’s adapted version of the activity - verbal instructions, wording changed slightly to sound like her.

Below are student samples of the completed activity as well as Seesaw activities for future units of study.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Personalized and Self-Paced Learning for Educators and Students

Classrooms looks different today than they did years ago. We've evolved from a traditional classroom setting where the teacher is lecturing, to a classroom that is active, innovative, and the students are driving the learning. As an Instructional Technologist, I have been fortunate enough to see many different ways educators approach teaching and learning--from the traditional learning model to some of the most innovative and creative classrooms.  To create an innovative, open, and creative place for students and teachers to grow, take risks, and feel comfortable in their own patterns of learning three educators have raised the bar to provide those experiences.  This past fall semester, Mrs. Roberts, Mrs. Seale (CTE Teachers), and Mrs. Toht (Science Coach for NISD) reached out to their campus Instructional Technologist, Rene' Egle, to brainstorm ideas of ways to raise the level of learning for students and teachers by integrating technology. 

The College and Career Ready course called Professional Communications is an 8th grade curriculum taught by Brittany Roberts and Vanessa Seale at Wilson Middle School. Past learning experiences to present the 27 CCR pathways has been a very teacher driven type environment.  This 2019-2020 school year the campus Instructional Technologist hosted a TechBytes during PLC’s titled Creating Choice Boards.  This inspired Mrs. Roberts and Mrs. Seale to create a choice board of innovative student facilitated learning of the many pathway opportunities that CTE has to offer.  Students were able to click to view their options they were most interested in and document using a Google Form that provided interaction and reflection.  Mrs. Roberts stated, “This strategy was useful for students and not overwhelming with multiple documents or pages.”

The excitement and benefits of self-paced learning didn’t stop at Wilson, science teachers throughout the district were provided an opportunity to a self-paced learning experience at district professional development held on January 6th.  Courtney Toht, NISD Science Coach, brainstormed new ways to introduce the learning experience called Argument Driven Inquiry or ADI which is an eight stage lab process.  She wanted to keep her teachers active and engaged while practicing the productive struggle which we expect of our students.  After visiting with her campus Instructional Coach Rene' Egle and Library Media Specialist Jamie Eikenberry, she developed an escape room full of interactive tools to work through the learning of the ADI concepts.  Courtney stated, “I needed a way to facilitate PD to teachers in multiple rooms. Also, many teachers expressed interest in learning about escape rooms, so what a better way to present this new information that we will dig deeper into during the summer training.  I thought it would be a good way to allow teachers to experience an escape for learning purposes and then learn how to make them in another session. 
First the teachers were given an introduction video to the eight ADI stages, then they interacted with a matching game using the tool Match the Memory to strengthen their knowledge. Click here for the match game

Next, the tool called EdPuzzle allowed teachers to watch a video that had embedded comprehension check questions along the way. 

Because educators today want to have evidence that different learning styles have a positive impact on learning, Mrs. Toht developed a puzzle using Jigsaw Planet to provide evidence.  Click here for the puzzle

The last step to the ADI Escape room use the tool called a Snote.  Snote is a unique and creative way to deliver key words in a secret message.  The teachers loved using the directional sliders to find the hidden words. With the conclusion of each category they were given a set of CLUE WORDS to unlock the room, just like the public escape rooms that are so popular today in our communities.  Click here for Snote

The choice board and escape room are just a few examples of how technology has helped changed the student/teacher roles in the classroom. Students take responsibility for their learning outcomes, while teachers become guides and facilitators. Technology lends itself as the multidimensional tool that assists that process.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Breakout: It's a Celebration!

As semester exams draw nearer, students in Mrs. Butler, Mrs. Harris, and Coach Smith’s 6th/7th Compacted Advanced Math classes at Medlin Middle School have been hard at work. Over the last week they have worked together to create an epic digital breakout experience to review all content from the semester. The idea of using a breakout to review or interact with math concepts is not new. In fact, these students have experienced the use of digital breakout type activities created by their teachers all semester.

Throughout the fall semester, students have had the opportunity to participate in several digital breakout experiences. Similar to an escape room, a variety of puzzles and scenarios lead students through an engaging interaction with content. Along the way codes are revealed that, in the end, unlock the “locks”. Digital breakouts can be used across content areas and grade levels. When asked about learning through breakouts, Gage was excited to share. “I like the technology experience. It's a new way to look at math and it makes it more fun. It’s definitely more interesting because it makes math a part of our real world." 

And now the tables have turned. The secrets to creating an engaging digital breakout have been revealed and students have been equipped with the tools to create. Ify has enjoyed the process because she says it’s given her a “behind the scenes look" at creating activities like her teacher. It has also inspired her to explore career paths that may involve coding or creating digital materials for others. After being given the content to be used, Google Forms, Google Slides, and Flippity were the platforms selected by most students. Their teachers helped organize all created breakouts on a Google Site that was then shared with students as their semester review. 

Click HERE to access the student created breakouts

So, why use digital breakouts? The better question may be, why not? Digital breakouts...
  • Promote collaboration and communication within the classroom
  • Enhance problem solving and critical thinking skills
  • Reinforce grade appropriate Technology Application TEKS and Digital Citizenship curriculum
  • Motivate and spark new learning opportunities
  • Empower students to own and apply their learning

Mrs. Butler also gives a compelling testimony for the integration of Digital Breakouts in the classroom. “There is a special energy that fills the room when students are completing a breakout session. Students are engaged and eager to advance through the activities. Students enjoy taking on a challenge and competing to be the first group done. Best of all, students receive immediate feedback on their content knowledge which is huge for a learner's success.”

If you are considering the use of digital breakouts with your students, reach out to your campus Instructional Technology or Library Media Specialist for help. There are many resources available to help make your breakout dreams a reality. 

This project will be submitted as an interactive presentation and considered by the campus committee to represent Medlin at Expo 2020. For more information about Northwest ISD Expo event, please visit

Monday, December 9, 2019

An Unlikely Partnership: ePortfolios from a Fresh Lens

ePortfolios are a platform for showcase, goal setting, and reflection in every grade and on each campus in Northwest ISD. While the platform and benefits of having an ePortfolio are similar for everyone, the why, design, and purpose of the ePortfolio will change based on the student’s age, goals, and target audience. This is why the virtual and time flexible Hughes ES and Steele HS ePortfolio partnership has been both beneficial and mind blowing for our students!

Students in Mrs. Champion’s 5th grade GT class and Coach Hayes' CTE classes were put into a collaborative Google Slides with an assigned partner. Fifth grade kicked off this partnership by first examining their own ePortfolio and recognizing specific areas in which they’d like feedback (Quality of Content, Web Design/Organization, or Personalization).

Collaborative Google Slides 

After doing some introspective work, students explored their partner’s high school ePortfolio. They took notes and then provided written feedback in slides and verbal feedback via Flipgrid. The written feedback allowed students to narrow their focus into a few sentences, while the video feedback allowed students to get to know and encourage their partner. Flipgrid allowed students to have a relevant audience outside of their classroom, school, and grade. It was fun for students to hear from someone that was looking at their ePortfolio with a fresh and new perspective.

The Lifelong Skill of Giving and Receiving Feedback 
Not only did students learn get inspiration and ideas for improving their ePortfolio, but they also learned how to give and receive feedback. Feedback should be specific, constructive, and align with their partner’s goals.  Both giving and receiving feedback via Flipgrid helped students polish the lifelong skill of working alongside others for continual improvement.  Even the high school students appreciated a fresh set of eyes. In fact, Steele Senior George Peterson states, “I enjoyed learning about my strengths and weaknesses. It's very refreshing to hear feedback from somebody outside my personal and professional bubbles because I know it's very objective. This is an opportunity for me to apply the feedback and grow from it.” Charlotte (Hughes ES) adds, "I've learned from my Steele buddy that I can always improve. Some people don't appreciate feedback, but Jordan has given me some GREAT suggestions!"

The Vulnerability of Sharing a “Work in Progress” 
Students, and even adult learners have been conditioned to work on a product until it has reached “turn in” status before sharing with others. It takes vulnerability, confidence, and humility to share a “work in progress.” While we do want to reach a “publish” point with our ePortfolio, this process has been refreshing for students to have a partner that wants to meet them right where they are. This has been an amazing opportunity to learn about continual improvement.  Parker Younger (Junior at SAHS) comments, “From this partnership I have learned that my ePortfolio is always changing. After my Hughes partner gave me their feedback, I realized that even the smallest details about my life could and should in included in my ePortfolio. These details help to make my ePortfolio personalized and professional.” Isaac (Hughes ES) has truly appreciated the feedback that he has received and is excited to take next steps in making his ePortfolio even better. He states, “By the end of 5th grade, I hope to have added an elementary school recap to show how much I have learned and changed. I have received some feedback that has really helped me like making a school studies tab, instead of having all of my subjects jumbled around in my ePortfolio." 

It's been inspiring for Hughes students to see the possibilities that lie ahead for their ePortfolio. The didn't feel intimidated by their partner, but rather encouraged to take next steps knowing that they have year to perfect their site. Isaac emphasizes this point in his feedback when he records,"First of all, your ePortfolio looks really good. I really hope that mine might be like that someday." 

What’s Next for These Students? 
This experience was such a beneficial process for both the elementary and high school classes. As a result, Mrs. Champion and Coach Hayes have decided to continue the same process for a round two of feedback starting December 19th. It will be powerful for students to have the accountability of updating their ePortfolio and using the feedback they've been given. Students have also been asking about opportunities to meet their partner in person. Teachers are working to find an opportunity for students to meet up in the spring for a round robin type ePortfolio showcase where they can see a variety of ePortfolios and the growth that has been made. You may even see some of these partnerships at Expo 2020 in February!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Leveraging Seesaw for Problem Solving

“Problem solving is for students to dig deeper into their thinking about math. They take the problem and break it down. The most important piece of problem solving is getting the students to talk about it using mathematical vocabulary and getting them to explain and justify how they worked the problem and how they arrived at the answer. Sometimes there is no defined right or wrong answer. It is more for them to explain to me how they got their answer.” -Mrs. Mancino.
At Haslet Elementary, Mrs. Mancino’s 2nd grade classroom uses Seesaw to leverage their problem solving in Math. It is truly unbelievable how quickly her students have picked up use of the Chromebook in the classroom. She did not return to the classroom from maternity leave until the second week of October. Before her return, the students did not do many activities on the Chromebook and did not use Seesaw at all. They started problem solving on Seesaw the last week of October. They now use Seesaw daily and have started learning to use Google Classroom, Google Sites, Google Slides, and Adobe Spark.
In their math journal, students explain step by step what they did to solve the problem. They write out the equation and the solution, take a picture of their work on Seesaw,  then use the record button to explain their thinking.

An example of a multi-step addition and subtraction problem. The students have to start by breaking the problem down into 4 squares (I know, I need to know, equation, and solution). They know Ava and Shelby say 42 geese. They also know when they got to the top of the hill they saw 25 more geese. Lastly, they know 15 flew away. The students then have to figure out what question they are trying to answer. They need to know how many geese were left after 15 flew away. 
Seesaw activities are another way they problem solve. The question is asking the students to find the quadrilateral with all sides a different length. Mrs. Mancino teaches her  students to connect the dots using different colors so they are better able to see how many sides each shape has well as how long each side is. By using different colors for each answer, it helps them learn to do this for similar questions later on. They used different colored pens to draw the shapes, then they had to record their justification of why they chose the answer they did.
The power of problem solving and having an authentic audience can change the way your kids look at their work! Seesaw has allowed these students to work hard, share their accomplishments with their peers and family members. Talk about motivation!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Answering "Am I Doing This Right?" with Tech-Facilitated Feedback

"Am I doing this right?"
"I'm stuck!"
"I don't know how else to make it better."
"I think I have the hang of it?"

These phrases are ones that are muttered on a daily basis in every content and at every grade. Students are learning new material and are trying their best to show mastery, but are often unsure if they are on the right track or are meeting expectations. Unfortunately, these questions typically don't get answered until the end of a unit through some sort of summative assignment in which the student gets a grade, sees their marked errors, and then immediately moves on to the next topic of study instead of using the feedback for growth towards improvement.

You can't blame the teacher though, right? With 30+ students per class and having several class periods in a day, the shear combined class load of 150+ students to grade is overwhelming, not to mention and it's near impossible to hold a meaningful conference with every student within a 45 minute class period. To add, many teachers are already spending several hours after school preparing for the next school day. Is all hope lost? Do we accept that's just how it is? Is there a better way? YES! 

Check out these highly effective ways to maximize use of technology in delivering immediate, personalized feedback to every student. 

Tip #1: Incorporate tools that automate the process of providing immediate feedback. Check out this example from Carla Dalton's AQR (Advanced Quantitative Reasoning) class in which she maximized the 'conditional formatting' function within Google Sheets to efficiently check progress towards mastery. This auto-coloring box allows the student to know immediately if their calculation was right or wrong. Immediate feedback of this nature enables students to self-monitor the need for referring back to notes or self-regulation of knowing when to ask for help. This also is intended to correct misunderstandings as they occur, rather than addressing misunderstandings the next day after a worksheet's worth of doing it wrong and solidifying incorrect thinking.

Another example of this automated immediate feedback is done through the use of Moodle quizzes when set to behave in Adaptive Mode, such as this example from Tiffany Mackerley's Chemistry class. This mode turns a traditional quiz into a series of formative questions that has a "check" button which allows students to immediately see which answers are right or wrong. Based on the immediate feedback, students can adjust their response accordingly; the teacher can additionally have it be set up to lose a certain percentage of points with each incorrect answer to minimize random, blind guesses.

Tip #2: Empower your students have their voices be heard as a welcomed source of feedback. In April Heffley's Art IV class, students gave anonymous, critical feedback to their peers' artwork in order to make improvements on what was considered "final" artwork for the time-being. The anonymity allows students to be honest about their thoughts while the teacher is able to monitor students responses through the Teacher Dashboard. Though it does save the teacher time from not being the sole giver of feedback, but it it also valuable to the student receiving the feedback as this process allows varied opinions and perspectives that might not have been considered. Not to mention, it also targets higher order thinking skills by those giving the feedback considering evaluation is the second highest cognitive level in Bloom's Taxomony. Beyond collecting the feedback, Mrs. Heffley then uses the peer's feedback to hold individual conferences with each student artist as they review the feedback together; during this time, the teacher assumes a partner position, rather than evaluator position, in supporting the students' growth.

Tip #3: Seek new opinions from audiences outside the walls of your classroom.
Opening the virtual-doors to your classroom does not have to mean you are connecting with people literally across the globe or are blindly matching with unknown audiences. Patti Hayes' 10th-12th graders at Steele Accelerated High School partnered up with Sandra Champion's GT 5th graders at Hughes Elementary School to review each other's ePortfolios and provide feedback to one another. Google Slides were used to pair up the students, collect written feedback, and link to a FlipGrid that facilitated introductions and oral feedback. This partnership benefited both audiences as the younger students were able to hear from more experienced students in this area, while the older students had their content viewed from true 'outsiders' which helped pinpoints things to be explained or clarified. For more information on this partnership, stay tuned for a blog post detailing this experience set to publish here on 12/9/19!
While all of these tips require time to be invested on the front end to prepare and set up, changing when and how feedback is given maximizes a student's understanding of the material by shifting mindset to viewing feedback as a tool for growth as opposed to a numerical final evaluation. Also note that giving quality feedback is a skill that is developed over time and you can't assume any student, regardless of age, should automatically 'know' how to give good feedback. When asking students to give each other qualitative feedback, sentence stems help focus thinking. Lastly, because feedback is a skill, the more times you ask students to give feedback, the more developed they will become in this area.

This post highlights examples of the following ISTE standards:
  • Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways. (ISTE Student Standard 1c)
  • Use technology to design and implement a variety of formative and summative assessments that accommodate learner needs, provide timely feedback to students, and inform instruction (ISTE Teacher Standard 7b)

Monday, November 11, 2019

Bringing Seesaw to Secondary: Why Seesaw isn't just for Elementary classrooms

Bringing Seesaw to Secondary: Why Seesaw isn't just for Elementary classrooms

As a platform, Seesaw lets students blend pictures, video, voice-over, annotation tools, and external resources. It can be a powerful platform for both creation and reflection. Typically, Seesaw is used by elementary educators because it caters to kids -- it’s icon heavy, makes providing voice and video instructions easy, and because it is web-based, is easily accessed on Chromebooks. Secondary teachers, don’t stop reading yet… 

Middle School teacher Kristy Fair at Gene Pike Middle School is engaging her 6th-grade students through Seesaw. For Veterans Day and as a part of their nonfiction unit, she had her students read an article from Wonderopolis and then create a presentation about what they learned. Beginning with a lesson from Seesaw’s Activity library, which is filled with pre-created activities for K-12 for all contents, Mrs. Fair modified the assignment and instructions to better meet her students' needs. She added voice instructions and asked her students to make personal connections to Veterans day before sharing their research with the class.

What I love about this lesson is that she asks her students to reflect, make connections, and create a resource to share with their classmates all based on what they read. A lesson like this is flexible -- it can easily be made more or less challenging depending on the article linked in and on the level of critical thinking students are being asked to show in their evidence of learning. She modified the task to meet her students' needs. Regardless, Seesaw and Google Slides are simply the tools through which Mrs. Fair assigned and assessed student's comprehension and learning. 

I observed her classes using Seesaw and witnessed first-hand how excited and engaged her middle schoolers were while using Seesaw. They loved sharing their work so that their classmates could see it, and were quick to leave each other positive feedback on what they shared. They were eager to participate -- one student went so far as to respond to the Veterans Day assignment from home the morning before class, sharing a video reflection about how his great-great-grandfather was a veteran.

As a former-high-school-teacher-turned-Instructional-Coach, I had admittedly written this tool off as an elementary-only resource, but working with secondary teachers and students in Seesaw quickly showed me how useful this platform can be for meeting the needs of students of all ages and ability. At its core, Seesaw is a platform for sharing and curating work, for synthesizing thinking and evidence of learning in one easy-to-use and easy-to-share place. As an added bonus it seamlessly integrates with Google Classroom, which many secondary teachers are already using. Seesaw creates choice and flexibility in how students share their learning. Whether asking students to snap a picture of their journal, annotate and reflect on what they wrote or asking students to upload their lab data and reflect on the implications of their scientific findings using videos, Seesaw can amplify the reflections and learning that happens in secondary classrooms. 

Below are a few pre-created secondary Seesaw lessons for various contents that can all be found in the Activity Library. How will you use Seesaw in your secondary classroom?