Monday, October 15, 2018

"Breaking out" and "Escaping" to Active Learning

Scenario: You are a student sitting in class, eyes glancing at the clock, counting the minutes to the bell, wanting to “escape”…Unless, you are in Rachelle Enax’s AVID classroom at Eaton High School where your only glances at the clock are in hopes for more time. Mrs. Enax’s students have already spent several class periods this school year wishing for more time to access information that will give them much needed clues for solving mysteries within educational breakout games. The escape room or breakout concept began in Japan in the early 2000’s with escape rooms created for entertainment purposes. As the trend grew, educators began to adopt this idea and evolve it into a type of classroom activity that empowers students to independently search for themed content needed to solve puzzles and unlock a series of clues, eventually “escaping” a fictional scenario.

Mrs. Enax elected to try this type of activity with her students after seeing the Breakout EDU resources available in the library media center. Breakout EDU resources allow teachers and students access to physical breakout boxes with already built clues and hints as well as completely digital breakouts that cover a variety of content areas. While completing their first “Back to School Boogie” breakout box activity, several of Enax’s students commented that they enjoyed the activity because “it allowed them to get information and learn things on their own and it was so different than what they usually do in school that it didn’t even feel like school.” After completing a second digital breakout, one student commented that “it was much better than someone lecturing us or just watching videos.” The student also appreciated that if there was something she already knew, she didn’t have to spend a lot of time on that and could move on to new information on her own. After the first couple of breakout experiences, Enax’s students have begged for additional breakout opportunities to help them study and discover concepts that are part of the AVID curriculum.

Several other EHS teachers are beginning create their own completely digital breakout games and try out the Breakout EDU resources available in the EHS library media center. Karri McGovern, an Eaton social studies teacher, noted that several of her students were complimentary of the digital breakout idea after working through an academic honesty scenario presented as an option for freshmen during PSAT testing. McGovern said that “Even the reluctant players bought into the game eventually. It took some of them a few minutes to start thinking the right way and find the first couple of clues, but once they did, they were engaged and determined to finish.” Students in Parween Noori’s freshman class stated that it was “fun to work together in a group to figure out the clues. You really had to look at the videos and articles closely to find the answers.”

This increasingly popular active approach to classroom instruction is part of a growing movement of educational strategies that puts responsibility for learning into the hands of the students, reversing traditional teacher-centered instructional strategies. These methods create more opportunities for engagement, collaboration, creativity, and excitement over the same content. The critical thinking and problem solving required of students in these scenarios tap into key academic and life skills needed while also exposing them to course content.

When reflecting back on the activities done in class so far, Mrs. Enax’s students credit their breakout experiences with improved team building and communication skills and they are excited to see what additional opportunities they will experience with future breakouts, maybe even getting to create their own.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Supporting the #Wildcatway Reading Initiative

The Wildcat Way is more than just a motto at Wilson Middle School.  Over the summer, teachers put down their beach reads and picked up Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters by G. Kylene Beers and Robert E Probst in an effort to better understand ways to foster a culture of  reading across campus and provided opportunities for collaboration through ways to disrupt our thinking about reading.  

It was from this book study, teachers Helen Read, 7th grade ELA, and Matt Norris, 7th grade Math, crafted “The Wilson Review.”   The Wilson Review is a process of creating and posting digital video reviews for students and staff. The goal of the showcase board is to get students interested in books as well as to share the books they love so that they can get inspired to read. Students can access the reviews via teacher Moodle pages and Google Classroom courses. The Reviews are also on display outside Ms. Read’s and Mr. Norris’ classrooms on a large bulletin board where students and teachers can use their mobile device to scan the QR codes.  

Middle School, Wilson Middle School, Flipgrid, Book Recommendations, Book Review, Chromebooks, 6-8, Ms. Helen Read, Mr. Matt Norris, Summer Reading, Reading, Cross-Curricular, Voice and Choice, Voice Recording,

While the activity of having students submit book reviews might seem somewhat mundane,
these two teachers took it up a notch by allowing students to use FlipGrid as a tool for recording
their review.  In the world of Instagram and SnapChat selfies, what a better way to relate to
students than asking them to record their book review. 

Flipgrid is place where you can verbalize your learning.  Flipgrid was purchased by Microsoft and provides a moderated and easy to use platform to create up to 5 minute videos and showcase the videos for only NISD users to view.  Flipgrid along with the cameras on student’s Chromebooks were a great pair for this project. “With the integration of Flipgrid students get excited about sharing their books using the Book, Head, and Heart Model.  As they are creating they can investigate what others have said about books they might be interested to read.  Find a review you enjoy, students can leave a thumbs up to the creator and check out the book in the library.” This type of interaction motivates students to continue reading so they can make additional post.  WOW,  so far The Review board has 26 hours of engagement time and growing. 

Student Raul shared, “Flipgrid allows you to express what you think about a book, you can
say what you want.”  Students enjoy the freedom and creativity this outlet offers.  The ability to
record something for others to watch later is also an aspect of the tool students appreciate.
Gracie Clair reflects, “My flip grid experience has really put it in a way for me that I can speak
up and prove my thinking, with people watching it after I film it, not while I film it.”

Staff have already seen an increase in student engagement during daily reading and this is
only the beginning!  Ms. Read and Mr. Norris hope to continue utilizing Flipgrid throughout
the year for book reviews.  Even teachers have benefited from the program!  As Ms. Read
reflected on her experience she shared, “Making my own Flipgrid video was an interesting
experience because it put me in the shoes of my students. I was a bit nervous recording myself.
It also solidified what I wanted my students to be able to share about their reading. I’ve learned
about some books I have definitely added to my own TO BE READ list.”  Mr. Norris has also
enjoyed the experience and was pleased to see, “With showcasing of teacher examples and as
more students recorded their reviews, students overcome their hesitations.”

In today’s schools, technology can be seen as an enemy of reading, however these two innovative teachers have uncovered a strong ally in growing passionate readers.  The Wildcat Way Reading Initiative is off to a strong start. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Podcasting: The Chronicles of the Gifted & Talented

Students in Mrs. Flores’ 7th grade GT ELA class ended their spring semester reflecting on the learning and growing that occurred throughout their year together. As an outlet for sharing their reflections with others, the class delved into the world of producing podcasts. It proved to be an excellent opportunity for students to let their creative and fun personalities shine.

Podcasts are being used to educate others on a particular topic, to entertain an audience through storytelling, or even just to share about personal experiences. With a wide range of topics available, it seems as if there is literally something for everyone. Podcasts are definitely growing in popularity across all generations. Even knowing this, Mrs. Flores was unsure how many of her students had personal experience with podcasts. To ensure the project’s success, her first plan of action was to provide her students with age appropriate podcast episodes that might peak their interest. From the list she provided, she encouraged them to listen to a variety of episodes paying special attention to their format, music, and special sound effects.

As a class, it was decided the name of the podcast would be The Chronicles of the Gifted and Talented. Each student was then responsible for contributing an episode. In thinking about the content/topic for their episode, Mrs. Flores encouraged students to think about their accomplishments from the year. What elements stood out? What reflections from that learning can be shared with others? 

“I think one of the things I liked most about the project was the amount of freedom we had. Sure we could only use the topics that we covered in class, but the topics were so broad that it wasn't very constricting.” Ella was not alone in this thinking. Students were very excited about choosing their episode idea. Topics were selected and more intentional planning and deeper thinking occurred to help generate content. Careful consideration to following questions was encouraged:

  • How has this aspect of our class made a positive impact on you?
  • How will you use this topic to inspire or entertain your audience?
  • How can you share an interesting perspective or a unique “take” on this topic?
  • What will the tone of your episode be?
  • How will you create that tone?
  • What resources & information will you need to write your script?

It was also important for students to think about their listeners. While current and future students were the target audience, the likelihood principals, teachers all over the district, and other administrators would take a listen was high. For the podcast to gain the attraction of others, they would need to be carefully planned and thought out. Catchy titles, attention grabbing introductions, and sharing the why behind the chosen topic definitely helped. Some students even chose to create advertisements for relatable sponsors to be endorsed during their episode.

Although individuals were responsible for contributing their own episode, students were working with their peers throughout the entire process. It was during that collaboration phase that they were able to give and receive feedback on each other’s episodes. Many of the students also helped co-host a peer’s show. Natalie said it best, “I really enjoyed applying what I learned throughout the school year, and being able to review the year in a fun and creative way. I loved seeing my friends projects and participating in them.” Final podcast were edited using Beautiful Audio Editor and then exported to Google Drive, where they would ultimately be shared with the class. Students had a bank of resources for royalty free music and sound effects they utilized throughout the project as well.

And, now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for… explore some of the class podcasts linked to the images below. If you are interested in finding podcasts that may be appropriate for your students or yourself, be sure to explore the Best Podcasts for Kids resource. Check it out, there is something for everyone!


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Skilled Students: With the Certifications to Prove It

Every choice Patti Hayes makes about her Business Information Management course is funneled through Career and Technical Education (CTE)’s vision for future-ready students: “Skilled, Credentialed, and Ready”. Though, this isn’t unique to her classroom. In high school CTE classrooms throughout Northwest ISD, students are given every opportunity to graduate both skilled and certified with professional, industry certifications.

From students in Health Science earning CPR certifications, to those in Architecture classes certifying in programs like AutoCad, NISD students are graduating, at no cost to them, with industry certifications. “People need to understand that when we talk about industry certifications,” STEM Coordinator Casey Helmick explains, “it’s not like when I was in high school, a computer test that doesn’t mean anything. We are talking about certifications adults are currently paying for in order to get or keep their jobs. That is one way we set our kids up for future success.”

Through CTE, students have access to 27 pathways, each offering unique certifications that relate directly to degrees or fields of interest. For example, engineering students in the STEM Academy earn OSHA certifications their freshman year, and many have earned Autocad and Revit certifications by the time they graduate, while students in Business Information Management have the chance to become Microsoft Masters -- a title many are determined to earn before graduation.

Here is how it works: NISD high school students enrolled in any CTE class have access to Jasper and G-Metrix online, both certification curriculum platforms. Jasper teaches students Microsoft skills, challenging them with 8 skills-based lessons before their final creation project. GMetrix teaches programs like Autodesk and Adobe through 4 create-as-you-go lessons. Once students are trained, they test to certify through Certiport. In addition to these tools, students can supplement their learning with video tutorials from a site called, to which all Northwest ISD students have access.

Northwest High School (NHS) student Hulen Howard is currently certified in OSHA and working on both his Revit and Microsoft Word certifications. “It is the difference between having experience and having something to show that I have this experience,” He said. “If I apply for a job and claim I know Revit, my certification will show them what level of experience I have.”

Patricia Tran, NHS CTE teacher, reminisced, “I have students from the past who call me and say, ‘Hey Mrs. Tran, do you still have that certificate for PowerPoint or Word?’ because now they need it for work. One of Mrs. Tran's former students, Derek Maynard, who is currently attending the NCTC and working as on a maintenance team, can attest to this. He said, "My certifications [allow] me to show off my technical skills that I have learned... and how hard I have worked to get here. [They] have even opened up special opportunities for me at work. I was asked by my current employer to create a 3-dimensional drawing of a stage, based off of my Revit experiences."

Students seem to understand the benefit of pursuing these certifications. Helmick explains, “There are certifications connected to or linked to their pathway, but students aren’t limited to their pathway. They can earn certifications based on what they feel will give them the most potential and advantage on their [resume].” In fact, many Steele Accelerated High School students work towards certifications during their free time.

Steele senior Bergon Connor says he is going through certifications to better himself and build his resume. “I was focused on getting those certifications. Once I got one, I couldn’t stop.”

“A lot of us, when we started, didn’t think [certifications were] important or helpful,” Steele senior Sarah Alam clarified, “Even me. But once I did [start], I realized that having those certifications will be so helpful for [my] future.” For Sarah, who plans on pursuing a theater degree at the University of North Texas, certifications are a way to secure her financial future. She joked, “Believe it or not, theater doesn’t pay that much, so pursuing a job in Data Entry while I am in school will help me. I need a good, stable job as a backup plan.”

Students talk about how certifications can help them reach their goals. Someday Cosmetology student and junior Abigail Warmbrod hopes to open her own salon and massage parlor, and she knows that her certifications are preparing her to present to her employees or use Excel to manage the books. But for now she is learning through her Academy and working a high school job that, she says, her certifications helped her get, “I had a job interview where I was able to explain my certifications. Even though it had nothing to do with the job, it stood out, and I was able to make those connections for them. And it helped me get the job.”

Her teacher, Ms. Hayes, shared more of Abigail’s story, stressing, “Her first year she struggled. But she is determined and [she is] tapping into the resources available to her. To me that is the success story – someone who has struggled to certify, and then continuously battled, but stuck it out.” Hayes added, “It's about learning to be independent and pushing through their struggles. That is the success story…"

To date, Abigail has earned numerous Microsoft certifications, including Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel and Word Expert. Her next step is to become an expert in Excel, a test labeled by many as one of the more challenging certifications. “I am very determined to do it. I want that feeling of ‘I am done’. I don’t want to start something without finishing it.” Abigail’s classmate, Sarah, repeated this sentiment, “It’s difficult, but you’ve got to get through. I took Excel [multiple] times, but I pushed through it. And it’s taught me to be persistent and not stop trying. To gain skills and knowledge is really helpful no matter how difficult it is.” Abigail takes her test next Thursday.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Word Up! Using Technology to Teach, Reinforce and Support the Learning of Academic Language

After successfully completing Technology Integration Academy, Mark Anthony Page, felt better equipped to bring even more technology to the classroom.  Being at Adams Middle School , the new campus, Mr. Page and his teaching partner, Kris Mouser wanted to embrace technology and set a standard for the campus and be a model department for their program Career and College Readiness/Professional Communication. (CCR)
Mr. Page and Mrs. Mouser are integrating into their weekly routine. Once a week students log into their site and work to build their academic language skills. For years’ teachers have included Word Walls as a part of their curriculum. Using a digital platform like takes students learning to the next level. The platform allows students to operate in a safe space where their success and struggles can be private. This may seem small but ability to work independently gives students the confidence to try.
Mr. Page and Mrs. Mouser, use the website to teach new language. When the CCR duo is introducing a new lesson they go into the program and create a word bank for their students to get acclimated with the new terminology. The program takes the words and builds a game in which their 8th graders can match words with definitions. They also, use the program to reinforce terms that students are already familiar with by giving them extra time to practice seeing the terms in different sentence structures and context. Further building their own knowledge of the words. Finally, the program is used to support students who have low or limited vocabulary in the English language.The program adds support for ESL students who are still grasping at trying to understand the language and the many functions that words in the English language can have.

Mr. Page & Mrs. Mouser’s classrooms are leading the way at integrating technology and making sure their students are prepared to be global leaders.What they are accomplishing at Leo Adams is setting the standard of what can be accomplished with technology.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Recipe for Success: "Stringing" A Rhythmic Pattern

Goal Set.


Is nailing down this process a Science or an Art? I'd argue it’s an Art - Fine Arts to be exact. Students in Gary Keller and Sessalie Shapley’s Orchestra class at Byron Nelson High School have perfected this process on a continual, weekly basis to improve students' overall abilities. One might think that Technology doesn’t doesn't have a logical place in an instrumental-based class, but that's far from the truth as this Orchestra class is fully dependent on the technology used in preparation for and reflection of daily performance.

Each class is infused with technology from start to end. For example, students are tasked with the responsibility of tuning their own instrument at the start of class each day; they use readily available, free, phone-based tuning apps such as DaTuner and InsTurner to put the accountability on themselves rather than the teacher to ensure the instrument is in the right key. This process is critical to harmonizing as an Orchestra and developing a natural ear for the correct sounding notes.

To continue in the lesson design, classes often provide traditional opportunities such as learning new music and practicing as a full Orchestra. However, the power of technology is truly evident in the individual practice times. During these times, students participate in the general format as follows:

Recipe for Success:
  1. Students create a video of themselves playing a specific song or section of a song determined by the instructor. During this time, students use a combination of their phone and their computer to have both the online metronome and video camera co-functioning. This video serves as a pre-assessment to create a base-line of performance and needs assessment for the week.
  2. Self-critique that video to identify one specific goal to work towards throughout the week. This then becomes the targeted focus for all practice times throughout the week. Topics of suggested focus include intonation, bow placement, vibrato, dexterity confidence, or other of choice.
  3. The student then creates an end of week video over the same content and again uses that as direct evidence to self-assess progress towards goals.
  4. Upload and reflect upon these artifacts in Google Classroom. The Orchestra instructors then review each student's performance to provide individualized attention and feedback focused specifically on the students' performance and self-set goal.
  5. Based on their self-assessment and teacher feedback, the student then goal-sets via a Google Doc for the following week to continually focus on targeted instruction and self-improvement.

Each of these weekly goal sheets provide evidence for the student to reflect up on their progress towards goals and make new objectives based on previous performance. Since the evidence gets uploaded to Google Classroom, students have a personal Google Folder within their own Google Drive which serves as a private portfolio that stores their yearly progress. Students then have the ability to select which pivotal pieces they would like to showcase within their published ePortfolio.

Assistant Orchestra Director, Sessalie Shapley, comments on the power of infusing technology into their classroom, "Google Classroom video recordings allow me to give feedback to every student based on what I see and hear in their recordings. It is a far more efficient use of time letting the recording and grading happen outside of class instead of one at a time, in class, while all of the other students are waiting;" furthermore, "The video recording assignment allows and even encourages students to record themselves multiple times in order to get their “best” recording" which is the ultimate goal: student-driven success fueled by continual practice in perfecting their art. Best of all, the power of technology has helped Mr. Keller and Ms. Shapley build connections beyond what would be traditionally capable with a large Orchestra on a time-restricted class period as Sessalie continues, "The goal sheets and comments have given me several opportunities to discover something about the student’s expectations and other musical talents, gifts and thoughts, which then allowed for deeper discussion about their playing and their musicianship."

As a natural final step, students reflect on their year in an open-ended format. The power of reflection, goal-setting, and improvement shine through in the following student final responses:

Student 1:
“I thought that the goals were a great way to stay conscious of our playing abilities - to constantly be reminded of our strengths and weaknesses so that we can improve on them over time. I also believe that the exercises we were given are great practice strategies for improving many aspects of musicianship like dexterity and intonation.  I think I have certainly seen evidence of our goals in action as the progressed. Some of the goals on the goal sheets did not always pertain to me, but still having to look at them on a regular basis caused me to think more upon how I can always channel my actions in class and practice towards furthering the goals and the overall quality of our orchestra.”

Student 2:
“This year I have heard and felt so much progress in my playing. This was the first year I took private lessons, and I think that was extremely beneficial by itself. But beyond that I have felt so much more confidence in my playing. This was the first year I made it through a solo contest without crying, and the first year I came out of an audition room feeling proud of myself. And confidence alone has made a world of difference in my playing. I have also noticed a lot of progress related to our goals and goal videos. I didn’t realize it in the beginning, but when we came back near the end of the year and redid the dexterity video, it was actually really cool to find how much easier it was for me to do and how much clearer I sounded than in the beginning of the year. It was also useful to see the goals and realize that it’s okay to experiment with the bow and with the left hand, and just that everyone is doing what they can to make beautiful music in the outcome. I have seen so much progress this year in my playing and how I feel about it and I hope to see even more in years to come.”

The presence of technology has empowered these students to find value in the daily struggle of learning, trying, and occasionally failing all while appreciating their own growth that would otherwise not be as apparent strictly as perceptions and memories.

This intentional goal-setting and reflection process meets the following Student ISTE Standards:
Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.
  • 1a: Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.
  • 1c: Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Power of Learning by Experience!

This past spring, students in Mrs. Hayes Business Information Management class experienced the power of learning by experience! Students not only ran their own sports and entertainment business through simulation, but organized their research and experience in a cumulative Google Site.

Martha, currently a Sophomore in the Steele Collegiate Academy ran a successful business and learned a lot along the way. While the research and formative quizzes were an important part of Martha's learning, she truly enjoyed the Google Site as it was her means of reflection. "My Google Site allowed me to communicate everything about my business," commented Martha. "It helped my organize and highlight important information. It also helped me convey my learning in terms that those who didn't know about business could understand." Martha utilized Google Sites to it's full potential as she carefully chose images that would appeal to her audience and used captions to explain their importance.

Perhaps the most personal and powerful aspect of Martha's site, was her use of Screencastify to explain her learning and the development of her business. Screencastify was a new tool for Martha. She points out, "I hadn’t used Screencastify before. A junior came in and showed us what Screencastify was and how to use it. I wasn't sure at first, but it ended up being really easy and made my website more interactive and personal." Martha also pointed out that the purpose of her video and website was not simply to show how she passed the simulation, but to truly explain the business to others. Check out one of Martha's videos:

According to Martha, the most challenging part of this project was the business simulation "The quizzes and reading were pretty easy, but passing the simulation was probably the hardest part. It’s not a memorization portion, but it is skills based." the fact that students had to problem solve and make decisions during the simulation, led to a meaningful and reflective experience. 

Martha Sharing Her ePortfolio and
Project at Steele Showcase
Martha has since added this project to her personal ePortfolio and had the opportunity to share with community members and other students at Steele's 2018 Spring Showcase. She also has earned several certifications last year, one being the Entrepreneurship for Small Business Certification. "I got a 650 out of 700 the first time, but then I sat down with my friend Cassie and we went through what we knew and taught each other. I retook the test and past." Martha also went through courses to study for her certifications.

"When I first started the Business Information Management course, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it," said Martha. "Now, I’m planning to be in Coach Hayes course next year. I can see myself being in a career like this in the future, but regardless I learn so much"