Monday, March 2, 2020

Not Just Students, PODCASTERS! Sharing Our Learning One Episode at a Time

What do you hear when you listen to student created podcasts in Mrs. Webster’s class? Excitement, love of reading, love of writing, kindness, empathy, teamwork,  student ownership, laughter, different personalities. Mrs. Webster’s student podcast hosts have EXCEEDED expectations as they make their voice, passions, and learning come to life on a regular basis. Mrs. Webster quotes it best, “These students are meeting the expected standards of learning without even realizing how much thought and work they are putting into it. They just think it’s fun!" She adds, “These pod-casters are writing, coming up with their own plan, reading, summarizing, reflecting and creating.  I feel like they are truly owning their own learning.”

An Ongoing Routine: 
Mrs. Webster's Podcast Wall 
At the beginning of the year, Mrs. Webster had all of her students set up their own Padlet wall as a platform to house podcast episodes. She also had each student include their podcast on a class podcast wall to mimic a Podcast app where listeners can access different podcasts at any given time. Students started the year reviewing podcast expectations and best practices. “When we first started, I would assign a reflection or give students an idea for a book recommendation podcast. Now, students are coming up with their own topics. Mrs. Webster adds, “Along with requesting to review books, some students have even created their own podcasts based on discussing friendships, positive vibes, and funny times.”

Mrs. Webster doesn’t grade podcasts or require a certain number of episodes. This is why seeing that some students have 10-15 episodes is so powerful. Mrs. Webster has also equipped her students to be quality control for the episodes. “As a class, we listen to each other and give feedback on the planning, pausing, summarizing, pacing, etc.” In regards to making time for podcasting, podcast reflections have become a part of Mrs. Webster's afternoon ELA stations. If some students are unable to get to the podcast station, they make time for them to complete the next morning first thing.

Emery, Claire, Nick, and Henry have especially enjoyed their podcasting journey. Emery states, “I love being a podcaster because I get to tell people how I feel, what I’ve been working on, and what I’ve learned.” Henry adds, “I like that I get to work with a partner and choose what my podcast is about.” Claire’s favorite part of podcasting is interviewing other people to see what they’ve read and how they’re doing. Nick loves that they get to work and have fun at the same time.

SEL (Relationship Skills and Social Awareness)
Emery and Claire Working Together to Record an Episode
“Podcasting is a process,” says Emery. “You have to stay focused. If you get too funny, the people listening won’t understand what you’re saying. Claire and I have to work together to make our podcast come to life. We’ve learned that we can’t interrupt each other and need a clear written plan” Emery and Claire talk about resolving conflict when they have had hard times deciding who was going to get to share certain parts of their episode. It’s neat to hear how podcasting has helped Claire become aware of other’s feelings. “Sometimes we just have to pause and talk if we start to argue,” she says. “We’ve learned each other’s strengths.” Emery adds, “for example, Claire is really good at explaining characters and how they act.”

Nick has realized that through his podcasts, he has the opportunity to encourage others. He states, “If someone is sad, we might be able to cheer them up. We try to be really positive. My favorite episode is number eight when I’m talking about my friendship with Henry.” In this episode Nick and Henry talk about their similarities and differences, but how they’ve remained friends regardless of their differences.

Making Connections
Not only have these students learned to collaborate together and think about their partner and audience, they’ve also learned to apply character traits and feelings to their own lives. After recording an episode about Jory Jones’ Book, "The Bad Seed," Claire points out, “This book teaches you how people have their own personalities,” she adds “If you don’t like how someone acts, the lesson is to be kind and make sure people feel welcome.” On this episode, Emery asks, “ Is there anything in this book that relates to you?” Claire responds by talking about her ornery brother and how she should be kind even when it's hard

"Knowing that we're going to record a podcast over the books we've read, makes reading even more purposeful." Claire adds, "Podcasting makes me more excited about what I’m reading. It makes me think about how the characters are feeling and how characters change, so I can talk about it on the podcast." Emery points out, "We go back to our books to remember how characters were feeling. Their actions show how they’re feeling."

In addition to recording episodes about books they've read, students have written their own stories and fairy tales! They’ve enjoyed interviewing each other as authors. Emery recorded an episode over a story that Claire wrote, titled, “Lucky Puppy.” On the episode Claire states, “This book really has a connection to me and my life when I was little.”
Mrs. Webster states, "I love all of the episodes, but some of my favorites are when the students make connections with the books they have read and discuss how a book may have impacted them deeply. There seems to be something magical that happens within the physical act of talking it out for them on a podcast. When students are recording in a smaller group, they tend to express deeper thoughts than maybe they would have written down or shared in a whole group setting. At times, they can get really deep and other times they can get really silly, but overall, they feel completely safe in sharing their unique personalities and creative ways throughout the podcast, and this I absolutely LOVE with all my heart!"

Next Steps: 
Sharing Our Podcasts at Expo 2020
These students got to share about their podcasting journey last Thursday at Expo 2020. It was a powerful presentation as these students shared an ongoing routine that means so much to them.

Henry would like his next episode to be about a current favorite book of his, "Flames of The Tiger" by John Wilson. I'm sure there are many more podcast episodes to come from Webster's 3rd grade class. They are also interested in sharing their episodes outside the walls of their classroom, possibly with one of their favorite authors.

Explore Claire's Podcast and the Writing Template Students Used to Prepare: 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Monuments & Mysteries: An Innovative Jigsaw In Language Education

At Northwest High School, AP Spanish teacher Ginger Cline is doing more than teaching a language. She works hard to truly connect her students to the cultures of the people who speak the target language -- that takes intentionality and innovation. Fortunately for her students, she is committed to both.

In addition to language, culture can be found in the stories told and monuments recognized. Whether a globally-celebrated landmark or simply a local treasure, monuments hold meaning, and by learning about them we can learn more about the culture and ideas that they represent. That said, it would be impossible to teach every student about every meaningful monument across Spanish-speaking cultures. That’s why for this assignment Mrs. Cline put a few engaging twists on a tried and true method -- the jigsaw method.

The traditional jigsaw method works like a puzzle. First, students take on the role of investigator and teacher; they work in small groups to understand and become experts on a part of the overall collection of information before then teaching their small part to their peers. Even though students are initially only responsible for learning and teaching one part, through the presentations at the end, all students have the exposure to and opportunity to learn all of the material. Because students have become experts on part of the information with the purpose of teaching others, this process gives students ownership in their learning.

screen grab of Padlet
But more than exposure, Mrs. Cline also wanted her students to create and to have a cross-class collection of student-created resources that they could look back on for this information. That required some creativity on her part. Here is what they did:

Students selected a monument they were interested in and were tasked with creating a screencast about that monument in their target language (Spanish) that both introduced the monument and explained the story behind it. Then, students shared their screencasts on a collaborative Padlet. By having students create screencasts in their target language, Mrs. Cline was able to assess each student’s language learning through an authentic product.

Preview of a Bingo Board created by Mrs. ClineThe next step was to bring the learning together. Through Padlet all students could access and watch each video, but Mrs. Cline motivated them to do so by creating BINGO boards based on the videos students created. Playing BINGO together not only ensured that students would watch the videos, but that students’ had an authentic audience in their peers. Students could also see the relevancy in their purpose for creating -- knowing someone will see your work and find value in it makes learning more meaningful.

Mrs. Cline’s Mysteries and Monument Bingo is a reminder that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be innovative, but you do have to push the boundaries of tradition. She started with an established, sound teaching strategy -- she kept the most valuable parts and then skillfully integrated technology to create a deeper and more meaningful learning experience for her students.

Monday, January 27, 2020

A “Different” Approach to “Leaving No Student Behind”

Educators are always looking for new ways to reach students and help them find methods or paths for acquiring success in the classroom. However, it seems that there are some students who, despite our best efforts (and their own), struggle with the institutional process of acquiring knowledge and skills necessary to meet traditional measures of success. After recently reading the words of Katie Usher, a Texas elementary school teacher, it became clear that well-known classroom differentiation practices, although very effective and successful for some, may not be enough for students who need a completely different learning environment in order to access the content needed for mastery. Although Katie’s experiences are based on a gifted classroom, her words are important for all students. She asserts that “In the digital era, we can provide all of our students with technological ways to enhance their learning, no matter their academic label. Every student is different and needs to be offered a variety of ways to show what they’ve learned in a way that reflects their individuality.” This is exactly the philosophy behind the ever growing "Eagle Strong" cycle recovery program offered at Eaton High School (EHS). 

Alicia Dunson, a Professional Communication teacher at Eaton, has spent a majority of her career working to find ways to reach students where they are and to help them progress and find methods for success that work for them. Alicia starts by learning about her students and building relationships with them that allow her to not only ask her students some tough questions about previous academic patterns but she is also able to use her positive relationships to push these students to develop levels of accountability and self-sufficiency that gives them ownership in their own learning moving forward. This philosophy of teaching made Alicia a perfect fit to help develop the "Eagle Strong" cycle recovery program at EHS and to begin working with students to access systems and methods more appropriate for their individual learning needs.

In this program, students are identified as needing intervention before completely failing a course and they are not only given an opportunity to access narrowed and unmastered course content through a self-paced online platform, but they also have the support of certified educators working on campus that can assist as needed. Mrs. Dunson facilitates student progress by helping them learn ways to record and track their own mastery of coursework that work for them and by connecting students with teachers and tutors before, during, and after school hours. Through use of these online tools and content, qualifying students can showcase existing knowledge that might previously have been a struggle for them to display and to do so in a timely fashion without getting behind in credits and while receiving both built-in and in-person remediation. The ability to digitally self-accelerate beyond concepts already mastered and to slow down to focus on more difficult areas of the curriculum make this educational experience unique and more effective for some than a traditional environment.

One student in Mrs. Dunson’s "Eagle Strong" program credits this experience with helping her to revisit and master content from multiple courses without the stress and pressure she typically experiences in a regular classroom environment. She feels that the ability to move through material at her own pace puts the responsibility on her and she says that “You have to learn. You cannot just zone out or not pay attention. It’s all on you.” Another student said that she has learned study skills that can help her in other courses and she feels the online coursework helps her because the courses “have a different way of teaching and gives students different ways to learn the material.” She likes the ability to watch and re-watch a lot of videos that show her examples and also enjoys the freedom to go through curriculum on her own.

While many students thrive in a traditional school environment, some need more than tradition can offer or they may have experienced circumstances that hinder their progress in all or parts of a particular course. In some situations, students simply need other ways to access content in order to master the skills and knowledge necessary to grow and thrive. EHS is providing a method for students to do just that through the development of their cycle recovery program and they are creating options for students to learn and excel that allow flexibility and choice while not compromising student time, interests, and most importantly, confidence. This program, in essence, is an example of differentiation at its best and as our fellow Texas educator, Katie Usher, put it, “Differentiating allows students to have their voice heard, which can lead them to become self-motivated learners. And that in turn can help increase both their learning growth and their self-awareness of that growth.” These achievements in differentiation are much needed components of our educational system that truly provide for a future where fewer students are “left behind.”

          Usher, Katie. “Differentiating by Offering Choices.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 10 Apr. 2019,

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!