Monday, December 4, 2017

Dear Future 4th Graders...

Fourth grade students in Ms. Doroodchi’s math class at Beck Elementary were recently given the challenge of creating instructional videos for their peers and future fourth graders. With their recent studies on division and understanding remainders, the problem solving block transformed into a time of creating and explaining their thinking. To say they were excited about the task would be an understatement. 

Initially, students worked in groups and were tasked with writing and solving original word problems that would require the use of their division skills. The group captain was responsible for composing the word problem, while other group members solved the problem and analyzed the remainder.

In preparation for making the instructional video, students were introduced to Aww App. The digital whiteboard allowed students the opportunity to practice solving problems on their Chromebook. The first day students spent time simply exploring Aww App and the available tools. The initial problems solved were generated by the teacher and students used applicable tools to solve the problem and justify their thinking. Aww App provides students with the ability to add text, images, and their own annotations with drawing and shape tools. Students utilized different tools throughout their exploration depending on need.




Screencastify was used to create the final recording of their instructional video. Used in conjunction with Aww App, students were able to share their word problem and show the steps necessary for solving the problem all while explaining and justifying themselves verbally along the way. Sophia was especially excited about the project saying, “I love how easy it is to record and share. Instead of sharing your work in front of the class with your math journal, you have your work ready to be shown on the big screen”. 



This project provided students with the opportunity to demonstrate several ISTE Standards for Students. The empowered learner “leverages technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals”. Additionally, the creative and global communicator strands were addressed as students published content for an intended audience and collaborated within groups in their classroom.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Multiple Intelligences = Multiple Products


Do you know your strengths? Mrs. Champion’s 5th grade GT class at Hughes Elementary School recently did some self reflection and explored multiple intelligences. After taking a survey and watching Soar (a five minute short film), students identified their highest scoring multiple intelligence. They learned that knowing their multiple intelligence can help them solve problems, communicate ideas, and work with others. Students were asked to create a product, using the tool of their choice, that would allow them to discuss the Soar film using one of their high scoring multiple intelligences. They truly took ownership of this project and created a product unique to their own strengths.


Keet decided to focus on “Music Smarts.” Keet created a rap by Mara and Lucas (characters in Soar). He also chose to pull in his classmate Josh to help him. Keet commented, "Josh and I came together as a team. I could have done the rap alone, but I chose to add Josh because he's really good at editing video." Josh and Keet used Sock Puppets for their rap because they thought it would portray the characters well and make their class laugh.

Josh focused on "Word Smarts." Soar is a silent film, so Josh decided to create a comic that would predict what the characters were thinking and saying during the film. “I enjoyed coming up with what each character could have been thinking,” commented Josh.

Macy and Connor focused on "Body Smarts." They collaborated to build a model of the plane built in Soar. They used a Google doc to collaborate and created a summary of their model. For Connor, the most enjoyable and challenging part of the project was building the plane. "It was fun learning that we could use classroom scraps to build a plane." He added, "we had to try multiple times to get our model correct."

One neat aspect of this project was that learning was differentiated for each student. Some built digitally, some built models, some created visuals, etc. 



Intentional Feedback: 
All students shared their final product on a class Google Slides presentation. This allowed students to not only learn from each other, but also to leave intentional feedback. Students gave specific feedback, received feedback, and made changes based on the feedback of their peers.





















ISTE Standards:
  • 1C: Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
  • 3C: Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
  • 4A: Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • 6A: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
  • 6B: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Academic Social Media

Students long for a platform to make their voices heard. So much so that 94% of all teens ages 13-17 are on social media. While various negative factors have influenced an adult’s perception of the value of social media, “new research is shedding light on the good things that can happen when kids connect, share, and learn online” according to this article from Common Sense Media which identifies the following benefits of students being social media-savvy: 1. It strengthens friendships, 2. It offers a sense of belonging, 3. It provides genuine support, 4. It helps them express themselves, 5. It lets them do good.


Jenny Kinzbach and Frank Ceresoli, two CTE teachers at Byron Nelson High School, are honing into these benefits by using collaborative discussion boards via Google Classroom within their Health Science Theory classes. Opinion-based, open ended questions are posed one week before the material is covered in class in order to prompt thinking; additionally, it is used to gauge prior knowledge as well as perception of topics related to the field. Based on the responses, the teachers then direct their instruction towards the needs and interests that the discussion brought about.  


According to the Health Science TEKS, TEK b4 states “To pursue a career in the health science industry, students should recognize, learn to reason, think critically, make decisions, solve problems, and communicate effectively. Students should recognize that quality health care depends on the ability to work well with others.”


While it’s important for students to have a platform to express their content-based opinions, it is equally important that students sharpen the life skills that are associated with the task. Below are examples in which students respond in agreement or disagreement to their peers, as well as ask each other probing questions and foreseeing and understanding opposing viewpoints on the same topic.


Teacher-posed Question: "To combat doctor shortages, should their medical school tuition be free? (Paid for by taxpayer dollars). Explain."


Student initial response with peer agreement:

Student initial response with peer disagreement:


Student initial response with peer-posed probing questions:


Student initial response composed of supporting arguments for opposing viewpoints:


Student benefits of using this collaborative discussion board:
  • Since nine classes collaborate on the same discussion board, this exponentially expands a student’s audience and power of their voice through expanding the walls of the physical classroom.
  • A majority of the questions are opinion-based requiring students to agree or disagree and provide an explanation that defends their answer. This provides a platform where all opinions are welcomed and heard.
    • Student Mickayla states, “I really like the discussion boards because it helps me see other peoples opinions on the topic. I also like that I can see people’s opinion of my own opinion which can further my education on parts of the topic that I didn't know or think about before.”
  • Students are required to read and respond to at least two other student’s opinions; doing so requires students to explore multiple viewpoints whether that hearing evidence that hadn’t be considered to support the same opinion or bringing an opposing perspective to frame the concept differently.
  • These structured discussions provide a safe environment for disagreements to occur. Reading other viewpoints facilitates opportunities to promote tolerance and facilitate the difficult task of crafting a respectful response.
  • Providing a platform for “Academic Social Media” encourages students to pursue learning out of interest and curiosity.


Since this platform is used as a pre-assessment of sorts, these teachers plan to expand the purpose of this assignment to also include a post-assessment/reflection in which students respond to their own original post to either agree or disagree with their original opinion and provide text evidence from learned class material. Quite an interesting and engaging spin on a self-reflective summative/closing writing prompt!

This meets International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)’s standard of an Empowered Learner in which “students build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process” (1B) and “students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice…” (1C). Furthermore, these students are also meeting the expectations of a Digital Citizen through which “students engage in positive, safe, legal, and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices” (2B).

Monday, November 6, 2017

Breaking Up: Rhetorically Speaking...

The exhilaration of a new relationship and the world-ending-feeling after a breakup summarize the range of emotions that occur in the daily life of a high school student. The longing for acceptance by self and others is everything as high schoolers gain a better understanding of themselves as a friend, partner, student, and job-worker. What better way to get students interested in Rhetorical Analysis than to compare it to element’s of their everyday life.


To begin, students in English III at Byron Nelson High School deconstructed one of the nation’s oldest break up letters, the Declaration of Independence. They analyzed its literary text structure which included the Preamble (introduction to the conflict which is also the claim), the Declaration (rights and beliefs), a list of grievances (specific complaints), and a counterargument (perspective from the “other side”). Next, student’s scrutinized the popular Country song from Old Dominion called “Break Up with Him” to study the tricky use of sound counterargument.


As a culminating, summative activity, students then wrote their own break up letter using the rhetorical structures and devices they’ve been studying throughout the unit. The lesson objective states “Using “The Declaration of Independence” as a model, you must “declare your independence” from something that is a problem for you: something that makes your life difficult, unhappy, or stressful. This can be a relationship with a person, a problematic object, a bad habit, or even a situation you find yourself in often. You may be as creative as you like!" Once the subject of the essay was chosen, students then had to incorporate the rhetorical appeals of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos and include at least one rhetorical device of choice; furthermore, the location of these literary devices were easily located by color-coding the corresponding statements within their essay.

Breaking Up with Anxiety

Breaking Up With Sugar

Because of its cross-curricular emphasis through incorporating Historical text in conjunction with the relevant, meaningful, and personal context of the assignment, this lesson met multiple objectives outside of the English III, 15A TEK. This meets International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)’s standard of a Creative Communicator (6D) in which “Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.” in addition to being a Knowledge Constructor (3D) in which “Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.”

Additional examples include Breaking Up with Cats and Breaking Up with Loneliness.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Advancing Academics: More than Test Prep

As educators focus on growing their Advanced Academics programs and improving AP test scores, too often their conversations begin and end somewhere around “test prep”. While there is value in traditional test prep strategies like multiple choice practice and repetitive text analysis, students also desperately need to be able to think critically and apply their knowledge in meaningful ways.
Northwest High School’s AP World History teachers, Jeanette Jones and Nicole Olson challenged their students to collaboratively depict the effects of historic trade routes based on the five major themes of their AP course. Student Sam clarified, “We were given a map of all of the trade routes …and had to accurately describe the interactions between those empires on an environmental, economic, social, political, and cultural level.” Students worked together to research and create an infographic that compares trade routes and visualizes key points of their research. (You can access the full instructions here.)

Students were given choice in how to create their graphics; however, Jones & Olson specified that students couldn’t use PowerPoint or Slides to create their presentations because while useful, these platforms are too visually limiting for the needs of this assignment. Instead, they recommended Piktochart, a platform designed for creating professional presentations and graphics. (Check out these student examples: Sample: Smore & Sample: Piktochart.)


Student Bailey reflected on how this task prepared her for the AP exam, saying, “Trade routes are a major part of how things got diffused in the world… how language got diffused and cultural trade… those are important things to know for the AP exam because they are such a huge part of history.” She added, “And when I make a presentation for something, I typically try to make myself an expert in it…”

Creating infographics as a way to present research and demonstrate understanding of content engages students in a hands-on, student-centered learning process. Sam points out that, “When [you] read a textbook, you’re just looking for answers to the reading guide or for vocabulary. Having to do a project, to write it down and describe it, you really think about what you’re doing and how you’re learning it”. When students engage in collaborative tasks that require in-depth analysis and critical thinking, they gain sincere ownership of their learning that results in a lasting understanding of content in ways traditional test prep alone cannot provide.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Pear Deck: Music to My Ears






Imagine being immersed in a learning environment where large groups of students are constantly being monitored for mastery of music literacy concepts.  Kayla Gentry, music teacher at Cox Elementary, is using Pear Deck to achieve this goal. In Mrs. Gentry’s class, third through fifth grade learners have an opportunity to show their understanding of both rhythmic and melodic grade level concepts each time they have a music rotation with her.  
Mrs.  Gentry believes Pear Deck is enhancing her students learning opportunities by providing them with an engaging way to respond to how they read and hear music in her room.   Pear Deck offers 5 interactive question types which allows teachers to ask all learners for their answers, opinions, and ideas. Students are able to answer the question on their own device and for Averi, a 5th grader in Mrs. Gentry’s class, this is one of her favorite features because our teacher can “know what we are struggling on without failing in front of the class.”







From a teacher’s perspective Mrs. Gentry loves that  Pear Deck allows you to display student responses instantly so they can discuss correct answers and misconceptions as a class. Also, Pear Deck saves a copy of each individual student's responses to the teacher’s Google Drive allowing the teacher to monitor individual student progress.  Vincent, a learner in Mrs. Gentry’s music class, likes Pear Deck because “I’m a little shy and Pear Deck allows me to share my answer.”  Another learner from Mrs. Gentry’s class says Pear Deck is a great experience because she likes when the session asks about her individual mood.  “If we aren't having a great day it could affect how we learn.”


Through the use of Pear Deck Mrs. Gentry is empowering her learners to take an active role in their learning experiences while using technology.  Students are able to demonstrate their understanding of music literacy concepts in a variety of ways and use their session take aways to set personal learning goals in music.  Pear Deck has been a transformational tool to help Mrs. Gentry customize her learning environment in ways that support the learning process for her students.

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.
1b  Students build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process.
1c  Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
1d  Students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Constructing Concrete Connections

Vanderbilt University professor H. Richard Milner IV wrote that, “…building relationships with students is about meeting students where they are, attempting to understand them, and developing connections with them.” Most educators know that connecting with students and building positive relationships are key strategies to developing student success and those relationships serve as a foundation for what is done each and every day in the classroom. Making those connections can sometimes be a challenge, especially when a student is more introverted or maybe lacks confidence in his or her own voice. These connections also rarely happen without a teacher’s willingness to be vulnerable and share authentic pieces of themselves with students which, in turn, help to build foundations of openness and trust that are essential in student motivation and growth.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Technology can be useful in transforming the ways we go about meeting the needs of our students while also providing a voice for those students who feel uncomfortable or who might not normally contribute in larger class settings. Effectively utilizing the right tool or resource can make a real difference in providing authentic, safe, and supportive connections, and ultimately learning experiences, that yield success for all students.
Katy Watson, a French teacher at V.R. Eaton High School explained that, “French I is the first time many students encounter a foreign language class in their entire academic career” and “it’s often a period of adjustment.” Mademoiselle Watson’s awareness of her students’ need for connecting and establishing a comfortable foundation for learning led her to utilize her YouTube channel to produce a video welcoming her students to the course and sharing basic expectations with both students and parents, prior to the first day of school. Mademoiselle Watson took time to introduce herself to students and their families while showing them her passion for both education and the French language. When asked about her goal for this video, she said, “I wanted to take some time to introduce parents and students to my program and to [help them] get an idea of what they can expect from my class. I’m hoping that parents will feel more empowered to speak to their students about my class…” and “to reach out to me if they need something, because they’ve put a face with a name and they feel more comfortable.” Her willingness to take that extra step to initiate personal contact with students and parents before anyone even set foot into the classroom is something that has had an impact on both students and families. Students came to class on the first day and felt encouraged to mention the video and make connections right away. Several students mentioned appreciating the effort and having a greater feeling of comfort and openness at the beginning of the course. Parents expressed a sincere appreciation for a chance to hear about the course and the instructor’s expectations and to have a positive communication from the teacher right at the start of the year.

Samuel Beck Elementary’s Ethan Dee is another example of an NISD educator who regularly uses technology in his classroom and, this year, he specifically used it to create authentic connections right at the start. Mr. Dee began by assigning a “Welcome Back Scavenger Hunt” where students were to visit a variety of websites gathering information about Mr. Dee and sharing information about themselves with him and the rest of the class. Mr. Dee utilized everything from a Smore newsletter, to Moodle, to Padlet, to the comments section of his school website, and even Animoto, where he created a video about himself. This scavenger hunt not only gave students a chance to get to know their teacher, but it also allowed them to begin interacting with each other in a positive way and previewing the types of tools they would use to learn and collaborate throughout the year. When speaking about the scavenger hunt assignment, Diane Tsapos, a fifth grade parent said, "...as a parent, I enjoyed sharing this." Aaron Reisman, one of Mr. Dee’s fifth grade students, shared that he is usually a bit quiet and nervous at the start of school and that he has felt more comfortable this year. He especially liked to see his classmate’s selfies posted on the scavenger hunt Padlet wall and thought that the part of Mr. Dee’s video, where he was dancing, was funny. Aaron expressed that he was definitely looking forward to spending the year in Mr. Dee’s class because he was already having fun exploring these tools and getting to know everyone better.

When we evaluate student academic experiences, we find out very quickly that although a lot of content is sometimes forgotten, the connections we make help us to solidify foundations of trust, social responsibility, and confidence, which then allows students to walk away with skills and experiences that are positively remembered and applied for the rest of their lives.

Student ISTE Standards:

1) Creativity and Innovation: Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. 

  • 1.1: Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products, or processes
  • 1.2: Create original works as a means of personal or group expression
2) Communication and Collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute tot he learning of others.
  • 2.1: Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media