Monday, November 29, 2021

Mad Libs: A Super Silly Way to Fill in the _____________!

Raise your hand if your childhood memories include completing a couple of pages out of your newest Mad Libs book?! This popular game debuted in 1958 as interactive short stories, where those reading the short stories were prompted to fill in the blank for words that had been omitted. The missing words or phrases would be assigned a specific category or part of speech, such as noun, verb, place, exclamation, and so on. Upon completion, the story would be read aloud. Usually, the story would end up being quite funny and somewhat nonsensical. Countless hours of entertainment were sure to be had.

Mrs. Pickett at Beck Elementary introduced her fourth-grade GATES students to this familiar favorite. It didn’t take long for them to catch on and they looked forward to completing new ones during their class visits. Of course, Mrs. Pickett knew these Mad Libs would be entertaining, however, she also knew how they could help reinforce very important grammar skills and challenge their thinking. To successfully complete Mad Libs students needed a clear understanding and working knowledge of the different parts of speech, or their finished story would not make sense.

The real challenge came when students were asked to compose their own Mad Libs. They begin with writing short stories about a topic of their choosing. They made sure their story had a clear beginning, middle, and end. When students struggled with coming up with a topic, they were encouraged to write about their favorite candy or something they ate for breakfast that morning. When writing Mad Libs, literally, anything goes!

Once students completed their short story draft, it was time to reread and decide which variables to remove. The variables would be the missing words in their Mad Libs. Because their stories were drafted in Google Docs, students highlighted the variables and identified the part of speech. Careful thought went into selecting which words would be the best variables. Students had to think through scenarios that would result in the most effective, and often humorous, outcome. After all, the fun part of Mad Libs is reading the finished story. 

Using, students were then able to digitally publish their short stories in a Mad Libs template. Through using this templated Google Sheet, students became more versed in working in Sheets. They became familiar with the terminology used in spreadsheets, such as rows, columns, and formatting. Once the template was finalized, students published their Google Sheet to the web for sharing purposes. Since most 2nd - 5th-grade students are consistently spiraling back through grammar skills, it was a goal for completed Mad Libs to be shared with the campus.

Knowing these completed Mad Libs would be shared campus-wide was motivating for students. They were careful to spend quality time revising and editing their work because their audience was authentic and they wanted to share with pride. Revisions were made again and again as careful thought was given to the various possibilities of responses the Mad Libs may receive. They wanted to make sure the variables were descriptive and specific enough to produce an end product that would 

To say these students were engaged in this work would be an understatement. Mrs. Picket said it was incredible to see her students collaborating with one another as they thought critically about the decisions they made to produce their Mad Libs. Students were bonding and building relationships through the process too. The laughter was an added bonus. Countless giggles were shared as students read aloud completed Mad Libs and shared their work with families via Seesaw. This provided them with extra practice with fluency and reading with expression. 

We invite you to explore the Mad Libs created by the 4th grade GATES students at Beck Elementary. Share the Google Slides via Google Classroom or Seesaw. Then we’d love to hear from you. Share out on Twitter tagging @beckelem, @BES_GATES, and @kel_sanders. We can’t wait to share with these students how their work has reached others. 

Shout out to Mrs. Dixon's class for diving into these student-created Mad Libs before the break. 

Monday, November 8, 2021

Growing Beyond "Normal" with Digital Feedback

When Maya Angelou said, “If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be,” her intent was likely to address a different definition of “normal,” but her words are absolutely applicable in today’s schools. We are at a turning point as educators and the recent pandemic has to become less about us going back to “normal,” or where we were before, and more about embracing growth and creating new and better ways of doing things.

Educators everywhere have recently been impelled to adapt and find digital ways to give feedback to students. Some of those strategies have persisted and even prompted teachers like Cathy Slagle, a business pathway teacher at Eaton High School, to provide her students with immediate and relevant feedback on digital assessments by taking advantage of the answer feedback option in Google Forms quizzes. This feature allows teachers to add comments, instructions, embedded videos, or links to previous course resources so that students can review missed concepts and even extend their learning.

Craig Hardin, another Eaton High School educator, uses Google Slides with his athletes as a creative way to review performance and prepare for upcoming competitions. Coach Hardin recently learned about the comment features in Google Workspace and has begun using written comments to provide timely, meaningful, consolidated, and personalized feedback to his athletes. Coach Hardin says that the team has found this extremely valuable for post-game reflection and says using this strategy for giving student feedback is saving him hours each week as he works individually with athletes in an easier to manage digital platform.

Patricia Smith in Eaton’s Business Management and Entrepreneurship Academy stated that she is “very excited to try out Mote,” an audio recording tool, as a different way to provide feedback for her Academy students. Not only is she using Mote to help record feedback for her students as part of an upcoming assignment but she is also having her students use it in Google assignments to comment and reflect on their work and provide peer feedback within their groups. Using resources like Mote allows teachers the ability to spend less time grading by hand and also engages the students directly in the feedback process. By incorporating a digital feedback resource into her lessons, Mrs. Smith has saved herself valuable time and empowered her students to become more active in the learning process.

Over the course of the last year, as responsibilities and approaches to classroom instruction have been forced to evolve, each of these educators are meeting their classroom needs by adapting the ways they give students feedback. These efforts not only save them time, in comparison to traditional forms of feedback, but the strategies implemented have provided their students with timely, meaningful, and actionable feedback that can be used for reflection and growth, allowing both teachers and students to spend more time creating and learning and realizing “how amazing they can be.”

Monday, October 25, 2021

Define > Dissect > Design = 3D Print Using MinecraftEDU

Students at Adams Middle School were given a life-like challenge to modify various puzzles with very small pieces for a child with a visual impairment. CTE Teacher, Mrs. Sheila Greene, wanted her students to practice an engineering skill called mechanical dissection of an object to understand an object's detailed design.

To modify the puzzle, you first have to mechanically dissect the layers of the puzzle. The first step into dissection is to isometrically draw all of the pieces of the puzzle on graph paper for accuracy to get an understanding of the 2D layers.  Jeremy F. said, “I like how I can see my mistakes, not to mention how this helps me in robotics and computer science.” 

  -8, CTE, Electives, Adams Middle School, Shelia Greene, Engineering, 3-D Printing, Critical Thinking, Middle School, Minecraft EDU, Digital Design, Game Design

Students documented the following in their journal during the investigation:
  • Steps for how you assemble and disassemble the toy.
  • Multiview sketch of each puzzle piece.
  • Fully dimensioned sketch of the puzzle pieces

“This type of learning is preparing me to become a mechanical engineer,” said Jonathan F. 

This 2021-2022 school year NISD purchased Minecraft Education Edition for teachers and students to integrate into any content area.  Minecraft Education Edition is a game-based learning platform that promotes creativity, collaboration and problem-solving in a digital environment.  Common Sense Media states about Minecraft EDU, “Minecraft EDU is an excellent tool to engage students in learning, collaboration, and critical thinking and is now more accessible than ever to teachers.” 

To bring real world connections to the project, Mrs. Greene challenged her students to use digital tools to design larger puzzle pieces that will be printed on the 3D printer. Students needed to use their math and thinking skills to tinker with the X, Y, and Z axes to get the model placed into the build area

Being that Minecraft is new to NISD, Mrs. Greene did not know how to execute the program, but after a conversation with one of her expert students, Ayden, he volunteered to create a video tutorial and teach the class.  

As Ayden showed students how to print their work, Evan T. circulated among students helping them with Minecraft settings and block placement.  Now students in Robotics 1 are also using what they learned from Ayden and Evan and other student experts to create Minecraft-themed decorations to 3D print for their pull-toy mechanism.  Mrs. Greene said, “it is so cool to see students teaching each other and figuring out solutions together -- that’s real world collaboration and skill-building that increases their confidence and their trust in each other at the same time.”

 At the end of the experience, students will print their images on the Dremel 3D Printer. Check out some of their work below:

All of the NISD Minecraft for Education resources can be found here.  Feel free to contact your campus Instructional Technologist to answer any questions you might have. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Gaming as a SPORT: Expanding Opportunities for Students to Belong and Compete through eSports

Fall means the start of a new sports season! Tryouts are held and a roster is set based on player interests, abilities, and team needs. Practice schedules are created. Preseason matches occur then come regular season games and tournaments; the team works towards Playoffs and has the ultimate goal of making it to Finals. Fans attend to root for the home team and players hope for college recruiters to see their skills and potentially offer scholarships. The competition is tough, but skillful strategizing and teamwork can lead to a big win and open doors for future opportunities.

Nope, this isn't describing the upcoming football season -- this is a look at the new Fall eSports Season! As much as video games seem like a just-for-fun activity, this past time is becoming recognized as a varsity level sport in addition to Generation eSports being selected as the exclusive sponsor for the University Interscholastic League (UIL).

Two Eaton student going head-to-head in the Smash Ultimate Grand Finals.
Depending on the streaming requirements of the game being played, students will either use the designated Alienware PCs or their own gaming devices, such as Nintendo Switches. 


"The purpose of eSports is to provide opportunities for ALL students to have a platform to acquire critical communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in work and in life as outlined by the NISD Profile of a Graduate" - NISD eSports Code of Conduct

Students at Eaton High School, Northwest High School, and Steele Early College High School participate in eSports Clubs as part of both casual and competitive teams. Student leaders on the various campuses coordinate with their game-based team on practice schedules and upcoming goals for league games.

Students at each of NISD 's high school eSports programs have top-of-the-line gaming PCs from Alienware including the PC and device peripherals such as Alienware mice, keyboards, and headsets.

Popular games on NISD campuses play games include Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, Overwatch, Valorant, Rocket League, and League of Legends offered through either the High School eSports League or the PlayVS league; because students have the opportunity to complete in two different leagues, this increases their opportunities for tournament play and competitions to enter. Students communicate game preferences and teams are formed based on student numbers and interests. For example, Super Smash Bros compete in teams of 3 whereas Valorant complete in teams of 5 and Overwatch in teams of 6.

Did you know? Eaton High School had teams compete in PLAYOFFS of different games in each of the past two years!

Why is eSports an important program? 
What skills are kids getting as a result of their involvement?


All of the NISD eSports clubs are welcoming new students. Show up and we will find a place for you to belong!

Get more through this NISD blog eSports: More Than Just Fun and Games and by exploring the NISD eSports Code of Conduct.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

How Summer PD Impacts Student Learning!


“Implementing Hyperdocs was a complete push out my comfort zone. Relinquishing the control early in the school year was not something I was used to” comments Mrs. Spring, 4th grade at Nance Elementary. Kim Spring has not only been intentional about the professional development she attends, but also intentional about implementing her learning in meaningful ways with students. Two years ago, Kim helped co-lead “Delivering Engaging Lessons with Pear Deck.” This was a tool Kim learned and then implemented consistently with her students. Pear Deck wasn’t just a new tool for Kim. Pear Deck meant continual formative assessment, intentional student discourse, and even a way for students to create assessments for their classmates. By attending and leading Pear Deck sessions, Kim was able to maximize the use of Pear Deck to meet campus and district learning goals. 

Last year, Kim decided to attend “Save Time and Give Choice with Hyperdocs” led by Instructional Technologists Shelly Hall and Kylie Lloyd. Immediately after the session, I received an email from Kim with her takeaways and goals for implementing a hyperdoc with her class. Designing a hyperdoc takes intentional planning. Mrs. Spring used backward design and considered her learning targets and desired outcomes as she created each aspect of her hyperdoc. Since this would be a self-paced lesson, she had to plan ahead for students. 

During the 3rd week of school, Kim’s students experienced their first hyperdoc! This unit on Place Value was not only engaging and interactive, but also allowed for gradual release of the content and self paced learning. Gabriella, Tommie, and Abby were three students that specifically enjoyed this unit. Gabby mentioned, “I liked learning at my own speed and pace. I was able to take things one step at a time, but always had something I was working on.”  

The unit started with students ENGAGING in the topic of place value through direct instruction and focused videos for students to watch. After students had a grasp on place value they were asked to EXPLAIN their learning in Flipgrid. The Flipgrid check in allowed Mrs. Spring to see who understood the content and who needed extra support. Mrs. Spring pointed out, “Flipgrid comes in handy as I'm able to hear the kids verbally explain their reasoning and see their work. I am able to leave feedback to them as well.” 

As students progressed through the hyperdoc, they were asked to APPLY their learning. Mrs. Spring had students complete a self-paced Pear Deck to assess their knowledge up to this point. She pointed out,  “I LOVE Pear Deck. It allows for self-paced lessons and I’m able to leave feedback at any given time. It helps me keep track of who has finished, so I know where each student is. It’s a great teacher sidekick!” 

Instructor and Student Paced Pear Decks Throughout The Unit

Next, students SHARE and REFLECT with their peers. They look at problems they’ve completed in their Stepping Stones book, along with the work they’ve explained in Pear Deck and Flipgrid to answer the following questions with others: 

1) What was your favorite part of this unit?

2) Was there a part of this unit that confused you?

3) Show a partner how you explained place value to the millions on slide 4.

Lastly, students are given an opportunity to EXTEND their learning. Not all students will have time for this section of the learning, but it’s a great way to challenge students who have successfully grasped the content. In fact, this is a great way to differentiate learning for students. Students were given the opportunity to create their own Pear Deck to share with the class. This task required students to apply their learning by creating their own questions. Both Tommie and Abby pointed out “The most challenging part of this unit was creating the Pear Deck. It was tough making the questions.” 

All in all, Mrs. Spring’s first hyperdoc was a success! “I love the independence of it all,” states Kim. “It was really neat to watch the kids take such quick ownership of their hyperdoc. I have a large group of students that are pretty above level in math. This helped with my fast finishers. They instantly went into their hyperdocs and got going!” 

This unit is a prime example of the NISD Learning Framework and the intentionality that goes into a well designed lesson in NISD: 

Click HERE to Enlarge Image

Monday, September 20, 2021

Setting Kids Up for Success

How nervous are you on the first day of anything? First day of school, first day of a sport, first day of a class you have not been to in over a year and a half.  Some things are familiar but still the nerves set in. The majority of Mrs. Conrad's fifth-grade gifted and talented students have been in her class for many years and know her expectations for them as leaders of JC Thompson Elementary. This year though is a little different. Times are different, and the way we have to approach our kids' learning can be different. Mrs. Conrad knew this and knew she had to set her kids up for success! 

Executive Functioning skills are needed to plan and achieve goals. Kids need to know these skills for life. Home life, school life, and even their tech life. At the beginning of the year Mrs. Conrad sets time aside to get them organized and set up for a successful year in GATES.

On day one, they were given their learning target and goals for this year.  To get them started she had them declutter their Google Drive by creating new folders, coloring folders, and archiving last year's work.

They updated their ePortfolios to reflect their 5th grade year and updated their All About Me pages. Another skill that Mrs. Conrad found useful for her kids to be successful throughout the year, is to have an email signature, so they got started. After showing several examples and talking about what needs to be in an email signature and why it is important, the kids created their own. Check out this example from one of her students.

Their next step is to write a professional email to their principal, asking her for permission to create video announcements this year for the entire school. It is the heart of the year and what students will be focused on.  Creating something like this from scratch takes a lot of planning, organization, and flexible thinking. We look forward to watching these kids' creations come to life.

All of the skills these kids are getting at the beginning of their year will set them up to be Future-Ready students for a lifetime! Organizing, Planning and Prioritizing, Task Initiation, Self-Monitoring are all being done in this classroom as expectations for a good year. We will have to check back in on them when they get their video announcements up and running and see how far these life skills are taking them! 

Setting our kids up for success is a no-brainer, but we can't forget about their digital lives as well. By setting norms and giving them time to organize, declutter, and update their digital space, the year will be on the road to success. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Robots to the Rescue! - A Virtual Tournament


COVID-19 forced many events to either be cancelled or postponed over this past year. The Northwest ISD Instructional Technology team did not want students to miss out on showcasing their learning as in the previous 9 years. This year, we got creative and hosted a virtual edition of EXPO 2021 with the fitting theme “Coming Together as One.” In conjunction with the traditional EXPO event, the past 3 years, we have hosted a face to face district wide robotics tournament sponsored by the Northwest Education Foundation. COVID also forced our tournament to be reinvented to a VIRTUAL robotics edition. 

With the goal of inspiring younger students to pursue engineering in high school, the competition challenges were developed in a pre-COVID world for the VEX and Mindstorm EV3 robots. The challenges were based on real life scenarios and were designed to be judged as a face-to-face tournament by the REACH Robotics teams at Eaton High School with their sponsor, Mr. William Gilbert. Ms. Rene Egle, an Instructional Technologist in Northwest ISD, who leads an annual TechnoCamp and the Robotics Competition at our district EXPO, took two months to tweak the format to a virtual robotics edition. This challenge was differentiated for the younger grades using the Ozobots and Dash robots.

Natalie Spann, Library Media Specialist, at Lance Thompson Elementary stated, "The whole process sets students up for success and discovery. It was truly inspiring to see student curiosity and wonder contribute to such amazingly authentic products and learning outcomes. We can’t wait for next year!"

Robotics, STEAM, K-8, NISD, Engineering, Elementry, Secondary, Cross-Curricular, Virtual, Rene' Egle, William Gilbert

"I really liked this years remote format to the robotics competition. The real world problem gave students connections to how robotics and STEM projects can prepare them for future careers. We had 3rd through 5th graders involved with three different robots. The format this year allowed me to observe teams and see our learners grow in their technical thinking. I also feel this process gave teams more time and depth to their teamwork skill development.  I do think the project had many layers outside of just building a robot. Students had to take notes and reflect on their thinking. Teams had to do lots of problem solving using coding to meet the set parameters of the challenge," said Sara Jones, Library Media Specialist at Justin Elementary. 

Katie Delgado, 3rd grade sponsor from Sendera Ranch Elementary stated, "It was so fun watching the team work together to problem solve and beat challenges.  I loved watching them cheer each other on."

The NISD IT team has gotten such good feedback from both the sponsors and students! They are loving the challenges and we will be repeating this format again next year.

The Houston Deluge tournament synopsis: Hurricane Gilbo has flooded Houston, downing power lines, stranding citizens, and littering the city with debris.  Robots are sent into this dangerous environment to clean up the mess, control the flood waters, and save the humans.   

This type of STEAM competition has inspired 75 teams both elementary and middle school students to learn coding, engineering, and collaborative problem-solving in a real-world disaster scenario. Other elements of the project include an engineering design website, self-scoring rubrics, peer evaluations, and judges interviews that transform this project into a cross-curricular STEAM challenge where students and learn future-ready skills, work with technology, and become more effective communicators in a rigorous and relevant student-driven project environment. 

Andy from the Sendera Ranch team stated, "While working on this project, I learned I am good at persevering because when I couldn't get this one pencil I kept trying and trying then, I finally got the pencil.  Another reason is that when the robot got stuck I finally got it free!"

Fourth grade students Karsyn and Kenly from Lance Thompson said, "What at fun experience, getting to know new people and figuring out how the technology works while making it your own." "This was a fun, and creative experience, deigning cityscapes, but also a challenging one, learning to build a robot; we learned that teamwork is the best way to succeed." 

"Robotics and the tasks of this tournament are profoundly challenging every step of the way, yet students love the rigor and enthusiastically seek out the knowledge they need to achieve mastery.  This is a STEAM education activity with higher level learning that combines with creativity!" said Mrs. Shelia Greene, PLTW educator, from Adams Middle School.   

“Robotics just may be the most perfect instructional approach currently available. It offers classroom activities that teach high-value STEM content as well as opportunities to powerfully address ELA Common Core Standards. In fact, there are connections to robotics across the full spectrum of the curriculum. Robotics is also a highly effective way to foster essential work skills like collaboration, problem solving and project management."  Mark Gura writes in a blog post from Edutopia

Campus entries for the virtual tournament were due May 7, 2021.  The REACH Robotics team from Eaton High School are in the process of judging all the videos and engineering design websites.  View NISD Post Here 

We would like to thank our awards sponsors again this year.  The Northwest ISD Education Foundation.