Friday, May 27, 2022

'Teams' Work Makes the Dreams Work

    Pockets of NISD staff have been using Microsoft Teams to streamline group conversations; did you know that groups of high school students were allowed the opportunity to test the platform for their unique programs which foster team communication and collaboration? Check out the below Teams experience through the student lens as authored by Sophie Price, student at Steele Early College High School, supported by the program educator, Amber Robinson.


    Microsoft Teams has been very beneficial to many people at Steele Early College High School, but especially the members of the Steele Student Press - a self-branded name for publications made by Photography, Journalism, and Yearbook students at Steele. Abigail Beck, a photography editor for the Steele Student Press, explains that, “Microsoft Teams has been essential to Journalism’s ability to work as a cohesive team over the past few months.  It allows three different branches of our student press to coordinate planning and execution seamlessly together.” When asked to explain the specifics of her use of Teams, Beck said, “It allows me to put in requests for work I need to delegate, and get essential information and files from other people to allow me to do my job.” 

  Before we had Teams, Beck added, “our team would be reliant on email, which is so much more of a hassle when you are looking for time-sensitive communication.” Teams has many pros, and very few cons. Aubrey Dickinson, our Yearbook Editor in Chief, said, “Being able to contact other editors from the yearbook staff has made the process of producing our yearbook seamless. Having different channels of communication within Teams has kept our Student Press organized and allowed us to work efficiently. We have communicated and approved our social media posts through Teams, as well as planning push weeks to advertise for the sales of our yearbooks.” Like all modern wonders of technology, Teams does occasionally have its glitches, but other than that one would be hard pressed to find any glaring cons. 

Some of our favorite features on Teams include the ability to create different channels to organize conversations, private channels for groups like our editorial board, and the chat feature for collaborating one-on-one. The ability to call someone’s attention to a conversation by using the @mention feature (using the @ symbol, followed by their name) has also been invaluable. For those on the fence about getting Teams, Makenna Morgan, another photography editor for the Steele Student Press, offers these words of encouragement: “It will make your communication more streamlined, you will get more done, and it is a fantastic program for any workplace or organization to use.” If you’re going to use Teams, make sure to check it often, send chats to get used to the program, and use all available features! 

Teams has impacted the Steele Student Press in such a major, positive way.  As Aubrey Dickinson said, “I am incredibly grateful that we were presented the opportunity to use Teams this year and expand the horizons of our Steele Student Press beyond anything I could have ever imagined.”  


For staff interested in using Microsoft Teams, access it from the Portal to get started. Reach out to your Instructional Technologist for additional support!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Holy GuacaMOTEly! Check Out How NISD Students Are Using Mote

The word has gotten out about NISD’s newly purchased tool, Mote! Several 3-5 grade teams had the opportunity to dive in and learn all about this new extension in a PLC called, “Holy GuacaMOTEly.” Mote allows users to add audio to any Google item and in other places via a link, embed code, or QR code. While this may sound simple, we know that simple tools in the hands of great educators can lead to big results. After learning about Mote’s capabilities, our NISD teachers had amazing ideas for integrating Mote into their lessons and giving their students the opportunity to share their voice! This post highlights student use of Mote for literacy and writing.

Holy GuacaMOTEly PLC

Writing and Student Creativity: 

Mote provides students the ability to add a layer of personalization to their writing! Utilizing Mote also promotes fluency and allows our students to be creative. Several third grade classes have given students the opportunity to use Mote within their nonfiction writing. Take a look at what teachers had to say about Mote and listen to students from different campuses as they share their experience:

Click to Enlarge and See What Our Teachers are Saying

Student Nonfiction Slides

Click The Speaker to Hear Why These Students Love Mote: 





Justifying Thinking: 

Mrs. Turner decided Mote could be a great way for her students to justify and explain their thinking during Problem Solving. In this example, Mrs. Turner provided audio supports in slides for students and then asked them to not only solve the problem, but us Mote to justify their thinking. Mote held students accountable to knowing how they got their answer rather than simply having an answer.

Why Alexia Loves Mote

Persuasion and Collaboration: 

Mrs. After seeing this Tug of War template in PLC, Mrs. Swezy (4th grade at Granger Elementary) decided to have her students use Mote to practice persuasion. Each student recorded their stance on the topic "Four Leaf Clovers are Lucky" and moved their icon on a continuum of how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement. This was a quick activity, but it allowed students to practice choosing a side. Mote allows student to get their thoughts out and would be a great for a pre-write, or reflection. Students were also all on one slide, so they could listen to each other's responses. Mrs. Swezy had students replace the speaker icon with quick selfie, so she could quickly see where everyone fell.

Mote Helps Us with Instruction in NISD:

Click the Image to Expand
Click the Image to Enlarge

Join Us for Holy GuacaMOTEly this Summer:

Holy GuacaMOTEly will be offered at this year's NISD Engage conference, along with another opportunity in August. Come join us as we experience Mote firsthand, preview examples of Mote usage throughout NISD, explore ready-made templates, and share ideas. We’ll learn how to share voice notes via link, embed code, and QR code. We’ll also provide time for you to create experiences for your learners using Mote. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Student Perspectives: A Comprehensive Reflection on Project-Based Learning


“This was probably my favorite project that I've ever done in an English class because it is based on a topic that I am a big fan of -- video games. I've never done something that I've been extremely interested in during English class.” - Hunter

“This project involved video games, art, symbolism, gothic literature, and design -- all things that I love.” - Traci

“I am proud of the different ways I was able to better the project because of the effort I gave. This was an amazing idea to get us to engage and learn about gothic themes and symbolisms.” - Caitlyn 

Statements like these are sure to put a smile on any teacher’s face because, naturally, teachers want their students to enjoy learning. They want students to be engaged and excited about their work. But not all learning experiences result in the kind of enthusiasm these students expressed in their project reflections.

So, what was different about this assignment?

The Project

Students in the STEM Academy at Northwest High School completed a “Gothic Video Games PBL”. They were assigned a small team (3-4 people) and tasked with creating a video game design that honored Edgar Allen Poe’s contributions to Gothic Literature. By the end of their project, they had to answer the driving question, “How does style drive creativity?” Their learning tasks included:
  • work as a team to develop an E10+, ‘gothic game’ idea loosely based on an existing Gothic short story 
  • create a visual representation of their game to support the pitch
  • 'pitch' their idea to a local game developer through a formal presentation
The end-products themselves aren’t that unique, so what made this project so engaging? In PBL students follow a learning path wherein creation acts as the impetus for learning.

Project-based learning reframes traditional teaching, offering real-world, hands-on experience. In PBL students are challenged to create an authentic end-product, but haven’t necessarily learned what they need to know to create that end-product. In this way, student inquiry drives learning in a PBL.

Students know they have to create or do something (and even have a product rubric), but they don’t always know how to accomplish their task or have the knowledge they need to get it done. Students gain those throughout the PBL and apply what they learn as they create. This is different from classrooms where demonstrating mastery primarily happens at the end of a unit.

Paired with consistent feedback, PBL leaves room for students to fail in the moment but still grow and succeed in the end. The need to create becomes a catalyst to learning, and within the parameters of the PBL, a student can personalize their learning experience based on their interests and passions. How and what students learn in a PBL is organically driven by their authentic "need to know" for the purpose of creating.

(A note for teachers: In PBL, student inquiry is strategically planned and guided. The success of projects like these hinge on detailed backward design and the facilitator’s intentional guidance and scaffolding of student thinking throughout the project.)

The Reflection

Through Project-Based Learning, students get more than just academic content. In PBL students practice critical skills like communication, personal responsibility, time management, teamwork, and creativity. Student reflections even showed that through PBL students apply what they learn across content areas and make cross-curricular and industry connections.
"[Through this project] I grew my knowledge of game design and gothic elements, which allowed me to become more creative with those things. In a STEM field, most of the problems you have to solve aren't going to have definitive answers, so you need to be creative and innovative to solve them." - Robert
“A creative skill that I grew during this project has to be brainstorming. I don't brainstorm often… but this project and the brainstorming [needed] allowed me to think of a lot of unique ideas we could add to our game.” - Rylan
“Creativity is extremely important in the STEM field as it requires everyone to be unique when it comes to approaching a problem. If we all share the same idea, the final product will be dull.” - Anthony
"Our group's problem-solving was phenomenal. We found many issues with our original idea, but then made an amazing comeback and [designed] a whole new game and presentation. My group was lacking in the communication department... Thankfully, we pulled ourselves back together to make what I would say is a pretty good project." - Ethan
Of course, no collaborative effort is without its challenges. Students shared that, by working together, they learned to advocate for themselves and each other. They learned to lead, to compromise, to play on each other’s strengths, and to communicate with one another in a professional manner. Ultimately, they learned with and from each other.
“We came across many problems while working on our project. There were many things that we either disagreed with or didn't fully understand. We had to collaborate and try to work things out.” - Ryan
“I've grown as a problem-solver by understanding my weaknesses and getting help from people who are better at a particular thing than I am.” - Amelia
“This project taught me a lot of presentation skills that I will need in the future... After watching many [other teams present], I was able to learn the best ways to talk, communicate, and demonstrate ideas when presenting. That is why I enjoyed this project so much. I was able to learn some really great ways on how I should go about presenting.” - Vincent

“We were able to blend our ideas as a team to make something really cool.” - Anthony 

The Products

After two and a half weeks of hard work, students were proud of themselves and of what they had created. They were eager to celebrate and share their hard work, growth, and successes. They presented their ideas to a panel of judges, which included a gaming expert who was acting as their game developer. Celebrate these hardworking students by exploring are some of their final products:

“The Crypt”

This team of STEM students designed a full website, complete with original artwork, to showcase their video game idea based off of the story “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Highlighting the idea that our surroundings have an impact on our mental health, they challenged players to escape from the Crypt before they "go insane". Replete with gothic imagery and symbolism, in this game, players are “in a fight against insanity, which is caused by the dark”. The player “must cling to torches and light sources to save what sanity remains”.

"Puppet's Mirror"

This group designed a game where you escape by solving puzzles. They cleverly embedded mini-games that innocently represented the darker aspects of their short story, "The Black Cat" in order to adhere to their E10+ kid-friendly rating for their game. For instance, when in the story the cat loses an eye to the owner's violence, in the game, players are instead transported to "a rigged rotating cup" game with images of a one-eyed cat. They even used online tools to create an AI vision board for their game. They also created 3D mockups of their main character, noting minor adjustments in her appearance to symbolize her personality changing and other gothic aspects of their game. 

"Just Around The Corner"

In this "labyrinth escape game", players must get out "before the consequences of their actions catch up with them". In this excellent presentation, students shared original artwork, that included iconic gothic symbolism from Edgar Allen Poe's "The Black Cat". Their work helped the project judges visualize each level. They also included a detailed description of how sensory elements of gameplay and user experience would communication the theme, build suspense, and contribute to the overall gothic of the game. Lastly, their pitch used persuasive diction to entice future players. 

Thinking about trying a PBL with your students? Check out these helpful resources from PBLWorks. 

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.