Tuesday, April 17, 2018

All Things Seesaw

Mrs. Anderson’s 2nd grade class are Seesaw natives. They use Seesaw for many reasons throughout their day. Whether they are creating their own problems and solving each others work, presenting to their peers and family, doing teacher created activities, celebration their hard work, or communicating with their parents, it is all done within the Seesaw platform. If you ask them they tell you what they like about using Seesaw, here is what they say. “You are able to show your work to your parents even if they are not there to see it. Just press the record button to record your work! It is easy to record your work progress.”

Here is Mrs. Anderson telling us the 5 ways her class uses Seesaw the most:
Student created problems: I love to use Seesaw for students to create a problems, post, and have parents and students solve their work. This is great for formative assessments and really fun for the students. You can see that the parent viewed it, liked it, and even solved it! Students can leave audio comments or type a comment to their peers.

Presentations: Using Seesaw for presentations is great for you and parents! I love it because it gives the students opportunity to start their presentation over, they love helping each other on recording, and the parents can see their presentation. It is also saves classroom presentation time!

Teacher created activities: We LOVE doing Seesaw activities in my classroom! Sometimes, the students ask for me to create an activity. I can do it quickly and in the moment, I just use pic collage to create it on my phone and then post it. You can create things for them to read, label, draw on, etc.!

Celebrations: We also have a celebrations folder where we post fun pictures and events! The kids love celebrating themselves and seeing their peers hard work as well.

Parent communication: Parents and I love the announcement feature on Seesaw! It is so quick and easy from my phone, you can see which parents view it, and it goes right to their phone on the app with a notification! You can also separately message each parent privately! My parents love this features for quick reminders about their child, ride changes, etc. It is easy for them to go right to the app!

Walking in Mrs. Anderson’s class you can tell that her kids are familiar with this process and love all of the ways Seesaw has transformed their learning.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Student Choice & Content Creation - Not So "Foreign" After All!

Learning a foreign language can be, well, foreign sometimes! On top of mastering new vocabulary and verb conjugations, students in Pre-AP Spanish II are also learning the difference between two past tenses, preterite and imperfect, and then identifying the corresponding verb conjugation for that correct past tense - whew! In Spanish, you must differentiate between the two types of past tense shown the below table.

Preterite Tense
Imperfect Tense
A completed action in the past
Ongoing, repeated, or past actions without implied specific beginning or end
“He put his hand through the car window.”
“The birds sang.”

It’s been said that mastering preterite and imperfect can be done through repetition in that the more you do it, the better you will get at it. While this skill can be sharpened through worksheets or practice sentences, this concept is a difficult one that gets solidified in memory when it is applied. Language is developed through speaking, listening, reading, and writing, so what avenue is best to facilitate this language acquisition?

Asking a high school student to speak in front of their peers is scary enough, add on top of that the factors of the language not being their primary one, compiled with a new and super challenging concept as well as one that requires much thought before the actual sentence is constructed. Listening and reading are both effective in learning the content, but both of these depend on teacher-facilitated content consumption rather than student-driven content creation.  So, two Byron Nelson Pre-AP Spanish teachers, Matt Condon and Isabel Greuling, created the perfect project to get the best mix of language development through product creation with appropriate scaffolds to facilitate student success. Students were tasked with writing their own Spanish Children’s Story Book!

To communicate clear expectations, students received this Rubric, Requirements, and Rough Draft document which contains intentional planning tools such as separate boxes to pre-write two sentences per page, a space to plan vocabulary that will be used and its translation in both English and Spanish, and instructions to highlight verbs and grammar. To facilitate effective story development, students also completed this StoryStarter questionnaire to help students develop the concept prior to developing the language used to describe it. To gain quality peer feedback, students reviewed each other’s rough drafts using this Peer Edit Guiding Questions. Lastly, students constructed their final draft using the online story creator site: Story Jumper; those who are more artistically advanced or who prefer to work offline also had the option to creating a physical book that meets these same requirements.

Below are a few exemplars. Click each image to view the full version within Story Jumper.

Teacher Feedback: Jackson did a fantastic job of using the preterite and imperfect correctly throughout his book. This book contained very few errors and had a wide range of varied vocabulary covered in Spanish 1 & 2.  Jackson terrifically demonstrated his knowledge and mastery of grammar and vocabulary concepts from the last few chapters.  

Teacher Feedback: Dylan exceeded the project’s expectations on this activity by creating a funny, original story with a surprise ending and using correct preterite & imperfect usage to narrate the book.

Teacher Feedback: Adriana's story is very original, and she uses multiple concepts we have learned this year very well. 

Additional student exemplars: Samuel el Sapito and La Mofeta Triste

Students were able to extend the project a step further in creating an audio file of them reading aloud their storybook; thus, refining the skill of speaking the language. In doing so, students can practice pronunciation using a familiar text that they personally constructed which again sets the student up for success. This optional additional audio file can be embedded on the first page of each Story Jumper book.

“I don’t teach a foreign language, so how can this concept be applied to my classroom?”

This project has multiple elements of "good teaching" that can be applied to all ages and content areas.

Highest level of Bloom’s = Creation
  • Are you providing time for your students to apply their learning to their own student-driven product?
Student Choice
  • Students were able to choose their own setting, characters, and script providing multiple opportunities for student buy-in and student-selected opportunities to demonstrate success.
  • Appropriate planning documents and class time were provided to allow students to pre-write and get peer-feedback for revising and editing.
  • Since Spanish is a language, incorporating ELA elements lend itself easily to this task. Rather than simply saying “Write using appropriate grammar,” this project reminded students of multiple literary elements such as setting, character development, and climax which are concepts currently being studied in English I-IV.

This activity meets ISTE's Student Standard of being a 'Creative Communicator' in which "Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.." (6c)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Why You Shouldn't Be Afraid to Replace a "Tried-and-True Method"

Tired of the same old pen-and-paper, drill-and-kill nature of test corrections, Algebra 2 teacher Mrs. Kubacki at Northwest High School wanted to shake things up and to make math a little more engaging for her high schoolers. Of course, her existing method was working just fine; students were completing the corrections and often showing growth. Still, she wanted to take a risk.

Quiz corrections are a staple task in her classroom because they give her students the opportunity to earn back missed points on tests. Many of her students rely on them as a way to boost their grade, and she relied on them as an important step in assessing her students progress in advance of a test. She wanted to ensure that when she replaced a tried-and-true method she would still end up with meaningful evidence of learning, so she turned to an tool that is rising in popularity: a video discussion platform.

Tools like FlipGrid and Recap are becoming more renown, but with any new tool, it’s how you use it that truly matters. Though a great tool for virtual classroom discussion or Vlogging, Kubacki instead challenged her students to create with it. She wanted to see student-created tutorials, to be shared with the class.

Using Recap, also known as Let’s Recap and Recap That, her students created video tutorials for one another solving the questions they had originally missed on their quiz. Prior to filming, she gave them clear-cut, high expectations: they had to show their work, use and even define academic vocabulary words for their audience, and show their work step-by-step so their peers could better learn from their video. As a class and before they first participated, they created a list of video norms and best practices for their tutorials. (This list included rules like: No filming and walking. Eliminate as much background noise as possible. Rehearse your video before filming...)

It's probably worth mentioning that many students did have reservations at first; a selfie generation who constantly Facetime, SnapChat, and learn from YouTube are afraid to be on camera. Just like many adults, they were nervous to document their learning and share it with an audience. Anticipating this, Kubacki did not force her students to be on camera, but instead gave them a choice. She also artfully paired students up for the task, sure to consider their personalities. And since she knows it’s helpful when a leader takes the first risk, she was sure to create her own video first, modeling the class-created expectations.

On the day students finally created and published their video tutorials in class, their teacher was both mobile and available to help anyone in need -- this is one of the many benefits in giving students tasks of creation; the teacher can move out of the driver’s seat and into the passenger’s seat. In the event a student did get stuck, they were expected to create a "point of confusion video" --to post their problem step-by-step, up to the point of confusion, and to finally ask their peers for help. Because she expected students to comment on each other’s videos (they established norms for this too), students were able to get help on their corrections and were able to get immediate feedback from both their peers and their teacher.

Of course, Mrs. Kubacki could have stayed with her tried-and-true method of pen and paper, but what would her students have missed out on? Would they have felt as challenged? What academic or even personal growth might they have missed out on? By instead asking them to create video tutorials through Recap, she gave students a platform where they could immediately share their personal growth with a community of learners who could also benefit from their hard work. Taking this risk gave a larger purpose to students' time and to an otherwise mundane task such as quiz corrections. Even more, these students were empowered to own and share their learning by creating something that would help others.

*This blog has been corrected to clarify that the assignment, quiz corrections, was designed as a formative assessment tool leading up to a final summative grade.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Accepting the Invitation to Innovate Play

Jessica LaBar-Twomey is a Kindergarten teacher who has made it her mission to prioritize play for play for children around the world by promoting #InnovatingPlay. The idea of combining play with technology for early elementary students is a concept first grade teacher, Sarah McCown, at Clara Love Elementary was willing to pursue for the math unit on 2D shapes. Jessica LaBar-Twomey’s blog post “I play with Design and Creation: #InnovatingPlay Through Math” was the perfect experience to support Mrs. McCown’s learning goals for her students.

Mrs. McCown’s first graders were working on their 2D shape unit in math and one of the skills is to join shapes together to make a new shape. First graders love to build and create with any manipulatives you give them. Mrs. McCown wanted to give them the opportunity to "play" and be creative, while still working with shapes. She asked her students to create an object (or scene) by joining pattern blocks. She gave them a bag of pattern blocks and allowed them to create anything they wanted on their desk. Once they were finished she took pictures of what they created, while they explained their work.

Students in Mrs. McCown’s class then turned their creations into a stop-motion video using the Stop Motion app. Mrs. McCown scheduled time with the campus instructional technologist to work with the kids one-on-one to create a stop-motion video. The students loved turning their shape creation into a stop-motion video. Mrs. McCown felt like the technology enhanced the learning experience for her kids because they were able to take something they created in class and put it into a video for all to enjoy. The app allowed others to see step-by-step how the students created their scene out of pattern blocks.

When Mrs. McCown reflected on the experience with her kids she shared, “All of my students enjoyed the time they were given to "play" and create using pattern blocks. When you allow kids the opportunity to create anything they desire, you give them the chance to work on their level to make something meaningful to them. All of my students were proud of their work and were excited to explain what they made to each other. They marveled at each other's work. It was a great learning experience for all!”

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Basics of Blending

In the book, Blended Learning in Action, Catlin Tucker, Tiffany Wycoff, and Jason Green hit the “pulse” of the blended learning movement as they discuss the need for a shift in the way schools “puree” and present content to meet the needs of today’s learners.

They explain this by saying, “We are at the moment in education when our schools can determine if they are Netflix or Blockbuster, Amazon or Borders, Samsung or Blackberry. In each of these cases, the successful organization saw that the entire world was changing and decided they were going to change to be ready for it…shifting vision and culture at the time when it was most critical to their survival.” The point here is that current education models are “crushing” student opportunity by “chopping” key elements needed to engage students and prepare them for “shredding” the future demands of a global marketplace. In an effort to address this need, Northwest ISD has begun piloting blended learning courses where that missing link is helping to fill the gap and expose students to nontraditional forms of instruction by providing learning experiences that aid in better acquisition of future ready skills.

There are common misconceptions about blended learning and what it entails. It is not only integrating technology into the classroom, “flipping” lessons, or even implementing problem based learning strategies. Blended learning includes a “mixture” of those things and more! An article by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker described blended learning as, “any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.” Successfully implementing blended learning requires a complete shift of culture that empowers both teachers and students to be active participants in creating learning opportunities. Horn and Staker explain that making blended learning a reality requires “letting go of the idea that we always have to teach something in order for students to have learned it.” Empowering students by allowing them choice and independence within the pace and structure of the course as well as connecting the traditional, face-to-face learning time with digital learning time is all key to the success of blended learning courses and eventually strengthens student capacity for independent problem solving and critical thinking.

Jennifer Hamzy, a teacher at V.R. Eaton High School, facilitates the current blended AP Psychology course there and she feels that the digital days incorporated into the course create an opportunity for “differentiation and for students to decide what works best for them.” She also appreciates how the blended format puts more responsibility on the students to develop “better study skills” and to “learn how to independently read a college text.” Jennifer frequently encourages collaborative strategies to help guide students on digital days. They are encouraged to utilize Google Suite tools as well as various digital study aids like Quizlet, YouTube videos, and online practice assessments to learn and reinforce concepts on their own while allowing more in person class time for discussion, teacher guidance, and whole group activity. AP Psychology students, Anya and Patricia, stated that they enjoyed having “more time to get work done” independently while also having the option to “meet up to work together” with other students either digitally or in person.

Although blended learning has been largely successful in Mrs. Hamzy’s class and she is extremely well-versed in problem based learning strategies, student goal setting, and differentiation, she feels that she can improve her blended learning course by providing more specific expectations to students early on in order to guide them in productive ways to spend their digital days as well as by incorporating more flipped techniques to help ensure that students have the necessary background knowledge and preparation to complete problem-based tasks and projects. Mrs. Hamzy regularly utilizes Google Suite, Moodle, and other digital resources to engage students with content independently and collaboratively but is constantly making adjustments and trying new tools to help her create additional independent learning opportunities for students. Online resources such as Pear Deck, edpuzzle, FlipGrid, Formative, Screencastify, and even digital badging can all increase student engagement with content while allowing students room to individually and collaboratively remediate, accelerate, or manipulate their own interactions with concepts and skills. Hamzy describes the transition to a blended learning course as “a process” and says that teachers new to it should “give themselves a break the first year” as they take risks with a new role, different strategies, and unfamiliar resources. She says that as you progress, “you discover that some things work and some do not but that’s okay” because you adjust and improve for the next time.

As the availability of blended learning courses to NISD students increase over the next few years, other EHS teachers, like Renata Schlotzhauer and Ashley Harden, will be expanding this course structure to other content areas such as science and World Languages. Mrs. Harden says that she is looking forward to “students growing academically and personally as they are given more responsibility.” She also feels that it will help to deepen student understanding in science because they are allowed to cover more information at a more personalized pace.”
Prior to the course selection process for next year’s classes, both Mrs. Harden and Mrs. Schlotzhauer took time to speak with incoming students about what they could expect and Mrs. Schlotzhauer explained that she felt there were “unlimited possibilities for delivery of content, student collaboration, and exploration of new concepts.” Students will have real opportunities to grow as self-sufficient, critical thinkers as they are forced to begin thinking and working in more organic and experiential ways through these blended classrooms. Tucker, Wycoff, and Green state that, “…it is the advent of modern technology that now makes this type of learning experience possible in every classroom and for every child” and that “the rewards of student learning, engagement, and empowerment will be manifold.”

Monday, March 12, 2018

Spark Learning: Inquiry-Based Learning in 5th Grade

If you could be any creature at all, what would you be? Which ink spreads the least in water? Can a flashlight be powered by the sun? Can water be purified through evaporation?

These were only a few of the questions that 5th grade scientists at Prairie View Elementary school answered through their own research and the scientific process. Their teachers, Mrs. Davidson and Mrs. Ward, challenged them with an Inquiry Project; Mrs. Davidson explained, “They created their own questions based off of personal interests, and followed through with gathering data, analyzing their data, and creating a presentation to show their results.”

Mrs. Davidson added, “We wanted them to learn to question something on their own”. They challenged students to think about how they approach a problem, and even how they would handle social situations, how people would handle money or respond to various circumstances. But most of all, they gave students choice. For their inquiry project, students could choose any topic that sparked inquiry: they could investigate something entirely new or ask a question that extended previous inquiries from their time in school. One of her students, Kaden shared, “I like that [the inquiry project is] a creative activity”, and that after this project, he “knows how to answer [his] questions”.

Following the steps of the scientific process through inquiry-based learning, students developed questions and hypotheses before performing research. Zephyr’s team was interested in conducting a social experiment. They wanted to know, given a few staple options, what food people would eat for the rest of their lives if that had to. He said, “We made a survey and asked the staff and 5th, 4th, and 3rd graders. We collected the data and looked at the pie chart… Surprisingly, most people prefer pizza.” Zephyr added, “It’s important to answer questions because we can learn”.

Both Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Davidson, co-teachers in math and science, highlighted how integral both math and science were to the processes students were tasked with completing. Mrs. Ward clarified, “You can’t do science without math, they’re married”. Student Davis made cross-curricular connections through this project, explaining that what he learned can be applied in other areas of his life. He made the connection talking about math and problems in general, “...first [I] look at the problem and then think about it. Then, get a solution. It’s the same as science.”

Ultimately, inquiry projects like this one offer students choice, but not at the expense of content knowledge or the skills students are developing through their own hard work. For example, one team learned the steps of the design process as a part of their inquiry. They wondered, “Can you clean water through evaporation?” To find the best way to measure their results, students had to design an evaporation system that would test their theory. They collaborated to created two different designs, tested each design to see which worked better, and tested their original hypothesis. Other group's experiments failed, but Mrs. Davidson stressed to them that failure is a part of learning and of the scientific process - failure is an opportunity, so they would present about what they learned through their failures.

A crucial aspect of this assignment was that students’ inquiry was driven by the end-goal of presenting their scientific findings to their peers and an audience. As students prepared to present, they had choice in how to showcase their findings. They created videos, posters, and traditional slideshows chalked full of tables and graphs; this autonomy and choice helped to foster their passion to share what they had learned. Students were even given the opportunity to present to an authentic audience at EXPO, the district’s student showcase. Student Davis excitedly shared that his team’s project was picked to present at EXPO, saying, “I did it last year and really liked it. I like getting up there and presenting.” His team made a video "...because it captured what the person was actually saying" Although he thought the video gave them more accurate data, h
e was quick to reflect on what he would change to improve his presentation before the event, explaining, "We are going to add subtitles".

Mrs. Davidson acknowledges that managing and guiding so many student-groups at a time can be challenging. A project like this requires teachers to step out of any traditional role, and into the role of facilitator. They have to be the supporter, to ask guiding questions, manage supplies, point students to resources for help, and all the while handling classroom management. To be successful, she explained that she gave her students a step-by-step checklist and detailed calendar of due dates and expectations at the start of the project. Mrs. Davidson -- a self-identified control freak -- points out that it's important to let go and let them do it. “Because it’s their own exploration, it’s high interest and high energy,” she stressed, “It’s worth the mess.”

Monday, March 5, 2018

Stop, Drop, & Animate

If you’ve ever seen an episode of The Magic School Bus, then you have a pretty good idea of what it’s like to be a student in Mrs.Suarez’s 5th grade science class at JCT Elementary. Mrs. Suarez has a knack for engaging students through unique learning opportunities. She reels them in and then once they’re hooked, students tackle rigorous and relevant learning activities.

JCT Elementary prides itself on accepting challenges and maintaining a no matter what attitude. Students and teachers work hard to embrace the motto, never give up! Sometimes this attitude requires flexibility and creative thinking. In an effort to best meet the individual needs of all students, the 5th grade team at JCT recently decided to review their grade level data and arrange students in flexible groups; allowing the ELA and math teachers time to pull small groups. Mrs. Suarez is responsible for providing extension activities for students who have already mastered the concepts being covered during small group instruction. One day a week, this time is devoted to students extending current concepts through new technology platforms.

Mrs.Suarez’ can-do attitude and confidence to experiment with new tools, led her to Stop Motion animation using Google Slides. The idea originated from one of her favorite tech blogs, “Ditch That Textbook” by Matt Miller. Mrs. Suarez had student view the beginning of the “how to” video found on the blog. She then challenged her students to create their first project. Mrs, Suarez says, “Kids are true digital natives. I knew just enough to get them started. Students have amazed me with their creativity and the stories they can tell!” While students were exploring the tool, they were given the option to create a quick story or comic.

One student, Lucas, who become particularly fond of this activity shares, “I liked having some freedom with what I chose to make. But it was challenging to decide exactly what to put next. Then, my friend and I decided to share our stop motion animations with each other and combine our projects!”

The beauty of this activity is revealed during the next unit of study, when students will apply this technology skill into the curriculum with life cycles. Students will use Google Slides to create a stop motion animation that follows an insect through complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, adult) and incomplete metamorphosis (egg, nymph, adult). Mrs. Suarez believes Stop Motion will deepen students’ understanding of this somewhat challenging concept. Suarez states, “Metamorphosis involves change over time. The Google Slides Stop Motion animations allows students to create this change in small increments, while continuously being aware of the previous and next steps. Students can tell a story through pictures in their slideshow. Allowing students to create this change in the insects from egg to adult will help solidify their understanding of the difference between the nymph and larva stages, allowing them to more easily identify complete versus incomplete metamorphosis!” Students are already enjoying the ability to create their own animations. Grayson shares, “I think it is cool and interesting to make something that is animated that is not just a drawing. It’s digital so you can make it move so easy.”

After the students create their animations, they will use Screencastify to record themselves narrating the presentation slide by slide. Mrs. Suarez is excited to add this aspect because, “it saves the project directly into the student’s Google Drive and they can upload it directly to their ePortfolios! It is pretty seamless integration of so many different technology components!” Taking this lesson one step further, students will share their completed Slides with younger grades as visuals for metamorphosis.

In conclusion, with a little freedom to explore and time to create, students mastered a new tool that will provide them with an easier way to comprehend difficult processes. Extending beyond the walls of the classroom, some students are even motivated to continue their work at home. Fia explains, “It was so awesome! I thought stop motion would have to be done with something super fancy. I was surprised it was so easy. Now, I make them all the time!”