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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Notebooking Unleashed

Chisholm Trail Middle School and Prairie View Elementary School share a lot more than just a parking lot. Both campuses are brimming with innovative and creative professionals, continually seeking opportunities to transform student learning.  Mrs. Branstetter, fifth grade ELA teacher at Prairie View, Mrs. Bush, eighth grade ELA teacher from Chisholm, and Mrs. Thompson, eighth grade ELA teacher at Chisholm decided to think outside the box this year! All three teachers have been exploring options for students to digitally record and organize writing assignments completed in class.   Teachers hoped to provide a way for students to collect work so they could easily revisit content throughout the year, independently seeking feedback and monitoring their own progress.
Often times, the most common barrier teachers face when implementing more opportunities for feedback and progress monitoring is management.  Teachers are left wondering… How do I provide adequate feedback to all my students?  With 100+ students, how can I access all these stacks of journals anytime, anyplace?  How can I ensure it’s timely?  All of these questions bring up valid points.  In the article, 7 Keys to Effective Feedback, Grant Wiggins utilizes the research of John Hattie to develop the essentials of providing feedback.  Wiggins states feedback should be actionable, user-friendly, timely, ongoing, and consistent.  He also encourages educators to “work overtime to figure out ways to ensure that students get more timely feedback and opportunities to use it while the attempt and effects are still fresh in their minds.”  He goes on to say, “Before you say that this is impossible, remember… technology is one powerful tool.”  

These 3 teachers did just what Wiggins suggested, working overtime and turning to technology to find a solution!  The answer they had been searching for was interactive digital notebooks.  While maintaining a paper journal in class remains a priority, when appropriate, students also utilize a digital notebook for assignments where interactive feedback would be beneficial.  

Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 11.15.35 AM.png


Through the use of Google Sites, students are able to upload writing assignments and organize them in a fashion that’s easy to follow.  This process allows students to share their work easily with their teacher, classmates, and even parents.  By publishing their notebook, students can even reach an audience outside the walls of their classroom.  Imagine the implications of this for a student applying for a job, internship, or even college scholarship.  All of their work is at their fingertips and only a click away from sharing with the world.  With the potential for such a large audience at play, Northwest ISD has recommendations in place for students with regards to keeping their personal information private.  Classroom teachers have also explored ways for students to maintain utmost privacy on personal documents, such as progress monitoring.  For example, when students in Mrs. Branstetter’s class upload their grade monitoring document to their site, they will enable the “share” settings for only their teacher to be able to see.  When visitors click on this part of their site, they will receive a message that they do not have access to this individual document.  It’s the best of both worlds!    


Click the pictures below to enlarge the images and see a glimpse of a student notebook. In this example, the assignments from Unit 1 have been collected and organized on one page. The second image shows the section reserved for student Cornell Notes.



Looking ahead, these teachers see limitless possibilities for student success using this digital format.  As teachers attempting to prepare their students for a transition to the next level of school, either Middle School or High School, teachers are considering the potential of sharing these notebooks with teachers from the feeder campus students will attend.  At the end of the school year, students could give their soon to be teachers, a glimpse of what they have accomplished, prior to embarking on their next level in school.  Teachers would have a window into the classrooms of the previous year.  The vertical alignment this would allow for is priceless. With a little research and a lot of hard work, these teachers transformed an often mundane task into a dynamic learning experience for their students'.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Don't Put Away Your Fidget Spinner Just Yet


Fidgets spinners are supposed to help students sit still and focus. On the contrary, many teachers are saying, it's having the exact opposite effect which causes students to loose focus.  But, students in Mrs. Fryar’s, 6th grade Tech Apps course at Wilson Middle School, are not losing focus.  They were challenged to create digital spinners all while strengthening critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Students went right to work discovering how coding on Scratch worked.  They were able to question their understanding and take it deeper, by helping others find answers to the questions they still had. With Scratch, you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share your creations with others in the online community.  



Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century


 6-8, Animation, coding, computer programming, problem solving, Scratch, Technology Apps, Wilson Middle School, Animation, Scratch, Wilson Middle School, Technology Apps, 6-8, coding, problem solving, computer programming,


ISTE Standards
4. Innovative Designer - Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.
4a Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
4b Students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.
4c Students develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
4d Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.

Monday, September 18, 2017

ZOOMing in on the 4C's!

ZOOM: Student View
5th grade students in Mrs. Chamberlain’s 6th Grade Pre-AP Math class collaborate and learn together every day! The unique aspect of this class is that none of these students are physically in the same classroom as Mrs. Chamberlain. Northwest ISD’s 1:1 environment, along with a variety of digital tools allow students from across the district to interact, give and receive feedback, collaborate, create, and even work in groups. Every morning, students remote into Mrs. Chamberlain’s class via ZOOM. Students all have a Microsoft OneNote journal in which they share a collaborative whiteboard and have individual pages to solve their work. The students are enjoying the class, the challenge, and the ability to learn from anywhere. In Zachary's words,"What I love about the remote class is that I can see other students from different schools without having to get out of my seat." Kash adds, "I like that we can share thoughts across the district" and Holden comments, "I feel challenged in math this year and the problems are fun because they seem like puzzles."


OneNote: Collaborative Whiteboard

ZOOM allows students to communicate with each other in a variety of ways. "I like how you can mute and un-mute yourself, and how you can raise your hand, because it makes you feel like you're in an actual classroom with the teacher. I would say the most difficult part so far has been my Unit 2 homework," said Matthew. 





Group 3: Google Draw Work and Collaboration
Google Slides: Turning in Posters










Recently, students were put into groups of two to create a visual math poster on fractions. Students used Google Draw to collaborate and show their thinking visually. Once visuals were created, students uploaded their drawings to a collaborative class Google Slide so that they could give and receive feedback as well as learn from other groups. According to Blane, "the group poster was exciting because I got to work with someone I have never worked with before."

Students in this class are learning to communicate and explain their thinking across a variety of platforms. They are learning how to interact via audio conference, text chat, visual graphics, etc. This class truly represents 21st century learning and encourages students to take ownership of their learning. They are encouraged to take risks as they work with students from other campuses. This class is just getting started and these students have a lot to accomplish before the end of the year!

Student ISTE Standards:
  • COMMUNICATION (1C): Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
  • CREATIVITY (4A): Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • CRITICAL THINKING (5C): Students break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.
  • COLLABORATION (7C): Students contribute constructively to project teams, assuming various roles and responsibilities to work effectively toward a common goal.

Monday, September 11, 2017

From Consumers to Creators: Students Design Curriculum

Tired of the traditional two-week review of safety rules each year, Ms. Hendrix at Northwest High School decided to put students in the driver's seat of their learning. Her chemistry students were tasked with creating an online, self-paced "Science Safety Education" course that caters to high school students and includes videos, presentations, and assessments. Student Alexis noted they were basically designing curriculum.

One of my favorite aspects of this project is the student ownership of their work. Hector said that his time spent in this project felt productive because he knew it was going to be put to use. Students were creating, all while knowing that there would be a specific audience. This project enabled student choice while staying within the teacher's required parameters and TEKS. Giving up control of an assignment can be scary for teachers, but the ownership and genuine learning that takes place as a result is invaluable to students. Hector added, “It’s cool because [what we created is] actually going to help someone later.”

labsafetymoodle.PNGStudents were ultimately able to redefine their learning using video editing software (WeVideo, iMovie App, and Adobe Spark), Google Drive and Slides, and various Moodle features to collaboratively teach future classmates.

Essentially, each team of students was responsible for a different Lab safety and procedure topic. There were many topics to be covered like journaling, recording scientific data, creating charts and graphs, and the history of science. Each team had to create a note-taking presentation resource, a video, and various assessments for their unit. The teams collaborated to culminate everything in a final product for the next year’s science students to use at the beginning of the school year.

Ms. Hendrix was sure to leave the actual creation of the course to the students, but did help them format it into Moodle so others could benefit from their hard work. Payton said, “[This project] made me reflect on how I learned as a sophomore, and I was able to apply that for other students.” In creating the course, students had to think critically about how people learn, what type of learning sticks, and what resources and content would be best for their intended audience. Everett added, “...we had multiple people who learned different ways in our group, and so each person was able to contribute differently.”
student safety video.PNG
The teams pulled from existing resources and created brand new ones. Many students embedded student-made videos into their Google Slide presentations. Alexis’s team worked hard to make their video entertaining. “We wanted it to be funny because ours was … about doing a write-up,” Alexis noted. “It’s a boring topic for some, so we wanted it to be funny considering our audience [was] teenagers.” As always, some of the biggest learning moments came as students reflected on their work. Hector reminisced, “Out of all of the things that I did that year, I feel like this had the biggest impact.”

Monday, May 22, 2017

Extra Work for Extra Curricular? Leaders Make It Worth It

This school year, 7 Hills Elementary embarked on their journey as a  Leader in Me campus. The Leader in Me program cultivates leadership skills in students and encourages a culture of shared responsibility.  Students have taken their new title of “Leader” very seriously and often seek out ways to improve their own school.  Recently, leaders noticed that while there were several opportunities to be involved across campus, most parents were unaware of these options.  With the help of school librarian (Melissa Quisenberry) and student leaders (Kate, Cami, and Haylyn) the group was able to solve this problem.  


After careful consideration as to the ways parents seek out information about their child’s school, leaders decided the best option would be to design a website showcasing all the extra-curricular activities available at 7 Hills.  Leaders quickly got to work researching the different clubs and snapping pictures of each club in action.  Once they had gathered everything they needed, it was time to start designing a website.  Ms. Q was able to meet with the girls and discuss their options for website creation tools.  As a team, they decided Google Sites would serve their purpose well.  Student leader Kate was impressed with how easy it is to use Google Sites.  “I learned how to create websites.  Which is something I don’t do a lot.  I liked that it was simple and easy.”  



Students “Put First Things First” and chose to use their own lunchtime to complete the project.  Ms. Q allowed students to take the reigns on the website and provided only minimal support throughout the process.  The freedom Ms. Q granted her students allowed them to take ownership in the content.  Since Google Sites allows multiple users to work on a website simultaneously, students even worked on the project from home.  Haylyn and Kate both shared how much they enjoyed being able to “Synergize” on the project even when away from school.  Kate stated, “I liked that I could work on it with friends anywhere.”  One of the greatest benefits of utilizing Apps available in the Google Suite is the ability to collaborate on tasks remotely.  The dedication these leaders had paid off with a user friendly and informative website.  Ms. Q linked their website to the school’s main website so parents could easily access it.  Click here to take a look!

In the future, these leaders plan to update club information and add additional pictures.  They also hope to provide a way for other students to sign up for a club through a form on their Site.  With this student driven activity, Ms. Q inspired students to create a valuable tool that will serve their campus for years to come.  Throughout the process, students gained valuable skills in Communication and Collaboration as outlined in the ISTE standards 6 A, C, D.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Peer Feedback on the Rise!

Third Graders in Mrs. Carpenter's Class at Clara Love Elementary recently began conversations on Main Idea.  Students spent three days learning about what a main idea was and how to determine the main idea of a piece of text.  In order to get a temperature  check on her students to determine their level of understanding, Mrs. Carpenter set up a Collaborative Google Slide. Together as a class, they focused on an article and then students found the main idea of any paragraph or section that they chose.



Mrs. Carpenter created a slide template with 2 colored boxes: something I've learned and something I'm still confused about.  She took some time with the class to model how to add a new slide using the template. They had to complete one green box about something they learned, one red box about a misconceptions, and then comment on at least 2 others red boxes.

Students went right to work discovering main ideas, determining the new material they had learned, questioning their understanding to take it deeper and helping others find answers to the questions they still had.  This assignment not only held students accountable for their own learning, but also allowed them to give and receive immediate feedback.  The teacher was able to gage where everyone's understanding was not only on their own new learning and misconceptions, but also on the feedback they were able to give.

Following this activity, Mrs. Carpenter also set up collaborative Google Slides for poetry. Check back to see how they advanced in their understanding of the templates and commenting feature of Slides.