Game On!

Today I was afforded the unique opportunity to visit another district and observe a science teacher who embraced the station rotation model, but gave it a twist, and made it her own. Fortunately I was able to drag a science teacher with me to the visit, because the clouds parted and the angels sang! Ahhhhhh! We saw an amazing lesson, students who were active and participating from the time they entered class until the very last minute.

The students in Ms. Weneck’s class learned and worked at their own pace, and the majority of the students, 16 out of 18, completed all 6 assignments with time to spare to prepare for the class duel. Yes, I said duel and no I didn’t say anything about weapons, unless their minds count.

The students walked into class. The song of the day was playing. They opened the laptops (Full disclosure: this is a 1:1 district), logged into Schoology, and opened their daily plan. Their daily plan gave them their 6 tasks for the day. Following the song of the day, which was about osmosis, Ms. Weneck held a 10 minute whole class discussion at the “dinner table” in the center of the room. Loved this! Truly made it feel like home.


Then the class broke off into their groups and got to work. The unique piece of this classroom is the gamification that happens. Each student is a ninja and has a ninja made out of a toilet paper roll. I’m sure rounding up TP rolls was time consuming, but certainly inexpensive. Inside of these ninja’s the class stored their beads (think stickers on papers, or badges earned for Boy Scouts).


Mrs. Weneck’s ninja creations store the beads her students have earned.

ALL classroom resources were uploading to her class LMS (learning management system, in this case Schoology). The students worked on each task moving a ninja game piece up a cargo net level each time they completed a task. Those students that completed at least 4 of their assigned tasks were able to earn their way into the duel. Dueling entailed competing with other pairs of students to recreate the formula for photosynthesis in the fastest time. Those students were whipping through that task. Each duel eliminated one pair of students, until only 2 pairs were left standing.


Mrs. Weneck’s ninja progress board.

As the bell was “ringing” the last 2 pairs of students were in a duel for beads. I, for one, am glad I didn’t have to referee the game and call the winners, because never before have I seen student hands fly to complete an equation! They were smiling, cheering, and racing to complete an equation. I wish we had been able to collect some engagement data on that lesson.

So if Mrs. Weneck wasn’t leading a direct today, what was she doing? She was circulating from student to student conferencing, she was checking over homework and calling up students to assist with misunderstandings and confusion in the assignment. She was motivating students to finish their tasks, and empowering her learners to work at their own pace. At the end of the class, each of her students could meet the daily objective of recreating the formula for photosynthesis with a flourish. They could make it, tell you it, and race to complete it when given the cards.

In conclusion I would like to say that gamification of the classroom may just be the carrot that the kiddos need to engage in their learning. As adults, don’t we work harder and strive to innovate when our hard work is rewarded with an “atta boy” or another awesome incentive? Why  should our learners be any different? They want to know that their learning is important, and if they feel they are recognized for their hard work, they just might work harder. If you are interested in learning more about gamification, or how to implement a rewards system into your station rotation model, please talk to me or stop in to see Mr. Warns’ class during the spring semester. I look forward to seeing his students in action as they gamify their classroom using Classcraft his semester.

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Teachers are Snowflakes

As a coach, I get the unique opportunity to observe my peers as they teach. It is such an exciting and humbling experience. I always knew I worked among some of the coolest people on Earth. However, when you watch a teacher in their element, they forget they have a guest, and engage with their learners it is a thing of beauty.

Teachers are indeed “on”; highly energetic, passionate about their content, and assessing informally from the start of their day until the very last bus leaves the bus lane. Every classroom is as unique as the educator at its helm.

“One of these parallels is of snowflakes and us. We, too, are all headed in the same direction. We are being driven by a universal force to the same destination. We are all individuals taking different journeys and along our journey, we sometimes bump into each other, we cross paths, we become altered… we take different physical forms. But at all times we too are 100% perfectly imperfect.”

-Steve Maraboli

Teachers all have the same end game in mind. They all want to enable students to become productive, independent,problem solvers, and contributing community members/leaders in tomorrow’s society. That is our direction and desired path.

Teachers take vastly different journeys throughout their careers. Some educators sprint through college to the classroom and stay safely banked there for the duration of their careers. Others decide to blow where the wind will take them and explore alternate careers, yet their passion for education finds them flurrying back to schools to gain certificates and share their worldly experiences with the students who cross their paths. Other snowflakes are shape shifting snowballs, constantly rolling down new paths in need of snow removal. These snowballs roll and grow at risk taking rates and tend to collect other flakey friends as they voyage into the unknown scenery of innovation.

Whichever snowflake you are, and maybe you’ve become a hodgepodge of these three, you are unique and the gifts you bring to your students are unique as well. No classroom I enter is ever the same. The model may look similar, but the instruction, the delivery, and the activities vary and create a wonderland of wondering thought and lifelong learning for the students who enter each new igloo of learning.

Aside from feeling inspired by the frosty temps outside, I am advocating for the idea of peer observation and reflection (not evaluation). As educators we tend to get stuck in our classrooms, passing each other blindly in a flurry of grading, paperwork, copies to be run, copiers to be unjammed, and meetings to attend. We may not even see colleagues on the other side of the building with the exception of whole building meetings.

We need to make time to learn from one another. Educators should be each others biggest fans. How can that happen if our paths don’t ever purposely cross? I feel strongly that peer observation is a great process for educators and should be built in to professional development. After all, growth isn’t possible if we never explore the unknown. If we only stick to the tricks that we know; we fall behind. Expressing a desire to view other educators as they practice their craft, isn’t admitting you’re lacking. It’s embracing the possibility of exploring and finding a gem you can take back to your learners. After all, #kidsdeserveit!

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Computer Science Crisis

“Computer Science is a liberal art: it’s something that everybody should be exposed to and everyone should have a mastery of to some extent.” -Steve Jobs

Knowing that virtually everything we interact with today is effected or run by technology, there is little doubt that today’s students should be learning how to use computers. However, are we preparing our students for tomorrow’s jobs if we don’t offer them exposure to computer science? Learning how computers work, analyzing their favorite new video games and apps for trends in coding, and writing their own code will definitely help students become better problem solvers and promote the importance of computer science in our current and future workforce.

There are currently 517,393 open computing jobs nationwide.Last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce. –

This month, December 5-11, is the annual week of code. I highly recommend you explore and sign your classes up for an hour of code. This event takes place during computer science week each year to honor Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a computer science pioneer (December 9, 1906).

Signing up your students is as simple as filling out an online form and then giving your students an hour throughout the assigned window to complete coding challenges in a wide variety of age, ability, and highly engaging activities!

Nervous about your lack of coding expertise? Don’t be! Dive right in. Make it a competition to see which students can get through the most activities.  Get your students psyched about coding by participating in a skype lesson before they code. Try Technocamps; Computer Science 101.

I highly recommend sitting down and playing some of the Hour of Code modules on your own. Caution: They are highly addictive and can pull you into a time lapse tunnel.

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Reflecting on Success

November has flown by at a furious pace. Our school has been busy moving, shaking, and growing our students. A lot of awesome things are happening for our Bulldogs. I can’t say enough how much I enjoy my new position and all the people I am interacting, co-teaching, planning, etc. with in this building.

With the end of 2016 in sight, I feel it is a good idea to celebrate our successes. As a middle school faculty we have implemented year one of the station rotation model and did it with passion, integrity, and zest. Our students know the expectations, are taking ownership of their learning, and are becoming better independent and collaborative members of their learning community.  What more could we ask for?

We’ve added new learning technologies and tools to our trade. We have added VR googles to our bag of tricks and the students LOVE using them to explore distant lands. No field trip could be cheaper and quite as effective. We purchased 3 Breakout EDU kits and have our students embracing the challenge of problem solving and thinking outside of the box. If you haven’t tried a Breakout session yet, ask a student who has participated in one about it and I am sure their enthusiasm will encourage you to dabble.

We’ve begun to implement student ePortfolios in 6th grade and allowing those students to display, reflect, and take ownership of their data stories. What a great way to celebrate student growth!

We’ve added Moby Max, Accucess, Edpuzzle, etc. to our bag of tricks and given students a wide variety of learning experiences to master their standards and continue closing gaps and growing individually while instructing and meeting the needs of all.

Most importantly, we’ve focused on our students first. We’ve gotten to know them. We’ve shown that we care about them and will do whatever we need to as a team to meet their needs, support them, and help them reach their fullest potential. We’ve embraced children, not just their data, but the children they are and have worked hard to make this building a safe, successful, learning environment that I am proud to work in everyday and proud to send my daughter to.

Technology and tools aside, the teachers whom I am privileged to work along side are dedicated professionals who work tirelessly to help our students grow. Our students are blazing trails and conquering goals, and their teachers and administrators are cheering them on loud and proud! Here’s to an awesome start to a school year and the roll out of 2016. Shoot for the stars in 2017, it’s not a far target. I work among them daily.

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Thankful 4 Expanding Comfort Zones

In the spirit of Thanksgiving I have decided to devote this blog to giving thanks to educators who have taken risks, dipped their toes in a new pool of technology possibilities, and afforded students opportunities to create and learn in new ways. I know I’m a technology integration specialist, so of course I am enamored with technology and all that entails. However I think, everyone needs to realize the amazing things that come as a result of new and improved learning technologies. The things our students can learn, do, and explore that they couldn’t do before are mind blowing. If I could go back in time and spice up my academic life with some teachable technology moments, I may have fallen head over heels in love with learning long before I did. It amazes me how empowering students to produce lights a spark brighter than any A on a test paper or standardized test ever has.

So to end my rambling intro and delve into the meat and potatoes of this blog, I will begin with my top five technology enhanced learning moments from the first marking period of the school year. Please share your top technology moments in the comments below, and maybe we can spark a new idea or two to be thankful for in our own classrooms.

  1. Students in an 8th grade history class studied the Industrial Revolution. To extend their learning the teacher empowered his students to design their own innovations, create scripts, and produce promotional advertisements to sell their innovations to their peers. The engagement levels of these students was off the charts, not a behavioral concern to be had, and the products of this project were ahhh-mazing! Here is just one example.
  2. Students in a 7th grade math class completed a unit in math. The teacher empowered her students to teach one another concepts learned during that unit as a form of review and mastery of the unit standards. Students created flipped videos for their classmates to view prior to the unit test. I have always believed that if you have the ability to teach a concept, it sticks with you for life. These videos were uploaded to her class Youtube channel and available for the entire class to enjoy and revisit any time.
  3. A sixth grade teacher who wanted students to share the knowledge they harvested from their self-selected biographies met with me to discuss alternative book projects that could allow the students to utilize technology. We explored Fakebook projects. The students loved completing them and examining one another’s projects.
  4. An 8th grade ELA teacher developed a Google Maps tour to accompany the novel his students were reading. This tour not only mapped out the setting of the novel for the learners, but incorporated video, images, and historical information to allow his students an integrated experience threading both history and ELA together in an independent center.
  5. A 7th grade teacher who was beginning her narrative unit wanted to allow students to collaborate and create narrative stories for young learners. We co-planned and came up with a dice rolling activity that allows the group to acquire their characters, setting, and problem. Then collaboratively they will write their story using Little Bird Tales and then share their stories with an elementary classroom for the students in the lower grade to map out the literary elements.

There are too many people, places, tools, and ideas for which I am thankful for this fall. However, I am most thankful for educators who are open to trying new things and willing to move outside their comfort zones to enable their students to become creators and reach the higher levels of the SAMR model.


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Vandalism; an epidemic of destruction

What makes students want to destroy school property? Where is the disconnect between students and respect for school supplies? Schools are learning environments and vandalizing property has repercussions for EVERYONE in that school, including the vandal.

When I look at brand new computers, laptops, Chromebooks, or headphones missing keys, ripped apart, looking months older than they should; I am perplexed. Why would students want to destroy the very things that schools put into place to make learning better, more engaging, and more accessible for them? The only thing I can find, idealize, or project is that students are disconnected with their surroundings. If student feel like a part of their school, if they were filled with school pride, would they want to tear their school apart, little by little, piece by piece?

They take pride in their appearance. They take pride in their possessions. Have you ever seen a student picking the keys off of their own devices? No! As a matter of fact their cellphones are in pristine condition and dropping them or having technical glitches with them is enough to humble the most disgruntled of youth.

So why is it that they fail to care about the devices they learn on? Is it a lack of connection? Or is there an innate lack of care because they don’t OWN those devices, they are borrowed, they belong to someone else? Obviously the connection to the fact that vandalism detracts from taxpayers’ (their own parents) wallets is lost on the students committing these acts.

“Vandalism is a wanton and deliberate act for the sole purpose of causing destruction. Left unchecked,school vandals can turn a modern, well-maintained institution into a rundown,defaced property.”-Shaliny Linnie

What are some strategies school’s have deployed to reduce vandalism? Would going 1:1 deter vandalism, or would it open the door to more misuse? Do students even realize that the actions they are taking are vandalism and could result in fees or even severe disciplinary issues?

Dr. Kenneth Shore, a respected child Psychologist, suggests, “If the damage is such that a parent must pay for it, you might suggest –depending on the student’s age — that the parents find a suitable way for the child to work off at least a portion of the cost.”

I firmly believe that students who feel connected and invested in their learning environments will think twice about vandalizing school equipment. I’m glad our school has chosen to focus on DOL 1 strategies and making connections to our students. Time will tell if an increased connection to our school and the adults inside this building results in a reduction in vandalism.

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Assessments; Easy as 123!

Educators spend hours assessing their students. Some of it is done formally with desks in rows using bubble sheets to record responses, some if it is done orally by asking students questions, to read a section of text to an adult, or check ins. However a good bit of assessment can be done with today’s tech and will enable our students to feel engaged and excited about the material being assessed. Not every assessment has to look and feel the same to every learner.

In hybrid learning we use the station rotation model to deliver content to students in 3 different ways. In direct the teacher teaches a small group of students face-to-face and gives direct instruction while clarifying questions and errors that the group might have. How could a teacher assess in the direct station? I’ve seen it done in many classes. Give the students the test when they are in the front of the room with the instructor. This offers the teacher insights into each student’s testing strategies, as well as time on task, and effort. Giving assessments, especially formal assessments in the small group enables the learners to ask questions more comfortably and also gives the classroom teacher an opportunity to read to students who may have reading issues, or forgotten their glasses on a test day.

However, the direct station is not the only station that is ideal for completion of assessments. Collaborative projects can be used to assess student understanding of previously taught content. These projects can be assessed with a rubric and I encourage each learner to have their own individual piece to submit for the greater good of the collaborative project. For example; I entered a class the other day where a teacher was setting up google sites for their collaborative groups. The teacher wanted her students to become experts on a novel they had been reading in class.  She divided the site into tabs which would allow each group to take an area for expertise and share their knowledge with their entire group at the same time.

The independent station is the station I get the most push back on when I inquire about assessing students’ mastery. How can we possibly assess students in the independent station when they can cheat? How do I know one of the 57 tabs they have open on their browser isn’t the answers? Since when do assessments have to be wrong or right? In my mind, the independent station is great for informal, formative assessments that help us, as educators, to grasp how our students are feeling about the content, gauge their comfort level, or assess their weaknesses. Maybe your assessment here is a simple ticket out the door using Gooru.  Maybe it’s a blog written by each student explaining what they’ve learned this week in class. Let’s not forget that power of just checking in and seeing where our students are at and where they desire to be. A great independent assessment would be a likert scale, or other such tool, for students to self reflect on their progress. Another idea, for a more quiz experience is using a Google Form to set up a quiz. It’s self scoring and should offer you some great insights.

If your students have been rotating successfully and productive in all three rotations there is no need to be fearful of assessing students in the rotation station model. Assessing these kids is as easy as 1,2,3…. independent, collaboration, and direct!

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