Hour of Code

Students in Princeton have been participating in Hour of Code the past few weeks.

At North Elementary, all students in grades 3-5 participated in the "Hour of Code" during Computer Science in Education week. We held an event called "Let Your Kid Teach You to Code" where students were able to bring a parent and go through a coding tutorial on code.org together. Over 50 families attended! We also were able to provide the opportunity for students to participate in a robotics coding competition using the Dash & Dot robots. We had 71 students join the competition which just wrapped up after 2 1/2 months of after school fun and learning!
Students and parents worked together at North's family coding event.

At South Elementary, students have been using the app Kodable to learn the basics of computer commands and sequences (www.kodable.com).  Students had to use critical thinking, logic, trial and error and perseverance to get their Fuzz through the maze on planet Smeeborg.  Many students commented that it was the "best app ever" on the iPad.

1st Graders coding at South - Programming sequences for mazes is hard work, but they stuck with it and had fun!

The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics. It is an attempt to expose kids and adults of all ages to the basic ideas of computer coding. It is a worldwide event that takes place in early December. This year alone, almost 200,000 global Hour of Code events registered with the Hour of Code website.

What is coding? Coding is the ability to read and write a machine language and think computationally. Coding can be taught in many ways, including iPad apps, computer websites, and even paper/pencil.

Kids today are surrounded by technology. It is clear that computers and programming are central to most aspects of our lives. Kids who learn the basics of programming can become better architects of their future world. Kids relish the challenge to become “creators” – be active participants instead of passive consumers. In addition, the computational thinking (analytical, logical) skills that underlie coding will be required for future knowledge workers to continuously adapt to our increasingly data-filled world. There is growing recognition that computer literacy is essential for a 21st century workforce.

For more information about why kids should learn to code, read on: http://www.tynker.com/blog/articles/ideas-and-tips/four-reasons-why-kids-should-learn-programming/

Flash Issue: Simple Newsletters in Gmail

I have gotten several compliments on my email newsletters I send out from time to time.  I have been using a website called Smore (www.smore.com), which I like for several reasons: newsletters are easy to create, they are nice to look at, and I can track how many times they've been viewed.  Some teachers want to use Smore as well, but the price tag for a paid subscription forces some to change their minds.

This week, another tech coach friend of mine introduced me to Flash Issue (www.flashissue.com).  Flash Issue is a Gmail extension (added program that gives you more functions and options) that allows you to make newsletters right inside your Gmail account!  Users can drag and drop elements into their newsletter, such as text and images, to make their content more engaging.  You can also connect your blog and drag-drop blog posts into the newsletter.  Find an interesting article you'd like to include? Paste the URL into the builder and you can add that, too.

It's free and easy to use!  Check it out!

Newsela: Non-fiction Reading at Every Level

Want your students to read non-fiction texts but struggle to find something at their reading level?  Want to have an entire class read about the same topic but reading levels vary widely across your class?  Newsela can help!  Newsela features non-fiction articles, many about current events, that can be viewed at five different reading levels (reading levels start around 2nd grade and go up from there).  Topics include science, sports, arts, and kids.  Many articles also have comprehension quizzes available as well.

Teachers can create an account for themselves and it has a Google login option (no need to create another username and password).  They can then either create a class for their students where students can access the content, or they can print copies of the articles (or better yet, save them as electronic copies and share via Google Classroom!).

To check it out, visit www.newsela.com!

Reaching All Learners With Web Tools

You probably know that the Internet is a great tool for education, but what you might not know is that there are many tools and websites out there that can make learning easier for students.  Unfortunately, many educators believe that the only students who can benefit from such tools are students receiving special education services.  Not so!  These resources are available to anyone - no IEP required!  Any student or teacher can use these resources to help them be successful.

Here are some I've been checking out this week:

1. Announcify
Announcify is a Google Chrome app that reads the text printed on a webpage.  Not only that, but it blurs out any other bits of information or text that are not currently being read.  This can be particularly helpful for students who might be distracted by objects on the page or have trouble tracking while reading.

youtube-cc.png2. Closed Captions on YouTube
Showing a YouTube video but have students who have hearing impairments or have trouble keeping up?  Maybe the text on the video is just unclear?  Many YouTube videos include an option for closed captions. Videos with captions available will have a “CC” icon in the video summary in search results. When playing a video that has captions, you can turn on captioning by clicking the “CC” icon in the bottom right corner of the video window.

3. Speechnotes
For anyone who doesn't want to write or type!  This is one of MANY voice recognition/dictation programs that allow the user to speak their text rather than type it.  They can also add punctuation by voice command as well.  They can then copy/paste their text into a Google Doc or other assignment platform.  One caution: while the dictation programs out there now are pretty good, it is always a good choice to go back and have the student edit his or her work before submitting as you can occasionally get some interesting results!

4. Clearly
Made by the makers of Evernote (another favorite tool of mine), Clearly gets rid of all of the "junk" on websites so readers can see the material more "clearly."  Users can also print the Clearly version (or better yet, save it as a PDF for sharing with others!).

These ideas don't even scratch the surface of all of the tools that can improve accessibility to the web and its content!  Teachers or students who would like to use these Chrome apps and extensions can install them themselves on their Chrome browser.  See below for some helpful videos!

What's a Chrome Web App?

How to Install and Remove Google Chrome Extensions

Who Are You and Why Are You Emailing Me?

This is a common question I ask myself several times a week.  While I have met many new faces in the district, there are still several of you that I haven't yet met.  So, when I get a request for help and the only identifying information is the person's name, I need a little more information.  Where are you located?  What department do you work in?  What age are your students? Are you a teacher, paraprofessional, secretary, or something else entirely?

Now imagine you are a parent, particularly one with multiple children.  Now imagine they're all in middle or high school and they have several teachers at the same time.  You send an email saying they did a great job on a test, or maybe that you're concerned about their grade.  But they have no idea what class you teach because they can't keep all their kids' teachers straight.

A solution?  Create an email signature!  It's an easy way for anyone receiving your email to know who you are and what you do.  It takes just a couple of minutes - see below!

Too Many Passwords? LastPass Can Help!

Another password?!
As teachers today, you probably have anywhere from 5 to 15 passwords (or more) for various accounts that you use in your teaching. That doesn't include passwords you use in areas of your personal life, such as banking, shopping, and website memberships. Some of you likely try to use the same password for all of them, and understandably so. But experts agree that doing so is one of the biggest risks to your digital security.

Solution - A Password Manager!
Now, there are websites out there that specialize in managing the passwords to all of your various accounts while maintaining high levels of security. Some offer paid versions, but several are free. My personal favorite is called LastPass.

What Does It Do?

Remembers passwords for websites you choose
You Create ONE master password that gives you access to your password list
Automatically fills in passwords on websites you've saved

Do I have to save a password for every website?
No. When you enter your password on a given website, you will be asked if you would like to save the password for that site. You can choose: save site, not now, or never save site depending on your needs.

How Do I Start?
Visit www.lastpass.com to get started or fill out a ISD477 Tech Work Order to request help!

Adding Google Drive to Schoology

Schoology can be a valuable tool for teachers and students to organize coursework.  But if students (or teachers) do the majority of their work in Google Drive, how do they share it with an instructor on Schoology?  Fortunately, Schoology has an app for that.

The video below demonstrates how to connect your Google Drive and Schoology accounts so you can import files with just a few clicks.

If you need more details about signing up for Schoology or signing up for the ESL course, keep reading!

If you don't already have a Schoology account, go to www.schoology.com and click Get Started. Then select Create a Free account, and click Instructor.
Untitled image.png
  1. Click on the Instructor button.
  2. Enter your Access Code. Teacher 821-314
  3. Fill out the form with your information.
  4. Click Register to complete.

To Enroll in ESL Course
The ESL Re-licensure training is ready to go!  We are trying a new format to see if this is conducive to offering online re-licensure opportunities.  We will be using Schoology for this component and can be added under Join in the Courses tab .  The access code you will need for the ESL course is:
Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 10.26.29 AM.png

Mirroring your iPad using Airserver

All teacher computers in Princeton have a program called AirServer installed on their school computer.

AirServer mirrors your iPad to your computer so you can project and control websites and apps from your iPad. No strings attached (or cords)!

Directions from Apple: How to turn on Mirroring (called Airplay by Apple) 

*Directions: How to change the AirServer connection password & more on your computer 

Principal taking the lead on Twitter

From the Middle Schools weekly Principal update on 5/22/2015
Twitter/School Web page - Thanks for checking out our school homepage.  We have a Twitter feed that I try to update daily.  Thanks for your help with that.  I have been trying to show and tell all of the great teaching and learning going on at our school.  Set up a Twitter account and follow us.  If you need help see your tech coach or me.  Takes less than 10 min.  You can follow a ton of cool educational links, sports, subjects, hobbies.  You don't have to tweet you can just follow and learn what others are saying and doing.  Encourage your students to follow our website.  You can even use Twitter as a formative assessment, yes you can.  
A principal is already in classrooms and looking for ways to highlight what is happening and communicate with the world outside of school. Armed with an iPhone, Principal Dan Voce supports community and collaboration within the school by posting a few photos a week.

Dan started the year off with a goal to update staff and families through the school website on a weekly basis. That goal melded into simply embedding his Twitter feed on the front of the school website (see isd477.org/schools/middle-school ). The information is current and authentic to what is happening in-the-moment in his building.

Follow Dan Voce, teachers and students at Princeton Middle School on Twitter @Middle_ISD477

Lots of great things to know about Chromebooks and Drive, from Jayne Miller, on Chalkup.com.

From: ChalkupOriginal post

Chromebook Tips Every Teacher Should Know

Jayne Miller wrote this on Mar 20, 2015

Shortcuts! Use Them!

There are tons of em. Here are some major ones you should be using:
Ctrl+N: New window
Ctrl+T: New tab
Ctrl+Shift+W: Close current window
Ctrl+Tab: Next tab
Ctrl+Shift+Right/Left Arrow: Select text one word at a time
Ctrl+Shift+Up/Down Arrow: Select text one line at a time
Alt + F or Alt + E: Opens Chrome settings menu
Alt+1, Alt+2: Navigate between different windows
Ctrl+Shift+a: Select all
Alt+Tab: Go to next window
Ctrl+F: Find
Shift+Search: Caps lock/disable caps lock

You Can Still Have a Home Icon

You can get a “home” icon on your omnibar by navigating to “settings” and then “appearance.” You’ll then select “show home.”

Screencast Like A Pro

There are a few different ways you can screencast on your Chromebook. YouTube is a quick and easy one.
Opt to “upload” from YouTube and then select “Google Hangout on Air.” Invite your class and then “start broadcast.” Congratulations - you’re a screencasting fool!
After you end the broadcast, we suggest posting the video on a class discussion thread so your content can keep the conversation going.
Google Hangouts on Air Chromebook Tips for Teachers

Are You Pinning Tabs? You Should Be.

Right click a tab and then select “pin tab.” Next time you open Chrome, your pinned tabs will automatically open. It’s beautiful.
Pinned Tabs-Chromebook Tips for Teachers

Your Chromebook is a Big Ol’ Calculator

Using a Chromebook now? Just type a math command into the omnibar (ex: 10*10). We’ll wait.

Google Drive = <3

In the interest of full disclosure, we’re also really big Google Drive fans here. And Chromebooks come with free Google Drive storage. It’s glorious, especially because teachers and students can access their Google Drive from anywhere. If you haven’t accessed your free storage yet - or you haven’t taken advantage of it - get started. We recommend saving to Drive instead of your files.
Pro-tip: you can also enable Google Drive offline by syncing them to your Chromebook while you're online.
Oh - and there’s also a template gallery.

You Can Add Languages to Your Keyboard

Teaching a foreign language? You’ll appreciate this. Mosey on over to your advanced settings. Select “languages and input settings.” Check off a new language or select “add” to include a language that is not listed.
The language your keyboard is programmed to will appear in the bottom right of your screen. You can click it to switch between languages, or just press “Alt+Shift.”


Screenshots are a fast, fun way to share information from your Chromebook. It’s ideal for showing students how to do something on their Chromebooks through pictures, or just pass along an image from part of your screen.
To do so, click Ctrl+ window switcher key for a shot of your whole screen. Do Ctrl+Shift+window switcher key for a partial screenshot.

Create Shortcuts

Really simple. Head to your apps, right click the one you want a shortcut for, and click “create.”
You can do the same thing for websites. Instead, you’ll navigate to the site you want to mark, click “tools,” and select “create application shortcut.” You’ll select where the shortcut will live on your Chromebook and then hit “create.”

Know Where Accessibility Features Live

Chromebooks have a menu of accessibility features suited for students with visual disabilities or those who have trouble typing.
You can find these features under “settings” and then “show advanced setting.” There is an “accessibility” section in which you can select “enable spoken feedback.”

Get a Digital System to Connect Your Class

Discussion Thread Chromebook Tips for Teachers
If your class is using Chromebooks, you have an unprecedented opportunity for class collaboration and connectivity. We encourage folks to find and implement a program that facilitates this.
That means more than electronic assignments. That means discussion opportunities, resource-sharing, and benefits for students, like time management tools. And, hey. If you can get something with advanced grading tools for teachers, all the better.

Google Forms: Tips for first-timers and Pros

1. If students are sharing a device to complete the form, DO NOT check the boxes that require login or collect their email addresses. It takes forever for kids to log in and out.  However, if you don't check those boxes, DON'T FORGET to get their names, if you intend to do so. 

2. Your form can be posted anywhere kids can get to it, like your site or Classroom, just by viewing the live form and copying that web address. If you want to post it on the board, shorten it using bit.ly or goo.gl

3. Encourage kids to use their own devices, any web-enabled device will work fine. 

4. You can find your responses in your drive. Once you have data, you can highlight it, and click the icon that looks like a bar graph.

Below are some help pages (found on the links and resources page under staff if you need to see it again.)
Google Forms  ® § Gvideo tutorial • text instructions

South Students Visit Taiwan via Teleconference

South's Mrs. Brovold's and Brianna Gadacz (now lead by her maternity leave substitute, Ms. Brennison) got their students connected with their pen pals from Taiwan today via videoconference.

The students have been exchanging letters and small gifts throughout the year, and were able to meet their counterparts face-to-face.

The Taiwanese students, from the Affiliated Senior High of Chung-Hsing University, ranged from 15 to 18 years old. Students on both side of the globe thoroughly enjoyed meeting each other.

The South Elementary students took turns introducing themselves and their counterparts did the same. Then the South students performed two songs for the Taiwanese students, who seemed to enjoy them a lot.

Then the Taiwanese students shared a prepared slide show about their country and their school, as well as their globally recognized efforts to stop childhood cancer through the Alex's Lemonade Stand foundation.

They finished with a song of their own, and there were a few minutes for questions going both directions before the American students needed to go to breakfast, and the Taiwanese students needed to get home to bed (it was 10pm Taiwan time!)

March Madness Indeed!

During March, Princeton staff had the opportunity to participate in a competition to see who could utilize the most new education technology. We called it March Madness.

What is it?

Staff were presented with 30 challenges, ranging from fairly basic (creating a Google Doc, joining Twitter), to fairly advanced (Skyping an outside expert, implementing student blogging). Each was assigned a point value between 1 and 10. Staff were encouraged to complete challenges and submit news or evidence to the district integration specialist (me, Anthony VonBank).  I collected the points earned on a spreadsheet and kept people posted and motivated by sharing results and stirring friendly competition.

What were the goals of the challenge?

The goals of the challenge were:

  1. Inspire people to get out of their comfort zone
  2. Help people understand what was available and how it was important to education
  3. To interact with staff and encourage collaboration and invite people to work with tech staff
  4. To celebrate success in a way that didn't make others feel like failure
  5. To reinforce what technology areas we value in our district

How did it go?

Very well. It was presented as an optional challenge, and yet 125 people participated. Combined there were over 3,000 points collected, which was pretty impressive.  Many staff members were very motivated and used the challenge to motivate them to really get out of their comfort zone.

Who won?

Many people did a great job with this. Some of the big winners were:

  • Building staff performance - Middle School
  • Top points - Jodi Burling, North
  • Top High School - Sarah Durch
  • Top Middle School - Jodi Gatewood
  • Top South Elementary - Annie Porttiin
  • Top District Office - Erin Engness

What did they win?

The top building was treated to gourmet cookies, compliments of Eric Simmons
All other buildings were rewarded with some candy treats.
The top individual winner got a $25 gift card
All top building winners will get to pilot use of new Chromebooks for the rest of the year.

Other observations?

One big observation was that the most confident technology users in the district largely sat this one out. Either by the desire to let others have the glory, or because the challenges weren't challenging enough, some of the favorites to do well didn't even turn in one point.

Another important observation was that the ones that earned the most points involved their own classes in the competition, thereby inspiring even more innovation through celebration of success. Jodi Burling did this particularly well. Her students knew what the challenge was all about, and were willing teammates as Jodi experimented with unfamiliar tools. Her students craved more opportunities to earn points by learning in new and modern ways. It was very inspiring to see this play out.

Changes for next year?

There are a few changes that will make this even more successful next year:

  • A better lead-in to the competition. This should be easier since everyone knows more about how it worked this year.
  • Staff-suggested challenges would invite more ownership
  • More enticing prizes? I liked how most of the people participated for the fun of it, but I wonder if some  people didn't because there wasn't an enticing enough reward?
  • More involvement from building leaders and confident tech users.
  • Alignment with more resources and professional development opportunities
  • Individual rewards for top 5 in district, for those who might have come in second in their building but did awesome compared to the rest of the district.

Demo Slam at North

North Elementary technology coaches Erin Franson, Erin Ryan, and Brenda Baird planned and executed a first-ever "demo slam" at their building during staff workshops.

A demo slam is like an open-mic opportunity for teachers to share what they have learned for the sake of others. Typically, each presenter gets between 30 seconds and five minutes to show something they have been working on, and take a few questions after the fact.

The North slam was held in the commons, and featured several teachers and coaches great tools teachers can use for productivity or for student learning.

Some highlights:

Chad Ruzek shared HaikuDeck, a slideshow app students love.

Nikki Walerius shared Remind, a way to safely connect with parents through texting.

Cathy Norton Shared how she uses Google Forms to help students prepare for the MCA

Diane Vrana shared how Google Forms can be used for student self-assessment

Also presented:

March Madness at PPS

Teachers in our school district have been presented with a fun challenge to stretch and grow, and many are meeting or exceeding expectations!

The first annual March Madness challenge, issued by the technology department, is a series of tasks offered to all staff members, each with their own point values.

Teachers complete challenges and turn them in for points. Points are tallied for each building and individuals are ranked as well.

The response has been great. Some teachers have fully embraced the challenge and are trying things with instructional technology they haven't before.

A few highlights:

  • Sarah Durch (HS), who once lamented that she hates Google Docs, has jumped into the Google pool and now has a fully functioning website and an online classroom through Google Classroom. She intends to be nearly paperless for the remainder of the year.
  • Chad Ruzek (NE) has used March Madness to inspire himself to try more digital formative assessments and project-based learning in his 5th grade classroom.
  • Jodi Burling (NE) has become connected to hundreds of educators around the world by building a professional Twitter feed which focuses on literacy and elementary education.
  • Dan Voce, Middle School principal also uses Twitter to communicate the great things happening in his building. He has also been watching educational videos on TED and sharing videos with his staff
  • Faith Connors (SE) has been using digital learning resources with her 2nd grade classes
  • Erin Dohrmann, Special Education Director, has used shared calendars and websites to improve communication among special education professionals.

It has been great to see so many brave educators getting out of their comfort zone. The friendly competition has been great.

To see more: bit.ly/TigersMarchMadness

STEM Summit 2015


On February 20th, the Princeton Schools Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) area teachers hosted a conference for students interested in STEM-related careers. 

Many area companies and institutions participated. There were about 400 total students from the Middle and High Schools who participated.

Opening keynote, Anita Hall, was an engineer from General Mills

Elim Care & Rehab:

The High School High Mileage Vehicle team was on hand!

Rocks and things:

Fairview Northland Medical Imaging:

Crystal Cabinets:

Robotics club:

Other views of the summit:

The four C's for learning in the 21st Century

Teachers at Princeton Schools understand that learning in the 21st century is different than it might have been even a few years ago. In general, the four C's illustrated below frame the primary foci for teaching and learning in the 21st century. These considerations are often braided into lessons and learning goals.

Coding in Middle School: Training the next generation of technology users

Students in Mrs. Arens' class are learning how to code. Students learn how to program their own apps and games, and learn skills that can be built upon as they progress through school. Students use Code.org to build a desktop video game and learn the basic building blocks of computer coding. 

Coding is becoming a new priority in schools, as more and more companies are looking to hire quality coders, and paying them well for it.

For more information on coding: http://studio.code.org/flappy/5

Students create websites to share research on nuclear science

Years ago, students might have created poster projects to share research. This might have been a great way to share learning with a class, but why should it stop there?

Mrs. Buss's accelerated freshmen science class is building websites to share their research with the world.

Students began by learning about nuclear reactions and modern uses for these reactions. The research goes far beyond the atomic bomb. Nuclear medicine, uses and agriculture, and industrial power are all explored as modern uses.

Students were given specific research areas, and were tasked with creating a website to share their research. The websites, which can be shared with the world, include carefully researched information, images, and video sources to help to explain their topic.

Students see the real-world relevance to this work, and their work can legitimately inform others. Great real-world connections!

A new, 21st Century approach to choice projects

The school project has evolved, and it is exciting for students and teachers. It may take a big shift, but many teachers are reaping the benefits!

The olden-days way to assign a project was to give specific instructions as to how each individual component was to be completed. This was less learning opportunity than learning recipe. If students assembled the ingredients in the correct manner, they got a good grade. There was little interest in displaying knowledge or learning, just completion.

Eventually, most of these projects gave in to a less compliance-based experience. It has been popular for some time to have choice projects. In this model, students are to show their learning by doing any one of several designated projects. The best part of this model is that students can seek the type of project that best suits their learning style and interests. Choices may have included poster, diorama, skit, model, etc. The more tech-savvy of these projects may come with several digital tools which students may choose to show their learning.

Even better, is a real shift in the teaching and learning dynamic. I call this the choice project on steroids. The students learn the entry-level material and are given several open-ended questions to research. The project is literally the display of learning.  In this project-based model, the means of showing learning is not specified, only the final criteria for evaluation. The instructor creates or collaborates with students to create a rubric that represents the ideal learning represented in the project. Quality indicators may include professionalism, accuracy, research, product, fidelity, etc. Notice that there are few references here to the poster or website. Students will choose those as they please. One student may begin preliminary research and feel they can adequately show learning through the building of a scale model. Another student who is adept using Photoshop, may choose to show what they have learned by way of a video scrapbook. Another student whose passion is music may express the learning in an epic ballad. Minecraft model? Why not? Does it meet the learning targets? If so, go nuts!

The beauty of the third model is that it is the learning that is the focus of the effort, not the medium. When the learning targets are emphasized, the resulting in increased autonomy and self-direction, as well as increased learning. Students enjoy the openness of the challenge, and the ability to build upon their passions. Some students may need a bit of a nudge, so it is a good idea for teachers to allow for some brainstorming and sharing or proposals early, so students can bet a better idea what they can do based on the choices of others.

There are a few keys to making this kind of project meaningful: First are clear learning goals and criterion by which learning can be evaluated. This should be built into a detailed rubric. Second is enough research or exploration to happen BEFORE the manner of learning expression is chosen. Finally, a reflective proposal is important so students build their own parameters and plan to follow.

Formative assessment and educational technology, an integration oasis

The following post gives a short review on formative assessment and then expands on the ways that use of technology can make for better formative data

Formative assessment serves two main purposes. One is the gathering of data from students for the instructor to use as they adjust their lessons and differentiate for student learning. The second, and by far more important, is for students to be able self-assess and see what they know and what they still need to learn.

Some key components of effective formative assessment:

  1. tracks a progression of learning, not just before and after
  2. is never used as graded data toward the student's final grade
  3. is tied to feedback and opportunity to improve
  4. is intrinsically motivated (student wants to do better)
  5. goals and benchmarks are clear to the student
  6. may be formal or informal, but results in usable data for the learner or teacher
  7. considers every student, not just majority
  8. is transparent and self-evident to the learner

There are is a lot to learning involved in facilitating effective assessment. For entry level on this topic, I would recommend the work of Dr. Richard Stiggins, a leading researcher on formative assessment. For those who have a basic understanding for formative learning, a few quick examples of effective use of this crucial ingredient to teaching:

Mrs. Dresow's 5th graders are learning about states of matter in science. As she leads the students through the learning, namely a casual activity involving ice and water, she is checking in with each student to see what they have learned so far. If she gets the idea that all students have mastered the key concept, she moves to the next portion of the lesson and lab activity.  At the conclusion of the lab, she asks students to tidy up the workspaces and gives them all a short set of questions related to the lesson. Students work together to answer the questions. She reviews the questions with them, and they put the questions away to look at later if they so desire. She asks students whether they feel they understand the key concepts by naming them (the concepts) individually, and asking students to hold up 1-5 fingers to indicate how they feel about the learning so far. She takes note of students who have indicated only a one or two, and follows up with them to reteach or give further examples as the other students move on to the preliminary work for the next lesson.

Mr. Senske's 9th grade Phy Ed classes are working toward mastering the correct and safe performance of three cardio-vascular exercises. After showing the techniques both in person and on video, he provides them with a rubric that outlines the key components of successful performance of this skill. Then he asks student to practice. When students believe they have mastered the exercise, they may call Mr. Senske over to be evaluated. He lets them know whether they have indeed mastered the skill, or whether they need more practice. He also give specific, targeted feedback on what needs to be improved. On his clipboard, he makes notes on how each student is doing. Student self-assess and determine when it's time to be checked. Success is generally evident to them, and so is the knowledge of what they are not mastering yet. The teacher uses observation and refers back to the components of the rubric to help students reflect on their progress.

In both of the above examples, teachers use observation, informal data collection, and targeted feedback to help student learn at their own pace and to be motivated by intrinsic success rather than simply by earning a grade.  In a traditional educational model without formative assessment, both teachers may have simply delivered the lesson, lead some practice, and then would have given a grade for their efforts that was added to the gradebook, allowing no chance for further learning or learning from feedback.

How could formative assessment be improved? Certainly the skilled use of formative assessment is very important, but utilizing technology can make it transformative. Mrs. Dresow may digitize her questions or use an interactive game such as Socrative or Kahoot to see what students know. This technique would not only accomplish the same goal, but would also leave the teacher with trackable data that can be used to identify trends in learning and further guide her instruction. Mr. Senske can tie digital achievement badges to progress, to keep students motivated through the task. He may also have students self-monitor by sending scores or other measures to a shared spreadsheet, where the results can be graphed to indicate both individual and group achievement.

Truth is, there are myriad uses of  educational technology to improve formative assessment. Peer reviews on blogs, digital lab practice, and reflecting on learning can all be better facilitated by using the appropriate digital tool or technique. Most of these tools can offer increased feedback for the student and teacher, can store data and help to identify trends in learning, and can increase motivation and excitement in the process of learning.

Some ideal technology tools for formative assessment:

  1. Kahoot
  2. Socrative
  3. Notability
  4. KidBlog
  5. ClassBadges
  6. Google Forms
  7. Google Sheets
  8. Google Classroom
  9. ForAllRubrics
  10. Rubistar
  11. Educanon
  12. Todaysmeet
Formative assessment is perhaps the cornerstone to effective teaching and learning. Please let me know if you would like guidance, ideas, or strategies to better implement formative learning with your students. --VB

Having students make Google Sites without having students make their own Google Site...

...confused? I was too, until Kevin Weems, new science teacher at the high school, explained it to me.

In his physical science class, he wanted to assign different compounds and processes to students to research and represent on a web page, but he didn't want a scattered mess all over the internet.  So, he used his own site.

Sounds crazy? Not really, at least once you realize how he does it. He set up a page for this particular unit, and then created sub-pages for each of the research topics. Then, he used page-specific permissions to grant edit rights to only certain students for certain pages.

He posted the links for the sub-pages for students on Classroom, which they clicked to open and away they went with their research and site building. An assessment activity is when students audit the accuracy of each other's research.

Once completed, students will have compiled voluminous research on the unit objectives in a centralized place that students can easily navigate in the future.

Recording audio for learning and assessment

Ms. Fillafer at the Middle School a few weeks ago asked for an idea for having students submit recordings of band instrument practice. There were several options, but the one we went with is called AudioBoom, formerly AudioBoo. This web-based app (also a mobile app) allows her students to create an account, and with very little difficulty to record files of themselves playing assigned scales or other pieces.

The recording results in a unique web address, which students copy into a Google Form Ms. Fillafer has set up to collect the link and other related information.

The result is a way for students to stay accountable to their endeavors in band class, but also allows the teacher the opportunity to do formative assessment on select students and also create an archive so students can see their own progress.

Where else could this process be beneficial?  Just a few ideas:

  • World language recitations
  • Speech/language practice
  • Radio show/advertising/voice-over project in almost any setting
  • Voice journal during labs or experiments
  • Poetry readings
  • Reading fluency practice
  • Students practicing leaving professional phone messages
There are many tools that can be easily used for voice capture, each of which tends to be a bit less bulky and hard to manage as recording full video. Some learning tasks are suited perfectly for this kind of tool. Where could it enhance or simplify lessons in your realm?

Access the tool: audioboom.com

When not to use Technology...

The following URL links to a great post on when NOT to use technology, a message I think is too often lost in education. Technology professionals in our district never suggest that all tasks and learning experiences must be done with technology. The important thing to remember in integration and innovation is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Traditional methods are sometimes superior. It takes critical judgment to determine when tech integration is appropriate and advantageous. When in doubt, err on the side of whatever is most real-world relevant.