Category Archives: ISTE

Fundamental Elements of Digital K-12 Science Instructional Materials

Digital instructional materials start to make more sense for K-12 schools as states and districts align science education practices with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and prepare students for 21st century science and engineering jobs.

In an effort to orient families, teachers, administrators and curriculum designers to the work, I’ve gathered some evaluation  tools for instructional materials from NGSS and laid out a vision of an ideal digital K-12 science curriculum that would include all of the five NGSS Innovations while addressing International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards for coaches supporting teachers.

Ideally, my vision would serve as a model for digital science instruction. Instead of the current slide show plus lecture state of my presentation, I would begin with a phenomenon (e.g., the gender gap in math and science occupations), offering a range of entry points across modalities (e.g., video, graphic representation, mathematic, kinesthetic) to allow people to connect the topic to their own lives, and then provide appropriate supports for people to show what they know through multiple modes of expression, including online tools (e.g., polls, message boards, asynchronous video chat).

As it is, it is a starting point for stakeholders to hear what a middle school science teacher would need in an ideal 21st century science class, and an opportunity to preview evaluation tools used by school districts to adopt new curriculum.

To participate in this practice, family members, teachers, administrators and curriculum designers would:

  1. Read Box 11-1 on page 278 of “Chapter 11: Equity and Diversity.” How do you understand equity in education? Share with a partner.
  2. Review the NGSS Lesson Screening Tool.
  3. With equity and diversity in mind, use the “less” and “more” columns of each of the NGSS Innovations to brainstorm ways that digital technology tools could help to engage and support students.

Innovation 1: Making Sense of Phenomena and Designing Solutions to Problems

Less: Focus on delivering disciplinary core ideas to students, neatly organized by related content topics; making sense of phenomena and designing solutions to problems are used occasionally as engagement strategies, but are not a central part of student learning.”

More: Engaging all students with phenomena and problems that are meaningful and relevant; that have intentional access points and supports for all students; and that can be explained or solved through the application of targeted grade-appropriate SEPs, CCCs, and DCIs.”

Brainstorm: Each unit of study can be presented through an engaging real-world phenomenon that encompasses the SEPs, CCCs, and DCIs. Students will engage with the phenomenon through multiple modalities including online research and digital modeling along with hands-on activities and kinesthetic learning. Student will have the opportunity to show what they know through multiple modes of expression including speaking, reading and writing, diagramming, mathematical representations and programming. Students will also have opportunities to share their learning with students in their own as well as have opportunities to share their ideas and make scientific arguments with authentic audiences.


Slides: “Fundamental elements of digital K-12 science instructional materials”

NGSS Lesson Screening Tool

NRC Framework Ch. 11: Equity and Diversity in Science and Engineering Education

Five NGSS Innovations


Khazan, O. (2018) The more gender equality, the fewer women in STEM. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

National Research Council. 2012. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Next Generation Science Standards. “Evaluating Instructional Materials.” Retrieved from

Make your tech-enabled science class relevant for students with culturally responsive teaching

Science educators who attempt to enhance their classrooms with technology, but fail to empower students through culturally responsive teaching (CRT), will find student engagement to be only screen deep. That is to say, technology alone may increase student engagement, but only superficially. Students must be able to see the relevance and value of science and engineering practices in their own lives if they are to invest intellectually.

The “character profile” of CRT, as described by Gay (2018), is validating, comprehensive and inclusive, multidimensional, empowering, transformative, emancipatory, humanistic, normative and ethical (p. 36-45). If technology-enhanced science teaching is to be effective, it ought to share all of these characteristics.

In Brown’s (2017) metasynthesis study, we can find many examples of complementarity between Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) science and engineering practices and CRT. Here, using Brown’s study as a guide, I offer ideas about how technology might be used to facilitate culturally responsive science education.

ISTE standard for educators 1: Learner calls on educators to “continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning.” As teachers, our most insightful and effective collaborators are our students. We should be continually integrating what students know and want to know into our instruction.

Part 1c of the Learner standard asserts that we should stay current with research that supports improved learning outcomes. In turn, the research suggests that, in order to improve learning outcomes, we should stay current with our students through culturally responsive science instruction. Brown (2017) cites several studies showing “the benefits of culturally responsive science instruction for students of color, such as, positive science identities, scientific literacy, and content knowledge” (p. 1144). Students can take ownership of the science learning process if they feel included and supported.

For students, science should not feel like an unsolvable mystery or an exclusive club. Science should feel like a new way of thinking and a useful set of tools that empowers students. Similarly, when enhancing science classrooms with technology, the technology should not feel like something the students the students need to fit into. The technology should be something tailored for each student, that fits them like a glove, grants them access to new learning experiences and empowers them to take on new challenges.

Empowerment within the classroom should lead to empowerment outside of it as well. When students feel that they are capable to tackle real world problems in school, they will be better prepared to face them outside of school. Brown (2017) argues, “Engaging students in examining community-based issues and injustice in light of available evidence while working toward the most credible explanations is necessary to develop not only critical thinking skills but also critical consciousness” (p. 1166).

Brown analyzed 52 studies including case studies, surveys and experiments involving science instruction in levels K-12, and coded for instances of inquiry-based science instruction in conjunction with CRT, or instances of complementarity. These instances provide a snapshot of areas in science education that may be most (and least) likely to hold culturally relevance for students, examples of culturally responsive science instruction and starting points for progress.

Taken all together, Brown’s data shows that much complementarity exists between NGSS science and engineering practices and CRT. In order to code for CRT in the study, Brown used the Culturally Responsive Instruction Observation Protocol (CRIOP) (Powell et al., 2012), a protocol that operationalizes CRT over seven pillars.

The table below (Table 1) (Brown, 2017, p. 1152) describes each CRIOP Pillar:

Table 1, descriptions of each CRIOP Pillar (as cited in Brown, 2017, p. 1152).

The graphic below (Fig. 1) shows all instances of complementarity coded in Brown’s study, represented by lines connecting the NGSS Practices to each CRIOP Pillar. The weight of each line represents the frequency of complementarity and dashed lines represent situations where no complementarity was found. In this view, we can see that the CRIOP Pillar “Pedagogy / Instruction” showed the most complementarity across NGSS Practices and Assessment “Assessment” showed the least.

Fig. 1, all instances of complementarity found by Brown (2017) between NGSS Practices and CRIOP Pillars (weight of each line represents the frequency of complementarity).

A CRIOP Pillar that showed low complementary with NGSS Practices across the board was Assessment (as denoted by thin and dashed yellow lines in Fig. 1). Luckily, assessment is one of the areas with the most potential for technological enhancement. Online assessment tools can help to differentiate assessments for students, and digital tools can offer students more ways to demonstrate knowledge.

If we isolate two of the NGSS practices, we can analyze the data more precisely and determine whether technology may be able to facilitate CRT in certain areas of science instruction.

Brown (2017) reports that Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information was the NGSS Practice most often intersected with clear, observatble CRT practices (please see Fig. 2 below). “In such instances, there was evidence of meaningful learning opportunities that drew directly upon students’ experiences where students were encouraged to pose questions, investigate answers to those questions, and develop scientific literacy through activities” (p. 1157). Here, technologies like a classroom discussion board and a research database can help to field questions and provide resources for research.

Fig. 2,  instances of complementarity found by Brown (2017) for NGSS Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information (weight of each line represents the frequency of complementarity).

One example in Brown’s (2017) analysis was a lesson where students helped each other compare fast food restaurants using data tables including nutrition facts from different menus. The classroom environment reflected a “collectivist orientation, where students were accountable for one another’s success,” which reflects the CRIOP Pillars Classroom Relationships, Pedagogy / Instruction and Sociopolitical Consciousness. Students were willing and able to help one another, the lesson built on students’ existing cultural knowledge, and raised sociopolitical issues such as inequitable access to dietary options and food security (p. 1159).

In order to construct learning environments and plan lessons that are culturally responsive, teachers need to meet their students where they are – to know their students and where they come from. This knowledge is most likely to come from positive face-to-face interactions with students and families, and may be facilitated with technologies like survey tools (e.g., online forms) and data analysis tools (e.g., spreadsheets and graphs).

Fig 3, instances of complementarity found by Brown (2017) for NGSS Practice 5: Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking (weight of each line represents the frequency of complementarity).

The NGSS Practice least frequently encountered alongside a CRIOP Pillar was Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, which points to an area of improvement. Brown (2017) points out an example of a math activity that included data from student food logs, which may be problematic in that they require students to share and compare what they eat each day, but connects math to students’ everyday lives and makes it relevant to them. In a previous post, I detailed how student agency and choice has been built into computational thinking (CT) activities.

We have examples of NGSS Practices being taught alongside CRIOP Pillars, leading to valuable learning opportunities for students. Moving forward, educators can use the framework provided by the CRIOP Pillars to help guide planning and create more culturally responsive, technology enhanced science classrooms.


Brown, J. C. (2017). A metasynthesis of the complementarity of culturally responsive and inquiry-based science education in K-12 settings: Implications for advancing equitable science teaching and learning. Journal Of Research In Science Teaching, 54(9), 1143-1173. doi:10.1002/tea.21401

Gay,G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice (3rd ed.). NewYork,NY: Teachers College Press.

Powell, R., Cantrell, S., Gallardo Carter, Y., Cox, A., Powers, S., Rightmyer, E. C., . . . Wheeler, T. (2012). Culturally Responsive Instruction Observation Protocol (revised). Lexington, KY: Collaborative Center for LiteracyDevelopment.

Redefine Your Middle School Science Classroom with Blogging

Blogging as a practice shows great potential for students and teachers to redefine science classrooms. When implemented thoughtfully, blogs can empower students and expand the classroom through interactions with outside learning communities. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards call for 21st century science students to be creative communicators and global collaborators, and blogging may be a practice that helps students become both.

The metacognitive nature of this post is not lost on me. I am, after all, blogging about blogging. In fact, my own use of this blogging portfolio (or bPortfolio) spurred me to research blogs in middle school science classrooms. As I learn about learning in a school of education, I have found these blog posts to be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the entire experience.

Our instructors provide topics and facilitate conversations with colleagues. Then, we are sent off on our own to develop a question we are interested in learning about. Our research and further discussion with colleagues helps to refine our question and polish our purpose as we venture forth to post a blog about what we have discovered. Finally we read each other’s blogs and share final thoughts.

Throughout this process, I have felt supported, motivated and free. The built-in feedback processes provide excellent support from instructors and colleagues, so even when I am working independently, I am guided by the support of my instructors and peers. The public nature of blog posts allow a broader audience to access my work, which motivates me to do my best. Within this structure, I have been free to explore my own values, seek answers to the questions I care about most and to find my voice through blog writing.

The ISTE standards for creative communicators calls students to “communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations” (ISTE Standards for Students, 6c). Student bloggers can link and embed rich online content in their work to engage their readers with a variety of content. Luehmann & Frink (2009) argue that “extending scientific understanding through engagement with content in multimodal format, across geography and time” is one of the learning affordances for science classroom blogs (p. 277). Please see their full table below of learning affordances for blogs in science classrooms:

Luehmann and Frink’s (2009) results of aligning learning affordances of blogging with reform-based science education goals (p. 277, Table 1).

The ISTE standards for global collaborators calls for students to “use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints” (ISTE Standards for Students, 7c). Blogs can connect students to each other, and virtually break open the walls of the classroom when students engage their own communities in scientific exploration, dialogue and argumentation, redefining the traditional classroom writing task. In redefinition, as described by Puenterdura’s (2006) SAMR model, “technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.”

SAMR infographic by Lefflerd – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

It is true that blogging is a tool that offers many learning affordances and may even redefine writing tasks for students, but neither would be possible without thoughtful implementation in the classroom. Kolb (2017) reminds us that “technology integration is more complex than simply using a technology tool; pedagogical and instructional strategies around the tool are essential for successful learning outcomes (p. 10). Going further, Cope et al. (2005) argues:

“The thing about all these tecnologyies is that any device which gives human beings another capacity to communicate increases their capacity to do good things and to do bad and silly things. Technology doesn’t drive it. It just opens new possibilities, new depths and new shallowness… Like all technology, it just opens up human capacity to do things better and to do things worse” (p. 203, as cited in Luehmann & Frink, 2009).

What may seem like a grim view of the use of technology is, in fact, supported by research. Petko, Egger & Graber (2014) tested multiple hypotheses around the efficacy of blogging versus a traditional paper and pencil writing assignment and on the use of prompts (e.g., “What key points in today’s lesson did you understand? What key points haven’t you understood yet? Reasons?”) versus no prompts, and found that “the choice of writing medium – weblog versus paper and pencil – had no effect on learning gains as long as writing was supported by prompts,” and, without prompts, students writing on paper performed better than those who wrote online (p. 13). One important limitation of their study was that students did not mutually comment on each other’s blog entries, which is an important social aspect of the blogging experience.

Luehmann and Frink (2009) claim that, while the instructional design of the blog is important, we must also consider practices and culture of the classroom. There needs to be a shift, according to Luehmann and Frink, toward more student agency “through, in part, shared access to learning goals and objectives” (p. 281). Luehmann and Frink recognize the challenge facing teachers: “it is likely challenging to create new activity structures that both upset this positioning, placing students as key contributors to science knowledge construction, and to do so in ways that capitalize on the social networking afforded by blogs” (p. 284).

Lankshear and Knobel (2006) see this as a shift from “Mindset 1 (in which authority and expertise are centralized in the person of the teacher) to Mindset 2 (a distributed and collective authority in which there are ‘hybrid experts’)” (as cited in Luehmann & Frink, p. 289). By using guiding questions and teaching students to fact check each other’s work, teachers can build a culture where students co-construct knowledge and meaning.

To foster inquiry practices with science students in the middle grades, Grant, Lapp, Fisher, Johnson & Frey (2012) recommend the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) framework (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983, as cited in Grant et al., p. 46). Fisher and Frey (2008) have built on the original “I do, we do, you do” gradual release structure to build a more flexible and adaptable model including four components: 1.) purpose and modeling, 2.) guided instruction, 3.) productive group work and 4.) independent tasks

Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework (Grant et al., 2012, p. 47, Fig 1)

Grant et al. (2012) go on to argue that the components of the model can be implemented linearly or recursively among the framework’s components (p. 46). Teachers can take a similar approach with blogging. Teachers should write their own blogs and model appropriate research and writing strategies. Teachers should also provide guided instruction and allow opportunities for group work, but the components need not occur in order before reaching the final goal of independent blogging. Students will then have had sufficient scaffolded exercise to feel capable to write their blogs independently.

We have seen that blogging is a powerful tool that can empower students when implemented thoughtfully. Blogging also has the potential to connect students to communities outside of the classroom. With the a teacher-centered classroom culture or mindset, or without the proper initial support, we have seen that blogging in science classrooms may fail. With a student-centered mindset and with a gradual release of responsibility, we can offer students a chance to co-construct meaning and expand the science classroom through blogging.



Cope, B., Kalantzis, M., Lankshear, C. (2005) A contemporary project: An interview. E-Learning 2(2): 192-207

Grant, M. m., Lapp, D. l., Fisher, D. d., Johnson, K. k., & Frey, N. n. (2012). Purposeful Instruction: Mixing Up The ‘I,’ ‘We,’ and ‘You’. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(1), 45-55. doi:10.1002/JAAL.00101

Kolb, L. (2017) Learning first, technology second: The educator’s guide to designing authentic lessons. Portland, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Lankshear, C., Knobel, M. (2006) New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning. Open University Press, New York: NY.

Luehmann, A. a., & Frink, J. (2009). How Can Blogging Help Teachers Realize the Goals of Reform-based Science Instruction? A Study of Nine Classroom Blogs. Journal Of Science Education & Technology, 18(3), 275-290. doi:10.1007/s10956-009-9150-x

Petko, D. d., Egger, N. n., & Graber, M. m. (2014). Supporting learning with weblogs in science education: A comparison of blogging and hand-written reflective writing with and without prompts. Themes In Science & Technology Education, 7(1), 3-17.

Computational Thinking in the Middle School Science Classroom

Evidence abounds that computational thinking (CT) is gaining ever more visibility, relevance and utility in education and our everyday lives: CT’s integration into Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards for students, the Hour of Code, a global computer science initiative, best-selling books like “Algorithms to Live By” to science fiction movies like “Ready Player One,” plus an increasing demand for software engineers in the U.S. job market. So, how should middle school science classrooms integrate CT? One promising option, Computational Thinking in Simulation and Modeling (CTSiM), allows students to investigate science phenomena through visual, agent-based, computational modeling – a simplified and contextualized form of computer programming or coding.

Visual programming (using nested blocks), left, determines behavior of the animated “Enactment World,” right, from Basu, Dickes, Kinnebrew, Sengupta, & Biswas (2013) 3.2 The Enactment World.

Weintrop et al. (2015) argue that there is a strong reciprocal relationship between the learning and teaching of computational tools and science content. “The thoughtful use of computational tools and skillsets can deepen learning of mathematics and science content. The reverse is also true – namely that science and mathematics provide a meaningful context (and set of problems) with which computational thinking can be applied” (p. 128). Many schools are pressed for educational minutes and would not be able to add a separate computer science course, but may consider integrating computational thinking and basic coding into core science classes.

Weintrop et al. (2015) also lay out an initial set of 10 computational thinking skills students should master (p. 133, Table 1):

  1. Ability to deal with open-ended problems
  2. Persistence in working through challenging problems
  3. Confidence in dealing with complexity
  4. Representing ideas in computationally meaningful waysTBreaking down large problems into smaller problems
  5. Creating abstractions for aspects of problem at hand
  6. Reframing problem into a recognizable problem
  7. Assessing strengths/weaknesses of a representation of data/representational system
  8. Generating algorithmic solutions
  9. Recognizing and addressing ambiguity in algorithms

Sengupta, Kinnebrew, Biswas and Clark (2013) align their own set of computational thinking skills with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas of expertise:

Sengupta et al. (2013) Review of Literature on Educational Computing, Table 1

So far in my experience as a middle school science teacher, I have used strategies that help students build many of the above computational thinking skills, without doing any actual computer programming, such as open-ended engineering challenges, manipulating and evaluating data from complex online simulations, growth mindset development, criteria-based evidence evaluation and board game design.

Challenging students to create their own board game as a representation or simulation of a science concept allows them to create their own environments complete with their own rules, which grants them more freedom than a prefabricated environment and allows them to practice algorithmic thinking (e.g., within gameplay, students can set up consequences for actions with rules, a card set, or rules on a particular space on the board). Three main computational thinking skills that board game design does not address are 1.) representing ideas in computationally meaningful ways 2.) persistence through iteration  and 3.) assessing strengths and weaknesses of their representational system. Later in this post, I will address how a tool like CTSiM may provide practice for these three skills.

Online simulations offer environments of varying complexity for students to manipulate. Students can then run tests and analyze results. While this type of modeling is useful for students to understand phenomena that are too big, too small (or otherwise invisible) in the classroom, they set students up to follow rules rather than make rules. Similarly, in online engineering environments, students often feel constrained by a limited set of modifiable variables within a prefabricated engineering environment.

In fact, I have found that simple, “hands-on” materials can be more engaging for students as engineering challenges. In part, due to what simple materials like construction paper, aluminum foil, scissors and tape provide for students – a low threshold and a high ceiling. It is easy for students to start building and modeling with tools and materials that are easy to use (low threshold), and construction paper and aluminum foil can be cut, folded, shaped and taped in limitless ways (high ceiling), so students don’t feel inhibited or constrained.

The low threshold and high ceiling are two design principles of CTSiM, a visual-programming and agent-based learning environment (much like Scratch and other simplified coding environments used by Hour of Code) for middle school science. The visual programming interface allows students to code without having to learn the syntax and semantics of programming language (low threshold) while allowing them to create their own rules for their computational model (high ceiling). Coincidentally, this pair of concepts is also greatly responsible for the success of what many are calling the best-designed video game ever, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, “an evocative and exhilarating open-world adventure game” (Otero, 2017).

Basu et al. (2013) explain the rest of CTSiM’s design principles and implementation decisions in the table below. Their principles would serve useful for further development of CTSiM and also for future learning environments with similar goals.

Basu et al. (2013) Implementing Design Principles: The CTSiM Architecture, Table 1

With its nine design principles, CTSiM offers students a chance to develop all three of the skills that designing a board game would not:

  1. Representing ideas in computationally meaningful ways: While creating a board game challenges students to think algorithmically, it does not give them the chance to practice computer programming.CTSiM’s visual programming interface allows students to create simulations through coding.
    Example of the CTSiM’s visual programming interface from Basu et al. (2013) 3.1 The Construction or C-World.
  2. Persistence through iteration: CTSiM’s student workflow allows students to revise iterations of their models. In the development of a board game, drafts may be submitted to the teacher for review, but the process is automated in CTSiM.
    Sequence of activities performed by a student in the CTSiM learning environment from Basu et al. (2013) 2.2 Implementing Design Principles: The CTSiM architecture.
  3. Assessing strengths and weaknesses of their representational system: Students using CTSiM can compare their own models to “expert” model behavior. If students create a board game, it is difficult for students (and teachers) to assess how well the game represents a natural system or phenomenon. In CTSiM, students can run their own model behavior side-by-side with expert model behavior, but the expert code, or computational model, remains hidden from the student.
    Model behavior of student and “expert” side-by-side from Basu et al. (2013) 3.3 The Envisionment or V-World.

CTSiM shows a lot of potential as a framework for what a computational thinking and science learning environment may do and look like. Along with everything that it allows students to do, two main questions remain about its limitations, or what it prevents students from doing:

  1. First, I would ask questions related to how students using CTSiM are learning from each other and being connected to their communities. Is there is a way for students to interact with each other during the design process? What relevance will the model they build hold for them in their community? Will students be invested in the task?
  2. Second, I would ask, how can models created in CTSiM be paired with “real life” modeling and testing? Is there a way for students to take what they’ve learned in the CTSiM and apply it to a science experiment or engineering challenge in real life (IRL)?


Basu, S., Dickes, A., Kinnebrew, J. S., Sengupta, P., Biswas, G. (2013). CTSiM: A Computational Thinking Environment for Learning Science through Simulation and Modeling. In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (pp. 369-378). Aachen.

Sengupta, P. p., Kinnebrew, J. j., Basu, S. s., Biswas, G. g., & Clark, D. d. (2013). Integrating computational thinking with K-12 science education using agent-based computation: A theoretical framework. Education & Information Technologies, 18(2), 351-380. doi:10.1007/s10639-012-9240-x

Weintrop, D., Beheshti, E., Horn, M., Orton, K., Jona, K., Trouille, L., & Wilensky, U., (2015). Defining computational thinking for mathematics and science classrooms. Springer Science+Business Media. New York, NY.

“How’m I Doing?”: How to Tell if Peer Coaching is Working and if You’re Doing it Right

A Seemingly Simple Question I’m the kind of person who likes feedback. I like to know if I’m headed in the right direction and if I’m doing the right things to get there. The late Ed Koch, former Mayor of New York, used to ask people, “How’m I doing?” and it quickly became a sort-of … Continue reading "“How’m I Doing?”: How to Tell if Peer Coaching is Working and if You’re Doing it Right"

EDTC 6103 Module 3: Modeling Digital Age Work and Learning

For my reflection this week, I’ve been asked to look closely at ISTE Teaching Standard 3.  Unlike my previous focus of incorporating digital tools in the classroom, this standard has me searching for ways to improve communication with parents. The particular pull out students I serve all have primary languages translatable by other support staff in my building.  The challenge is knowing how best to communicate and collaborate with parents to truly help integrate them into the American education system.

Spring is an extremely busy at my school with multiple events, testing, field trips, and summer opportunities.  In a school where the majority of parents speak a language other than English at home, we provide translation in 7 languages.  Although this does not meet all the language needs of our families, it covers the majority.  Our bilingual assistants are working extra hours providing translation to families in person, over the phone, or simply transcribing information for teachers to send home.  

ISTE Standard 3 has me questioning what I can do to improve both communication and collaboration between parents and staff in my building.
  • Collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation.
  • Communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats.


Nicole Krueger’s article “3 barriers to innovation education leaders must address” sparked my interest in looking for innovative ways to enhance communication.  She mentions barriers such as community resistance, access, and policies.  My district is definitely impacted by access and policies.  Working in SE Seattle, our public schools all have a high ELL population. We have  great families, yet they do not have to same background with the American education system and connections to openly advocate for equitable access to learning and technology.  I work with a dedicated staff who value culture, provide opportunities for parents to be involved, yet I feel it is the same parents I see at most events or volunteering in the classrooms.  Our Caucasian population are the minority in the building, yet their parents make up the majority of our PTSA. This led me to question how can we increase our parent involvement and communication when there is an obvious language barrier?

After reading a thorough article about the challenges of ELL parent involvement in Arizona, I began to categorise my reading into what we already do and what we can discuss as future implementations to increase involvement.  In their research, Arias and Morillo-Campbell, noted that 10% of the schools in the USA hold almost 70% of the K-5 ELL students.  Of those schools, similar to my building, nearly half the students receive ELL services.  This is the demographic of parents we need to truly support.


Getting To Know The Community

Having only been at my current school for less than 3 years, I still feel relatively new to the community.  With that, I am not sure what has been tried in the past, what has been successful that may have been forgotten about, and who might be able to best bridge the culture gap to promote further collaboration between parents and staff. Regardless of cultural background and education, these parents need to be understood, have their wishes for their children heard, be included in decision-making, and given multiple opportunities to integrated into our school communities.  What are we doing beyond annual conferences, newsletters, and emails to truly support these families?

Just like our students who learn in different ways, we need to provide our families with communication options, training, and support.  Knowing not all of our parents are literate in their primary languages, there are families who benefit most from face-to-face or phone communication.  Then we have the parents who are working more than one job, unable to come to school who appreciate emails or letters home.  But how do we know those parents are truly receiving all the information we send?

Tech Tools to Connect with Parents

Using an after school program as my pilot group, this week I started using Remind. Instantly I felt excited at the possibilities of having tool that keeps phone numbers private, works in a text like format, and allows me to include images with the text.  The true selling point though was reading that they support 70 languages. To further explain why I love Remind as a tool, it allows me to send a quick message to parents without all of our phone numbers appearing.  I can also change the language, create the message in advance, and receive feedback from parents.  

This week we only had 2 parents who could attend our soccer game.  I already had 5 parents join Remind.  I was able to send a reminder about the game, take a team photo to send out, and let parents know the ETA for the team returning to school. Two parents responded within minutes after I posted.  Prior to Remind, I’ve had little communication with parents other than sending letters home to sign and return.  Frequently our organisation has last minute changes to scheduling which I always regret not being able to notify families in a more timely manner.  I’m hoping that Remind can be used to overcome these challenges for at least some of the families. The photo feature is also great, as I can share photos of the games and events for those parents who are unable to attend.

In addition to using apps like Remind, Common Sense Media shared a blog titled 6 Tech Tools That Boost Teacher-Parent Communication. I love the idea of having blogs linked to our website that feature student voices in primary languages and student work for parents to connect with outside of the classroom.  These tools are great, however, many create barriers with our ELL families due to lack of internet access, non-translatable data, lack of understanding to make sense of the data, and cultural differences. Although the school could lead workshops and trainings on how to use these tools, they require additional supports in order to be successfully implemented into a high poverty school.

Non-Tech Strategies

So how can we still increase communication and collaboration without tech tools?  We need more opportunities such as focus groups to get a better understanding of the cultural understanding of our parents regarding education at school versus at home, homework, what a classroom looks like, American expectations of parent involvement, etc.  We should be encouraged to do home visits.  Without truly understanding the families we serve, how can we truly serve their children?  Schools should also find ways to participate in community meetings for various ethnic / language groups and work on collaborative strategies to break down cultural barriers.  Without leaving the school, our ELL families deserve more than one parent-teacher conference per year.  I know that if I moved to a new country right now, I would hope I could meet with my son’s teacher multiple times to ensure he is actively engaged, showing academic and social growth as well as meeting other criteria.  When schools have a large group from the same culture, we could also give leadership opportunities to families to instill some of their educational best practices into our school.

Next Steps

This standard has given me a lot to think about.  Having never visited schools in China, Vietnam or Somalia for example, I have limited understanding in how our education systems differ.  This gives me room to grow as an educator, to learn more about where our families are from and how to work together to successfully bridge the gap between school and home. My first step will be collaborating with our bilingual staff to learn more about what they’re hearing from families.  

I have several ideas I’d love to discuss with my colleagues and administration as we start planning for next year. In particular, I feel our school website definitely has room for improvement.  Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I look forward to exploring what other high poverty schools with large ELL populations have successfully implemented to integrate ELL parents as valued members of the school community.


EDTC 6103 Designing Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments

This week’s assignment excited me, looking at formative assessment tools.  This year I am part of a team from my school, that is participating in a district wide training on how to strengthen formative assessments in our building.  I’ve been feeling the progress is slow, and although it’s a two year project, I feel I haven’t really gained any new insight this year.  However, with this task of looking closely at ISTE Teacher Standard 2, I felt compelled to find tools that will help my team. This led to my quest:

How can I support a grade level team with formative assessment tools?  What tools are user friendly, allow teachers to collaborate, share resources, and provide direction for reteaching?  Better yet, which of these are free?

Initially I perused several articles, and noticed 3 resources in particular that were mentioned: Kahoots, Socrative, and Plickers. Inspired by an article from Edutopia, .  The article, 5 Fantastic, Fast, Formative Assessment Tools, mentions Socrative, Kahoots, Plickers, and Zaption (which can now be replaced by EdPuzzle, another resource I’ve been wanting to test out). In the audio, Richard Byrne, a teacher from Maine, discusses strengths found in the various resources.

Another resource that had a wealth of information comes from a NWEA blogpost. This post shares 55 digital tools and apps recommended for Formative Assessments.  Again, mentioning the tools above, but also introducing GoFormative, which I’d love to try when I have access to devices again.

So how do these resources compare?  Looking closely at ISTE Standard 2.a and 2.d, I want to adapt our current practices to incorporate digital tools for assessment and help inform student learning and our teaching. I’m also looking for tools that do not require student email logins and are free to educators. 


I’ll begin with Plickers.  Plickers stood out to me for three reasons. First,  it uses a code, in place of English words, which I think is beneficial for ELL students and anonymity in general. Second, a teacher in my building recently started using Plickers and I know I can see it in action.  And lastly, since are computers are all tied up with testing for the next 6 weeks, Plickers seems like a great non-device formative assessment tool! Plickers is great for schools who do not have easy access to devices (like my school).  With the simplicity of my cell phone, a document camera, and one computer, I can pose questions on the screen and students hold up their individual card to share their response.  My phone then scans their cards giving me instant feedback.  This is great for teachers who want a quick response. Within a minute, I can have all students answers and the ability to keep their data for later.  Students do not need to write, are not able to read their peers responses, and these responses can immediately inform teachers on where to go next.  Data is stored in reports that can be downloaded into an Excel document.  Two drawbacks are that the program only allows multiple choice or true false options and there is not a shared databank of content for teachers to pull from.


Moving on to Kahoot, this is a fun way to excite students about quick checks.  Similar to Plickers, it only allows multiple choice or true false options.  It also exports data into Excel in a user friendly format. Where Plickers lacks shared resources, Kahoot lets you access a large databank of resources.  In order to use Kahoot teachers will need a document camera to display the questions and multiple devices for student access.  Students input their own name which requires teacher monitoring to enable teachers to use data later on.  It gamifies formative assessment by rewarding points based on correct response and response time.  Having tested this with my students, they absolutely loved it!  This is a great tool for quick checks, review before a test, or even pre-assessment.

Go Formative

Having just touched the surface on how to use Go Formative, this tool seems to most versatile for a free platform. Teachers can upload content in a variety of ways, and also allow students to answer using multiple choice, short answer, true/false, or draw their response.  Their reports are comparable to Plickers and Kahoot.  

Wishful Thinking

The one resource I’d love to push for my grade level team however is MasteryConnect. Sadly, this program has limited free access, but has the tools I am looking for in regards to team planning, collaboration, and reteaching. Looking at the review on EdSurge, I felt this is something my school lacks and is similar to a successful tool we used at my previous school several years ago.  I also like how Socrative can be linked to MasteryConnect, but again, Socrative is not free for teachers either.

In conclusion, I feel I have several resources I’d like to take to my team and discuss how we can simplify our teaching by utilizing tools that allow instant grading and excel to compare data.  My goal is to not reinvent the wheel, but find ways to work smarter, not harder.

Resources –

Edutopia. (2014). Tech2Learn: Success Stories of Technology Integration in the Classroom. Retrieved from (includes…

Johnson, K. (2016). Resources to Help You Choose the Digital Tools Your Classroom Needs. Retrieved from

Davis, V.(2015, January 15). 5 Fantastic, Fast, Formative Assessment Tools. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

Take Three! 55 Digital Tools and Apps for Formative Assessment Success. (2016, June 07). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

Zdonek, P. (2016, September 26). Putting the FORM in Formative Assessment. Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

MasteryConnect (Product Reviews on EdSurge). (n.d.). Retrieved April 23, 2017, from

Administrators and Professional Development

ISTE Standard 4: Professional Development and Program Evaluation

Performance Indicator B

  • Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.

We have looked at professional development through the lense of an adult learner and through the perspective of a teacher leader. This week our Triggering Event lead us into professional development from an administrator’s role. We were posed this question: What role should administrators play in professional learning programs and how do we advocate for their involvement and adequate professional learning support for technology-based learning initiatives?

This was a very broad question to me. I am not sure if it is because I have never really needed to think from this perspective before, or if I genuinely did not know where to start with my own exploration. I chose to reiterate the question to keep it open enough for me to find a better focus as I dove into some resources. My related question was: In what ways can teacher leaders advocate for administrative support and involvement in quality professional learning?

Still searching for that focus, I got online and met with my cohort for our weekly Google Hangout. As part of our weekly agenda, we collaborated on a google slide regarding the characteristics of administrators who are supportive of professional learning initiatives. Still facing that mental roadblock, I did not contribute much. However, it was immensely helpful to me to see what members of my cohort contributed. They were all ideas that I knew and all things that I was familiar with. It was more obvious and powerful coming from them.

On the slide, what stuck with me the most was the idea of administrators learning with their staff. Finally I had found a jumping off point! I came across an online post, from the Center for Teaching Quality, where a blogger highlighted an administrator’s thinking of how remembering the power of seeing themselves as a teacher first and an administrator second. It states the importance of remembering to switch those “proverbial hats.” The post goes on to state that:

Instead of seeing adult learning as a place to assert authority, deliver a lecture, or offer a one-size-fits-all training, administrators should see professional development as an opportunity to promote authentic, learner-centered experiences. Professional development offers administrators a chance to re-engage with their teacher identity, and to re-frame their role as a facilitator, leader, and guide (Crowley 2015).

It then lists several ways to approach this type of thinking, all of which we have explored over the past few weeks, but are always important enough to reiterate and keep with us.

Administrators should:

  • Strive to see a roomful of learners with different needs, and differentiate
  • Learn best practice when crafting adult learning experience. Continue their own learning.
  • Get rid of the 30 page Powerpoint and consider the constructivist approach.
  • Remember that authentic learning requires authentic relationship.
  • Change the mindset. Change the learning.

I thought it was interesting this week that my initial inquiries revolved around how teacher leaders could advocate for administrative support in regards to professional development, but I ended up exploring the of the administrator and the empowerment and learning that the can create and facilitate. One of my peers reflected on this and wondered aloud about what might be more impactful, administrators advocating for support or teachers? They seem to be equally as important, and even go hand in hand. It was some good food for thought.


Crowley, B. (2015, November 19). To Revolutionize PD, Administrators Should Follow This Simple Rule: Think Like a Teacher. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from

Inquiry based learning and PD

ISTE Standard 4: Professional Development and Program Evaluation

Performance Indicator B

Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.

This week we investigated the Triggering Event: What digital age best practices should be addressed in professional development and how should this be accomplished?

In relation to that I posed the question: In what ways can adult higher thinking and inquiry be promoted and supported within professional development?

Before I could begin to understand how inquiry based learning related to adult learning, it was important to understand what it was and the principles and factors that guide it. I found a great resource from eLearning Industry that describes teaching with an inquiry model. The infographic below highlights the most important characteristics of inquiry based learning.

How do we incorporate inquiry based learning into Professional Development?

We have all been to numerous PDs that never seem to resonate. I have been to PDs that are lectures following a powerpoint presentations or PDs that seem disjointed and disorganized with no clear relevance to me when I walk out of the door. Don’t get me wrong, I have been to several great PDs where collaboration and deeper thinking took place, but they are few and far between.

In a blog post called “The Principal of Change,” George outlines inquiry based learning and professional development. He lists the benefits of structuring PD around learning like this:

  • Experiencing a powerful learning opportunity as an adult to understand what it could look like in the classroom.  To be a master teacher, you must first be a master learner.
  • Unleashing the innovative potential of the adults in the building and creating an environment where risks are not only encouraged, but time is created to actively take them.
  • Focusing on the importance of research based on passions as an important element of learning.
  • Empowering staff in the creation of improved learning environments and giving them real opportunities to lead in the change process.

All of these benefits align with the best practices of designing and implementing quality PD. The idea that a facilitator can pose a question that drives PD and the entire learning process is powerful. He continues to paint the picture of what this could look like:

I was thinking about having an overlying question to guide other questions.  This question would be, “Why do we…?” For example, a question that could be created by a group of staff based on interests is, “Why do we have student awards?”, or “Why do we use report cards as our main assessment tool?”  Not all of the questions necessarily need to start with “why”, but it is mainly to challenge the assumptions that we have about the process of school.  

The blog post poses these ideas as a starting point, but leaves the next steps wide open. This is an idea I would like to investigate further. It would be amazing to be able to take these PD ideas to my school leadership, or design future learning that I am involved in around.



G. (2015, April 04). Inquiry Based Professional Learning. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from

Pappas, C. (2015, September 12). Instructional Design Models and Theories: Inquiry-based Learning Model. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from

Module 3 – Innovative Designer

This week we were asked to look at ISTE Student Standard 4 – Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.  Looking more closely at 4d, I questioned, how can I support students to persevere and work with open-ended ambiguous problems.  Having students find success with this standard is valuable not only in the classroom but a necessary skill as they navigate the world on a daily basis.

Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it. – Michael Jordan

For inspiration, I observed my ELL students in their General Education classrooms during Science while they conducted hands-on group experiments.  I noticed most of my students huddled in close with their peers, manipulated variables, and appeared engaged with the activity.  However, I also noticed my students were not the leaders, nor did they contribute much to the discussions and decision making.

This was an instant reminder that more scaffolding is needed in the Gen. Ed classrooms for both the students and the teachers. I asked 5 different students who varied in proficiency levels what they were doing and 4 could not offer even a simple explanation beyond “Science”. How can we expect students to persevere when they are unable to find meaning in the task?

Although, I scaffold lessons in pullout situations, I often forget to ask Gen. Ed teachers how I can better support ELLs in their classroom.  If we take the time to create makerspaces, then we should also take the time to prepare our ELL students to be able to fully engage in discourse.  My quest for language extension support led me back to ¡Colorín Colorado! For ELLs three components heavily impact their success: interest from the learners, proficient speakers who support and interact with the learners, and an environment that supports relationships between learners and proficient speakers” (Mohr & Mohr, 2007).

Offering sentence frames for collaboration can help our students build upon each other’s ideas to allow inquiry and understanding to flourish.

Determined to support Gen. Ed teachers more effectively, I came home and searched for resources from a MOOC a few years back.  Jeff Zwiers and Stanford University have been trying to increase academic discourse, offering a variety of universal tools to support English Language Learners in any content area. Although I led a workshop with these tools a few years ago, half of our staff are new, and with 40% of our building being ELL, I feel we can all use the reminder.

Note the conversation below. The boy is an ELL student who uses sentence frames from a poster to help him engage in discourse with his peer. The teacher introduces the project, yet gives the students tools without dictating the process or required resources.

In their article, “The Philosophy of Educational Makerspaces”, Laura Fleming, Steven & Debby Kurti, emphasise the importance of curiosity.  In addition to promoting curiosity though, we need to help students understand failure and how to persevere.  With ELL students, this can require additional support due to cultural differences and expectations placed on them from home.  Therefore, it’s also important to have teachers and peers model a growth mindset and how to overcome obstacles and failure.

In conclusion, if we want them to take ownership of their learning and develop life-long problem solving skills, we need to support their journey.  We need to pique their curiosity,  provide opportunities to interact with the resources available, allow them time to reflect, encourage and model the inquiry process, as well as support each other in both success and failure.


Kurti, R. S., Kurti, D. L., & Fleming, L. (2014). The Philosophy of Educational Makerspaces. Teacher Librarian, 41(5), 8-11

Mohr, K. J., & Mohr, E. S. (2007, February). Extending English Language Learners’ Classroom Interactions Using the Response Protocol. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from

Michael Jordan Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved February 12, 2017, from

Quinn, H., Lee, O., Valdés, G. Language demands and opportunities in relation to Next Generation Science Standards for English language learners: What teachers need to know. Understanding Language Paper Repository. Stanford University
Zwiers, J. (n.d.). JEFFZWIERS.ORG. Retrieved February 12, 2017, from