Incorporating Active Learning into Professional Learning Experiences

I have always been a fan of any professional learning experiences in which I return with something practical that enabled me to immediately implement something to improve student learning and achievement in my classroom. On the flip side, my least favorite professional learning experiences have been ones that were not relatable and left me wondering… “now what”. So here we go, let’s talk about active learning and end off with some extras that can be used directly in a professional learning experience! (or classroom if you so please).   But first, the WHY:  This quarter I have been focusing on learning more about ISTE Coaching Standard 5: Professional Learning Facilitator. This module we were asked to specifically focus on performance indicator “B”. Here it is:  This indicator is focusing on two key components of successful PD… active learning and meaningful feedback. While I believe both are incredibly vital to the success of PD, I felt that active learning was the horse before the cart. Hopefully, if we get staff to be engaged in an experience through active learning, we can then focus on the aftermath with meaningful feedback. This brought me to my question for the week:  “What are some active learning activities professional learning facilitators can implement in professional learning experiences?”  What is active learning?  While some may have not heard the term “active learning” before, educators have been putting this method into practice for ages. Essentially, active learning is getting students (or in our case, educators) actively engaged in their learning through not only thinking about what they are learning, but also why they are learning it.   Active learning in the classroom  For a long time educators have known that if we do not have student engagement in class, that we are not going to have our students retain as much of the information we are teaching them. Active learning is a wonderful way to get those kiddos engaged, and help to increase in lesson success. There are many different approaches to active learning in the classroom, however, the one I am going to focus on here is broken into three primary cognitive processes.   Mayer suggests that these three processes are:  1. Selecting relevant materials to attend to 2. Mentally organizing attended material into meaningful representations 3. Integrating these representations with prior knowledge  Some student based activities that incorporate these primary cognitive processes include:   Active learning using body movement HERE  Active learning activities with technology HERE  (this also is an awesome read on active learning if you have some extra time! Keep in mind it is written by a company selling a program that helps aid educators in increasing active learning in their classroom)  Active learning with adults  “Active learning methods ask students to fully participate in their learning by thinking, discussing, investigating, and creating.”  Cornell University has a short read on active learning that can be found here. They give a great list of research proven pros of active learning in a classroom setting. But active learning is not only applicable with children in a classroom! Adults can also participate in active learning and reap its benefits. Here are some of the most relatable pros to adult learning and professional learning experiences that I found:   “Creates personal connections to the material for students, which increases their motivation to learn” While many professional learning experiences are mandatory, there are still ways to make educators motivated to use the strategies and information that they gain from them. By creating a connection from the concepts to the educators, we can increase the likelihood that they retain, and implement their newfound knowledge.   “Build self-esteem through conversations with other students” There have definitely been times that I have been unwilling or nervous to implement a new strategy or standard in my classroom if I wasn’t confident in my ability to work with students on it. By working together with colleagues on new strategies, we can increase self-esteem and assure educators that they can try new things with their students!  “Creates a sense of community in the classroom through increased student-student and instructor-student interaction” This may seem only applicable to a classroom setting, but let’s broaden our thinking here. I have been to multiple professional development sessions that during the experience, I was able to interact actively with the facilitators along with my peers. This helped me to not only understand what I was supposed to be learning about, but it also gave me the community feeling that we were all in it together. There are still facilitators that I feel comfortable reaching out to in order to ask questions and deepen my knowledge on the content they presented. Wouldn’t it be great to feel you were always in a community with experts on what you were trying to implement?   Why does it matter?  Edgar Dale coined the idea of the “Cone of Learning” in the 1960s. He spoke to the process of knowledge retention and the different ways in which knowledge can be taught. Take a peek at the graphic below to see his thoughts represented visually.  On the left, we see percentages of knowledge retained based on the type of learning (on the right). The learning activity is placed in the triangle that correlates to the type of learning. We can see that the least effective learning activity is verbal receiving: reading and hearing words. The next category is visual receiving: watching a movie, looking at an exhibit, watching a demonstration, seeing it done on location. Next, we jump to 70% retention with receiving/participating: participating in a discussion, and giving a talk. And finally, the most effective strategy is doing: doing a dramatic presentation, simulating the real experience, and doing the real thing. We can see through this graphic that we must be moving away from the more traditional teaching methods of hearing and seeing, and focus on having students talking and doing.   Active learning focuses on the receiving/participating and doing “nature of involvements”. But let’s get into the “doing” ourselves, and see some examples!   Extras  Ready for some ideas for your next professional learning experience?   Here are two variations on a similar activity that you may already be familiar with:  Think/Pair/Share – An oldie but a goodie! Participants are given a topic and they think to themselves any information related to the topic. They can write this down, or keep the info in their heads. They then pair up and compare thinking.  Tell/Help/Check – Participants are in partners and are given a question or topic. The first participant gives all information that they have knowledge on surrounding that topic. The second participant then adds any information that they think is related, but not shared by the first participant. Finally, the participants share to a large group and continue the pattern of only sharing new information.  Here is an amazing graphic with short “brain blasts” that encourage active learning independently. (Okay, there are a few that peers can participate in)  And if you still haven’t found any that you are interested in trying, here is another resource that is geared towards increasing active learning with adults! Some fun ones include; The One-Minute Paper, Chain Notes, Mystery Quotations, Idea Speedating, Quescussion, and Empathy Mapping. Check it out!  What other activities have you done that were crowd-pleasers? Comment below!  Resources  Active Learning. (n.d.). Center for Teaching Innovation. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from  Active Learning. (2020, October 14). Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning.  Dunnick Karge, B., Phillips, K. M., Jessee, T., & McCabe, M. (2011). Effective Strategies For Engaging Adult Learners. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 8(12), 53–56.  Kosturko, L. (2015, October 14). Professional Development: Technology’s Key to Success. Getting Smart.  Lynch, J. (2017, June 22). What does research say about active learning? Pearson.  Mayer, Richard E. Applying the Science of Learning. Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2011.  What is Active Learning? (n.d.). Smart Sparrow. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from  Whenham, T. (2020, April 2). 15 active learning activities to energize your next college class. Nureva. 

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Tools for Analyzing Formative Assessments

Have you ever considered the amount of time it takes to hand out, collect, grade, and analyze formative assessments and then use results to meaningfully plan for daily math lessons? I know this is one of those pieces of teaching that I don’t exactly look forward to. It is exhausting to plan time for exit tickets and then grade them DAILY in order to have information to help guide your next day of instruction. I have been pondering this task for a while now, and it has led me to questioning my methods of formative assessment surrounding math.  Using ISTE Educator Standard 5: Design, and ISTE Educator Standard 7: Analyst, I came up with a guiding question to help lead me on my quest for a digital tool that can help me design, and analyze my students’ formative assessments in a meaningful way, with a quicker pace.  “What digital tools can I use to quickly assess math understanding while also allowing for self-assessment?” Let’s lead with the standards: While searching, I found 3 great tools that all serve slightly different purposes.  Edulastic  Edulastic is a great tool that helps give a more formal formative (or summative) assessment. My favorite part of this tool is that it has an abundance of pre-made assessments that are matched to curriculum and standards. My district uses Eureka for math curriculum, and there are pre-loaded tests for every topic, mid-module assessments, and end of module assessments for every grade and every module. Also, the majority of assessments are graded by themselves (the more extended problems have a small piece that need to be graded by the teacher). This tool is wonderful! It even creates color-coded pie charts representing the students who were below standard, near standard, and met standard.  While Edulastic is amazing for more formal assessing matters, it wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for when searching for a tool to help with the day-to-day exit ticket matter… my search continues! Flubaroo  The next tool I wanted to learn more about was Flubaroo. This is a free extension that you add to Chrome. You can create self graded tests made on Google Forms and help formatting for assessments as well. I have had great success with Flubaroo on creating templates for my students, along with creating student info sheets that have been taken by parents on Google Forms and then reformatted to a Google Doc in a more user-friendly model. Flubaroo is a fantastic tool, and I know that the practical uses for education are abundant.  To use Flubaroo, you must have all students (or whomever your users are) complete their Google Form prior to submitting a template and using the Google Sheet data. Looking for more great info on Flubaroo? Here is a how-to link for all things Flubaroo: here. While this may not be a con for your usage, I am looking for a tool that immediately gives me feedback.  I continued to search for a tool that could give me immediate formative assessment data and it led me next to Socrative.  Socrative Socrative has a free version and a pro-version. I focused on the free version. On the non-paid version there are 4 main features: Quiz, Space Race, Exit Ticket, and Quick Question.  Using “Quiz” you can either create a new quiz or import a quiz using a shared code that another user has created. These can be organized by folder, and can be as long as you please.  On “Space Race” you can use a quiz, with altered settings, to use on space race. Here is a great video that shows you the steps to launch a space race and then also shows you the student display. Here’s the video: Next, “Exit Ticket”, which to my knowledge is a pre-formatted set of 3 questions. The first asking how well you understood the material in that day’s lesson. The second asking what you learned, and enabling a short answer response ability. And the last question, “Please answer the teacher’s question”.  The last option, “Quick Question”. Here you can set up a multiple choice, true/false, or short answer response for students. For the free version, it shows you results immediately, however you cannot change the options on the tool (you would have to display it for the students using a different tool, or writing the question and answer on the board).  I am most interested in Socrative for my daily formative assessment tool. I can see myself using the quick question tool throughout the lesson (even outside of a math lesson) to gauge a quick understanding, while using the exit ticket function for students to self assess. I would use that last question opportunity to add a problem to the board for students to solve and respond using Socrative. This would help me to immediately have them give me a rating of understanding for the lesson, a short answer for them to explain in words what they felt they learned about that day, and also an immediate response to a problem.  While Socrative may not be useful for teachers who would like a more in-depth, self grading quiz, or an assessment that has been pre-loaded and matched to standards, it is perfect for a quick check-in with students.  I would love to hear what you use for your formative assessments and quick student assessments! Comment below! References AMLE – Association for Middle Level Education. (n.d.). 8 Digital Formative Assessment Tools to Improve Motivation. Retrieved from Davis, V. (2017, May 8). Fantastic, Fast Formative Assessment Tools. Retrieved from Flubaroo Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2020, from Free Formative Assessment Tools for Teachers. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2020, from K-12. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2020, from Top Tech Tools for Formative Assessment. (2020, January 30). Retrieved from

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Googling to the Max

Tell any student you’re going to teach them how to use Google and they will tune you out immediately. Everyone knows how to “Google” [insert a student’s exaggerated eye roll here]. They might have a point, “Googling” has become so synonymous with basic web searching that it has become a verb:

I am here to argue that “googling” is not as intuitive as our students (or society) might think. At least, not highly effective searching. I have been teaching colleagues and students some helpful tips for the last several years and I am also excited to see how in awe they are of these few simple tricks that are not commonly known. If you were to do a basic search of “Google Search Tips” you will find a plethora of articles and posts, but these are a few of my favorites:

Download (PDF, 317KB)

Try to model some of these treasures with your students and they may have a new appreciation for your superb “Googling” skills. I must note that while I have long been using the term “Googling to the Max” for this presentation, it seems there are several others that use this title, as well. I created the … Read More

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EDTC 6105: ISTE Coaching Standard 4b: Utilizing Technology for PD

ISTE Coaching Standard 4 provides three benchmarks for technology coaches to conduct needs assessments, develop technology-related professional learning programs and evaluate the impact on instructional practice and student learning. My focus is on per…

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EDTC 6105: ISTE Coaching Standards 2f: Visionary Leadership & 6 b&c: Content Knowledge and Professional Growth

ISTE Coaching Standard 2 provides eight benchmarks for technology coaches to assist teachers in using technology effectively for assessing student learning, differentiating instruction, and providing rigorous, relevant and engaging learning experiences for all students. My focus is on benchmark f: Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional

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EDTC 6104: Conference Proposal – Integrating Digital Citizenship: It’s Common Sense!

This quarter, for my Seattle Pacific Digital Education Leadership Master’s Degree coursework, I was asked to develop a proposal for a session or workshop at a professional learning event. I was given free choice for both topic and learning event. It did not take long for me to settle on a topic:

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EDTC 6104: ISTE Coaching Standard 3 e & g – Digital Age Learning Environments

ISTE Coaching Standard 3 provides seven benchmarks for creating and supporting effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students. My focus is on benchmarks e & g:

e. Troubleshoot basic software, hardware, and connectivity problems common in digital learning environments

g. Use digital

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Certification Program Redesign: Needs Assessment


One of the biggest takeaways from my time in the Digital Education Leadership program through Seattle Pacific University is that teachers are students, too. When diving into effective mentoring and professional development, some of the most successful strategies are those that are also used in the classroom. Many back-to-school workshops remind teachers to get to know their students and provide differentiation in every learning experience. In other words, providing learners (adults included) with a pre-assessment (formal or informal) to determine where they are in order to reach where they need to be.

Edutopia has a great article and video that touches on the importance of assessment before learning even begins:

In an earlier post, I wrote about my journey in reviewing and redesigning a university’s Library Media Endorsement (LME) certification program. Here, I continue that work by drafting a Needs Assessment survey for potential students. As I mentioned in my last post, the program is not yet finalized, so I am omitting the name of the institution and it will henceforth be identified as “University.”

Before writing the Needs Assessment survey, I did a bit of background research, attempting to see how other schools have assessed their incoming … Read More

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Certification Program Redesign: Program Evaluation


When I talk to people about the Digital Education Leadership program through Seattle Pacific University, I often end up saying, “Well, there’s homework, but it’s not really homework. I do work, but it’s directly related to my responsibilities as a librarian and an educator. So, it’s homework but it’s not really homework. It’s bigger than that. It has more significance than ‘homework.’” While this has been proven throughout the duration of the program, it couldn’t have been more true than when I was offered the opportunity to redesign a Library Media Endorsement certification program… As part of my “homework.”

My classmates and I were recently tasked with conducting a program evaluation. Students learned “how to conduct needs assessments, develop technology-related professional learning programs,  evaluate the impact on instructional practice and student learning, and communicate findings to the institution” (Course syllabus). Dr. David Wicks, Chair of the Digital Education Leadership program, came to me with a wonderful opportunity to redesign a university’s Library Media Endorsement (LME) certification program. Because the program is not yet finalized, I am omitting the name of the institution and it will henceforth be identified as “University.”

Program Evaluation

The project was designed to evaluate … Read More

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The Makings of a Successful Professional Development Program

This quarter in the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University I am focused on the fourth standard of the ISTE Coaching Standards, Professional Development and Program Evaluation:

Technology coaches conduct needs assessments, develop technology-related professional learning programs, and evaluate the impact on instructional practice and student learning.

Over the last several weeks, my classmates and I have learned how to implement a successful professional development program and I have identified the following elements as being most useful when evaluating a professional development program:

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Sadly, professional development is generally “something that is ‘done’ to teachers” (Pilar, 2014). Teachers need opportunities to explore their own interests and venture into those topics at a personalized level that works for their individual learning styles. In a study conducted by the Center for Professional Education, it was found that “90% of teachers reported participating in some form of professional development, and they also reported that it was not helpful in their practice. Thus, professional development is happening, but it is not effective” (Blattner, 2015). Imagine a place where teachers drive their learning by expressing their interests, learning at their own pace, implementing their discoveries and reflecting on their current and future practices. … Read More

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