The Power of a Podcast

Ever wonder what it would be like if sharks had legs?  How about if it was possible to teach science through silly songs?  Or where you can hear music from the Jelly of the Month Club and the Boogers?  Then you need to check out podcasts. From exploring little-known moments in history to discussing questions like “Is it okay to fight bullies?”, podcasts will get you thinking, laughing, and questioning. Why podcasts should be a part of every classroom: Podcasts are a great way to give students voice and empower them to creatively share what they’re learning about. They can become a summative performance task for virtually every subject. For example, students can use podcasts to publish their narrative writing stories or explain a hypothesis they tested in science. Or their podcast can connect with social studies standards as students work in small groups to bring to life a moment in history and then explain the cause and effect. Not only can podcasts connect to learning standards, but they are also a great way to build a classroom community and help students practice being part of a team. Consider starting a classroom podcast where students co-author episodes synthesizing what they are learning into bite-size audio segments or have students discuss social topics such as “Is it ever okay to cheat?” or “What is safe information to share online?” By assigning different roles to your students such as hosts, producers, editors, recording technicians, etc. everyone can participate.  I think podcasts are so alluring because they give students an authentic audience. Matt Miller, the well-known author of Ditch That Textbook, comments that sometimes students do not produce their best work when they know their teacher will be the only person who views it. Podcasts give our students a real audience from all over the world. “What if they (our students) knew that people they knew – and people they’d never meet – were benefitting from their work? (Miller, 2018). They would be more motivated to do their very best. However, before posting student work it is always wise to check what your school’s student privacy policies are.  Podcasts are a powerful tool to use in our classroom to foster 21st-century skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. “Our world is craving smart, responsible problem solvers and critical thinkers” (Miller, 2018). Matt Miller (2018) argues that we’re missing a piece of the puzzle if we raise children who can problem solve but can’t articulate their vision. We need to spend the time NOW helping our students develop their communication skills. Podcasts are a great opportunity to do just that. The New York Times (2020) also emphasizes podcasts “offer an engaging way for teachers to merge project-based learning with digital media analysis and production skills.” They also provide students with the chance to work on their computational thinking skills. They can work on decomposition by breaking down their podcasts into smaller audio segments to record, edit, or rearrange. They also will use abstraction when writing their scripts and determining what information is needed and what is not. I hope you can see why podcasts are worth your time.  They…  Give students voice and an authentic audience Encourage creativity, collaborating, critical thinking and communication  Empower students to demonstrate learning in a creative way Foster classroom community  Help students develop digital literacy skills  Critical Questions: Some teachers might worry that creating podcasts are too much work and will take up too much classroom time to produce. If you’re feeling that way I would encourage you to check out Anchor, a podcasting recording app below. The app was super easy- even kindergarteners could do it. Plus, remember that you’re giving up classroom time to teach your students other skills and concepts besides just the academic standards – such as being a good teammate and effectively communicating ideas. Those skills are needed to be successful in any job. They are worth our time and our students need guidance in those areas too.  I also wondered if kids would be engaged? Will they be excited and motivated to make podcasts? Our students are stimulated by screens all day long, so I questioned how they would feel about auditory learning and production. I say try it out and see! Every year you have different students with varying interests. One year the kids might not take to it, and the next year it could be a home-run!  I personally think a change in scenery would do them good. Perhaps by exposing them to podcasts written for children it will peak their interests and get their creative juices flowing (see the end of the blog post for recommended podcasts). Recording Tools: So you’re now excited to try podcasting in your classroom, but where do you begin? When looking online, I found a variety of options for recording podcasts. Below are reviews of my top 3.  Anchor  Created by Spotify. Free mobile app or web tool.  An account is needed to create podcast episodes. You can collaborate with others at the same time or people can send voice messages for you to include in your podcast. Anchor has user-friendly tools that allow you to trim segments and also add transitions, sound effects, and background music. There are no storage limits – that means unlimited student projects! Podcasts can be published to multiple platforms, such as iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and more.  It is important to note that the terms of use for Anchor are 13+. So younger students will need to be supervised by a teacher.  Another thing teachers should know is that there is a wide variety of content on the Anchor app of other podcasts that have been produced by people around the world. Some of these episodes are inappropriate for the classroom. It is easy to record without listening to other shows, but these boundaries should be explained to the kids.  Sound Trap  “Soundtrap is an online, collaborative music workstation that can edit and record vocals and instruments” (NPR, 2020).  Soundtrap is also a great platform for creating podcasts as well. Sound Trap is web-based so there is no installation required. Soundtrap for Education was specifically created for teachers. It allows educators to integrate Soundtrap with the LMS of their choice, create and distribute assignments, and view student projects. Student projects are saved to the cloud which allows students to access their work from different devices or at home. Sound Trap gives students more in-depth audio recording and editing capabilities but is easy to learn on their user-friendly platform. One great capability of Sound Trap is that they will generate a transcription of your podcast. By editing the text, it will also edit the audio. It’s a quick and easy way to delete parts you don’t need or rearrange your recorded audio. The transcripts are published with the podcast which is a great feature for schools so that we can be equitable and support all learners.  They also have a large database of sound effects and background music to choose from.  Another great feature is that Sound Trap is designed for people to collaborate from around the world. Invite people to join your recording session by sending a link- they do not need their own sound trap account.  Podcasts are published to Spotify. First 90 days free for teachers! Soundtrap’s Youtube account has quick tutorial videos for music and podcast creation. Audacity  A free and popular recording and editing tool. You will need to download the software onto your laptop. Audacity allows audio recording and editing on your laptop (Windows and Mac users). With Audacity, students can record directly with their laptop’s microphone or use an external one.  Audacity has basic tools for beginners but also more advanced features for those students who have some experience creating podcasts.  You can export files in various formats However, I did not find it as user-friendly or visually appealing as Anchor or Sound Trap. I think students would need to watch tutorial videos like this one, or be trained on the software before using it.  Podcasts For Kids: Before sitting down to create podcasts with your students, I encourage you to check out some examples from the links below. There are so many creative, whacky, and thought-provoking podcasts out there for kids. By listening, students can study common characteristics and also determine what styles they want to recreate. Other Resources For Teachers: NPR’s Teaching Podcasting: Curriculum Guide NPR’s Podcast Guide for Students  I’d love to hear how you have used podcasts in your classroom. What is your favorite platform or tool? Comment below! Resources Anchor. (2018, August 16). Anchor: The Easiest Way to Start a Podcast [Video]. YouTube. Common Sense Education. (n. d.). 10 Must-Listen Podcasts for Tweens and Teens. Common Sense Education. Retrieved from  Retrieved from  Common Sense Education. (n. d.). Best Podcast Apps and Websites for Students. Common Sense Education. Retrieved from Fatherly. (2020, April 23). The Best Podcasts for Kids That Adults Will Like Too. Fatherly. Retrieved from Gonchar, M., Hicks, J., & Winnick, L. (2020, April 14). Project Audio: Teaching Students How to Produce Their Own Podcasts. NY Times. Retrieved from Kokias, M. (n. d.). 26 Best Podcasts for Students in Elementary, Middle, and High School. We Are Teachers. Retrieved from  Miller, M. (2018, February 28). Why your students need a podcast: How to do it fast and free. Ditch That Textbook. Retrieved from NPR. (2020, February 21). A Studio At Your Fingertips: 5 Apps Teachers Are Using To Make Student Podcasts. NPR. Retreived from  Soundtrap for Education. (2019, May 14). Storytelling in your classroom with Soundtrap [Video]. YouTube.  Transverse Audio. (2018, April 11). How To Use Audacity For Beginners (2018) – V 2.1.2 [Video]. YouTube.

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The C’s of Distance Learning

Exploring Best Practices This worldwide pandemic has pushed millions of teachers and students into the realm of distance learning. While the concept of distance learning is not new, it is for many of us and it offers a new set of challenges that differ from classroom instruction. So today I would like to explore the question together: What are best practices of distance learning? My principal has asked me to lead a professional development session on this very topic. And my first thought was “Me? I don’t feel equipped.” I wouldn’t want to stand and lecture as the “expert”- I am by no means the expert on distance learning. So similar to a student-centric classroom, my plan is to facilitate a conversation with our staff. That way teachers can share their own successes and challenges, research various perspectives together, brainstorm solutions, and walk away excited to try something new. So I invite YOU today to be part of the conversation. I would love to hear what you have learned so far as you have transitioned to a distance learning environment. We are stronger together. Communication We must communicate clearly, consistently, and with a common channel. If we use too many platforms (email, class website, shared google doc, texts via Remind, etc.) we will confuse our students and parents and things will start falling through the cracks. Therefore, it would be beneficial for your school’s leadership team to decide on teacher expectations for how to communicate (i.e. will everyone use Microsoft Teams or Google classroom) and how often they are expected to communicate with students and parents (having scheduled class times or office hours to answer questions). Having expectations for staff will help streamline the process of distance learning for families with multiple kids. In addition, the uniformity of platforms will help the technology department support teachers and will hopefully give teachers enough direction for them to feel comfortable and confident in moving forward. There are two types of communication: asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous: people can access and join in the conversation whenever it is convenient. Teachers can give directions, share announcements, or post pre-recorded lessons via email or their current Learning Management System (LMS). Likewise, students and parents know how to reach out to the teacher if they have any questions or concerns. Synchronous: people are together in a virtual space chatting at the same time. The benefits of synchronous conversation are being able to have an open dialogue, students can participate and ask timely questions, teachers can gauge understanding and correct misconceptions, and classroom community can more quickly be built. This can be done via text-based conversations or online video conferencing. Text-Based ConversationsLearning Management Systems (LMS) have built-in ways to have secure and ongoing conversations with your students. Whether your school uses Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, or a different LMS like Schoology or Blackboard, teachers can use these platforms to communicate with students in an online discussion board. Another alternative option to consider is using YoTeach to have a backchannel discussion with your class or small group. Video conferencingBecause of Covid19, many video conferencing tools have been made available to schools. Some of the most common are Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, and Microsoft Teams. While each platform has small differences and pitfalls, they each do a nice job of bringing people together. However, it is important you seek permission from your principal and/or district before using any of these tools since they may violate your school’s privacy policies. I think it would be beneficial to teach video conferencing expectations and etiquette to your students since this is likely a new experience for them. The following poster can be used to set expectations with older students. There are a lot of other resources out there on video conferencing etiquette. Here are a few you might find helpful. Instructional YouTube video for younger students Zoom etiquette guide to share with families Zoom checklist for primary grades Teaching audience etiquette to older elementary students How have you taught expectations and etiquette to your students?  What forms of communication have been the most successful for you?  Community and Belonging Experienced teachers have an arsenal of ice-breakers and get to know you games to do at the beginning of the school year to help build community. However, how does one go about establishing a community online? I think teachers should treat the shift to distance learning like you would the beginning of the school year. Take the time to establish relationships and routines before digging deep into learning. Here are a couple of suggestions on how to establish a community of learners and help everyone feel like they belong. Together create a digital community agreement. This could be especially effective with older students as they brainstorm together a set of shared norms such as agreeing to attend synchronous events or how to give constructive feedback to one another. With little kids, it can be beneficial to go over do’s and don’ts of online learning. For example, do not talk over each other during the classroom Zoom call. By taking the time to discuss and agree on how to act online it will pave the way to a smoother online experience.  Get to know each other and establish trusting relationships. Take time to do “Show and Tell” with your primary students or have older children answer ice breaker questions such as “What are you most proud of?” or “What are your highs and lows of last week?” By taking the time to connect and listen, students build empathy towards each other and a sense of belonging. I would encourage teachers to participate as well.  Encourage students to work together. Set up a group discussion feed for students to be able to talk and ask each other questions. Or have students become the teachers and have them show how they solved a math problem via video and post it on the class page. Lastly, design assignments that partner students together to view each other’s work and give feedback.  How have you created community online?  Creating One way we can empower our students during distance learning is by giving them a choice in how they demonstrate their knowledge. Allowing them choice gives them autonomy and control over their learning and encourages them to be creative and critical thinkers. The technology options out there are endless, so try and rotate through tech options that meet diverse learner preferences or create a choice menu for students to choose from (if you’ve never heard of choice menus before check out John Spencer’s blog).  Tech tools that connect to learning preferences A couple items to keep in mind: When choosing apps or creation-tools consider which ones are user and kid-friendly. If you have a hard time learning how to navigate it, your kids will too! You need to keep things simple since you won’t be able to walk them through how to use the app face-to-face.  Remember pedagogy first, technology second. We don’t want to get wrapped up in the use of technology and forget what matters. Carefully test and select tools that will help students demonstrate their mastery of learning goals. Or skip the technology altogether and use other creative ways students can show their learning (posters, sketches, 3-d models, etc.) If you are a teacher who doesn’t feel confident with your digital literacy, try and master one or two new tech tools to start off with. Don’t try and tackle all the coolest latest apps. Work on developing your tech skills at your own pace and take pride in your growth. How do you give students autonomy and choice in their learning?  How do you give your students the opportunity to be creative? What are your favorite tech tools? Collaboration and Connecting Students have been thrust into distance learning (just like us) and are missing the opportunity to socialize and work with others. No longer can they turn and talk to a partner or work in a group to solve a problem. Imagine how hard this is for our extroverted kids who thrive off of social interactions, or the kid who academically struggles and therefore benefits from the support that comes from learning alongside his or her peers.  I would challenge you to try and still give them opportunities to work with others:  To brainstorm and bounce ideas off of each other  To explain and justify their thinking To give each other constructive feedback To collaborate on a project We can also add more authenticity to their work by connecting with other classrooms in order to give them a range of audiences. Find classes to work with by networking on Twitter or Facebook. Also, try your best to connect one-on-one with your students. I’ve heard that this personal connection can be a game-changer. Consider choosing one or two modes of communication (email, video messages, comments on shared documents, etc.) and stick to them. You could also hand-write cards or invite small groups to have lunch with you via video-conferencing. How can you give students the opportunity to work together? Are there collaborative websites or apps that you have used and liked?  How have you fostered your personal relationship with students? What impact has it had?  Content Several BIG questions have surfaced for me in regards to how we teach via distance learning. As I started to research and dig deeper I realized that this blog post was turning into a novel. Therefore, I think I will save the “Content” portion for another post. That way I can give myself the time and space to research these questions more thoroughly. Please look over the questions below, digest them, and let me know your thoughts.  How do we effectively teach via distance learning? What changes do we need to make to our lessons, delivery, and assessments compared to how we normally teach?  What are different ways we can deliver our lessons (i.e. video, audio, readings, interactive experiences such as NearPod)? How do we differentiate for our diverse learners? How do we meet the needs of our students with IEPs/504 plans? How can we include trauma-informed practices that support students during a crisis? How can we include Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons into our instruction? General Tips To close I thought I would share some tips Jennifer Gonzalez talks about in her popular blog Cult of Pedagogy: Keep home responsibilities in mind. Be flexible with deadlines and show extra grace knowing that this is a big transition for families as they work out a new routine that balances learning, physical exercise, chores, and parents still themselves working. Especially if they are juggling multiple kid’s schoolwork and synchronous events. Less is more.  Prioritize social interactions. You don’t have to use 100% of your time for teaching. Allowing students the time and place to share about their feelings, laugh together, and just interact with their peers can be much more valuable for their emotional and mental health than learning how to count to 5 or identify a paragraph’s main idea. We need to keep in mind the mental and emotional toll large-scale social isolation is having on us all and know those other academic skills will come with time.  Keep. Things. Simple. Limit the platforms you are using for distributing information and keep messages to a minimum. “Give parents and students one place to look for all important information, and that “place” will be clean, simple, easy to navigate, and updated regularly so everyone can count on the information being current (Gonzalez, 2020). I feel like we’ve just started to uncover the tip of the iceberg as we try and answer the question “What are best practices for distance learning?”. I strongly believe we need to focus on communication, community, giving students autonomy with choice, collaboration, and of course content. There is not a one-size-fits-all or correct way to do distance learning. Educators will have to thoughtfully, by trial and error, design a system that works for them and their students. And above all…

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Should I Join the Maker Movement?

And the Learning Sciences Behind Them What is a MakerSpace? Makerspaces have been a hot fad in the educational world for the past couple of years. What are they all about and are they worth our time and money? What do the learning sciences tell us about makerspaces? Jennifer Gonzalez, the author of the popular blog Cult of Pedagogy, interviewed John Spencer on his expertise in makerspaces. Spencer has co-authored two books, Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student, and Empower: What Happens When Students Own their Learning. When asked to explain what a makerspace was Spencer (2018) said: I see a makerspace as simply a space designed and dedicated to hands-on creativity and the key thing here is they’re actually making something. Creativity is sometimes idea generation, it’s sometimes problem-solving. But (in) a makerspace, you’re actually going to create some kind of product. John Spencer He goes on to explain it could be a digital product (green screen video, coding algorithm, iMovie, etc.) or a physical product which could be as broad as using cardboard and duct tape, to 3-d printing a design. Spencer also notes that makerspaces can look very different from classroom to classroom or school to school. Sometimes schools set up a defined makerspace area with the tools and materials students need. Or perhaps the school has a roving makerspace cart. Othertimes classroom teachers will set up their own “tinker” area in their classrooms. There is no one right way to do makerspaces – the emphasis should be on allowing students the opportunity to create.  The Neuroscience Behind Makerspaces What’s Happening In Our Brains When We Learn Brain research has shown us that when we acquire new information there is an actual change in the makeup of our brains. We have billions of neurons that add new pathways when we learn. According to The Science of Learning Part 2: How the Brain Learns, these pathways, or dendrites, are strengthened by repeated use by developing a thick fatty coating (Envision, 2015). The thicker the dendrite, the faster it passes signals in your brain. And your existing dendrites can grow more dendrites, just like a tree sprouting twigs from an existing branch (Envision, 2015). You may have heard the phrase: “The neurons that fire together, wire together.” This means that the more you activate and use those neurons, the stronger they will become. Just like when learning to play an instrument or riding a bike. It’s hard at first, but the more you practice the easier it gets. This scientifically proves that “practice makes perfect”! (Envision, 2015).  Learning Through Play The front part of the brain is called the prefrontal cortex and is responsible for executive function.  Like we discussed above, the neurons here are strengthened by repeated use. In an article titled The Brain Science of Making, Conn McQuinn explains that when children have unstructured playtime they can practice making decisions, testing hypotheses, evaluating results, and using other types of executive function skills (2018). McQuinn states that if we over-structure children’s lives and school experiences they lose the opportunity to learn how to self-direct (2018). This is why makerspaces are so important. They can have self-directed exploration and discovery. They can learn from their mistakes and express themselves creatively. By allowing them to tinker they can develop important executive function skills.  Hands-On Learning is Essential Your brain thinks your hands are the most important part of your body. When explaining the picture below, McQuinn (2018) states:  This little critter is called the homunculus. It is a physical representation of how many motor neurons you have in your brain for different body parts. When you see how gigantic the hands are, it tells us that as far as our brain is concerned they are by far the most important part of our body. Conn McQuinn No wonder students love to explore, play, and create things with their hands. A makerspace is the perfect place for students to design, build, test, and modify their own creations.  Learning Should Be Fun The hippocampus is a special part of your brain that helps form long-term memories. It is part of the larger limbic system which controls your emotions. “This is a critical point because it underscores that learning and memory formation are emotional events” (McQuinn, 2018). The take away: learning should be fun! Neuroscience shows us that students will learn better if they are having a good time, and what better way to do that then allows our students to experiment, tinker, and play in a makerspace. Having a Growth Mindset “I love making mistakes!” – said no one ever Makerspaces are centered on learning from your mistakes. During my time teaching, I noticed that students these days don’t like to fail. In fact, they avoid failure at all costs and immediately ask for help when they reach a roadblock. I frequently complained to my colleagues that my students were SO needy! Makerspaces provide a safe environment where we can encourage our students to experiment and make mistakes. We can teach what it means to have a growth mindset and how to “fail forward” – the idea that we can learn from our failures and use that knowledge to try out another solution. Teachers can even join in the fun, get their hands dirty, create something new, and model what it looks like to make mistakes and learn from them.  Hopefully, by now you can see how valuable a makerspace can be. “They align powerfully with what neuroscience tells us about how the brain works!” (McQuinn, 2018). If you are interested in setting up your own makerspace or levying for one at your school, check out these resources below. How to Get Started Starting a School Makerspace from Scratch  What is the Point of a Makerspace? Makerspace Master Course by John Spencer Create a Makerspace in a Week  The Kickstart Guide to Making GREAT Makerspaces Check Out These Awesome Makerspaces In Action! Lindsey Own (@Lindseyown) at @EvergreenBIGLab Krissy Venosdate (@krissyvenosdale) Project Makerspace (@ProjMakerspace) at ML Public Library Makerspace 3D Printing and Makerspaces One tool you will want to consider having in your makerspace is a 3D printer. It is a great tool that allows students to design, problem-solve, and end up with a product to show for their hard work.  What is a 3D Printer and How Does It Work?  Here’s another video to watch with your elementary school kids if you’re wanting to teach them about 3D printing 3D objects are created by a process called additive manufacturing, where the material is laid down layer by layer to create a larger design In order to know what to print, you must give the 3D printer a plan or graphic model to follow. These designs can be created by using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software. There are various free online CAD platforms that are easy for beginners to use, such as TinkerCAD and Sketchup (McFadden, 2019). What Materials Would You Need to 3D Print? 3D printer CAD design software Filament, a.ka. printing material. Two common filaments are Polylactic Acid (PLA) which is made from a variety of natural sources including sugar, corn starch, or sugar cane. It is biodegradable and safe to breathe in. Another frequently used filament for 3-d printing is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) which is oil-based. It is extremely strong and is used to make a lot of children’s toys. You can buy both of these filaments on Amazon (3D Insider, chapter 6).  Why You Should Consider Having a 3D Printer In Your Makerspace Students can go straight from concept ideas or digital models to 3D printed models Students can solve real-world problems with their designs  It is a great way to work through the design process with your students  Helps develop creative and critical thinking skills It gives your students the opportunity to be innovative   Challenges To Consider The learning curve can be steep when using CAD software or a 3D printer,  but don’t let that scare you off. It’s a great opportunity to learn alongside your students and model having a growth mindset.  Do your research and buy the right printer. There are a lot out there to choose from and you want to find the right fit. If possible, find someone who has experience 3D printing at your school so they can walk you through the process and give you tips and tricks. Be prepared to frequently troubleshoot problems when learning. Think about sustainability. Before buying this piece of technology, think through how your school will be able to afford the upkeep and cost of supplies.  Use your printer with purpose. Carefully integrate the use of the 3D printer with your current curriculum. The learning sciences show us that students learn better when there is a connection with the real world and they can demonstrate their knowledge in a practical way. Resources 3D Insider. (n.d.). Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing. Retrieved from Gonzalez, J. (2018, May 20).What Is the Point of a Makerspace? Cult of Pedagogy. Retrieved from Graves, C. (2015, July 16). Starting a School Makerspace From Scratch. Edutopia. Retrieved from  Lynch, M. (2019, June 27). What Teachers Must Know About the Neuroscience of Edtech Learning. Retrieved from  Mashable. (2014, May 8). What Is 3D Printing and How Does It Work? | Mashable Explains [Video]. YouTube. McFadden, C. (2019, November 23). How Exactly Does 3D Printing Work? Interesting Engineering. Retrieved from McQuinn, C. (2018, September 25). The Brain Science of Making. Retrieved from  National Geographic Kids. (2018, November 5). How 3D Printers Work | How Things Work with Kamri Noel [Video]. YouTube.  The Science of Learning Part 2: How the Brain Learns. (2015, September 15th). Envision. Retrieved from

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Scoping out Skype

A collaborative tool that gives students authentic, real-world learning experiences.

Our world is smaller than ever. No longer are we limited by geography, our social-economic status, or level of education. With the advancement of technology we now…

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Community Engagement Project: Understanding by Design Model

This quarter as part of Seattle Pacific University’s MEd in Digital Education Leadership, our cohort practiced using the Understanding by …

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MasterTrack – looking closely at Math Data

In my school, we have started to use a program called MasterTrack. At the beginning of the year, over the course of two weeks, I gave students the benchmark tests to see where they were at with grade level standards.  Next, I took the data, entered it in to MasterTrack and quickly saw where students …

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