Monday, March 30, 2015

Week 26 #Nerdycast Reflections

This week I really spent time in the Maker's Lounge talking to students and explaining the purpose behind the space. The concept of an open space where the students can create and design things they want that do not have to be connected to school was a very foreign concept to them. All of this is going to turn into a much longer post, but my reflection for this week was on the space overall. I might be sounding like a bit of a broken record when talking about this space, but I'm seeing the impact it can have on students and that is really making an impact on me. Ideas are just ideas until you see them in action and that is what is happening with our space. I also would not be able to do this without the support and help with our librarian. She has been an awesome teammate throughout the whole process and has been a great example of the value that TLs have in schools. Here is my reflection. Feel free to leave comments.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

#NerdyCast S3E3 - @8Amber8 Talks Being an Admin

Another great podcast this week featuring an excellent administrator. She shares what it is like to work on relationships with teachers in the building and the value of creating an environment where teachers feel comfortable sharing ideas and trying new things. This is a great conversation to listen to if you have always wondered what is going on in an admin's head.

You can find all of these podcasts on iTunes or on my Podcasting site. If you want to leave a review on these sites, that would be most appreciated.

Thanks for listening and feel free to leave any feedback on potential guests in the future.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The @BlackboardK12 BITS Learning Sessions #27 #BbK12Live

The @BlackboardK12 BITS Learning Sessions #27 #BbK12Live

I've partnered with BlackboardK12 to share out the awesome sessions they are having this Fall. Educators can sign up to attend and share with other great educators what they have learned. I'll featurae the session and the description on my blog each week and on my Twitter account. If you have questions, feel free to shoot a tweet to @BlackboardK12. Have fun learning and sharing!

Kicking Down the Doors of Online Learning: Collaboration Among Teachers

When teachers teach, Collaboration between teachers is by far the best way to make sure that students are receiving the best possible instruction. This collaboration is Two fold. Teachers and Teachers leaders should not only be sharing their best practices in online learning but they should be giving away the best WAYS to share online in online teaching communities. Teachers need to kick down the doors of online education classrooms. Amazing things are happening in classrooms all over the internet, and its time to pull back the curtains and give away the secrets. However, its not enough to just give away whats going on in the online classroom--we need to also shed some light on the best ways to share those secrets. By using online communities and e-learning communities teachers can find new ways to reach students. In this presentation, I will use examples from the medical model (the ways that physicians look at collaborations) to show how teachers can fully leverage the power of collaboration and teaching.

James Bell, Professional Learning Coordinator/Non Public Division Coordinator

Twitter: @

Monday, March 30, 2015 3:30 PM EST

Sign Up

Don't forget to check out the Blackboard Live App. It has all of the sessions you might have missed and much much more.
 Here is the playlist where you can watch this recorded session and other sessions you might have missed.

Student Selected Learning Objectives with @PollEverywhereand @PostItProducts

I've been thinking about my learning objectives lately. I'm going for the Highly Effective rating this year for my evaluation. I've been doing very well in many of the categories, but there are some that I still needed to enhance. One of those areas is the role of students in my classroom. I'm a big advocate for student choice (20 Time), but I needed to think of other places I could let students have a voice. Learning objectives seemed like a good place.

Traditionally, I decide the focus of each lesson and unit and how the students are going to approach a certain piece of literature. I post that at the start of class on Evernote and share it with students at the start of class. I feel this is a pretty standard approach to setting up a lesson for many teachers. Having students select the learning objective turned out to be much easier than I thought it would be.

We were starting our Emily Dickinson unit and I wanted my students to do some research on her life. I gave the students 8 parts of her life to explore (Childhood, Education, Religion, Health, Relationships (Family and Social), Adult Life, Writing Career, and Death). Students split these ares up with others at the table and spent the class period doing research. They were to come to class the next day and share their findings. 

On the next day, students were instructed to discuss their findings and decide on what they thought were the 5 most influential events in Emily Dickinson's life. They were to place these 5 events on Post-It Notes provided on their desks. 

The students discussed their research and started to write out their thoughts on the top 5 events. Once they were done, they had to place them on the dry-erase board. I set up the board with 5 slots that matched the color of the Post-it® Notes they were given. It was so nice to be able to color code the information using the notes. Also, I got the extra sticky notes, so the notes could be moved around from desk to wall and all over the wall when we organized.

Once all of the ideas are placed on the board, the class looked at them and discussed them all. I moved them around and grouped them based on shared concepts. Next time, I will have students do this part of the process. It was easier for me, but I think it is better if let them do it. Each class had their own ideas and they explained them in different ways. It made for a more interesting class each time for me instead of leading the same discussion multiple times. This really let the students take the lead and that was the whole point of the exercise.

After the organization of ideas, we went to the voting phase of the learning objective. I numbered each concept the students had grouped the ideas into and created a PollEverywhere so students could vote anonymously from their mobile devices. It was a very quick poll and it only took a few minutes at most. The kids loved having the chance to use their mobile device and have a say in how they were going to learn for this unit.

Each class had different ideas and a different discussion. When the dust settled, different classes chose different learning objectives. While some might view that as more work for me to prepare different class discussions for group of students, it really will not be more work. The students are invested in the class discussion because they have ownership of their learning objective. They will be the ones that are going to lead class discussion because they know exactly how they are going to approach the topic because they chose it. I really see this as a great way to get more students involved in class ownership and look forward to trying out in other units.

Other Use Cases:

Using Poll Everywhere and Post-it® Notes does not have to be confined to the ELA classroom. Their are applications for these great tools in all classes.

Science Classroom: One of the best parts of Science can be guessing. That is what experimenting is all about. Having students look a a problem in class, write down how they think the problem can be solved using Post-it® Notes, and then use Poll Everywhere to choose the best guess is a great way to get students thinking about Science.

Once the students do the experiment, they can get back together and write their ideas down on Post-it® Notes and see if they all understood what just happened. The process can be repeated multiple times for any number of experiments:

Math Classroom: Post-it® Notes are perfect for quick problem solving and sharing. A teacher can place a problem on the board and have students do the work on the Post-it® Notes and run and place them on the board. Students can then review the work and see if the answer matches up.

Students could also use Post-it® Notes and Poll Everywhere as a way to let the teacher know what they want to focus on for the day in class. By writing down the problems they had trouble with or the concepts that they are are still struggling to understand, Poll Everywhere could be used by the class to focus on one area without students feeling embarrassed about not knowing something.

Tools Used:

Poll Everywhere was a great addition to my classroom. I have used it in sessions at conferences, but I have not really used it in the classroom. It was so easy to set up and I the students loved the quick feedback in class. If you do not have an account, sign up and use it with your students when you need to collect some information. They are also really awesome on Twitter, so give them a shout out if you have any questions about using Poll Everywhere in the classroom.

Post-it® Notes have always been a big part of my life. I use them for so many different things, there really isn't time to go over them all. Post-It Notes allowed me to quickly get the information from my students and have them share it with the rest of their table and then place it on the board for easy grouping. The extra sticky notes were perfect and stayed securely to the whiteboard in the back of my room. I think teachers all over use Post-It Notes and there are tons of fun and creative ways to use them in the classroom.

“I am a compensated 3M-sponsored blogger. Opinions are my own and additional products used in the project were selected by me. ” 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Silent Class Discussion With Google Classroom #EngChat

Last week, I was out a couple of days for the MACUL conference and I was challenged by my principal to make sure that learning still takes place while I am out. I am always up for a challenge, so I spent a couple of weeks trying to think of the best way to make sure my students get the most out of the class time while I was out.

I've used bulletin boards, message boards, and other similar tools with students in the past, but I have never had students have a discussion in class using these tools while I was gone. They have always been used for after school work. My idea was to have a silent class discussion. I'm not sure if others have used this term before or if I made it up, but it was an interesting concept. What if students could engage in a full discussion on a topic using iPads and their own personal devices.

The Set Up:

I wanted students to discuss 4 Emily Dickinson poems. The focus on the poems must start with the learning objective they chose at the start of class (Post coming soon), but then they may go off into other areas if they wanted. I created 4 videos that I recorded by using Google Hangouts On Air. I basically invited myself and recorded me reading Emily Dickinson poems while sharing my screen that displayed the poems.

I uploaded each video as a new announcement with the directions.

The students have 49 minute class periods and that would be plenty of time to ready the poems and comment. I sent a Remind text to them in the morning to remind them to bring headphones. I wanted students to listen to the poems and then comment. I also gave them some areas to consider when discussing the poem. What happened next, blew my mind. 

Silent Class Discussion

I really had no idea what was going to happen with the class discussion. I hoped there would be a nice dialogue about the poem and the students would share a few ideas and move on to the next poem. The picture above shows that there were 55 comments on the first post. I have a class of 31 in that hour. When I went through the post, I was happy to see that everyone had a comment and others had multiple. I was actually able to join the conversation during the opening keynote (Sorry George!) and it was great. 

Olivia, who was an absolute rock star while I was gone, responded to my comment earlier in the post and it was as if I was in the class. The posts were filled with such great comments and everyone bounced back and forth with their thoughts on the different poems presented to them. There was a point where I wondered if I was holding students back in class when I'm in the room. Was I holding students back in class? Am I too involved in class discussion?

Another thing that was cool to watch unfold without any suggestion from me was how the students communicated and responded to one another. To make sure everyone knew who they were responding to, the students used @ and the student's name. It would be great if Classroom allowed users to tag others like you can in Facebook, but this method started by the students worked very well. I followed their lead and communicated to students that way when I responded to their questions. These were comments for the first question. I figured things would wind down near the end of class as students wrapped up the discussion. I was way wrong.

The exact time stamps are now gone, but Mary Kate was responding to a previous comment asking about her thoughts on what fire represents. The thing with Mary Kate's last comment is that it took place 20 minutes after my class ended. She was in her next period responding to a comment that was left on 5 minutes before hers. That means the other student was commenting in their next hour. It was amazing! (I do not condone students doing my work in other classes, but it was pretty awesome to see how engaged their were in the discussion.) The conversation was so engaging that students felt the need to finish their thoughts and it did not matter that they were no longer in my class.

The other thing that stands out about this 4th question is the fact that there were over 80 comments on the 4th question. When students might have decided to slow down as the end of class approached, they provided the most feedback on this poem than any of the others. Students were quoting lines from the poem, using facts from websites, and even providing varying definitions to words to support their points. It was so great to see the kids invested in the discussion.

Final Thoughts:

This worked out in the best way possible. The next time I am out of the classroom, I will be using this. I'm annoyed I have not used this earlier in the year. There are still some major steps that Google needs to take with Classroom before it can become an integrated part of my class every day, but this experiment showed me a way to get the most out of it for now.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge #SciChat

I'm excited to share with you the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. This is an amazing science competition for middle school students that targets them in the years, that research indicates, their interest in science begins to fade. The competition encourages students to explore scientific concepts and apply them to everyday life and share their work in creative ways. The winner of the contest will be selected from grades 5-8 from across the country and they will receive $25,000 prize and the title of "America's Top Young Scientist".

2014 Winner Sahil Doshi 
The part of this competition that is really different is that the finalists will be paired with a 3M scientist mentor that will help the students create an innovation that will be presented to judges at the final competition at the 3M Innovation Center in October. It is such a great opportunity for students to work with scientists and explore the world of science and innovation with a great guide. I always believe that it is great to connect students with mentors that can model the skills the students need to acquire. This is a cool addition by 3M to really separate this competition from others out there. 

2014 Finalists
Past Challenge winners have gone on to speak in front of members of Congress, work with the nation's top scientists, participate in the White House Science Fair, meet the President and pursue academic careers in the sciences. These are really great experiences for young students to have that will continue to support their interest in the sciences. We want our students to explore the "real world" and I think Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is a great chance for students to do things they would otherwise not be able to experience. 

Entering the competition is very simple. For students, they need to create a 1-2 minute video sharing the science behind a possible solution to an everyday problem. Once they create their video, the students will then go to and submit their idea. Entries are being accepted now through April 21, 2015. 

Competition Timeline

April 21st – Video Entry Deadline (need to stress this deadline) - Middle school students are asked to create a one to two-minute video communicating the science behind a possible solution for an everyday problem.

June/July - Ten finalists will be announced and have an exclusive opportunity to work directly with a 3M scientist during a summer mentorship program, during which they were challenged to create an innovation which solves a problem in society. State Merit Winners are also announced at this time. 

October: Finalists will demonstrate their scientific innovation and creativity in a series of challenges at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, MN. 

More information on the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter: @DE3MYSC 

3M - a science-based company with a culture of creative collaboration that inspires powerful technologies, making life better.

Discovery Education - the leading provider of curriculum-based digital content.

This is a sponsored post, but that doesn't make this any less of an awesome opportunity for students to explore the amazing world of science!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Week 25 #NerdyCast Reflections - Punched in the Face

This week was a fun and busy week. I didn't even touch on Parent Teacher conferences because of the other cool things that were happening. I broke up a fight, went to my state conference, and my class had the best discussion of the year and I wasn't there. I really need to sit and think about the way I run class discussion. I have always let the kids take the lead, but I guess I need to do even more of it based on how the students responded to using Google Classroom while I was out. Any stories on how you run class discussion would be appreciated as I rethink my practice.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The @BlackboardK12 BITS Learning Sessions #26 #BbK12Live

The @BlackboardK12 BITS Learning Sessions #26 #BbK12Live

I've partnered with BlackboardK12 to share out the awesome sessions they are having this Fall. Educators can sign up to attend and share with other great educators what they have learned. I'll featurae the session and the description on my blog each week and on my Twitter account. If you have questions, feel free to shoot a tweet to @BlackboardK12. Have fun learning and sharing!

Building a Digital District

Our session will focus on the process that Cecil County Public Schools used to implement Blackboard Learn™ in our K-12 school district. In less than two years, we have leveraged the content collection to house our entire curriculum electronically and we have over 4000 students participating in hybrid courses and other blended learning activities. In addition, the majority of our county professional development is delivered through Blackboard Learn™ in an online or a hybrid format. We will show how we did it and examples of courses designed for both students and teachers.

Kyle Rickansrud - Instructional Coordinator for Educational Technology and Media Services

Terry Politi - Technology Instructional Coach

Kyle is in his 8th year as the Coordinator of Educational Technology and is responsible for technology, curriculum, and integration for Cecil County Public Schools

Twitter: @

Monday, March 23, 2015 3:30 PM EST

Sign Up

Don't forget to check out the Blackboard Live App. It has all of the sessions you might have missed and much much more.
 Here is the playlist where you can watch this recorded session and other sessions you might have missed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Poetry and Phineas and Ferb #EngChat

"Poetry Stinks"

That's how I start my Poetry unit with my Freshmen. I know that there are many students that have a nasty view of all poetry. I feel that it is easy to just embrace it and see where it goes. I spend the first half of class asking kids why they do not like poetry and I will agree with them. There are some kids that are poetry fans and I will push back or encourage them to convince me that poetry is important.

After the first half of class, I ask the kids if we can just discuss music instead of doing the poetry unit. Kids tend to get very excited about this and shout out tons of suggestions. I say I've got some options I'd like to play for them. I like to start with "Keep Ya Head Up" or "Changes" by Tupac. I love these songs for their messages and I think they are very poetic. From there, I will play something else that is pretty popular. Taylor Swift or Katy Perry work pretty well. After a few songs, a student will always say that music is poetry.

I will then push those students to prove to me that songs are poetry because that statement is ridiculous. The students proceed to look up the definition of poetry and argue about different songs and whether they meet the criteria established by the definition the agreed. It is a fun debate where students spend time trying to convince me that music is poetry and it always ends with me asking them if they like music, how can they claim to hate poetry? It's a fun moment where the kids really need to think about what they think they know about poetry and how it is ok for them to explore the concept a but more. One student said that music is art and so poetry is art. It is awesome moments like that that make teaching amazing.

As for Phinea and Ferb, I start each class in the poetry unit with a song and we look at the lyrics and discuss the poetic elements found in them. I will let kids select songs and we can look at them as well. For one class, I thought I would post the theme to Phineas and Ferb and play the song for the kids and have them annotate it on the Smartboard.

I snapped this photo and tweeted it out to share what was going on in class that day and I decided to tag the creators in the tweet. I was blown away when they both responded. Here is a response from Dan Povenmire pointing out the rhyme scheme for the first stanza. 

It was so excited to see the response that I immediately screen-captured the response and added it to my SMART amp page so the other classes could see it while we worked on the theme song. The other fun part of using the theme song was that students knew the song and could sing along and try to identify the exact and slant rhymes. It is a fun way to start a class and dive in to more traditional poetry. 

It is so important to keep all type of writing interesting and accessible to students. Playing the Devil's Advocate at the start of the poetry unit and using modern music to spur student interest in poetry is just part of the average teacher's day lesson planning. Feel free to borrow and tweak this for your classroom. Any suggestions you might have for teaching poetry is always appreciated.  


Here I am singing the Phineas and Ferb theme song at ISTE.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Week 24 #NerdyCast Reflections - Suspending Students

In my video for this week, I talk about using music to connect my students with poetic elements and I share my thoughts on suspending students. I do not have an answer to this, but it is making me think about the reason for suspending students and removing them from the classroom. If they are already struggling, how does removing them from the learning environment help them. What if the reason they act out has something to do with their home life and they are now being sent back there for multiple days? I don't have an answer, but this is on my mind and that is what the #NerdyCast Reflections are all about.

Share your thoughts in the comments section if you have an idea about suspensions or poetry.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

#NerdyCast S3E2 - @mssackstein Talks Grading #edchat

I'm really excited to share Season 3 Episode 2 of #NerdyCast with you this week. I'm really working hard to get a new episode up for everyone every couple of weeks. There was a great response to the John T Spencer (@SpencerIdeas) podcast, so I wanted to follow up with another thought provoking piece.

+Starr Sackstein joined me to chat about grading. I have to admit, that I was not sold on the idea of throwing out grades when we started the conversation, but Starr really got me thinking about some of my practices and the practices of teachers in general when it comes to grading. In my opinion, that is exactly what a podcast is supposed to do. If you are interested in the idea of tossing out grades and want to hear from a teacher pushing to make this happen, this podcast is for you. You can listen to it below or download it from iTunes. You can also download the Podomatic app from iTunes or Google Play so you can listen directly from the podcasting site.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Weeks 22 and 23 #NerdyCast Reflections

This week I talk about the past two weeks. I've been sick, but battling through like every teacher and parent has to do when they are sick. I dabbled in some flipped video making for the first time. I received mixed results, but it was interesting enough to try it again. It was testing week and that was interesting. Finally, the makerspace I'm working on has come a long way and I'm excited to see students get in there at the end of the month. Please leave some thoughts or share your experiences below on any of these topics. Also, check out my podcast on iTunes. I will have a new show every couple of weeks.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The @BlackboardK12 BITS Learning Sessions #25 #BbK12Live

The @BlackboardK12 BITS Learning Sessions #25 #BbK12Live

I've partnered with BlackboardK12 to share out the awesome sessions they are having this Fall. Educators can sign up to attend and share with other great educators what they have learned. I'll featurae the session and the description on my blog each week and on my Twitter account. If you have questions, feel free to shoot a tweet to @BlackboardK12. Have fun learning and sharing!

Be the Architect, not the Builder

Step into Blended Learning and be the architect or designer of your students’ learning environment allowing them to do the work of building their learning experience. Join me for a discussion on how to create an effective blended learning environment.

Paula Barr, 2nd Grade Blended Learning Teacher

I am a seasoned teacher with 32 years of experience teaching first and second grade. I began my journey with Blended Learning one year ago and watched as my students transformed into totally engaged, collaborative, self-directed learners. I’m excited to share about my most effective year as an educator.

Twitter: @

Monday, March 9, 2015 3:30 PM EST

Sign Up

Don't forget to check out the Blackboard Live App. It has all of the sessions you might have missed and much much more.
 Here is the playlist where you can watch this recorded session and other sessions you might have missed.

Monday, March 2, 2015

InFocus LiteShow 4 Makes Collaboration Easy

In my last post I featured the InFocus JTouch, I wrote about the LiteShow 4 and how it worked with the display. I wanted to take another post to dive deeper into the the LiteShow 4 and show how it can be used.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the cool part of using the LiteShow 4 is that it allows for multiple devices to connect and then those images can be shared on one screen. Here are a few photos of students using the JTouch display and the LiteShow 4.

 Two students are showing their two screen. One is using an iPhone and another is using an iPad. You can see that there are two open spots for other users to share their screen if they connected to the LiteShow 4. I get excited about all of the possibilities for this feature. Students working in four different groups can do research and then share out on one screen. Items can be compared and viewed by the entire class at the same time. The teacher can switch to one of the images and then back to the four with just a click of a button.

For our Makerspace, I envision four students designing four different solutions to a problem and then sharing them on one screen to see which is best. Being able to share from their own devices allows the students to do work freely and then throw it up on the screen. It is important to make sharing and collaborating easy. The LiteShow 4 allows students and teachers to work and share without interruption.

Here are the students showing their pages to each other from their devices. Again, I love that fact that the students can move freely from the 4 images to the solo images so the bigger picture can be explored in more detail. I think about the HoverCam Solo 8 that I will be adding to the space and how awesome the image will look on the JTouch and it does not have to be connected to the computer connected to the JTouch. From these pictures alone, the images are crisp. 

One of things that really make the LiteShow 4 stand out from previous versions is that it adds the element of touch control wirelessly when showing one feed from a PC, Mac, or Chromebook onto a touch display (like JTouch). That is such an amazing upgrade. Being able to use the touchscreen feature wirelessly is just an extra awesome feature that makes the LiteShow 4 a bigger deal in our Makerspace. 

Users can use the MirorOp app to connect to the LiteShow 4. It is a free download and easy to navigate and connect. From there, users can share their webpages. The camera feature can be used, so students can have another document camera in their hands while they are connected to the LiteShow 4. The LiteShow 4 add more options to the classroom. 

The LiteShow 4 also works with an HDMI/VGA display or a projector. This is great so it is not restricted with be paired only with the  JTouch. This opens up the possibility of a variety of different uses in classrooms around the building. It's portable size makes it a great option if other classes might need it during the course of the school year. 

For me, I am always looking for more ways for students to collaborate. It is one of the reasons I have been working so hard on the Makerspace in our library. I see the value in giving students the time, space, and the tools to connect, create, and collaborate. The LiteShow 4 is another tool they will be able to use to do all three. 

The LiteShow 4 retails for $399 and I think it is a solid investment when trying to get the most out of a learning space. 

Note:  InFocus sent me the LiteShow 4 for the purpose of a review, but that does not make it less awesome.