calm breeze

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  

Remember to spend some of your winter break recharging for the rest of the school year and enjoying your friends and families!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

CEP 812 Reflection

As I reflect back on my most recent graduate class and the work it has inspired me to do, I am in awe of the changes in technology and the professional culture surrounding it within my PLN (professional learning network).  1-to-1 initiatives are popping up in districts left and right, students are more and more aware and making use of technology tools in and out of school, and educators are scrambling to integrate the tools and skills 21st century learners need while changing curriculum standards.  It seems very much like a perfect storm...or the perfect opportunity to think 'outside the box' and take advantage of my own professional passions and curiosities.

Thomas L. Friedman (2013), says that in our hyper-connected, technology-driven world, the individuals who will succeed "won’t just be those with more I.Q. [They] will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime."  So being 'smart' or 'intelligent' isn't necessarily going to be enough to be a successful individual anymore.  Problem solving, creative/inventive thinking, the initiative, passion, and curiosity to seek information and reach goals matter more...when applied and used correctly.  Technology is so easy to come by.  Information is so easy to access...but what we do with that information and the path we choose to take with it...that is the true test of technology adaption.  I have a vision of where I want to go with my new-found technology skills and I truly believe I have the passion and curiosity to get there. 

Here is my take on my own professional PQ and CQ in the form of a PowToon. 

Friedman, Thomas L. (2013, January 29). It's P.Q. and C.Q. as Much As I.Q. THe New York Times. Retrieved from

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Flipping the Classroom: a Wicked Problem Project for CEP812

With the push to transform, redesign, and create 21st Century classrooms and learning spaces, educators are looking for ways to stretch and extend technology resources in and outside of the classroom.  One innovative way some tech-savvy teachers are meeting this expectation is through the "Flipped Classroom" model. 

The basic premise behind a flipped classroom is fairly simple:  the 'lecture' is a video or web-tutorial students complete at home on personal computers; the 'homework' or 'independent practice' takes place in the classroom where the teacher can provide scaffolding and support to the students.  This is not online learning, but rather a way to meet individual learning needs in a more student-centered approach.  How often do students encounter questions, frustration, and helplessness while completing a homework assignment?  When could they use a teacher within arm's reach most often?  Not during a lecture or other teacher-centered approach.  Flipping the classroom changes this...and it is working.  But not without the wicked issues of implementation, technology skills and access, funding, and support.

For my graduate class, CEP 812, three classmates and I have worked for the past few weeks (and over several time zones!) to research and discuss the flipped classroom and the wicked problem that surrounds it.

Here is our multimedia mash up of our WPP Project - Flipping the Classroom: A Wicked Problem in a Community of Practice.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Infographic & Analysis of Technology Within a Community of Practice

This week in the world of MAET, I created my first survey using Survey Monkey and my first professional infographic using The purpose of this survey, was to explore the practice of technology integration within my professional learning community.  I chose to focus on a small sample of my colleagues, who represent all grade levels within my building. 

Here is a brief analysis of my survey and my thoughts on the results.

UPDATE:  I shared the results of my technology sample with my it looks like this is going to snowball into something much bigger with in my building!  Trying to problem solve the 'wicked problem' of needing more technology training and tools with out the funding to back it.  The brainwaves are already going!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Digital Information Diet: Detox in the Works

This week, I took a long, hard look at another aspect of my health: my informational diet.  It wasn't very intellectual from a professional stand point.  Yikes.  Facebook, Pinterest, and a RSS feed populated with cooking and 'foodie' blogs were my main source of information.  I use my Twitter account for professional purposes, but most of my informational diet consisted of digital 'junk food.'  It was time to consider a digital detox.

Photo by Graham Steel Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Why wasn't I as cautious about my informational diet?  That's not to say that what I was reading and filtering through was worthless.  Quite the contrary!  I have found and created many useful things and skills from these.  But in intellectual/informational diet consisting of fairly shallow topics and insights is not healthy.  From a professional growth stand point, I wasn't taking in much information that I could use to grow to become a better educator.  And I have changed that with the addition of a three new blogs to my RSS feed. 

All of these new blogs tie in with education; specifically the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the varying and often controversial views surrounding them.  The CCSS alignment has been a fact of my career since I began four years ago.  I was aware of very little outside of my own school district and I am seeking to change that now.

The first addition to my RSS feed was Homeroom, the official blog of the US Department of Education, @usedgov.  I chose this resource because while most of the impact in education that I feel directly comes from the State of Michigan, the US Department of Education and the actions of the federal government do effect my job as a teacher.  The ties between The Race for the Top and the CCSS have caused quite a controversy between educators, parents, and politicians.  I feel is is only wise as a teacher and a citizen to keep my finger on the pulse of what my government's current educational views are. 

Another new addition to my feed is Teaching the Core: A Non-Freaked Out Approach to Teaching the Common Core by Dave Stuart, Jr., @davestuartjr First off, the title of his blog not only made me laugh, but it also caught my attention.  Until recently, I didn't realize that there were so many educators who did not support the adoption of the CCSS.  Either I live in a cave (my classroom) or I have my eye so focused on learning and aligning my own curriculum to the CCSS, I wasn't paying attention.  Stuart's blog is a resource for teachers who have questions about the CCSS and its implementation.  His tips, tricks, and tidbits are authentic and engaging.

The last addition completely opposes my view of the CCSS: Us Against Common Core. This blog for parents and educators against the CCSS is a platform for their voices.   I feel it is important to consider the opinion and value the insight afforded by looking at the opposition and this is no exception.  I have some parents asking me questions about the CCSS and my thoughts on teaching them.  Having the knowledge of the opposing view helps me to understand these concerns in a more well-rounded fashion.

I am confident these new additions to my informational diet will expand my view points on the CCSS as well as becoming a more knowledgeable educator with a more worldly view of this controversial topic and others to come. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Texting for Social Engagement with Autism Spectrum Disorder

My graduate assignment this week had me 'choosing my own adventure' while I explored and researched a special need, disability, or learning challenge I was interested in learning more about.  I fumbled a bit at the beginning as I tried to make this assignment meaningful to myself as a educator.  I have several students with various 'undiagnosed' learning disabilities and needs, but nothing specific enough for my assignment.  Then I thought about some of the children I have encountered in my elementary over the past few years.  Even though they were not students of 'mine,' I still had daily interactions with these individuals and I wanted to understand them better and how I can communicate more effectively with them as a member of their learning community.  Both of these students have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Autism is a group of developmental brain disorders, collectively referred to as autism spectrum disorder.  Due to the widely ranging symptoms, skills, and degrees of impairment, ASD is considered to be spectral:  some individuals with ASD are only mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled. With special education now being integrated into general education classrooms, it is becoming more important to teach social and communicative skills to ASD students to help support them with peer interactions.

Read more in-depth about Texting for Social Engagement with Autism Spectrum Disorder here.

I believe text messaging would be a wonderful way to teach high-functioning ASD children how to have an authentic conversation with a peer in a meaningful way.  Texting is already an integrated part of our lives today.  It makes some other social impairment symptoms (lacking eye contact, facial expressions, etc) non-issues for the ASD child, scaffolding his or her communications as they learn conversational practices.  Text messaging also allows for picture communication on most phones through emoji or photographs, which supports the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) method that is currently very successful with ASD students.

Here is an example of a mother communicating with her autistic teenage son through text messaging. 

Vera Word reads a text message typed by her son Jonathon on his cell phone screen. The cell phone is a new tool for the two that has enabled Jonathon, who has autism, to communicate with his mother and his teachers through text messaging.

Jonathon Word’s fingers fly over his phone’s keyboard as he communicates via text-message. Because he can’t talk, this has proved to be the best, most portable way for his mother and teachers to penetrate his autistic world. The 15-year-old student is in the autism program at Harrell Accelerated Learning Center,

Work, A. (2009) Teen With Autism, Mom Communicate Via Texting. Times Record News.  Retrieved from

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Breaking Free of Formal Education as We Know It

For my CEP 812 graduate class, we took at look at James Paul Gee's recently published book The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital LearningAs a digital literacy educator, Gee takes a look deeper look at the effects of current mindsets involving digital and social media as well as how we are failing to use these technology tools to make us smarter problem solvers.  

A student engaged in an authentic writing assignment.
This assignment required the close and reflective reading of Part I: How to Be Stupid.  With a title like that, who wouldn't want to know how to break that bad habit?  Throughout the following chapters, Gee laid the ground work for the limitations humans are allowing themselves to become trapped by as well as offering thoughts of what can be done to break free of these limits.  

Here is a pick into my reflection on Gee's book thus far.  This Google Doc is a summary of Gee's theories as well as my ponderings on "What limitations prevent us from solving big, complex problems smartly?"  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Quick Look at Problems of Practice

This week is the first week of my third (and final) course in the Educational Technology Certificate Program through Michigan State University: CEP 812: Applying Educational Technology to Problems of Practice In this class, I will be investigating ways a variety of technologies can be applied to problems relating to education and teaching. 

The focus of this week was learning exactly what 'problems of practice' are.  After learning about well-structured, complex, and wicked problems, I explored and browsed some digital technologies that have some promise in helping to solve well-structured and complex problems within my classroom.

Here is a screencast I created to share one of these technology tools, GoAnimate, and how I would integrate it into my teaching to support teaching and learning a complex problem within my classroom:

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.
GoAnimate is free in its most basic form, but schools can purchase a subscription to GoAnimate for Schools.  I found the free version to be completely adequate for the needs of my fourth graders.  I cannot wait for my students to being experimenting with retells and sharing them with their classmates!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Seven Weeks In and Counting...

Hello all!  I am still alive and kicking in my fourth grade classroom for the 2013-2014 school year.  That being said, it was a rough start to the year:  new principal = new expectations and procedures to learn; new staff (one of the few nearby school districts to HIRE); new assessments and benchmarks.

But I managed to sneak in an amazing field trip opportunity for my class...a day trip to ArtPrize 2013.  I have wanted to contrive a way to take a group of students to ArtPrize for years...even conspiring with our art teacher to find ways to tie in our curriculum and justify the trip.

This year was THE YEAR.  I approached our new principal with my crazy scheme, being sure to link the experience back to reading, writing, and math.  He gave me the go-ahead as long as I was able to raise enough money to cover the entire cost of the field trip.  (Recent budget cuts really put a hamper on extra little things like field trips...)  This trip was also an exploratory expedition of sorts for other classrooms during ArtPrize 2014.  The expectations were set high to pull this crazy scheme off.

Through the ArtPrize Education Days, I was able to apply and receive a $100 busing grant to help cover the cost of transportation.   And since my game plan was to do a walking tour of the art throughout downtown Grand Rapids, there were virtually no other expenses...just the bus.  To raise the rest of the money for the field trip, I went to parents and guardians of my students...and boy, did they respond.  Within one week, we had fully funded our field trip!

Fingers crossed, we planned the field trip, integrating ties to the core curriculum (math=scale, proportions, shapes; reading/writing=story starting, summarizing, small moment writing, sketch books for responses and art analysis) and preparing the students for the experience.  Praying for the unpredictable Michigan weather to hold out for us.  And it was a perfect day!  Couldn't have asked for a better field trip for my students and their parents.  The pictures say it all...
"In the Dog House" by Ritch Branstrom

Many of the exhibits were 'hands on' and interactive pieces.
"Earth Giant" by Benjamin Gazsi

"Good Luck Fish" by Lou Rodriques

"Bigfoot: Watch for the Sqatch" by Justin La Doux

"Silkwaves in the Grand" by Al & Laurie Roberts

"Back to Eden" by Dave MacKenzie of LiveWall/Hortech

A One-Man Band in front of Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum

"Moving Violation" by Robert Shangle...performance art.

At the end of our amazing experience, the students were so inspired, they created their own collaborative piece of art.  I am beyond proud of their creativity and how well they cooperated on this...and this was after only being a learning community for three weeks!  We submitted their work to the ArtStart competition.  While their piece did not win the contest, truly at the end of the day, the field trip was so memorable for my students...and that was the true intent of this authentic learning experience.

Sculpting Impressions

Artists' Statement: When you look at our artwork, we hope you notice our shapes that represent the silhouettes of our four favorites sculptures from ArtPrize: Earth Giant; In the Dog House; Uplifting; and Monty.  Our words describe the thoughts and feelings we had on our creative, one-of-a-kind adventure and our impressions when we looked at the art.  We studied the elements of art, such as form, shape, color, media, and techniques.  This piece describes our ArtPrize experience.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Maker Experiment #3 - Reflection

As I wrap up my final week of CEP 811: Adapting Innovative Technologies to Education, I've reflected on the work and tasks I've been assigned: exploring the 'maker culture'; repurposing & creativity; learning theories; instructional design; experience design; universal design for learning; scholarship of teaching and learning; design evaluation.  While I did engage and experiences some of the newer technologies, I found this course was more about making use of existing technologies and materials as well taking into consideration past and current 'best practices' to create a true 21st Century learning environment.

Professional Assessment & Evaluation
My favorite part of my experience has been playing with my chosen Maker Kit, the littleBits Starter Kit, and seeing how the science of electricity and creative technology melded together.  It was so much fun to sit down with this product and experience it for the first time and even better to see the delight of my five year old's face when he created his first circuit.  I cannot wait to bring my littleBits into my classroom next year.  I have already shared these little treasures with my grade level team.  We have hacked out a plan to share my kit and some of the extensions I have purchased amongst the six of us for our electricity unit.  The scientific inquiry experiences that this Maker Kit will bring to my classroom and my students will be priceless.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the littleBits will be largely based on student self-assessment and their synthesis of the littleBit components work, connect, and operate as units.  The biggest part of the effectiveness evaluation will be formative assessment, which will allow me to adjust how the Maker Kit is being used and implemented within my curriculum.  In the grade scheme of my electricity unit and the standards I am responsible to teach, circuitry is only a small chunk of it.  However, I can, and will, align these experience learning projects with the CCSS in the area of ELA, since I plan on incorporating student blog posts as one form of self-assessment and reflection. 

Personal Assessment & Evaluation

"As adult learners, we are most interested in your growth -- and you will be evaluated on the basis of how far you go, not on the basis of where you started." -MAET statement on evaluation

I feel that I have grown significantly as both a professional educator and as a student through this course.  Many of my personal educational philosophies were justified and expanded upon through the research and assignments I completed these last eight weeks.  As a 'younger' teacher, technology has been a major part of my life from a very early age and I have always been one of the 'techies' on my school staff.  My comfort level and desire to learn more about educational technology was the main reason I chose to pursue a degree in the MAET program through MSU.  So while my technology foundation may not have grown through this course, I definitely feel as though I have built several structurally-sound columns that enable me to be a more effective 21st Century educator. 

Two areas that I enjoyed exploring and learning about the most were Instructional Design and Experience Design.  Both of these topics fit right in with the Responsive Classroom model that I adopted in my classroom a few years ago to create and foster a positive learning environment for my students.  The research and knowledge gained from these two topics have changed the way I view my classroom and pushed me to change the format and function of my classroom space.  I plan on redesigning my classroom to be a more flexible and dynamic space to allow for more movement and flow during the learning process. 

Although my graduate experiences with educational technology have just begun, I am very excited with where I will go professionally and personally.  I hope to continue to be a educational technology leader within my PLN and school district.  The confidence I now have with digger deeper into technology integration will enable me to be a more effective and engaging teacher for my students.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Choose Your Own "SoTL" Adventure

I laughed a bit when I saw the title of this week's blog post assignment for my CEP 811 graduate class through Michigan State University.  "Choose Your Own 'SoTL' Adventure."  Remember back in grade school, there were these choose-your-own-adventure books?  You could choose to turn right or turn left, help an enemy or move on.  Kinda like a book version of Oregon Trail.  I found this funny because I had discovered a series of historical fiction books that did just that...and my students loved them!  Here is a link to one that I read aloud during our history unit:  They are worth checking out!

Back to reality and graduate class assignments.  This week, since I am a Master's student and therefore am already partaking in 'Scholarship of Teaching and Learning,' I was asked to 'consume' information about a research topic I am interested in and push my scholarly ways a bit further and share my findings with my PLN (professional learning network).  A classmate and I developed a conference proposal about designing and creating a 21st Century classroom, so it made sense to direct my efforts in this direction.  Here are brief annotations of the scholarly articles I read on my research topic.

Annotated Biography

Christen, Amy. "Transforming the Classroom for Collaborative Learning in the 21st Century." Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers 84.1 (2009): 28-31. ProQuest. Web. 24 June 2013. Retrieved from

I truly enjoyed the many points made in this article.  It states how technology hasn't fully penetrated into modern classrooms and learning environments, mainly due to the fact that schools are not taking advantage of public and private sector partnerships that could make technology more meaningful and accessible to students and teachers.  The article goes a step further, offering suggestions for schools and educators to begin to correct this situation.

Kwek, S.H. (2011). Innovation in the Classroom: Design Thinking for 21st Century Learning. (Master's thesis). Retrieved from

In this Master's thesis, Kwek summarizes a qualitative study of a San Francisco Bay Area school explored and adopted design thinking as a model of learning.  The data collected from observations and interviews of school administrators and educators supports the need for changes in classroom learning environments and curriculum/lesson design.

Theisens, Henno, Francisco Benavides, and Hanna Dumont. "OECD Work on Future Educational Environments." PEB Exchange (2008): 11. ProQuest. Web. 24 June 2013.  Retrieved from

 This was a very enlightening article.  It focuses on the challenges schools face when designing and planning for future learning environments.  Social demographics, such as falling birth rates, economic globalization, and rising numbers of single-parent families, play heavily into this concept.  The authors also go beyond talking about the physical structures of the building and how these buildings need to facilitate, motivate, and enable creative learning within students.

Wambach, Catherine. "From Revolutionary to Evolutionary: 10 Years of 1-to-1 Computing." T.H.E.Journal 33.14 (2006): 58-9. ProQuest. Web. 24 June 2013.  Retrieved from

 I found this article to be interesting, especially since my school district's county is petitioning for a 1-to-1 Technology Initiative to be put on the ballot in September.  It outlines the slow but successful progression of schools that have implemented 1-to-1 computing and how it has created a more equalized learning environment/opportunities for students.  In the progression over the course of the past ten years, these schools have gone from classroom computers, to mini-labs, to wireless laptop carts, to tablets. 

Williams, Kevan. "WHAT'S UP IN NEW DEVELOPMENT." Flagpole Apr 25 2012: 7. ProQuest. Web. 24 June 2013 .  Retrieved from

This article examines the changes one school district is making while planning and building new schools while taking into account the needs for a 21st Century classroom and 21st Century learners.  The district's administrators and planners have designed learning environments that allow for dynamic collaboration, flexible spaces, and furnishings that meet the needs of both educators and learners.  


Sunday, June 16, 2013

UDL & Maker Activity #2

For my latest and greatest assignment in my graduate class CEP 811, I read about UDL (Universal Design for Learning). UDL is a research based educational framework that guides and promotes the development of flexible learning environments that meet and accommodate individual learning needs.  In UDL, there are multiple means of 1) representation, 2) expression, 3) engagement, all intended to increase student motivation and learning.  Part of my exploration of UDL included checking out this (FREE) UDL Tech Toolkit.  It was amazing to spend the two hours I spent looking at these resources...and I plan on going back to go through and try out each one at some point this summer!

I also went back to my Maker Activity #1.  After reflecting on my original lesson, I found a few tweaks that I could use to incorporate UDL and make this activity even better for all my learners in my classroom.  Here is my revised activity:

REVISED: The Maker’s Kit Activity #1: (revisions are in red)

Since the Montessori Method primary focuses on the learner’s choice and mastery of the task, I thought that this exploration activity would be a unique way to incorporate my littleBits Starter kit into my classroom.

Instructional Goals:
  • My instructional goals: 
    • Students will explore the littleBits kits and record their observations.
    • Students will create at least one working machine/circuit.
    • Students will demonstrate their acquired knowledge using technology.

  •  I will introduce the littleBits kit to the classroom and give a very brief explanation of the learning outcome of this activity: Students will be able to explore, create and demonstrate at least one working machine/circuit. 
  • Students sign up for time with the littleBits kit.  They will be given 15 minute appointments when they can explore and play with the kit components while taking notes and sketches of their findings.  Students will not be limited in the number of appointments for which they can sign up.  
  • Students will record their thinking and observations using a method of their choice: pencil/paper (aka Science Notebook), Popplet,, or the CAST Science Writer.  
  • Once students feel they have mastered at least one creation with notes and sketches, they will then write a post on the classroom Wikispace that summarizes their explorations and includes at least one picture of their creation.  
  • Each student will respond to two other blog posts with the intent to provide constructive feedback for their peers.

This activity follows the constructivist approach seen in the Montessori Method as students will build their knowledge of circuits and machines through their explorations of the littleBits kit.  Students have the choice of when and how often they can explore the kit.  The formative assessment of the blog post is done only when the student feels they have a mastery of the activity.  


I was very happy that my original activity had a good foundation and already incorporated pieces of UDL.  For example, I varied the methods for response and navigation by allowing students to work at their own pace and choose/make their own appointment times to work with the materials.  I extended this UDL guideline to include alternatives for recording observations and thinking by including the three 'tools' from the UDL Tech Toolkit: Popplet;; CAST Science Writer.  This activity also already gave learners optimized individual choice and autonomy as well as provided mastery-oriented feedback - the blog post is only done when the learner feels he/she has mastered the concept and teacher/peer also provides mastery feedback.


CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.

CAST.  UDL Guidelines- Educator Worksheet 2.0.  Retrieived from

Free Technology Tool Kit for UDL in All Classrooms. Retrieved from

Monday, June 10, 2013

Design Experiment #1 (Experience Design)

What a week!  It felt as though I were sprinting all week long!  All the way to Thursday at 2:12 = officially summer vacation!  Between finalizing report card, managing the mob...errr...students, and packing up my classroom, I also had to find time to work on my graduate assignments.  Lucky me!

This week's assignment was to read up on Experience Design and use a program called SketchUp Make to redesign, or hack, a learning space so that it fits 21st Century Learning.  So what is Experience Design?

According to Wikipedia, "Experience design (XD) is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions.   An emerging discipline, experience design draws from many other disciplines including cognitive psychology and perceptual psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, architecture and environmental design, haptics, hazard analysis, product design, theatre, information design, information architecture, ethnography, brand strategy, interaction design, service design, storytelling, heuristics, technical communication, and design thinking."

Last summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to change my classroom after completing my first year teaching fourth grade.  Cooperative learning and responsive classroom were (and still are) two very important elements I used when teaching.  My students and I spend an average of 5.5 hours every weekday in the classroom, so it needs to be a learning space that is 1) inviting, 2) flows, and 3) fits learner needs.  Not to mention, it also had to house 28 bodies...and it was a smallish classroom!  Looking forward to next year, there are some more tweaks in that will be coming, so this assignment has gotten me plotting a little earlier than last year.  I want to make the most of the time with my students...and our learning environment

Current classroom set up:

Trapezoid tables grouped in two so four learners could work in heterogeneous groups.  They are labeled by table numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6).  Smart board is front and center of the west wall; two smaller whiteboards flank it. My computer cart is up toward the front of the classroom, primarily because it is tethered to the Smart Board.  I decided to forgo my desk...not once did I use it the prior year...and space is a premium in the classroom.  The classroom library/meeting area are in a corner at the front of the room where there is a 5x8ft area rug, some milk crate benches, and floor pillow.  There are also two extra free-standing bookshelves to handle the ever-expanding classroom library, reader's notebooks, and the math RTI stations.  This corner is where a bulk of my ELA whole-group instruction takes place (my building has completely adopted the workshop model for reading and writing).  We also do our math calendar work here when we need to make observations or have a discussion.  At the back of the room, student mailboxes occupy one counter top.  The back wall is lined with one large whiteboard that is flanked by two bulletin boards on either side.  There is also a large table with four chairs for the listening center/RTI small group table, two student desks and two more small tables for multi-use purposes.  These tables are flex-spaces...the learning that goes on in these places varies throughout the day and year.  I may have a science demonstration set up for small groups to complete.  It could be a strategy group station during our literacy block.  Sometimes students sit back in these areas when they feel they need a less distracting location.

What currently works:

I like how the classroom space is already set up for cooperative learning.  When I arrange the seating chart, I keep tables mixed up with student ability levels.  This makes small group work easy to transition to during math, social studies, and science.  Having student tables grouped like this also allows for prearranged work spaces for our literacy block/station rotation.  Our meeting area is large enough for everyone without allowing for huge spaces between partners or groups.  The built-in bookshelves help create a visible area for our classroom library. 

Currently, my biggest complaint about my classroom (other than size) is the lack of in-room technology for my students' use.  I had one student computer the previous year, but that was taken away and never replaced.  This was and continues to be a huge disappointment for me.  Technology is vital in any 21st Century classroom and I am not able to incorporate this component into the classroom for my students.  Sure, my building has two computer labs that will fit my entire class...but I also have to schedule time and fight for that time with 17 other classrooms.  

Ideal Classroom in an Ideal World:

If I had the funding available, the biggest change I would make to my classroom would be to have four computers for student use at the back of my classroom.  Students would use this area for research, blogging, math/reading practice and remediation, keyboarding, etc.  I plan on using a virtual classroom next year for students to make reading responses and book recommendations through discussion posts.  This would also be a platform for math tutorials and the extension of many problem-based learning projects.  These computers would also enable students who do not have access to the internet or similar technology at home the opportunity to use it on a daily basis...not just weekly.  I have dreams of 'flipping' social studies and science units next year, that student access to technology at home is a huge concern. Exercise ball chairs at the computer station allow for the 'wiggles' common for my grade level and promote the development of strong core muscles.  Eventually I would love to have these exercise ball chairs for all my students.  The cost of four computers, the licensing, networking, tech-support, etc would be at least a few thousand dollars. Four exercise ball chairs would be an additional couple of hundred dollars. 

Here are a few examples of what my classroom would look like if I could get my hands on these 'ideal' materials!  These were created using SketchUp:


Experience Design.  (n.d.)  In Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.  Retrieved from  /wiki/Experience_design

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ultra Micro MOOC - Fabulous Formative Assessment for Beginners

This week, my CEP 811 assignment was to explore the world of MOOCs.  Yes, MOOCs.  Massively Open Online Courses.  A really fun acronym, huh?  The actually MOOCs are even better.  Check out P2PU - Peer 2 Peer University to check out a few MOOCs if you are interested.  They are all free and the topics are far ranging, from bathroom remodeling to Python programming (seriously!).  Or if you are really motivated, create your own MOOC.  Which is ultimately what I was assigned to do this week.  So here the the outline of my hypothetical P2PU course, Fabulous Formative Assessment for Beginners

I chose to feature formative assessment as my course topic because I have been on my elementary's FAME (Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators) Team this past academic year.  My time on in the professional learning team has taught me so much about F.A.  The biggest surprise?  I was already using F.A. strategies and techniques; I just needed to take what I was doing to the next level (analysis & student feedback) to make it truly meaningful to my instructional design and decision-making.  So I thought, why not create a MOOC that would do the same for other educators who may not have such a great learning opportunity otherwise?

In my Fabulous Formative Assessment for Beginners course my peers will master formative assessment by creating a 'toolbox' of techniques and sharing/collaborating with peers about their implementation progress in their own classrooms.

Course Topic:
This course will provide a basis for the implementation of formative assessment in CCSS classrooms.  Members will discover the intent behind formative assessment as well as how to easily implement it and give timely and meaningful feedback to their students. 

Fabulous Formative Assessment for Beginners

This is an open space for educators (or anyone else who is curious) to explore formative assessment implementation and tools with other peers.  With the full-implementation of the CCSS looming in the horizon, formative assessment is one of the many catch-phrases being thrown about but many educators haven't explore the instructional impact formative assessment can have on learning targets and goals.  As a newer teacher who has spent the last year implementing formative assessments in my classroom, I have a few tried and true tools and techniques that helped me grasp this catch phrase and make it a meaningful part of my instructional decisions.

At the end of this course, participants will be able to:
  • Recognize current uses of formative assessments strategies and tools
  • Plan and target use of F.A. strategies and tools
  • Analyze student evidence
  • Provide timely and meaningful feedback to students
  • Make instructional decisions based on student evidence
Participants will master formative assessment 'tools' at their own pace and share their discoveries with peers.  This course will stay open for the purpose of future collaboration and peer sharing as participants master and create more F.A. tools and strategies.

With the higher-level thinking skills required by the CCSS, it is imperative that educators are able to quickly and effectively make instructional decisions based on student progress.  Formative assessments provide not only teachers, but also learners, with valuable insights into knowledge gained and learning progress.  Many educators already use formative assessments in their classrooms everyday and either a) don't realize they do, or b) don't know what to do with the data collected.  This course will correct both of these issues and provide a foundation for effective formative assessment implementation in classrooms.

Formative Assessment Toolbox:
Peers will collect formative assessment 'tools' to put into a 'toolbox' of techniques to use in their own classrooms.  Tools will be posted in the classroom and organized into the following categories:
  • Self-Assessment
  • Activating Prior Knowledge
  • Goal Setting 
  • Peer Assessment
  • Feedback Use
These categories will serve as the primary method for the toolbox collection as well as sharing and evaluating the effectiveness of the formative assessment strategies and tools throughout the course.

Fitting the Pieces Together: 
Mastery of the formative assessment strategies and tools as presented and shared throughout this course will provide the foundation and framework for the successful and effective implementation of formative assessment within participants' classrooms.  This course will create a learning platform that  encourages professional learning and sharing of resources as well as formative assessment successes and misses.  Peer collaboration and evaluation will encourage self-paced skill mastery as each participant gradually implements F.A. as they move through the course.  This MOOC combines the content knowledge of a FAME (Formative Assessment for Michigan Educators) team member, pedagogical knowledge of educational peers, and the opportunity to share and increase technological knowledge of all participants that incorporates the TPACK framework.

Peer Interaction:
Peers would help each other throughout this course by providing feedback to the tools and strategies implemented and developed.  Most of the higher-level learning would take place during peer interactions and discussions, and peers would learn from others as far was what formative assessment strategies worked, how it worked, and what could be done to make it even better.


(n.d.). Peer 2 Peer University. Retrieved from

Dodge, J. (2009). 25 quick formative assessments for a differentiated classroom, easy, low-prep assessments that help you pinpoint students\' needs and reach all learne. (1 ed.). Scholastic Teaching Resources. Retrieved from

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Maker Experiment #1

So I splurged and purchased the littleBits Starter Kit (my chosen Maker's kit for CEP 811) for($89)  my classroom.  Yeah...a little expensive for a single mother with the salary of a third-year teacher, but sometimes there are things worth the money.  And I am happy to say this is definitely one of them!

The Latest Graduate Class Assignment:

This week I was assigned to play around with my Maker's kit some more. And I did...when I could wrestle it away from my five-year-old.  (I must say, he was incredibly amazed and proud of himself when he was able to put the littleBits together and create a circuit/machine.  He loves the vibrating output bit.)  Anyway, I was assigned to 'tinker and imagine' with my Maker's kit and how I could use it with a classroom activity and connect it to learning theories. 

The Learning Theory:

In the late 1890s, Maria Montessori began to formulate what is now known as the Montessori Method in Italy.  Her philosophy and methods were based on her observations of children within their learning environments and the materials and lessons used.  The founding principles and concepts of Montessori theory can be applied across all ages. These principles are: Independence, Observation, Following the Child, Correcting the Child, Prepared Environment and Absorbent Mind. Maria Montessori held with these goals and beliefs in regards to the education of children.

“Montessori education is fundamentally a model of human development, and an educational approach based on that model. The model has two basic elements. First, children and developing adults engage in psychological self-construction by means of interaction with their environments. Second, children, especially under the age of six, have an innate path of psychological development. Based on her observations, Montessori believed that children at liberty to choose and act freely within an environment prepared according to her model would act spontaneously for optimal development.”  (Wikipedia)

Here is a video that briefly outlines Montessori principles.

Eissler, T., (2011, Jan 28). Montessori Madnesss.[Video File]. Retrieved from

The Montessori education and learning theory fits in well with the discovery approach I envision when using the littleBits kit in my classroom.  My students love to explore and have the ownership of discovery placed in their hands…why not give it to them?  Let them create and problem solve their way through the Maker’s kit while documenting their successes and failures?

The Maker’s Kit Activity:

Since the Montessori Method primary focuses on the learner’s choice and mastery of the task, I thought that this exploration activity would be a unique way to incorporate my littleBits Starter kit into my classroom.
  •  I will introduce the littleBits kit to the classroom and give a very brief explanation of the learning outcome of this activity: Students will be able to explore, create and demonstrate at least one working machine/circuit. 
  • Students sign up for time with the littleBits kit.  They will be given 15 minute appointments when they can explore and play with the kit components while taking notes and sketches of their findings.  Students will not be limited in the number of appointments they can sign up for. 
  • Once students feel they have mastered at least one creation with notes and sketches, they will then write a post on the classroom Wikispace that summarizes their explorations and includes at least one picture of their creation. 
This activity follows the constructivist approach seen in the Montessori Method as students will build their knowledge of circuits and machines through their explorations of the littleBits kit.  Students have the choice of when and how often they can explore the kit.  The formative assessment of the blog post is done only when the student feels they have a mastery of the activity. 

Hubbell, E. R., (2006). Authenticity & Technology in Montessori Education. Montessori Life, 18 (2), 16-20. Retrieved from

Hubbell, E. R., (2003). Integrating Technology into the Montessori Elementary Classroom. Montessori Life, 15(3), 40-41.  Retrieved from

Montessori education. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved from