Cognitive Science in the Classroom

I enjoy reading Daniel Willingham’s work because he makes complex but important findings in cognitive science accessible to the average, busy teacher like me. I was first introduced to his writing a few years ago when I came across his book Why Don’t Students Like School?

Recently, I discovered that he has written a number of articles on highly practical topics for teachers ranging from spacing study to increase retention to whether critical thinking can be taught. Here are some of his findings, grounded in cognitive science, that might be especially useful for K-12 teachers:

  • Technology:

    • While technology might inherently be engaging, this appeal wears off quickly. Instead, teachers must strive to make the content itself engaging without using technology as a crutch. Technology can be an important support to learning but shouldn’t be at the heart of the lesson.
    • The best ideas for how to use new technologies will often come from other teachers because there hasn’t been enough time to conduct robust academic research on how to best implement rapidly developing education technologies.
    • Encourage students to avoid multitasking while doing an important task. Students aren’t actually multitasking, they’re just rapidly switching between tasks which reduces their focus and effectiveness.
  • Importance of Knowledge:

    • In the debates of content versus skill and whether schools should reduce the amount of material we expect students to learn because everything can be found on the Internet, it’s important to remember that knowledge is still important.
    • Knowledge helps you: take in, think about and remember new information; improve your thinking, and solve unfamiliar problems.
    • Willingham reminds us that “… the goal of education is seen not so much as the accumulation of knowledge, but as the honing of cognitive skills such as thinking critically. Knowledge comes into play mainly because if we want our students to learn how to think critically, they must have something to think about.” Therefore, while students don’t need to memorize long lists of names & dates, they need to know enough to engage in the vital task of critical thinking.
  • Practice makes perfect

    • Anticipating that we forget much of what we learned, we must practice a skill or recalling new information beyond a level of mastery.
    • What type of material is worthy of repeated practice?
      • Core skills & knowledge that will be used again and again
      • Knowledge students need to know in the short term to enable long-term retention of key concepts.

What Teachers can Learn from The Originals by Adam Grant

Recently I listened to the audiobook The Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant. Although the primary audience for his book are entrepreneurs and business people, many of his ideas are very applicable to teachers and school leaders.


Teachers too often bring each other down. We champion our causes (ed tech, project based learning, gamification, flipped learning, etc) and too often look down on other teachers who don’t share our excitement.

  • A documented phenomenon is horizontal hostility in which two groups with related but different views often are more critical of one another than people outside of the movement. For example,  research shows that  Conservatives, Orthodox Jews, Environmentalists, and Women Suffragists were more critical of different camps within their overall movement than outsiders often were.
  • Leaders need to look for similarities in our causes and build alliances instead of finding differences and tearing others down.

Punishments are ineffective for classroom management

  • When rules are backed by clear explanations, teenagers are less likely to break them.  Enforce discipline with a set of principles & values (e.g. We don’t do X in this classroom because we value respecting all people.)
  • Parents/teachers need to ultimately let children select values that best represents them
  • Empathy & guilt together can be highly effective, even for adults (e.g. A sign telling doctors hand washing prevents patients from catching diseases was significantly more effective than saying hand washing prevents you from catching diseases.)  We feel guilty about doing harm to others and often care less about ourselves.
  • The goal of effective ethical type of decision making is to move from a simple cost-benefit analysis to one of appropriateness—what would someone with my values do in this situation?

Persuade your principal to support your project by sharing its merits AND its weaknesses

  • Be forthright about the limitations of your ideas. When presenting them to others balance its merits with shortcomings. Your audience will see you as fair minded and as someone who has analyzed their proposal from multiple viewpoints

If you have a transformative idea, you have to share it over and over and over with your course team & administration before they might even consider it.

  • The exposure effect says that the more familiar people become with an idea, the more people like it but we have to be careful of overexposure.
  • Studies show that when we are exposed to an idea 10 to 20 times with enough variety in the way it’s presented and sufficient time between instances of presentation, the degree to which people like the idea increases significantly. We like what’s familiar to us. 

You don’t have to be the first to try blogging, Genius Hour, flipped learning, etc. but be sure you learn from the mistakes of those who were.

  • There isn’t always a benefit to being first, you can improve on and learn from the first mover.
  • Many startups (and initiatives) fail because the scale up faster than the market (or students/community) could bear.

If you’re trying to transform  your district, school, department or team start by trying to transform one class, one club/activity or just one project. 

  • If the vision is too bold and different from the current state, focus on taking small steps, and get your foot in the door. When persuading others start with the more practical how instead of the bolder why.
  • Link your new bold agenda to other familiar values and modify your argument to your audience. There’s a sweet spot so your argument is new enough so it’s not boring but not so new that people reject it immediately.

Critiquing Student Blogging, Genius Hour & Passion Projects

Students blogging about a topic they are passionate about is an example of authentic literacy pedagogy.  Instead of all students reading & researching the same topic, students have the opportunity to select a topic they are interested in and write periodic reflections on the topic.  This approach has become increasingly popular through various names such as genius hour, passion projects or 20% time. (NOTE: If you are interested in learning more about these types of projects, I strongly encourage you to follow @JoyKirr on Twitter, she’s an incredible resource!).   One of the major selling points of these projects is the incredible levels of student engagement seen through these projects. However, there can be significant drawbacks as well. 

The benefit of these approaches is that they maximize students’ intrinsic motivation and immerse them in a literacy rich environment that leverages their curiosity.   A potential drawback of this student-centered approach is that while students are engaged they may not become particularly skilled in evaluating sources, reading critically and thoughtfully organizing writing that generally occurs through more teacher directed projects. 

My students have been doing Passion Projects for almost 5 years and while I had this initial high of maximizing student choice and, in turn, engagement, I have found that every year  I need to tweak the amount of choice I give students. While I have increased student choice in the range of topics students research and formats for showing final learning, I have found that I need to limit the options they have for how they share their learning periodically via blog posts. 

First, I now require my students to connect the broad research questions and sub questions they develop with overarching course principles to guide their research instead of simply  exploring any topic that interest them. Second, I require students to write carefully organized blog posts with claim statements and supporting evidence so that students are motivated to read texts, watch videos and/or listen to podcasts not just for enjoyment but also with the critical eye of a detective looking for evidence.  

I have found that when students are asked to develop and and answer research questions their inquiries becomes more focused and fruitful. Students’ blog posts also become more organized because they now have to carefully provide evidence to support the answers to their research questions instead of just sharing what they learned in the past week.

Therefore, projects that incorporate 100% authentic literacy pedagogy may be highly engaging but not always effective for improving students’ literacy skills. There is a greater likelihood of students being motivated while learning fundamental literacy skills when the student-centered learning also includes challenging tasks deliberately designed by the teacher that push students to carefully organize their thinking & writing.

Information Literacy & Fake News

The recent election and the growing popularity of social media have created new urgency in the battles English and Social Studies teachers along with Librarians are fighting constantly—combating fake news.

A powerful resource that could help in this effort is www.checkology.or. Although the paid version offers teachers more features for monitoring student progress, there are free resources on:

  1. Filtering News & Information
  2. Exercising Civic Freedoms
  3. Navigating Today’s Information landscape
  4. How to Know What to Believe

The pace at which media changes and the frequency with which politicians are using it to distort reality is growing. Therefore, it is difficult for educators to have updated examples of misinformation and methods for detecting it.  Checkology provides current examples of news sources and social media and how they can be used to spread fake news. Also, the lessons are gamified so students earn points for completing each one. Most importantly, it provides realistic activities for students to apply their information literacy skills. For example, students are asked to:

  • Be the Editor: Decide the Day’s Top News
  • Participate in the Watergate investigation
  • Make a PSA & Dissect Rumors
  • Recognize bias in various sources

I recommend looking at checkology if you’re hoping to build your students’ information literacy skills and join the fight against fake news.

#FETC Day 3: Ideas & Inspiration

Below are some of the ideas and inspiration I gained during my 3rd and final day at the Future of Education Technology Conference:

Digital Learning Tools Integration Made Easy by Lisa Mattson, Beatriz Arnillas,  Kelli Pardo

    • When evaluating LMSs, publishing companies, digital supplemental materials be sure you check how well they play with others! Can they work with your current LMS? Single login? Include metadata and categories? Passback data?
    • Key tips
      • Make sure vendor is IMS Global certified and if they build a common cartridge run it through the certification engine
      • Be sure resources and/or assessments are tagged with state/district learning standards
      • Make sure sources are tagged with keywords (so it’s easy for teachers to search for resources)
      • Make sure key & secret code is correct for LTIs
      • Single sign on is as important as common cartridge
    • Examples of integrations with 1 LTI link: Wiley, Cengage, Social Studies School Service, Brainpop, Pearson
    • What’s the difference between thin & thick/full common cartridge?  Essentially in a thick/full common cartridge the publisher is giving you all the content while in a thin cartridge they’re giving you access but the content remains with the publisher (to protect intellectual property)
    • Carefully check what versions of LTI they’re using: version 1 versus 1.1, etc. because , not all passback data
  • Some LMS platform allow you to export a thin cartridge, ck12
  • Visit IMS Global Learning Consortium, they have tested and certified many major publishers, cartridges and LTIs and review their features
  • Softchalk is a great content authoring tool to create your own common cartridges. CK12 has a lot of content that is open source
  • The template they have, One Roster, can be shared with LTIs & other tools, Janet Bennett can help sync active directory with one roster
  • Many states are using QTIs for standardized assessments (e.g. PARCC)
  • What is IMS Global’s relationship with schools/districts?
    • Districts have different levels of membership contributing, affiliate, alliance membership
    • Affiliate and alliance membership are generally publishing companies
    • Affiliate members are usually school districts.
    • Benefits of membership: provide tools/templates to make ensuring interoperability easier, helps check which vendors are interoperable, know pricing & agreements with member districts which can be helpful during negotiations with publishers, provide expertise to setup LMS, Common Cartridges, QTI & LTIs to save cost in the long run.

Discussing PD implementation with Nikki Smith (@MauldinAPStats) & Kristie Burk (@KristieLBurk)

  • The book Power Up can be useful for bridging technology & pedagogy
  • Incentive ideas? create points, prizes or badges for PD
  • Have focused themes or topics for every month (the chapters in the book Power Up can give some great ideas)
  • Blended courses can:
    • give students in AP courses or lower level courses more options
    • help alleviate space issues but it should be voluntary for teachers to join in order to get buy in
    • Give teachers more time to meet with students individually

Discussing Students Taking Charge with author Nancy Sulla (@nsulla)

  • I’m saving the best for last. While I learned a lot throughout this conference, the conversations I had with Nancy and others @IDEcorp gave me ideas that I can implement in my class almost immediately and will truly transform how my students learn.
  • Here’s a brief synopsis of the ideas in her book and what we discussed: Students are presented with an intriguing authentic problem, then, over the course of several weeks, students select activities from a list a teacher has compiled to help students develop key skills and try to solve the problem.  A key component is an extensive rubric which guides the activities teachers create.  The students are firmly in charge of their learning and are encouraged to work with their home team to find possible solutions and own their learning which frees up the teacher to be a facilitator and meet with groups of students.
  • 3 key (and overlapping) ingredients for maximizing student achievement: academic rigor, student engagement, and student responsibility for learning.
  • Some of Nancy’s tips:
    • Implement a design process (it’s not just for STEM subjects!)
      • Formulating a problem requires you to empathize with the challenges others face. What is the gap between the ideal situation and people’s current lived reality?  
      • Explore/Brainstorm ideas that could help solve the problem
      • Ideate to create more concrete solutions
      • Sift through the ideas to determine if they’re feasible and what unintended consequences might be
        • If nothing is feasible, return to one of the 3 earlier steps
      • If there is a feasible idea, create a prototype
      • If the prototype is valid, advocate for it to an authentic audience (present your solution) and select a new problem
    • When creating a “help board” where students request assistance from the teacher or others, remember that not all students, especially the “honors” students, will want to publicly share that they need help. Consider a private sign-up (maybe via a Google Form)
    • The rubric should drive the activity list and it should be in language students understand so they can self-assess.  The rubric should not be designed to make grading easier for the teacher but to communicate to students what they need to learn to solve an authentic problem
    • Teachers should act as  a facilitator and assess true depth of understanding by asking probing questions. (e.g. What are you working on? Why? Why did you include those requirements in your proposal to amend the Constitution for people born outside the U.S. to be allowed to be President?)
    • Use the facilitation grid (a spreadsheet with key skills/objectives & a class roster) to track student progress and intervene as necessary. Use abbreviations to help you take notes while meeting with students throughout the period (e.g. M=mastery ; R=Review needed ; ML= mini lesson needed ; PT= Peer tutor–highest level of understanding)

#FETC Day 2: Ideas & Inspiration

Below are some of the ideas and inspiration I gained during my 2nd day at the Future of Education Technology Conference:

Using Technology to its Maximum Potential with the SAMR Model by Tammy Seneca (@Drtamssen)

Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK)

  • It’s about increasing complexity not difficulty. It’s about how you challenge students’ thinking (e.g. solve global warming) not necessarily the difficulty of a task (e.g. read 30 pages and take notes)
  • It is about the way that our students interact with the content and at what level . Give students the opportunity to chose how they show their learning (e.g. students have to give a sales pitch for the 13 colonies instead of just create a brochure or presentation)

Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Applied with SAMR

1. Recall & Reproduction (SAMR: Substitution): Memorizing & recalling facts, applying simple procedures

  • You have to gradually make your way up, it’s okay to start with recall & reproduction
  • Examples:
    • Students use a “digital microscope” instead of an actual microscope due to budget constraints to look at cells and take notes using a worksheet with basic recall questions.
    • View a BrainPop video on Economics & answer basic questions about the video

    2. Skills & Concepts (SAMR: Augmentation): Apply skills and concepts related to a particular field of study. Make decisions as to how to approach a question or problem

  • Focus is on application in a familiar/typical situation , there’s a relationship between ideas, tasks require deeper knowledge than basic definitions, tasks may call for multiple steps or approaches
  • Key verbs: apply, determine, categorize, cause & effect, infer, interpret, modify, organize.
  • Examples:
    • Make powtoon on what my Cajun heritage means to me. It 2nd level on Webb’s because the teacher gave specific instructions on what goes on each slide (i letting students decide which would raise the level of DOK)
    • Google Expeditions: You gives students the opportunity to go beyond the 4 walls of their classroom but questions might be very surface level

3. Strategic Thinking (SAMR: Modification): Demonstrate sound reasoning with evidence & justification. Develop a plan or series of steps to take complex task

  • Focus is on reasoning & planning in order to respond; complex and abstract thinking is required, students must demonstrate deep understanding and justify their responses; questions may yield more than one correct answer.
  • Examples:

4. Extended Reasoning (SAMR: Redefinition): Integrates knowledge from multiple sources. Make real-world connections in unique and creative ways

  • Tasks require complex reasoning, planning & thinking; activities have multiple steps, students employ and sustain strategic thinking over an extended period of time, relate concepts within the content area and among other content areas.
  • Examples:
    • Plan and curate exhibits for a museum of the ancient river civilization
    • Your team of conquistadors will try to persuade the other teams to attack and conquer the civilization that you chose. Create a prezi to support your arguments

Connected with Nikki Smith (@MauldinAPStats ) who is a full-time high school Math teacher but is also on professional development committee.

  • Professional Development Idea: They offer monthly PD with choices for teachers and is led by other teachers & administrators. They also have a blended option where during their late start school day teachers can complete their PD at home before or during the designated day
  • It’s problematic to equate using a certain technology tool with being on a certain level of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. For example, creating a Prezi can substitute for a poster however what determines the DOK is not the tool but how it’s used. The Prezi can display an original proposal for solving a complex problem or simply facts & images that were copied & pasted from the Internet, How the tool is used determines the level of thinking it elicits not the tool itself!

Personalized versus Individualized Learning by David French (@davidbfrench) & Hope Huynh (TenMarks)

  • Establish clear student outcomes for what you expect students to be able to do due to increased use of technology
  • Examples:
    • Students will gain a global perspective by leveraging digital tools
    • Collaborate using digital tools to support learning
  • Professional Development for Teachers:
    • Stress to teachers: “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried something new.” -Albert Einstein
    • Offer customized learning (professional development) for teachers, meet them where they’re at
  • Powerful math tech tool for highly differentiated and personalized learning: TenMarks
    • TenMarks allows for very customized math instruction
    • Suggests increasingly challenging tasks for students based on mastery of prior concepts, offers interventions with videos, hints, etc when students struggle
    • Students can learn math at their own pace.

101 Tools by Lori Maldonado (@Lori_Maldonado) & Tori Greathouse (@ToriGreathouse) of @simplek12

All of the following tools are free or freemium:

  • Easely (infographic creator) with templates
  • Showbie: Paperless Classroom and leave voice or text feedbacks
  • Quizlet: study tools using flashcards but include auto-generated quizzes & games, quizlet live allows for real time formative feedback
  • iRubric: Rubric creator has templates that you can use or modify.
  • Photopin: Creative Commons Photos allows teachers to easily teach being good digital citizens (we shouldn’t encourage them to just use any images from Google Images).
  • Clipix: “pinterest for the real world.” Bookmarking tool, multiboard option which allows you to drag & drop photos, docs, files, etc. All boards can be private.
  • Google Arts & Culture: Virtual Fieldtrips of important locations around the wall
  • Marvel: Comic Creator which can be printed out and they can be up to 22 pages long!
  • Newsela: Differentiated current events texts with comprehension questions
  • Popplet: Detailed, customizable concept maps including drawings & images.
  • Screencast O’Matic: Free screencasting tool without downloading anything. Free version has 15 minute limit. Applications: teachers leave video feedback
  • Digizen: Free digital citizenship resources for parents, students and teachers. Includes videos, lessons, etc. Include this as part of your internet safety work.
  • edu.Buncee: Multimedia lessons that look professional. Can facilitate blended learning.
  • Quizizz: Game based learning, little different than Kahoot: doesn’t require projector, questions are randomized, students can move at their own pace.
  • Print Friendly: Save paper & ink by inputting link
  • Watch Know Learn: 50,000 free educational videos that are kids safe, reviewed by educators and aggregates videos.
  • Power My Learning: Has games for math, English, Social Studies, Science, etc Teachers can create playlists with series of games.
  • History Pin: Interactive maps that are created by users with photos & stories from the local community. Includes authentic artifacts (e.g. older family photos)
  • Gooru: Personalized learning by creating a collection of lessons/resources. Teachers can track their work as they move through the activities.
  • Keyboarding skills lessons and games that are and will always be free. Teachers can still track students progress.
  • Global Read Aloud: Over 500,000 students have participated in this global read aloud project which allows students to make connections via Twitter and blogs with others around the world who are reading the same book.
  • Symbaloo: Visual bookmarking tool  and create different boards for different topics. Application tip- students create a Symbaloo to supplement works cited and you click on open all to check sources.
  • EdPuzzle: Interactive videos for flipping the classroom. Teachers can add their voice, multiple choice questions, short answer.
  • Wizer: Digital worksheets
  • PBL Online: Project based learning helps design and manage student projects (especially for middle &  high schools). There’s a project library where you can see what other teachers have created.
  • Thinglink: Interactive visuals.
  • Ziggedy: Easy fundraising and get extra cash for your class. Parents use that site to make purchases online.
  • EdShelf: Collection of Teaching Tools
  • Knovio: Upload powerpoint, videos, documents and record sound. It helps you flip your classroom.
  • TED-Ed: Customized lessons which allows you to take a TED talk and allows students to answer questions about the video and discuss.
  • Pearl Trees: Better curate content and organize bookmarks. Make them easy to share & collaborate. It organizes them as trees of content.
  • PodBean: Allows you to easily start podcasting & audio and share with a link. Tip: have students create a library of podcasts
  • Smithsonian Learning Lab: Amazing collection of learning resources with great collection of artifacts, videos, questions, quizzes.
  • Stormboard: Online brainstorming and has templates (e.g. compare & contrast, KWL). Students can comment on the board in real time but free version limits to 5 simultaneous users
  • Teacher Training & Resources which allows teachers to learn easily online via webinars.

Mindful by Design by Caitlin Krause (@MindWise_CK)  

  • The Need for Mindfulness as a Lens
    • Mindfulness gives agency & construction back to students
    • Mindfulness should inspire curiosity about themselves and the world
    • Dr. Ellen Langer: Mindful is simply being aware. Either you’re aware or not.  
  • Teachers as Designers
    • Is what I’m doing useful to my students? You need empathy to understand students experiences.
    • Students should be able to answer: Why am I doing this?
  • There is a true intersection between mindfulness, empathy & design thinking
  • Mindfulness changes brain, increases grey matter
  • “The capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance” -Pablo Casals
  • Does photography connect your or remove you from your environment?
  • Future careers demand skills that mindfulness helps cultivate: complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others.
    • Students minds need to truly be in the moment to build something meaningful
  • Resources
    • Digital: ; Headspace ; Calm App ; Music (Vivaldi 4 seasons —have students predict which season is playing) ;
    • Books: 10% Happier (Dan Harris) ; Howard Rheingold: The power of Collaboration

#FETC Day 1: Ideas & Inspiration

My first day at the Future of Education Technology Conference (@FETC | #FETC) was jam packed with ideas on how to use technology to improve student learning. From past experience I’ve realized that many ideas that seem promising during a conference either collect dust on a bookshelf or are forever lost in Google Drive after the conference if I don’t do something with them right away.

So, I was hoping that if I do a better job of recording what I learn, reflect on it and share the ideas with others, I’ll be more likely to actually implement them. So, here it goes:


The keynote included presentations on augmented reality, Microsoft Education, Discovery Education and others. One that stood out was Summit Learning an LMS and school-wide program with funding from Facebook, has an approach that could be useful to many other schools:

    • Students regularly meeting with teachers/mentors to set long term goals for the year and then crafting daily/weekly goals that help reach those goals.
    • Mentors & students jointly decide which activities will help them reach their goals by utilizing an online platform which includes concrete concept modules and higher level project based learning
    • Teachers/Mentors track progress towards goals through a comprehensive dashboard and intervene as necessary


A few takeaways from conversations with vendors:

  • Flipgrid: Leverage students interest in, Snapchat, to encourage students to have meaningful video based discussions. Teachers begin the conversation wiInteresting fact: students re-record themselves 4 times before finally posting meaning they’re revising their words and thinking to ensure they’re showing their best selves to their peers. This could be a great tool for ELLs to practice their English in a safe way but with authentic audiences and centered on a particular topic.
  • Miscellaneous notes: Buy district wide licenses from WeVideo but only pay for the amount you actually you use with the cost declining the more you buy. GoGuardian allows for strong web filtering, monitoring of students work and device deployment. Lenovo has a number of new Chromebooks that can run Android apps, have a stylus, etc.

Poster Presentations

Blended Professional Development by  Kristie Burk (@KristieLBurk): How to use a blended model to deliver effective PD and leverage instructional coaches at a low cost.

  • They use Schoology for blended professional development (but any platform can work like Canvas, Moodle, etc) and modules can be topics like formative assessment, note-taking, cooperative learning, etc. that are taught throughout the year (not just for “new” teachers to the District.)
  • Teachers voluntarily join the monthly PD program with a 2-year commitment and complete activities online before/after the sessions to make the most of the limited face-to-face time they have. Most of the teachers who volunteer for the program are veteran teachers who want to enhance their skills.
  • During their monthly face to face meetings they:
    • Discuss what the research shows is best practice and methods of applying it to various subject areas
    • Create a lesson plan demonstrating that tool or strategy (e.g. group rotation model)
    • Their “homework” is to teach the lesson or activity they designed and reflect on what went well or could be improved.
    • When teachers teach that lesson, instructional coaches come into the classroom and observe, support and give feedback to the teacher who implemented a lesson or tool for the first time.
  • Some courses at school are taught in blended learning format because it:
    • It helps alleviate the problem of not having enough classrooms
    • Gives students opportunity to experience and prepare for a more college like environment (they don’t have to be in classroom for all periods during all days of the week)
    • Allows students to take additional classes that they normally wouldn’t be able to fit in their normal schedule
  • Instructional coaches keep careful logs on hours spent, projects completed, teachers assisted, etc so their value to the district is well documented. Teachers present activities they’ve done using technology or with help of instructional coaches to demonstrate 1:1 ‘s value to school board.

Augmented Reality Women’s Heritage Walk by: Karina Kolb (University of Florida)

  • Tools like Aurasma can be used to add supplementary multimedia material to physical objects by using augmented reality
  • AR can provide a more immersive experience in history (e.g. when students scan an image the app plays sounds, speeches, etc that took place at that location in history)
  • It would be especially powerful to have students create an Aurasma tour because they would have to decide what material to include and then create the multimedia.

BOGO: Bring one, Get one  by Jennifer Owen Hencken & Jennifer Baselice (@JenBaselice)

  • A low tech but high impact idea: have teachers share teaching tips in a common area, other teachers can share one/take one.
  • Use Post it Plus app to scan all the post its and then rearrange and categorize them.

Literature Circles enhanced by Technology by Terence Cavanaugh

  • Students pick which book they want to read with literature circle after reading 1st chapter of various books so they don’t just choose a short or easy book and choose one they’re interested in.
  • Students fulfill roles that can improve all students comprehension of the text: Graphic Illustrator (depicts main ideas & themes) , Vocabulary Elaborator (create a list of key terms & help group define them), Graphic Organizer (creates a concept map) , Background Researcher (researches  when & where writing occurred) , Mapper/Tracker (map charting location of activities of key characters). 

Is the test dead? Moodle & Domains of Knowledge

Is the test dead? Or, are computer facilitated assessments still useful?

Moodle’s quiz/test engine is one of the most dynamic and powerful platforms available to educators. Created through a collaborative, open-source, worldwide effort, educators can administer multiple choice tests, fill in the blank, drag & drop, short answer, etc and have the computer grade all of these different types of questions. Further, the test engine can pull from a pool of questions each time a student attempts the quiz so they see slightly different questions and can truly move towards mastery.  Most importantly, it allows for flexibility in grading so students highest, average or last quiz score can count in the grade book.  

The Moodle test engine is most effective for objective questions whose answers can easily be programmed into a computer. For example, labeling the countries of a particular continent would work well, not arguing which nation has the best opportunity for economic growth in the 21st century. In other words, Moodle’s test engine is most effective for level one (recall) and some level two (skill/concept) domains of knowledge:

SOURCE: Wisconsin Center of Education Research

For domains three (strategic thinking) and four (extended thinking), peer and teacher assessment is necessary.  However, moodle or a similar test engine can be used to assess students mastery of domains one and two, freeing up instructor time to focus on higher cognitive return activities and assessments.  

Can blogs kill textbooks?

The textbook is a peculiar knowledge artifact according to Dr. Cope at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

  • For efficiency’s sake, it summarizes the world; it is synoptic. There is no need for learners to discern what is more or less relevant knowledge, because this has been decided for them.

  • One author or group of authors does the summarizing; it takes the form of monologue. The textbook purports to be a complete and definite statement of what is to-be-known.

  • Facts, definitions and theorems are laid out in a strict order, from the simpler to the more complex, to optimize retention of the knowledge being transmitted. Students are positioned as knowledge consumers, consuming that knowledge step by step in the order that has been deemed correct for them.

21st century digital media can overcome the shortcomings of textbooks.

Using Blogger , WordPress or other blogging sites to structure student inquiry projects can be an effective way to leverage digital media. Blogging creates an authentic audience for student work, allows them to link to and analyze various digital sources and invites students to comment on their classmates’ work.

By blogging, students become knowledge creators because it allows for multi-modal, multi-directional inquiry where students’ curiosity fuels the learning. If you are interested in using blogger with your students, you may find this video to be helpful:

Students’ Anonymous Debate: Trump vs Clinton


How can we have students meaningfully engage with content that is being created in real-time? How can we create spaces where students feel comfortable asking peers probing questions on critical issues?

One solution: Carefully structured online spaces that provide live peer commentary and anonymous discussion.

Excerpt from students discussing September 26, 2016 Presidential Debate

Verso is just one of many tools such as Todays Meet, Google Classroom, Moodle Discussion Boards, and Back Channel that help facilitate online discussions. However, what sets Verso apart is that students post comments and questions anonymously and students can “up vote”  posts.  While teachers can see who has posted what, students post anonymously which makes students who might normally be reluctant to speak up in class comfortable sharing their views. Also, up-voting allows students to bring their peers’ attention to ideas they find interesting or important.

Verso can be an effective tool for helping students collaborate to create new understandings, as suggested by student-centered, reflexive pedagogy, and it is especially useful when learning about issues that are manifesting themselves in real time.  Below are seven principles of reflexive pedagogy as characterized by William Cope at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign followed by how they can be applied to students analyzing the Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.   For this activity, students received the following prompt & instructions:

  1. Before watching the debate:

    • Read Clinton & Trump’s views on key issues using this Washington Post overview
    • Post 1-2 questions that you would like to discuss with your peers during the debate.
    • Upvote as “helpful” the questions you believe are the most important & interesting
  2. During the debate:  Address at least 2 different classmates’ questions and/or post 2 thought-provoking observations about each candidate’s performance or how they addressed a specific issue.


  1. Ubiquitous Learning: anywhere, anytime, anyhow

Although students began the discussion in class by formulating questions, the conversations continued throughout the evening during the debate. Also, we were able to see which questions most students found interesting or important and analyze what made the question effective. Students could watch the debate on TV or stream it on a tablet, laptop or cellphone.  They could also use Verso on their computers or a mobile app.  

  1. Active Knowledge Making: the learner-as-knowledge producer and discerning knowledge discoverer/navigator

Students were able to deepen their understanding of key issues like the economy, national security and immigration by reflecting on their own views and supporting their opinions with evidence from the debate.   

  1. Multimodal Meaning: new media texts, multimodal knowledge representations

The students discussed by writing their responses but it was based on the debate they watched on TV. The discussion could be extended by asking students to post infographics or additional videos to provide evidence for their arguments.

  1. Recursive Feedback: formative assessment, prospective and constructive feedback, learning analytics

By encouraging students to respond to each other’s writing, students received feedback on the quality of their arguments.  However, to improve this activity next time, it would be important to ensure that all students get

  1. Collaborative Intelligence: peer-to-peer learning, sourcing social memory and using available knowledge tools appropriately

The anonymous posting allowed students to share their views confidently. Also, students learned from a broader range of students

  1. Metacognition: thinking about thinking, critical self-reflection on knowledge processes and disciplinary practices

Students had to self-assess what they already knew about an issue and formulate questions on what they wanted to learn about a candidate’s views.  Students also had to reflect on why they agree or disagree with a position, articulate their position and adjust their views in response to their peers’ challenges.

  1. Differentiated Learning: flexible, self-expressive and adaptive learning, addressing each student according to their interests, self-identity and needs

Although the online platform allowed students to share links to articles, video, etc, most students just responded with written commentary.  In the future, I will encourage students to find a greater variety of sources to support their views. Providing students options for the types of questions and responses they posted gave them the opportunity to pursue their own interests in issues facing our nation.

NOTE: This post was inspired by  coursework from the New Learning program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.