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.

SAT v. Grit: What matters in life?


Another season of SAT, ACT and AP testing is upon us.

Teachers and administrators are beginning to stress whether their students are prepared for the tests and how students’ scores will reflect on their performance.

Students are worried the tests will reveal how smart they really are and whether they will be a success of failure in life  based on their scores.

SAT & ACT scores do correlate with some intelligence tests. However, as we consider what role the SAT (or any intelligence test for that matter) should play in our schools, it is important to remember:

Verbal reasoning, in which students have to analyze complex texts, can help gauge how prepared students are to tackle challenging readings in college. For example, the following question assess not just students’ ability to literally comprehend a passage but to analyze it for broader messages.

nullSOURCE: College Board

However, what this type of test does not assess is students ability to persevere, get help and seek creative solutions.

The SAT does not assess if a student, who may be a slower reader that initially found a reading confusing, could re-read a passage and use strategies to discern greater meaning. (The time constraints on the SAT & ACT, as any junior in high school will attest, are notorious for leading students to skim passages and guess on questions instead of thoughtfully engaging with the text.)

The SAT does not assess if a student has the initiative to ask a teacher or peer for help or use online resources to better grasp new concepts that his peers might have learned more quickly and independently.

The SAT does what it is supposed to do: provide an objective snapshot of a student’s reading, math and writing skills in the given time and testing constraints.

However, the SAT does not assess for traits far more important for success in life: self-efficacy and grit.

Annotating for Critical Literacy

SOURCE: New York Times

One simple way to teach students to critically examine texts from various lenses is to utilize targeted annotation techniques.  There are numerous guides for how to increase students’ comprehension by previewing texts, actively reading, summarizing, etc. One especially useful guide is from Susan Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Writing Programs at Harvard University. Guides like this can be useful for showing teachers and students what approaches to use across all texts: underlining main ideas, circling key terms, etc.  However, when you want students to analyze texts more critically, it is vital to have students make more focused annotations which have the power to change students’ perspectives while they read.

For example, if you would like students to analyze the economic, environmental and humanitarian benefits and costs of building the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, you could have students write econ +/-, env +/-, and hum +/- in the margin when they come across evidence that falls in one of those categories. Doing so would draw students’ attention beyond main ideas and supporting details the author used to support his or her argument to a more critical stance analyzing the issue from three different perspectives simultaneously.

After reading and annotating the text, students could be asked to summarize the various positives and negatives and come to their own conclusion as to whether the dam should have been built.  Through the strategic use of annotation techniques students ability to employ various critical lenses can improve significantly.


While reading, identify lines that show Economic, Environmental, and Social  positive (+) and negative (-) effects of building the 3 Gorges Dam.  

  •        Econ.: How will the dam help or hurt China’s economy?
  •        Env. : How will the dam help or hurt the environment?
  •        Hum.: How will people’s lives improve or change for the worse due to the dam?

This annotation technique was used with an edited version of the article The Chinese Dam Projects Criticized for their Human Cost

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). 

Creating a Growth Mindset: Revisited

I came across Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success a few years ago. In my initial burst of excitement, I quickly created brief activities to introduce the growth mindset to my students by compiling short readings and asking students to reflect on their own views to see where they fall along the spectrum from fixed to growth.

While I still use some aspects of those activities, I found that I didn’t consistently apply Dweck’s ideas or truly move students from seeing intelligence and ability as fixed to one that sees it as malleable.

 I wasn’t able to make her ideas a regular part of the class because I didn’t create frequent reminders for myself to change my habits for giving praise and feedback. Also, I didn’t deliberately seek opportunities to highlight my own failures or of historical figures. 

After re-reading her book, here are 3 ways I hope to change that:

#1 Teach students about the brain early & often

While discussing the syllabus at the beginning of the year I share my philosophy on giving feedback and not grading everything, offering retakes/redoes and encouraging students to ask for help. I explain that I emphasize feedback over grading and try to give multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning because I believe that all students have the ability to grow and master a new concept or skill.

This belief is backed by neuroscience. Therefore, while discussing the syllabus I could take 15 minutes to show and discuss videos explaining how challenges and repeated deliberate practice can actually grow your brain:    

#2 Change how I praise students & give feedback

I know I should be focusing on effort, but our culture and our own experiences as a student & child often leave unhelpful or even harmful practices ingrained in us. By posting some of the charts below next to my desk, I can get quick visual reminders on how I should be praising students. 

Praise: Goal Example
Student Performance: Effort. Learning a new skill requires that the student work hard and put forth considerable effort–while often not seeing immediate improvement.

For beginning learners, teacher praise can motivate and offer encouragement by focusing on effort (‘seat-time’) rather than on product (Daly et al., 2007).

Today in class, you wrote non-stop through the entire writing period. I appreciate your hard work.
Student Performance: Accuracy. When learning new academic material or behaviors, students move through distinct stages (Haring et al., 1978). Of these stages, the first and most challenging for struggling learners is acquisition. In the acquisition stage, the student is learning the rudiments of the skill and strives to respond correctly.

The teacher can provide encouragement to students in this first stage of learning by praising student growth in accuracy of responding.

“This week you were able to correctly define 15 of 20 biology terms. That is up from 8 last week. Terrific progress!”Â
Student Performance: Fluency. When the student has progressed beyond the acquisition stage, the new goal may be to promote fluency (Haring et al., 1978).

Teacher praise can motivate the student to become more efficient on the academic task by emphasizing that learner’s gains in fluency (a combination of accuracy and speed of responding).

“You were able to compute 36 correct digits in two minutes on today’s math time drill worksheet. That’s 4 digits more than earlier this week–impressive!”
Work Product: Student Goal-Setting. A motivating strategy for a reluctant learner is to have him or her set a goal before undertaking an academic task and then to report out at the conclusion of the task about whether the goal was reached.

The teacher can then increase the motivating power of student goal-setting by offering praise when the student successfully sets and attains a goal. The praise statement states the original student goal and describes how the product has met the goal.

“At the start of class, you set the goal of completing an outline for your paper. And I can see that the outline that you produced today looks great—it is well-structured and organized.”
Work Product: Using External Standard. Teacher praise often evaluates the student work product against some external standard.

Praise tied to an external standard reminds the student that objective expectations exist for academic or behavioral performance (e.g., Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics) and provides information about how closely the student’s current performance conforms to those expectations.

When comparing student work to an external standard, the teacher praise-statement identifies the external standard and describes how closely the student’s work has come to meeting the standard.

“On this assignment, I can see that you successfully converted the original fractions to equivalent fractions before you subtracted. Congratulations—you just showed mastery of one of our state Grade 5 math standards!”

SOURCE: Intervention Central

You say . . . You could say . . . Why?
Good job! I can really see your effort in revision. Praising effort and process encourages writers to keep trying. (Dweck)
You’re a good writer. Those drafts paid off in sentence variety and imagery. Encouraging growth instead of fixed mindset makes for happier people in charge of their progress. (Dweck)
You don’t know how to use semi-colons. You haven’t mastered semi-colons yet. The power of yet suggests growth and mastery. (Dweck and Pink)

SOURCE: Edutopia


growth-mindsetSOURCE: Mindset Scholars Network

#3 Model failure & growth

When teaching history we often discuss people’s accomplishments as inevitable facts. We rarely describe how Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, etc failed often before they found success. Similarly, in Math & Science we rarely take the time to discuss the process of discovering new theorems or inventions and present them as fully developed ideas.  I need to do a better job taking some time to highlight how every celebrated person struggled throughout their lives and failed numerous times before they found success.