Thursday, December 22, 2016

LAUNCH Wrap Up and Resources

This post is the last post in the #D100BloggerPD book study of LAUNCH. Thank you for joining us on the journey of this book study! If you missed the earlier posts, check out the links on the thinglink. I want to thank all the bloggers that took time to read the book and write posts. Another big thanks to all of our followers! It has been amazing to watch our voice spread through these posts. Continue to share the impact design thinking and LAUNCH is making in your classroom!

Hopefully at this point, you feel ready and inspired to try this cycle of design thinking in your classroom. If you still aren't sure where to start, the authors of LAUNCH offer a plethora of resources to help you!

1. Buy the LAUNCH book
The end of the Launch book provides over 50 pages of support material that answer frequently asked questions, layout lessons, and give a LAUNCH notebook of reproducible. The authors give suggestions on how to align a project to your curriculum, getting stakeholders on board, and assessing the students. Everything you need is in this text!

2. Get the ToolKit
On the Launch website or John Spencer's blog, you can sign up to get the free Design Thinking Tool Kit.  It provides a getting started guide, free challenges with videos and lesson plans, assessment tools, and additional resources.

3. Follow the Authors
John Spencer blog can be found at He creates wonderful sketchy videos and thoughtful posts that are inspiration and motivating. He also has a Creative Classrooms Podcast.  

AJ Juliani's blog can be found at On his site, you can find a course for design thinking to dive even further into it. He also has a beginners guide to design thinking. AJ also provides a webinar and resources on Genius Hour, which is another way to create a student-centered classroom.      

4. Other Design Thinking Resources

A student-centered classroom comes from giving the students choice to follow their passion, while still aligning to the skills in the curriculum that need to be taught. Personalizing instruction for students isn't an expensive out-of-box computer program, it is implementing structures like design thinking, genius hour, challenge-based learning, problem/project based learning and inquiry studies that provide students a structure to follow their passions though authentic learning experiences. If we allow our students the time and space for student-centered activities, it will allow the students to apply the common core skills authentically and create students that can thrive in today's global world.

Thank you for reading and join the conversation in the comments! Continue to follow #D100BloggerPD on twitter to follow the next book study.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

LAUNCH Book Study: Chapter 10- It's Time to LAUNCH

This post is part of the #D100BloggerPD and is written by guest blogger Tyler Haar. If you missed the posts on Chpater 1-9 check out the thinglink to catch up. Tyler is a 5th grade teacher at Hiawatha Elementary school is D100. Followhim on twitter @misterHaar. He is working with his team to implement design thinking in a unit on the spheres of Earth. This summer, he led a summer school course in using design thinking. He is passionate about improving STEM education and is an asset to his students and our district. 
Here are his thoughts on chapter 10 of LAUNCH.

Launch: Chapter 10 Reflection

Chapter 10 of Launch focuses on the final phase of the design thinking process - the launch. Students are encouraged to not just share their work with peers, teachers and parents, they’re told to launch their creation across the globe. Thanks to Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and other online communities, students can reach their prime audience no matter where they may live. 

While most of our students are literate in the language of social media and technology, I have found that many still gravitate toward traditional formats of publication (posters, powerpoint presentations and speeches). Over the summer, I taught a leadership program for students entering fifth grade. The students completed a design thinking project focused on activism. Groups picked a cause and designed an awareness campaign to reach a targeted audience. The students chose a wide range of causes, from LGBTQ rights to fitness to clean water. When it came time to launch their campaigns, most groups wanted to create posters or signs to hang in the hallways of Heritage Middle School. While this was an appropriate means of communication for the Litterbusters - a group that planned a Pokemon Go/garbage pickup event at Proksa Park - it wasn’t the optimal form of communication for all groups. One group was focused on saving rainforest wildlife. At first, this group also wanted to create posters for the hallways. After receiving some feedback, the group finally realized their target audience didn’t roam the hallways of Heritage, they lived on a different continent. Eventually, they settled on the idea of creating a YouTube channel to reach a global audience. Even our technology-obsessed students need a push into a 21st-century mindset from time to time. Giving the students the opportunity to share their work to a broad, global audience is so empowering. It’s an opportunity we can not pass up. 


The authors spend a lot of time in this chapter detailing the idea of teaching marketing to students. As even the authors admit, marketing can have a negative connotation and it takes some time to accept connecting marketing with education. The authors lay out seven reasons why kids should learn marketing:

1. Marketing is a vital life skill.
2. Children need an ethical foundation in marketing.
3. Students learn about rejection. 
4. Students develop courage.
5. Students grow in their creative confidence. 
6. Students become critical consumers of information.
7. Students become more empathetic. 

As a fifth grade teacher, reasons 4, 5 and 7 stand out to me as the most age-appropriate benefits of marketing education. Fifth graders need the courage to take pride in their work and share it with the world. They also need to develop the confidence to take risks with their creativity. Failure is okay, just try something else in the next attempt! They also need to understand their audience and tailor their product to meet the audience’s wants and needs. Thinking back to our summer school design thinking projects, I am proud of the progress the students made in all three of these regards. The students were genuinely proud to share their work with peers, parents and teachers during our end of the program showcase. One group decided to write a song to raise awareness for their cause of homelessness. It took a ton of creative confidence! At first, the group members were nervous to film themselves singing, but eventually they mustered up the confidence to record themselves and share it with their classmates.

The launch phase of the design thinking process can be an incredibly powerful experience for our students (and the teachers too!). When I was a student, I took pride in putting my best school work on the refrigerator. Today, our students’ best work can end up on a computer or iPhone screen on the other side of the globe! Our students deserve the chance to share their hard work and dedication with the world. 

Look for the final post of the #D100BloggerPD study of the LAUNCH book tomorrow by Jenny Lehotsky on Teaching and Learning Redefined. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

#D100BloggerPD LAUNCH Book Study

What is #D100BloggerPD?

Welcome to the first post of the LAUNCH book study with the #D100BloggerPD crew! #D100BloggerPD is a group of bloggers from Berwyn South School District in Berwyn, IL. For a little over a year, a growing group of district teachers have been reflecting on books by blogging about each chapter. To view all the posts, follow #D100BloggerPD on twitter. For this book study, we have a great group of nine educators that will reflect on each chapter of LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking To Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. Follow each blog post to dive into the book. Each blog is listed in the schedule below and I will update the links on the Thinglink as posts go live. We will review two chapters each week for the next month. Get your own copy of Launch here. Join the conversation in the comment section of the blog posts. Use #D100BloggerPD and #LAUCHBook to join us on twitter.

LAUNCH- Ch. 1 We Need Creative Classrooms

I first read this book on an airplane on my way to Canada this summer. It was so motivating, I couldn't wait to get back to work to implement the LAUNCH cycle of design thinking to get students to solve authentic problems. Spencer and Juliani laid out their points in an excellent way and I found myself devouring this book! 

To start chapter one, the authors jump right into the 'why' and set the stage for implementing design thinking into every classroom. As they covered most of the excuses as to why creativity does not get emphasized in the classroom, they point out access to technology is no longer the problem. The divide is created when students are consumers instead of creators. Instead of spending time consuming content, students need to be creating and sharing their own creative content and ideas. This same overall message is also seen in George Couros book Innovators Mindset. For students to be innovative problem solvers in today's society, not just the future, but now, we need to give them the skills to be creative thinkers. The world has already given them the technology tools, teachers need to facilitate the experiences. 

I think everyone would agree with the quote above and it is not that profound, however, does your classroom show that creativity is for everyone?  Creative projects aren't meant for the gifted or the students that get done early. Students have different talents and the creative process can amplify talents that otherwise would have been hidden. We have to believe that everyone can be creative and be ready to pick them up when they fail and build success from those failures. When students take risks with their ideas and understand that failure is part of the process, their success will be that much sweeter.

As a former science teacher, I am a sucker for systems and processes. To reach student's creative potential, Spencer and  Juliani suggest design thinking as the process and the LAUNCH cycle as the framework. If students are able to understand and manipulate the steps of this cycle, they can use it to find and implement creative solutions to any problem.

Every day we deal with constraints in the way of achieving our goals. Those constraints can cause us to give up, or push us to creative solutions. Whether it is time or resources that are an issue, the book points out there is more power in having constraints and it fosters the creative process. Dollar Store STEM has easy to implement challenges that can give students practice working within constraints.

I am working with an awesome 5th-grade team at Hiawatha school to implement design thinking through the LAUNCH cycle. As part of the process, I put together a series of Ted-Ed lessons. The first lesson uses Spencer's video called "The LAUNCH Cycle," to describe the LAUNCH cycle to students. The "Dig Deeper" section pulls in other resources on design thinking. The second lesson is called "This Could Fail," so we can discuss failure with the students. The lesson is based on John Spencer's video and in the dig deeper section the students will explore a few other videos including "Audri's Rube Goldberg Mouse Trap." The goal is to get students to anticipate failure and move forward as we begin this creative process. Lesson 3 and 4 will happen when students are ready to navigate ideas. "Think Inside the Box" is the third lesson that will show students the power of creative constraints. The fourth lesson, called "A Different Approach to Brainstorming," will help teachers and students have a structure to come up with solution ideas.

This wooden plaque hangs above my desk as a reminder to create, produce, and accomplish my ideas. I have a lot of wonderful conversations with colleagues, but those ideas do not always come to light. This sign is a reminder for me to continue to launch. I love that Spencer and Juliani emphasize the point that the final step is to launch our creative ideas. They state how this is the scariest, but most rewarding part and is often overlooked.

Creative power is already in your classroom. Join us for the rest of the book study to talk about how you can use LAUNCH to unleash creativity in any class. Have you tried it? Did you read the chapter? Let's chat about it in the comment section below.

Thank you for joining #D100BloggerPD for the reflection of Chapter 1 of LAUNCH.  Annie Forest (@MrsForest) will be covering Chapter 2 on her blog, on Wednesday, November 23. Check it out and follow along with the rest of the book study using #D100BloggerPD on twitter.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hack 2 of Hacking the Common Core- #D100BloggerPD

Welcome back to the #D100BloggerPD! #D100BloggerPD is a group of bloggers from Berwyn South School District 100 that read and blog about various education books! I'm here to give you a run down of Hack #2 in "Hacking the Common Core" by Michael Fisher. If you missed the first post, check out Kristen Richey's post on Reading and Owl of the Above. Hack #1 really takes the edge off of Common Core anxiety.

Hack #2 Close in on Close Reading

I think we are all guilty of overgeneralizing the Common Core at one point or another, I'll admit that I have. The first Common Core literacy anchor standard states:

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

In Hack 2, author Michael Fisher explains that close reading has been misinterpreted. He points out the first two words in the standard, "read closely," have been taken too literally and lead to teachers having students close read everything, rather than focusing on the key points in the rest of the standard. Much of this interpretation is driven by commercial products that push close reading. It is not meant to be a skill and kill strategy. "Close reading is an analysis of text rather than a specific skill with a prescribed formula," explain Fisher. 
Fisher isn't saying to stop analysis of text, although he does say "...just stop whatever it is your doing that you call close reading."  The problem lies in the prescribed formula that gets used repeatedly because we have been told that's how the students will meet the standard.  

So, what should we be doing? First, Fisher suggests taking a close look at the entire standard. 

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. 

The standard is really asking students to determine what the text says, make inferences, and cite evidence to support conclusions. Once you have interpreted all parts of the standard, next he suggests taking a look at your curriculum to make any adaptations. As he lays out the blueprint to implement this hack, one important component is "ensuring students frequently show their thinking." Give them the space and time to make connections with text and media to make their thinking visible. Allow them a voice to express their learning. Push them to show how language can deepen the interaction between characters to develop the plot. Bottom line, students need a variety of experiences to interact with text in meaningful ways, not an overprescribed scripted structure.

Some of you may be left in shock after this post. Hopefully, after reading this you will find yourself spending some time with your colleagues and exploring the standards as well what you are doing with your curriculum to ensure the understanding and the instruction align.

Catch the rest of the hacks coming up soon. Kayla Kaczmarek is up next with Hack #3 and it can be found on her website on October 6th. Follow #D100BloggerPD on twitter and the image below has the rest of the crew that is "Hacking the Common Core" with Michael Fisher! I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Power of Classroom Visits

Time is always tight for educators, but collaboration doesn't have to be time set aside for an official meeting. It can be as simple as popping into a colleague's room, observing, and having a conversation. As I have seen more and more educators welcome others into their classroom, it has opened up conversations and spread great ideas. But how do you get this culture to happen?

A couple different ways have spread across my district and social media that would help teachers welcome classroom visitors.

1. Site Visits
A few years ago when our district went 1:1 Macbooks, we started to host site visits from outside districts to come see what we are doing with our program.  We received the Apple Distinguished Program honor for the work we are doing to transform learning using technology and it helped turn attention to our schools. When we first started, people asked why we would spend our time opening our doors? Why not! We have amazing things going on in our classrooms that are worth talking about. When you know visitors will be in and out of your classroom, teachers have a chance to showcase their teaching and look to always enhance their practices. Staff and students take pride and ownership in what they are doing. At the end of the visit, we invite administrators and teachers to debrief with us. This process is very reflective and allows us to keep coming back to why we do this.

We have learned so much from the visitors. Simple comments about programs used or another perspective on how to implement something could spark a great idea to make us even better. Wonderful educators like George Couros, John Antonetti, Saba Quidwai, and Carl Hooker have been able to tour many of our schools and share their expertise on ways we can improve even more.

Site Visitors interacting with students. 

Site visitors viewing students projects. 

2. Pineapple Chart

The idea from Jennifer Gonzalez, author of Hacking Learning and blogger at Cult of Pedagogy, has begun to spread across the district. She explains the charts very well in her blog post. The pineapple is a symbol for welcome. This chart allows teachers to post things going on in their classroom to welcome others to come see their lesson. At Hiawatha Elementary School and Freedom Middle School, you can find a Pineapple chart in their common area. Hiawatha Literacy coach, Leah O'Donnell wrote a blog post about how they use the chart as Hiawatha. Teachers can even put a pineapple on the outside of their door as a symbol for others to come into their class.

New pineapple chart at Freedom Middle School by Amy Gorzkowski.

Pineapple chart in use at Hiawatha by Leah O'Donnell.

3. #ObserveMe
Robert Kaplinsky has a call to action for teachers that is catching on. In his blog post, he challenges teachers to post a sign on their door inviting teachers to observe with explicit points of feedback they would like to receive. To further collaborate outside the school and spread the idea, he asks teachers to post on social media using #observeme. The point here is the feedback portion to help the teacher grow. Visitors will walk away with a new idea as well, so it's a win for both teachers. This idea is new to our district, but I have seen teachers with a sign that invites you.      

Sign on Angela Gonzales door that creates a welcomes others. 

Most teachers are humble and many are risk takers that are confident enough in their abilities to allow others to come in and give them support. Observing another teacher's classroom is a benefit for both educators involved. Try one or all of these ways and see what amazing things come from it! If you have done any of these I would love to hear your experience!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"What Teachers Make" Response to Ch 2-3 #D100bloggerPD

Welcome to the second post of the #D100BloggerPD book study on "What Teachers Make" by Taylor Mali. If you missed the first post by the wonderful Colleen Noffsinger, check it out at the Literacy Loving Gals blog! If you are new to #D100BloggerPD, you are in for a treat! We are a group of educators in Berwyn, IL. We complete books studies on educational books covering a range of topics in education and we each take a chapter to blog about. So, you can "read" some of the hottest books in education by following #D100BloggerPD on twitter and keeping up with the blog posts!  

Vignette 2 - Your Child is My Student

In this section, Mali talks of the challenges presented to teachers in the dynamic of the parent, teacher, student trifecta. He comments how children may get more face-to-face time with teachers than their parents. A tremendous amount of weight is put on teachers for students to succeed and often the failures come back to the teacher.

In actuality, it is three people that are responsible for a student's education and success: parents, teacher, and the student. When dealing with a struggling student, the three pieces must come together.


As I was reading this section, a few thoughts came to mind that can help other teachers build a positive relationship with parents. 
1. Openly communicate with parents constantly. With so many social media outlets and ways to communicate, parents should be receiving updates on what is going on in class and with their child. These updates can easily be sent to the whole class or individual parents through tools like Remind or Class Dojo.  
2. Assume positive intent. Most parents I have come into contact with are doing the best they can and may not know any different. Don't judge them. Share ways that they can support their child at home because they may just be unaware. 
3. Respect the parent decisions. Parents make hard decisions every day concerning their children. Whether a parent decides to put their child on medication or take them off, isn't a teacher's position to judge, our role is to adjust our teaching accordingly. 

Taking a collaborative approach with parents from the start of the school year will benefit everyone involved.   

Vignette 3- A Poet Becomes a Teacher (and Vice Versa)

In this section, Mali talked about how he attended graduate school to become a poet and found himself having a need to impact the lives of children, unlike the majority of his colleagues. He states teaching is the art of explanation. He explains, the best teachers gather the information and present it in a meaningful way and allow students to finish the ideas. 

I agree with this to an extent, but I feel the tide of teaching is changing. As education is transforming, the passing of information from the teacher to student and back again is drastically changing. The best teachers are becoming facilitators to teach students how to gather and sort information, build creativity, and allow students to create products that exceed what the teacher thought was possible!

He also explains the importance of teaching and learning in the early years of a child's life through early elementary. These years are so formative for a child. Programs have been started all over the globe to educate parents on ways to educate their children before starting school.  Because as Mali points out, there becomes a point where it is nearly impossible to get a student caught up once they are so far behind. Often this path is laid before they enter school. Another layer to an already challenging job for teachers!

He closes this section with a great line, "Everything I do is a kind of lesson, even if I'm the only person learning it."  I like this line for many reasons, but it helps me remember two things. It reminds me that I'm always sending a message with everything I do and someone is learning something from it, so share your words intentionally. Also, everything I do is an opportunity for me to learn as well, even if I'm the only one. 

Find the next installment of the #D100BloggerPD at Miss Kaczmarek's Classroom and follow wonderful Kayla on twitter! You won't be disappointed. Don't miss any of the other posts by checking out the schedule below. Thanks for reading!


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Juxtapose Your Lesson

I just came across a great simple tool I wanted to share! I've seen images showing how areas have changed over time with a side by side picture and slider in the middle. When you move the slider it shows how the area has changed. Here is an example of two iconic Chicago theaters. I always thought it was a great visual representation, but didn't know how to create them...until now! The website will allow you to choose online pictures and "juxtapose" them!

They can be created by the teachers or students. Here are some ways I could see it being used in the classroom.

1. The change of seasons on the landscape of the neighborhood.
2. The change of students from the first day of school to the last.
3. The progress made on a project students are working on.
4. Geographical changes of Earth.
5. The transformation of a space in the school.

The website is very easy to use. Simply, put in the web address for each picture along with the date it was taken. (Remember to use images that are free to use. Check out how here.)You can upload your own pictures to Flicker, Dropbox, or Google Drive and get a link from there. Click publish and use the embed code!


Here is one I created of a shopping center that was remodeled a few years ago in Berwyn. I can't wait to see this in action in the classroom!

Friday, April 15, 2016

How to Create Simple RSA Animate Videos

RSA Animate videos are creative whiteboard videos that illustrate an idea. They can be simple to very elaborate. Here are the steps I used with a 3rd grade class to help the students illustrate their writing. Check out the blog post "Influential People Unit with RSA Animate and Green Screen" to see their projects. You can also check out professional RSA animate .

What you need:

  • Whiteboard
  • Dry erase marker and eraser
  • Storyboard graphic organizer
  • iPad or device that records video
  • iMovie

Step 1: Write your idea
First, complete the message you would like to illustrate. Edit and revise it, so you have a final draft to illustrate.

Step 2: Create a storyboard
Using a storyboard graphic organizer or app, plan out a picture for each sentence. We encouraged the students to number each sentence and match it to a picture or write each sentence below the blank box. Draw one picture per sentence. Depending on the length of sentences, you may need to adjust the pictures. For example, you may need two pictures for a long sentence or quickly draw a simple picture for a short sentence.

Step 3: Draw and record
Record each picture being drawn. We recorded using the time-lapse camera on the iPad. It was helpful to use a stand for the iPad, but you can hold it still as well. If you do not have an iPad, you can record with a computer and speed up the videos in iMovie. After erasing a picture, stop and read the sentence with the video. This ensures the timing of the video and audio match. Make adjustments as needed by adding more pictures or simplifying some drawings. After the drawings are finished, send the videos to the computer.

Student recording RSA Animate with iPad time-lapse camera

Step 4: Put the video together and add voice
Next, put the clips together in iMovie in the correct order. Select the "Record Voiceover" feature. Voiceover the images. We used a microphone to eliminate background noise, but that is optional.

Recording voiceover in iMovie

Step 5: Publish and share
Publish the video and share your message with the audience of your choice.

The great thing about RSA animate is that you don't have to be an artist. Since you are telling the story along with the pictures, the audience will understand the visuals with the audio.

Have fun enhancing your message with RSA animate!

Influential People Unit with RSA Animate and Green Screen

In Miss Carillo's 3rd grade bilingual class the students were working on opinion writing in their writing workshop. The goal was for students to choose an influential person, conduct research, write their paragraph with examples and evidence, and create a product that can be shared with an audience of their choice.  This lesson included several engaging qualities.

Engaging Qualities

  • Choice- Students were able to choose their influential person. They also had a choice in how they wanted to present their information out to their audience.
  • Sense of Audience- Students were challenged to think about the best audience for their presentation. All students shared with parents and teachers at the viewing party, but they were able to choose an authentic audience to share it with online. 
  • Novelty & Authenticity- As part of their choice, they could have chosen using a green screen or creating an RSA animate. These were new to the students and many were excited to try these options. 


The students conducted research on a project board similar to the picture below. Miss Carrillo taught a mini lesson on finding reliable sources and encouraged them to use the research tool in google docs to find reliable sources. Once they choose their influential person, they began using the project board.
Once they had completed some research, Miss Carrillo modeled putting this together  into their paragraph. As students began writing, she followed the workshop model to support them. As the students finished revising and editing, they began to think about their final product.

Determining the Final Product
The students could create a final project of their choice to publish their information. Miss Carrillo created a "Choice Board" that allowed students to choose from several options to create their product.
The most popular choices were iMovie with greenscreen, RSA animate, and presenting their speech dressed as their person.

Final Product

For the students that chose greenscreen, we recorded the students reading their paragraph in front of a green screen. The students then found pictures that aligned with their story and merged the videos and pictures in iMovie. As we filmed and students read aloud, they realized areas that needed to be edited or revised. For example, a student asked, "I want to change this part. Can I fix my paper and record it again?" Of course! By creating this final product, she was naturally motivated to complete the writing process through revision and editing. This can be one of the hardest aspects of the writing process to motivate students to complete. Knowing that she had an audience gave her the motivation to write to the best of her ability.

RSA Animate
Several students chose RSA animation. After writing and editing their paragraph, they had to make their paragraph visual by planning out pictures for each sentence using a storyboard. This created critical thinking of the points they had made in their paragraph. As I help students, they translated their Spanish writing to English to share their idea with me. Then we were able to have great conversations about how to make the concepts in their writing visual. Once the storyboard was done, the students then had to draw their images on a whiteboard as it was recorded in time-lapse on the iPad. Once they had their visual story, all the time-lapsed videos were put into iMovie and they were able to voice-over the images with their writing. Check out this post to learn how we created the RSA videos.

Check out this playlist of all the projects! 

AH-HA Moments

The goal of this activity was to develop the students writing and give them an audience to share. However, it turned into so much more. I was working with one particular student on her RSA. She wrote her paragraph in Spanish and translated each sentence orally to me so I could help her. She had to come up with pictures for each sentence that told the story of her paragraph. She was able to purposefully practice, writing and speaking skills and show the depth of her understanding through pictures. If Miss Carrillo would have asked the students to write a paragraph, then orally translate it, draw a picture to represent each sentence and then read it aloud three times, most of the students wouldn't have been motivated to do it. However, they enhanced their writing skills, speaking skills, and knowledge of the content by doing all those things with a purpose. This activity gave those skills a purpose and added more depth to their learning. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Personalized Learning in Action

Check out a few of my other posts on personalized learning: Personalized Learning: Before you Begin & Tools to Personalize Learning

I wanted to share how classrooms are moving on the continuum of personalized learning from a teacher-driven to a learner-driven classroom.  

Meagan Bushell and Kristen Fernandez had decided to start personalizing learning with standard MS-ESS2.1 - “Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth’s material and the flow of energy that drives the process.” So in the end, the students needed to model the rock cycle and explain the flow of energy within it.

To set this up, we brainstormed components that could be applied to any unit. 

Personalized Learning Components
  • Inquiry
  • Student Centered Activities
  • Flexibility
  • Accountability
  • Self Assessment
  • Choice in Final Assessment 


Creating inquiry by getting students to ask questions about the topic is a great way to peak the student's interest in the topic. To create inquiry, Meagan and Kristen started with the Question Formulation Technique. The structure of QFT can be found HERE.  

First, they had the students gather in groups. They showed the class a picture prompt as the Q Focus. In groups, the students followed the rules of QFT to create questions from the focus image. Groups then turned the questions into open questions and added the important ones to a class Padlet. Together as a class, they sorted and prioritized the Padlet and came up with three questions to guide their learning. 

Final Questions:
    1. What is the rock cycle?
    2. What are the main types of rocks?
    3. What are the processes that transfer energy in the rock cycle?


Once the guiding questions were created, Meagan and Kristen created a playlist of activities for the students to choose from to reach the standard. It included text, videos, interactive websites and a hands-on simulation. The students then reviewed the materials and determined what resources they would use to start learning. Here is where common core reading and writing standards are aligned. Power my Learning is a great site with “playlists” for a variety of concepts. In this case, the teachers chose to use our LMS, Schoology, to get resources to students. 


Students could choose to work cooperatively, independently, or with the teacher. Each teacher arranged their rooms to include independent workstations, collaborative areas, and space for small group instruction with the teacher. Each area was clearly labeled and students moved to areas of the room with a purpose. This gave the teachers the ability to pull students that needed extra support and the flexibility to change those groups. Depending on the group of students, they may need more structure at the cooperatively learning area by using Kagan structures or other collaborative activities.  

The teachers were also flexible with the time. Students that mastered the standard quickly were able to move on when they were ready while other students could take the time they needed to master the content. It is important to keep a pace in mind and the teachers were able to meet with the students and support them if they were going over the allotted time.  


Students were held accountable to the teacher and to themselves. At the end of each period, the students completed a google form that helped them reflect on their progress and plan their next step.
They had to reflect on how close they are to mastery of the standards and how well they worked in their chosen instructional group. 

The second accountability piece was evidence of mastery. Before they could move on, the students had to correctly answer a set of questions in Quia. If they didn’t get 100%, they were able to go back and relearn the material before beginning the assessment activity. Have this done in a site like Quia, enable the students to complete this independently.


In the final assessment, the students were given a variety of choices. They needed to complete a “Rock Cycle Dice” Simulation, then create a “My Life as a Rock” story. This was done in a variety of ways. Some students chose Keynote, iMovie, posters, or coded an Ozobot robot. 

          Student project in progress using the Ozobot to represent the rock cycle.


It was amazing to see some students learn the material and understand the standards in a few lessons. Meagan and I had a conversation about how one student could be doing so much more and with a personalized learning structure now he can! It makes room for true enrichment activities for those who need it and allows more time for others. Behavior issues also diminished in the classrooms using personalized learning. As a teacher, you have to be ready with materials for your students to move on. Personalized learning takes a little more planning on the front of a unit, but its worth it!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Personalized Learning: Before you Begin

As a science teacher, I implemented various pieces of personalized learning. My students worked on self-paced activities using blendspace, they participated in Genius Hour and were provided with a variety of choices in their learning.  As a coach, I have recently taken a huge interest in creating a culture of personalized learning. The more research I do, the more definitions I find and variety of ways it is done and at multiple levels of personalization. 

As this begins to spread across my district, I wanted to share a few things I have learned.

Before dipping a toe into personalized learning, remember these three things.
  1. There is not one right way to personalize learning for your students. 
  2. You need to have an open mindset. Whether you call it growth mindset, innovators mindset, etc, you have to be open to the students taking control of their own learning. 
  3. There will be levels of failure from you and from the students. How you respond to these failures will determine the success. 

The School Improvement Network has a great video called "The Four Key Elements to Personalized Learning."  

Key elements:

1. Flexibility- Give the students the time, space, and resources to be successful. Some students may need to sit on the floor or spread across several tables. Some students may finish three lessons in one class while others make take three days. Based on the learning objective, give them as many resources as possible. Allow group collaboration, individual work, or working with the teacher.   

2. Student-centered approach- The students should be given voice and choice. Teachers have objectives that need to be hit, but students can learn them in a variety of ways.  Give them many options and allow them to choose their learning path. The path and outcome will look different for each student. Be careful not to overprescribe and micromanage what students do and how they do it.  In the end, allow them to show their learning in a unique creation. Meet them where they are and get them to mastery in the best way for them.

3. Mastery- The objective is to master the standard at least at a proficient level. Again, this will look different for each student and take varying amounts of time. 

4. Effective teaching- The teacher is now able to support the individual needs of all students. This is the time to pull small groups, sit down with students one-on-one and rotate through the class to support different students. 

The Teachers Role

You become the facilitator, which can be uncomfortable for some teachers. Some teachers wonder  “What am I supposed to do?” Now you have time to have individual and small group conversations. Sit down with students and review their work as they are working. Listen to student conversations. 

Here are few questions to use as prompt.
1. What goal are you working on?
2. What activities do you plan to do to reach that goal?
2. How is this activity helping you reach that goal?
3. Where are you at in the process of reaching that goal?

Check out my other posts on personalized learning: Personalized Learning in Action & Tools to Personalize Learning.

Monday, February 15, 2016

#D100BloggerPD "Move Your Bus" Reflection- Ch. 15-17

Happy Monday, everyone! Hopefully, you are enjoying some time in your personal life on this President's Day.

Welcome to the next installment of #D100Blogger PD for "Move Your Bus," by Ron Clark. If you have missed the previous posts from my wonderful D100 colleagues, check out #D100bloggerpd on twitter or find the list of posts on Literacy Loving Gals blog here.

I have really enjoyed this book since it caused me to do so much reflection about myself and my district. So here it goes with some of my thoughts from Ch. 15 Stay in your lane, Ch. 16 Change the conversation to change the culture, and Ch. 17 Allow the runners to reap the rewards.


I think most runners and even joggers could relate to this chapter. Ron makes the point that runners often start to meddle with others jobs, or spend too much time helping others along to point that it is a detriment to themselves. Not only will this stop the runner, but it can slow the whole bus. He just wants to shout, "Stay in your lane!" 

There are times, when I remember thinking, "Man, I just want to teach and not worry about all these other things!" Now, I think back and in some cases, I really didn't need to be worried about some of those other things. Teachers never have enough time, so it is important to guard your time to focus on your responsibilities. It takes focus, focus, focus. He also reminds us that it takes loyalty, patience, and faith as well. 

Some runners even fall into the trap of doing the work for others to keep the bus moving. This will only cause more work for you and the others will get the benefits. One thing I have to keep in mind is that something may not be done the way I would have done it, or would like it done, but that is ok and I need to keep MY focus.

Now don't confuse mentoring and helping others with doing the work for them. Especially in education, mentoring and sharing is a huge part of our responsibility, but don't drag the unwilling by the hand to catch up with the bus.    

Remember to stay in that straight line from point A to point B with your eyes on the road ahead. Focus on your job and do it well!


We have all been sucked into negative conversations or maybe even started them. I can admit that of course I have, too. It is human nature. Ron offers a simple solution to participating in negative conversation....JUST STOP. When we participate in negative conversations, it just causes us to "one-up" each other and the negativity spreads. In the best schools with the best teachers and the best students there is always going to be something to complain about, so just stop.

He refers to negativity as digging potholes. Instead of being a sponge and allowing others to carry on negative conversations with you, he offers three suggestions: ask a question, tell a positive story, or just walk away. Ron suggests saying, "How can we make this better?" or "Can I tell you something positive about my day?" The person that is being negative will definitely get the hint.  At the very least, they will stop talking negatively to you and who knows, maybe they will even start to look at the positive side and turn others around.

I have been fortunate to have several excellent leaders in my career. One of the reasons they are so great is that they are able to stay positive and impact the culture amidst negative energy.When a teacher thinks it just can't get any worse, I have seen them bring everything into perspective and keep the bus moving along without opening the emergency exit. I realize that these positive reactions are one of the reasons why they are in a leadership position.


This chapter was brief and to the point, a good point. If you are not the one working the hardest, don't take the rewards from the ones that are. What is fair isn't equal to everyone. The people that are working the hardest should be rewarded for that. He reminds leaders to recognize those runners. There is no faster way to take the wind out of a runners sail, then to reward someone who is not working as hard. If you want the rewards, work hard for it. Step up your game and you efforts will be noticed. I have seen people act out of jealousy and start negative conversations instead of being happy for those that are working the hardest. Those negative conversations are only slowing the bus. You want everyone around you working at their best, so be happy when they are recognized for it.

These chapters really hit on some deep issues within any organization. I am walking away with some goals for myself. I plan to stay more focused on my goals, turn around negative conversations, and be motivated to work harder if others receive the rewards I want. If everyone did this, think of the awesome possibilities for the bus as a whole!  

Join the wonderful Leah O'Donnell at Responsive Literacy on Wednesday the 17th as she reviews Ch. 18 Exude a sense of urgency and Ch. 19 Find solutions. Also don't forget to check out #D100bloggerPD for all the "Move Your Bus" reflections and so many other books, too!  

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The February Funk

Welcome February! I don't know about you, but this seems to the month I run out of steam. We are fully back in the swing of things from winter break and spring break is still too far ahead.


Well, instead of just wishing for a snow day...and regretting it in June...try one of these tricks for that extra motivation!

Request the help of a coach
That is why we are here! You can come as a blank slate with an open mind or with a project in mind. Maybe there is a project that you always thought would be great someday, but who has the time. A coach can help pull you and your students out of boredom.  

Take a break 
Break up class with a brain break. GoNoodle is great site for all ages and all you have to do is click and play!  It may just be the simple silly solution to bring you up. 

Try a new app or website with your class
Stick around is an app for all ages and subjects from the wonderful Tony Vincent. Teachers and students can make puzzles based on content to share with each other. Don't have iPads, try Power my Learning. This site supports personalized learning with playlists of games and activities for many different content areas. 


Make a new connection
My PLN motivates me everyday! Connect with amazing educators on Twitter, Instragram or Facebook. Try a new twitter chat or find a new blog. There are also many awesome blogs listed on the home page of this blog. 

Try a new project with your students
May I suggest Genius Hour! Research shows productivity goes up when people are given time to explore their own passion. Give this opportunity to your students and see where it takes them! 

I hope one of these tips spark that extra motivation in you! 
Now go get 'em!