Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Getting Started with an LMS

A learning management system is traditionally used to support students in an online class.  It is the hub of learning, providing opportunities for teachers to share assignments, assessments, and communications between members of the class and the instructor.  Many of our WRSD high school teachers have found Google Classroom to be very effective in doing this.  But what if we could take it one step further?

As part of the Personalized Learning Grant that we received from PDE, we have researched the best learning management system platforms and found that Schoology has good reason to advertise that it is the best on the market. While many of you may be familiar with it from the iPad course through Eduspire, it has made significant improvements since then.  With what they call “Enhanced Google Integration,” as well as the ability to connect to other top educational vendors, they do not ask that teachers recreate the wheel.  Instead they allow us to connect the best systems in one place to create a hub of learning for our students.

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As the middle and high school roll out the option of 1:1 programs in their buildings, you may be wondering how to make use of this excellent and diverse tool.  When we attempt to personalize learning for our students and allow them to work at their own pace, we find that they also finish at their own pace.  Being able to offer opportunities to deepen and extend their learning becomes an opportunity but also a challenge.  What does that look like?  Instead of thinking in terms of “lessons,” begin to think in terms of “modules,” with us helping students achieve mastery of the concepts instead of passing a test.

Schoology is set up to look like a social media newsfeed (think Facebook).  But you can connect to Sapphire (the new gradebook), Lightning Grader, Google Docs and more (it’s so much more than just a connection).  It takes the focus off of a test and talks more about what their learning was, such as through portfolios or learning objectives.  You can reward students for their progress with badges, too, capitalizing on the digital badge trend.  Student and parent accounts are linked, so parents can see their child’s courses and progress.

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If you aren’t sure where to get started, you can take a look at some courses that have been created by other teachers in other districts, copy and edit the content they have, and make it work for you.  This is especially useful if you teach the same course and use common assessments for multiple sections of the same course.  Administrators and other staff members will be using this system too, so that we are all familiar with this platform to share information throughout the district.

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With the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, some teachers may be creating online course content for WRSD, some teachers may be furthering their blended classroom, or some teachers may be trying to make use of their students’ chromebooks on a more regular basis.  Whatever the reason, Schoology is a tool for any teacher of any content area.  If you are interested in using it, please reach out so we can discuss it further.  I will be happy to help you in using this as an effective tool in your class.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mini Grants Support Classroom Innovation at All Levels

Each year since 2014, the Warrior Run Education Foundation (WREF) has asked classroom teachers for mini grant proposals.  These grants are intended to fund innovative projects or approaches to delivering curriculum, including professional development, which are supported by research and intended to increase student engagement and learning.

Jean Hormell, Chair of the WREF, says, "our goal is to encourage dreaming by teachers and to find the funds to provide those exciting innovations that our regular district budget cannot cover.  The grants give students new experiences.  Our education foundation supports teachers through mini grants because teachers know their students best, and can evaluate what enhancement will best benefit them.  [Teachers] now have the opportunity to take their students to higher levels with new strategies or equipment."

This year's recipients were:

Rickelle Davis, 1st grade
Rickelle received a grant for Osmo, a learning tool that works with iPads to "merge the power of physical play with the digital advantages of real time feedback."  Osmo helps students learn words, numbers, math, non-verbal communication, spatial reasoning, coordination, ESL, STEM, coding, and so much more.  Rickelle will utilize this incredible innovation with her first graders in the fall as part of independent and collaborative learning stations, which will encourage engagement and excitement.


Middle School Library
The middle school library received a grant for 3D printers to add to their maker space.  Due to its process, 3D printing supporting personalized and project based learning.  From idea to reality, completing the steps allows students to organize and put their plans into action.  Advanced students may use CAD programs to create plans.  Early exposure will increase interest in students, which could lead to more advanced study and career paths.  3D printing combines STEM with art, creating STEAM in the classroom.

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High School Library
The high school library received a grant for an updated lounge space.  The library is used in so many ways every day, from studying to socializing and everything in between.  Students like to spread out, and enjoy doing so in a comfortable way.  Currently, the library hosts one lounge area, which is definitely the most popular spot.  There are often more students than chairs, and students drag over uncomfortable chairs or even sit on the floor to make sure they're included in the conversation.  A new lounge area will give students a place to communicate and collaborate in a comfortable way.  The high school library now has an opportunity to support students and their learning, simply by giving them a more comfortable place to sit.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Email Tips and Security

This week we wanted to talk about email and it's lack of security when sharing documents and other common tasks.  Below are a few tips that might help you to be a little safer when using email. 


1. Unsubscribing to newsletters you never subscribed to.
A common technique used by spammers is to send out thousands of fake newsletters from organizations with an "unsubscribe" link on the bottom of the newsletter. Email users who then enter their email into the supposed "unsubscribe" list are then sent loads of spam. So if you don't specifically remember subscribing to the newsletter, you are better off just blacklisting the email address, rather than following the link and possibly picking up a Trojan horse or unknowingly signing yourself up for yet more spam. So, just click the button in gmail that says report spam.

2. Not closing the browser after logging out.
When you are checking your email at a library or cybercafé or other public computer, you not only need to log out of your email when you are done, but you also need to make sure to close the browser window completely. Some email services display your username (but not your password) even after you have logged out. While the service does this for your convenience, it compromises your email security. To avoid this, click the three dots in the upper right hand corner of chrome, then choose "History" and "Clear browser history." Please note that while it will clear it from that computer, it does not clear it from your account. If you have questions about that, please see me.

3. Not using the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) option.

When you put a person's email addresses in the BCC: rather than the CC: window, none of the recipients can see the addresses of the other email recipients.

New email users often rely too much on the TO: because it is the default way of sending emails. That is fine as long as you are writing to just a handful of people. But if you are sending mail out to a diverse group of people, confusing BCC: and CC: raises some serious privacy and security concerns. It takes just one spammer to get a hold of the email and immediately everyone on your email list gets spammed.

Even if the honesty of the group isn't in question, many email programs are setup to automatically add to the address books any incoming email addresses. That means that some people in the group will inadvertently have added the entire list to their address book, and as a result, if one of their computers is infected with "Zombie" malware and silently sends out spam emails, you will have just caused the entire list to get spammed.

BCC: is also nice because then you don't have a long list of email addresses before the actual message.

4. Trusting your friends' email.
Most new internet users are very careful when it comes to emails from senders they don't recognize. But when a friend sends an email, all caution goes out the window as they just assume it is safe because they know that the sender wouldn't intend to hurt them. The truth is, an email from a friend's ID is just as likely to contain a virus or malware as a stranger's. The reason is that most malware is circulated by people who have no idea they are sending it, because hackers are using their computer as a zombie.

It is important to maintain and keep updated email scanning and Anti-virus software, and to use it to scan ALL incoming emails.

5. Sharing your account information with others.

We've all done it – we need an urgent mail checked, and we call up our spouse or friend and request them to check our email on our behalf. Of course, we trust these people, but once the password is known to anybody other than you, your account is no longer as secure as it was.

The real problem is that your friend might not use the same security measures that you do. Your friend might be accessing his email through an unsecured wireless account, he may not keep his anti-virus software up to date, or he might be infected with a keylogger virus that automatically steals your password once he enters it. So ensure that you are the only person that knows your personal access information, and if you write it down, make sure to do so in a way that outsiders won't be able to understand easily what they are looking at if they happen to find your records.

As always, if you have security questions or concerns, contact your building techspert!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Super Helpful G Suite Training Extension


When we first started this blog, Liz did a post on why you should be using Google Chrome (if you aren’t already).  In addition to using chrome, you should also be signing in to Google chrome on your personal device.  If you see your name like this:


Then you are signed in to chrome.  When moving through Google pages and apps, you will remain signed in.  It will also remember you when you shut down and restart.  DO NOT USE THIS FEATURE ON A SHARED COMPUTER.  If you see this:


Then you are not signed in.  You can be signed in to Google WITHOUT being signed in to chrome.  As noted in the picture above, signing in to chrome will sync your tabs, bookmarks, history, and your other settings.  View this page for more information and instructions.

In addition to this super useful feature, check out G Suite Training.  This icon appears in the top right hand corner of your browser on most G Suite apps (Drive, Docs, Slides, Sheets).  It autopopulates as an extension on your pages.


Depending on the page, it will give tips and tricks or instructions on how to use it (as interactive lessons).  It invites you to learn about features that you may not have already known about.  Here’s an example for Google Docs:


You could use it to learn how to use a feature, explore new features that you didn’t know about, or refresh your memory on something you haven’t used in a while.  Check it out and let us know what you think!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Summer Reading Ideas

One more month and Summer will be upon us. As the days get longer and warmer, one can’t help but think about all the adventures a Summer can hold. However, don’t forget to include some reading in your daily adventures. There are many different ways reading can be a part of your summer fun. Check out some suggestions below:


Summer Reading Challenge:
On Teachers Pay Teachers, Teachable Teacher created a summer reading challenge checklist for all ages. It is a free downloadable sheet that challenges the user to read with a flashlight, read to a pet, read outside, and so much more.
It can be found at:


Take a weekly Trip to the Public Library:
Libraries don’t just have books. There are movies, audiobooks, digital downloads, magazines, and more. There are also multiple activities held each month. Making a weekly trip to the Public Library can ensure that children have many materials to read and explore this Summer.


Book Reports:
After your child reads a book, don’t just ask them if they liked it. Have them do a book report and work on their comprehension skills. Betsy Beier’s website has a great printable report that has children summarizing the story, recalling characters, and telling about their favorite part.
It can be found at:


Rethink Your Summer Reading Chart:
Summer reading charts come in all shapes and sizes. On the site “Chicken Babies” the creator Erin has an interesting take on charting books read over the summer. For each book read, the child earns a piece of an ever-growing bookworm. On top of that, the child earns an incentive for each book read.
It can be found at:


There are so many ideas for fun, engaging ways to incorporate reading into your summer fun. What do you do in your home?

Feel free to leave a comment below!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Student Choice

Project-based learning (PBL)
          Alternative assessments
                              Personalized learning
                                        Flexible strategies

These words and phrases are everywhere.  They all directly relate to student choice.  As Joshua Block so eloquently puts it in his article:

Learning that incorporates student choice provides a pathway for students to fully, genuinely invest themselves in quality work that matters.  Participating in learning design allows students to make meaning of content on their own terms.

So... how do the phrases above relate to student choice, and what does that actually look like?

Here are some examples of what's happening at Warrior Run.  (Keep in mind, these are just a few examples - there are so many instances of student choice occurring every day!)

Students recently completed a persuasive research essay on a social topic (e.g. hunting, paying NCAA athletes, year-round school).  Through the research paper process, they honed their skills in research, writing, and crafting an argument.  They are now applying those skills as they turn their papers into public awareness projects. Students were given time to explore four different project options and choose their own direction.  It is now up to them to meet the basic requirements in a creative way.

As students learned about this period in literary history, they were given the opportunity to 1) become experts, and 2) help their classmates learn.  In small groups, students researched a Dark Romantic author, analyzed a short story by that author, created a lesson plan, and developed an interactive assessment.

Wrapping up the unit on poetry, students were asked to explore different types of hands-on poetry, including book spine poetry, blackout poetry, and others.  With very little direct instruction, students used their understanding of poetic rules and terms as they navigated in the uncharted territory of hands on poetry.  In the end, they created true poetic masterpieces.

Students are just beginning their final novel study in high school.  They will be given the option to work independently from start to finish.  Their goal is to complete checkpoints (i.e. quizzes and other assessments) along the way as they show their teacher their understanding of the novel.  The ultimate goal is proficiency or better.

From a long list of options, students chose a topic from Peruvian culture (e.g. food, clothing, customs, geography) and a corresponding language skill (i.e. reading, writing, speaking, listening).  In small groups, students researched that topic and developed a stand-alone lesson to go with it, including a formative assessment.  In the end, there were 16 stations throughout the school.  In their groups, the students visited each of the other stations to learn about that aspect of Peruvian culture, demonstrate their understanding, and receive a stamp for their visit.  

As I said earlier, these are just a few examples of student choice at the high school.  Do you have an example from your classroom?  Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Nearpod and VR

As education moves towards a focus on authentic learning (thank goodness!), there is also a push to move beyond the classroom walls.  One way that teachers are doing this is through virtual reality.  Many teachers are already taking advantage of the virtual reality headsets available in the middle and high school libraries.  Our students have “left” the classroom to experience coral reefs, Mars, Versailles, Machu Picchu, and other places otherwise unavailable to us.


Nearpod is now offering this opportunity embedded into what is already an interactive lesson when using their software.  Teachers interested in using it, make sure you sign in with Google!  Their program, available across all devices, allows you to direct what is showing on the screen and collect formative assessments from students throughout the lesson.  One of these options can now be a 360 degree view of places around the world...and the universe!


Let’s try it out!  The lesson below is a ready-made virtual reality lesson from Nearpod which is free and it goes through different types of Native American Housing.  They recommend this lesson for grades 4-9, and students can work through it on a chromebook, with a mobile device, or with a VR headset (for the full immersion experience).





When you create your own lessons, you can choose to include a few VR experiences (known as a field trip) for your students in that lesson.  Or, you can choose from the pre-made lessons from Nearpod.  Many, but not all, are free.  They are all of a very high quality.


If you are interested in trying it out, make sure you redeem the free 6 month subscription to Nearpod Gold Edition by following these steps:
  1. Create an account (with GOOGLE!) if you have not already done so.
  2. Go to nearpod.com/redeem and enter the code PETE&C17.

That’s it!  See your building techspert or me if you have questions!