Archive for the ‘*SY 2014-2015’ Category

In This Issue (16)

Monday, April 20th, 2015

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In This Issue (16)

Fair Use and Images In Science Education

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Shawna Wiebusch, Secondary Science Education Specialist

It’s a common theme in education: How do we teach students to be honest about their work and to give credit where credit is due? How often do we, as educators, lament the blatant “copy and paste” routine that we see all too often in student work?

How often do we explicitly model best practices in the world of copyright for our students? If we expect students to take us seriously when it comes to plagiarism, they need to see evidence that we follow our own rules.

As educators, we rely heavily on “Fair Use” in order to use images and videos often found on the internet to help explain science content to students. According to the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University, fair use is determined by the following four factors:

(1) the purpose of the use;

(2) the nature of the work used;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the work used; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the work used.1

Go to the Copyright Advisory Office’s website ( to get a PDF of their Fair Use Checklist and to see a more thorough explanation of the four factors listed above.

Now that we have a good working definition of fair use, it’s time for resources! There are many online options for images, but some have made copyright expectations clearer than others. The five image sources described below are a good place to start.


Citation [2]

Citation [2]

If you need quality drawings, go to ClipArt ETC ( According to the description on the home page, their license “allows teachers and students to use up to 50 educational clipart items in a single, non-commercial project without further permission.”3 Their images are high quality, accurate, and detailed. They are not just for science, either! Go browse around. The licensing page ( has very user friendly information on how to use and credit works from their library.




Citation [4]

Citation [4]

Google Drive ( has a tool called “Research” that allows you to filter your image search by usage rights (Free to use, share or modify, even commercially) and you can specify the citation format. When you drag the image into your presentation, it will automatically include the citation!


Citation [5]

Citation [5]

The Public Health Image Library ( has collected beautiful, high quality images. Most of them are public domain (but not all, so read carefully) and only ask that you credit the institution and contributor, if known. They have drawings and pictures for you to browse and use. Each image has details below it about who to credit and the type of license that covers that particular image.


Citation [6]

Citation [6]

The National Science Foundation Media Gallery ( has many images and videos covering a range of science topics. Each image has instructions for how to credit it underneath, a description of the content, and a link to a high resolution JPG download.


Citation [7]

Citation [7]

Don’t forget that you probably have a device that takes perfectly good pictures, yourself! If you are looking for an image of plant reproductive parts, why not take apart a flower and photograph it yourself? Or have your students do it as part of a unit of study!

Whether you find the perfect image on one of these sites or elsewhere, just remember that the best way to show students that respecting copyright is important is to follow our own expectations. Happy image finding!




[1] “Fair Use Checklist — Columbia Copyright Advisory Office.” 2009. 9 Apr. 2015 <>

[2] Retrieved from

[3] (2004). ClipArt ETC: Free Educational Illustrations for Classroom Use. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from

[4] Retrieved from

[5] National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) – Public Domain Image

[6] Courtesy: National Science Foundation

[7] Photo by Shawna Wiebusch



Increasing Science Literacy through Weekly Article Abstracts

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Authors: Grant Kessler, Ph.D. Education Specialist: STEM, Transformation Central Texas STEM Center

Anna Wydeven, Science Specialist, Leander ISD

Stephen Marble, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Education, Southwestern University



Content area literacy is a hurdle to student attainment of science content knowledge and their ability to demonstrate learning. This article describes a pilot of a classroom-based intervention to help students overcome this obstacle. We call the approach “weekly article abstracts.” We describe the results of the pilot and share the approach, along with implementation tips, resources and references, for teachers who wish to implement weekly article abstracts in their science classrooms.



A colleague described her frustration to us: “No matter how much I do to make science content interesting and relevant, my students are failing accountability assessments!” With this concern as the catalyst for a discussion group, we heard a consistent theme from science teachers: “Students don’t seem to be ‘getting’ the literacy and expositive experiences that act as a speed bump to their science learning.” This anecdotal consensus resonates with our observations from classrooms across Texas. Analysis of assessment data frequently prescribes content-area literacy, not science content, as the most appropriate intervention for students to improve their science assessment outcomes. Students must be science literate–i.e., able to read and understand science writings and related diagrams, intelligently discuss complex contemporary issues, locate and synthesize valid information to inform decision-making, and utilize language to convey information—all of this as a foundation to build content-area knowledge and demonstrate learning (Texas Education Agency, 2009).

We probed science teachers about their experiences with literacy within the science class and found that the struggle can be attributed to the lack of adequate resources and training to help students tackle expository texts. For example, elementary language arts instruction is heavily grounded in fiction, which allows struggling readers to take advantage of plot direction as a guide. In contrast, these students often find themselves challenged to follow the expository nature of science texts.


Piloting an intervention

We wondered if there was a practical remedy to this situation. We imagined a high-impact, personalized, engaging process for teachers to use with students to develop science literacy. Consequently, we developed and implemented a strategy for 6th-8th grade students with the hypothesis that an increase in exposure to student-selected, science-related expository texts correlates with student growth in content-area literacy and science assessment outcomes (Martinez, 2008). We refer to this approach as “weekly article abstracts.”

Classrooms participating in the article abstract pilot were assigned to one of two conditions: weekly article abstracts or no article abstracts.  The backgrounds and performance levels of students within the conditions were comparable based on socio-economic status and prior benchmark performance.  At the conclusion of the pilot, the students from each condition were given a science reading passage and asked to take notes in the columns and answer assessment questions at the end of the reading. Student responses were coded to minimize bias, then assessed and analyzed by reading and science specialists.

The results of the pilot indicated that students exposed to the weekly article abstracts condition (N=138) showed statistically significant increases in content-area literacy and science assessment outcomes (p=0.001) as compared with students in the no abstracts condition (N=230).  Furthermore, teachers reported that the article abstracts provided a means for students to find relevant connections and engage with the science coursework.  Based on our positive experience with this process, we encourage its widespread adoption. The remainder of this article describes how to implement a weekly abstracts program in your classroom.


Science Abstracts 101


An article abstract is a weekly assignment that requires students to select, read and write a critique of a science-related article. Students bring their abstracts to class each Friday (or last day of instruction), where time is structured into the class period for students to dialogue about their learning and receive feedback about their work from peers. It is important to facilitate a learning-focused atmosphere for this weekly event and, as such, we highly recommend that abstracts be a required and ungraded learning opportunity. We have found it possible to structure these assignments so as to provide value without adding onerous incremental workload to the educator. It is useful to consider what science abstracts “are” and “are not” prior to adopting the process (Table 1).



Table 1. Abstracts “are” and “are not”


Implementing Science Abstracts

Introduce science abstracts by having students discuss the Dr. Suess quote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Facilitate the discussion to explore factors that drive academic success, including the quantity of personally selected free reading and levels of exposure to academic language through a variety of sources (Cullinan, 2000).

Next, in a manner that is consistent with Simon Sinek’s (2009) work on how great leaders inspire action, introduce article abstracts with students by sharing and developing “The Why” for science abstracts. We believe that weekly article abstracts provide a mechanism through which each student will grow in his or her ability to find relevance and ownership in classroom learning, critically consume information, intelligently discuss current events, utilize data to drive decision-making, and demonstrate learning on assessments.

Having set a purpose that article abstracts are a crucial opportunity for students, show students the InfoGraphic Poster (Figure 1) to help them understand how abstracts are implemented and what success looks like.


Infographic - Figure 1



Students select, cite and read a science-related article.

It is critical for students to search for and select their own articles because student choice is a key motivator to assignment completion and it drives ownership and engagement in the learning process (Thompson, 2009). Students, especially struggling readers, will need explicit instruction for how to locate and assess the quality of science sources. We successfully used the Planey & Hug (2012) “Source Quality Pyramid” activity with students, which is detailed in The Science Teacher, and can be accessed from:

We have found that some students–including those without consistent resources at home–will benefit from your support to schedule access to the library or use campus technology to access science sources.  Share the suggested source list (Figure 2) with students as a foundation for students to locate articles.


 SourceList - Figure 2


Also, while students choose their own articles, they may need periodic reminders to select articles from a variety of sources so that they can most efficiently increase their level of knowledge.  We quickly learned that students don’t already know how to cite sources, so it will be a good idea to explicitly teach students how to use tools such as “”


Article Summary

The next step in this procedure is to go over the abstract details from the InfoGraphic (Figure 1) and provide students with the “How to write an abstract” handout (Figure 3).


HowTo - Figure 3 


During the pilot, a number of students were initially apprehensive about reading and writing the abstracts summary because they didn’t have experience with academic science texts. To get over this initial hurdle, you might tell the students, “It is okay to pick a short article at first–just pick something that you understand.” Students were more comfortable reading and writing about articles they understood; their hesitance was really fear of not fully understanding the academic content. We found it particularly effective when students chose articles that mapped to their individual interests. For example, some students raise livestock, others were passionate about automobiles, quilting, and even dinosaurs. In each case, encouraging the student to select articles within their own interests helped to establish the relevance of science to their daily lives, and their enthusiasm soared. Work with the Language Arts department on your campus to align strategies and approaches to reading and writing reflectively.


Students may need coaching on how to write the summary. Frequently, students simply rearrange words to paraphrase the article directly rather than truly summarizing the article.  You can scaffold teaching this process based on student need, building from the following mini-lesson:

  1. Provide each student with a brief, low difficulty science article. Have students read the article, making notes in the margins. You might provide students with sample questions to support metacognition while reading, such as, “How does this compare with what I already know? How does this connect with me?” When students are finished reading, they put the articles away and take turns to explain what the article was about with a partner.
  2. Have students write a paragraph in summary of the article, based on the discussions.
  3. Explain to students that this learning experience represents the process for writing abstract summaries. Tell the students to “Read the article, put the article away, and then pretend you are talking to a friend as you write what it was about.”


Article Critique

The summary describes what the article is about; the critique is where students think critically about what they read and learned, reflecting on its impact to their lives. Here, we ask the students to consider the article’s strengths and weaknesses and to use evidence to support claims. The critique is an opportunity for students to develop and demonstrate their critical thinking skills.


While we have found that this portion of their product does not need much additional coaching, some students may need additional support. In order to differentiate for ability levels, you can provide students with an organizer as an accommodation for the process (Figure 4).


Accomodations - Figure 4 


Students share learning and receive peer feedback

An audience plays an important role in the abstract literacy process and gets students excited about sharing with (teaching) each other as experts each week. As you structure time into your class each week for students to share, remember to take a facilitator role. Assign students into groups of two and organize the time for each student to have time to assess the abstracts together with the InfoGraphic representation of the rubric (Figure 1).  Some teachers create a bulletin board to highlight the abstract of the week, with a QR code to the selected article.


Final Thoughts

Science content literacy has become an increasingly important part of how teachers support students to learn science. Weekly article abstracts are an unobtrusive and value-added way to integrate literacy into science classrooms. While students struggle with this process initially, they quickly improve with practice. In our article abstract pilot of 368 students, those who experienced weekly article abstracts showed significant gains in their abilities to read reflectively and apply metacognitive strategies, find relevance for science content, and intelligently discuss current events, demonstrating significant growth in content-area literacy overall.



Cullinan, B. (2000). Independent reading and school achievement. School Library

Media Research, vol. 3.

Kearton V & McGregor D. (2010) What do researchers say about scientific literacy in schools? Education in Science. 240 22-23

Martinez, P. (2008) Impact of an integrated science and reading intervention (INSCIREAD) on bilingual students’ misconceptions, reading comprehension and transferability of strategies. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, George Mason University.

Planey, J. & Hug, B. (January 2012). Climbing the pyramid: Helping students evaluate science news sources. The Science Teacher, 79(1): 37-40.

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York: Portfolio.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) (2009). Texas college and career readiness standards (CCRS). Retrieved from:

Thomson, A. (2009). Reading: The Future – final report of the 2008 National Year of Reading. London, UK: The National Literacy Trust.

Let’s PLAY!

Monday, April 20th, 2015

AUTHOR: Lori Reemts, Project Coordinator – Curriculum & Instruction

As adults, we long for the long weekend or holiday because we are eager for a brain break, a new adventure, or a chance to play in life. Play is our departure, our recreation, and sometimes our connection to the inner child or to memory lane. It is the opposite of what we consider work to be. As a result, we sometimes lose sight of the many benefits of play and how important these benefits are to our developing youth. Many of us feel happy when we see children playing; we may even recognize some general social and physical benefits. And yet some may question what they see when walking by a classroom full of 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old children who appear to simply be playing. Play is fun after all and classrooms are about working hard and learning. Still others may question the level of rigor or the relevance associated with this seemingly carefree whimsy and equate it with merely babysitting the students.


While there are many more notable quotes about play than the four below, these seem particularly noteworthy.

  • “Play is the work of the child.” Maria Montessori
  • “Play is the highest form of research.” Albert Einstein
  • “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.” Carl Jung
  • “The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.” Erik H. Erikson


Though there is research demonstrating the importance of play, logical understanding of play, and pure admiration for it, there are still those who react as if play is not a significant part of child development which impacts so many areas.


Consider academic, emotional, social, and physical development. Each of these areas impacts the others and retains its own set of milestones, prerequisites, and skill sets. In play, students work on these areas simultaneously and, because each experience of play is unique, students continuously develop and learn. They do not need a lecture or a worksheet to develop these areas–they need experience.


We know that best practice for an effective learning environment includes the need for meaningful engagement with information as well as interactions that occur within the context of the children’s daily experiences and development. For young children, and it could be argued older children as well, this engagement occurs through play. The phrase “hands-on, mind-on” is often used to describe interactive learning experiences that connect movement and physical experience to mental and learning experience. This is exactly what play is and what play does.


To understand and use children’s natural capacity for play as an effective classroom tool, it is important to also consider the stages of play.

  • Solitary
    • infancy to toddler years
    • plays alone; limited interaction with other children
    • separate toys
  • Spectator/Onlooker
    • begins during toddler years
    • observes others but does not play with them
  • Parallel
    • toddler years
    • plays side by side; lack of group involvement
    • similar toys
  •  Associate
    • toddler through preschool years
    • plays with similar goals; no formal organization
    • rules not set; may play with similar toys; may trade toys
  •  Cooperative
    • late preschool years
    • organized by group goals
    • typically at least one leader


By understanding the developing areas of a child along with the stages of play, educators are able to carefully plan purposeful and intentional play-based experiences that support student development aligned to Prekindergarten objectives. Children will benefit from play whether the experience has had enhanced opportunities provided through an intentional planning process or not. As educators, we can intentionally plan for and provide those enhanced opportunities so that our students’ growth, development, and success is even more robust. This is the difference between learning that occurs in a classroom where students are simply playing and learning that occurs in a classroom where students are playing in an environment designed for the purpose of mastering learning objectives. It is important to maintain a balance between free play and purposeful play, remembering that each kind of play serves a positive purpose for students.


Next time you set your sights on a weekend of recreational play in your adult life, consider the skills and interactions you use as second-nature and without even realizing it. Don’t just concentrate on your “work” too much—you might just forget to have fun!




Children’s Health. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2015, from

Long Term English Language Learners

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Anna Briggs, ESL Education Specialist

As the number of English Language Learners in the U.S. continues to increase, we are learning that the fastest growing segment of this population in our secondary schools is comprised of Long -Term ELLs. These are students who have been in U.S. schools for more than six years without reaching sufficient English proficiency to be reclassified or exited from the ESL program. Long-Term ELLs are generally identified by the time they reach 6th grade, though recent research trends indicate that factors such as low literacy rates and below grade-level academic performance can predict Long-Term ELL status as early as 4th grade.


Identifying Characteristics

Key indicators can help school district teachers and administrators identify these students in order to better meet their linguistic and cognitive needs:

  • Orally bilingual (proficient in social English)
  • Limited literacy skills (read below grade level)
  • Lacking cognitive academic language (decreased use of academic vocabulary)
  • “Stuck” at Intermediate level of English proficiency (Intermediate TELPAS rating in Reading and Writing for two or more years)

In addition to the academic indicators above, it is important to note that a significant number of Long- Term ELLs were actually born here in the United States. Inconsistent schooling, transitions in and out of various Bilingual/ESL program models, and students’ relocating in and out of the U.S. correlate to gaps in education.From a social perspective, these students may oftentimes be perceived as failures because of their passivity and disengaged nature with academic content. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand the social factors involved when students in grades 6-12 are linguistically lagging behind their native English-speaking peers.


Action Plan

With regard to the classroom, it is important that instruction for Long-Term ELLs (as well as all second language learners) be linguistically accommodated to meet the various proficiency levels of these students. Equally as important is the integration of increased opportunities for listening, speaking, reading, and writing in all content area classrooms.

Administrative support is critical to understanding and highlighting the needs of Long-Term ELLs. It is imperative to identify Long-Term ELLs as a group of students needing support. Administrators should consider a school-wide focus on study skills and literacy to bridge any fundamental gaps in learning and schooling. Additionally, administrators support a focus on the implementation of frequent data/progress monitoring discussions with both content area and ESL teachers as well as instructional leaders to address academic and linguistic needs. Finally, administrators must organize intensive Sheltered Instruction training and classroom support for any teacher of ELLs  as this is vital for fostering the language-rich environment that is needed for all students to perform successfully.



Menken, K and Kleyn, T. (2009). The Difficult Road for Long-Term English Learners. Educational Leadership, 66 (7).

Olsen, L. (2010). Reparable Harm: Fulfilling the Unkept Promise of Educational Opportunity for California’s Long Term English Learners.

Maintaining Student Engagement in Math

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Authors: Virginia Keasler and Mary Headley, Education Specialists: Mathematics

The STAAR test is over, the students are trying to shut down, and field trips and awards ceremonies are on the horizon. How do I engage my students so that learning continues?

What do students really say about what engages them? A recent article published in Edutopia in February of 2015, “Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement,” addressed this question.  220 students were asked, “What engages students?” The responses received seemed to fall under ten categories representing recurring themes.

  • Working with peers
  • Working with technology
  • Connecting the real world to the work we do/project-based learning
  • Teachers should clearly love what they do
  • Get me out of my seat
  • Bring in visuals
  • Student choice
  • Understand your clients – the kids
  • Mix it up!
  • Teachers should show their human side

Mathematics can be an intimidating subject for students; however, with the right math teaching strategies, educators can engage students in the subject matter and help them to better understand complicated concepts.

Now is the time to try a few new strategies pertaining to the students’ list above.

Working with peers has the potential to create students who are highly motivated and have higher levels of participation. The following short video from the Teaching Channel showcases an example of peer teaching:

While the use of concrete manipulatives is a critical component of math instruction, virtual manipulatives add to the learning experience. One technology resource for the math classroom is the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (NLVM). Virtual manipulatives give students prompts, feedback, and answers to problems while working on problems lets the students incorporate more self-exploration. As always, you will want lead with the TEKS as you select manipulatives with which students will master content.

There are many ways to get students out of their seats. One of the strategies you may not have heard of is called Brain Breaks. Brain Breaks are a great way to re-energize your students to get their blood pumping and their brains re-charged for learning. The following websites have information and/or brain breaks in action:

Allowing students to make choices for their learning is important in a math classroom. Choice boards allow for student engagement and are great for differentiation. A choice board is a tool that ensures students incorporate a range of multiple intelligences, and/or learning preferences.

Some of the benefits of choice boards include:

  • Allowing students more freedom with a choice of activities
  • Allowing students to work at their own pace
  • Promoting independence and responsibility
  • Promoting a more positive behavior

To explore choice boards visit:

It is important to keep students engaged in their learning process. Hopefully, these strategies will help you maintain student engagement after the STAAR test and give you several ideas to take forward into the new school year.



Heather Wolpert-Gawron. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015, from

Making STEM-Centered Makerspaces Work

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Authors: Patrick Waters, M.Ed., Professional Educator, Mentor for The Monarch School, Texas

Grant Kessler, Ph.D., Education Specialist: STEM, Transformation Central Texas STEM Center

For much of our country’s history, innovation has driven our economic prosperity. Innovations in science and technology, such as the mastery of flight, the refinement of the assembly line, the disruptive forces of computers and software platforms, have been an economic growth engine. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education has been the fuel that drives this engine and will continue to drive our nation forward. Recently, the Texas Legislature has passed House Bill 5 (HB 5), which revamped graduation requirements and brought a greater focus and opportunity for students to engage with STEM education; HB 5 established a credit-based graduation plan which allows students to earn endorsements in STEM, Business and Industry, Public Service, Arts and Humanities, or Multidisciplinary studies. Local school districts have flexibility to provide students with innovative academic electives that are aligned with each endorsement area.


These changes pave the way for greater student access and exposure to STEM topics. The potential of STEM education cannot be overstated, as its impact on students extends from developing collaboration skills, promoting analytical and critical thinking, and fostering creativity to providing pathways to economic prosperity. STEM education can benefit all students, of all learning abilities, at all levels, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, in a substantial way. Our students need access and exposure to STEM curricula and topics in order to reap those benefits.


A number of models for STEM education exist today, from stand-alone courses (e.g., Biology and Algebra) to more integrated approaches such as applied engineering in high school. A new perspective has emerged in the last few years aimed at expanded access to meaningful STEM curriculum to include all grade levels and student readiness groups.


Maker Education is an education approach that positions the student as an innovator with the responsibility to find solutions to relevant problems. The approach integrates the breadth of STEM fields and emphasizes student agency through exploration, communication and collaboration. The Maker student learns content within an authentic context that requires communication, collaboration, research, design, modeling, tinkering, and prototyping. The Maker teacher designs the learning context and facilitates the process so that students acquire specific content-area skills throughout the learning experience. For example, a student might learn geometric angles through building craft objects from wood. Maker Education combines elements of Problem Based Learning (PBL) and STEM education with an emphasis on the creative elements inherent in science, mathematics and engineering.


Maker Education places a premium on the balance between exploration and execution. Small projects lend themselves to indefinite tinkering and fiddling, while larger projects need complex, coordinated planning. Often, small projects can organically grow into larger and larger projects. This deliberate process strengthens and enriches a learner’s executive functioning skills. Additionally, communication and collaboration are two of Maker Ed’s fundamental values, enabled through Makerspaces.


Makerspaces allow learners to practice their social communication skills in a variety of groupings, whether affinity-based or role-specified and teacher-assigned. Lastly, Makerspaces present unique opportunities to generate flow learning and allow the teacher to leverage high-interest projects and activities into learning objectives. Makerspaces allow an educator to differentiate based on affinity, ability, and process because of the flexibility of the model.


There are currently three main models of Makerspaces (and Maker Education) in the educational sphere. Classroom-integrated models are small spaces inside a typical school classroom dedicated to making, much like a block-center in a kindergarten classroom. This type of Makerspace models making as an integrated part of life and allows the classroom teacher to deliberately choose the materials, projects, and time commitment which work best for his or her room. The Resource model works in much the opposite way. The Makerspace is housed in a central location, often a library but sometimes its own room, and the classroom teacher can use it as an educational resource for collaboration, curriculum enrichment and high-interest activities. Alternatively, some schools create Makerspaces with specifically designed Maker Education courses. This approach can offer the benefits of the previous models as well as deliver a Maker-centered, STEM-focused curriculum.


In all cases, Makerspaces are site-specific, deliberately designed, flexible environments for student Makers to practice their skills. For younger students, one might take the form of an activity center with interesting materials and a selection of safe tools. For older students, a school might invest in an entire classroom setting. Teachers can use Maker projects to incorporate certain TEKS standards or individualize Making for a student to achieve the student’s personal education goals. Makerspaces can be oriented towards:

  • Design: CAD (computer-aided design) and the graphic arts
  • Rapid Prototyping: CNC (computer numerical control) machines, 3D Printing, Laser Cutting, Vinyl Cutting
  • Testing: Motion Capture, Video, Measurement, Mathematical Modeling
  • Communication: Blogging, Assistive Technology, Video Editing, Photography/Video
  • Computer Programming
  • Physical Computing: Robotics , Microcontrollers, Electronics
  • Craft: Woodworking, Cardboard, Textiles, Metalworking, Leather craft, Jewelry


A Makerspace can focus on certain aspects of making – for example, rapid prototyping – and then can look into a range of tool options. In rapid prototyping, a 3D printer might be an appropriate measure for older elementary and middle school students, whereas a CNC router would be appropriate for older students. Laser cutters and vinyl cutters operate in a 2D world, whereas a 3D printer creates objects in three dimensions. Educators can scale their tools to fit the needs and educational journeys of their learners.


An educator must always be aware of safety considerations when working with tools and materials. While Makerspaces allow for great opportunities, they also present safety challenges. Students should be “checked out” on individual tools, from basic devices like glue guns to the potentially hazardous like powered saws.


Making STEM1


In the STEAMworks, a Houston, Texas Makerspace designed for students with neurological differences, tool use builds on itself, and a student can’t move up the ladder to more powerful tools until he or she masters the simpler tools. Having multiple tools allows for multiple avenues of success, all based on a student’s developmental readiness. For example, a hand-held coping saw, a powered scroll saw, and a laser cutter can all cut designs into thin plywood. Using a coping saw might be appropriate for a younger student, while an older student may use the scroll saw or a student with physical challenges might use the laser cutter.


Hands-on tools, such as the coping saw, are the best for students thinking in concrete terms, while technology-driven tools, such as laser cutters or 3D printers, promote abstract thinking. Choose your Makerspace’s tools and capabilities to promote appropriate learning objectives. A Makerspace provides a wide continuum of capabilities and projects to engage the variety of students it serves.


Engineering your room design to take into account all students can be the difference between a welcoming class space and a scary class space. For example, students with neurological differences prefer limited visual distractions. Busy visuals and bulletin boards distract and confuse: stick to safety posters with both text and visuals. Visual cues — such as labels for classroom supplies, stuff storage, etc. — will help to ground students. Break zones — quiet, comfortable spaces — give students a place to calm and center themselves until they’re ready to re-enter the busy academic world. Noise and odor pollution can quickly turn a vibrant workshop into an uncomfortable space. Hearing protection must be offered, and fumes from paints, solvents, and plastics should be minimized.


While the term Maker Education might be new, Making has a long pedagogical history. Educators like John Dewey and Maria Montessori recognized the importance of student choice; interesting, concrete materials; and engaging projects. In modern terms, constructivism and project-based learning provide evidence-based research that Maker Education makes a positive impact on our learners.


Maker Education is positioned to drive student learning, ownership and engagement through the integration of new technological innovations and intentional development of 21st century skills. Not only does Maker Education artfully support essential learning objectives, it also aligns student experiences with the community’s economic interests in preparing them for technology oriented employment, further education, and workplace innovation.


If you wish to learn more about Maker Education in action, Patrick Waters can be found Making online at and @woodshopcowboy on Twitter.

For resources, strategic planning and implementation support, contact Grant Kessler ( at Region 13 Transformation Central Texas STEM Center.


Resources:, The Makerspace Playbook, High School Makerspace Tools & Materials

NYSCI, A Blueprint: Maker Programs for Youth

ALA, Making in the Library Toolkit, Maker Club Playbook

JISC, Designing spaces for effective learning

Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager

The Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson & Mike Petrich

Tinkering by Curt Gabrielson

The Makerspace Workbench by Adam Kemp &

#makered & #STEM on Twitter

Migrant Education: The Right Measure of Opportunity and Support

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Mari Riojas Lester, Education Specialist: Migrant Program


What do the individuals listed below have in common?

José Hernández, Astronaut

Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, Neurosurgeon

Susie Jimenez, Chef

John Quiñones, Broadcast Journalist

Salvador Mendoza, Jr., Federal Judge

Diana Saldaña, U. S. District Judge

Alexis Fernández, Engineer

Nereyda Valle, Language School Teacher in Spain


The obvious answer may be that they are intelligent, accomplished and successful professionals. The not so obvious answer is that all of them grew up with migratory families that made a living by working seasonal, temporary jobs in agriculture (also known as migrant workers or migrant farmworkers). Most likely, these individuals are intimately familiar with the challenges associated with low-paying, unstable, hazardous, and physically demanding jobs. Most important, it is also quite likely that the right measure of opportunity and support bolstered their dedication, dreams, and hard work toward excellence. These individuals are merely a handful of the numerous and inspiring success stories about children from migratory families.




Fifty years ago, in 1965, the Migrant Education Program (MEP) was authorized by Title I, Part C of the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) to provide supplemental services to address the unique needs of migratory students under age 22. The ESEA is part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty legislation. The Migrant Education Program strives to ensure that all migrant students reach challenging academic standards and graduate with a high school diploma that prepares them for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment. Almost from the inception of the MEP, Education Service Center Region 13 and many of the school districts in the region have been involved in the identification and provision of supplemental services to eligible students. Our goal is to help all students graduate from high school and continue on to higher education.


Who are the migrant students?

Migrant children in our school districts and classrooms are children and youths ages 0 to 21 who have been identified by a certified Migrant Program Recruiter as eligible for services through the MEP because the parents/guardian, or youth (on their own) work in seasonal/temporary jobs in the agricultural, dairy, and/ or fishery industries. Migrant students move across district lines and the qualifying move must be within the past 36 months. Does your school have migrant students?


How can we increase the number of migrant student success stories?

  • The first step is to find them. Migrant Program Recruiters rely on referrals from school staff and word-of-mouth information from families to schedule eligibility interviews year-round. Contact the ESC Region 13 Migrant Program Recruiters about potentially eligible students.
  • Second, know who the migrant students are in your district. When students register, regardless of late-entry or early withdrawal, make sure there is accurate grade placement and that migrant students have access to all the district programs and services for which they are eligible. This may include Free and Reduced Lunch Program, Preschool services, Gifted and Talented Program, Summer School, Credit-Recovery Programs, AP Classes, Dual Credit Programs, and other district programs and services.
  • Third, collaborate with your district and regional MEP staff. The MEP team members are often the additional partner or resource to help you problem-solve, explore and coordinate for the best case-by-case student outcome. Please contact ESC Region 13 Migrant Education Program for more information.

Every school district has the responsibility to, either independently or with the assistance of a Regional Education Service Center, participate in the identification and recruitment of eligible migrant students in the district’s attendance area. This shared responsibility also makes it possible for us to come together when it is time to celebrate the accomplishments of migrant students everywhere.


Visit the sites below for more information about the MEP at the federal, state and regional level:

US Department of Education:

Texas Education Agency:

ESC Region 13:

Professional Learning by Blog

Monday, April 20th, 2015

AUTHOR: Janet Hester, Secondary ELAR Education Specialist


Click image to be taken to full infographic.

Click image to be taken to full infographic.


Since I started having kids, and again when I started my master’s program, my personal professional reading life has changed drastically. I no longer felt I had the time to keep abreast of all the latest professional publications in our ELAR world. If a particular book kept coming up in conversation or at workshops, I would definitely try to skim through some pages–but invariably, the book would be at best skimmed, maybe a particular chapter read with full attention.

I found I needed professional information that I could access while rocking my babies to sleep. I found I often only had time to read an article or a post—snatching 10 minutes here or 5 minutes there. I found my reading time became super precious, and I needed to be able to pick and choose reading more efficiently and with greater focus. I think we all go through these times in our lives. We still need to feed our brains, but periodically we just don’t have the time to devote to long-form reading.

During the last four years of my life, my professional reading needs have been met through education blogs.

Web 2.0 is all about everyday people’s active online participation and interaction. This web is more personal, more immediate, and somehow also more relatable, because all of us little people who haven’t quite yet reached rock star status can now have a say in our professional world. Bloggers might put themselves out there with trepidation—but they do it within their professional reality. Jessica Lifshitz (2015), a fifth grade literacy teacher, declares in her blog’s masthead: “As I begin a year of transformation, I am attempting to break down the four walls of my classroom to reach out to others and connect about the incredible world of education.”

Many of our teacher colleagues are writing about everything in education and posting to their blogs. According to, the leading free blog platform in the world, their users produce 59.1 million new posts each month. Couple that with 60.3 million new comments on those posts. Imagine all the career teachers, publishing while they wait for students to finish an essay after school, publishing while they scarf down their school cafeteria salad, publishing from their phones on the train in to work. So much content out there—composed for us. With some savvy, a teacher could quickly find blog posts that suggest a new mentor text or a new literature circle process, or that helps him navigate the state’s latest education bills discussed at the capitol.

How to get started? How not to drown in all the content?

I will use a term Donalyn Miller (2014) uses in her book Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. Miller recommends widely reading young adult literature to be a mentor reader and resource for students, but she also acknowledges that no one teacher can read everything. And if we can’t read everything, she suggests that we find “epicenter readers” to help round out our knowledge. Epicenter readers “know a lot about books, and feel confident in selecting books to read.” (p.120) These epicenter readers could be your school librarian, your college best friend who just reads a ton of YA, and, of course, students in your classroom. We see here the type of tweet an epicenter reader might share that would benefit teachers looking for new books.

John Schumaker, whose tweet we see here, is a school library director at Brook Forest Elementary in Oak Brook, Illinois. He also happens to be a 2014 Newbery Committee member. His tweets, blog posts, Goodreads reviews, and Pinterest pins provide a plethora of timely, quality resources for educators. He is the consummate “epicenter reader.”




This very same concept applies to our online professional reading lives. Through our use of social media, we can easily find our epicenter readers, and rely on them to suggest must reads for us. In fact, Miller (2014) hypothesizes that:

If I had to start over rebuilding my Twitter friends’ list, Goodreads account, or blog feed, Teri and John [her epicenter readers] would lead me back to hundreds of reading colleagues in less than a month. Savvy about books and publishing trends and generous with their resources and time, they feed a vibrant reading community online and influence many children through their teachers, librarians, and parents. You don’t need a contact list full of names to find a reading community. All you need is one person who shares your love for books. (p.123)


Or blogs.


Thus, blog reading takes many forms. See the graphic below for just a few.




I just learned about Andrea Zellner, a voracious reader who has been functioning as one of my colleague’s, Laura Lee Stroud’s, epicenter readers. I am now following her and found this intriguing share. I’ve often used this six-word story in training,and it always grabs teachers. What new information could I add to this activity?




Epicenter readers do their thing on Facebook, too. Take the following share from my friend and colleague, Sharon Laidlaw-Almaguer. She is a full-release mentor to new teachers at Austin ISD. By posting the relevant and interesting articles she finds, I am learning by leaps and bounds. Together, and with other education and ELAR friends in our Facebook circle, we are building a professional learning community, nestled conveniently in our Facebook feed.




And what about your own blog writing? Have you thought of writing a blog to practice your craft? To identify with students as they process their writing? To sound off on your own particular niche, triumphs, and challenges? Your voice has a place out there! In one case study, researchers found that writing a blog gave one teacher a platform to “tell stories of herself and her classroom, reflect on her practice, work through dilemmas, solicit feedback, and display competence” (Luehmann, 2008). No better time to start than now.





Lifshitz, J. (2015, March 1). Crawling Out of the Classroom. Retrieved March 31, 2015, from

Luehmann, A. (2008). Using Blogging in Support of Teacher Professional Identity Development: A Case Study. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17(3), 287-337. Retrieved March 31, 2015, from

Miller, D., & Kelley, S. (2014). Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers. In Reading in the wild: The book whisperer’s keys to cultivating lifelong reading habits. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Zellner, A. (2015, March 31). Epicenter Readers [Telephone interview].