Posts Tagged ‘instructional technology’

The Need for Bilingual Education in Texas Today

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

AUTHOR: Trish Flores, Coordinator, Curriculum and Instruction

Bilingual education is a high needs area felt by many school districts across the country.  In particular, it is a high needs area for Texas due to the increase of second language learners migrating to this area of the country. Many people may ask themselves, why do we need to provide bilingual education for these students?  What do students gain from participating in this “type” of instruction?  And how does it really support students in meeting today’s high stake assessments?  To answer these questions and many more, it is necessary to start by investigating what bilingual education is and why we need to make it accessible to students.

Background:  How language programs became a law

Before 1968, bilingual education was not required to be implemented in schools but instead was a voluntary program.  This all changed in 1981 when a lawsuit was brought against the state of Texas resulting  in the requirement of bilingual education programs in the elementary grades, English as a second language (ESL) or bilingual programs at post-elementary grades through eighth grade, and ESL programs in high school.  The new legislation also outlined specific procedures for the identification and exiting of students.

What is Bilingual education?

Bilingual education is teaching academic content through two languages, the native language and a secondary language, with varying degrees of support that are commensurate with the student’s proficiency levels in both languages.  Instructing students through the use of their native language enables them to access new content and build upon what they already know.  Students will be successful in “bridging” ideas and information from one language to the next when the content and processes are first mastered in the native language.  Throughout these interactions, students are learning English in a non-stressful environment leading to individuals who are able to meet the academic rigor of today’s standards and assessments.

Benefits of Bilingual Education

There are many benefits that student’s gain from participating in bilingual programs.  They include:

  • Cognitive Ability: Students are able to enhance brain flexibility in the areas of mathematics, logic, reasoning and problem solving.
  • Social/Emotional:  Students who participate in bilingual programs have a higher level of self-esteem than students who do not because Spanish if valued.
  • Educational Advancement:  Studies have shown that it takes 5-7 years to acquire academic English. If a student is not in a bilingual program they are more likely to miss critical instruction due to their inability to process content presented in English.
  • Family:  Students who retain their native language are able to communicate with family members thus resulting positive relationships.
  • Health:  Increased brain activity has been shown to decrease the onset of dementia and other debilitating brain diseases.  Students who are bilingual have increased brain activity as they navigate between two languages.


Bilingual education is required by the state of Texas as means to educate students whose first language is not English.  Countless studies have shown the effectiveness of language programs for students.  It is imperative that the educators and communities in Texas see these benefits as gains not only for the students and their families, but for the future of Texas as a whole.

Originally published on VOXXI as Bilingual education: Why gutting it hurts us all

©2008, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. –

How to Create an Anchor Activity Using a Tic/Tac/Toe Board

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

AUTHOR: Virginia Keasler and Mary Headley, Math Specialists

How do we teach math to the wide range of diverse learners in today’s classroom? It is often difficult to match the readiness levels of every student and knowing where to start can be a challenge. Consider starting simple and celebrating successes along the way. Anchor activities can help you reach the diverse population in your classroom.

What are anchor activities? These activities are used for students to extend learning at their level. Student choice within these activities allows for students to apply and experience the learning in a variety of ways.These ongoing assignments are considered independent work and can be something students are working on for the next two weeks or something due in a few days. While some students are working on anchor activities, the teacher can utilize small group instruction to work with students who need more help.

Tic/Tac/Toe Boards: The content for this anchor activity can be modified to meet the needs of students at varied levels. Teachers may use Tic/Tac/Toe boards for extension, assessment, or as homework choices for the week. On a Tic/Tac/Toe board, the teacher can strategically place activities to enable students to get a Tic/Tac/Toe that demonstrates their learning.

Helpful Hints for creating a Tic/Tac/Toe board:

  1. Determine the content/topic for the board.
  2. Brainstorm activities, assignments, and products for the content/unit you have chosen.
  3. Check TEKS alignment.
  4. Write ideas on post-it notes.
  5. Sort activities based on learning styles (verbal, auditory, kinesthetic, etc…)
  6. Place post-it notes on the Tic/Tac/Toe grid.
  7. Check the configuration for variety to achieve a Tic/Tac/Toe. Move as needed.
  8. Type idea onto the Tic/Tac/Toe grid.

The following table gives an example of a Tic/Tac/Toe board for reviewing a math unit:

Explain the math steps that you would use to solve a problem from this unit Solve two of the problems in the “extensions” station Using the “beat” of a popular song create your own math song. See the choice board station for rules
Create two word problems that go with the concepts in this unit Student Choice Activity (with teacher approval) Define the unit’s vocabulary words with your own form of graffiti
Complete one mini-project from the project board Develop a game using skills you have learned in this unit Research and write how these concepts might be used in the real world


  • Allow student to complete any three tasks–even if it does not make a Tic/Tac/Toe
  • Assigns students task based on readiness
  • Create different choice boards based on readiness (Struggling students work with options on one choice board while more advanced students have different options.)
  • Create choice board options based on learning styles or learning preferences. For example a choice board could include three kinesthetic tasks, three auditory tasks, three visual tasks.

Author Rick Wormeli offers the following Tic/Tac/Toe board based on Gardner’s (1991) multiple intelligences.

Interpersonal Task Kinesthetic Task Naturalist Task
Logical Task Student Choice Intrapersonal Task
Interpersonal Verbal Task Musical Task Verbal Task

To access a blank choice board to use in your classroom click on the following link: Blank Choice Board


Wormeli, Rick. Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhourse 2006, pages 65-66

Place Markers: An Effective Reading Strategy Tool for Distracted Readers

Monday, December 7th, 2015

AUTHOR: Holly Salas, Instructional and Write for Texas Coach

Teaching children to read involves countless variables. However, strategies to teach comprehension, fluency, accuracy, etc., cannot be effective with students who are disengaged. Teachers regularly instruct students who are sleepy, ill, hungry, disinterested, or distracted. Often, a student’s distractibility is the result of a disability. Whatever the reason for distractibility, teachers must accommodate a student’s attention to instruction in order for quality reading development to occur. Teachers often have difficulty getting students to follow along while reading silently, as well as while listening to another reader. “The child’s difficulty in making left-to-right tracking movements while reading…disrupts sequencing of letters and syllables in words…and the inability to keep place also shows up when someone else is reading” resulting in reversal, rotations, inversions, omissions, substitutions, additions, etc. (“Visual-Spatial Dyslexia,” p.8 (n.d.)).

Teacher-monitoring for substantive comprehension breakdowns such as text inconsistencies, sentence scrambling, and misunderstanding with background information is difficult enough without the teacher’s ability to first monitor if the student is even attending to the text in the first place. For an already distracted student, the practice of interrupting reading for during reading strategies can further displace students from the meaning of text and impose a time-limit pressure that breaks down comprehension and enjoyment. “Heavy time pressure should not be imposed to individuals if they are to accurately complete important reading tasks” (Cauchard, Cane, & Weger, 2012). Metacognitive reading tasks are most effective when a student’s engagement with text is facilitated even while reading is stopped.

Before implementing other reading strategies, teachers need something that will help students focus. Only then will teachers be able to facilitate learning and assess ability. The place marker is a simple, minimal-preparation strategy with multiple implications that not only enables educators to modify and accommodate for students, and even assess the students’ task-compliance, but also provides opportunities for higher-level instructional strategies that scaffold students from decoding to comprehension to complex analyses. Although educators may purchase from a ubiquitous selection of marketed reading strategies and tools for engagement, the place marker requires no cost and almost no preparation. And because some students have difficulty transferring multiple reading strategies to settings outside of the classroom, establishing a procedure for the use of place markers allows for year-long instruction and may even facilitate independent reading for the student following graduation.

There is a seemingly limitless body of literature surrounding metacognitive monitoring, especially among distracted readers. From Mackey’s small-scale, easy-to-follow qualitative study (1991) that draws conclusions following Before, During, and After reading strategies, while accounting for context, content, and time; to Pan, Tsai, and Chu’s close look at fine motor skills within children with autism, children with ADHD (inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/ impulsive, and combined), and children without disabilities (2009), it is within a teacher’s own practice that she is best able to collect data for an isolated, a single reading strategy and its implications for large-scale conclusions.

Though conducted in the United Kingdom, the focus of Gillies and Robinson’s research on art-based strategies is particularly noteworthy (2012), because of its acknowledgment of the creativity within reading comprehension and beyond. Like the arts, reading and writing involve a human’s knowledge prior to the academic literary task, and that knowledge endures long after the academic setting, if not for the rest of the reader’s lifetime.

During a 2014 professional development research project at a Texas high school, teachers were asked to monitor the use of place markers as a during-reading strategy for a three-month period. Following data collection, teachers reported that 98% of students were less distracted than without the use of the place marker and that 98% of students transitioned more successfully back to reading after reading had been interrupted. The procedure:

  • enables distracted students to attend to the task.
  • creates student accountability.
  • facilitates before-, during-, and after-reading strategies.
  • enables students to self-monitor.
  • enables students to reflect on learning and evaluate progress.
  • enables the educator to monitor and track student compliance.

How it works:

  • Provide each student one place marker, three sticky notes, and an intentionally chunked or excerpted copy of a text, for multiple readings.
  • Instruct students to put a place marker under the title and read along until the teacher says, “Stop.”
  • Remind students that it’s important that the place marker follow along with the reader’s voice.
  • When all students have place markers ready, begin reading aloud the first chunk or excerpt of text.
  • After students complete the first section of text, say, “Stop. Leave your place marker where you stopped reading.”
  • Instruct students to write a brief summary or draw a picture of what was just read and give the summary or picture a one-word title or caption. Provide two minutes. Model and monitor.
  • Return to the text and read the next text excerpt. Say “Stop. Leave your place marker where you stopped reading.”
  • Continue through the end of the text, spiraling into independent reading, with teacher-directed stops. The goal is for students to eventually monitor their own reading by stopping at text points he or she deems significant.
  • Follow activity with Think-Pair-Share activity.

IMPORTANT: While students are writing, use teacher moves to check for understanding and collect data.

Before testing out the place marker theory with your own distracted students, reflect on your current practices:

  • What strategies are currently in place for enabling distracted students to attend to the task?
  • What strategies are currently in place to create student accountability?
  • What strategies are currently in place to enable the teacher to monitor and track student compliance and understanding?
  • How effective is each strategy in aiding students to visually attend to the text?
  • What strategies are currently in place to facilitate before-, during-, and after-reading textual interactions?
  • What strategies are currently in place that enable students to self-monitor?
  • What strategies are currently in place that enable students to reflect on learning and evaluate progress?

Before setting up the procedure with students, glean some information on their attitudes about their own reading. Consider asking the following questions:

  • Do you consider yourself a good reader, a fair reader, or a poor reader (circle one)? Why?
  • When do you most enjoy reading? Why?
  • When do you least enjoy reading? Why?
  • Where do you most enjoy reading? Why?
  • Where do you least enjoy reading? Why?
  • Why do you read?
  • Does reading make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable (circle one)? Why?

Collecting Data:

While monitoring, consider using a qualitative data analysis protocol such as the following:

  • Student is more, less, or just as distracted from text, using the place marker, as he/ she normally is during reading. Explain (body language, posture, eye tracking, expression, other unexpected physical reactions…?):
  • During the Stop-and-Jot activity, student transitions to task and then returns to text more quickly than without the use of place markers, at the same rate of speed as when reading without the use of place markers, or more slowly or disjointed than when reading without the use of place markers. How do you know?

The following Observation checklist may also assist in your data collection.

Student: __________________________________ Date ______

Please place a check in the box (more, just as, or less) that corresponds to the blank within each box to the left. Use the space to jot down observations (body language, posture, eye tracking, expression, other unexpected physical reactions…):

During reading, the student is __________ distracted than without the use of a place marker.
After Stop-and-Jots, the student transitions back to text  _________ quickly than without the use of a place marker.
The teacher-participant is _____________ successful in student reading compliance than without the use of a place marker.


1 Sponge Activity Before Reading Essential Question Quick WriteExamples:

“What happens to a person who always feels alone, even with those closest to him/ her?”

“Why do fractions matter in daily life”

“Why should we understand how organisms, places, and ideas have changed over time?”

“How do climate and natural resources affect the way people live and work?”

5 Min.
2 Set Induction Anticipation Guide 3 Min.
3 Pre-assessment of student understanding of the lesson concept/process/skill K-W-L:“Based on my prior readings (equations, lab results, etc.) what do I know about the _______________?” 3 Min.
4 Large Group Instruction Teacher reads aloud the first paragraph/ excerpt. Teacher models use of the place marker and where to put it. When she/he says “Stop,” the teacher also models summary or picture with one-word caption. Teacher monitors. 10 Min.+ 1 min. feedback
5 Independent or Group Work Students read silently, using place marker. Teacher says Stop. Students complete a Stop-and-Jot with one-word caption. Teacher models and monitors. 10 Min.
7 Evaluation –Post assessment of concept/ process/ skill K-W-L“Based on my prior readings (equations, lab results, etc.) what do I know about the _______________?” 3 Min.


Cauchard, F., Cane, J., & Weger, U. Influence of background speech and music in      interrupted reading: an eye- tracking study. Applied Cognitive Psychology, Appl.       Cognit. Psychol. 26: 381–390 (2012).

Gillies, V, & Robinson, G. (2012). Developing creative research methods with challenging  pupils. International Journal of Social Research Methodology. 15 (2).

Mackey, M. (1991). The association between reading strategies and reading histories of          adolescents: a qualitative study. University of Alberta (Canada): ProQuest. UMI          Dissertations Publishing.

Pan, C., Tsai, C., and Chu, C. (2009). Fundamental movement skills in children     diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity          disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 39 (12), 1694-1705.          Visual-Spatial Dyslexia (n.d.). In A 2 Z of Brain, Mind and Learning. Retrieved     February 9, 2014, from

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

Reuse, Recycle: Word Clouds in the Classroom

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Author: Dana Ellis, Educational Specialist: Instructional Coach

Teachers are naturally resourceful. With limited budgets, they have to be. A search engine query for educational projects using recycled materials will produce an abundance of links and images from preschool art projects to high school physics contraptions. Teacher ingenuity is not restricted to paper towel rolls and plastic water bottles. In the face of tightened technology budgets, teachers are wrestling with ways to repurpose free technology-based applications in order to maximize hands-on learning while reducing district expenditures and time spent learning implementation.  It is no surprise, therefore, that talented, imaginative educators have transformed digital word cloud generators into tools for use in highly engaging content lessons. What is astonishing, however, is just how diverse educational applications of this simple tool can be. Below are just a few of the ways educators are using this easy-to-learn technology in cross content classrooms.

  1. Revising Student Essays. Students copy and paste their essays into one of the word cloud generators, turning off the common words feature. Since the word cloud will enlarge words based on frequency, students can then analyze the larger words against their essays. Students revise essays to include more precision and variety in word usage, and to reduce undesirable redundancy. As a follow-up assessment, students repeat the exercise and compare the revised essay word clouds with the originals.
  1. Content Main Ideas. The teacher groups students and assigns a textbook section or content based mentor text for reading. Within the groups, students jigsaw the material into smaller portions of text. For each sub-section, individual students read and decide on the 5 most important words or concepts of that section. When the individual students come back together to discuss the entire text, student groups pare down the individual lists created to one compiled set of 3 main idea words that represent the entire text selection. After class discussion of the text, students select one final word from the list of three to represent the main idea of the material. Student groups enter all the words from each round into a word cloud generator. As culmination for a unit, students can use the word clouds to review unit themes and ideas or write a unit reflection of main ideas.
  1. Self-Assessment. As an anticipation guide, the teacher creates a word cloud of major lesson or unit concepts. At the conclusion of a lesson or unit, students write an explanation of the concepts covered in a paragraph or two. This writing is then copied and pasted into a word cloud generator, excluding common words in the advanced features. Students examine the resulting images while comparing and contrasting their word clouds to the anticipation visual.
  1. Plot Prediction. The teacher copies and pastes a literary text (or synopsis for longer works) into a word cloud generator to create a story cloud. Either prior to reading the piece or at a strategic point in the reading, students analyze the story cloud and make predictions about the story plot and/or characters. The teacher has students discuss their ideas in small groups, providing justification based on the visual provided.
  1. Vocabulary Review. In partners, students take turns reviewing content based vocabulary from a list of academic words or flashcards. If a student knows the word and can provide a correct definition, the student types the word into a word cloud generator once and sets the card aside (or places a checkmark beside it on a list). If the student is unable to provide correct information, the word is typed twice and the card is left in the pile (or word left unchecked). Students continue through the list back and forth until all words have been addressed for both students. Students may either generate the word cloud at this point, or continue in a second round, using the same format. The larger words in the word cloud will remind students which words or concepts require more review.
  1. Utilize Shapes to Reinforce Learning. Using one of the word cloud generators which allows the user to select the shape of the resulting image, create geometric anchor charts. The teacher assigns each group a geometric shape. Students create word lists explaining the characteristics of their assigned shape, associated formulas, and real-life examples of the shape. After the lists are complete, students select the corresponding shape for the image. The teacher can then print large versions of student work for the classroom and/or smaller versions for student notebooks.

These are just a few of hundreds of classroom applications for this tool. To see more, check the resources in the  reference section of this article. To experiment with some of the more popular generators and discover even more educational uses, visit the following websites:







Happy recycling!



Dunn, Jeff. “45 Interesting Ways To Use Wordle In The Classroom.” 45 Interesting Ways To Use Wordle In The Classroom. N.p., 15 July 2010. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Gorman, Michael. “Word Clouds: 125 Ways… And Counting… To Use Wordle In The Classroom.” 21 St Century Educational Technology and Learning. N.p., 06 Mar. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Lepi, Katie. “5 Ways To Use Word Cloud Generators In The Classroom.” 5 Ways To Use Word Cloud Generators In The Classroom. Edudemic, 25 June 2014. Web. 30 Mar. 2015.

Tafazoli, Dara. “Wordling: Using Word Clouds in Teaching English Language.” Wordling: Using Word Clouds in Teaching English Language. Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Aug. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2015. p 53-58.

Connected Learning — a Framework for Innovation in the Classroom

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Author: Jennifer Woollven, Education Specialist, Instructional Technology

There is a lot of talk in the world of education about 21st century skills and preparing our students for a new world — plenty of inspiring (and not so inspiring) 21st century videos can be found on Youtube. Online tools and platforms available to teachers can be transformative to the classroom experience, but they can also be overwhelming. How does a teacher keep up with everything that is available? Which tools will be best for our learning outcomes? I’ve certainly been guilty of being dazzled by the bells and whistles of a tool only to realize that underneath the glitter was the same old traditional approach that centers around the content or the instructor, but not the student. This is the shift we must make. Are students driving their learning experiences in your classrooms? Once this in place, the tools that will be most appropriate for helping students innovate, create, and problem solve will be apparent — in fact your students probably make those decisions on their own. (Let them! There is incredible power in allowing student voice and choice.)

So, as educators how do we get there? Constructivist learning theory centers on the learner and how he or she constructs meaning, but it does not address the connected, digital world that our students must live and thrive in. Connected Learning is the evolution of constructivism and seeks to address how we learn in a connected world. Connected learning theory as defined by the Digital Media and Learning Hub and the Connected Learning Alliance (CLA)…

is a model of learning that holds out the possibility of reimagining the experience of education in the information age. It draws on the power of today’s technology to fuse young people’s interests, friendships, and academic achievement through experiences laced with hands-on production, shared purpose, and open networks.

The six Connected Learning principles are production centered, interest driven, shared purpose, peer culture, openly networked, and academic. To find out more about each of the principles and to see examples of them in action visit

Science in the Age of Globalization

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Jennifer Jordan-Kaszuba, Secondary Science Specialist

The world is shrinking, not in the literal sense, but in the sense that increasingly academic endeavors and businesses are global in nature.  Researchers around the world collaborate, sharing techniques, data and conclusions.  Businesses rely on products and services from across the globe and offer their goods internationally.  Technology has sped up the rate at which globalization is occurring.  Part of preparing students for post-secondary success is preparing them for changes globalization brings such as cultural sensitivity, global collaboration and an understanding of the world beyond their hometown.


There are several ways teachers can help prepare students for globalization.

Utilizing Data from the Internet

One of the easiest ways is to incorporate data from around the world.  Examples of data that might be of interest:

  • Climate and weather
  • Seasonal changes
  • Proportion of energy from renewable resources
  • Rate of vaccination compared with incidences of disease
  • Agricultural productivity


Students as Researchers

Students can also become part of collecting data and sharing it internationally.  Several projects exist to help students as researchers, including GLOBE and the World MOON Project.



Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) is a well-established program intended to allow schools to collect and interact with environmental data.  With over 27,000 schools participating, they have a world-wide network of partner schools in 112 countries.  Schools must have a GLOBE-trained teacher in order to register to enter most data. The GLOBE at Night project is very accessible and is a great tool for teaching the nature of science.


World MOON Project (

Students from all over the world are asked to observe the moon and identify patterns to gain a deeper understanding about the moon’s appearance.  Short essays based on student observations are collected by the World MOON (More Observation of Nature) Project. Participants then receive a packet of essays from other parts of the world so students are given both a local and global perspective. Students learn to observe nature firsthand and are engaged in global collaboration.  Teachers may choose to emphasize different aspects of the project to meet own needs of their curriculum standards, and participation in the World MOON Project can emphasize curricular goals in one or more of the following areas:

  • Lunar phases
  • Inquiry skills
  • Nature of science


Students as Collaborators

The most advanced form of global collaboration involves students actively communicating and working with students from another location to complete a project or accomplish a task.  Projects students work on are varied and limited only by the imagination of the students and teachers who are collaborating.  Students may work together to design a robot to walk on Mars, seek better ways to clean water or collaborate on earthquake resistant designs.  Projects of this nature are sometimes provided as structured activities by organizations or can be the brainchild of the teachers involved.  Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis is one of the most popular books on how to set up and manage a global collaboration project.  Some sources of projects and collaborators include:


Interactive Communications and Simulations at the University of Michigan (

Web-based simulations engage students in global collaboration and problem solving.  Projects are set and space is limited.  Most projects are more social studies based, although their Place Out of Time project for this year is focused on a trial that involves seismologists. In this project students play guests at a trial, take on a famous character from history and debate the issue at hand from the viewpoint of their character.  University students act as mentors or “game masters” for many of the simulations to drive the action and respond to students.  This is available free of charge for one year to new schools.



According to their website, iEARN “enables students and teachers to design and participate in global projects as part of their regular and after-school programs.  All projects align to education standards and use a safe and structured online Collaboration Centre.” (, Projects section)  All projects are designed to answer the question, “How will this project improve the quality of life on the planet?”  Participants come from all over the world and collaborate to make a difference while becoming global citizens.  Registration is required for both teachers and participating students.

iEARN provides already established projects or allows for creation of new projects.  They also provide online discussion forums to meet and discuss potential projects with collaborators around the world.  They also provide a how-to-get-started tutorial that outlines the process and provides a to-do list to find and join a project.  Among the projects listed are some dealing with eradication of malaria, deforestation and the impact of people on a local river.


ePals (!/global-community/)

ePals provides a method for connecting with other teachers who are seeking partners from all over the world.  Their database is searchable by region of the world or country, age level of students, project type, duration, type of collaboration and language, allowing, for example, the user to search for science projects taking place in South America.  Some of the projects currently listed included endangered animals, global warming and endemic diseases.

Teacher participants have the ability to either join someone else’s project or to design their own and seek collaborators.  Online tools including school safe email, blogs for both the project leaders and members, file exchange service, discussion forms, a project wiki and calendar are provided to allow for collaboration.  Also provided are resources such as parental consent forms, guidelines for using collaboration tools and user guides for the project leader.


Global SchoolNet (

Global SchoolNet works toward preparing youth in a global economy through content-driven collaboration.  They strive to build teamwork, civic responsibility, workforce preparedness and multi-cultural understanding within participants.  Registration is required and they have 30 current projects including projects on ecosystems, seasonal changes, and space base building.  Services are offered free of charge.  The site includes a registry of more than 3,000 annotated listings to assist users in finding collaborators.

In addition to the current projects which can be joined, participants are able to submit projects for inclusion on the website.  This site provides a potential source of collaborators and a mechanism for advertising projects.


This list of resources is by no means exhaustive. However, it provides a good start for teachers wanting to foster student global collaboration and development of 21st century skills.

Time to Dive into the 21st Century

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Jennifer Woollven, Instructional Technology Specialist

Digital matters. There really is no getting around this.  Fears about connectivity and Internet safety are no longer excuses that we, as educators, can hide behind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing that these issues are not real or that they are minor and should be ignored, but as educators it is time to face the facts — we live in a digital society. This is not going to change. While this digital world is certainly ever-evolving, it is only becoming a more integral part of our students’ lives. If our role as educators is to prepare children for the future, is it not our duty to do so within the framework that they live, play, and eventually will work? Continuing to opt out of the 21st century is a reckless and irresponsible position for schools to take.


We must push ourselves to meet technology and bandwidth demands. Administrators must support innovation in the classroom. Teachers must be given the tools and strategies to facilitate dynamic, connected learning environments so that students are able to become responsible, productive digital citizens. Collegial discourse and student collaboration must flourish and learning must extend far beyond the schoolhouse walls.


When the obstacles and fears of technology integration are planned for and addressed the possibilities for transformative learning are endless. The combination of access and student voice and choice leads to deeper learning, critical thinking, problem solving, and self-advocacy. Imagine the impact on learning when students are able to take research to the next level by reaching out to experts via Skype or Google Hangout, or debate ideas online with students from anywhere in the world, or create dynamic products with online multi-media tools, or design graphics that analyze data that they have been collecting, or write for a real audience on a blog. This is just a glimpse of the education that all students deserve to experience.


So, how will you spark change in your classroom, school, district or community? How will you help students access, analyze and assess the vast array of resources available via the web? How will you encourage effective online collaboration and communication among your students? How will you urge students to tap their creative potential with digital tools?


Resources for getting started:

Digital Literacy and Citizenship


Innovative teaching, PBL style


Edudemic and

Broadband is Key

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Author:  Matt Holloway, Education Specialist, Special Education

Broadband has become as essential to our schools as water or electricity.

– Culatta, Richard, acting director of the U.S.  Department of Educational Technology.  Emerging Technology Panel.  SXSWedu.  Austin, TX, 5 March, 2013.


As more and more is asked of teachers in terms of instructional accountability, rigor and differentiation, leaders ask themselves what can be done to support these expectations. Technology, while not a panacea, can be a tremendous boost to student performance when implemented responsibly and with a goal towards personalization.

Educators may be confused by the current definition of the term “personalized learning” in edTech circles: a highly responsive computer program that adjusts academic tasks to a student’s performance, attention span, interest level and learning profile.  The personalization concept here refers to the individually-tailored learning tasks that students complete rather than the student-teacher relationship.

The teacher does not become less important in this system.  Skilled teachers may be better able to attend more fully to the higher conceptual tasks inherent in the curriculum when they identify and use effective computer software apps to reinforce foundational academic skills (e.g., spelling, math facts).  A computer will never be able to replicate the learning experience of thoughtful, engaging dialogue and lesson content as delivered by a human being.

This shared academic load – with computer programs providing the rote learning and teachers the creation of nuanced, higher-level learning experiences – is currently being called “blended learning.” This concept closely reflects the engagement of the general population in electronic devices.  A key tenet of the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium (2012) calls for “future-ready students engaged and challenged in a digitally rich learning environment that results in students who are prepared for the life and work competencies essential to thriving in our global society.”

What are the key challenges to such a vision?  How do we ensure access to a “digitally rich learning environment”? In short: broadband capacity. As more learning software becomes available online, schools will need to have sufficient connectivity to keep up with the demand, and the capacity to evaluate the educational value and effectiveness of new software.

The United States Department of Education is preparing for a major investment in schools’ connectivity. According to Richard Culatta, acting director of the U.S. Department of Educational Technology, information collected from school districts will be used in Senate testimony to advocate for funds and support to school districts whose Internet capacity is not up to speed. All campuses, but especially those in rural areas, are strongly encouraged to visit and share campus/district connectivity data.

Under the guiding hand of professional educators, technology can be leveraged to improve learning outcomes for students while allowing for more meaningful classroom instruction. Act now to support equality of access to the 21st Century Learning Environment for all students.



Texas High Performance Schools Consortium. Update on the Progress of the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium. Texas Education Agency, December 2012.