Monday, February 29, 2016

What Blended Learning is Not (Part 2 of 6)

When I first started in my role as a Technology Integration Specialist four years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the Flipped Classroom and shortly after, Blended Learning. What I heard and read about each of these ideas piqued my interest and I had to know more. Subsequently, as more teachers and administrators within our district heard about the possibilities with Blended Learning, we began exploring what this model might look like in our classrooms. This six-part series will discuss what we have found Blended Learning to be and lays the foundation for Blended Learning that we use to train our teachers. 

In my last article, we explored What is Blended Learning?  In this article, we will look into what Blended Learning is Not.
Photo Credit: Anonymous
Now, that we have some understanding as to what Blended Learning is, we need to process through what it looks like when we believe we are implementing Blended Learning, but, in reality, are not. Let’s tackle the four largest misconceptions I have come across when working with others to integrate technology into the classroom.

First, we are not replacing teachers with computers. This rumor goes on my "That's just ridiculous" list. Studies have proven that beyond the traditional classroom and beyond online learning, that blended learning impacts student learning to a greater degree. Blended Learning is not about replacing teachers, but about deepening the understanding of the learning for both teacher and student. We are social creatures and we learn communally, meaning we need, at some level, to interact face to face with one another.

Second, Blended Learning and the Flipped Classroom are not interchangeable terms. The Flipped Classroom, up until now, has been the most common form of blending; however, flipping represents one-quarter of one-quarter of the total possible models of blended learning. And, while the flipped model works very well in some educational areas, it does not work as well in all. As a former math teacher, I would suggest, due to the procedural nature of arithmetic, equations, and formulas, that the flipped model may be best suited for that environment, as well as other procedural topics. On the other hand, in a social studies course, where the material must be discussed and perspectives formulated, flipped learning, while useful, should not be used often or exclusively. As you may find when reading this article, Pros and Cons of The Flipped Classroom, the social studies teacher here speaks highly of the flipped model; however, reading closely, though he is using videos as homework, he is also including elements of the broader model of blended learning. It is this misunderstanding or blurring of lines that has led to the need for differentiating between these models.

Third, students are not, or should not be, constantly on a computer or device. Any classroom that requires a student to be on the computer solely is not fostering a healthy learning environment; this includes computer classrooms as well. Some will observe a student, or a class, working diligently on a device and mistakenly conclude that those students are fully engaged in the day’s learning. As stated in this excerpt from UnCommon Learning by Eric Sheninger (provided by MindShift), “Engagement does not always equate to learning.” Devices in the hands of students alone do not guarantee learning. We, as educators, must continue to facilitate the learning process, while allowing for more student control, thereby, increasing student ownership of learning. Learning does not happen in a vortex, which is why we must be mindful of the social engagement of our students by helping them understand their use of screen time. As stated earlier, we learn in community, and must help our students develop the social skills necessary to thrive in society. It is not the screen time itself that is harmful to our students; instead, it is the way in which screen time is utilized. Screen time for entertainment purposes provides limited value and, in some cases, can be harmful. Everyone must take a break. Interacting with others, whether teachers, students, or parents, to digest content and process meaning increases the value of screen time. The passive consumption of content available on devices must be limited during the day. 

The last misconception we will discuss in this article is that using technology in the classroom means we are implementing blended learning. Devices do not equal blending. If that were the case, computer teachers in the 80’s with a set of Apple ][s were blending long before blending was a thing. Not. As teachers begin to “dip their toes” into the blended learning waters, I strongly urge them to TAKE IT SLOW. Blended learning is a large umbrella, and, therefore, may be implemented in a variety of ways. It is going to take time for each teacher to develop the blended style that works for their classroom, students, subject area, and so on. However, as we become more comfortable with using the technology in our classrooms we have to focus on, “How are we meaningfully engaging our students in the learning?” I challenge everyone to read “A Digital Worksheet is Still Just a Worksheet” by Jonathan Wylie. This post does not demonize the worksheet, but rather asks the question, “Are you thoughtful about how you are using technology to impact learning?” After all, technology is merely a tool used in our arsenal as educators to move our students to a deeper understanding of the material and their own learning; in very much the same way as a pencil and paper. I would never suggest that technology will Revolutionize Education, though, I might argue today’s uses may be evolutionary.




“Blended Learning” More Effective than Face-to-Face

Social Learning Theory

Pros and Cons of The Flipped Classroom

How to Determine if Student Engagement is Leading to Learning

Kids And Screen Time: What Does The Research Say?

Digital Device Use Leads to Eye Strain, Even in Kids

Apple II

A Digital Worksheet is Still Just a Worksheet

This Will Revolutionize Education

Monday, February 22, 2016

What is Blended Learning? (Part 1 of 6)

When I first started in my role as a Technology Integration Specialist four years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the Flipped Classroom and shortly after, Blended Learning. What I heard and read about each of these ideas piqued my interest and I had to know more. Subsequently, as more teachers and administrators within our district heard about the possibilities with Blended Learning, we began exploring what this model might look like in our classrooms. This six-part series will discuss what we have found Blended Learning to be and lays the foundation for Blended Learning that we use to train our teachers. 

Perhaps you have heard the new catchphrase in education, Blended Learning. Education is no stranger to catchphrases or pendulum swings, the same concepts creep up year after year as something new. Well, I believe blended learning is something different from the new kid on the block or that reimagined technique from days past. I believe we are at the beginning stages of a new age in education, and blended learning is the model that fits this age. So, what is this new model? What is Blended Learning, really?

A number of definitions have surfaced as educators have struggled to understand what blended learning is or how it manifests itself in our classrooms. However, a frontrunner has shown itself as the champion in this struggle. This definition was developed by the Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.

The definition of blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns:
    • at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;
    • at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;
    • and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

For an example of what blended learning may look like, take a few minutes to view this video, also from the Institute. (This video is a wonderful overview and a fantastic conversation starter. It is not all encompassing, simply a beginning to build understanding.)

What did we see in the video? 

I see a classroom and school that combines the best techniques from both online and traditional learning. Many times the idea surfaces of students setting the pace of their learning, thereby bringing a sense of personalization. Collaboration among students appears to be high on the list of must do’s. And finally, I see, not only the concept of data-driven instruction but that of data-driven learning. Empowering our students to know what they know and to focus on closing the gaps in their understanding just makes the educator in me drool. I want this for my classroom!

I have watched this video on several occasions and openly discussed with teachers those concepts that bring joy and excitement and those concepts that bring pause, uncertainty, and at times even fear. Blended Learning, for many, represents this body of uncharted water that appears to shift and transform as concepts crest and fall. Though the technology we use may change and evolve, I believe the concepts of blended learning provide for us a solid foundation with which to construct the learning for our students. And, by applying this foundation and holding fast to its principles, uncertainty and fear melt away.

As I watched this video, yet again, in preparation for this article, I decided that I wanted to “see” what my notes looked like as a word cloud. (Word clouds are a great way to visualize concepts from a body of text.) Below is the word cloud generated from my notes. Simple as it is, this cloud shows me that student learning through a shift in instruction is the primary focus of blending learning. Hence, why we do not call it blended teaching. (That would just be silly and would miss the whole point in what we are trying to accomplish.) The FOCUS is on LEARNING.

If that last statement is true, then I believe we, as educators, need to spend more time developing our understanding of learning. If we can better understand the brain and how learning works, then we can help empower our students to take hold of their own learning. I recommend looking for resources on learning and the brain and digging in. I recently finished the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel. I would not consider this the definitive work on learning; however, it does provide a great foundation for understanding how learning works. Through its use of anecdotes and examples, this text is an easy, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read.

So what about technology? What does technology have to do with blended learning in the classroom?

As I have stated, the most significant impact of blended learning is its effect on student learning. Technology is the tool that gives us the ability to be effective and efficient in reaching that goal. Does that mean our students are always on the computer or another device? Absolutely not! As with any tool or technique within the classroom, if it does not further the learning, DO NOT use it. However, by making proper use of technology, learning and teaching can make better use of time, meaning more time can be freed up to work individually, one on one, and in small groups. Technology also allows students to interact with content and concepts to create and explore in ways previously unavailable. The creative use of technology helps students make connections between concepts that aid in transferring that knowledge into long-term memory. 

Finally, every teacher I have met that has taken the time to grow their classes or classroom into Blended Learning has expressed a new excitement about teaching and learning. They have gushed about the engagement level of their students rising. They beam when speaking about the depth of understanding they have gained about their students’ learning and the strong student/teacher relationships in learning that have developed. Be mindful, that I did say these teachers have “grown” into blended learning. This is a new way of teaching. Implementation does not take place overnight. It is a process. However, it is worth the time and the effort for both you and your learners.

To recap, Blended Learning is…
  • New and Lasting
  • The Best of Online and Traditional Teaching
  • Student Control over Time, Place, Path, and/or Pace
  • Collaborative
  • All about the Learning
  • Access to Technology to be Effective, Efficient, and Creative
  • A Growth Experience
  • Exciting and Scary
  • Totally worth it!

In my next article, we will talk about “What Blended Learning is Not.”




The Christensen Institute for Disruptive Learning, Blended Learning

What is Blended Learning?

Word Clouds, Google Search

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Skyward : Secondary Student Access

Skyward isn’t just for teachers and parents, it’s for students too! Use Skyward to read announcements, check for missing assignments, look up your grades, see your schedule, and much more!  You can find the PDF version of this tip here.


Your login to Skyward is very simple - It is the same login you use to login to the school desktops and chromebooks. This is usually:


Your password is also the same password that you use to login to the desktops and chromebooks.

Home Screen

The home screen will show you a list of upcoming events, and announcements from the office or your teachers. Use the toolbar on the left to navigate to the other areas of skyward.
Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 3.28.43 PM.png

Gradebook Screen

The gradebook screen will show you all your classes, all your grades, as well as your missing assignments. If you click the ► next to the class, you will then be able to see all your assignments for that class, as well as your grades on those assignments.
Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 3.39.13 PM.png
If you want to see a more detailed report on how your quarter grade was figured, click on the quarter grade. You will see a window that looks like this:
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If you click on the assignment name, you will see a detailed explanation of that particular assignment.


Click on the Attendance menu to see your absences and tardies. You can view your absences and tardies by Period or Days in a graph on the right.
Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 2.30.47 PM.png

Viewing Transcripts and Report Cards

If your school posts report cards and transcripts to the portal, then they will show up under the Portfolio tab. Simply click on the Titles under the description area to view the reports.
Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 10.13.32 AM.png

Sending an Email to the Teacher

You can send an email to the teacher by clicking on the teacher’s name, then clicking on their email address. This can be done from the Schedule page, or the Gradebook page.
Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 2.46.50 PM.png

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Wonderful World of Word Clouds

Word clouds are a wonderful thing.  They take paragraphs of text and turn them into analytical artwork.  Many of you are familiar with common word cloud creators like Wordle and Tagxedo, but unfortunately for those of us living in the chromebook world, these sites won't work.  This snag led our amazing building tech, Joshua, on a quest to find some word cloud creators that will work well on the chromebooks so our teachers and students can continue to build their beautiful work art.  Below you will find the results of his quest...

Tagxedo doesn’t work in Chrome, and Wordle is finicky. What to do? Try another word cloud creator, like You’ll be greeted with a generic word cloud. No sign-in necessary.

Your first step is to add some text to the word cloud. Click File>Paste/Type text:

This opens a window for entering your words. This takes text from anywhere, and the more times a word occurs in the text, the larger it will appear in the finished cloud. You can just type some words, or copy and paste text from another source. In this example, I have copied a page of information from another Tech Tip. Select your text and right-click>copy:

It works best to right-click in the text area and select Paste as plain-text:

Click Apply and your cloud words will fill in. From here you can get creative with colors, shapes, backgrounds, masks, etc. All of these options are in a toolbar near the top of the window:

The big slider changes the overall text size. Here I have chosen a color theme, a font, a shape, and to have the mask “on”. When I adjust the slider position it goes from an unfilled shape:

To a fully filled shape:

To save the image or print it out, go back to the File menu. there are several choices, but Print or Save as PNG would be the two most recommended. Once you click one of those options it will either download the image, or open the print dialog.

Here is an example of the same text in another shape, mask, and text orientation:

You can also try It has a larger selection of fonts, and can save your creations for later re-use if you log in with a Google account. The downside is, high resolution downloads cost $, and the editor isn’t as easy to use. Here’s a Tagul:

For all our elementary teachers out there who want something quick and simple for their students, offers a word cloud creator that is quick and easy to use.

First add your text (either copy and paste, or type in)

Click the play button at the bottom.  Your word cloud will be automatically created.  You can now use the tool bar to change things up.  This is definitely not as full featured as the above tools, but it is quick and easy.

Thank you Joshua Enos for putting together this great tip!  We are lucky to have you here at PPS.

Now I know you are all going to dash off to your computers and start building beautiful word clouds to express your individual interests and spice up the spaces of your classrooms.  Enjoy!

Google Classroom: Put a Hashtag on it!

Are you using Google Classroom? Are you finding difficulty managing your email from assignments and posts from Classroom? Then check out below this simple, yet highly effective strategy!

Disclaimer: I cannot even pretend to take credit for this one. The original post is from Alice Keeler: Teacher Tech, but I heard about it from our own Malena Schrauben through this incredible Professional Development tool called Twitter.

The idea here is to use a hashtag in the title of each of your assignments. Then in gmail, filter messages out of your inbox based on that hashtag. Genius!


Math Class: #alg1 #extsn Exponents Power Rule
Social Studies: #SS7th #discuss Civil War Causes
Science: #sci8th #insectcollect Pinning a Butterfly

Notice that I tried to create examples that could group email by class, grade level, assignment type, or project.  Hopefully, these examples will get you thinking. I am certain you will develop better uses on your own.

Also, Alice suggests developing a list of hashtags for students to use for things like #late, #help, etc. I might add #regrade #final #group3 #bellwork...

To learn how to filter gmail messages from this lesson from How-To Geek or from Alice's original article.



Monday, February 1, 2016

Skyward Elementary Report Card: Viewing Comments Only

The comments section of the elementary report card is probably the section that is the most read by the parents.  Therefore, it is important to proofread your comments carefully.  Sometimes it is easier to proofread the comments when you don't have all the other parts of the report card distracting you.  Here is a quick way to run a report that includes only the comments.  To see the video directions, click here.

Step 1: Open your learner behaviors gradebook
Step 2: Under the REPORTS menu, select 'Standards Based Report Card'
Step 3: Click 'Add a new Template'
Step 4: Name the template and click 'Save'
Step 5: Select the quarter you wish to view
Step 6: Check the boxes for 'Print comments only' and 'Print for this class only'
Step 7: Click 'Save'
Step 8: If you only want to print for a couple students - click 'Select Different Students' and choose the students.  If you want to print for everyone - ignore this step.
Step 9: Click 'Print'
Step 10: Click 'Display Report' once the report is finished running.