Category: Recommendations


The Learning Continues… PBL and Developing a Customized Search Engine

imagesToday began with a continuation of building my knowledge base and expertise in designing Project Based Lessons. The Buck Institute for Education also known as BIE is a treasure trove of resources in which one can get pleasantly lost in. I focused most specifically on the resources found in PBL World discovering a variety of project based lessons and different formats for planning the PBL lessons. What each lesson had in common though was it’s focused on being student rather than teacher centered. The best lessons created room for a variety of outcomes allowing students to use their previous experiences, creativity and collaboration skills to come up with their own solutions.

As part of my exploration, I discovered the 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning Blog written by Michael Gorman. In his award-winning blog, Gorman has brought together a wide variety of resources to use as idea starters and resources in planning PBL units. There is a strong emphasis on STEM resources, but the blog is by no means limited to these as it also provides PBL resources on gamification, language arts, philosophy, history and character development.

The most exciting part of today’s discoveries, playing and creating, was the development of my first customized

Google Custom Search Engine which can be found at pgildersPBLsearch. The customization feature allows the developer to refine the search results thus helping students to learn the basics of online research while providing parameters that will keep them on topic and with grade and reading level appropriate material. The developer can limit key word searches to the topic at hand. The pgildersPBLsearch allows the researcher to search the open web for articles and images, but the site emphasizes the customized online resources I specifically want users to go to. Keywords added to this site include:  PBL, Project Based Learning, Custom Search, Google, Google Searches and Grading. I’m looking forward to refining the site and getting feedback from teachers as they made suggestions for resources to add from their personal repertoires.

If you’re interested in creating your own search engine, Gennexttech has a nice youtube video tutorial to guide you through the process which can be found at Gennexttech Google Search Tutorial.  


Discovering the Power of the RSS Feed


The IEASC (Innovative Educator Advanced Studies Studies Certificate) has been a worthwhile program introducing me to many valuable ed. tech tools, solidifying my knowledge in how to incorporate these tools into instruction with a focus on the pedagogy rather than the tool and emphasizing the important role we have as educators to prepare our students to be literate in 21st Century skills. I recently completed a unit that focused on RSS feeds – Real Simple Syndication.

I was familiar with the term and recognized the RSS symbol on websites, but hadn’t previously spent much time with this tool. I was pleasantly surprised by all that I learned and how impactful RSS feeds can be in following student work and customizing resources that I use for professional development and networking. An RSS feed brings together several web feed formats aggregating updated blog entries, news headlines and topics of interest such as the weather, video or a Twitter feed onto one page or site.

I chose to begin my personal exploration with Bloglines.

png;base648b8a76da81e2221aI created several pages based on my interests and the websites I visit most often. Wow! I am loving this tool. Yet, now that I’ve figured this out for my personal use, my thoughts go to how to I pass this tool on to my teachers in a way that the tool can be incorporated into their instructional practices and be worthwhile. My first thoughts went to a productivity tool in terms of following student blogs. but didn’t feel confident in how I could present this idea to staff. As I dove into some of the resources provided in the module provided through the IEASC program, I discovered a treasure trove of knowledge.

Will Richardson’s “A Quick Start Guide for Educators” offers many ideas and suggestions. Richardson’s guide provided good instructions on how to set up a Bloglines RSS feed and how to use this tool and how to use it to follow student blogs while also reducing the teacher workload. Richardson goes on to describe how to use the feed to do web searches, follow the news and bookmark pages of interest.

The incorporation of an RSS feed into instructional practice also supports evidence of the National Education Technology Standards. While a case could be made for how the RSS feed could support each of the standards. I think it falls most strongly under NETS Standard  3 – Model Digital Age Work and Learning

Teachers exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society.

  1. Demonstrate fluency in technology systems and the transfer of current knowledge to new technologies and situations
  2. Collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation

cross posted at


A Wiki Exploration

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 1.10.39 PMI must confess, I just can’t get into the whole wiki thing. I’ve tried over the years. I’ve created wikis. I’ve joined wikis. Yet my experience remains the same. The wiki seems like a great idea in concept, but the ones I’ve engaged with don’t seem to gain traction, are useful as a one time resource  or my interest just seems to fizzle.

As a result of the Web 2.0 course I’m taking through the IEASC program, I have come across one wiki, I’m finding to be a gold mine. Check out Web Tools for the Classroom. While most wikis, admittedly, have lost my interest fairly quickly, I’ve bookmarked this one and shared it with several colleagues. I am however also conscientious of the fact that wikis are a strong example of the NETS Standard 2.0 Communication and Collaboration.

CoolCat Teacher, Vicki Davis, offers a great set of guidelines to follow when using wikis in the classroom. Her blog post on the topic is very informative. I’ve added this to my tool box of resources to share with other educators who are interested in increasing their knowledge about and use of Web 2.0 tools.

As part of the course, I did start a wiki – There isn’t much there yet, but I’m hoping the site will see visitors who contribute their tools and ideas for incorporating Web 2.0 tools into instruction and professional development.
*cross posted at


Positive Outlook Confirmed

Positive, Spontaneous, Charismatic, Idealistic, Empathetic

I just finished taking the Kingdomality Vocational Personality Profile sponsored by Career Management International. My results – A Dreamer Minstrel. I was surprised at first to see “Dreamer” in the description, but as I read the personality description, I was very entertained as it described me to a T.



“You can alway see the ‘Silver Lining’ to every dark and dreary cloud.” – Yes, and this is not always well-received. I was once referred to as “pollyanna” in unkind terms by a colleague in my field. I’ve chosen to carry the reference with pride!


“Look at the bright side is your motto.” Yes, I believe everything happens for a reason. It’s not always clear why something happens at first reflection, particularly when the experience has not been positive or rewarding. Nevertheless, I do believe that with time, we gain awareness of why certain experiences have been a part of our lives and how we benefit from them.



“There is nothing so terrible that you can not find some good within it.” True. I’ve taking care of a lot of student discipline lately and a child who get’s sent to my office during 6th period, has made it successfully through 5/6 of his or her day. A student who comes to tears in my office is facing acceptance and is starting to heal. My son got a 50% on a quiz (darn kid is usually a straight A student); he mastered half the content before the quiz and the other 50% afterwards and learned a lesson in perseverance as well as a valuable life lesson as he continued the learning process even when the grade wouldn’t go up.

Positive, Spontaneous, Charismatic, Idealistic, Empathetic – yep, I like this!


Leading Edge Certification – A Reflection on the Learning

1371694787This week brings the culmination of the IEASC Spring 2014 cohort Leading Edge Certification in Online and Blended Learning. The learning throughout the process of earning this certification was tremendous. Each module brought a specific focus that increased the knowledge base of members in this cohort. I, however, found three areas that proved to be most transformational in my personal development as an instructor.

I entered the course feeling like I was bringing with me a pretty solid foundation and understanding of assistive technology (AT) and universal design for learning (UDL). I’ve spent the past couple of years working closely with and supporting the work of an occupational therapist and speech language pathologist who have real expertise with AT and engaged in a two year Assistive Technology Project. This course however got me to dive in and start creating and embedding accessibility features into my websites, videos and presentations. I learned a lot about what it takes to create accessibility features and grew in my understanding of how many people can benefit from their incorporation into instruction. It is essential that we provide pedagogically sound programs to all of our learners whether they come to us with typical cognitive and physical functioning abilities or with disabilities.

I appreciated the focus the course placed on the four primary roles that an online/blended learning instructor engages in. Ed Hoostein describes the roles of social director, program manager, technician and instructor in his blog post, “Wearing Four Pairs of Shoes: The Roles of E-Learning Facilitators.” There continues to be discussion in the education community about the integrity of online coursework and how it measures up in quality and accountability to traditional brick and mortar instructional environments. Diving into a deeper understanding of how these four roles are interwoven into a strong program gave me an understanding of what to look for in evaluating online and blending learning courses and their pedagogical soundness.

Finally, a review and self reflection of the iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Instruction proved to show me just how much room for growth I continue to have. As I finish the requirements for the Leading Edge Certification, I am cognizant of the need to continue my professional growth as an educator interested in incorporating digital literacies into the curriculum for both adult learners and students in the K-12 education system. The role of the technician as referenced in the four roles of the online/blended learning instruction in the blog post by Ed Hootstein, as well as ongoing inquiry into developing software that supports student learning, will continue to be an area of focus. Embedding the use of the tools society uses in everyday life into instruction are an essential component of providing students with an education that will allow them to be contributing members of society.



Who Should Plan, Design and Lead Teacher PD?

“There’s got to be a better way to do professional development of teachers than to talk down to them and bore them to death.”

-Peggy McIntosh, Founder SEEDS Project


District offices have traditionally dedicated personnel resources with previous classroom experience to spearheading teacher PD and continue to be a valuable resource. With the advent of social media, however, and the creation of online Professional Learning Networks as well as Edchats via Twitter, educators have been able to engage in more personalized professional development. Teachers are becoming more empowered to take ownership of their learning and to engage in leadership that supports the professional development of colleagues in the field.

As instruction models begin to adapt to 21st Century Literacies and more online and blended courses become available to take and to teach, the teacher’s role in the professional development process is also adapting. In order to take advantage if the best of both worlds and as many resources as possible, there is wisdom in a model of PD in which teachers and management collaborate to define, plan and lead staff development meetings and trainings. This is a statement that can make some administrators nervous. As teachers, we’ve all sat in staff meetings or department meetings with colleagues who haven’t pulled their weight, focused more on complaining than collaborating or just simply weren’t engaged. These educators really make up a very small percentage of the profession, but they can take a lot of energy and focus away from the magic that can happen when teachers define, plan and lead school-wide PD.

There can be a be a feeling of security for administration is defining, leading and planning school-wide professional development. If student progress isn’t adequate at a site, the ultimate accountability falls on the principal. Keeping this in mind, the principal is charged with ensuring that there is a well trained staff implementing the agreed upon curriculum and strategies in each classroom on their campus. This level of responsibility demands that there be a high level of trust and confidence in a site’s teaching staff to allow for shared ownership of the professional development program.

Not every administrator is gifted in planning staff development or knowing how to differentiate training for different subject matters, experience, ability and interest. As a result, projects such as SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) have formed. In her foreword to the article “Peer Led Professional Development for Equity and Diversity: a report for teachers and administrators based on findings from the SEED Project,” project founder Peggy McIntosh writes“I founded the SEED Project because I believed, “There’s got to be a better way to do professional development of teachers than to talk down to them and bore them to death. I identified with the teacher who had leaned over to a colleague during a required faculty development session and said, ‘I hope I die during a professional development day. The transition will be so imperceptible.” This sentiment and the work accomplished through SEED highlight the need for increased teacher input and leadership in the professional development process.

But should the process be the sole responsibility of the teacher? As Tracey Thomas, a principal in Baltimore says in the online article “Teachers Teachers Teaching Teachers: Professional Development That Works,”  “”Teacher-led professional development fosters accountability, collegiality, professionalism, and pride. Teachers feel appreciated and respected for their contributions and knowledge, and they become confident and more competent in their own teaching practice.” Nevertheless, it just wouldn’t be feasible for teachers to bear the full responsibility of designing and leading a comprehensive professional development program in addition to their classroom duties.

The site administrator continues to play a crucial leadership role in the collaborative setting of the vision for the school. In addition, the principal sets the tone and the expectations of the site and has the responsibility of being a good steward of the school’s finances. Teachers in the SEED project acknowledged the importance of the role administrative support was to their participation in the project, giving as one example, administrators participating in SEED seminars. Where a principal or administrator spends their time tells what they value.



Assessment in Online/Blended Learning Environments

imagesIn considering the incorporation of formative and summative assessments into online and blended learning environments, it’s striking how similar the considerations are to traditional assessments. Formative assessments continue to be designed  for learning and monitoring students’ progress. The goal continues to be the same: engage in formative assessment to support students through the learning process and use results to adapt to students’ needs to understand the material.  Summative assessments of learning continue to be designed as an evaluation at the end of a learning objective. Timely feedback and use of the testing data to improve instruction continue to be crucial elements of the purposefulness of the assessments.

While the purpose of the assessments continue to be the same, there are some nice differences to be found with Web 2.0 tools that support the formative and summative assessment process. The use of a learning management system allows for student work (essays, exams) to be submitted in the cloud. The result – no more stacks of papers and notebooks for teachers and course instructors to carry around. Depending on the Learning Management System, grades can self populate in the teacher’s grade book. Teacher feedback/comments, when using tools such as Google Docs, can be accessed immediately by students, even allowing the student and the instructor to engage in a collaborative conversation about the student’s work. Not only do the opportunities for the student and teacher to engage in increased collaboration increase, but it can be done both synchronously and asynchronously. Thus allowing for greater flexibility to support the learning/feedback process. Web 2.0 tools also support project based formative and summative assessments such as creating a video, a website or a blog.

There are many positives to be found with the incorporation of digital literacies into the assessment process. Yet, as with every element of instruction, whether it be digital or analog, there are pitfalls to avoid and considerations to be conscientious of. Student and teachers must have consistent and working internet access, access to the supporting hardware and software, and be proficient in the use of the tools being incorporated into the instructional process and feedback process. Whatever the tool though, the most important aspect of using formative and summative assessments is to have defined and consistently implemented plan for timely use of the assessment results to support student learning.


Incorporating the Formative Assessment Process with the Use of Web 2.0 Tools

imgres-1As I prepare for another school year and continue my personal professional development, specifically in the year of education technology, I am on a constant look out for tools and strategies that support student learning. Simultaneously, I am also seeking tools that can be used to model sound instructional practices and 21st Century literacies in staff development meetings. It is therefore essential that the tool and the strategy also appeal to the adult learner. I am on a continuous quest in search of ways to engage and inspire the adult learner who is also a teacher. It is my hope to provide staff with an experience that supports their implementation of deeper learning strategies into  their practice and to be inspired to continue to develop their craft. As we transition to the Common Core and seek to incorporate 21st Century literacies into student instruction, including formative assessment that supports a blended learning environment, is a topic that is on my mind.

The practice of backchanneling staff meeting and staff development discussions has been one of my favorites for a couple of years. I’ve enjoyed using Twitter and Today’s Meet for this purpose and was recently introduced to Chatzy as another alternative. These are great tools to monitor and further discussions and have transcripts for. Their use can also be incorporated into a formative assessment process to support student learning.

As part of the coursework for the Leading Edge Certification in Online and Blended Teaching, students are asked to read Harry G. Tuttle’s blog post “Web 2.0 Use May Not be Formative Assessment.” Tuttle summarizes the formative assessment process with this graphic:

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 3.48.35 PM

The premise of Tuttle’s article got me to thinking about my previous practice as a classroom teacher and as a facilitator of staff meetings and professional development. It is essential to define the criteria needed to ensure that tools such as Chatzy, Twitter and Today’s Meet are truly being used for formative assessment and not just to facilitate a conversation. In reviewing the stages of the assessment process, stages 1-4 can be fairly easily incorporated into a lesson. A “chat” or “discussion” allows for students to respond and for easy monitoring of responses as well as diagnosing and sharing feedback while the chat or discussion is happening.

However, stages five and six can run the risk of being left out. It is therefore critical to be sure that student’s have clearly defined expectations on what the next steps are. This will allow them to use feedback provided through Web 2.0 tools to support next steps in their learning.Steps for stages five and six, in which students use the feedback to further their learning and share their increased knowledge and skills, may come in the form of further reading via suggestions found in the discussion thread and creating a project to demonstrate their increased knowledge.

The same can be said for using these tools as part of professional development. Stages one through four allow staff to respond to a discussion, monitor each other’s responses, diagnose the discussion thread as a part of the process and share feedback throughout the session. The key in demonstrating stages five and six will be to have staff share how they will use resources found in the discussion to further their learning and how they will incorporate their knowledge into their teaching practice. This can be followed by staff sharing their teaching success stories with their colleagues at the next meeting during a time set aside to demonstrate and celebrate instructional success. It is during this time that staff can also share the resources they used from the previous Twitter, Chatzy or Today’s Meet session.

As a teacher I enjoyed using student blog book review posts as a way to engage the formative assessment process. The stages Tuttle has defined in his graphic can be applied to the learning process that developed through the student book review blog. Each student would read a book, write a review, post the review on the class blog and respond to entries made by other students. The process which became a part of the year long classroom system of learning fit nicely with what are now known as the Four Cs of the Common Core: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity and more specifically within the standards framework for English Language Arts with a particular emphasis on writing. In Tuttle’s third stage of formative assessment, diagnosing the response, the teacher as well as other colleagues, peers and parents could and would provide responses on students’ responses to blogs. The teacher is also given the opportunity to provide immediate feedback to students either through the blog itself or by creating mini lessons on how to further develop replies to a peer’s writing and the elements a student can consider incorporating into a reply. A clear, concise rubric of expectations for blog responses allows for students to understand what the criteria are, the elements they should be incorporating into their responses and a reference to use when seeking to improve their writing on future entries. Use of the rubric, immediate feedback and a comparison of writing over time combined with an analysis of the differences in posts create a strong formative assessment process.


Equally Accessible Educational Materials Across Instructional Forums

For most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person

with a disability it makes things possible.

-Judy Heumann, American Disability Rights Activist, Former Asst. Secretary U.S. Dept. of Education

I’ve started doing some reflecting on how accessible my digital presence is from an assistive technology (AT) point of view. While I’m fairly versed in the use of assistive technology and the importance of its incorporation through the IEP process and in classroom instruction, it has been a while since I’ve reflected on my personal practice of creating accessible materials. It does not seem to be widely known that Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that website content be equally accessible to all, including those with disabilities. I’ve have been involved in the field of special education in one form or another for over years and just came across this knowledge this past week, thus the reflection.

My practice of making materials accessible the past few years has come from the perspective of providing adult professional development. I have relied heavily on the use of Google presentations and the use of visuals as a part of this process as well as having an interpreter present for staff who are deaf or hard of hearing. Videos incorporated into the presentations have been closed caption. I’ve also sent presentations out before getting together with staff to allow for additional reading and processing time for those who need it. The feedback from staff has been positive. This approach has allowed all of us to get hands on with our collaboration when we’re together. As evidenced by classrooms that incorporate assistive technology as part of universal design in their classrooms, the practice, tools and strategies can be beneficial to other learners as well. Yet, as I consider the tools we put into place for our students in the classroom, I am struck that my own practice of creating accessible materials is wanting.

In working with my staff to provide accessible learning environments for our students, we incorporate touch screens, screen readers, fm systems, switches, visuals, closed captioning, alternative keyboards, alternative mice, word prediction software, text to voice software, audio books, etc. As I consider this list, which is far from exhaustive, it makes me realize that there are several software and hardware considerations to be conscientious of when designing online courses and/or creating a blended learning environment.

One nice tool to add accessibility is SpeakPipe which allows students to leave a voice message via the instructor’s website. Scott McCloud’s blog has integrated these feature into his blog.

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I was disappointed to find that my chosen blogging platform, WordPress, doesn’t support this plug-in. As a result of reflecting on the accessibility of the content I produce, I have posted a request on the WordPress forum to add this plug-in as an option. This request can be supported by visiting the fourm post and commenting.

The document on creating an accessible syllabus written by Xtine Burrough, FDC ATI Coordinator, has become a part of my library. As I look to develop and support accessible materials for online learners that may have a disability or could benefit from assistive technology, this will be an ongoing reference.

AT is an important niche in the world of technology and an important component of all instruction. As leaders in the field of education, special education, education technology, it is time for us to gain a greater understanding of the impact this legislation has on online/blended learning courses as well as teacher and school websites. It is also important that this doesn’t become what could feel like another overwhelming requirement for teachers. The practice of creating accessible materials falls nicely within the universal design approach to setting up a class, classroom and instructional materials. The key is, as is often the case, providing educators with the “why” behind the importance of this practice as well as the time and training needed to make it happen.

As part of the comments, I invite you to share your practices, thoughts, concerns and suggestions for providing equally accessible learning to all students.