Day of Discovery with Discovery Education

In my new position this year as an Instructional Technology Specialist, I have had a lot of opportunities to continue my professional development in different ways. Even though I might not be able to directly implement new tools or strategies with my own group of students, I want to make sure that I am a helpful resource for the teachers and staff members I work with so that they feel more comfortable trying something new.

Last week, I was able to attend a Day of Discovery put on  by Discovery Education at our local Region 10 Education Service Center. I heard that they come to do similar events every year, but unfortunately as a classroom teacher it was hard to secure and plan for a sub on a Friday in October. So I was happy to attend, take notes, and try out some of their new tools and ideas so that I could share them with other teachers who weren’t able to be there in person. I loved Discovery Education as a middle school science teacher, and my current district has subscriptions to the Science TechBook. Streaming was nice, but the TechBook includes virtual labs, interactive reading texts, and assessment pieces I was able to assign to my students.

Some of the highlights of my day included:

– Learning to better search and filter results in the Streaming section. I knew about their videos and high quality images, but I was surprised to see the library also included a lot of content-based songs that included printed lyrics for use in lessons.

– The new Board Builder tool which allows students and teachers to create multimedia digital posters (think Glogster-style), within the Discovery Education site with the ability to link streaming content and personal uploads. I sat in on one session where I had work-time to create my own Board, which I plan to use to help share information about DE features.

– Applying to become part of the DEN Star program – a network of educators that connect and help one another as they use Discovery Education.

The event was free and was a great opportunity to DISCOVER (haha – I crack myself up) better ways to use a piece of technology that my district already has. If your district uses Discovery Ed, I would recommend that you attend a similar event if you can.


Remind – Starting off the new school year with great communication!

If you’re not already using Remind (formerly known as Remind101) in your classroom, I would highly suggest that you check it out before writing your back to school welcome letters. Remind is a great system that allows teachers to send messages to whole classes or small groups of students and parents via text or email. Through the website or mobile app, teachers can create an account and invite students and their families to sign-up without either group being able to see anyone’s personal cell phone numbers. I liked how I could see the names of my message recipients, but no one had to deal with the privacy issues of visible personal contact information.

In the past year, Remind has added cool features like the ability to send messages to smaller subgroups or attach photos or documents directly to the text message. I also loved that I had the ability to draft and schedule messages to be delivered at a future date/time, so I wouldn’t end up forgetting to send a message while I cooked dinner or was working out at the YMCA. Tons of teachers and coaches are using Remind in new ways, and I know they like to hear feedback about how their program is working.

Good luck as you all head back to school!

Get Kahoot! – Game-based learning

For most teachers, springtime means that state assessments are right around the corner. I teach 8th Grade Science, so my students will be taking a test to assess all of their science learning for the past 3 years! Unfortunately, spring can also mean that students start to get antsy, overwhelmed, and burned out. Not a great combination for trying to keep  students engaged and learning. We have tons of material to review and synthesize together, so we teachers have to find new ways to keep our students’ attention and excitement.

I’ve integrated games and instant response activities before, but I had been hearing a lot about Kahoot lately. I decided to give it a try as we were finishing a unit on ecology and living organisms. Kahoot is a free game-based learning tool that can be accessed on any web device. I liked it because I was able to create, edit, and run my game using my laptop or my iPad. The creation tool was really simple to use, and I was able to easily upload diagrams and pictures for my students to analyze. In one afternoon, I was able to create a 22-question review activity and share it with the other teachers on my team.

When it came time to try the game in class, things ran very smoothly. I did not have to pre-load any rosters or create student accounts – they simply accessed the site by clicking on a quick-link I added to the home screen of our department iPads. Students worked in pairs, and all they had to do was enter a 4-digit game pin, then type in their names to keep track of their answers. The activity was teacher-paced, and all students answered the questions at the same time. They earn points (or Kahoots) by correctly answering the questions as quickly as possible. I especially appreciated that the system allowed students a few seconds to read the question before the answer choices were given or the count-down clock started – it helped keep everyone on an even-playing field. While the students are thinking, fun background music and sound effects play to create sense of urgency.  After each question, the program gives the correct answer and then displays a bar graph to show how student answers were distributed. The results were anonymous for the whole group so that no one got singled out for a right or wrong answer. Before moving to the next question, a leader board flashes across the screen and on the student devices. At the end of the game, I was able to easily download all the data I could want (item analysis, individual student performance, etc.) into an Excel spreadsheet.

Using Kahoot with my classes was  fun – the students loved the competition, and one of my more reluctant classes was much more willing to participate and really try to get things right. I’ve used response systems like Socrative and InfuseLearning before, but I really like the competitive game-based environment. I would highly recommend giving it a try in your classroom – or even staff development session!

Nepris – Connecting classrooms to real-world experts

Nepris - Connecting classrooms to real-world experts

I was on the #scitlap (Science Teach Like a Pirate) Twitter chat last night, and a comment came up about breaking down the four walls of the classroom to engage and connect students with the real world. People were sharing their ideas and experiences, and I thought back to a meeting I attended in the fall at our local high school. We observed a pre-calculus class as it participated in a video conference using a program called Nepris. The presenter was a young mechanical engineer who gave examples of how various pre-calculus and trigonometry principals were used to create and analyze blueprints. Using real plans on the screen, he walked the students through a set of actual calculations he had to complete. In addition to the technical lesson, he also talked about his high school and college experiences, his work history, and even the perks of working for his company. Student were able to text questions into the Nepris system, and the presenter was able to see and answer them in real-time.

Nepris is a non-profit organization local to me in North Texas, and their goal is engage students in STEM subjects at all levels. They have opened up their free dashboard to allow teachers to submit session requests based on their curricular needs. When an industry expert responds to a request, he/she is connected with the teacher so that they can communicate to plan and set goals for the session together.  If you are short on time and can’t wait for someone to sign up for a personalized live session, teachers can also browse recorded sessions to find something that matches your needs.

I really liked how the presentation had technical/instructional components, as well as opportunities for students to learn about the presenter as a person. These students were mostly 10th graders, so they were interested in hearing about how he chose the right college and major, and if he was able to get a job when he graduated. The program is fairly new, so I’m sure that things will be changing and growing in the near future. But Nepris is definitely something that I would love to include regularly in my Science classroom.

Smithsonian’s History Explorer

I traveled to Washington D.C. for the first time this summer with my family, and I was amazed at expansive “The Smithsonian” actually is. It is much more than the name initially sounds like – it is actually the largest museum complex in the world with 19 museums, 9 research centers, and over 100 affiliate museums. We were only able to visit a few facilities on our short trip, but I could not believe how many awesome things there were to explore for free!

While doing research for another project, I came across the Smithsonian’s History Explorer website. From the About page on the site, the “Smithsonian’s History Explorer was developed by the National Museum of American History in partnership with the Verizon Foundation to offer hundreds of free, innovative online resources for teaching and learning American history.” I immediately forwarded the resource to my Social Studies teachers on campus!

The site includes easy-to-use search tools to sort resources by type, grade level, historical era, and cross-curricular connections (my favorite!) There are primary sources, videos, and even full lesson plans available for teachers. The page is very simple to navigate, and there are even tutorials to help users access all the features of the site. Even if you don’t teach a US History or social studies class, I think that there are some great resources for teachers of all  subject areas. Let me know if you find something that works for your classroom!


Symbaloo – Visual Bookmarking

Symbaloo - Visual Bookmarking

I was working with a teacher today who wanted to help her students research and find information about the civil rights movement. Her students were new to gathering information online, and she wanted to provide some scaffolding to help guide them and prevent them from being overwhelmed by all the information available online. There are a number of tools to can help with this task, including Advanced Google Search tools, however, I recommended a simple site called Symbaloo.

Symbaloo is a visual bookmarking and sharing site, and teachers can create “webmixes”. A webmix is simply a list of links that you can curate and arrange in an easy to view, pleasing format. You can group the icons in any way that you wish, and even color-code them based on what type of tool or resource they might be. The webmix pictured above is educator Bradley Lands created with his top 52 Web 2.0 resources for students and education. If you want to explore the tools listed there, here is the direct link:

Student WebTools

Symbaloo would be great for guiding student research or providing them with pre-approved tools for creating the end product for a PBL or other major project. Outside of education, some people just like the look and layout of a Symbaloo homepage for accessing their email, favorite newspapers, or shopping sites.

It is free to sign up for a Symbaloo account – so sign up today and try it out!