Monday, February 24, 2014

Digital Learning Environments

“The more the [learner] becomes the [educator] and the more the [educator] becomes the [learner], then the more successful are the outcomes.” - John Hattie

What are digital learning environments?

Three types of digital learning environments are Blended Learning, Flipped Classroom, and Virtual Learning.  These can be used to offer voice and choice to learners through technology.  Learners access the learning activities they need virtually using a variety of technology tools.

Let’s look at how some of our fantastic CISD educators are using digital learning environments. Our first guest blogger is Lisa Timmerman, GTi educator at Lakeside Elementary.

The main method I use to scaffold the learning within my curriculum is by flipping the workshops based on skill, interest, or classroom structure on Edmodo. Because I’m a mainly a pull-out teacher, and only sees the kids once or twice a week, it’s vital that I use the majority of our face-to-face time for other learning experiences. I use Google Chrome App Store frequently, because I also like to give options for each platform/skill. For example, our curriculum needed a scale model of our classroom.  So, I posted several options for how to create one on Edmodo the week before we were going to measure the room: Floorplanner App- Chrome, and Room Sketcher-website.  I also gave the option of using graph paper for students without a strong technology base. I mean some kids just like craft-type stuff, and aren’t always given the opportunity to create stuff that communicates their learning, other than tech-based products. The students that explored the options discussed the one they preferred on Edmodo, and came to their own consensus before our class time. Learners who participated in the flipped lesson had a head-start on the “Architect workshop” when they came to class.

I also scaffold using Snapguide and YouTube videos. Many of my GT learners would prefer to have a visual guide for how to make things, or watch a video they can pause at will rather than sit in a whole class lesson in the computer lab on “How to Create a Google Form”. It’s been my experience that scaffolding skills like these are most successful in a flipped format.  

The attached pictures are screenshots from my Edmodo postings about their #Learning Environment PBL flipped workshops by skill/interest.
The Learning Environment workshops were: architect, accountant, media specialist, and project manager.

The Perot/E-Luminate PBL workshops screenshots from my Edmodo postings about (one of) their whole class workshops on locating deep and complex (but useful) resources for the research part of this PBL. The Perot/E-Luminate PBL workshops were: locating deep/complex/useful resources, parts of a book, using pictures to support vs. distract, and proofreading.

Let’s look at how Jennifer Greever from NTH@C is using a digital learning environment with her learners.  

For freshman enrolled in Virtual Business, we use a Digital Learning Environment for scaffolding in many ways. Learners learn programs such as Adobe Illustrator, Premiere Pro, and Photoshop. Along with live classroom workshops, I create skill tutorials using QuickTime Media Player and upload them to YouTube. This allows learners who need to move at a slower pace, were absent, or just need more practice, to watch them on their own time.

I have found that by offering the live tutorials and the videos via YouTube, learners with all types of learning styles are benefited. Some need to see actual examples, while others can just listen and work while my voice is in the background. Learners who need the one on one tutoring or slower pace benefit greatly by watching the tutorials before the live in class workshop.

I have also found a way to utilize the YouTube tutorials for learners at different levels. I allow learners who already have skills in programs to create their own tutorials that cover skills we are not addressing specifically in classroom workshops. This allows them to teach their peers and for their peers to learn even more. I also open this opportunity up to learners who may have just learned the program, but spend their own time diving deeper.

Having done this for the past two years, I can say that it has allowed me much more time to spend on other areas of project planning. I can easily share the tutorials with learners who were absent or need more help instead of having to plan times for tutoring before or after school. This also helps our learners to be more flexible since so many are involved in extracurricular activities and have a hard time fitting everything in their schedule.

Are you wanting to see some examples of scaffolding activities? Visit our website full of examples.

Reflect on the example above. How could you implement a digital learning environment  in classroom? Is there one thing that really stands out from this example that you could implement in your classroom? If you’re already taking advantage of a digital learning environment, tell us about your experiences!

Monday, February 17, 2014


“I believe that classroom environments are most effective when they are literate and purposeful, organized and accessible, and most of all, authentic.” -Debbie Miller (Teaching with Intention)

What are Workshops?

One type of workshop is one that lasts the entire class period, with an intro mini-lesson, workshop time, and debrief at the end. Within PBL, workshops are defined as need-based mini lessons for small groups or the whole group of learners.

Our guest blogger is Kat Julian from Coppell Middle School East.

I have used Reader/Writer Workshop Mini Lessons in my class for about 6 years. I find it the best instructional tool for me to present the standard and task to my learners in the most successful way for them. I keep it short (modeling, reading, practicing, or even just direct teaching), so they have more time for the creating/workshop phase of the UbD plan. I use this mini lesson format in my 8th grade ELA classes. All levels!

The benefits of using mini lessons to teach my skill/standard is that I am holding their attention for the full amount of time a junior high student can truly give me. No more than 15 mins. I really try to stay under 10. After about 10, I have lost more than half of my learners attentionso why not shorten by “part” to the key important information, modeling, or practice, and then let them create the rest of the class period. This way the students are not rushed and have thinking, planning, creating and assessing time in the period. And, I HAVE MORE TIME TO PROVIDE MEANINGFUL FEEDBACK!!!

The benefits for the learners is that I can provide them ongoing feedback during their work time instead of at home when they are not there. I walk the room during that 45 mins instead of standing up talking. By walking the room, or having them come to my thinking table, I am giving them my time, my comments, my feedback to move them to mastery. If the learner has more work time, then I have more time to close the gap. I see more success when I step away from the front of the room after 10 mins then if I stand there all period talking at them.

Check out an example of workshops in Kat’s classroom:

How could you implement workshops in your design experiences for your learners? Is there one thing that really stands out from the example above that you could implement in your classroom? If you’re already using workshops, tell us about your experiences!

Are you wanting to see some examples of scaffolding activities? Visit our website full of examples.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Differentiation with Stations

“A powerful activity is one in which students make or do something using essential knowledge and essential skills in order to arrive at or explore an essential understanding.” - Carol Tomlinson

What are Stations?

Stations are different places in the classroom where learners work on tasks simultaneously, and whose activities are linked by the same standard. Typically all learners complete all stations.  Each station may offer choice and provide for differentiation based on learner interest or need.

Let’s look at how some of our CISD educators have used stations in their classrooms. Our first guest blogpost is from our Cottonwood Creek Kinder Team (Stacey Harris, Torrington Garrison, Kate Gill and Danielle Mavro).

The CCE Kindergarten team uses stations at multiple times during the day. During literacy, they use a station type formula where learners visit a different table of activities every 20-30 minutes with a minilesson between each rotation.  Each group, which has between 4-6 learners, is able to visit all 4 station activity tables daily. This allows the educator to assist individuals or work with one particular station table for more targeted work.  While learners do visit all stations, choice is given within the stations as to how a learner could complete his or her work.  For example, at the penguin research table, a learner might choose to research using PebbleGo, read a book, or use an app to explore more about the animal before creating a thinking map to show their understanding. During Math, learners also work in stations, rotating through 1 station a day with stations changing each week.

Having learners work in stations means that the educator is able to differentiate more and work with each learner toward individual learning goals. Because the Kinder team sets up their station activities the afternoon before, it allows them to focus on facilitating and working with kids during the time they have them.  It also makes it easier to integrate new technology and skills.  Working with a small group to create a screencast in ShowMe or a digital story in ScribblePress can be much easier than introducing with the whole group.  
The learners love it because it gives them freedom to work more independently, while also providing the structure and routine they need.  They can mix and mingle in the room but still be held accountable by uploading project photos and video into their digital portfolios built in the DIY app.

Advice to other educators trying stations: start small and build up to the routine you want to see.  It sometimes looks like chaos from the outside, but it is organized chaos that works.

Take a look at these cute learners in action:

Our second guest blogger is Beth Marlow from Coppell Middle School West.

In both Algebra and Math 8, I offer activities in small group stations that challenge the learners at their readiness level and helps them to advance to the next level.  The learners have options on which stations to work as long as they meet the required number of points.  Each learner has a number of points they need to accomplish by the end of the stations. By providing different activities the learner has a choice on how they choose to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding.

Here is an example of a station record sheet I used for teaching scientific notation.

The stations use a variety of strategies.  I do try to provide activities that can appeal to all the different type of learners we have in our classrooms. Most of the activities provide immediate feedback or I check often for the learners understanding.  Some activities are online or interactive with the smart board; such as, gizmo, battleship, rags to riches, and socratives.  Some activities are hands-on activities with dice, cards, spinners, and “Here is.Where is.” Other activities are application problems that allow the learner to delve deeper into the concepts being covered, Dan Meyer act 3 or Would You Rather?

Dan Meyer act 3 (  provides real life examples of where different math concepts are found in the “real world.”  Act one introduces a conflict or task.  Act two gives resources the learner might need to help answer the task. Act three answers the task or sets up the extension. For example, in act one a video shows a person eating sugar packets and then shows a person drinking a soda.  The question posed is how many sugar packets are in a can of soda.  Act two gives the resource of the amount of grams of sugar in a sugar packet and the nutrition facts about a can of soda.  Act three shows how to work out the situation.

Would You Rather ( asks a mathematical situation and the learner chooses which direction they would choose and justify their answer mathematically.  For example, would you rather run around the outside of a circle with a circumference of 20m or around a rectangle that has the side lengths of 20m and 40m.   

How could you implement stations in your design experiences for your learners? Is there one thing that really stands out from the two examples that you could implement in your classroom? If you’re already using stations, tell us about your experiences!

Are you wanting to see some examples of scaffolding activities? Visit our website full of examples.

Monday, February 3, 2014


"Three principles from brain research: emotional safety, appropriate challenges, and self constructed meaning suggest that a one-size-fits-all approach to classroom instruction teaching is ineffective for most students and harmful to some." - Teach Me Teach My Brian Carol Ann Tomlinson and M. Layne Kalbfleisch

What are ports?

Ports are places that learners can go to experience and learn information.  These ports can be set up within the classroom and can be accessed at any time. Ports can be based on interest or need.  Learners may complete the ports in any order, and may not need to complete all ports.

Let’s look at how some of our fantastic CISD educators have used ports in their classrooms. Our first guest blogger is Nick Coenraad from Wilson Elementary.

I decided to give math ports a try after I had heard about them at one of our Math Academy meetings.  After explaining the concept to my class, learners were eager to help other students by creating “peer” math lessons. In my classroom, I have a variety of math ports.  Ports range from links to video tutorials on websites such as and to learner created videos using the 30 Hands and Educreations apps.  I have also included learner created foldables that focus on math vocabulary specific to the content area we are focusing on.

The benefit of having math ports for an educator is that they help learners take charge of their learning, and frees up time for the educator to work, for example, with their small groups.  Math ports can also be used as a formative assessment to see if learners have mastered specific math content.

Math ports benefit learners in that they provide another classroom resource, and allows for students to learn from each other.  If a learner watches a video and still has questions, they may go visit with that person who created the video and ask questions.    

Check out this “port” on using strategies to solve word problems created by learners Rikhil and Zoey.

Our second guest blogger is Sunny Richardson from Coppell High School.

In my freshman Biology and junior/senior Anatomy classes, I use ports. I love using ports in class because it allows for differentiation and choice in the classroom. Learners can choose which port they would like to use based on need and learning style. I use a variety of media such as: video, hands-on games or activities, APPS, models, etc. Learners can choose work in which they need to develop their knowledge-base while using a style that fits their needs. During the time learners are using ports, I can then move around the room facilitating learning individually with learners assessing their needs and helping them navigate the material. The educator benefits due to the ability to formatively assess learners and individually talk with learners to build relationships. The learner benefits from a personalization of their learning, supportive environment and ownership of choice. I have really learned to love ports and use them often to review concepts, exam preparation and lab activities. A good way to try ports is for review to feel safe in the fact that you have covered the material and more free to try a new technique!

Want to see ports in action in Sunny’s class? Watch the trailer she made for ports in her classroom:

Reflect on the two examples above. How could you implement ports in your design experiences for your learners? If you’re already using ports, tell us about your experiences! What questions do you still have about this design structure?

Are you wanting to see some more examples of scaffolding activities? Visit our website full of examples!