Month: January 2016

Food for Thought Friday: EdCamps for Kids!

Today’s guest blogger is Glenn Robbins, Principal of Northfield Community Middle School in Northfield, NJ and 2016 NASSP National Digital Principal of the Year. .  He took the very popular (and successful!) idea of the Edcamp for educators and decided to apply the concept to his own students – giving them their own “Edcamp Period.”  This blog post is re-posted here with permission.

by Glenn Robbins

Last summer, we began to implement a series of changes to our school and programs in the interest of better serving the needs of our students and community. We never expected the reaction these changes have generated – and how they’ve rippled throughout the school. Today, we’ve got Digital Shop, the Black Mesa Learning Management System (LMS), Idea Street, Design Thinking, and a “manifesto” that has taken a life of its own throughout the building. And that’s just the beginning.

One of the most remarkable developments – something that has pushed student (and staff) engagement to previously unforseen heights – is our EdCamp period.  Earlier in the year, I wrote several blogs about it:

Fast forward to the present – late January 2016. Our school is no longer what it was in September.  Yes, we are still a public school, but we are now approaching something very different, something new, exciting, and unexpected. Some might even call it “Middle School 2.0.”

Led by students in grades 8 & 7 (the latter started an EdCamp period of their own this month) along with their teachers, we are seeing and feeling a vibe, a presence, an electricity that is hard to explain. How did we achieve this? We showed our students respect; gave them autonomy; allowed them to follow their passions; and, we began to promote personalized learning – to students who have never experienced it before.

During this ungraded experience –  that takes place every day – our students work far, far harder on their work, projects, and ideas than they seem to in other classes.  They push one another to rise up. Why? Because they are focused on learning, not being restricted by rubrics, seeking to impress the world instead of “playing school” – working just hard enough to get a good grade.

What our visitors, our teachers, and I have seen epitomizes, in my view at least, the definition of “student growth, data, and assessment.”


Examples of sessions just in the past few weeks:

  • Mock trial – designing a court case from scratch. Students organized their own teams, and created controversial cases based on topics such as race, religion, hate, and cybercrime. With a focus on a selected Amendment of their choice, students story-boarded the sequences, and then tried the entire case with Google Docs during the period and beyond.
  • Stop action video. Mr. Vain, one of our outstanding veteran teachers, took it upon himself to create his own short video (made his pen go in a circle) the night before the session. Students were shown his video, explained where they could venture to on Idea Street, and then raced off like olympic sprinters. With no recommendations or requirements as to apps to use or what to do, within 20 minutes, I watched two incredibly creative videos that “wowed” me and everyone else that watched them.
  • Improvisational acting. Upon walking into Mrs. Terista’s studio with a group of visitors, I had no clue what we were about to experience.  Within two minutes, I honestly felt as if we were watching a live show of “Whose line is it Anyway?” Students wrote out lines, and placed them into a bag to draw from.  Students in the audience told the improv actors as to what they where and their roles. To see students speak in front of their peers with little or no anxiety –having fun – was incredibly inspiring. When is the last time you saw students jumping up and down and all over each other to have a chance to present in front of the class?
  • Shark Tank Inventions. Although this session is currently in action right now, and isn’t finished, there is A LOT OF HYPE from both students and staff! Students are eagerly trying to pull me aside to share, and the staff are talking among their colleagues, stating that several ideas might actually amount to an product or start up business. Yet, the frustration that I am experiencing, as one of the sharks (they said Mark Cuban), is that I can’t hear about any products until it is time for students to present.
  • Virtual Reality field trips with Google Cardboard. Students took to the virtual streets of Paris, Venice, Tokyo, and more, while sitting in Mrs. Terista’s studio.  They controlled where they “went” on the streets, and were so eager to share with others.
  • App Designing. Mrs. Juhr will be the first to admit that she’d never designed or coded an app before. Yet, she helped facilitate a session where students designed apps, with their friends, on their own devices, because they were challenged to. By the end of the session, our superintendent and I were playing against each other with one student’s app.

These are just some of the many EdCamp sessions that have run; hopefully the point I’m trying to make here is clear.  Students really stretch themselves when given an opportunity to excel with different methods – and this in turn “infects” the entire school. Yes, “infect” is an unusual term to be used when describing a learning environment, but for example, when 5th and 6th grade students and teachers also saw / felt this energy, they were inspired to demonstrate their powers from within as well.

Our EdCamp period has helped to shatter the notion of “playing school” – in the process, we’ve cultivated a new sense of curiosity, wonder, and awe among our middle school students – how many middle schools can claim that as an accomplishment? Not many. You can sense the enthusiasm and comfort of the students and staff as they have the freedom of autonomy and empowerment to take risk to achieve more meaningful learning. Just ask anyone who has been in our school recently.

The best part? We’re just getting started…



Give ISTE your input!

by Kristie Burk

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) recently released the first draft of the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students for public comment! ISTE has created a packet that educators can use to gather feedback directly from students. Interested? Contact the refresh project manager for the info: Sarah Stoeckl,

If you don’t have time to involve your students, ISTE still wants to hear from teachers! First, look at the draft of the ISTE Standards for Students here. Then, you can fill out this brief survey to give your feedback.

Finally, if you have time, you can let ISTE know what resources you’ll need to understand and implement the standards by filling out this survey.

These standards are used around the world; here in Downingtown, we use the ISTE standards to help develop our educational technology plan.  Make your voice heard!

Website Wednesday: Trading Card Creator

by Kristie Burk

trading cardI have three sons, so we have A LOT of trading cards in our house.  In particular, my boys love collecting football and baseball cards and organizing them in various binders. GEYA even prints Little League baseball cards for the kids to have one of their own!

That is why I was so excited when some middle school ELA teachers shared the website called Trading Card Creator by ReadWriteThink.  The website allows you to create your own digital trading cards (without ever having to login to the website).  When you’re done designing your card, you can print, share or save it as a .jpeg file.

This site could have some really fun applications in the classroom:

  • Ask the students to use the trading cards to represent fictional characters or events from a book.
  • Have the students create cards to describe “abstract concepts,” such as vocabulary words.
  • Make trading cards for real people, such as historical figures.
  • Use the trading cards to explain different scientific concepts.

Check out the site and let us know how you plan to use trading cards in your class!

Tech Tip Tuesday: Socrative

Today’s guest bloggers are Nicole Stulak, Michelle Curcio and Lois Grasso; they are all instructional and/or technology coaches within the Downingtown Area School District.

by Nicole Stulak, Michelle Curio, and Lois Grasso

Student engagement and formative assessment come together seamlessly with Socrative, a FREE, user-friendly, dynamic response system that receives high accolades from educators.

Since being developed in 2010 Socrative has captured classroom audiences young and old. Students love the ease-of-use and instant feedback they receive as they “show what they know,” while teachers enjoy being able to easily inform their instruction through this cloud based educational technology tool.

Socrative can be used with an entire class, in a small group setting or in a variety of other ways:

  •    Flipped classroom activity
  •    Introduce a topic
  •    Activate prior knowledge
  •    Post-reading discussion questions
  •    Formative assessment checkpoints
  •    Quick student polls
  •    Exit tickets
  •    Review games
  •    Competitive team “space race” (for a touch of gamification)

Teachers can create their own quizzes, questions, exit tickets and polls. However, having the ability to import quizzes from another teacher or from an Excel spreadsheet has proven to be quite the time saver!

An exciting new feature of Socrative allows teachers to include pictures as part of their questioning. This offers the opportunity to ask questions about diagrams, charts, and any other image that is uploaded.

Socrative allows teachers to gather quick baseline data and receive optimized reporting to inform and help differentiate their instruction.  Quiz results can be immediately downloaded to Excel, exported to Google Drive, emailed, or run as individualized reports which results in PDF’s being created for each student (similar to a graded “quiz”).

Socrative works with every browser including Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer, and can be accessed from any Web Enabled device, including Smartphones, Tablets, Laptops and Desktops.

For example, Nicole has been able to introduce Socrative to teachers of our youngest learners, but most especially in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. She and a teacher used the “Quick Question” feature to have her students anonymously respond to a follow-up homework question about long division: “Looking at last night’s homework, what problem gave you the most trouble and why?”

Another teacher wanted to see how she could deliver a “Space Race” for a short grammar quiz. Together she and Nicole created a short 5 question formative quiz, which her students loved! One student remarked how it was similar to Kahoot, but “cooler” with the rocket race. A little gamification with Socrative can go a long way! Here are some more resources:

10 Ways of Using Socrative by Nick Acton via Learning Inspired

A comprehensive Socrative tutorial via YouTube

How To Use The New Features of Socrative

Directions on importing quizzes to Socrative



Food for Thought Friday: The Making Caring Common Project

by Kristie Burk

This weekend when you’re stuck indoors because of the snow, take a minute to look at the recently released report called “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.”  It is a joint-effort by the Making Caring Common Project to change the college admissions process dramatically.

Participants in the project from the Harvard Graduate School of Education included college admissions officers, university administrators, school guidance counselors and principals, as well as other key stakeholders.

“The college admissions process should clearly  send the message…[that] students’ family contributions, such as caring for younger siblings, taking on major household duties or working outside the home to provide needed income, are highly valued in the admissions process. Far too often there is a perception that high-profile, brief forms of service tend to count in admissions, while these far more consistent, demanding, and deeper family contributions are overlooked.” – Making Caring Common Project

Most colleges and universities recognize that their college admissions requirements affect students’ lives, particularly in high school. Members of the Making Caring Common Project wanted to

  • motivate students to contribute to their community and to assess their contributions more meaningfully
  • promote ethical as well as intellectual growth
  • reduce “undue academic performance pressure”
  • reward “true” citizenship

I looked through the report and was encouraged by many of the recommendations.  For example, the report asks colleges and universities to recommend “no more than 2 or 3 substantive extra-curricular activities” and to weigh “students’ day-to-day conduct …more heavily in admissions than the nature of students’ stints of service.”

Have a look at the report and let us know what you think!

Tech Tip Tuesday: Secure Your Passwords!

by Kristie Burk

I am not going to name names, but the other day a teacher opened a laptop in front of me. Inside the laptop was a taped piece of paper that contained her passwords!  Ouch.

Password security is very important, especially for educators. There is just too much sensitive information that it is our duty to protect.

Your first line of defense is your password, of course.  Over the years, hackers have gotten increasingly smarter, so we need to be even more careful with how we choose our passwords.

Ask yourself the following questions regarding the passwords that you use:

  • Have you changed your password in the last six months?  I’m required to change my password for my graduate program at Johns Hopkins every two months.
  • Do you use the same password in multiple places? This one is considered a big no-no.  If someone maliciously gets your password, you don’t want him or her to be able to use it in more than one place!
  • Do you use any part of your username in your password? This repetition makes it a little too easy on the hacker.
  • Does your password start with a capital letter? Spell a word? End with a special character? Contain a date?  These are the most common patterns in passwords. Try putting the capitals, numbers and special characters inside the letters.  For example, instead of using Flipburgers23!, you can write fL2ibp3bu!s.  
  • Have you password-protected your phone? I am always surprised when I see people’s phones that are not password-protected. There is so much information available there – your contacts, email, photos, financial information, etc. Lock it down!

Of course, you have to remember these passwords.  You can always use a password manager like Roboform. If you decide to write the passwords down on paper, just don’t stick the paper to your laptop.


Food for Thought Friday: 15 Research Studies You Should Know About

by Kristie Burk

Happy New Year! Now that we’re back to school, it’s time to take a moment to reflect on last year.

Edutopia published an excellent article called “Education Research Highlights from 2015.”  It highlights 15 research studies published last year that “every educator should know about,” according to curator Youki Terada.

Take some time this weekend to look over the studies and see if anything is applicable to you!  Let us know at