Digital Sandbox

This Blog is designed to provide the reader with information on how to adopt technology into the classroom by relooking at traditional classroom tools and transitioning into new ways of teaching and learning. The Digital Sandbox explores the future of learning through the recreation of 21st Century learning environments.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Checking for Understanding

Checking for understanding is made up of at least three instructional practices that formulate high engaging strategies that support  the formative assessment process. These three instructional practices include, using questioning to check for understanding, providing meaningful feedback, and reinforcing effort  through modeling and reframing of conceptual awareness. Although most would like to credit Marzano's research on the idea of reframing conceptual awareness through meta-cognitive principles in teaching, these ideas are to be credited back to Flavell.

Flavell is one of the pioneers in the study of meta-cognitive principles and in 1976 stated that, "meta-cognition refers to one's knowledge concerning one's own cognitive process and products or anything related to them." This emergence of thought on meta-cognitive principles sought others such as Paris, Lipson, and Wixson to do extensive studies on strategic thinking that lead Schoenfeld in 1985 to establish comprehension checks as an effective teaching practice.

We can only credit Marzano with a flashlight highlighting what was already know from the research, that to improve student learning teachers are to focus on how students think about their thinking processes and on how students feel about themselves as learners. Thus reframing the idea of checking for understanding is inconsequential in Marzano's terms since multiple instructional strategies play a role in the process for checking for student understanding.

What is known about checking for students' understanding of important ideas and concepts helps instructors gauge what students are getting from a lesson and what they need to work on more. Both are important in the meta-cognitive process, knowing what students know and providing intervention at the point when there is a disconnect to conceptualization. This is when providing useful feedback becomes the corner stone for the exactness of knowledge that challenges new ideas to form correctly while leading the learner to extract prior knowledge to conceptualize new learning.

This process of extracting prior knowledge to form new knowledge is based on the idea of constructivism.  To view the learner as a constructor of information is to support  learning in a way that allows them to create their own subjective representation of objective reality. In teaching we can construct this process through a formative assessment process known as checking for understanding, using prior knowledge as a background of inducing reflective thinking.

It is well known factor that when instructors check for understanding they feel more connected to their students' learning and have a better sense of what to expect from their students' in terms of assessment. To fully put into practice the required elements to ensure student understanding there are three main instructional strategies that must exist. These strategies for the enhancement of meta-cognitive principles for the development of critical thinking skills through a reflective process must include, (1) using questioning to check for understanding, (2) providing meaningful feedback, and (3) reinforcing effort  through modeling and reframing of conceptual awareness. It is the intent of this article to reframe these practices to demonstrate how these three simple included interactive practices will bring about student reflective thinking in a meta-cognitive enriched learning environment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What is a learning objective?

What is an objective?
A learning objective is a detailed description of what students will be able to do when they complete a component of instruction. Robert Mager, in his book Preparing Instructional Objectives, describes an objective as "a collection of words and/or pictures and diagrams intended to let others know what you intend for your students to achieve" (p.3). An objective does not describe what the instructor will be doing, but instead the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that the instructor will be attempting to produce in learners. This is a very important distinction. Mager emphasizes the need for clear, precise statements of what students should be able to do when they complete their instruction. He believes that this should be done before any development work is started.

Teacher Practices

Teachers should establish mental set at the onset of the lesson by clearly stating the learning objectives. In the set, teachers should first focus the students’ attention on the concept or skill to be studied and then relate the learning to prior learning or real-life situations.

Selecting the Objective
Selecting the objective is a process of breaking down complex learning into critical parts, then deciding which part to start teaching (based on what the students know or don’t know) in an effort to ensure student learning. Teachers should select those learning objectives that are at or near the correct level of difficulty and complexity for the students. 

Bad: The students will solve addition problems with 80% accuracy.
Better: The student will correctly solve at least 8 out of 10 addition problems that require borrowing.
Best: Given two numbers not written in equation form, the students will place the numbers in equation form and add them together (some will require borrowing). Example Resource: Writing Objectives

Learning Objectives: Stems and Samples
Generally, learning objectives are written in terms of learning outcomes: What do you want your students to learn as a result of the lesson? Follow the three-step process below for creating learning objectives. 

After completing the lesson, the student will be able to . . .  
After this unit, the student will have . . .
By completing the activities, the student will . . . 
At the conclusion of the course/unit/study the student will . . . 

Resource: Learning Objectives: Stems and Samples

Setting Objectives through Learning Contracts
A learning contract is a working agreement between student and teacher concerning how that student will meet specific learning objectives. They can include such things as:

  • What the student will learn.
  • Time period for completion.
  • What he/she will do to meet these objectives.
  • How he/she will assess their own learning.
  • How the teacher will assess their learning.

Student Involvement
Both language objectives and content objectives should be clearly posted on the board for all students to see. Throughout the lesson the teacher may want to relate the objective of what students will learn as it is clearly articulated within the lesson. Also associations to content objectives could be made to support language development. The teacher can easily accomplish the learning objective as they clearly integrated the objective within the activity of the lesson. (See Video)
  1. In the video how many different ways was the objective introduced?
  2. How were students incorporated into the statement of the objective?
  3. What other ways can you get students to participate in objective setting?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Is LessonWriter?

What Is LessonWriter?
LessonWriter creates lesson plans and instructional materials for teaching English language skills from any reading passage. Use any content from any source and just copy, paste, and submit it on and in a matter of moments create a comprehensive lesson plan and student materials. LessonWriter will record what was taught in each class make recommendations about what to teach next.

Differentiated Instruction with LessonWriter
Increasingly, teachers are leading classes with students with diverse backgrounds, skills, learning styles, and challenges. Every lesson plan that LessonWriter generates offers suggestions for differentiating instruction and implementing the lesson. In addition, LessonWriter enables teachers to easily differentiate resources for students. Teachers can choose different content to meet the interests and needs of individual groups of students while teaching the same English Language Skills to the entire class, or keeps the content consistent while choosing to emphasize different skills and vocabulary.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tips for Sharing Information with Parents on Cyber Safety

There are many different methods that schools can employ to share information about cyber safety.   Some information sharing ideas for communicating cyber safety in the home include providing tips in the school’s newsletter, providing a parent page on the school’s website, hosting an Internet safety seminar or designing an Internet safety brochure. Research shows that schools yield better results when they involve parents in issues of safety. When parents and educators are involved in collaborative endeavors to protect their children, they can develop a clear understanding of appropriate behavior for using the Internet at school and at home. For  resource information on developing school policy for Cyberbullying go to Wired Safety

Internet Safety Newsletter
By far the most effective method for communicating information is the school newsletter. In addition to providing needed information to parents about cyber safety, it also boosts the school’s reputation as a public information resource for the community. Professionals have found that of all the printed materials school officials send home, the school newsletter is most often read by parents. In most cases, it is the only regular source of contact that parents have with the school; therefore, they consider it to be an important resource. The newsletter also communicates to the parents that the principal and staff are committed to providing valuable information that can benefit their family’s safety at home. (See Internet Safety Newsletter) news-letter.pdf

Parent Internet Safety Webpage
Another way educators can establish ongoing communication with the public is to create a parent page on the school’s website. (See Design of Parent Webpage) The parent page should be designed in a way that allows parents to access links on cyber safety and safe surfing.  As with the links provided on the author’s webpage, these links should be checked and updated regularly to ensure they continue to be active. Since cyber safety is a concern, parents may not know where to seek information on the subject. Parents may feel their children are their only resource for cyber advice, but this source is not always accurate. The parent webpage is a reliable source of information that parents can assess. Several methods the school can use to promote the use of the school’s website including school newsletters, radio announcements and local media sources. web-page.pdf

Internet Safety Seminar
A parent seminar night is an efficient and effective method for providing clear, pertinent information on cyber safety and Internet use. It gives parents the opportunity to communicate their concerns and questions directly to the teachers and administrators and to receive immediate feedback regarding these issues. School officials can use Internet safety seminars to provide information about Internet-related goals and learning outcomes, as well as to provide online learning policies such as the school’s Acceptable Use and Copyright Policy. (See Parent Internet Safety Seminar Agenda) Many resources are available to help provide cyber safety information for the seminar. Brochures may be distributed to the audience, or local law enforcement officers may be invited to discuss cyber crimes or predators. The authors caution, however, school officials from only acknowledging the dangers of the Internet. School personnel should tell both sides of the story, mentioning specific details of how the Internet can be used in a positive and appropriate manner, both at school and at home.  parent-agenda.pdf

A brochure about cyber safety is an appropriate way to educate parents, as well as gain their support for future online learning projects. The brochure should include information that will familiarize parents with the Internet, as well as terms their children may be using to describe its features and services. The brochure should offer guidelines for parents and students designed to minimize risks when venturing online. Finally, it should list online resources parents can use to find further information or to report problems or risks their children have encountered while using the Internet.  An example of an Internet safety brochure has been included in, while a checklist for brochure design can be reviewed in (Internet Safety Brochure). The brochures can be distributed during open house nights, parent organization meetings or parent Internet safety seminars. Additionally, principals can send brochures home with students or leave them in accessible place within the school or community for members of the public. They can also be mailed to parents and patrons, if individual requests are made.brochure-checklist.pdf

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Internet Safety

Since many students also use the Internet at home, school officials should provide parents with information about digital citizenship. A combined, concerted effort between parents and school employees can better protect students from cyber predators and dangers – on and off school grounds. Parents can best protect their families from online dangers by learning computer and Internet skills that will enable them to participate in their children’s Internet learning and activities. Communication between parent and child is a key component of online safety. Children should know they can discuss with their parents their concerns, questions and fears about the Internet. Parents should tell their children to report any obscene or threatening messages they receive online.

Parents should send the offensive messages to their Internet provider company, which may be able to track the message’s source. In addition, children should report to their parents any person they meet online who makes them uncomfortable or asks questions of a personal nature.

Monitoring a child’s computer use can dramatically decrease the risk of online problems and dangers. Parents should place their computer in an area of the home where they can view its screen openly at any time. In addition, parents should prohibit their children from using the computer for long periods of time, especially late at night

Parents may want to consider using filtering software, or perhaps, they would rather discuss with their children the differences between inappropriate and appropriate materials online. Children may be prohibited from using chat rooms or other online services that allow them to correspond with others. If children do use e-mail or other features, parents should investigate unfamiliar or questionable messages. This also can be monitored by carefully viewing any strange telephone or modem billing charges received each month.

Parents should know their children’s online friends, just as they do their neighborhood friends. Parents should especially be concerned if their children begin to mention adults who they do not know as a family. If a child becomes secretive about his or her online activities or begins mentioning details of a mature nature, this can indicate the child may be having an inappropriate relationship online.

Video Created by SimpleK12 Team 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"A New Kind of Backpack"

This school year, Dodge City Middle School students will experience a new kind of Backpack, a Digital Backpack.

Mike King, Principal of Dodge City Middle school, is starting the new school year with a few digital incentives to get parents and students informed about school events.  This year, he has added to the school website, three new communication tools that he hopes will help parents become more involved in school and school activities. As he starts his fourth year as principal, he will continue to do the things he has in the past: Mass e-mails throughout the district with information on school events in the form of an online newsletter and post up to date information in the parent access portal.  But this year he wants to do even more with technology and communicating with the community. The first addition to the website comes in the form of a "Digital Backpack."

When members of the community access the school's website the Digital Backpack is not hard to miss.  An image of a student's backpack  provides a direct link to the site. Middle School Principal, Mike King, states that his plans for the digital backpack, "is to make it easy for parents to access and download important forms, notes, and up to date news."

The Digital Backpack already contains important back to school and athletic forms in both English and Spanish for parents to download. Anyone who has access to a home/work computer  and printer can easily access these forms without having to drive to the school or call the school office. Parents simply print out the form they need, sign, and the student delivers it to the school office. Also located on the website's Digital Backpack page is "Pod Central." This is where parents, students and community members can have access to digital recordings of upcoming school events or monthly news.

"A podcast is like a radio newscast which can easily be uploaded to a mobile device like a cell phone, iPod/iPad, or just simply played from the Digital Backpack website. It's like an mp3 that students download from their favorite music site. The only differences is that instead of playing music, it plays an audio cast of various school events that demonstrate school pride and general information," states Principal Mike King.

What he hopes will happen is that the students will take an interest in becoming podcasters themselves creating a whole new station of student related news. Currently the DCMS Pod Central is audio cast in both English and Spanish with the hopes of outreaching to the Hispanic community.

One of the biggest hurdles he will face is getting the information out to the public and making the public aware of new posting or audio cast . To make the public aware of what is new on the digital backpack and pod central he has taken one more additional step, he has opened up a school twitter account.

What is Twitter? According to Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia: "Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to the author's subscribers who are known as followers. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of friends or, by default, allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets via the Twitter Web site, Short Message Service (SMS) or external applications. While the service costs nothing to use, accessing it through SMS may incur phone service provider fees."

Principal Mike King hopes he can provide more outreach to parents and the community with the Twitter site. He also plans to "Tweet" (send instant messages) to all subscribers of the DCMS twitter account each time new updates occur to the digital backpack site. The instant messaging site is now available for parents or community members who are interested in participating in the instant messaging "Twitter" service.  Mike King concluded that, "The best part about all of this new open source software technology is that it is free, there is no additional cost to the community."

Sunday, August 7, 2011


A Rising Power to New Mediums of Web-Based Education
Throughout the history of American education, classrooms have been self contained entities. Innovations in technology are giving rise to powerful new models of collaboration. Perhaps in the not quite distant future theses classrooms will merge on a new venture. A venture while making profound changes in the way education is delivered to students. (For more information on the Net Generation got Digital Sandbox.

Students in Junior High, High School and college are now finding means to communicate through the use of social networking tools, such as blogs, wikis and chat rooms. Although these types of collaborations may not be education related, they have become America's youth pastime while at the same time a majority of schools have yet to be exposed to future capabilities of these new technology tools. The reason being is that education has not recognized the full potentials of Web 2.0 and new graduates in the field of education may now recognize the capabilities forming a gap of understanding and the potentials for harnessing social networking. Secondly more advanced schools will begin to encourage Web 2.0 online communities of knowledge gathering while the less advanced will take a back seat wait and see attitude.  

Due to deep changes in technology, education is entering a new age where students can participate in their own expansion of knowledge like never before. In fact the MySpace generation is the largest online community in the world, where over100 million young people hangout daily.

The questions that are developed for response are as follows:
  • Do students ever discuss content with peers and how often do they discuss topics outside of the classroom?
  • Is the classroom an exciting intellectual environment where topics are mirrored?
  • How does the classroom allow for students to make additional connections so that the student can be further immersed in using and exploring information and understanding of concepts outside of the classroom environment?
  • Is the content of schooling compartmentalized and separated from cross curriculum unit development and technology-based project learning strategies.?
All of the above questions illustrate other aspects of experience in which a student is immersed. Students need to grasp larger patterns. The part is always embedded in wholes, the fact is always embedded in multiple contexts, and a subject is always related to many other issues and content.

Active Learning

Problem Based Learning in the flipped classroom is centered around the presentation of a problem, not lectures or assignments or exercises. Since "content obtainment" is not at the center of learning, the classroom becomes an active center for discovery using content as a support to solve a problem. Scaffolding through the process of reasoning is to retrieve information through the effective use of references. This is not to say that learning is content free. Learning in fact is the use of multiple constructed content references that is project oriented to real life situations. To use content in multiple references allows the learner to construct higher levels of thought while blending multiple resources into conceptual understanding.

When scaffolding within the flipped classroom the facilitator establishes themselves as the master of continent allowing for meta-cognitive questioning to occur in higher frequency. In other words leaving behind the idea of traditional practices of burning information into the neural circuits and acknowledging that resources to the information age will always hold more than what individual memory can store. This approach will require the flipped classroom facilitator to construct reasoning proficiencies within the students learning environment. Constructing reasoning proficiencies is the third paradigm shift to 21st Century Learning. For more information on 21st Century Learning Practices go to the Digital Sandbox and learn more about how active learning becomes an integral part of the Common Core. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Scaffolding Techniques in the Flipped Classroom

The "Flipped Classroom" provides avenues for teachers to become facilitators of learning and move away from the sage on a stage approach to teaching. One of the greatest differences of the flipped classroom to traditional practices is how scaffolding techniques are use to support reasoning and the development of problem solving skills. In this first part of a two part article on scaffolding, author Mike King will explain the differences in meta-cognitive scaffolding and student support scaffolding in traditional classrooms.

Instructional content support plays an important role in designing and delivering developmental schemas within the flipped classroom. Through a technique known as scaffolding the flipped classroom teacher can provide the necessary strategies to ensure exactness of knowledge for content development. Scaffolding instruction within the flipped the facilitator of knowledge scaffolds or supports the learner’s development. The activities designed within the flipped classroom ( group work, questioning, or synchronous instruction) should provide the scaffolding of instruction that is set for the learner at the correct level of complexity and difficulty. The facilitator provides the scaffolds (learning structures needed) so that the learner can accomplish (with assistance) the tasks that he or she could otherwise not complete, thus helping the learner through the Zone of Proximal Development. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Using Technology In Performance-based Classrooms

In today's digital world where multiple task are required in student learning we must begin to teach students how to function in a dynamic organizational systems These skills involve invariable adjustments to setting priorities, performing multidimensional task, evening out workloads, adjusting timeframes, prioritizing tasks and navigating networks. All of these skills in the near future will become less teacher-directed and more student-directed. 

In the past teachers have taught organizational skills in a static system within a structured format. This delivery format took on the model of  breaking down tasks and asking students to explicitly complete very defined units of information, such as do as I do and you will learn. A typical classroom instructional practice for developing organizational skills would include, record my notes from the board, write your name on your paper directive, or complete your assignment on time. Classrooms of the future especially when moving over to the common core will require a more diverse approach to the development of organizational skills, especially when working in a digital environment. The purpose of this section of Organizational Tools is to provide resource information on the types of open software applications that are designed to help learners organize their digital learning environments. (For more information on creating organizational tools in classrooms go to Organizational Tools)

Adopting Technology into the Common Core
Methods of technology integration should specify the way the teacher plans to deliver the unit and how students will apply these tools. Questions should be answered about how“ presentations and methods or presentations” will be made, where “technology resources” are located, and what technology resources will be available when the unit is presented. There are three domain fields to choose from. These three domains are virtual resources on how technology can be adapted into the common core and integrated into authentic task. For example, one of the identified learning activities for a unit may be data gathering and synthesis. Students experiencing this unit will be required to interact with technology to obtain the information necessary to complete the assigned task. They will be asked to research information and then report their information electronically. (To interact with these three Domains go to Adopting Technology into the Common Core)

Developing Acceptable Use Policy

With the current push for computer technology in the classroom, many schools are facing a greater liability regarding technology and online learning. Schools can help defuse these problems by adopting an Acceptable Use Policy, or AUP, for the Internet. The Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) is one of the most important documents a school will produce, as it will outline rules regarding Internet use on school property. Creating a workable AUP requires thoughtful research and strategy. The document must address a number of issues including personal safety, illegal activities, system security, privacy, plagiarism, copyright infringement and access to inappropriate materials. In addition, it should unequivocally rule the school’s technology property for educational purposes only. Student’s rights, such as free speech, access to information and due process, should be outlined in the document, as should the consequences for violating the Acceptable Use Policy. Below is A Checklist for Planning, Developing and Evaluating an AUP.

Does the school’s Acceptable Use Policy:
  • Protect students from objectionable or questionable material?
  • Protect students from contact with questionable persons who may exhibit deviant or objectionable behavior?
  • Protect students from materials that encourage students to participate in destructive behavior?
  • Provide consideration for privacy and access rights for students?
  • Ensure that the Internet and related school equipment be used for educational uses only?

Acceptable Use Policy Audio
Listen to how Web 2.0 technologies has challenged and changed the concept of acceptable use. The audio link below presented by Joseph Bires will suggest ways to balance protecting students, teachers, and schools from the dangers of the Internet, while still integrating Web 2.0 technologies into the K-12 curriculum. Also, philosophical issues of acceptable use will be presented such as identity and transparency. Finally, practical suggestions will be shared to help every teacher and administrator. Reference: K12 Online Conference 2010

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Adopting Technology NET Standards within the Common Core

Most schools or school districts who's states have reauthorized over into the Common Core are faced with moving away from traditional settings for learning in which individual subject matter skill sets has been taught in isolation.

Adopting  technology standards within the Common Core will create a curriculum that is both challenging and meaningful for 21st Century learners. The process of adopting technology into the Common Core curriculum  has several stages of development that include; (1) determining gaps within the existing, by unpacking standards (2) constructing a curriculum web to identify common core standards, (3) applying the rigorous relevance framework to determining real life themes of study through the establishment of an essential question and creating multidimensional task, (4) designing performance based assessments for real world applications and (5) developing unit maps that are tied to multiple standards

For more information on how to Adopt Technology into the Common Core read Common Core Transition.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Avatars in Digital Storytelling

Avatars can be used by classroom teachers when designing digital stories or delivering content. Avatars can represent a tour guide explaining travels along the Silk Road, or represent real life characters like Mark Twain giving a lecture on his home or Einstein introducing the solar system. Most avatars are known as “bots” and are powered by Natural Language Processing. Some avatars like Crazy Talk allows users to record natural voiceovers along with secondary sound recording like music. (Visit The Digital Sandbox)

Avatars like GoAnimate allows the user to program several characters within a single lesson narrative. When incorporating avatars into a lesson they can be used to define terms, give directions to an activities or reinforced content. Avatars can also be integrated into a PowerPoint presentation as they are incorporated into a collaboration website lesson.

Students can also use Avatars as they make presentations that are supported by media based technology as they post authentic assignments to a collaborative website such as a wiki. Developing avatars is a great way to have students learn vocabulary and use their writing skills in creating literary or informational text. 

The video of Mark Twain above was created by importuning a still black and white image of Mark Twain into Crazy Talk. The first step in creating the video was to write a first person script depicting Mark Twain's life in Connecticut. The script was then recorded by me as a narrative in Audacity. The next step in the process was to import a black and white image of Mark Twain into Crazy Talk. The voiceover created in Audacity was imported and rendered by mixing both the still image and narrative together. The first generation render gave the still image a real life character effect of a moving image of Mark Twain.

The next step in the process was to import the video and still images that I shot when visiting the Hartford home in Connecticut. I imported both the still images and raw video clips into MovieMaker along with the Crazy Talk render of Mark Twain and mixed theses elements together using a second audio track. To give effect to the mix, I used the "film age oldest" setting within MovieMaker and set the film level at black and white. In the second render from MovieMaker gave the effect of a first motion picture look generated from the early 1900's. For more information on using avatars in digital storytelling go to Avatars in the Flipped Classroom.