My STEM Units

Monday, November 11, 2013

Digital Testing Requires Digital Learning

Whether your state is in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, your students will more than likely be taking their assessments online in 2014-2015.

Digital testing requires digital learning.

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) released a report last December.  The report urges districts to look into digital learning for all students.
"Students using technology to take high stakes tests must have significant opportunities to develop and demonstrate mastery of tested knowledge, skills and abilities via substantially similar technology prior to being tested.  Teachers must be prepared to support this shift in instruction." (p.1)
Whiteriver USD is taking a unique approach to preparing students for the PARCC assessment.  To give purpose and direction to the introduction of mobile technology, STEM units and Project-Based Learning are now driving training and instruction so that students are PARCC ready.

It seems pretty obvious that reading will be digital on the English/Language Arts portion of the digital tests.  Yet, take a minute to think of that.  How much of your ELA curriculum is digital?  What proportion of reading do students do on digital devices versus traditional print?  When one considers basal readers, classroom libraries, and school libraries, the proportion is possibly high.

How do your students cite evidence with print resources?  They probably use a combination of sticky-notes, writing in the margin, and highlighters; all great strategies that go hand-in-hand with Close Reading.  However, how do we expect these students to engage with digital text?  It appears that the digital assessments will have a tool for highlighting text.  Do you know how to do that?  Do your students?

"The Common Core will require many teachers to change their approach to teaching related subject areas, including the integration of new instructional materials and teaching tools" (p.3).

What are these approaches?

Which will better serve our students?

What is your district doing to prepare students for digital testing?

Monday, September 23, 2013

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers - Virtual Field Trips and Other Online Opportunities

I remember the first time I saw Star Trek.  As Captain Kirk talked "face to face" with others on a big screen in real time, I thought it would never be possible in my lifetime.  Yet, now we have Skype, FaceTime, and other video chat apps.  National parks are using this technology to bring the park to your classroom.    

What sort of virtual field trips are available?

Currently, there are 53 virtual field trips offered nationwide.  Some national parks have one virtual field trip which highlights their entire park.  Some have multiple virtual field trips.  For instance, Grand Canyon has nine such virtual field trips, intended to teach students on various science and social studies concepts.  The field trips are aligned to state standards by grade level.  One such field trip examines fossils and rock layers in the canyon.

Other examples of virtual field trips include visiting Ellis Island, exploring the Great Depression and New Deal, or a live dive into the kelp beds of the Channel Islands.   

How much do these virtual field trips cost?

Many workshops have no fee.  Your tax dollars have already paid for the computers, cameras, and software required.  However, some virtual field trips do have a small fee.  For instance, this summer, a classroom in our district went on a virtual field trip 2,000 miles away.  The location mailed a huge, plastic box (similar to a Traveling Trunk) filled with rocks, fossils, and magnifying glasses. Our small fee paid for the shipment of the box back and forth.    

How can I find virtual field trips?

LearnNPS is a very helpful website to find most information.  Start your search by clicking "Distance Learning" on the left margin.  You can search by park or by state.   

For instance, if you are interested in virtual field trips for Grand Canyon National Park, click here for a detailed list of programs available. Their 9 programs target grades preschool through high school. On this site, you can also download the application.

What other online opportunities are available for my classroom?

NPS also has a wonderful WebRanger program.  Students can play with interactive games to learn about the science behind our national parks.  Some national parks have virtual hikes.  Students can even earn virtual badges!  

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers is a five part series.  We will explore the resources for teachers (most of which are free!). Read on and experience your America in a new way.

  1. Teacher Workshops
  2. Traveling Trunks and Materials on Loan
  3. Virtual Field Trips and other Online Opportunities
  4. Teacher-Ranger-Teacher
  5. Field Trips and Institutes

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers - Traveling Trunks and Materials on Loan

The musty smell of an old steamer trunk.  The creak of a rusty hinge.  Magic awaits inside.  What is this magic box?  A Traveling Trunk!

Traveling Trunks were set up by the National Park Service as a way to bring the park to your classroom.  Perhaps your school is located too far from a national park for a field trip.  Or maybe you wish to build background knowledge before you do take your students to the park.  Either way, Traveling Trunks are a wonderful way to bring materials into your classroom.

What sort of Traveling Trunks are available?

  Traveling Trunks are as diverse as the national parks from which they hail.  Some are filled with books about fossils, Native Americans,and landforms.  Others are overflowing with period clothing (pioneers, civil war, etc.).  Yet others contain salmon eggs!  Most trunks are aligned with the state standards for science and social studies.

The trunks themselves are also quite diverse.  Some are old steamer trunks, reminiscent of centuries past.  Others are suitcases which previously transported wardrobes through airports, repurposed for carting books through classrooms.  Most are plastic bins, favored for their durability and shipping effectiveness.

How much do the Traveling Trunks cost?

Most trunks are 100% free.  While there is never a "rental" fee, there may be shipping costs involved.  

How can I request a Traveling Trunk?

LearnNPS has done a wonderful job of compiling a list of national parks and monuments which have Traveling Trunks.  One thing to keep in mind when searching for trunks is that not all trunks can be shipped.  This is due to some being just too heavy and others are simply too fragile.  Some parks require that teachers pick up these trunks in person.  And while many parks do ship their trunks, some only ship within-state.  To request a trunk, go to  Once there, click on "Parks as Classrooms" on the left margin.  From there, click "Traveling Trunks".  At the top of the page, you will see a box where you can enter search criteria, such as grade level, subject, and location.  

Besides Traveling Trunks, what other materials are available on loan?

Besides a wide variety of DVDs and books, national parks also loan out other items.  They have maps and compasses.  Or owl pellets and pelts.  Snowshoes, anyone?  The only way to know which items are available is to go to the "Parks as Classrooms" tab on the left margin and click on "Materials to Loan".  Check your parks often, as park educators are continually adding to their collection.

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers is a five part series.  We will explore the resources for teachers (most of which are free!). Read on and experience your America in a new way.

  1. Teacher Workshops
  2. Traveling Trunks and Materials on Loan
  3. Virtual Field Trips and other Online Opportunities
  4. Teacher-Ranger-Teacher
  5. Field Trips and Institutes

Saturday, September 7, 2013

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers - Teacher Workshops: Updated

Chances are good that you have been to a national park.  And chances are that you have been to the gift shop.  But, have you ever been to a national park workshop?  Currently 27 national parks offer teacher workshops.
There's no better way to bring math, science and history into real life than to experience them in action. Many of these workshops are designed to help teachers use park resources in the classroom, or to prepare classes for a park visit. Most workshops are accredited and can be taken for college credit, and are structured to meet the needs of today's teacher - teaching the standards while making the material engaging and relevant. (NPS Workshops)
The purpose of the workshops is to build strong partnerships with teachers, so they understand the resources available to them at the national parks and monuments.  

What sort of professional development opportunities are available?

One such teacher workshop coming soon is “Wild About Grand Canyon Wildlife”  from November 6-7, 2015.  

"With an amazing diversity of life zones from the North Rim boreal forest to the hot deserts of the inner canyon, Grand Canyon hosts a wide range of wildlife. This workshop will explore methods of teaching students about Grand Canyon and Arizona's diversity of wildlife, and how each is adapted to thrive in the habitat they occupy. Unique endemic and rare endangered species will be discussed."

One workshop hosted this past summer was hosted in Glacier National Park.  Park researchers took teachers out in the field to learn about climate change.

Workshops range from snowshoeing in the Rocky Mountains to hiking to an observation tower to view alligators and turtles.  Workshops fill fast, so get your registration form in soon! (**Applications accepted starting August 26th)

How much do these workshops cost?

Many workshops have no fee.  Donations have provided for teacher lodging, meals, and materials.  In some cases, teachers will need to pay a nominal fee ($50) to offset the cost of class materials.  Most workshops last 3 days/2 nights, so the small cost is well worth it.  In most cases, the entrance fee to the park is waived as well.  

Where can I find workshops near me?

You can go directly to a national park website or you can go to the Learn NPS site.  If you go to your national park of preference, click on "Learn About the Park" on the left margin. From there, click on Education (also on the left margin). If your park offers many opportunities, you may need to scroll down to Professional Development. 

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers is a five part series.  We will explore the resources for teachers (most of which are free!). Read on and experience your America in a new way.

  1. Teacher Workshops
  2. Traveling Trunks and Materials on Loan
  3. Virtual Field Trips and other Online Opportunities
  4. Teacher-Ranger-Teacher
  5. Field Trips and Institutes

National Parks: Treasures for Teachers - A Five Part Series

The National Park Service has created a department for teachers and learners of all ages.  Learn NPS offers a myriad of supplies and opportunities for teachers and classrooms.  Even if there are no national parks located near your school, there are online activities and virtual field trips available.  Learn NPS recently updated their website.  Now, you can search for educational materials by location, grade level, and keywords.  For the next five weeks, we will explore the resources for teachers (most of which are free!).  Read on and experience your America in a new way.

    1. Teacher Workshops
    2. Traveling Trunks and other Materials on Loan
    3. Virtual Field Trips and Other Online Opportunities
    4. Field Trips and Institutes
    5. Teacher-Ranger-Teacher

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Interactive Writing Program to Help Students with Close Reading

TylerHave you heard the buzz about Close Reading? Or maybe you've felt the pressure to implement Common Core into your classroom? How does a teacher, who already has a jam-packed schedule, possibly fit Close Reading into the day? In2Books, an interactive pen pal program, has been helping teachers do just that for 13 years. International Reading Association's "Reading Today" recently wrote an article on using In2Books to teach Close Reading.

The program matches students in grades 3-5 with adult pen pals around the country. The pen pals must go through a background check before being accepted into the program and all messages are first screened by the teacher. A class will delve into 5 units throughout the year, ranging from fiction to science to biographies. Each unit comes complete with lesson plans, rubrics, and vocabulary games. The program has been gaining national attention. In fact, Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. recently did a study of the effectiveness of In2Books. In a study entitled "Data Analytics and the Assessment of Student Writing", it was found that students in my class gained an average of 1.6 grade level equivalents in their writing scores over the course of the 5 units. In the 4 years that I implemented In2Books, I had many experiences where the students were motivated by their pen pals. They read their books diligently in their Daily 5 rotations; sometimes in Read to Self, other times in Read with Someone. They most definitely wrote, rewrote, and typed in Work on Writing. It was in their Literature Circles that they returned to the text for close reading. They returned to ask "What does the text say?", "How does the text work?", and "What does the text mean?"; all critical questions in Close Reading. In2Books is still accepting classrooms (and adult eMentors!) for this coming school year. I encourage all teachers in 3rd through 5th grades to participate in the program. If you are a teacher in the Whiteriver Mountains of Arizona, Susan Rodriguez is an approved Teacher Mentor. Send a message to Susan ( ) for assistance setting up your classroom.

Digital Magazines

Digital magazines can help teachers by providing materials to help in literacy stations. For instance, I have used Scholastic magazines in my classroom for a few years. Last year, they launched their online, interactive magazines. sn Here are a few reasons I really enjoyed Scholastic:
  1. Introductory Video: I found that many times, my students didn't have background knowledge on the nonfiction text they were about to read. Yes, I could have spent hours searching TeacherTube or Discovery Education, but it's so nice that the video is already there.
  2. Words to Know: Each issue had about 6 vocabulary words. When the students click on "Words to Know", they are directed to a slide show where the students hear the word, see a picture of the word, and hear the word used in a sentence.
  3. Text to Talk: This is perhaps my favorite component. I have seen online magazines before, but they are really just glorified pdf files. However, the text to talk function reads the text to my students (Listen to Reading).
  4. Text Difficulty: With the click of a button, the entire article changes reading level. No more hunting down magazines from different grade levels. No more having disengaged, frustrated readers.
  5. Digital Sticky Notes: By now, we all know that Common Core is asking the students to return to the text and provide evidence. Many teachers utilize sticky notes on their traditional books already. The digital sticky notes allow the students to still return to the text and make notes, even in a digital format.
  6. Drawing Tool and Highlighter: These functions serve as additional tools to help students return to the text and provide evidence.
  7. Interactive Maps: Students may click on the maps, photos, and diagrams and they zoom in. The students may then interact with them to work on specific standards.
  8. Embedded Common Core Questions: Each issue has a specific Common Core focus and will embed questions into the articles.
  9. Instant Feedback: We are all familiar with the "test prep" on the back page of a magazine. In years past, perhaps you had the students pencil in their answers, turn in the magazine, and you graded it 4 weeks later (if you were lucky). Now, the feedback is immediate.
  10. Searchable Archives: Perhaps the issue 2 months ago was about hurricanes, yet your curriculum map tells you to teach hurricanes next week. No problem! Go to the archives and pull up the hurricane issue. It's that easy. No more stashing piles of magazines that you just might use one day.
Want to try it now? Go to: and select your grade level from the Classroom Magazines drop-down menu. Which digital magazines have you used?

WebWhat?! WebQuest!

Have you heard the buzz about WebQuests? Do you find yourself asking, "What is a WebQuest?" Well, you've come to the right spot.
WebQuests are well-developed units, housed on the "web". They are project-based learning in nature and usually require students to work collaboratively. Although some WebQuests may require students to use print resources, many utilize digital resources. Almost everything about WebQuests scream "21st century skills"! There are also many wonderful ways to incorporate Common Core Standards into the lessons. For more information on WebQuests, read Dr. Christie's excellent explanation.
Looking for a pre-made WebQuest?
There are several sites. Of course, one could always "google" a search term with the "webquest" tag. However, I have found myself coming back to two sites consistently. The first,, is the author site of WebQuests. They claim to have over 20,000 WebQuests housed on their site. Another site,, at present have a reportedly 164,638 WebQuests! That's a lot of WebQuests!
Wish to write your own WebQuest?
But, what if you just can't find exactly what you are looking for? That happened to me and I finally decided to just write my own WebQuest. It is easier than it looks. Using one of the two sites listed above, you are given a template and access to tools (rubric maker, quiz builder, etc.).
Click here to be directly linked to the WebQuest I created in an afternoon.
valley-of-fire-69905_640 "Every archaeologist knows in his heart why he digs. He digs... that the dead may live again, that what is past may not be forever lost, that something may be salvaged from the wrack of ages, that the past may color the present and give heart to the future." Geoffrey Bibby Many people do not know about the contributions the ancient Southwest tribes have made to our modern society. We need your help to teach them about "the old ways". But first, you must learn about the ancient tribes and their contributions. What are your favorite WebQuests?

In Your Best Pinterest

This week brought exciting news for Teachers/Pinners. "Pinterest is a pinboard-style photo-sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, and hobbies. Users can browse other pinboards for images, "re-pin" images to their own pinboards, or "like" photos." (Wikipedia) Pinterest launched the highly anticipated Teacher Page; a collection of boards devoted entirely to education. "Tons of teachers are discovering and sharing ideas on Pinterest. In fact, more than 500,000 education-related ideas are pinned each day. And, according to an annual survey by Edutopia, Pinterest is in the top five of professional development websites for teachers." (Pinterest) So, how can teachers use Pinterest? Most teachers would say they use it for lesson planning purposes. Many teachers also use it for classroom decor. Some even allow the students to use Pinterest. I could list the ways, or I could show you an infographic I found on PInterest.
Your Tech Ready Team is also launching their own Pinterest boards this week as well. Follow our boards as we will continue to pin ideas that you can use in your classroom.