EdTech Spotlights: Stacy Libal, GT Teacher, Flips with Google Classroom

Teachers typically use Google Classroom for home learning opportunities, whole-class activities, and/or discussion threads.  It’s a great way to push content to students and share thinking.  Libal turns that model on it’s head to help meet the differentiated needs of her GT students, during their regular classroom time, even when she’s off site.

Libal leverages Google Classroom, offering enrichment to students they can access any time throughout their school-day.  She uses videos to flip the learning for new concepts students will be introduced to in their next GT sessions.  It’s a simple idea with genius outcomes.   Students can stay within the content area during regular class time, while helping to prepare for their next GT class, contributing to projects, conducting research, and more.


Stacy’s split FTE means 20 students in 2 different schools are vying for her time and attention, even when she’s out of the building.  Google Classroom allows Libal to be there for both students and teachers, 100% of the time.  GT students need her whenever they complete work early.  Classroom teachers are tasked with presenting new and interesting learning opportunities to this both exciting and challenging population.  Stacy has turned to a well-honed tool with a new purpose in mind.  Her flipped model is simple, straight-forward, and innovative.  She’d love to help you get started, so reach out any time!

By Jeannie Sponheim

This post originally published Dec. 15, 2017, on tsdtech.org

EdTech Spotlights: Carin Barrett of BHS, MakerSpace in action

“It’s better than sitting on your phone… [You can] give back to people who are less fortunate and it’s nice knowing that you can give back to the community.” Savannah, a 9th grader at Berthoud High School, gave an honest answer for why she loves spending time in the school’s MakerSpace.  Carin Barrett, Librarian and Social Studies teacher at BHS, started this program last school year as a way to teach “Philanthropy as Civic Engagement” and, most importantly, kindness.

MakerSpace is a popular and growing program throughout education and our district schools.  The simple way to define them is a space with resources for students to create.  Make explains “Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone.”


Carin, along with Library Assistant Michelle Trujillo, utilize their MakerSpace for students to collaborate, design, and build products that will help those in need.  It’s why their program is called “Make for Good.”  Over the past year, students have created pillowcases for a children’s hospital and Joseph’s House, fidget blankets for dementia patients, stuffed animals and blankets for charities, pillowcase dresses for Africa, and more projects that continue to grow.

As students are coming in and out of the space throughout the day, during off hours or spare time, one wonders how they were able to get so many students invested in the idea.  Part of the answer is that their time counts toward volunteer hours.  Barrett found value in that approach because, not only does it help students maximize their time, but she also explained “the opportunity to do good always exists.  I believe making service-oriented activities something that one doesn’t have to officially set aside time for… makes students more able to imagine integrating service into their everyday lives as adults more easily.”  She also explained on the program’s website, BHSMakeForGood.org, “A study by United Health Group says that 76% of people who have volunteered in the past twelve months say that volunteering has made them feel happier, and 94% of people report that it improves their mood. 78% of volunteers say that it has lowered their stress levels.”  In speaking with Savannah and other students collaborating in the MakerSpace, this concept was absolutely evident.

It takes some time, funds, and energy to get a project like this going in a school.  Carin provided some helpful tips in getting started.  “Donor’s Choose is a good option for getting materials, but reaching out to parents and the community might also be useful here, as sewing machines, knitting and crochet tools, and the like, might be things people have that they would be happy to send to someplace where it will be used for something like this.” She reiterated the value of including the community in the project, when possible.  “I have also solicited quite a bit of monetary donations to purchase making materials via grant applications and a TEF fundraiser, as well as accepting some specific donations from the community – everything made in the space uses donated funds.”


Another aspect of the developing momentum for MakerSpace is to get students excited and ready to try new ideas.  She gives a presentation to a set of classes at the beginning of the year to reach every student, then advertises through announcements and social media for upcoming projects.  She also contacts organizations like Ryan’s Case for Smiles and Little Dresses for Africa, which have year-round projects, as well as local initiatives.  These can often be successfully started through social media, especially Facebook and Twitter.

After seeing “Make For Good” in action, there is no doubt that students are motivated and excited to collaborate and create for others.  If you are interested in starting a MakerSpace, or integrate some of its ideas, in your school, feel free to contact Carin Barrett, EdTech TSD, or other MakeSpace teachers in Thompson School District.  Please visit BHSMakeForGood.org for more ideas and understanding of the program.











By Joe Zappa

This post originally published Dec. 12, 2017, on tsdtech.org


EdTech Spotlights: Roger Torrez of WES, using Seesaw

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Roger Torrez, Instructional Technology Coach at Winona Elementary School, supports teachers and students co-creating personalized learning opportunities.  WES is in the process of implementing this versatile tool.  Seesaw plays nicely with others, working on iPads and Chromebooks, as well as linking to a wide variety of apps outside the system.

When teachers create assignments within Seesaw, they record models and work processes.  This supports flipping the classroom when students view videos prior to class.  Parents and teachers communicate on assignments as desired, with the tools shown in the pink area on the right of the image below.

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Parents, students, and teachers share thoughts on student work in words by typing or writing, or by recording audio comments.  This both shortens the feedback loop and opens the input to more than just one evaluator when appropriate.  Communicating in Seesaw can include videos for modeling to parents everything from new approaches to teaching math to specific praise to help modify behaviors at home.

Seesaw uses QR codes like these (live links) Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 9.00.17 AM.png  Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 9.00.33 AM.png for sharing information and learning without compromising student data privacy.  Students record their writing to practice fluency, peer edit, and share accomplishments with teachers and family members.  After viewing student work, parents use the app to send congratulations.  QR codes on school posters share behavior expectations.  When teachers record project parameters and directions, students review the video as many times as needed, freeing the teacher to support students at work rather than spending time repeating directions.   QR codes allow access to recordings of project explanations for parents, and sharing videos of work samples during art shows or other parent nights.

For learning activities within the program, Seesaw provides tools that allow teachers to differentiate learning and meet individual student needs.  Teachers can share lessons within Seesaw as well.  The image below shows a word sort that can be done digitally:

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Within the application both students and teachers can use the tools pictured below to record a video or screen cast, snap a photo, insert a link, draw, write a note and more.

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Students record screencasts of themselves solving math problems so others can access the video to learn their approach.  This elevates student experts in the class and increases shared learning for all.  Students also use the videos to engage in number talks exploring why wrong answers are wrong.  Exploring number talks and multiple approaches for solving math problems deepens learning and supports critical thinking skills.

This is just another example of some the resourceful teachers and team work going in TSD schools.  Please contact Roger or Jeannie with questions or for more information.

By Jeannie Sponheim

This post originally published Dec. 1, 2017, on tsdtech.org


EdTech Spotlights: Thompson Educators

With just two weeks left in school, students at Loveland High School weren’t watching the clock or counting the minutes until summer.  Instead they were taking time to express the impact kindness has had in their school and community through the American Stories project.  It’s been referred to as the Peace of My Mind project, exploring the impact of peace, one story at a time.  We joined right in, eager to contribute.  Due to scheduling, we had to jump the cue and go before other students.  They were so focused on their written statements to accurately share their joyful stories they waved us on, barely looking up from their papers.

Watching these students motivated us to take a moment and reflect on the amazing educators that we have had the opportunity to see every day have a positive impact on the learning and lives of Thompson students.  A culture of innovation, passion, and trust has led countless staff members to implement new ideas in educational technology and instructional design, because they will help students to succeed.  Early on, this motivated us to witness these concepts in action and share them with the rest of the district and community, in order to facilitate collaboration beyond the four walls of TSD schools.  What we weren’t prepared for was the flood of incredible instructional practices shared at TSD, making it impossible to do justice to the overwhelming levels of outside the box thinking of our district’s educators.

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Without even recounting our previous spotlights, we’ve seen Thompson staff inspire creativity with student-centered devices, rethink Presentations of Learning with digital portfolios, use social media to model and inspire positive interactions, develop a culture of non-stop inquiry with flipped classrooms, facilitate moments of high-level critical thinking with STEM projects, provide anytime supports in digital classrooms, and give students the chance to engage with real-world experts in the field through online chats.  We’ve seen first year teachers collaborate with retiring educators to re-think instructional design together through learning management systems like Schoology and Google Classroom.  We’ve seen staff members from one school to another work together, on their own time, to figure out how they can best meet the needs of their students in a not-seen-before way.  We’ve seen content and grade-level teams capture the successes of what they were already doing and figure out what tweaks can take it to the next level.  Dual immersion schools collaborating to engage students in video calls in another language was an incredible thing to witness, and we wish we’d been able to include that story.  Ah well, a great starting point for next year!

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If only we could write a blog post every day, maybe we could spotlight all the inspiring ideas of Thompson educators with the district and community, but even then it probably couldn’t be done.  All in all, EdTech wants to express its gratitude to Thompson staff for inspiring us, each other, the community, and our students in making learning a passionate, creative, and empowering process, helping students rise with the tools that they need to be a positive force in this changing world.

By EdTech TSD, Jeannie Sponheim & Joe Zappa

EdTech Spotlights: Dave Dellwardt, of ISES, with Digital Science Notebooks in 3rd Grade Classroom

Want to see STEM in action?  Read on to see ways Dave Dellwardt leverages science notebooks in a STEM environment.  Tracking the learning is what science notebooks are all about.  For these entries, Dellwardt’s students were engineering their own designs using the Rube Goldberg machines (RGM) invention model.   RGMs perform a simple task using a domino-effect that’s as complicated as possible.  This is the stuff childhood memories, and learning, are made of.  To observe an examle in action, see the video below:

Dellwardt designed this personalized learning experience to reinforce critical steps in the scientific process.  The process would be recorded in their digital science notebooks.  Voice & choice were central from the beginning.  His students designed their own Rube Goldberg machine to perform any (safe) task they wanted.   Each design element was an opportunity for students to make decisions.   The more complex the machine, the more decision-making opportunities created.

Science, like self-directed learning, is an iterative process.  How did Dellwardt provide feedback and multiple opportunities for all students to revise their designs?  Think parameters.

The students worked with some limits for their machines.  The machine perimeter, no matter the shape, needed to be around 6 feet total.  Materials were loosely limited to their STEM lab inventory.  And of course there was a time-line.  These guidelines created the shortest feedback loop possible.  Students didn’t have to refer to a complex rubric, or see their teacher to find out if their project was OK.  The RGMs either fit into the allowable perimeter or not.  It performed the task, or not quite.  That’s where the iterative process of observation, revision, and testing came in:

“We need to add a leg to hold up this flap or the balloon won’t fall right” announced one inventor.

“No!  That makes the machine too big.  We have to keep it down to the right size” retorted another.

“What if we pull the flap up from the top with a string.  It can be as tall as we want” offered the 3rd.

All the while Dellwardt was across the room helping another group, clarifying the parameters, prompting students to add to their digital science notebooks, and generally attending to the multitude of tasks teaching a full class of 8 and 9 year-olds requires.

But what about those science notebooks?  And what about technology?  Students can use a variety of tools to record video, screencast, and annotate images such as Pages for Apple, the Screencastify extension in Chrome, and the Flipgrid app to name a few.  Dellwardt had students using Book Creator to record their process.  Requirements for the science notebooks were straight-forward:

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Technology wasn’t the focus of the work.  It was intentionally leveraged to help facilitate the learning and, in particular, reflection.   “Sometimes writing gets in the way of the reflecting” said Dellwardt, so he strategically implemented a technology-based tool so students could record their reflections verbally.   Not a single student asked how many sentences their reflection had to include.  Letting writing go for this lesson meant that his students could master other 3rd grade academic standards for science, communication, technology, as well as work habits.

One last note:  The level of care and neatness in Ivy Stockwell’s “STEM” room was very high.  I’d have eaten off that floor (that’s saying a lot for this germaphobe)!   Additionally, kids were meticulous about putting their devices away in the classroom.  Time was running out for this class period, so I jumped in to help get things put away for the next group using the iPads.  Each child had a redirection for me:

“Put it away so the charger is sticking out” demanded one.

“Remember to match up the numbers” reminded another.

“Don’t close the cart on the wire” warned one.

Their pride was obvious.  Some of it was orchestrated by Dellwardt’s classroom management routines.  The rest was organic; these learners truly value their time and resources.

By Jeannie Sponheim

EdTech Spotlights: Jen Varrella, of LEMS, using PhET for Science simulations

Hands-on, authentic learning has always been one of the hallmarks of education in Science classes.  But the challenge Science teachers consistently face is one of time, funds, and resources to complete labs and other interactive, student-centered lessons.  Plus, scientists today often complete their initial experiments in a controlled context with the use of computer simulations.  With this in mind, the University of Colorado created a free, large, digital database of interactive simulations in Science and Math called PhET (Physics Education Technology) and its continually growing.

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At Lucile Erwin Middle School, 8th grade Science teacher, Jennifer Varrella, has been implementing PhET with her students for several years.  Jen explained that she has had a dose of skepticism when it comes to technology instead of hands-on learning for students.  But she became motivated to utilize PhET because of time constraints and lack of necessary materials for certain experiments, like lasers and circuits.  Varrella spoke about the student engagement that comes with a balance of learning activities: sometimes students are excited and learn best from lab activities, sometimes students are most engaged by the visuals and wide variety outcomes found in PhET’s computer simulations.  She reiterated that “these simulations show visuals, and students can try and re-try in a controlled situation,” allowing for students to complete an activity as many as needed in order to reach the learning target.

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In getting started with PhET, it’s important to know the types of student devices needed and what issues to look out for.  But this may be the best aspect of PhET: it works for any device.  Jen started integrating these simulations years ago in a PC computer lab, and now visits the website on iPads in her classroom.  Students work in partners on iPads to complete the activities.  While not every simulation will work on every device, each contains an icon specifying if it runs on HTML5 (all devices, including iPads), Flash (will work on Chromebooks, but not iPads), or Java (PC or Mac computers only).  The simulations can also be organized by device so the user will know exactly which will work with their student devices.  Knowing this ahead of time, Varrella excitedly pointed out that PhET has never been glitchy and never let her down when she used the technology with her students, which is high praise for a computer program!

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Example set of simulations on PhET; notice the icon indicating if the sim runs on HTML5, Java, or Flash.

In discussing her appreciation for PhET and encouragement of other Science and Math teachers to try it out, she elaborated on its benefits.  Many of the simulations share functional aspects with testing tools that our students may need to practice, they tie in with Next Gen Science and other content standards, and with an account, teacher-made activities can be accessed for corresponding simulations, plus it’s all free.  Before finishing our conversation, Jen emphasized “there are certain things that simulations can’t replace, but part of science is computers and models.”  Scientists today often need to simulate before experimenting in order to consider all possibilities.  With PhET, technology is not a replacement for hands-on learning, but rather a complement in order to provide an authentic, high-level learning experience for students.

If you are interested in PhET or other Science and Math simulations, feel free to contact Jen Varrella or the EdTech Team, in order to find out how to utilize this fantastic tool at your school or class.

By Joe Zappa, @edtechtsd

EdTech Spotlights: Jodi Nierman, of PES, with Innovative Project Designs

“You should know we just had a ‘throw-up in here'” Mrs. Nierman warned.  (Thanks to a great custodian and some open windows we’d never’ve known).   Her 3rd graders had just completed a unit, with the rest of their cohort, on space and were instructed to demonstrate their learning.  ” … [S]tudents got to pick anything about space to research more at home, create a visual, and present it to our class and parents on showcase night.” – Mrs. Nierman

We’d walked to her classroom through the 3rd grade hall, impressed with the sheer variety of projects on display.  Not a single artifact was like another.  I was haunted by the “Cliff Dwellings” unit in my own 4th grade Colorado History unit a decade ago.  At the end students made a diorama to help show their learning.  It’s what’d always been done.  If we’d been able to take a VR field-trip to the Cliff Dwellings and really personalized students’ opportunities to experience and share learning like this PES team planned and carried out with students, I know one thing for sure:  it would have been lots more memorable for students.

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This group of PES teachers made everything come together with the space unit.  Learning targets?  Check.  Cross-curricular connections? Check.  Reading, writing, speaking and listening?  Check.  Thematic room decor? Check.  Technology?  Yes, but not in the way we sometimes think of it in the classroom.  While they regularly use Promethean boards, Chrome books, and other resources to increase engagement, support differentiation, and increase voice and choices in learning, teachers saw another opportunity.   When asked to create a visual, students were allowed total freedom.  Some sculpted, others colored, many cut and glued – almost all projects involved string, and then some like the one we’re about to see, went full-on techie.

First, a little background:  This year I helped host, and attended, the ’17-’18 Super Connected Conference where I learned about a new concept:  programmable paintings.  

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Take a look at what’s behind the scenes:

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TSD students are showing us that this kind of technology is accessible to all of us, not just PhD candidates at MIT.  By participating in a learning community focussed on providing personalized learning opportunities, PES students are free to explore a wide variety of ways to communicate their learning.  What does this PES 3rd grader’s project have in common with the programmable painting idea?  According to Mrs. Nierman:

After exploring the Star Lab, Xylee knew she wanted to study constellations and create her own planetarium.  She took off with it with the help of her family.  They recorded Xylee reading constellation stories and created an electronic board with mp3’s of each story.  Xylee drew 13 constellations with glow in the dark markers and stitched led lights in the constellation shapes with the help of her grandma.  Finally they put it together using black sheets, an umbrella and a lampstand … She took off with this project based learning opportunity.  I am proud of her hard work!

Xylee and her family learned a way of applying the programmable paining idea on their own.  Technology is no longer for the elite, economically or educationally speaking.  Technology is for everyone, everywhere, all the time.  Xylee clearly felt encouraged and supported enough to explore possibilities rather than being confined to random check lists like we used over a decade ago for the Cliff Dwellings unit:
  • Does  your diorama have at least 3 structures?
  • Does it have 6 tools used by Cliff Dwellers?
  • Does it have your name, the date, and your class name?

In fact, I don’t even remember seeing Xylee’s name anywhere on her project.  It didn’t need it.

PES1 Nierman

By Jeannie Sponheim @edtechtsd

EdTech Spotlights: LHS, Student Web Help Desk

As teachers, we are typically very honest with ourselves in recognizing that the students can often understand and utilize any new technology quicker than us.  In fact, many of us ask a particular student in our class each time a piece of tech isn’t working how we expected.  Not only that, these students are often eager to help fix it.  In these cases, it is not that the student is hoping to avoid school work, but genuinely wants to help because he or she has a passion for technology and cares for the teacher and the class’s success.

With this in mind, Loveland High School has begun their own Web Help Desk, but run by students!  For those unfamiliar with Web Help Desk, this online program is used for Thompson staff to request help with technology issues and receive quick responses from our Innovative Technology Services team.  In this course, students with an interest in tech and a desire to help others are working to problem solve issues for LHS staff and students.

As a collaborative effort, Loveland High’s Assistant Principal, Marc Heiser, and ITS’s Client Services Manager, Andy Larkins, started this course as a way to place students with a passion for computer maintenance and service to others in an authentic and empowering environment.  With Thompson School District and Loveland High School’s emphasis on Work Habits, they felt that this course would develop the “soft skills” that are so highly valued in today’s careers, such as interpersonal communication, critical thinking, and general troubleshooting.


In the opening weeks of the course, students were trained on the Web Help Desk system and in technology maintenance operations by ITS technicians in individualized or small group contexts.  They were shown how to identify issues in projectors, printers, staff and lab computers, and other common and vital pieces of hardware in the school.  But the students were also trained on how to communicate with staff members regarding the technical issues and how they can continue to support the staff going forward.

One of our district’s many highly trained and experienced ITS technicians, Don Cochran, expressed his enthusiasm in being involved in the implementation and success of the course.  “Offering students the opportunity to learn tech skills in real world applications has been a goal of mine for about 5 years,” Don explained.  “I have also received some very positive feedback [from the staff]… I was pleasantly surprised by their acceptance.”  Don recently spent time training one of the Web Help Desk students, Brody, on fixing a library printer jam, followed by the replacement of a classroom projector bulb.  Brody stated how much he enjoyed computer maintenance courses in previous years and is excited to be able to put that knowledge to practical use.  Once he finished fixing the printer and projector issues, he quickly jumped back on to the Web Help Desk program and searched for more problems to resolve.


Brody checks Web Help Desk tickets for the next project to fix.

On other occasions, Don and the rest of the technicians have utilized the hardworking students in preparing iPads for a nearby elementary school, resolved issues with Promethean boards, and reestablished network connections on staff and student computers.  In fact, some students are emerging as “go-to techs” with particular issues.

Recognizing that other schools may be interested in integrated a similar course, and knowing that all of our district schools have passionate and tech savvy students like Loveland High School’s, Don provided some advice in getting started.  “Designate a devoted area for the students to use that is not accessible to other students. I would also recommend requiring teacher recommendations… [and design it like] a real life job interview.”  And as they did with this course, ITS is happy to provide off-site training at the Support Services Center to show students the process from a district perspective.

If you are interested in getting the idea started at your school, feel free to contact Marc Heiser at LHS, and Andy Larkins and Don Cochran of Innovative Technology Services.  It’s always exciting to see the fantastic work and ideas that Loveland High School and other Thompson School District students have to offer.

Loveland High School image courtesy of @lhstweets

By Joe Zappa, @edtechtsd

Plickers: An Almost Tech-Free Solution to Quick, Formative Assessment

Looking for a low-tech, easy-to-implement tool with high-yield results?  Give Plickers a try.  No more logins, passwords, and user accounts for each student.  All that’s needed is a teacher account, and printed Plickers cards.   The same set of cards can even be used for multiple classes!
Plickers allows you to collect in-the-moment data for targeted instruction.  Print the cards, post the questions, then scan the room with your phone as students hold up their cards.  It’s really that simple.  Get even the quietest students to participate, and shush those that over-volunteer responses.  Visit www.plickers.com for more details.
By Jeannie Sponheim

EdTech Spotlights: 3rd Grade Teachers at CPES – Feedback Loops Using Google Classroom

The 3rd grade team at Cottonwood Plains Elementary School, Connie Cook, Melody Fisher, and Rachelle Applewhite, have connected the feedback loop concept to resources available in Google Classroom to begin addressing the “how” of this best practice.  Peer feedback, in addition to teachers’, is critical to student learning.  Their first project was class discussions using Questions in Google Classroom.  On a chilly day November they practiced and Rachelle prefaces the image below with: “These responses are from a Judy Moody reading and 3 R’s video about recycling and reducing waste.  Students were to write their response and then go through and comment on three other submissions“.

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Questions in Google Classroom are also a great way to accelerate class discussions.  In Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning, 2016, author James Rickabaugh talks about employing the right levers for personalizing learning.  This 3rd grade team of educators has a clear understanding of his fourth lever, Strategies:  “Well-chosen instructional strategies can help teachers to engage students, nurture their learning, and improve their performance.” (p. 26)  CPES 3rd graders’ engagement is sky-high using Questions, and teachers can chime in instantaneously without talking over students or quieting the room.  Students revise their comments and learning is more than visible; it’s a journey that becomes every learner’s focus.

Teachers are also eager to help students feel safe in asking questions as part of learning.  In January the team began using Assignments to have students turn in artifacts of learning, as well as for adding a “private comment” to teachers.  Private comments in Assignments are what they say:  a chance to ask the teacher a question, away from the eyes and ears of classmates.  Notice the circled link below in a typical Assignment window:

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In February, the team looked at using Google Forms for quizzes.  They routinely teach new tools in a low-stakes way.  Their first quiz was on “What’s Mrs. Cook’s Favorite?” (It’s Diet Coke, by the way) so students feel safe trying new things.  Interested in getting started with Google Classroom in a few easy first steps?  Click on the video below:

It’s exciting to be part of the learning journey with Thompson educators.  With monthly EdTech visits the opportunities to try new things are far greater than in any one-time, one-size-fits-all class.  Feel free to reach out to us at edtech@thompsonschools.org to explore  EdTech support options in your building.

Connie, Melody, and Rachelle began by rotating a Chromebook cart 30 strong.  Now they’re experimenting with splitting the cart so each class has 10 at a time.  They’re leveraging what’s currently available, and getting support along the way.  It’s a privilege to join teachers, at any building, looking to try something new!

By Jeannie Sponheim