Friday, January 13, 2017

ISTE EdTek Hub: 6 Ways to Give Feedback That Helps Students Improve and Succeed

Over the last several months I have been studying in both graduate school and professional development effective feedback to drive student understanding and growth. I took a chance to write an article for ISTE's EdTek Hub, and they have decided to publish it! You can read the article by clicking on the link below:

I'm glad to contribute to a community that I believe in, one that has inspired me in the last few years, and to help other teachers utilize the technology for efficiency and effectiveness to help our students improve and succeed in a timely manner. I would love to hear other ways you may use technology to provide effective feedback to students!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Need For Effective Professional Learning

What most teachers want to do in their career is do well for their students; they want to help their students grow in their learning and skill so that they become better people, and have something to offer this world. There's no doubt that education is changing: new initiatives, new learning philosophies, and new technology have infiltrated the classroom. 
  • We need hands-on, purposeful guidance that gives them opportunities to learn alongside of their students. 
  • We need "conditions that foster growth, not finding quick-fix professional development solutions" (TNTP, 2015, p. 3). 
  • We need someone in the trenches with us.
  • We need support.
The need for effective Professional Learning is evident in Alison Gullamhussein's research. As she puts it, "Professional development in an era of accountability requires a change in a teacher’s practice that leads to increases in student learning" (2013, p. 6). 

While these changes are needed across all subjects and grade levels, I decided to use this as an opportunity to be effective in my subject area of science. 

My Big Hairy Audacious Goal is the following:
The goal is for teachers to acquire the skills necessary to guide their students through scientific inquiry that is appropriate for their grade, and aligns the inquiry command terms amongst K-12 (January PL day goal)

In addition, the goal is for this January PL day to be a launching point for the science department to begin developing a collaborative and supportive team that fosters a growth mindset and puts in action the 5 principles of effective professional learning:
  • Using time to learn a new strategy and wrestle with implementation
  • Gets support during implementation
  • Actively learns together
  • Models new strategies
  • Practices new strategies through the scientific discipline (Gulamhussein).

Time: PL session in January for K-12 science committee, with the hopes for ongoing support throughout the spring semester.

The following presentation will guide us through modeling inquiry, active learning through experimentation that is specific to our subject and grade level.

Collaboration: Throughout the January PL session, teachers will be in an active learning environment of science experimentation with collaboration amongst grade levels and as a department. Spring collaboration will be fostered through accountability partnerships of ongoing support as inquiry implementation happens.

Lead: I will primarily lead the January PL session with the support of the science department head, but much of the session will be self-led during the experimentation process. Department head and principals will play an active role in spring semester implementation and growth.

Audience and their needs: Teachers on the committee are K-12, so needs at each grade level will vary. Inquiry will be aligned according to each grade level, and gaps in our curriculum and vocabulary will be identified for ongoing support needed in the spring. Teachers will have the opportunity at the January PL session to set a SMART goal for inquiry and feedback implementation in the spring semester as well.

A specific detailed outline for this session and future plans can be seen here.
The Understanding by Design backwards plan can be found here.
A Three Column Table that aligns outcomes, assessments, and activities can be found here.
Resources needed for the January PL session can be found here.

My hope is that by modeling best practices for PL, and listening to the needs of the department, teachers find the support and growth that we all desire.

If you are interested in viewing my Tackk board where these resources are summed up, visit that here.

Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the Teachers Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability. Center for Public Education. Retrieved from

Ottawa Catholic School Board Leading and learning for innovation: A Framework for District-Wide Change

TNTP. (2015). The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development. Retrieved from

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Developing Professional Learning in Science

I have been given the opportunity to help design a professional learning day in January for the science. I thought that my current course for graduate school would be a great time to apply what I am learning about effective professional learning. I hope that the day in January can be a starting point for ongoing support and time for teachers to implement new strategies into the spring semester, in an effort to model what effective professional learning can look like.

I tried to design the learning day and future plans around the 5 principles of effective professional learning, as presented by Allison Gulamhussein:

  • Professional learning should be significant and ongoing, allowing for time to learn new strategies and wrestle with implementation.
  • Ongoing support during implementation.
  • Initial exposure that is active and engages teachers to make sense of new practice
  • Modeling to help teachers understand a new practice
  • Specific to the discipline and grade-level
The rough drafts of my plans are linked below and feedback would be appreciated!

Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the Teachers Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability. Center for Public Education. Retrieved from

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Support for Teachers in Professional Learning

The dreaded words..."professional development." Yeah, I said them. You would think that many teachers would love the day away from the classroom, but many teachers fear those words and often don't want to partake in a day of being "developed."

As a teacher with less than ten years under my belt, I am grateful for the learning I have received. Not all "PD" I've been involved in is me, some of them have been BAD (the kind that makes you want to crawl in a hole because you've sat in the seat all day long and have done NOTHING). When I think of professional development, I think of the type of learning that has stuck with me: hands-on training with science experiments and technology, my Apple Institute training, and technology conferences. These were amazing opportunities where I wasn't "developed," but I actively learned through collaboration and discovery. It was learning that was authentic and meaningful to me.

As I look around in education, the motivation of teachers to learn has been masked by initiatives that pull in many directions, sit and get passive workshops that lead to little or no growth, a lack of ongoing support during implementation, and minimal inspiration and guidance to be creative and think outside of the box. The needs of the teacher have been ignored because the teacher's voice has been forgotten.

There's the potential for schools to literally be the best place for teachers to teach and students to learn-I truly believe this. But for this to take root and blossom, I also believe that the culture of the school has to change. I developed a Google Slides presentation (seen below) that challenges the need to change by considering 5 effective principles for professional learning from Allison Gullamhussein as well as the first thing that should be considered: the teachers' voice. We're fooling ourselves if we believe that one-size fits all development is what is needed. Every school has the ability to provide professional learning that teachers crave and thrive from, but it must start with a desire to cultivate an atmosphere that is filled with authentic and ongoing support based upon the needs of the teachers and students.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Instructional Design in a High School Biology Blended Class

The purpose of instructional design is to create “an environment for learning by structure content and creating activities that engage students and facilitate meaningful learning” (Morrison, 2013). Designing online, blended, or hybrid learning environments that harness technology have been a challenge for teachers that are used to traditional teaching methods. As technology become a very prevalent tool in schools, the role of technology campus facilitators is key in the support that teachers need to grow as designers. Supporting the process of learning must be valued, over the process of teaching, in the design of these types of courses.
In designing hybrid learning environments (such as a 1:1 iPad learning environment), a variety of learning theories should be considered. The objectivist approach to learning is one learning theory that is helpful in developing blended courses. This type of learning is “guided by purpose” and has very clear expectations (Dabbagh, 2014). In designing a course that is objectivist, a teacher must very specific when choosing what is important for learning, be methodical in the sequence of learning, and understand precisely how learners will be assessed (Bates, 2015, p. 46). A cognitivist approach to the design of an online or blended course must also be considered. It is in the best interest of the learners to be active participants, which allows them to move information into memory in a meaningful way. By actively participating through an online course (through methodically designed activities), the learner can process information and communicate what they are learning in an efficient manner (Dabbagh, 2014). A constructivist approach to teaching and learning can allow for learners to develop “personal meaning through reflection, analysis and the gradual building of layers or depths of knowledge through conscious and ongoing mental processing” (Bates, 2015, p. 184). Teachers can be facilitators of learning within an online or blended learning environment, rather than the keepers and deliverers of knowledge.
In the development of my course called “The Cell,” for my grade 11 AP/DP Biology class, these approaches were considered, but in the end the objectivist approach was a key player because understanding by design (or backwards planning) was considered as I created learning opportunities for my students.
Using Understanding by Design, or backwards planning, allows for objectivist planning to be successful. In starting with the end in mind, clear goals for the course are established and the learning opportunities created for students can be meaningful and specific to the end goals. In building out my digital course called “The Cell,” for my 11th grade DP/AP Biology students, I have considered what their end summative assessment would be, including the experiment they would complete within the unit. By using my previous backwards design plan, seen here, it was easy to scaffold and prepare activities that would set them up for mastery and success in their end of the unit summative and experiment. For example, for students to complete their lab, which was a study of osmosis, it was important for them to understand the concepts of osmosis. This was scaffolded through reading activities, videos and animations, in class discussion/review, and a formative assessment activity that allowed for students to show their understanding of cell transport by creating their own video. These activities, contained on iTunes U, provided the alignment to the experiment that was completed in class and analyzed. In using technology within a blended learning environment, methodical planning should be considered. Often students need guidance when they are in a technology setting;it is not safe to assume they know what they are doing just because they use technology on a daily basis. Methodical planning must be considered with specific instructions so students stay on task and do not get caught up in the technology.
As appropriately addressed by Bates in his book called Teaching in a Digital Age, “Using technology or moving part or all of your course online opens up a range of possibilities for teaching that may not be possible in the confines of a scheduled three credit weekly semester of lectures. It may mean not doing everything online, but focusing the campus experience on what can only be done on campus” (Bates, 2015, p. 1308). Providing a blended environment for students gives them opportunities to learn in a variety of ways that are not possible without technology. It provides multiple modes of learning styles and increases the exposure students have to content. Online learning gives them opportunities to learn synchronously and asynchronously and even gives them a means to authentic learning experiences. As students are provided authentic tasks to complete, which can be achieved using technology more efficiently, the learning is more effective for the student. (ChangeSchool, 2011). Preparing students to be problem solvers and knowledge managers are important skills they will need as they graduate and enter into the workforce. As teachers learn how to utilize online learning appropriately and effectively, innovative outcomes can be achieved (Project tomorrow, 2015, p. 12).

One of the most important understandings that has impacted my skill in developing blended courses is the power of backwards planning to lessen cognitive overload for students. According to an article by Guyan, working memory can be overloaded with information, which can inhibit the transfer of information to long-term memory. If cognitive overload can be minimized, then there is more success for information to become a part of long-term memory (Guyan, 2013).

To reduce cognitive overload in blended courses (or online courses), backwards planning provides focus on the objectives and goals of the course as the instructional designer methodically plans the use of technology, develops activities, and guides students. Guidelines to minimize cognitive overload are as follows (Guyan, 2013):
  • Present some information via the visual channel and verbal channel
  • Break content into smaller segments and allow the learner to control the pace
  • Remove non-essential content
  • Words should be placed as close as possible to corresponding graphics
  • Don’t narrate on-screen text word-for-word
I have developed an iTunes U online course (which I used in a face-to-face classroom) for four years. Cognitive overload is something that I have to put at the front of my steps so that I can ensure my blended courses help my students learn at the depth and complexity they need to learn at. There are so many good resources for biology classes (animations, videos, articles, activities), but I need to think about the quality of learning in the activities they are doing, not the quantity of activities they do. By methodically designing backwards with objectives in mind, this can be achieved.


Bates, T. (2015). Teaching in a digital age (Doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia).
ChangSchool (2011, January 26). Perspectives: teacher skills in a digital age. Retrieved from
Dabbagh, N. (2006). The instructional design knowledge base. Retrieved from
Morrison, D. (2013 May 7). Why online courses really need an instructional design strategy. Retrieved from design-strategy/
Project Tomorrow (2015). Trends in digital learning: empowering innovative classroom models for learning. Retrieved from
Guyan, M. (2013, November 1). 5 Ways to reduce cognitive load in elearning. Retrieved from

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Look Into My Cell Course

So I've finished creating my iTunes U Unit for The Cell for my DP/AP Biology students. Here's a glimpse if you have not seen an iTunes U course below:

This is a sample of what a post looks like, with instructions

This is a sample of what an assignment looks like with attached materials.

Since my students have been in a 1:1 iPad environment and have had me as a teacher in the past, most of them only needed a refresher on how to use iTunes U. Now, they are very self-sufficient and know how my course works. I utilize the posts above to provide instructions and almost all documents they will need. I also include extra pieces for those that need further study. This also allows for me to "house" these documents somewhere and I can access them to provide extra tutoring to students. Because my course is public, I use Google Classroom as my dropbox and to have online discussion (if you use a private course, you can set up dropboxes for your class and private class discussions-pretty neat!

It's been great making this unit along with learning about online courses in my graduate course!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

iTunes U is amazing!

Instructional design can be made easy using iTunes U. iTunes U helps me to divide the learning experiences into different topics and then into assignments. Reading assignments happen at home, and other assignments attached within each post. For example, in the course I am developing now, 1.3 is the topic of the cell membrane. 3 assignments are attached to this post (a reading post, analysis task, and review materials for extra help). The post itself provides detailed instructions for the assignments when necessary. Students can often keep up if they are not in class by looking at my calendar and utilizing iTunes U before they come back from being sick. I've changed a few things to this unit overview, but in general, this is it. My students are in the middle of this unit as we speak.

  • 1.1 and 1.2 Cells:
    • Cell Survivor-1.2 Ultrastructure of Cells: HudsonAlpha App, and e-book Section 1.2 to help review cell organelles.
    • During cell survivor activity in class, Google Slides link or Canva app to create presentations. Google Classroom dropbox.
  • 1.1 Intro to Cells Review
    • The Low Down on Cells Handout and Why are Cells So Small Handout to accompany review stations in class (station instructions provided in class).
    • These review stations are to review how to measure micrographs, analyze the cell theory, explore examples of cells, and understand why cells are so small in regards to surface area to volume ratio.
  • 1.5 Origin of Cells
    • E-book reading assignment and notes
    • Videos “How Did Life Begin?” to watch after e-book reading
    • Notes provided as resource and review in class together
    • Online discussion on Google Classroom on reductionist vs systems approach of studying science. Replies encouraged and discussion face-to-face
  • 1.3 Cell Membrane
    • E-book Reading with notes
    • Video to learn how to draw and label a cell membrane and students to make their own.  
    • Instructions to make a video to analyze the falsification of the Davson-Danielli model that led to the Singer-Nicolson model, rubric for grading provided for formative assessment (app choices also provided)
  • 1.4 Cell Transport
    • 1.4 e-book reading and notes
    • Cell Transport animation to enforce reading
    • Teacher notes on topic provided as a resource
    • Video creation (app choices provided) of an assigned cell transport mechanism to teach the class. Rubric also provided for formative assessment- in class and out of class
    • Data Based question in class as discussion for informal formative assessment
    • Practice Problems on Osmosis-in class and out of class
    • Identifying parts of an osmosis experiment as a formative in class to practice lab skills.
    • Osmosis Experiment (in class from Wards AP Biology Kit) and lab report with provided rubric as summative assessment-in class and out of class
    • Explore cells under a microscope to review cell organelles (1.2 review) as Osmosis experiment runs.
  • Formative Assessment quiz over Topic 1.1, 1.2, 1.5 (in class)
  • Formative Assessment quiz over Topic 1.3, 1.4 (in class)
  • Bell Work, kahoots, and discussions, and drawings will happen in class as informal formative assessment.
  • Unit Test over 1.1-1.5 in class. Multiple Choice and Free Response to practice the formatting of the DP and AP Biology exams.