LearnBop Community Blog

21st Century Skills are Changing, and So Should Our Focus: 5 New 21st Century Skills for the Flipped Classroom

Posted by Amy Arbogash - Guest Author

Sep 1, 2015 4:08:00 PM


Human knowledge is doubling every 13 months.

This rate, according to an article written two years ago, is projected to change soon to every 12 hours. Scary, isn’t it?
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Topics: Resources, Teaching & Learning, Connected Educators, Educational Technologies

How to Turn a Troubled District into One of the Top in the State: A Profile of Harrington Park, NJ and Superintendent Adam Fried

Posted by Zacc Dukowitz

Aug 20, 2015 6:31:00 AM

Recently we sat down with Adam Fried, Superintendent of the Harrington Park District in New Jersey, to pick his brain about the challenges he’s faced and how he’s overcome them in his 9 years at Harrington Park. Fried walked us through the situation he walked into when he first began, talked about his early strategies for creating district-wide change, and gave us some very actionable advice for superintendents facing similar challenges.

→ Scroll down if you're looking for 4 Steps to Reduce Expenses, and 4 Key Ideas for Success.

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Topics: Resources, Teaching & Learning, Webinars, State News, Leadership, Connected Educators

Need funding for blended learning? How I raised more than $2,000 to get my students iPads.

Posted by Lauren Michetti - Guest Author

Aug 19, 2015 8:01:00 AM

My story with iPads begins two years ago, when my class and I won a regional contest sponsored by the Philadelphia Zoo, called the Unless Contest. The contest was all about spreading the word about recycling, global warming, energy efficiency, etc. We worked really hard and were super excited to be the grand prize winners. The reward was $2,500. I used that money to purchase four iPads for the classroom, which have been a huge blessing! 

Note: Scroll down if you're looking for actionable advice on raising funds for technology in the classroom.

I work with kindergarden students at an inner-city school in Chester, Pennsylvania. A lot of my students come from households that are struggling financially and as a result, they aren't always exposed to technology. I think the lack of exposure is a huge disservice to my students because technology is an ever-increasing part of our lives and without it, vital lessons and teaching opportunities may be missed.

Technology, and all of it's advancements, are extremely important and ALL students should have access so they have an opportunity to be successful in the world of 21st Century Learning, and the 21st century job market they’ll face down the road!

When the four iPads arrived, I researched all of the best educational apps out there and loaded them onto the iPads. Then I interacted with all of the apps to ensure they were academically stimulating and appropriate.

After weeks of prep, I brought them in and unveiled them to my students. When I introduced them to the class, their reactions were priceless (think of audience members of Oprah's Favorite Things!) I knew they were going to be excited but I couldn't believe how excited they actually were. Their abundant enthusiasm far exceeded the reaction I was expecting.

How we incorporated iPads into the classroom

At that moment, I knew I’d made the right decision to use the reward money for technology in our classroom. Together, we created an anchor chart to set the expectations for how we were going to use the iPads. My students know when they are using the iPads during work station time that they must be using educational apps only (though I did load other fun apps on as rewards or for dismissal time and indoor recess). Other uses for our iPads are for small group research and activities like guided reading, Math (simple problem solving), Social Studies, and Science.

We are fortunate to have a Smartboard in our classroom as well as access to a laptop cart. Over the past year, I really put a lot of emphasis on using the laptops for research. We choose a topic that we’re focusing on in the classroom, decide what else we want to learn about it, and then do the research.

I teach my students to use Google as a resource to look up information and find out more about things they are interested in or have questions about. So when learning something new and a question arises, I ask them, "How can we find out more?" and they excitedly reply, "Google!!!"

They’ve learned how to bring up the Internet, type in Google, type in the topic and then search for images, videos, etc. We do this interactively as a group with me modeling the steps on the Smartboard and them either working as partners or individually at their table spots. This is an excellent way to introduce new topics, new vocabulary, etc.

How Tornadoes Helped Connect Our Classroom to the Real World

We’ve used our iPads and Smartboard to learn about the weather and different types of storms, etc. I gave the students a recording sheet and prompted them to use Google to research the various types of storms, with one being tornados. They recorded the word on their sheets, watched videos, looked at images, and then drew an illustration to go along with their findings. I differentiated this assignment by having my more advanced students write a sentence or so about what they learned. Afterwards, they shared their work with a partner, showing their illustrations and telling each other what they learned.

And then, over the summer, we actually had a tornado and lost power for a few days! I was with three of my former students (they are siblings) and we were talking about the tornado. The older sibling said she didn't know what a tornado was at first and her younger sister, who was in my classroom this year said, "I know, because we learned about it in Science, right Miss Michetti? Do you remember?" I was so excited that she related that event to our lesson, and was excited to share it with her siblings! 

I could have just read a book on tornadoes and stopped there but having access to the laptops gave the students an opportunity to research the subject and really look deeper into what a tornado actually is. Being able to interact with the curriculum in such a way really helps students get enthusiastic about what they're learning. That student took more away from that lesson than she would have without technology, and that excites me!

How Technology Has Helped with Behavior Issues—A Model for Success

Additionally, I have students with behavior disorders that, at times, have difficulty following directions or being a part of class discussions. I offer them a chance to earn "tech time" by receiving stamps for their good choices and hard work. Once they fill up a designated amount of boxes, they earn iPad time. This is really a strong motivator for students. Especially if they don't have access to technology at home, because the "tech time" that they earn may be the only opportunity they have to use technology that day.

How I Used Donors Choose to Buy More iPads

After seeing what a difference the iPads have made in our classroom, I thought it would be really beneficial to have access to more technology all day, every day and not just when the laptop cart is available (typically once a week, twice if you're lucky). I had used Donors Choose at the beginning of the past school year for a circle time carpet but hadn't used it since.

I looked into creating a technology project and decided to dream big and request 6 iPads. My hope was that these 6 plus the 4 that I already have would bring me closer to having enough for everyone to share one iPad with one partner. As a $2,900 project, this was a big dream, but with the help of my family, friends, colleagues, strangers and parents of students, I was able to raise a lot of money. 

The project was stuck, with a remaining balance of $747 for a while, and it was looking like it might not get funded. I reached out to the giving page, Kindergarten Rocks, and asked if they could help. With the support of all of the amazing people at Kindergarten Rocks, we were able to get the project fully funded! I am so grateful to that community, Donors Choose and everyone else that chipped in to make this project happen. I couldn't have done it without them and it is thanks to them that my students will now have access to more technology in the classroom...every day! 

If teachers out there want to gain more technology for their classrooms I strongly encourage them to use Donors Choose as a means of doing so. They are such an amazing organization and I am so grateful for everything they have done for teachers across the country!

Some Advice for Fundraising

Donors Choose gives students a chance to have more resources in their classroom, that they may not have access to otherwise and it is thanks to the generosity of others that this is all possible.

My advice in creating these projects is to keep the cost down. It did get tricky at the end to fund my entire project. Maybe start with 1-3 iPads. Keeping the cost down will make the project more likely to fund. Also, make sure to advertise your project as much as possible through email and social media.

You can't create a project and hope that a nice stranger will find it and fund it. While this does happen, you need to be an advocate for your students and your classroom and spread the word to get the funding you need. Also, while it may be cheaper to go for older models of whatever technology you are looking at, remember that technology is constantly changing and advancing and while you may save money by ordering an older model, it may become difficult to keep up with the apps and software updates as things advance.

How I Will Be Using My iPads This Year


Last year during our Reading curriculum we read about ponds and lakes, so we used our devices to research the difference between the two. Everyone recorded the words and illustrated the bodies of water. Students wrote down a difference between the two and shared with a partner. Having ten iPads in our classroom will give students the opportunity to do this much more frequently. Once they've learned how to Google on their own, they will be have opportunities to independently research topics of interest. (This research will of course, be monitored. J)

Spelling City

Sight words are extremely important for students learning how to read. Students are introduced to anywhere from 2 - 8 sight words a week. Spelling City is free for teachers to join and allows you to make as many Spelling Lists as you want, and then creates games based on those words. When students are struggling with their sight words, I create wordlists catered to their needs and set them up to practice those words using the app. This gives students individualized practice to help them reach mastery. Students love using this app because we use it on the Smartboard as well and they are excited when they have the opportunity to work on it themselves.

→ The Daily Five

This is a classroom management system used to help students develop lifelong habits of reading, writing and working independently. During the Daily 5 students are required to "read to self, read to someone and listen to reading." I plan to download apps like Storia and Epic for students to use during this critical literacy block.

→ Presentations/Videos

There are a ton of apps out there like iMovie where students can be videoed or video each other and then create movies. I was never able to do this on the old iPads because they were too full. I will not load the new iPads with all of the apps, because I want the sole purpose of these iPads to be for the four things outlined here. That will free up lots of space for us to create movies. I also want to look into websites like Prezi for students to create their own presentations of the things we are working on in the classroom.

Technology will continue to be a part of this generation of students' lives. For that reason, it is extremely important to get started in Kindergarten so they are prepared for all they will encounter in their educational careers and as productive members of society. I can't wait to get these new iPads into the hands of my students and see a whole new world of possibilities open right before their eyes.

I hope you found this post helpful. I’d love to hear about ways that you've raised money for technology, and how you use it—please let me know in the comments below!

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Topics: Resources, Teaching & Learning, Connected Educators, Educational Technologies

A Texas Math Teacher's Goals for This School Year: Standards Based Grading, Twitter, and the STAAR

Posted by Ashley Taplin - Guest Author

Aug 14, 2015 9:01:00 AM

 As a teacher, change is a constant I am becoming quite used to.

From our textbooks, state standards, state testing, technology, and accountability criteria here in Texas constantly being altered to the evolving ways our students are learning and communicating, we as teachers are continually forced to reevaluate our teaching practices along with these changes.

For me, I am especially feeling the change this year as I embark on teaching a new prep of Algebra I, which just happens to have a newly adopted textbook, new state standards (TEKS), and a new calculator. I have been lucky enough to teach the same preps (Algbera II and Geometry) for the past six years, so perhaps it is time for a change.

Nervous at first, I am now embracing this change as a way for me to capitalize on all the resources available to me. I am not saying I didn’t branch out and try new things in my years before, because I certainly created new projects and lessons throughout my career, but I think this year will help continue to push my thinking as an educator. I have done a lot to prepare for next year, and although we all know as teachers that we will never be 100% prepared for all of teaching’s unexpected situations, there are several things I am excited to share that I have learned, created, and planned.


1. Grading implementations

To prepare for this next year, my first focus was on grading implementations. Towards the end of last year, I reevaluated my gradebook and realized that so many overall grades were inflated by homework and classwork completion.

Moreover, looking at my gradebook and seeing a student’s homework average gave little to no indication of what they really understood within a unit.

I was struggling to find a good solution as I wrestled with what was best for students, and, at just the right time, I got the opportunity to hear Rick Wormeli speak about standards based grading.

What is Standards Based Grading (SBG)?
This system of grading is done by breaking down topics into specific skill sets that a student should be able to demonstrate mastery on.

Typically, skills are based on state or national standards and for clarity, the teacher may synthsesize standards into a student friendly language (Dan Meyer). For example, instead of titling a quiz “Solving Linear Equations” and assessing a student on 10-15 various standards from this broad topic, a teacher would break this down to a small 2-3 question SBG quiz and assess one skill under this topic such as solving linear equations with variables on both sides of the equation.

Therefore, instead of giving an overall grade for an entire unit of study, the teacher (and the student) can pinpoint exactly what a student has mastered and what he/she needs to continue working on to gain proficiency within the unit. Consequently, because students process and learn at different paces, he/she is given multiple opportunities to show mastery.

This last concept is sometimes difficult to buy into because we don’t want students to take advantage of the system in negative way. However, I think if we are open and forthcoming about the reasons why we are allowing multiple representations, we can help students take ownership of their learning.

I had already bought into his idea that students work at different paces and we should be giving students multiple opportunities to show mastery on topics. I was inspired by his affirmation of this, but unfortunately because I only got one afternoon with him, I was left with many more questions on how to implement these ideas. 

So I continued to read his research, and spiraled into more and more thoughts from Dan Meyer, Daniel Schneider, Educational Leadership, Matt Townsley, Sarah Hagan, and Julie Reulbach. I would encourage anyone who is interested in SBG practices to spend some time diving into the work these educators have done.

I think the idea of SBG is going to be so helpful in not only giving me an accurate representation of what content my students know and what they don’t know yet, but also giving students the power to understand the diversity of mathematical topics balanced with the connectivity of each standard. By that, I mean that each standards based check will divide Algebra I into identifiable skills enabling me (and students) a check for their understanding, but also incorporating authentic projects and larger summative tests will help students connect each skill to another.

After all my research, I have come up with three main things I will do in my classroom this year for SBG implementation.

  1. SBG checks formatted on a template (see post here).
  2. Grade SBG checks out of a 4 point scale and allow students to retake any SBG check below a 3.5 (see post here).
  3. Keep a record of but not grade homework (see posts here and here).  


2. Twitter resources

Stemming from my SBG research, I have found Twitter to be an incredibly helpful tool as I prepare for next year. Honestly, I was a bit scared and labeled myself as an anti-Twitter-user because I didn’t want to be sucked into yet another time consuming social media product.

However, the educational resources that can be found through Twitter have become a saving grace for the times I think of an idea, but am not sure of what direction to go in.

I have found that there is always someone who has a similar
idea you can connect with and build upon ideas together. 

There are also so many resources I never knew of such as LearnBop, which again, was connected to me by Twitter. This year, I plan to use Twitter by doing the following:

  1.  Join in on as many math chats as I can using specific hashtags (so far, #alg1chat and #geomchat).
  2. Explore and continue to post to the MathTwitterBlogosphere (#MTBoS…if you are not familiar with this, I encourage you to explore it).


3. Communicating goals

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I plan to begin the year by telling my students about a goal I have for them in which I believe 100% of my students can pass our state test, STAAR. As explained in the hyperlinked post, this may sound a bit lofty, but it would be unfair and unjust for me to exclude any student from such a success.

I plan to tell them this goal on the first day of school because I think there is something powerful in them knowing I believe in every one of them without any reservations, without any preconceived ideas of who they are or how they performed in previous math classes, and that it is my hope that we all strive for an expectation of success together. In explaining the goal to them, I want them to understand that test scores do not define them as learners, but rather it is a combination of their effort, resilience, and grit throughout the year that will help them reach success on the designated state test.

Although this year brings about a lot of change, I look forward to what lies ahead for me and my students. I am excited to collaborate with colleagues I know and colleagues I do not even know yet. I am eager to meet my new students, full of anticipation for their new experiences in high school, and will embrace change as it yet again becomes the constant in the school year.

I hope you found this post helpful. I’d love to hear about your goals for the new school year—please let me know in the comments below!

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Topics: Resources, Teaching & Learning, Connected Educators, Educational Technologies

Blended learning in the Derry Cooperative School District: Providing Close Support for Every Single Student

Posted by Zacc Dukowitz

Aug 12, 2015 8:30:00 AM


Recently we heard about an impressive blended learning model being implemented in the Derry Cooperative School District in Derry, New Hampshire, and we reached out to the district’s superintendent, Dr. Laura Nelson, to learn more.

Laura connected us with Stephanie Burke, an 8th grade science teacher who just won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Stephanie in turn connected us with Holly Whitney, who taught 6-8th grade computers and will be teaching 7th grade math for the first time this year, and who was the original catalyst for the shift to using technology in the classroom.

The result of these conversations is this in-depth article about blended learning, which we think will be useful both for those considering flipping their classroom, and for those who have already gotten started.

If you’d like concrete, actionable tips on how to start your own blended learning program, please scroll to the “8 Tips for Flipping Your Classroom” at the bottom of this article.

Funding technology in Derry.

One challenge districts face in trying to implement blended learning programs are the potentially complicated logistics involved in first identifying, and then funding, the devices needed. How do you know you picked the right hardware until you try it out? And how do you know which software is a good fit for your teachers and students?

Superintendent Nelson explained that Derry educators are fortunate to be supported by a local foundation called the 21st-Century Learning Community Foundation, which provides grants for seed money to teachers to help them integrate technology into schools in new ways. Once teachers have thoroughly vetted the technology supported by the grants through pilots, the district can make a decision about whether to commit financially to the resource, essentially allowing for a “try-before-you” buy model for adopting education technology.

The foundation provides two different types of grants to teachers in Derry. There’s the “Game changer”, which provides up to $25,000 for up to 2 school years, and then there are mini-grants, which provide up to $5,000 for technology.

Superintendent Nelson mentioned that, in addition to the blended learning program that is the focus of this article, another example of a recent use of these 21st Century Grants was for iPads and apps that school counselors are using to help students reduce anxiety (which we thought was so neat we wanted to mention it here!).

Blended learning in Derry—How it began.

Teachers can apply as a group to receive a larger “Game Changer” grant, which was the route Holly Whitney (8
th grade computer science and math), Stephanie Burke (8th grade science), and Angela Barber (6th grade science) took when they set out to create their new blended learning program.

Through the 21st Century Grant, the three teachers bought two class sets of Chromebooks; a Macbook Pro for Stephanie; a Wacom tablet you can write on; a microphone; and a camera. However, Stephanie says that now that she has a few years of experience teaching in a flipped classroom, she thinks it could be done without the Chromebooks.

Holly says that, “One of the biggest challenges in teaching middle school is answering the question ‘How do you get homework done?’” Thinking through creative solutions to this challenge was the jumping off point for the creation of the blended learning program, and the starting point for the three teachers when they were creating their grant proposal. To Holly, who teaches and has a background in computer science, a potential solution seemed obvious: Teachers needed to flip the classroom.

As you may know, flipping the classroom means having students do homework in class, and do classwork at home. With this approach, students would be viewing lectures on their own—work that doesn’t necessarily require collaboration or one-on-one support—and then would do more focused work on their own or in groups in class.

Stephanie says that, with her 8th grade science students, this was not an overnight transition. But the end result is that now, two years later, “There is no ‘front of my room, no teacher desk’—if you need me, I’m sitting in with the kids. I see my role now as much more of a coach or mentor,” as opposed to the traditional idea of a teacher standing at the front of the room, talking while students listen and take notes. 

The key to getting started was videos.
The videos provide the instructional foundation, where key concepts or ideas are introduced, and then class time provides a space where students can apply those concepts—can get their hands dirty, and really apply their minds.

Stephanie says that, though she committed to a fully flipped model out of the gate, she didn’t realize how quickly and radically this would change her classroom. “Initially,” she says, “I thought it would be just a nice tool—I didn’t anticipate it would change everything. My classroom is 180 degrees different now from what it was before.”

Every year things have grown organically and naturally with how her students use technology. One evolution has been the growth of Project Based Learning (PBL), where students who are more independent are given a question, such as “Should we invest more money in research in space?” or “Pick 3 places on Earth and say why you think they’re the safest”, and then allowed to dive in.

Inevitably these questions will lead to scientific study, which can then be addressed through the use of videos and other resources, which are now sought out by students in an applied context instead of studied because they are on a list of required concepts. This approach makes the material covered—and the learning that results—much more meaningful for students.

For the teachers I spoke with, they weren’t necessarily excited about a specific technology—though of course everyone has their favorites—but more about the impact using this approach has had on their students. The goal, as everyone I spoke to at Derry emphasized, has always been to provide more close support for every single student, and technology is simply a tool to help teachers achieve this goal.


Different models.

The first year, Angela decided to assign videos for homework and continue to teach in a more traditional lecture style; Stephanie went “fully flipped”, assigning videos for homework and doing homework-type activities in class; and Holly, who will be teaching math for the first time this year, says that she plans to get her feet wet with a traditional approach, and then slowly incorporate technology as she grows more comfortable with the new material she’ll be teaching.

The goal is to provide more support for the individual student. The teachers emphasized there is no perfect model when it comes to blended learning—each teacher needs to find the path for incorporating technology into the classroom that works best for him or her.


How does it work?

Stephanie has a fully flipped classroom, where students watch videos for homework, and then use class time to work on targeted skill sets. On a typical day students will arrive, check out the Task Chart, and see what they each have on deck for the day. Some kids may have a quiz, others may be in a group where they’ll be studying a certain scientific concept, and others may elect to go back and study a concept they didn’t quite get the first time around.

At the beginning of class, and also if she’s hearing a lot of students asking the same question about a topic, Stephanie will ask everyone to pause for a moment while she takes a few minutes to explain something—she calls this her “sage on a stage” time—but then students will return to doing more personalized work. This asynchronous model, where every student is working on something different and there is no central activity the entire class is doing together, means that each student works on the material he or she needs to cover in order to move forward with their own personal learning. 

But—and just as importantly—it means that students are taking ownership of their learning. Instead of continuing from one step to the next in the curriculum, students have the responsibility to be honest with themselves if they didn’t understand something and need to work on it more—or to push forward if they’ve mastered something. This means students are learning science and learning how to make informed decisions about their own needs. What a powerful way to learn!


Here are 8 tips to help you flip your classroom: 

1. Use videos. Whether you make them or find them from other sources, everyone I spoke with said that videos are foundational to how they’ve flipped the classroom. 

Tips on making videos:

→Though it had been recommended, teachers found they didn’t need a separate video input camera to film them and could just use the camera and microphone on their laptop (a Macbook) .

→The most important thing to have is decent video-editing software. Camtasia is a good one, and only costs $100. Zaption is also a great, free tool to help you create high quality videos.

→Stephanie recommends one minute per grade level, and that in general the shorter the video the better. Her videos for her 8th grade science students are 5-6 minutes. Be succinct, and introduce one theory or concept at a time.

→Recommended channels for high quality videos:

2. Ask students for feedback.
Be honest with them. Say, “I’m trying something new, and I could really use your feedback”—since you’re asking kids to be more empowered and make academic risks, they enjoy it when you do are honest about the risks you’re taking with the blended adventure.

3. Don’t forget to include maintenance costs in your tech budget.
It can be easy to overlook the costs needed to upkeep and replace broken hardware. Make sure to build this into your edtech/blended budget, especially if you are applying for a grant, because school funds can’t be counted on to help.

4. Know what you want.
When using tech, make sure you have a firm idea of what you want to do. Really have a good sense of what hardware you want to use (and even software, too), and what you want to use it to do, before you buy it.

5. Google Classroom has a whole suite of tools that can help.
The tools work nicely together, and can be really helpful for bringing technology seamlessly into the room.

6. Funding doesn’t have to be an obstacle.
Stephanie emphasized that a blended model could be done without having a device for every student while they’re in the classroom. Almost all students have some kind of device at home for viewing videos at home—if you can start with covering key concepts by having students view videos at home, then use class time to work on more personalized material, you’re already on your way to having a successful flipped classroom.

For students who didn’t have a device at home for streaming, she burned them DVDs which they could watch.
 For videos, you can make your own videos on a laptop and post them to YouTube, or use videos from one of the sites listed above.

7. Use Twitter to create or join an existing Professional Learning Community (PLC). The Flipped Class chat, which Stephanie is part of, happens every Monday nights at 8 EST—join in with the hashtag #flipclass.

8. Need funding?
Check out this list of grants and crowdfunding sites we created, and keep in mind that ESEA Title I, II, III, IDEA, and other formula grants can be used to fund the transition to digital learning. Also, check out this
letter from the federal Office of Education Technology about how to use federal funds to pay for technology.

Write a comment! What do you do to implement blended learning in your class? 

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Topics: Resources, Teaching & Learning, Collaboration, Connected Educators, Educational Technologies

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