Coding as a Formative Assessment Tool

A handful of third graders have spent their lunch time on Fridays in the Open Mind Zone learning about some basic coding. Interest in the group derived from the introduction to a Sphero one day during lunch.  When realizing the device was not something to just maneuver like a remote control, curiosity peaked. We designated 4 Fridays for 6 students to have the chance to explore programming with kid friendly apps and devices.

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We began unplugged by taking a look at what the different lines or blocks of code looked like and what it meant to program something and watch it “run.” By starting with physically moving pieces of paper into place and coding each other, the foundational idea of coding was developed. We then moved onto digital devices.

img_3756Tickle and Tynker are two kid (and adult) friendly apps for learning and testing fundamental codes. With both of these apps, the lines of code appear similar, making operating between the two quite seamless. Students used Tickle to program the Sphero and BB-8 and Tynker for the Rolling Spider Drone. To get an idea of their speed and agility students had one full lunch period to program the devices with complete autonomy.

During the final two sessions, students worked to program the devices through obstacle courses. This is where I would say a majority of the skill building and learning took place.

  • Math skills: adjusting the rate and percentage of speed the devices would move.
  • Problem Solving: altering the number of seconds devices needed to get from one place to another.
  • Communication: talking out the process and collaborating on the lines of code.
  • Persistence: iterating lines of code to have the device move in the correct location.
  • Procedural knowledge: breaking down a larger task into smaller procedures

While observing students through the process of coding, the realization came that these apps were also serving as Formative Response Tools. Formative Assessment being defined by Wikipedia as “…formal and informal assessment procedures conducted by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.” This was happening every time students tested out their code. They would write the lines of code and with each time they pressed play and watched the device move, they were receiving feedback in order to alter the script, improve it, and move one step closer to completing the challenge. The great thing was, a teacher wasn’t needed to jump in and provide students with the feedback. The app and device provided the feedback, and it was up to the students to determine what adjustments needed to be implemented. This is the second and most important component of Formative Assessment-doing something with the feedback that is given- and in this case the students had full ownership over that process, which empowered them to continue on. As always, now that the awareness has been brought forward and I’ve been able to reflect on the learning experience- more intentional questioning and facilitation will take place on my part as more students come into the Open Mind Zone to code.

Top 5 Reasons To Use a Learning Management System

A Learning Management System, or LMS, is meant to do exactly what its name states. If you really dissect each word, rather than pass them off as a singular term some realization may come. Our school has had multiple Learning Management Systems for about 6 years, however it wasn’t until recently that we began to use them with a more focused and intentional purpose- striving to address each of the words. A Learning Management System is meant to manage student learning through a singular system. Manage Learning. Those are powerful words for any educator. What does it mean to manage learning in a digital space?

This has changed over the course of the last 6 years at ASFM. Initially the LMS was used to house content and post homework. It was rarely referred to during school hours, and its main purpose was to have a place to access content should students be absent or the school be closed for a undetermined amount of time. Was this a Learning Management System or a Document Management System?

Today, with students having access to personal devices throughout the school day things have changed. Along with a school wide goal to, “Transform curriculum delivery models into a blended learning experience to enhance student achievement,” there is a more focused vision on how to use the LMS. While there are numerous ways to integrate a Learning Management System and multiple tools both physical and digital to incorporate blended learning successfully, these are my top 5 (for now) reasons for using a Learning Management System.

interactive1. Increased Interactive Content Most LMSs, afford students with the ability to add content to class pages, participate in discussion boards, and answer quizzes or polls. Interactive content engages students and provides them with ownership over their learning. Another benefit of having interactive content, is it encourages differentiation among students. Varied levels of scaffolded material can be hosted, which raises the potential to reach an increased number of students.


feedback2. Reduce the Feedback Loop Formative response tools can be embedded into class pages. Quickly receiving digital feedback after a lesson or day of learning can usher teachers to altering instruction for future lessons or units. It may also provide students with feedback on how well they are proceeding through the learning process. Gaging student learning is not the only purpose a formative response tool offers. Gaining insight on the classroom climate and social-emotional pulse can also prove useful.


diagram3. Streamline Instruction Adopted tools and open educational resources can be embedded or/and linked to classroom pages in a Learning Management System. Presentations used to deliver instruction, collaborative projects, and class pictures can all be hosted in one location. Rather than emailing students links or projecting lengthy URLs for students to copy, a Learning Management System provides one location for students to access all their class content.


cloud4. Accessibility Because LMSs are websites and cloud-based, students can access their class page from most any device and from anywhere they have internet access. This can be helpful for students who need to access homework or class resources when they are home or traveling. Students and teachers are not attached to a particular device or a physical book/agenda in order to create or interact with digital content. Because content is always available, learning can go on uninterrupted.


users5. Social Experiences Just as people are connected via social media, a Learning Management System provides the experience of being connected to other learners. The learning that is taking place is no longer isolated when physically alone. Projects can continue to be worked on from multiple locations in real time. Not only does content and skill development continue, but students are learning how to create appropriate and positive images of themselves in a safe place.


This Top 5 List doesn’t mean there aren’t a multitude of other reasons for using an Learning Management System, I just feel these particular areas umbrella over other aspects that might also be included. These items are also taken from the perspective of the grade levels I have had the most experience with, primarily third-fifth grade.

Is It Worth The Time Invested?

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Teachers, both new and experienced are always on the lookout for ways to make learning and productivity as streamlined, effective, and efficient as possible. Many teachers are masters at having systems in place to maximize student achievement. Yet as experienced as some educators are- the beginning of the school year always requires a multitude of hours when preparing for students to arrive. And once students are finally in classrooms, lessons tend to take longer than anticipated, activities aren’t completed, and daily plans get pushed to the following day. This happens primarily because routines have yet to be established with the new group of students. What used to be completed in 30 seconds at the end of the previous year- now takes 5 minutes. Yet teachers persevere and take time to establish routines and expectations because of the long term benefits they will have on student learning. The result is worth the time invested.

Time is the operative word here. A common question teachers ask themselves is- “Is it worth the time invested” to complete a particular task? Hours are spent preparing the physical classroom for students, creating the most productive learning space possible, because it is worth the time invested as the year progresses. Additional time is spent creating grade books, labeling student names, establishing routines, creating and revising lesson plans, and numerous other tasks because they make the school year function more seamlessly.

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When it comes to the digital world, the same “time investment” question should still be considered. Yet this doesn’t seem to happen as often as it does in the physical world. With technology, we are so accustomed to quick fixes, workarounds and efficiency, that it can be frustrating when there is not or quick trick for something we want to accomplish. Tasks such as creating email groups with all parent emails, organizing files in Google Drive, or creating content on a learning management system can sometimes seem daunting when it can’t happen as quickly as one may prefer. These tasks may be left incomplete or refrain from getting traction at all because they seem so laborious. This is where it’s time to ask, “Is it worth the time invested?” Like many physical world tasks, digital undertakings at the beginning of the year may take some extra time, yet they can make the life of a teacher more efficient- which leads to greater student achievement. For example, while it would be great to have a way to import all parent emails into an email group with two clicks, the functionality may not quite be there yet. A task that could take 4 clicks and 10 seconds, might take a greater amount of typing or copying and pasting and about 20 minutes. Consider the following questions; Is it worth my time invested? How many times will I email all the parents in my class? Is 20 minutes at the beginning of the year worth the amount of times I will benefit from having all parents in one email group throughout the school year? Does this make me a more efficient and effective teacher? Answering these questions might help make the decision regarding whether it is worth your invested time.

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As another school year is underway and time is of the essence, whether working in the physical or digital world, I encourage you to consider, “Is it worth the time invested?”

Innovation Project Summary 2015-16

Co-written with Cory Austin

One of the projects the tech integration department worked on this year was based on innovation. We began by brainstorming and categorizing items into Covey’s Time Management Grid: Important/Unimportant and Urgent/Non-Urgent quadrants. Then, depending on whether the initiative was school-wide or campus specific we tackled the different projects. Below you can get a glimpse of the top 6 innovative practices intentionally developed and supported by the TI team throughout the 2015/16 school year at ASFM.

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1. Innovation @ Live Curious Go Beyond Conference: 4/5 This year there were many pockets of innovative things happening at the Live Curious, Go Beyond Conference.  In the ‘Tech Playground’ you could find students leading the way, showing teachers how to innovate with MakeyMakey kits, Google Cardboard, 3Doodlers, drones and robotics.  The ‘2.5%/True Innovation’ strand offered workshops such as: ‘Virtual Field Trips with Google Cardboard’, ‘Mindfulness for Teachers and Students’, ‘Developing Moonshot Mentality’ and Learning Spaces that Inspire’.

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2. Breakout Edu: 4/5 The ELEM campus ran team building Breakout Edu sessions for the entire grade 3 generation and are currently preparing for 4th grade. The MSHS is currently running Breakout sessions with students who have finished AP exams. Breakout games were run during every session at the Live Curious, Go Beyond Conference, in addition to a session developed and run at the U-erre Conference for local teachers. Next year the plan is to continue to run Breakout sessions, working to reach a wider audience and personally creating more games.

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3. Makerspace: 4/5 The elementary campus began its first year with the Open Mind Zone, combining trends in creation and social emotional development. It was a successful year as the space continues to change and mold to its users. The MSHS TI office had success with students exploring different maker kits. The MakeyMakey was put to use by creating different types of unique controllers for interactive digital games. The 3D printers on both campuses continue to be run by designers and hackers alike. MSHS also piloted a Maker Pod which flexibly stores different materials to be used for Design Thinking and maker challenges. Next year the spaces on both campuses will continue to evolve and engage students in the art of creating and repurposing.

4. Design Thinking: 4/5 This year the Design Thinking process has really taken off at ASFM.  In the elementary the 5th grade team went through the Design Thinking process with the whole generation.  In high school, the entire ninth grade generation went through a Design Thinking crash course to get them ready for their projectile launching project for science.  In the middle school, both the Leadership and GIN classes experienced the Design Thinking crash course to help them brainstorm and design sustainable action projects to improve some aspect of their community.  Design Thinking was even made its own strand at the Live Curious, Go Beyond Conference where various teachers led workshops.  Next year, TI is already booked to deliver Design Thinking teacher crash courses to kick off the school year. TI looks forward to offering  these workshops to both teachers and students.  Check out the time lapse video of middle school students during one of their sessions.

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5. Innovative Learning Spaces:  3/5 This was a new initiative that began on both campuses this year, thanks in part to the visit of David Jakes. Jake’s visit had administrators and teachers looking at the purposeful (re)design of learning spaces by finding tensions and solutions through different design drivers. There was a PLC in the MSHS dedicated to creative and innovative learning spaces that held moderate success. After David Jake’s visit, a 4th grade class and the librarian have taken initiative to intentionally increase the functionality of their learning spaces. Next year MSHS is looking at going through the design process to adapt the shape of the learning commons,  library staff room and TI office. Due to the visit of David Jakes being later in the school year, the Innovative Learning Spaces is a project that has been recently gaining momentum and will likely continue through next year.

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6. Student Tech and Innovation Club: 3.5/5 This year was the first official year for the Student Tech and Innovation Club. The club has gained a lot of interest within the first year of existence (just drop by the TI office during any break).  The students goal is clearly defined in their goal statement, ‘How might we make ASFM a more innovative and technology advanced place?’.  So far the team has explored website development, 3D design and printing, robotics, MakeyMakey, drone technology and technology support.  The team is looking forward to really getting the club on its feet and innovating next school year.  Plans are already getting started with getting the club involved with FIRST Robotics competitions, summer programing/robotics courses and much more.  The student tech and innovation club looks to expand to the elementary grades in the 2016/17 school year as well.

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Maker Movement Comes to ASFM with the Open Mind Zone

The Maker Movement has come to ASFM. The “Open Mind Zone” is the name given to the makerspace on the elementary campus, and its name is part of what makes this particular space unique to other spaces within the maker community.

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What is the maker movement? The maker movement is a trend where individuals or groups of people come together to create some type of product. Often the creations are made from combining multiple resources, several of which may be seemingly unrelated. From items that have been discarded or recycled, to dissembled pieces of technology, a “maker” looks for different ways to repurpose nearly any item put before them. For younger builders and creators, various maker kits provide safe tools to assemble pieces of cardboard, plastic, Legos, paper, etc. Makers naturally filter through steps of the design thinking cycle, where they ideate, prototype, and test their creations. Due to this exploration of ideas and prototyping, makers know the meaning of failure and do not view it with a negative connotation. Failure means learning from what went wrong and making adjustments to a product in order to make it that much better.

How is the Open Mind Zone unique? Along with being stocked with multiple resources, the ASFM makerspace has an additional resource- a focus on social and emotional development. While students are coached with creating, rebuilding, and repurposing by tech integration specialists, they are also being guided by a school counselor who prompts them with questions to encourage the development of collaboration and problem solving skills in a positive and inclusive manner. With upwards of twenty students creating in the Open Mind Zone at one time, accidents happen. Lego towers topple, roller coasters made of blocks crumble, artwork gets destroyed and at times tempers rise and feelings get hurt. Having guidance from a counselor helps to get through those frustrating times. The reinforcement of these skills and mindsets are directly transferable to both the classroom and life outside the school walls. With lives full of structure, in the Open Mind Zone, students have the opportunity to experience relationship building through play and exploration.

What’s next? The Open Mind Zone has been in action for about five weeks. Ahead, there are plans to: hold team building sessions, add tech materials such as a 3D printer and production equipment, and to begin encouraging students to document and share their creations with a global audience.

To stay up to date with what is going on in the Open Mind Zone, follow us on Twitter: @OpenMindZone

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With Change Comes Frustration… and Learning

With the desire to encourage students to develop creativity and collaborative skills, a 4th grade team of teachers was willing to scrap a traditional project that had been implemented for years, relinquish control, and provide students with some autonomy over the demonstration of their knowledge.

For about 10 years, culminating a unit on electricity, approximately 160 students showcased their knowledge through the creation of an electrical quiz board. With this particular project, there were limited opportunities for creativity and problem solving to be explored. Because technically, the quiz board was limited to 2 formats of completion.

The approach to the final project needed to be shifted. Students were given the prompt to work with group members to address, “a problem in their lives that could be solved applying their knowledge of electricity.” The final products would be presented at an “Electrical Engineering Fair.” With a more open ended task at hand, students had the opportunity for multiple problems and solutions to be addressed- which increased student agency as it provided autonomy over their task, technique, and team- 3 of the 4 “Ts” Daniel Pink refers to in his book, Drive, which examines motivation.

To encourage creativity, students explored different Maker Kits and alternative forms of electricity that allowed them to address their problems from an unconventional perspective.

A FaceTime call with David Patrick, an engineer and green home designer in New York, also allowed students to witness adults as life long learners who address their problems with solutions- as well as the process of developing prototypes and having to learn and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way.

The project was a roller coaster of emotions and learning for students. Initially, there was quite a bit of hype over the amount of ownership they had for demonstrating their learning. However, as the building phase began and students ran into hitches and stumbling blocks with their plans, emotions changed. Frustration levels escalated for both students and teachers- as failure was a territory that was rarely experienced and did not play a role in their culture of learning. Students were challenged with the need for adapting their blueprints or starting over completely from scratch. Teachers were confronted with the hurdle of not simply providing answers for students, but responding to students with questions to push and stretch their thinking, while boosting tenacity. On top of experiencing these frustrations, it was an additional challenge for students and teachers to move forward through the process, and reflect on the amount of skill development and learning that was ongoing simultaneously. However, as both stakeholders proceeded, perseverance and creativity around problem solving were exhibited and cultivated. By the time the Electrical Engineering Fair arrived, emotions and excitement returned to where they were at the introduction of the project. What was most exciting to witness was the authentic enthusiasm students had over their own learning, and how devoted they were to completing their product, as they had a personal investment in solving a problem they themselves had identified. Teachers walked away with a wealth of learning as well, upon reflecting on questioning techniques and being a partner in their students learning versus a leader.

While change can be a difficult experience to manage and frustrations have the potential of running high, great learning is there to uncover when willing to reflect and find it.

Nursery School Students who Skype Across Countries

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I recently had the chance to observe a Skype call between Ms. Greta and Ms. Paula’s nursery school class with a preschool class in Andover, Kansas. The connection between the classes was made after Paula made a request on Twitter for classes interested in connecting via Skype. From there, the two teachers discussed the logistics for the actual discussion.

Twitter Screen ShotSince my experience in the classroom has been with intermediate grade levels, I was intrigued to see what type of discussion and skills would be developed from this call. I was astounded at how easy it was to witness the 21st century and social skills that were being practiced at such a young age. There was a permanent smile on my face and the call that lasted approximately 15 minutes was easily the highlight of my week. The skills these students developed during the call:

1. Practicing English with Native speakers: The nursery ESL students had the opportunity to listen and talk with native English speakers. It was a genuine and purposeful audience for them to practice their language skills with.

2. Building Communication Skills: The teachers and students modeled speaking clearly while asking questions as well as listening attentively for answers before moving on. Taking turns was witnessed and natural conversations began to grow from the responses that were given.

3. Making Global Connections and Acknowledging Cross-Cultural Similarities and Differences: Questions and answers were provided that allowed the students to make connections between the two cultures while also being made aware of some differences as well. Before the call began, students reviewed the continents on a map and pinpointed the locations of each caller- providing them with some background knowledge.

4. Using Technology as a Tool for Learning: Students were exposed to the use of a tool for learning about another culture and group of students. A reflection took place after the call that focused not on the tech tool, but on the learning that occurred.

After this first call, Ms. Greta and Ms. Paula have the intention to continue with Skype calls with students from other areas to further the development of their students’ skills. It will be exciting to see where these global connections and experiences lead their students’ learning.