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.


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.


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’.


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.

Dt brainstorm Hmw

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.


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.


Google Certified Educator Levels 1 & 2


Google for Education did a great thing this year by revamping some of their certification training and exams. The previous “Google Educator” training and exam, while informative and worth while, focused primarily on the “how to” aspects within the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Suite. The course relied heavily on reading and experimenting independently through lengthy tutorials that provided participants with basic to advanced content knowledge of the features in each individual app. There were some scenarios and case studies provided regarding the use of GAFE in an educational setting, however a majority of the content was tool oriented.

The new (and what I consider improved) training and exams have education and the application of Google tools at the forefront. The tutorials and support for the technical components are still ever-present, but Google bumped up the focus on pedagogy. The training is a bit more reflective and contains some audio files of how practicing educators are intentionally integrating with technology, which are helpful in breaking up the still heavy reading elements. Participants are prompted to take notes and share ideas in Google docs, as well as consider teacher predicaments and how one might use GAFE as a means to address them and improve student achievement.

With the new training modules came a new certification procedure and exams. Rather than the previous process of completing numerous tests based specifically on particular Google tools, you now have the opportunity to take 2 separate leveled exams. Google Certified Educator Level 1, indicates an educator who is proficient with Google tools in the classroom, while Level 2 is described as “… an educator who is a super user and enthusiast of Google tools in the classroom, this certification proves your expertise.” The Level 1 exam is not a predecessor for Level 2, it is based on the desire of the user as to which exams are taken. Regardless of which level you take, the testing format is the same for both exams. Upon registering for the exam, it can take 24-48 hours to be issued and ready. I recommend registering a day before or the morning of the day you would like to take the test. Once issued, you have 7 days to take the test in 1 timed session.

As a previous Google Educator, I found the new process more digestible, engaging, and educationally focused. If you are looking for professional development and growth within the Google Apps for Education department, I recommend stopping by the Google for Education Training Center and checking out the different opportunities Google has to offer.



Innovative and Creative Learning Spaces

Recently, a team of various staff members from the American School Foundation of Monterrey had the opportunity to explore innovative and creative schools and spaces in the Bay Area. Within the three days of learning walks to multiple campuses, we witnessed a wide variety of physical spaces, pedagogical practices, and core values. While each of these attributes looked different in practice at each site, what stood out between these eight locations were the consistencies between them. Passion, flexibility, a willingness to grow, a sense of community, and student centeredness were easily visible during each visit. (Schools and work spaces are listed in the order we visited them.)

1. Gunn High School, Palo Alto, CA

With a robotics team 20 years old, this was the heart of passion, sense of community, and student centered learning that were visible at Gunn High School. Students work collaboratively on creating a robot that will maneuver through a challenge or set of obstacles in a competition put on by FIRST Robotics. The learning space (which might also be referred to as a Maker Space, though it is used most heavily in the robotics field) is equipped with materials you would find in a professional wood shop or mechanical garage. Students have full privileges to use the equipment and space as they see fit in order to complete the challenge. Local businesses and parents also contribute their assistance to the team by providing guidance to students throughout the process, as well as setting up the mock obstacle course based on the theme of the robotics challenge that year. Students in this facility are in a “real life” scenario- working with professional equipment with professionals practitioners, applying knowledge and learning in the moment.


2. Everest Summit School, Redwood City, CA

Blended learning was the highlight of student centered learning at Everest Summit School. Working with programmers from Facebook, Everest has a Learning Management System that is original to the school itself. High school students work through a personalized learning plan and monitor their own learning, with guidance from their teachers as mentors. In math, they are bordering on a system that would eliminate grade levels completely- as students would move at a pace based on their skills and benchmarks, no matter their formal grade level or age.

3. The at Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Everything at the encourages flexibility, creativity and collaboration. Just walking into the building gets you excited to begin creating. In a space well known for its use of Design Thinking it is easy to see why students at Stanford University flock to the building to work, redesign, and learn. The learning space can be made into any type of model the user desires. Whiteboard walls are moveable and nearly every table, storage device and seating arrangement is on wheels, which allows the transformation of an open space to be altered into sectioned off, more private work spaces within a matter of seconds. To assist in keeping organization among rooms that promote chaos, reset displays are posted so users can put the room back together after using it.


4. Google Merchandise Store, Mountain View, CA

Since we couldn’t get into the Google offices, we did the next best thing and headed to their flagship merchandise store. Biking around the headquarters, playing around in the Android playground, taking pictures of a Google maps Street View car, and purchasing some Google merchandise was a fun way to end the day.


5. Brightworks, San Francisco, CA

Gever Tulley himself, co-creator of Brightworks school provided us with a tour and description of how things work at this “extraordinary school.” With five years in its history and approximately sixty students in total, Brightworks offers a unique learning experience where passion, flexibility, a sense of community and student centeredness are definitely present. Teachers are referred to as “collaborators,” and students advance, and sometimes move back, through “bands,” versus traditional grade levels- depending on their skill set and maturity. Students have a large amount of autonomy over the direction their learning will take them. The physical space in Brightworks is just as unique- it resembles a maker space and indeed there are multiple tools to be used for making. It has an open concept which encourages collaboration among bands, while smaller, more private work spaces are also incorporated. Students learning in Brightworks will without a doubt feel comfortable moving into a creative professional working environment.


6. Double Robotics, San Francisco, CA

The office at Double Robotics is another unique and creative space. We had the opportunity to test out a Double and have a conversation around how the robots might be used in an educational setting. Another young company, just five years in making, Double Robotics provides employees with a physically open concept with smaller workspaces also available. It is easy to witness flexibility, collaboration, and a sense of community.

7. New Technology High School, Napa, CA

Student Centeredness and community are at the forefront of what can be seen at New Tech High, with Problem Based Learning at the center of the school’s pedagogical approach. Students collaboratively work through the PBL model with the opportunity to take classes at a local community college to prepare them for college careers. Students are given privileges to reserve rooms throughout the school to work on projects or present information to peers- rooms that may be completely empty or fully equipped with production technologies.

8. Remind Offices, San Francisco, CA

Culminating our visit were the Remind Offices- a very flexible, collaborative, fun, and “teacher-obsessed” space. Walking into this office invites you to be playful and creative. By approaching a ruler-lined desk with hopscotch, swings, and enlarged paper airplanes hanging from the ceilings, it promotes creativity from the very beginning. The Remind app encourages collaboration between teachers, parents and students- and their offices encourage the same collaborative theme. Again, open rooms and flexible furniture allows the space to morph to any format the user desires. It is easy to feel the sense of community the employees have while walking around this innovative and creative work space.

A HUGE thank you to the EdTechTeam and Amanda Hensley who did an amazing job scheduling each day, driving us around, providing facts about the Bay Area, supplying great snacks, and being a wonderful guide.

The Hour of Code, Unplugged

Since 2013, millions of students around the world participate in a week long challenge called the Hour of Code. The purpose of this challenge is to introduce students to the field of computer science and demonstrate how anyone can learn the basics of coding. The world of computer science is one that is growing heavily as advances in technology continue to expand. Educators are working to develop programs in schools to encourage STEM and STEAM related projects to prepare students for possible careers in the computer science arena.

At the American School Foundation of Monterrey (ASFM), grades 1-12 participated in the virtual world of coding through the Hour of Code website. Students coded characters in games such as Star Wars, Minecraft, and Frozen, while also exploring artistic shape making. When it came to nursery, pre-kindergarten, and kindergarten we took on a different approach. We went for a second year of coding, unplugged.

Grounded with research and feedback from teachers in the early primary years, the tech integration team made the decision to limit screen time and keep the focus on coding and programming- rather than on a particular technological device. Based on past experiences with these students, the focus often turned to the physical device and not what was going on inside of it, and rightfully so- the are 3-6 year olds after all!

Two technology integration specialists entered 20 individual classrooms, for 15 minute increments. One dressed as herself and one dressed as a “robot.” A very brief and basic conversation was had about what coding means. The following points were made:

  • When we use an iPad we are telling the iPad what to do.
  • Before we open the iPad from the box, someone programmed it. They put things inside it to make it work the way it should- so when we push the buttons it operates how we want it to.
  • The person who makes the iPad do what it should is called a programmer.
  • Lots of items we use need to be programed, one of those items is a robot.

This is where the fun began. Students were told that this robot does not understand Spanish or English, it only understands code. The code it understands, is arrows. What this means is an arrow pointing up makes the robot take 1 step forward, an arrow pointed down makes it take 1 step back. If the the robot is shown an arrow to the left it moves 1 step to the left, and an arrow to the right will have it move 1 step to the right. Visual cues were provided with large arrows drawn on pieces of paper.

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The robot was then “programmed,” being modeled by the tech integration specialists. It would move forward, backward, and side to side when being shown the correct symbols. Students were eager for their turn to program this robot. After a few students took their turns with the programing, the robot’s battery suddenly “died.” But luckily there was a new robot on hand- a smaller one ready to go. At this point in time a smaller robot helmet was given to a student, while a second student had the opportunity to program it. For some classes this activity had a steeper learning curve than others, nonetheless we witnessed complete engagement and awe throughout the brief 15 minute experience. Upon finishing the activity, we overheard many students asking their teachers if they could create robot helmets and arrows to use as a center during their school day- which we considered a success! As an added bonus, most students were able to articulate that the person who “tells a robot what to do” is called a programmer.

Being the second year of the unplugged routine, the tech integration team was able to reflect and fine tune a few steps- as we could anticipate the responses from nursery, pre-k, and kindergarten students. Overall, the experience was well received by both students and teachers- and is an endeavor we will continue to improve upon in the coming years.