Tiny DoorYou are walking with your friend on the BeltLine in Atlanta on a beautiful spring afternoon. You smile at a passerby and notice the white fluffy clouds in the sky above as the breeze blows across your face. You tell your friend about your students, working so hard to master new skills that week. A glimpse of red draws your eye to the ground. It’s a small, red door with fencing surrounding a garden on either side. There is a miniature bicycle parked outside the door. You notice a frame with the words “#TinyDoorsATL” inside. Questions abound. Who lives behind the door? What is their tiny life like? Who rides the miniature bicycle? These questions will never be answered but will be imagined by all who pass these Tiny Doors.

Tiny Doors ATL

This red door, like so many others, has been carefully designed and crafted by Tiny Doors ATL. The goal of Tiny Doors ATL is to create free, public art that generates wonder, creativity, and imagination. Two teachers at Hopkins Elementary School took this art installation to the next level by creating #TinyDoorsHop, short for Tiny Doors Hopkins. Sydney Cohn, Math Connections Teacher, and Amanda Main, Art Connections Teacher, envisioned a project that combined art, math, and technology to help students understand that math is all around us while also encouraging student creativity.

Tiny Doors HopClasses begin the project by seeing Ms. Main for a week in art class. On Monday, students take a pretest consisting of 10 questions: five questions are focused on the elements of art while the other five questions are centered on area and perimeter. Next, students are introduced to the project by viewing an emaze presentation about Tiny Doors ATL. The following day, students complete a foldable using terms and Foldabledefinitions. Students learn about line, shape, form, texture, space, value, and color while thinking about how they can use some of these elements in the design of their doors.

Students begin executing their vision by creating a sketch of their Tiny Door, keeping in mind the elements of art and how the location of their door will influence their design. Ms. Main incorporates student use of technology by having students answer questions on a Padlet.
Students must describe how the location of their Tiny Door impacts the design and what elements of art are included in their design.

Padlet ExampleThe first group of 4th graders who completed this project had never used Padlet. Without teacher instruction, the students quickly discovered the camera feature and chose to capture images of their doors in addition to answering the given questions. Allowing students the freedom to explore tech tools independently takes projects and activities to new heights!

The week after students finish creating their Tiny Door, they visit Ms. Cohn in Math Connections. Here, students spend a few days learning about area and perimeter and measuring different parts of their door. For example, students can measure the actual door, the design of the door, or specific aspects of the design. Students compile their calculations using a graphic organizer. Students synthesize their learning, about both art and math, into a paragraph that is then typed into a QR code generator.

Ms. Cohn differentiates this activity by providing different forms of the same graphic organizer. One group of students will compose their own paragraph, another group of students use sentence starters to create their paragraph, and yet another group of students circle answer choices and fill in blanks. Students submit their final QR code to a dropbox so Ms. Cohn can print them out.

Tiny Doors will soon take over the halls of Hopkins Elementary and each door will be accompanied by a QR code that describes the elements of art used in the design of the door, the area of the door or design, and the perimeter of the door or design. The last piece of technology integration in this project is an online post-test. Students take the same test that they took in art to show knowledge gains in the topics of elements of art, area, and perimeter.

The most meaningful part of this project is seeing what the students have taken away. When asked the question, “How does math influence art?” students were able to articulate more connections between math and art than at the start of the project. They identified many elements of art that are present in math.

“Each time we draw, we use the elements of art.”

“Math influences art by using shapes. Shapes are just like geometry. Squares and rectangles can be measured to find out the area and perimeter. That is how math influences art.”

Watching students complete this project showed me that making connections to the real world, integrating subjects, and embedding technology in meaningful ways grabs students’ attention. The students at Hopkins Elementary School are so excited to see their Tiny Doors decorating the halls. Once placed throughout the school, students may choose to develop a creative writing piece that describes the world around these Tiny Doors. Students will answer many of the same questions that are generated by Tiny Doors ATL.

Kudos to Sydney Cohn and Amanda Main who dreamed up this highly engaging project. I leave you with the words of a fourth grader at Hopkins Elementary,

“Art and math go together because they both help you learn more things. If you do half math and half art it will be so much fun.”

Creating Engaging Learning Objects

Creating an effective Student Council team dynamic

Learning objects: have you heard of them, or is this a new term to you?  A learning object is one object or item in an online Learning Management System (LMS) that allows the student to obtain information or practice newly obtained information. While learning objects are simple enough to define, they are not as easy to develop.

When preparing to create online content for your students, begin with the AKS (standard) being taught and the learning target for the lesson.  Learning targets help us to create a learning object that has one focus.  One distinct purpose exists for the learning object.  Students may be acquiring new information using a presentation, they may interact with embedded flash cards to preview vocabulary for an upcoming lesson, or they may complete an assessment to show mastery and understanding.  Whatever the case may be, the learning object has one, singular focus.

Breaking the lesson down into focused sections helps the teacher organize pieces of the lesson while helping the students understand what they are doing in each learning object.

  • Engage: This is the activating strategy.  This could be a video that introduces the upcoming unit or lesson, a discussion board that students can use to express their background knowledge, or embedded virtual manipulatives paired with a guiding question.  
  • Learn: What interactive activity can students use to learn new information?  This is a great place for a video, created or curated by the teacher, to teach a new concept.  In math, a teacher may want to record a new strategy students can use to solve a linear equation.  In social studies, a teacher could embed a video sharing information about the history of an ancient civilization.  In science, students may use a 3D science tool to explore parts of the animal cell.  In band, students may listen to a recording of the new piece of music they will begin soon.
  • Practice: This type of learning object gives students the opportunity to practice their newly obtained understanding and refine it when given immediate feedback.  Students may be presented with a math problem they are asked to solve and then are able to reveal its answer to see how they did.  If they were incorrect in their answer, students would have access to an explanation of how the problem should have been solved so they can identify where they went wrong.  In science, students may complete a matching activity between the parts of the cell and their functions.  Practice objects should not be punitive, but rather give students a way to try applying their new knowledge, check their work, compare their notes to the teacher’s notes and then start the cycle over again.  
  • Show: This learning object invites  students to show their mastery and understanding of the standard they’ve learned as they have completed learning activities inclass and online.  Teachers can  offer students the option of representing their learning using a web tool of their choice to promote deeper engagement  or by offering a few options that appeal to a variety of learning styles.  The intention of this type of learning object is for the students to show what they have learned so the teacher can evaluate the learning and provide additional feedback.  Teachers can use rubrics to assess an object submitted to a dropbox or posted to a discussion board.  Classroom Assessments or quizzes can measure student understanding.
  • Extend:  As students submit assignments to show what they know, teachers will be able to identify common misconceptions among students and/or develop remedial lessons for students who need additional support.  During this time, teachers can offer students an opportunity to extend or deepen their understanding through an Extend activity.  An Extend activity could include a current event article  related to the AKS (standard) being taught that students interact with, or it could include suggestions for going deeper into the content.  An Extend activity could be a preview into the next unit or a preview of how the information learned will “reappear” at future grade levels or in the real-world.  Extend activities provide a great opportunity for differentiation.

When creating learning objects, there are a few things to keep in mind.  Learning objects should be:

  1. Directly connected to a specific AKS (Standard).  All learning objects should help the student master the content.
  2. Singular in focus.  Learning objects should be focused on one learning objective at a time.
  3. Singular in purpose.  Each learning object should have a clear purpose evident to the student.  
  4. Student facing.  Ideally, the student should be able to utilize the learning object without the teacher present to give verbal directions.  Where directions are needed, they should be written to the student.  When applicable, directions should be read aloud.
  5. Level appropriate.  Differentiation based on skill and ability level should be used when developing learning objects.  Learning objects should also be grade level and standard appropriate.

Let’s start building!  Here’s a planning guide to help you:


DigitalEngagementPlanningGUide (1)Four steps to keep in mind:

  1. Prepare: Identify your learning targets and create an outline.  Perhaps start with how you’d teach this lesson in the brick-and-mortar classroom, then brainstorm ways students can obtain or interact with this information online.  “If your course doesn’t engage your learners, or overloads them with information, those all-important learning goals are not going to be achieved. Structure your content by dividing it into modules and learning paths so that there’s an achievable path for your learner to follow”  (McEnteggart, 2017).
  2. Create: This could also be subtitled: Build.  This is where you curate interactive materials and create engaging activities while considering a variety of learning styles.  Also consider how students will show understanding.  Will they interact on a discussion board or submit to a dropbox?  Will they practice using interactive tools like Quizlet, NearPod or Quizizz?  Structure your assignment into modules and sub-modules to keep it organized and easy to follow, use learning paths to help drive students.
  3. Deliver: Switch into Student view and see it from their perspective.  Did you create release conditions in your Learning Management System to drive their learning?  Do they work?  Is the content being delivered easy to follow and engaging?  If it’s text heavy, are their options for read aloud?
  4. Measure: Ask your students about the activities.  What did they like or not like about the activities?  WARNING: Middle Schoolers will say they don’t like anything so be specific.  Ask students how long they think they spent on the tasks and then use User Progress to calculate the average time spent on each activity and the module as a whole.  Measure student learning.  Based on their responses to discussion boards and/or test items, how did they do?  What would you as teacher do differently next time?


Chiappe Laverde, A., Segovia Cifuentes, Y., & Rincón Rodríguez, H. (2007). Toward an instructional design model based on learning objects. Educational Technology Research & Development, 55(6), 671-681.  http://proxygsu-sgwi.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=27017916&site=ehost-live

Keramida, M., (M.Ed.). (2015, July 08). The Importance Of Learning Objects In Instructional Design For eLearning. Retrieved from:  https://elearningindustry.com/the-importance-of-learning-objects-in-instructional-design-for-elearning

McEnteggart, P. (2017, January 06). 4 Steps To Prepare Engaging eLearning Content. Retrieved from:  https://elearningindustry.com/4-steps-prepare-engaging-elearning-content


Flexibility through Mirroring

As teachers across Gwinnett County use eCLASS C&I tool to assist in reaching the transformational level of teaching, they are seeing the benefit of offering students choice of the best strategies and tools to show their learning in their classrooms.

ForresterIn innovative classrooms, Gwinnett teachers at all levels –  elementary through high school campuses –  leverage available technologies to facilitate collaboration. Students are encouraged to bring their own devices, and schools are investing in numerous digital resources.

In such transformed classrooms, technology tools are seamless. At Grayson Elementary, a 2-year investment in digital streaming media players and tablets for classroom teachers is helping to infuse technology to improve instruction.

Spencer, a kindergarten student in Christa Fernandez’s homeroom, checks his math problems alongside his classmates as his teacher stands to the right of the classroom holding an Apple iPad. Mrs. Fernandez has taken a photograph of a recording sheet and completed sample problems for her students using a notes application, which is projected on the whiteboard.

She hands the iPad to Spencer, who works a problem using the same notes app his teacher just used. Spencer’s classmates are listening to him explain his process, while looking at the projection on the whiteboard. The iPad that Spencer uses is mirrored on the board via  Apple TV. By this time, Mrs. Fernandez has crossed the room to assist another student, who has raised her hand.

“With the Apple TV I am not tied to my desk and can walk around and hand the tablet to one of my students to demonstrate their learning,” explains Mrs. Fernandez. “It is a great way to introduce whole group what I want a student to do in a small group or independent technology center.”

landtroop-apple-tvThis school year, Grayson Elementary’s PTA purchased a 3rd Generation Apple TV unit for every classroom. Teachers at Grayson received iPads in 2015, and the Apple TV provides opportunities to make the iPads even more useful in the classroom.

Teachers actively using media streaming devices say that having access to a mirroring application is incredibly helpful and allows students the flexibility of showing what they know and expressing their ideas with a touch of their finger.  

“Anything you can pull up on your tablet can be projected onto your screen, so it frees you up from always using your teacher computer, and since the tablet is small, it allows students to pass the device around,” notes Sara Forrester, a 2nd Grade teacher. “The use of a whiteboard app allows students to draw, write, and solve equations from their tablet.”

Teachers and students have projected tablets in their classroom for demonstrations, to show examples, to explain concepts, and for simulations.

While Apple TV is a popular media streaming device choice for many schools, especially those with larger inventories of iPads, other mirroring device options exist in the marketplace. (One caveat, and definitely a reason to consult with county technology support staff when exploring options, is to insure that the WiFi networks – school system’s network and tablet – will be integrated. If the WiFi networks are segregated, the devices and/or streaming applications likely will not communicate. Test any options before investing).

For teachers who are OK with keeping their tablet in one location, then a VGA adapter (for a 30-pin Dock connector), or other adaptor for the type of tablet owned will permit them to display their tablet’s screen via the classroom projector. Even a document camera might work in some situations.

Robbie Dunn, a 5th Grade Special Education teacher, values the freedom from his computer that a streaming media device gives him.

Since having the ability to mirror, I have been free to roam around the class during a mini-lesson or whole group dissemination of information,” Dunn said. “It also gives the opportunity for students to show their understanding to the class easily, without the transition time needed for students to get up from their seats to go to the board.”  

The familiarity that most students have with tablets and finger operated apps makes mirroring devices a natural complement to the students’ way of learning.

“My students love when I use it for the student selection wheel (an app that randomly selects a student),” said Amanda Poole, a 1st Grade teacher. “Also, researching and streaming videos on the board is highly engaging for my students, especially since they are so familiar with technology.”

Teachers agree that a major advantage of mirroring devices in the classroom is that it is easy to use and quick to get started.

“Its main advantages in my opinion are accessibility and ease of use,” said Dunn. “If I’m sitting with a small group and see a need for a mid-workshop teaching, I can pull up whatever I need to project and students can view it from the center they are in. Plus, I never have to move!”  

Such technology occasionally can become “finicky” with a school’s wireless internet connection, teachers note, such as when the connection between the streaming box and the tablet is lost. While this issue doesn’t happen often, it requires the user to reset the connection or reset the mirroring device all together.

The uses of media streaming devices can be many. This includes watching YouTube or Vimeo videos without having to use a separate device; seamless transition between video clips; annotating documents live with students; displaying pictures of student/teacher work; demonstrating apps; playing review games; using the tablet as an interactive whiteboard (whiteboard apps); using the Khan Academy app; using as a document camera; and creative project presentations. Content within eClass that generates on a tablet can be shown through the mirroring device.

“It’s been a great tool for modeling the use of student devices brought from home as well as applications for student selection and games,” says Poole.

Fernandez, for example, uses her streaming box with BookFlix and Epic to read non-fiction texts. Since her mirroring device pairs with her tablet via WiFi, she appreciates that she can walk around and navigate and check for understanding without being tied to her computer.

During mini-lessons, Grayson teachers say, it is preferable to bring their iPad down to the floor and project from their meeting area instead of having to get up to switch the computer every time they need to show something on the projector.  

With younger learners, says Fernandez, “Apple TV and similar devices are a great way to introduce different technology activities that they will later work on independently.”

Adds Forrester, “I think the streaming device is a very beneficial tool and the more we use it and become more comfortable with it, the more ways we will find to implement it into the classroom.”

Expanding the Walls: Video Conferencing with Liberian Students

This article was written by Bobbie Greene, a 10th Grade STEM & Language Arts Teacher from Collins Hill High School.

One of the most unique aspects of our STEM academy at Collins Hill High School is implementing authentic, real-world experiences. Sometimes, these opportunities are based on suggestions that come directly from our students.  Last year, I set up a digital video conference (DVC) for my sophomore STEM students and Mr. Andrew Parks, a civil engineer and foreign service officer with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who is currently posted in Liberia, Africa.  While they enjoyed learning about his practical application of the engineering concepts they had been learning in class, they were especially interested in hearing about the various places where he had traveled and cultures he had encountered.  My class is structured around what I call the 3-Cs: culture, communication, and collaboration; so these topics are always at the forefront of any activity or discussion.  As Mr. Parks shared stories of his experiences, one of my students wondered aloud if it would be possible to start up a pen-pal program with students in Liberia.  The idea sparked a flurry of excited discussion among the students, and I promised to look into the possibility of such a venture.


By working with my network of connections, I was able to establish a partnership program with both the US Embassy and Cathedral Catholic High School in Monrovia, Liberia.  Keeping the 3-Cs at the heart of our partnership, my students have a monthly opportunity to connect with high school students in Liberia and engage in thematic discussions based on topics they collaboratively pre-select.  These sessions take place through our Polycom Video Conferencing System because of communication restrictions at the embassy, but these DVCs could easily be implemented through Skype or a similar user interface.  If a teacher is considering hosting a DVC, I suggest setting up a test call a couple of days in advance to work out any technical issues regarding visual clarity, sound, camera placement, and network connection.  I have had to make adjustments to each of these, and my DVCs are still not perfect, so one should always remain flexible!

To prepare for each session, I make use of eCLASS to gauge interest in various topics and to select our panel of student speakers.  Students post to a Discussion Board about what aspects of our Liberian friends’ lives, education, culture, or history they would like to know more about.  From that list, my counterpart at the Liberian embassy and I decide on the theme and agenda for our next DVC.  Once the agenda is set, I post it to eCLASS, and ask students to sound off about which topic they would like to be the “expert” on and participate as panelist speaker.  Using eCLASS as neutral ground for sharing ideas and stating opinions has allowed students to really open up, and each video conference has deepened the connection between the two groups of students even though they are separated by more than 5,000 miles.

Before the DVC, I prepare the student speakers by conferencing with them as a small group and asking them to elaborate on what they would like to share during the session.  This helps them to organize their ideas and think of specific examples to give or questions to ask.  Also, by collaborating with each other during this preparation, they benefit from peers’ suggestions and perspectives, making what they ultimately share with the Liberian students as comprehensive and interesting as possible.  My students walk away from these conferences with a clear idea of how the actual DVC will play out, thus helping to ease any nerves of uneasiness about being put on the spot.  Below is a sample of what I post to eCLASS Discussions to gauge interest:


On the day of the DVC, I open a Today’s Meet “room” and post the link to our eCLASS News module.  I place a Chromebook at each table in the classroom and direct the students to open up the Today’s Meet “room” on the computer.  This tool serves to enhance our DVC because students can post follow-up questions or comments in real time for our panel of speakers to see.  The panelists then use these posts to propel the conversation or to expand on high-interest topics.  Below is a sample of the Today’s Meet transcript I saved from our third DVC which was themed “School and Social Life”:


My students also know that they will be responsible for a reflection on each DVC, as this ensures their active listening even if they are not a panelist.  For these reflections, students write a well-organized paragraph based on an original claim related to their observations and thoughts on the topics discussed or questions asked.  Below are some quotes from students’ reflections:

“Our video conferences with Liberia have had a significant impact on my outlook towards my education and future career. It has caused me to more extensively consider my options, as well as raise my awareness of the limited education opportunities other countries seem to provide. In addition to this, the conferences with Liberia have helped to improve my dedication to my education. This is because the Liberian student’s we’ve spoken with have displayed an incredible amount of hope and stability in their education, and have overall proved themselves to be reliable role models.” –Kierra M.

“Our video conferences with Liberia have meant a lot to me. I feel that I now have access to communication to “the outside world”. I have never left the United States, and I am happy to be able to see and talk to other people who do not have a daily life like mine. I am very glad to have this opportunity that is not very common to have in school.” –Matthew M.

“The Liberia video conferences have taught me a lot about a culture that I didn’t know a lot about before. Observing how the panels interact with each other has taught me how even though we are thousands of miles away, we aren’t all that different. I have enjoyed getting to know the students and how their daily lives differ from my own, and I hope to continue to learn about their country and culture.” –Faith G.

“The Liberian video conferences changed the way I thought about our society. During the first conference, the Liberian students mentioned their civil war and how it affected their lives. This made me realize how privileged I am considering the opportunities and privileges in my daily life. During the second conference, they explained their education system and its limitations such as the lack of proper equipment and technology. After hearing this I became even more grateful for the material things that make my life a little easier every day.” –Jared K.

These student reflections show the importance of starting and maintaining a program like this.  In fact, these comments are exactly what I hoped for when I first proposed this partnership.  They remind me of something I was fortunate enough to hear GCPS’s own Dr. Jon Valentine, Director of Foreign Language and Instruction, say at a leadership conference in January 2016–something that got to the heart of my own mission in the classroom: “We need to incorporate more global stories into the classroom so students have a better idea of having a broader idea of the global market.  The world is no longer about competition.  It’s about collaboration.”  Reading my students’ reflections that convey how deeply they have been affected by these interactions with our new Liberian friends makes me incredibly proud to be a part of this initiative.  And it has inspired me to want to do even more.

My students and I have already discussed expanding our STEM outreach program to schools in other countries.  It will take some time, but we are hoping to develop a network of international schools that we can conference with.  We are also planning on starting our own YouTube channel to post videos of STEM projects, science labs, and demonstrations for our international friends to watch and (hopefully!) replicate.  Oftentimes in developing countries, the students learn the theory of a content area but never have the opportunity (because of lack of resources, time, or both) to apply that theory in practice.  We hope to inspire those students to find ways to apply science and math concepts and practice their critical thinking in ways that are relevant to their environment, society, and culture.  My ultimate goal for this program is that the students will be able to share their interest in and passion for STEM-related topics and activities to students in developing countries who often lose their ambition to pursue STEM careers because of the pressure to begin work as soon as possible to get food on the table.  I make it a point to give my students opportunities to be “STEM Ambassadors,” and I tell them that they are in a unique position to inspire and guide peers in our global society to work toward careers that will help them improve and develop their countries in lasting ways.

Overall, creating connections between my students’ learning and real-world application of the content in their STEM courses is the most exciting and fulfilling aspect of my job.  Witnessing the improvement of their speaking and presenting skills, their overall confidence, and their mastery of the AKS in their STEM classes in such unique ways is an adventure every day; and knowing how meaningful these experiences have been to the students makes it all the more worthwhile.