Category Archives: CREW

Differentiation + Technology = POWERFUL

Differentiation – a word with which every educator is quite familiar.  However, the execution of effectively differentiated instruction for students is where the struggle can be for many. Technology can be a huge benefit to teachers as they customize learning activities for their students.  Directing students to specific group activities, choice of resources, and dynamic activities are a few examples of how technology can be a benefit to reach all learners where ever they are in the learning process.

Many teachers have used the strategy of moving students in techpowertheir classroom to do a certain activity (i.e., stations).  While this works fine, it has potential for unintended negative effects, for instance, if a student labels him/herself based on the group he/she is assigned.   Releasing and/or restricting particular learning activities through technology to groups of students can direct their focus on the learning task and at their pace, all the while other groups of students are working on their task at their pace.  Students are none-the-wiser as to who is in the remediation or extra-time group and who is accelerated.

Another benefit of technology is the ability to publish different parts of a lesson in a sequence that the teacher deems appropriate.  For instance, a teacher has four parts to her lesson (A, B, C, D) and wants to ensure that part A is completed or mastered before part B, part B is completed or mastered before part C, etc.  In a traditional classroom, the teacher would have complete control over the timing of each portion of the learning, probably, by delivering to a whole group. But . . . where’s the differentiation in that? Using applications like our eCLASS C&I course pages, the teacher can conditionally release portions of a lesson contingent on a previous portion being  completed or receiving a set score (i.e., Part B is only available after part A has been viewed).  Thus, students control the pace of the lesson to match their learning needs, supporting a deeper understanding before moving on to the next section of the lesson.

        Providing choice to students in the learning process is another way to differentiate.  Students have so many different learning preferences and it is nearly impossible for any one teacher to effectively, let alone efficiently, deliver a topic to meet every learning style in the room.  When a teacher can give his or her students a choice in the learning resources through the vehicle of technology, it allows the teacher to have clarifying, extension, and remediation conversations with the learners.  One could create a choice board including a reading passage, a video, an audio file, an interactive activity, a physical creation, etc.   Teachers also can have students select more than one option on the choice board, thereby activating the different styles and potentially increasing learning. When students have a choice in the product that they present to the teacher to show their understanding, that meets the students where they are, to help them communicate their level of learning.  For example, if a student has a high level of anxiety presenting a report in front of a class, he/she instead could create a visual product with a web 2.0 tool.

        Finally, when students have dynamic content with which to interact and get immediate feedback, students and teachers alike can experience the strength behind differentiation.  There are so many interactive websites available now for students to experience learning in such a powerful way.  Virtual lab experiments, number input/output games, and word sorts are all examples of the practice activities that can be leveraged as a component of a lesson and supporting students’ learning on their level.  Many of these include dynamic features that provide immediate feedback to the “player” about whether or not they are correct.  Further, including the teacher in the conversation immediately, whether virtual (on a discussion, blog, etc.) or physical, lets the student know what adjustments they need to make as they are learning.

In summary, differentiation is a best practice and therefore an everyday expectation for the instruction in our classroom(s).  Guiding learning paths for students can lessen the load and provide structure for students by restricting activities or parts of a lesson until the learner is ready.  Students are able to “control” their learning when they can choose the type(s) of learning activities in which they will participate, all the while receiving the same content.  And, when a choice is given in the type of product they can present to the teacher, students can produce something within their scope of comfort and expertise.  The ability to interact with content and be provided with immediate feedback from the material and the teacher provides an unmatched degree of support for an individual learner. When educators can harness the power of technology to support this vital component of teaching, teachers can better reach their students and students can have a more positive learning experience for their learning abilities.


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.

Keramida, M., (M.Ed.). (2015, July 08). The Importance Of Learning Objects In Instructional Design For eLearning. Retrieved from:

McEnteggart, P. (2017, January 06). 4 Steps To Prepare Engaging eLearning Content. Retrieved from:


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.”