Building a PBL: Earth's Atmosphere

Project-based learning (PBL) has received a lot of attention recently. It replaces traditional lectures with student-driven collaboration to solve a real-world problem and share that solution with an audience. Motivated to defend their own views, students draw on lessons from several disciplines. Many times, students surprise teachers with research materials and product ideas.

One challenge in constructing engaging project-based lessons is finding good online materials. So let's take a look at some free resources and tools that can help a science teacher creating a PBL on Earth's atmosphere.

The process

pblcreditThe Inquiry-Based Disciplinary Literacy (IDL) Model provides unique student-driven opportunities to solve authentic problems in a collaborative environment and incorporates the Buck Institute for Education Essential PBL elements.

These are the five phases of the IDL model:

  • Ask a compelling question.
  • Gather and analyze sources.
  • Creatively synthesize claims and evidence.
  • Critically evaluate and revise.
  • Share, publish, and act.

An example for middle or high school science

To begin, provide an online environment for sharing ideas and posting final products. Wiki Spaces is one of my favorites, but many great tools exist.

Many teachers introduce projects by writing the driving question. Others, set parameters and then let students decide for themselves. In this example, we’ll focus on changes in the atmosphere and climate. Many states have standards on this topic; it’s also part of the United Nations sustainable development goals.

To introduce the project to the students, start with a call to action such as:

We will learn about the impacts of human activities on the environment. We'll also learn about the gases that cause of air pollution, how they cycle through the atmosphere, and their effects on ecosystems. You will work in teams to create a compelling question about the atmosphere and answer it through a project-based inquiry process. Select a topic using standards.

Be sure your question includes one or more of these topics:

  1. Compare the composition and structure of Earth’s atmosphere, including differences in gasses, temperature, and pressure. Explain how the cycling of matter and greenhouse gases impacts atmospheric conditions and weather patterns.
  2. Design new technologies or methods for monitoring the atmosphere, maintaining air quality, and minimizing the human impact on the environment and biodiversity. Explain how the cycling of matter has affected life on Earth.
  3. Provide evidence of global warming and compare natural and human activities that influence air quality and the impact of those changes. Propose sustainable solutions to reduce pollution.

Ask a compelling question

Teaching a group of students to write compelling questions can be the most challenging part of the process. The checklist below offers some guidance. Remind groups that they need your approval before moving to the next step.

Gather and analyze sources

Students gather background information to support their answers. They must decide about the credibility and relevance of information. Field trips to universities and farms offer real-world background information. It’s also a fun way to gather artifacts or take pictures for their final products. To better guide students and save time, you may provide trusted resources for students to explore.

SAS Curriculum Pathways offers standards-aligned lessons, interactive tools, a repository of data sets, and much more—at no cost.  Resources include lesson guides, learning objectives, answer keys, and detailed procedures.

Here's a quick list of SAS Curriculum Pathways resources that could be incorporated in a PBL lesson on the earth's athmospere:

The Amazon Rainforest explores how global warming effects the region.

The Amazon Rainforest explores how global warming effects the region.

English Language Arts
Writing Navigator Series

VLab: Carbon Cycle
VLab: Stream Ecology
Analyzing Carbon-Based & Alternative Fuels
The Water Cycle
Analyzing Commercial Fishing Catches
Natural Resources: Petroleum
Nuclear Power: The Pros & Cons

Vlab: Carbon Cycle

VLab: Carbon Cycle explores how human activities affect the carbon cycle.

Social Studies
The Amazon Rainforest
OPEC Oil Embargo
Sahara Desert
Interactive Atlas

Data Gathering with Independent and Dependent Variables
Algebra Course: Graphing One-Variable Data
Algebra Course: Analyzing One-Variable Data
Algebra Course: Two-Variable Categorical Data
Algebra Course: Two-Variable Quantitative Data

Data Depot
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Weather: Tornado Damage
Sea Turtle Nests
Bald Eagle Breeding Pairs
Bee Colony Losses
Threatened and Endangered Animals
And coming November 2016:
Electromagnetic Exposure Standards
Methane Emissions
Nitrous Oxide Emissions
Weather: Coastal Flood Damage
Weather: Monthly Average Temperature

Data Depot provides over 150 data sets for student use.

Data Depot provides more than 150 downloadable, user-friendly data sets that enable students to work with real-world statistics.


Creatively synthesize claims and evidence

Students are now ready to clarify and interpret their findings and answer the compelling question in an original way. They demonstrate complex thinking by drawing inferences, summarizing, and making new connections. Final products could be videos, magazines, brochures, infographics, annotated maps, an essay or RAFT, a journal, or another form that achieves the objective.

This annotated map, created using the Interactive Atlas, contains the question, claim, supporting data, and conclusion.



Critically evaluate, revise, share 

After completing the first draft, students begin revising—working alone, with each other and with experts (e.g., professionals in the community). Writing Reviser is a useful editing tool for written products.  Rubrics are also helpful; include categories such as purpose, synthesis, construction, curriculum connections, thesis, conclusion, and sources. Integration of technology, originality, and creativity are also important.

Have students publish and share their final products. Doing so, the Buck Institute for Education explains, increases quality. Engage students in face-to-face presentations; encourage online posting with a larger community. Here are a few tools for online classroom collaboration: Wikispaces, Google for Education, Buncee, and TES with blendspace. Invite feedback from teachers, classmates, parents, and professionals. Encourage students to share their learning beyond the classroom.


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Our favorite resources for teaching digital citizenship

It's Digital Citizenship Week (#DigCitWeek, #DigCit) and Connected Educators Month, so in today's post we're focusing on how connected educators can teach digital citizenship. (Phew, is that enough buzzwords for you?) One of the best resources for teachers is the internet. And with the increased prevalence of mobile devices in education, internet access is expanding. We know that "too many resources" can also be a problem, and there are more than enough helpful sites to guide Digital Citizenship lessons. Here are some of our (FREE) favorites:

  • Common Sense Media: This site has loads of content for all grade levels, from posters to music videos to a full curriculum of digital literacy lessons. This is a great place to start any digital citizenship lesson.
  • YouTube: To say that YouTube offers a plethora of video resources is a severe understatement, as it currently facilitates the viewing of 6 billion hours of video every month ("an hour for every person on Earth", their site notes). They also have YouTubeCurriculum, a channel that offers videos on staying safe on YouTube, guarding your reputation and staying legal on copyright issues, to name a few. YouTube is often victim to blanket bans in schools, as there are many not-safe-for-school videos on the site, so this digital citizenship lesson is definitely useful.
  • Pinterest: Curating your own board of resources is nothing new to teachers. Pinterest's social nature enables easier discovery of tried and true educational resources, and teachers can easily see pins of many thought leaders in the digital citizenship space. Searching Pinterest can lead to new lesson plans, websites, and ways to reach students. We've started a digital citizenship board. Do you have one? Let us know, and we'll follow you!
  • Edudemic: You'll find resources for teachers and students, almost all of them with a focus on keeping everyone legal, safe, and informed. There are many useful guides and blog posts we've found, and almost all of them highlight an aspect of digital citizenship.
  • Teachinctrl: Provided by Cable in the Classroom,  this site offers lesson-oriented information under several digital citizenship sub-topics (such as privacy and media literacy), each with a video and supporting lesson materials.

So what are your go-to resources for teaching digital citizenship? Which blogs, pinterest boards, twitter handles, and hashtags are most helpful to you? Comment, or Tweet @ us @SASEducator!

swimming pools


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Booming Enrollments and Gender Diversity in Computer Science

Computer Science is currently experiencing booming enrollments at the university level and increased interest throughout the pipeline. Several academic institutions have noted that CS enrollment has tripled or quadrupled in recent years. This type of computer-science boom has happened twice before--each time followed by a drop in enrollment.


These enrollment cycles aren't necessarily bad. Total enrollment in CS continues to grow, and these cycles aren't unique to CS. However, one feature of these booms and busts is alarming: their impact on gender diversity. During each drop of total enrollment, the proportion of female students choosing to pursue CS degrees also drops. In other words,  women leave the field at a higher rate than men. During the late 1980s, for example, male enrollment dropped 35% whereas female enrollment dropped 53%. Similarly, in the early 2000s, male enrollment dropped 30%, compared to 56% for females.

To compound the inequity, enrollment booms do not seem to increase gender diversity. In fact, the proportion of females enrolled in CS remained steady throughout the last two booms, and data suggests that we may face the same scenario for this boom as well. So even when CS is popular, we are not attracting enough women to make up for previous reductions in diversity.

Why is this happening?

People interested in gender diversity want to understand these trends and prevent disparities in female enrollment during the current boom. Although the issue is complex, we can point to some key issues.

First, booming enrollments put significant stress on CS departments. Universities often don't have the faculty and staff to support all the new students who wish to enroll. Departments typically have a few choices. They can increase faculty and staff, which is often too expensive and time-consuming. They can increase the workloads of existing staff, which may lower faculty morale and educational quality. Or they can restrict access to CS programs. Often, universities end up doing a combination of all three, but it's the last that seems most harmful for diversity.

Some programs institute formal restrictions such as enrollment caps and more rigorous acceptance criteria. These practices can disproportionately harm female students since research has frequently shown that women with equal credentials are often viewed as less qualified for STEM positions than their male peers, especially in male-dominated fields. Enrollment caps can also increase perceptions of CS as too hard, competitive, and cutthroat, which may further discourage those female students who already doubt their abilities.

Departments may also place informal restrictions on access to CS by making introductory courses more difficult in the hope of "weeding out" students. Again, such restrictions more often harm female students, who tend to underrate their abilities even when their work equals or surpasses that of their male peers. Furthermore, women who preform well in STEM areas are also likely to perform well in the humanities, while the same does not necessarily hold true for men. Thus, women may have more options if they chose to leave CS compared to men.

Finally, how we brand CS may be an issue--both when recruiting students and restricting them. Historically, when a field needs more workers (a category that CS has fallen into recently) messaging tends to suggest that the work is easy, that "everyone can do it." The implicit or even explicit implication here is that "everyone, even women, can do it." When a field has reached its capacity and supply exceeds demand, the messaging shifts: the field is now branded as "elite," open to only for the most qualified workers. In addition, the field takes on a stereotypically masculine persona. We have seen this trend in CS: the media often depicts computer scientists as hyper-intelligent, though socially awkward, males. Current efforts to attract more interest for CS, especially from women, seem to be falling back into the trap of using language such as "anyone can do it." While this approach raises interest, it may ultimately harm efforts at diversity when CS students inevitably recognize that the field is both rewarding and challenging (i.e., more difficult than "it's so easy" implies).

What can we do?

First, we need to change our messaging. More specifically, we need to stop portraying CS as an easy field. Let's tell students, "computer science can be challenging, but it's a challenge you can meet. And if you do, there's a world of fun and opportunities on the other side."

We also need to look at the formal and informal practices universities use to handle booming enrollments. This is a complex issue: schools face capacity problems they can't ignore. But we can start collecting and analyzing data about policy changes and work to avoid those that reduce diversity. A quick course correction may keep more women engaged in CS as we ride out this next cycle.

These are just some of the ways we can keep history from repeating itself. We'll be discussing more solutions at our panel at this year's Grace Hopper Celebration. If you're attending, come check us out at 10:30 on Thursday, October 20.


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Using devices vs. Using devices to learn


A common fallacy in educational technology is the assumption that since kids know how to use phones better than their parents do, they also know how to use them to learn. Almost any educator can tell you this is not the case. Technology often wins in the battle for students' attention in the classroom, which has led to skepticism about the educational role of devices and the rise of "no cell phone zones."

However, we argue that banning technology is a disservice to today's students--those students who will be expected to use technology productively and efficiently in higher education and the workplace. Digital Media Specialist Mimi Ito notes, “We tend to see [mobile devices] as a distraction from learning because adults aren’t participating in [formalizing the process]… It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg problem. They’re not participating in shaping the kind of influence these devices [could have]. By embracing mobile devices in our classrooms, we empower students in the learning process.” 

Teaching digital citizenship, as opposed to avoiding the issue altogether, is the key to preparing our students for tomorrow's expectations and creating the difference between using devices and using devices for learning.

The fact is this: students are using and will continue to use mobile devices, which begs the question:  If they’re using their mobile devices anyway, why not encourage and teach productivity and responsible use? Instead of fighting against the educational technology movement, we suggest proctoring and monitoring the use of mobile devices, bringing them out of the backpack and, more importantly, above the desk. By restricting the use of technology in schools or categorically blocking certain websites, we are missing two valuable teaching points: 1) the responsible use of mobile devices and 2) the power of mobile devices for productivity, engagement, and higher-order thinking--all of which have been identified as beneficial outcomes of educational technology.

Above the Desk

With respect to the first, students use mobile devices outside of the classroom and this use is rarely monitored; therefore, by ignoring mobile devices in the classroom, students are not learning the potential dangers of their actions. Through technology programs, students can also learn when, where, and why mobile devices are appropriate--discovering how to use them for productivity, knowledge, and academic communication, not simply for informal communication and games.  Class discussions can develop on unfavorable outcomes, which can ultimately lead to smarter use of technology and fewer security issues as students internalize the principles for what is appropriate to share and how to make those decisions independently. Responsible digital citizens also exercise better judgment about sharing on social media sites, reading privacy statements, and evaluating the security and validity of websites.

As far as educational benefits, the use of technology in the classroom has had significant impacts on students' learning and performance. In interviews with classroom teachers, we often hear, "There's just something about technology that engages students." For example, John Silverthorn, an elementary school teacher, notes his students seem “more intrinsically motivated” when they use devices in class, empowered by seeing the connections between the material they’re currently studying and other things they’ve learned or connections to their non-academic lives. More rigorous research studies complement these anecdotes, citing technology for increased collaboration, interest, engagement, productivity, and teacher creativity.

For those of your thinking, "yeah, this sounds good in theory," consider these experiences from educational technology veterans. Leaders from Forsyth County Schools in Georgia state, “We have noticed that disciplinary issues regarding technology have been down since the implementation of BYOT [Bring Your Own Technology]. It is surprising in some ways how normal it seems with the devices in the school.” Similarly, teachers at Oak Hill Local School District find, “students text less in class when they have the opportunity to text their friends in the hall.” When it does occur, off-task and inappropriate use provide a great opportunity to teach students the difference between the use of mobile in professional and casual settings. Finally, Educational Technology Specialist Michelle Bourgeois found that “once devices were in the hands of teachers and students there was far more potential for creativity and student empowerment than district officials had imagined. The district has been working to get out of the way of that generative energy.”

Teaching digital citizenship is a necessary companion to any educational technology initiative. While there are certainly many things to be wary of in the digital age, there are also many useful and robust resources that can help students. With digital citizenship, it's imperative that teachers begin with the intention of turning their students' smart phone and technology skills into productive learning skills--and understand the difference between using devices and using them to learn.


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Why Digital Citizenship Matters

It’s Digital Citizenship Week! This week we will be featuring a series of blog posts on the topic of digital citizenship, and we want to hear from you. Please comment, interact with us on Twitter (@SASEducator) and Facebook , to tell us what is working in your classroom and your home.

digitalcitwk1When schools make the move to include mobile devices in their classrooms, there are necessary logistical changes – increased infrastructure, professional development for teachers and policies surrounding how the devices can be used and maintained, to name a few. A major philosophical area for schools to include in these changes is digital citizenship. Students have high levels of smartphone and tablet ownership and access, and they seem to know what they’re doing with mobile devices. But does that mean they know how to handle themselves responsibly in regards to privacy, judgment, social interactions and balancing the real world with screen time? This delineation between digital fluency (using a device), and digital literacy (responsible, productive interactions with the technology) is what's at issue here. All of these issues, which didn’t exist 10 years ago in the formal classroom setting, are encompassed under digital citizenship and should be explicitly discussed.

Just as schools teach students to be good citizens of the world – arming them with knowledge so they can go to college, get a job and understand their responsibility to society – the imperative for teaching digital citizenship becomes greater and greater as mobile devices become more prevalent. Teaching kids to remain safe and secure on the internet, to understand the impact of actions online, and to communicate responsibly – these are just a few of the vital topics under the digital citizenship umbrella.

Common Sense Media has been the pioneer in providing guidance and resources on digital citizenship, and they offer eight guiding categories. These will guide our posts through Digital Citizenship Week on this blog: 

  • Internet Safety
  • Privacy and Security
  • Relationships and Communication
  • Cyberbullying
  • Digital Footprint and Reputation
  • Self-Image and Identity
  • Information Literacy
  • Creative Credit and Copyright

These categories guide and categorize the resources available on Common Sense Media’s website, but serve as a good mental model of all of the areas for development in today’s children. As teachers and parents are figuring out how to keep their private data secure and how to interact responsibly with friends and colleagues, students are figuring out the same things, only with much less knowledge of the world and digital fluency. It is, therefore, hugely important to formally educate students on how to use their mobile devices productively and ensure their online actions today do not ruin their future opportunities.

What does your school do to teach students about digital citizenship when they use computers and mobile devices? What do you wish they did? Have your students take the Digital Citizenship pledge today!

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Need Data Sets? Look No Further!

datadepot14Data--that small four-letter word packs a mighty punch! Data is everywhere. Stores use it to determine how to advertise products, politicians use it to support their campaigns, and Google uses it to improve the search engine that may have brought you to this blog! Data is displayed in newspapers, brochures, billboards, as well as on television and the internet.

Faced with a deluge of data, students should understand how it shapes the decisions of others and how to assess and employ it to make their own decisions. In 2014, Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s VP of communications, stressed the importance of studying statistics “because the ability to understand data [will] be the most powerful skill in the twenty-first century.” Analyzing, comparing, interpreting, and explaining data are all key skills. A statistically literate student must be able to think critically about data, understand the context in which it appears, and analyze it to answer questions or solve problems.

But how do you get students interested in statistics? Using real-world data can be the key. That's where Data Depot comes in.

Data Depot (QL #3001) is a repository of 150+ data sources. By using our new search and filter capabilities, you can easily find the perfect data set for your students.


Filters make it easy to search Data Depot for data sets relevant to your course and students.

Looking for a data set as you discuss the importance of nutrition during National Health Education Week? Simply search "nutrition," and students can compare the facts for the 20 most frequently consumed raw fruits, raw vegetables, and seafood items in the United States.


Using search terms can help you find specific data sets.

Need data for your second grade students? Using the filter options, select K-5 and choose from 16 data sets--each available in multiple file formats. Working with spreadsheets? No problem. Need comma-separated values? Look no further. You'll also find SAS and JMP formats for SAS software. And the original source is available for further investigation.


Each data set is available in multiple formats.

A number of our data sets are accompanied by lessons from SAS Curriculum Pathways. These guide students through the process of analyzing a data set and creating graphs. For example, in the lesson M&M’s: Are the colors evenly distributed? students use data on fun packs to create bar graphs and pie charts and to calculate percentages.


Some data sets have associated resources.

SAS Curriculum Pathways provides nearly 500 math resources, including many that support middle school statistics. Check them out today!

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Election and Voting Resources: We have 'em!

The next 30 days will be busy ones for civics and social studies teachers. With their needs in mind, SAS Curriculum Pathways offers an array of resources to help students understand the process, the issues, and the outcome of a presidential election year. Here's an overview.

Understanding the Process

Analyzing Arguments: Clear Thinking
The rhetoric of the political season can be difficult for students to understand and evaluate. This series of four video tutorials helps students reason carefully, recognize faulty logic, and construct written and spoken arguments.

Referendum, Recall, and Initiative

In this interactive resource, students explore the origins and the practice of direct democracy at the state level to answer this question: Is direct democracy good for state government? They'll take a position and defend it with evidence from primary-source documents.

Refereundum, Recall, and Initiative examines the state-level direct democracy model.

Refereundum, Recall, and Initiative examines the model of state-level direct democracy.

Voting Rock: Getting Out the Vote
In this lesson, students gather information on voter registration and the voting process. Then they create a public-service commercial encouraging citizens to register and vote.

Margin of Error: Polls and Public Opinion
Students analyze a current issue and critique the validity of a public-opinion poll.

Understanding the Issues

Income Taxes and Fairness
After exploring the history of income taxes in the U.S. and the distinction between progressive, regressive, and flat taxes, students consider this question: Are progressive income taxes fair? Students then take a position and defend it with evidence from primary-source documents.

Income Taxes and Fairness explroes the history, purpose, and structure of taxation in the United States.

Income Taxes and Fairness explores the history, purpose, and structure of taxation in the United States.

The Minimum Wage
After considering the history of minimum-wage legislation, students answer this question: Do the benefits of raising the minimum wage outweigh the drawbacks? Students then take a position and defend it with evidence from primary-source documents.

The Minimum Wage allows students to examine the possible advantages and disadvantages of the issue.

The Minimum Wage resource asks students to examine the advantages and disadvantages of the various viewpoints.

The War Powers Act
After examining the constitutional basis of the nation's power to make war and the history of U.S. military engagements, students answer this question: Does the president need the approval of Congress to go to war? Students then take a position and defend it with evidence from primary-source documents.

The War Powers act examines the roles and responsibilities of the president and congress in using military force.

The War Powers act examines the roles and responsibilities of the president and congress in using military force.

Additional lessons and primary sources explore issues such as voting rights, local government, the Constitution, and the Congress.

Understanding the Outcome

The Electoral College
Students explore the constitutional foundation of the Electoral College and disputed presidential elections in United States history to answer this question: Is the Electoral College a fair method of selecting a president? They'll take a position and defend it with evidence from primary source documents.

The Electoral College uses the disputed 2000 presidential election to examine the electoral process.

The Electoral College uses the disputed 2000 presidential election to examine the electoral process.

These are just a few of the civics resources available from SAS Curriculum Pathways. Explore the full list today!

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Hooked on HyperDocs: 3 Reasons to Create, Use, and Share

After a summer of working with SAS Curriculum Pathways, my list of awesome EdTech resources has grown considerably. As all teachers know, one of the best ways to add tools to our toolboxes comes from time with our peers, time to explore and plan--both of which are in short supply during the school year. While specific tools for specific standards and activities are exciting, perhaps the greatest impact on my classroom may come in the deceptively simple HyperDoc package.

One of my colleagues recently showed me The HyperDoc HandbookWe were so impressed that we bought our own copies that same day, and we've spent many productive hours researching what's available and adding new materials. Much more than a document with links, HyperDocs are student-driven learning tools embedded with sound pedagogical practices and 21st-century technology. I am now thoroughly obsessed and admittedly “hyper” about a tool that enables teachers to organize and design content that engages students. I could go on and on about why HyperDocs have a place in the classroom, but here the three most important reasons.


HyperDocs begin with the end in mind: embedded in their structure are the elements necessary for guiding students through the content. Unlike slideshows or projections, HyperDocs let students control content delivery. As in a flipped classroom, students “drive” at their own pace and can pause, refresh, or review content as necessary. HyperDocs are essentially customized pages in a constantly updating digital textbook; every day you'll find new tools that enhance learning. In addition, teachers can add content from multiple sources--like those found at SAS Curriculum Pathways. Teachers can also use Symbaloo, ThingLink, Buncee, or Picktochart to add visual appeal to WebQuest-like packages with links to the lesson or unit HyperDoc. Another option is to use the Knight Lab to create timelines like the one I created here for a history HyperDoc on the Integration of the University of Mississippi.


HyperDocs enable the use of embedded and linked content such as timelines.


Because many schools have limited resources, attempts to implement technology can prove less than functional or ideal. Nonetheless, teachers find ways to incorporate technology, and they know the importance of collaboration. HyperDocs offer the opportunity to collaborate—even if 1:1 devices aren't available. Google for Education apps seamlessly allow for sharing, editing, and collaboration—regardless of your tech expertise or school resources. New extensions, apps, and tools are constantly innovating the way students engage in classrooms, and with HyperDocs you can effortlessly package them all.  Check out Padlet, AnswerGarden,, Twiddla, TodaysMeet, Socrative, Slack, and Scoot&Doodle—all of which encourage students to collaborate in new ways.


Confession: I am ALL about the design and delivery. I resist tasks that should take 10 minutes to deliver but end up taking hours. I’m not easily satisfied with design elements and visuals, and I spend a lot of time making sure my resources are student-friendly and attractive. In addition to allowing me to be creative with both the visual and lesson design, HyperDocs encourage students to be creative as well. That's because HyperDocs are designed with students in mind, and their responses, activities, and interactions inspire teachers to consider creativity in a new way. See for yourself by clicking through my Southern Dilemma HyperDoc.  


The HyperDocs Handbook was created by three talented teachers. In the same spirit, they started TeachersGiveTeachers—a site where teachers can search for HyperDoc resources and upload their own creations. Just like SAS Curriculum Pathways, they are free, adaptable, and available in all levels and disciplines. Having just uploaded my first one and filled a folder with templates and ELA HyperDocs created by other teachers, I am officially hooked.

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Elementary Spotlight: 3 Ways to Use QR Codes with SAS Curriculum Pathways

As an elementary school teacher, I strive to develop engaging lessons. I am also concerned about differentiation, matching curriculum to standards, assessments, and ... the list goes on.

Creating Quick Response (QR) codes has made planning and implementing resources a breeze. A QR code connects users to a link such as a website, an image, or a video/audio clip. Using a QR code generator when planning has proven a powerful way to connect students to content both inside and outside the classroom. Try these 3 ways to use QR codes with your K-5 students.

1. Learning Centers

When young students can quickly access content independently, they have more time to explore and complete the activity. For your reading and math centers, you can create QR codes that link to a chart, a game, an online book, a video, or a class notes page. Here's an example:

Second graders are learning patriotic songs in music class by rotating through centers. Each center has a QR code that links to Explore! Primary Sources, a repository of primary-source documents.  Each group listens to the following songs: "My Country Tis of Thee," "Yankee Doodle," and "The Star Spangled Banner." Students then answer a reflection question at each center. Cross-curricular connections with QR codes offer exciting possibilities for deeper learning.  

2. Interactive Bulletin Boards, Word Walls, and Notebooks

Many teachers create bulletin boards, word walls, and notebook pages for students to reflect on key vocabulary, examples, and content. You can create a QR code linked to an image or to a video that helps students visualize and remember content. Consider this scenario:

Third graders are learning about how to talk about their families in Spanish. Students bring in family photos to create a bulletin board on which the teacher puts up a QR Code that links to the SAS Curriculum Pathways video called "La Familia."  The teacher also includes the QR Code in the parent newsletter to continue the learning at home.

3. Differentiation

Differentiating lessons becomes easier when using a QR code to connect students to their learning. You can add a QR code to a video or a form that includes remediation or extension activities. Here's an idea:

After speaking to a 4th grader about revising his persuasive essay to include stronger verbs, hand him a Task Card with a QR code that links to the SAS Curriculum Pathways Strong Verbs video lesson. Have the student complete the task before the next conference.

QR codes are especially useful in elementary school because they eliminate the need to type--a developing skill for this younger audience. Went to eliminate url errors and spelling mistakes? Just generate some codes and have students dive right into the content!

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Five Tips from a Successful 1:1 Initiative

The SAS Curriculum Pathways team visits a number of schools throughout the year--rural, urban, small, large, low- and high-performing. Given the nature of our work, we pay close attention to technology integrations. Do teachers share device carts? Are there computer labs? Are students encouraged to use their own devices? Is the school 1:1? More importantly, we take note of how the technology is being integrated. When are students using the devices? What are they doing on them?

Integration quality varies from school to school, independent of technology access. We've sometimes found ourselves impressed by the one-desktop classroom and disheartened by 1:1 integrations. On such occasions, we've observed devices simply being used to entertain students or keep them quiet after finishing their work; we've also seen devices being cast aside, never coming out of students' backpacks.

But no such squandering of opportunity occurs in Patti Donnelly's class at Durham Academy in Durham, NC, which has been 1:1 iPads for the past four years and has earned recognition as an Apple Distinguished School. Although Donnelly admits that the school has travelled a bumpy road, the integration seems flawless to the casual classroom observer: students use their devices as needed while engaged in on-task, collaborative activities.

How has the school learned from experience? Tweaking the integration started with a simple pedagogy-forward goal: "It’s not about going paperless, it’s about enhancing learning," Donnelly told us. Using this mantra as a foundation, Donnelly and her colleagues identified several tips for other schools.

1. Identify a solid team.

Durham Academy's Middle School Digital Learning Coordinator, Karl Schaefer, spearheaded the initiative in 2012 with the help of English Language Arts teachers, Donnelly and Julie Williams. The team decided to "start small and go for it." After experimenting with both iPads and laptops, the team decided the size, durability, and flexibility of the iPad best fit their students' needs. From there, the team expanded their "go for it" attitude when searching for student tools and resources. The tech team and administration encourages teachers to experiment with various apps and report back during the formalized Tech Tuesday, time devoted to sharing experiences with other Durham Academy teachers. 

Donnelly emphasized the school’s adaptation to the ever-evolving app space. "In the beginning," she noted, "Google Apps for Education did not play well on iOS devices, so we turned to Evernote as a portfolio for student work. More recently, however, the Google Drive app improved, and we started to make that transition." Donnelly emphasized communication and said it takes a village to stay on top of new apps and updates.

Donnelly suggests "treating the iPad as a tool, not the centerpiece of learning."

Donnelly suggests "treating the iPad as a tool, not the centerpiece of learning."

2. Prioritize pedagogy PD, minimize tech-focused sessions.

Have you ever been to an education conference where people preach "pedagogy must lead technology," but find sessions titled "10 iPad apps every educator should install"? Donnelly suggests avoiding the lure of a catchy title in favor of sessions aligned to your pedagogical goals and "treating the iPad as a tool, not the centerpiece of learning." Proven, time-tested pedagogical strategies will continue to be effective regardless of technological advances; however, technology can still enhance those strategies. If we learned anything from our observations at Durham Academy, it was the importance of a robust understanding of instructional best practices.  Donnelly reminded us, "The point is not to add more; it’s to take the tool that works best and make the most of it." The takeaway? Start with good teaching, and add technology as appropriate.

3. Engage students in deliberate onboarding.

Effective integration and instruction goes a long way in classroom management; however, the team at Durham Academy is diligent about engaging students in deliberate training. At the beginning of the year, Schaefer and the team lead students in a two-day iPad passport program. During this training, the team not only takes advantage of Common Sense Media's free Digital Compass curriculum, but Schaefer also created and published the school's own Digital Device Passbook iBook, which takes students through Durham Academy-specific guidelines and policies. The iBook culminates with a quiz that students must pass before being issued their device. Schaefer's approach is rounded out by a thorough FAQ document posted publicly for teachers, parents, and students. Donnelly commented, "The book is really as much for the teachers as is it for the students" because it adds structure and policies about training students to use their devices productively.

4. Strive for consistency across classes.

It is not uncommon to walk into a 1:1 school and see heavy iPad integration in one room and unused devices in another. At Durham Academy, teaching students to use technology as a productivity tool is valued; thus, consistency across classes is a priority. Although some teachers are  more comfortable with devices than others, all classrooms use a common space for student portfolios. Donnelly demonstrated their shared folder system via Evernote, commenting on its advantages for supporting a paperless workflow, sharing and communicating with parents, as well as holding students accountable for their work. She added, "When students are using the same system, tools, and resources in each of their classes, less time is spent teaching about the device itself." Additionally, when there is a question about a particular app, instructors can point students back to the Digital Device Passport iBook, which is full of tutorials about the school's most popular apps.

5. Encourage autonomy—trust in safety nets

In order to teach students to view technology as a productivity tool, they need to be able to experiment with different resources and find the ones that work best for their preferences. We, as adults, all use different tools for completing tasks, from taking notes to surfing the web. Durham Academy encourages such autonomy by allowing students to choose their own apps through the school's self-service "store." The technology team uploads school-approved and licensed apps to the custom self-service store, giving students the freedom to select the ones they want to download.

Back in the classroom, Donnelly says she strives to "facilitate on-demand curiosity" by allowing students to use whatever apps they want at anytime during the class. To regulate off-task behavior, she employs the "double tap the home button" method. If a student quickly exists out of an app, they rarely have time to completely close it; thus, by having students double tap the home button, she can see what apps they were most recently using. For repeated off-task behavior, Donnelly and the other Durham Academy teachers can have students refer back to the "Distractions, Organization, and Multitasking" chapter of Schaefer's Digital Device Passport iBook for a quick reminder of the school's policies and strategies for overcoming distractions.

9781118894309_500X500In closing, Donnelly reminded us that  iPads are "just a device," nothing more. Not a replacement for good pedagogical methods. Not a silver bullet. Simply a device. Observing her classroom, it becomes clear that the success of Durham Academy's integration can be attributed to this mindset. Lessons do not revolve around the technology; it exists as a resource among others—just as it exists for the average adult. Through careful planning, a keen awareness of the tendencies of middle schoolers, a strong team, and a priority for high-quality teaching, the model at Durham Academy is a great starting place for other educational institutions.

To read more about best practices for integrating mobile devices, check out our book, Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Developers, Educators, & Learners.

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