Friday, November 30, 2012

1f: Designing Student Assessments with iPods for Testing Modifications

     A common problem for many teachers (especially special education teachers) is finding a way to be in two places at once. Especially when it comes to students with testing modifications especially those students who need to have tests read out loud to them. Several years ago; with the help of a special ed teacher Jenny Beyer; we started a project to help other teachers in the school record their test questions for students to play back on a district owned iPod nano.

Here was our rationale:

To provide students with an audio file of each test question in order to make customized testing accommodations for each individual student. Teachers will record an audio file of the individual test questions and these questions will then be loaded onto an iPod for student use during the test.  This will allow each student an opportunity to take the test at their own pace while still having the test read to him/her.  Frequently students feel anxiety when having a test read to them because they often will need to have the questions repeated or have the test read slower but they often don't ask for these accommodations because they don't want to be singled out.  The use of these iPods will allow these students an opportunity to listen to the questions multiple times and allow them time to comprehend the questions at hand, in their own time frame. Students additionally could be allowed to remain in the general education setting while taking tests if they wish; thus reducing time in a more restrictive setting.

Here is a link to the brochure we handed out to the teachers:
Click here to open the brochure

When we started this project we used the 5th generation iPod Nano and Tunes 9.
Here are the instructional videos for the teachers:
How-To Videos:
Video 1: How to Record the Questions [1.09min]

Video 2: How to Save the Question [1.17min]

Video 3: Get Ready to Record the next Question [1.10min]

Video 4: How to put the Test on to iTunes [0.53min]

Video 5: How to Name the Album [0.44min]

Video 6: How to Clear the iPod [0.38min]

Video 7: How to Put the Recorded Test Questions on the iPod [0.31min]

Video 8: How to Remove the iPod [0.26min]

Originally posted on

3c: Engaging Students in Learning in outdoor labs

     (Originally posted 9/13/09 on my previous classroom blog)
     This week we went outside into the area where the homecoming bonfire is usually held. This is an area of annual renewal.

The plants present there today will be buried by a large pile of wooden pallets and will be burnt to the ground. The area will then begin to reestablish themselves and their population. So we spent one class period identifying the plants present and counting the number of individuals in that population. We studied many areas the size of a hula hoop. We did find some new species that we have not seen before and a very large spider which we are trying to identify. It was really nice to get out of the classroom and spend time studying our surrounding that we frequently overlook and ignore.
     Later in the year we will refer back to the bonfire pit area  because it shows ecological succession because the environment is going to start over again with bare soil, then weeds and small plants, eventually if it was left alone we would see small shrubs, small trees and eventually large trees and a climax forest. However our area will never get past the small plants stage because we have the Homecoming bonfire there every school year.
In this picture is a spider that was found in the bonfire pit area.

orb weaver spider

posted on

Sunday, November 25, 2012

4d: Participating in a Professional Community on iTunesU

     I'm a celebrity. Yeah, well, not really but now you can learn more about me and what I do in the classroom. Andrew Wheelock was kind enough to interview me for his new iTunes series called "Coffee with a Geek."

Check it out here and subscribe: Coffee with a Geek
You can watch the episodes on an iPod

an iPad

an iPhone

or your computer

Originally posted on

Saturday, November 24, 2012

1d: Demonstrating Knowledge of and Acquisition of Resources with Mini-Grants

Yay! We are getting a mini grant!
     My school district is very fortunate to have an amazing alumni foundation: Lancaster Education and Alumni Foundation (LEAF).  Here is a link to their Facebook page: LEAF. This year they were offering several mini-grants that teachers in our district could apply for if they have a new idea to use in the classroom.  My proposal involved the use of two iPad mini's, and several apps to help students work together to develop higher level thinking skills and to address some common social concerns such as bullying.

Although it would have been ideal to have two iPad mini's which are each slightly cheaper but it looks like we are instead getting one iPad 2. Hey, it isn't too often that a teacher is able to get supplies for her classroom without spending some of her hard earned money every bit helps and I guess I'll just apply again next year. I'll keep trying.

An iPad like the one above will be a welcome addition to our classroom and we look forward to her arrival around January 1st.
   These are some of the apps were a part of the mini-grant:
Reflection app (which allows you to mirror the iPad to your Interactive White board via wi-fi)
Evernote app (which allows you to take a picture of anything with your iPad and share with every device and everyone you know. I use it to take a picture of my agenda on the board everyday so all of my students...even those at home, on home instruction, or one vacation can see what we did that day)

ClassDojo app (you can read about this one on my post here

If you have some apps that you love to use and that we should look at...please comment below and share with us. I need to submit a list of apps by January 1st so they can be put on to the iPad.

Originally posted on

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

4b: Maintaining Accurate Records and 3d: Using Assessment in Instruction with eDoctrina

     Last year I was introduced to a fantastic web-based software known as eDoctrina

     If you're a data junkie like me, this program will fill your life with not only hours but days of enjoyment. Since I teach a New York State Regents-level biology class (The Living Environment) I have analyzed the BOCES statistics about every single question on every single exam but I was looking for a way to analyze the different components of the curriculum and my in class assessments. I am also an avid user of technology in my classroom and I want to be able to help every student in my class be the best they can be in the this is how I got hooked on eDoctrina. They like to call people like me "Super-Users" but really I see myself as a "Heavy-User" it is actually more of an addiction than something I am forced to use. It is important for you to know that my district is supporting eDoctrina but is in no way forcing me to use it. 

     The program is an online set of tools designed to help teachers better target their instruction. It assists with curriculum mapping, building scannable and online assessments, producing data, and managing APPR requirements.  What first got me hooked was the fact that I could print out student scans for my tests and I could put a mix of different types of questions. I could put multiple choice questions with a,b,c,d answer choices along with 1,2,3,4 choice answers. In the past I had to force my students sometimes to use scans from other vendors that didn't match my tests. With eDoctrina, the scans ALWAYS match the test I am giving. To my special ed students this is a big deal. Also, I no longer need to alphabetize the papers and the best part is that after they are scanned I'm two clicks of the mouse away from the grades dropping directly into my grade book! As a teacher with approximately 100 students...that is a HUGE time-saver!

     Unlike other products, eDoctrina has been designed and tested by educators. It is user-friendly, customizable and extremely affordable for any district. 
     One of my absolute favorite features of the program is the fact that it allows for and endorses students as self-monitors of their own learning. Students can assess themselves on current and upcoming skills using a variety of reports. Teachers can unwrap standards within unit plans and print what is called an Assessment for Learning tracking sheet called a Learning Plan. This allows for students to evaluate themselves on skills and standards being taught in any given unit. 

The Learning Plan - a student self-assessment
one of the many reports for teachers showing each students' mastery of each standard

the teacher dashboard
     eDoctrina has made it streamlined for teachers to access various student data reports for any assessment. The five most commonly used data reports are Individual Student Report, Class Summary Report, Item Analysis, Class Comparison and Student Standards Report as pictured in the Teacher Dashboard below.

     If your district is looking for a way to analyze data, to organize the curriculum, to allow teachers to collaborate on Curriculum maps and Unit plans, I would HIGHLY recommend eDoctrina.

This was originally posted on


Friday, November 16, 2012

3b: Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques and increasing Student Participation with popsicle sticks

     Previously I posted about how I use "Fast Fives" to help my students review previous Regents Exams.  I needed a way to keep all of my students engaged and participating so did a little "research" on Pinterest (this is my way to justify all of the time I spend on that website). If you don't know what Pinterest is...I give you permission to go check it long as you come back to my blog. Keep in mind that Pinterest will suck you into a time-warp and 3 hours later you will come out with millions of ideas and even less time to accomplish them.
     So here's what I did and my students LOVE it. I bought a big box of colored popsicle sticks
like these:

     I was looking for 4 different for each of my classes. As the kids came into class I had them each pick up a "Fast Five" and a popsicle stick. My first class of the day got red popsicle sticks, 2nd class: yellow, third: green, and my last class got blue.
     I had each student write their first and last name on one side of the stick. I then had them flip it over and write a funny (school-appropriate) nickname that I should use on the other side. I always get a student who asks: "Is _____ school-appropriate?" and I reply: "if you have to ask, then the answer is NO"

"Big Guy" and "Nugget"
     I then placed all of the popsicle sticks in a clear paint can that I bought at a local craft store like this:

 Here it is with all of the popsicle sticks from all of the classes.  I would recommend buying a bigger one than you think you'll need because...

     I put an empty soup can inside. (shhh.....)

Because, everytime I select a student's name, and they answer a question....I put their stick in the soup can in the middle so other students get a chance.  Sneaky, right?

     Like I said my students love this. I don't think they would love it as much without the funny names but it now prevents that one student from monopolizing the lesson and answering all of the questions. Every student is now answering the questions on their sheet because their name might be selected.

     It's a fun way to take care of a necessary task like review.

This post was originally featured on

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

3c: Engaging Students in Learning with a model of DNA, chromosomes, genes, and nucleus

     Often teachers find everyday materials and find a new way to use them in the classroom. It's a part of the job that sticks with you and even in the summer I see items in a new way and try to find new ways to help my students learn difficult concepts.  I have noticed that even retired teachers can't turn their brains off and even though they may not have a class anymore they still continue to look for new materials for the classroom.

Here is one of my examples from my classroom:

skein of yarn (AKA: Chromosome)

it might look like a skein of yarn to you...but to a biology teacher (like myself) and to my students it represents a chromosome. Because it is just like DNA that has been all coiled up and packaged so that it is easy to move in the cell.

     Could you imagine if they sold yarn uncoiled in the store like this?

Uncoiled yarn (AKA: DNA in the cell in Interphase)
Yarn uncolied and in a skein (AKA: DNA in Interphase and Prophase)
this is a model of what your DNA looks like inside the cell when it is resting (in Interphase), but when it is in Prophase it colis up into easy to move packages like the skein of yarn.

      I like to use this yarn because it has several different colors running through it so I point out to my stdents that those colors represent different important parts of the DNA called genes.

Different colored sections in the Yarn (AKA: a gene)
So I will show my students the DNA (yarn) uncoiled (like in Interphase) and the DNA coiled up into a chromosome (like in Prophase)

     One of my students even pointed out that the ziplock bag I store it in represents the nuclear now to review all I have to do is hold up a part of the demo and ask them what it represents and why.

Yarn inside a plastic bag (AKA: DNA inside of the nuclear membrane)
You can buy multicolored yarn here:

     What household item do you use to demonstrate a concept to your students?

This post was originally posted on

Friday, November 9, 2012

3b: Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques with The Fast Five

     The class I teach is a New York State Biology course called "The Living Environment." At the end of the year all students need to pass the New York State exam known as the "Regents Exam". In order to get my students ready for the exam it is imperitive that they become accustomed to the types of questions that they will see on that exam. Often the Regents Exam questions are at a higher level in Bloom's Taxonomy than just simple knowledge. Often the students will be expected to apply their knowledge to articles, experiments, diagrams, etc.
     I find that if I do too many practice questions with them they don't try very hard and it takes a large chunk of time. So I've started creating what I call "Fast Fives." At least once a week my students will see a Fast Five on the table when they come into class.

They will start working on the questions immediately. The students who get to class earlier have a little more time for the fast fives than their classmates who arrive late. After everyone has completed their fast five then we go over the questions and I teach them test taking skills like highlighting the vocabulary, underlining the base question, labeling the diagrams, crossing out the incorrect answers, etc. It seems to me that 5 questions is the perfect way to get the class started. 

I use an inexpensive sign like this to hold the sign:

Click here to download a fast five from Google Drive.

this post originally appeared on

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It was Angry Birds Pizza Night!

Tonight was Angry Birds pizza night...Post by Andrew Balling (5 years old) I typed for him although he might be a faster typist than I.
"I made the dough. Then we put sauce on it. We put cheese on it. We put pepperonis on it. We put cheddar cheese for the beak. We used 2 slices of mushroom for the eyes. We made the eyes and the eyebrows with the olives. Then we put it in the oven. It was delicious. It was good. We will make it again."

if you make pizza at home the only MUST is a pizza stone for your oven. You'll get a much better crust!

Friday, November 2, 2012

3d: Using Assessment in Instruction with Silent Mind Maps

     I started by putting the main topic that we have been studying in class (in this case it was Transport) and  the main categories to get them started.

put the main ideas of the concept map on the board
Up at the board I placed 6 black expo dry erase markers like these:

     I wanted everyone to have the same color so the focus was on the content, not how pretty it looked. My students use the computers almost everyday so I told them that while their computer was starting up  I wanted them to work together and build a "Silent Mind Map" for the unit. They were not allowed to talk.  All of the communication must happen in the writing on the board. 
the beginning

     Even after they started working online they would look up and still come up to the board and add something, or erase and change something. It was really amazing to see them all work together.

     In my larger classes it was actually pretty funny that even though there were more students, fewer of them would get up and write on the board so I found an easy way to keep track. At the beginning of the year I bought these 2-sided frames at IKEA (my favorite store) (the best store on Earth). On the one side I have a family picture...

99 cent picture frame from IKEA link to IKEA to purchase frame
but on the other side I put the class list. The plexi-glass covering for the pictures allows you to use it as a dry-erase board. I just crossed off the kid's names as they came up to the board to add to our mind map. This way, I was able to know who didn't participate and I walked around suggesting that they add something and giving them suggestions if they needed one.
back of the picture frame (it holds 2 pictures!!)
     After they were all done, we had a short discussion at the end of the period 1-2 minutes about the mind map, and I suggested ways to organize it a little better and they also suggested improvements. I already use Evernote a LOT with my classes so I took a picture of each classes mind map and posted it on Evernote so they could access it while online. In the future I would like to teach my students about how to use Evernote.

     I was REALLY surprised with how well this works and how much my students liked it. I plan to use it with every unit. 
    Have you found a great technique that helps your students understand a unit?  Please share.

this was originally posted on