Log in


Log in

Join Today

Innovative Minds

MSET welcomes member and guest blog submissions from teachers, school leaders, and district level leaders highlighting innovative practices by educators across the state. MSET's Blog "Innovative Minds" looks for pieces that inspire innovative teaching, leading, and learning. 

  • 09/26/2021 6:00 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    Although I have been a child psychologist for over a decade, I recently found an unusual source for my “continuing education,” my puppy trainer. As I have been raising my puppy, I realized the overlap between puppy training and teaching social-emotional regulation. So here are a few puppy ideas to consider that translate into the child world.

    1. What you allow will continue-- Just as with puppies chewing our shoes, unless we take steps to correct, it is likely that the behavior will continue. We frequently underestimate the power of behavioral scaffolding and correction when addressing social and emotional issues. Unkind words among peers, anxiety-driven work avoidance, and chronic disorganization don’t magically disappear. If we are allowing unhealthy behaviors in our class, most likely, those behaviors will not only persist but may even mushroom into more significant, persistent, and pervasive patterns.
    2. Tolerance is the goal-- As we have been trying to “sell” school as a place of excitement and games, the implicit message being sent is that school should be fun all the time. Not true. Just as with life, there are many things that we don’t like, but that we tolerate (does anybody love going to the dentist?). The same applies to our social-emotional world. The expectation is not that the child should like everyone but that the child can tolerate everyone while being kind and respectful. That tolerance can gradually morph into actual enjoyment of the peer. The child doesn’t have to like math, spelling, or science, but the child needs to tolerate the growing tension, frustration, and developmental confusion associated with learning new concepts. The same applies to feelings. The goal is not that we enjoy being sad or angry but that we tolerate being in those emotional states. The development of that capacity for tolerance is one of the greatest weapons against chronic anxiety. In the world of SEL, we have been putting much emphasis on feelings recognition and identification. While self-knowledge and self-awareness are crucial, they are not sufficient in producing more optimal functioning. We know from Cognitive Behavioral Theory that we have the most control over our behavior, secondly our thoughts, and least control over our feelings. When helping students become more emotionally healthy, our emphasis should primarily focus on action and behavior while recognizing the emotional component. Address the behavior first by asking, “While you are feeling anxious, what can you do that would make you feel better? Addressing cognition next, ask, “While feeling anxious, what can you tell yourself  to make yourself feel better?” Naturally, healthy action will result in healthier, more adaptive thinking and subsequently more enjoyable feelings. As the saying goes, “feelings are indicators, not dictators.” 
    3. Let them figure it out-- When we see our students struggle, especially socially or emotionally, naturally, our first instinct is to helicopter in, rescue the child, and fix the problem. It is difficult to tolerate our own discomfort when seeing our students in emotional pain. But that type of pain is a wonderful motivator and teacher, helping our students learn how to make good choices through learning about the related consequences of those choices. Our students often don’t figure things out until there is an emotional incentive for problem-solving. Sitting with them in their distress and focusing more on our companionship can be more productive and ultimately instructive than offering leading guidance. Children put a higher value on life lessons when they have been able to successfully problem-solve on their own rather than having to rely on “spoon-fed wisdom” from adults. Children’s self-esteem and confidence grow as they master new situations and skills, which involves making choices and experiencing corresponding consequences, helping them determine what to do or what not to do next time. We are tempted to shortcut this learning process by trying too hard to turn everything into a “teachable moment.” As we know, each child is on their own learning timetable, which cannot be rushed. 

    As we are starting the new school year teaching our students SEL skills, let’s remember the entire Cognitive-Behavioral triad (behavior, feelings, thoughts) and emphasize each component equally. Action towards the right direction produces healthier inner dialogue and self-concept, which always makes us feel better. 

    Lucie Pentz is the child psychologist at St. James Academy in Monkton, Maryland. 

    Join MSET for its Tech Development Session on Wednesday, September 30th at 8pm EST as it has University of Maryland Global Campus faculty member Erica Ellsworth showcase how one can utilize technology to support Social Emotional Learning! Register for the event here.

  • 09/08/2021 9:27 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)

    On Thursday, September 16th University of Maryland Global Campus’s (UMGC) Instructional Technology faculty will be sharing some of their favorite tools in a brand-new webinar series, titled, “Speed Tech.” Speed Tech, a professional development collaboration between MSET and UMGC, will offer six, five-minute presentations (30 minutes) on popular web tools and applications in education.

    To kick off this new event, faculty from UMGC will share their favorite web tools. A preview of the web tools are offered here:

    Prezi Video

    • Prezi video you and your slides together in real time. You can have your face and your video together while you stream in an application like Zoom or record a video. No longer do you have choose between just your face or your slides! Plus, it’s a cool feature that sort of makes you look like a news broadcaster.


    • Remind is a private mobile messaging platform that allows teachers, parents, and students communicate with each other. It’s a great way for teachers to communicate with students without having to share a personal phone number.


    • Do your students love cartoons or animations? Powtoon is a web tool that allows you to create animated videos. Their free tier provides 3-minute videos. The videos look professional created, but you don’t have to have graphic design experience to use this tool.

    Microsoft Lens

    • If you are a person who likes to take notes but wishes you could save them electronically without having to type, Microsoft Lens is for you! Office Lens is a great way to capture whiteboards, handwritten notes or memos, signs, graphics, sketches, drawings and save the, electronically. It’s available for iOS and Android.


    • Wakelet is a free platform that allows you to save, organize, and share content from across the web. You can save content in collections, which you can share with others, invite collaborators, or share publicly. It’s a great content curation tool and a great way to share resources with your students.

    Get the scoop on these great tools and network with colleagues from around the state! Register for our first event here.

  • 07/02/2021 1:40 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    This COVID-19 pandemic created a teaching train-wreck. As teachers, we were forced to learn a new way to instruct students. For many of my coworkers, technology was their greatest struggle this year. My personal struggle was different. I struggled trying to find a way to respond to my students as if we were back to normal (in person and face to face). 

    Pre-COVID, while students worked on assignments in the classroom, I was able to walk around and see students working. I was able to read what they were writing and quickly address any misconceptions while they were working. Students were free to ask quick questions for clarification on a skill, and I was readily available to help them, guide them. During a lesson, I was able to see if a student was struggling or confused just based off of the student’s facial expressions and body language. It didn't work that way when cameras were off and muted; I didn't know if they were lost in their learning.

    When virtual teaching was thrust upon me, everything I knew in supporting in those moments listed above was taken away. I was lost in how to guide and help my students and I felt like a failure. For the first term of this year, I would teach a short math lesson, then give them an assignment to work on independently. I hadn’t realized until afterwards that without the guidance I was once able to offer, my students struggled a lot. When reviewing their work I found those simple errors I should have caught walking around the room. But I knew I had to find a new path as I was unable to change the circumstance of COVID.

    Setting My Own Goal

    I had to find a way to communicate with my students virtually in a similar way to how I helped students in person. 

    Through many trials and errors (and too many failures to count) I found solutions to the problems I was facing. I have much more to learn and practice, but by using these new strategies, I quickly saw improvements from my students. I was now able to interact with my students in ways I didn’t even know I could before. I was able to answer students' questions even when we were not on the screen together. I knew when my students were confused about the content. But most importantly, I could  help students who needed more guidance and direction than others. 

    Here are a few suggestions that I found useful and hopefully can help other educators if they found themselves facing similar problems: 

    • Nearpod: While Nearpod has many features, my favorite was  the “Draw It” tool. While I was logged in as the teacher, I could see which students were participating in my class. As they worked on a problem, I could see in real time the students solving it on their own computer at home. It was as if I was walking around the classroom looking at student’s whiteboards when they were solving a problem. When students were done answering, I could “share” a student’s answer to the class without the student’s name showing. This allowed me to show incorrect answers and offered me the opportunity to have a teaching moment with students to dive in on how to fix their math problem. 

    • Google Slides: I used to let students to work on assignments independently off of Zoom because I couldn't see their work. However, that all changed when I went to using Google Slides. As they work I can view every student’s Google Slide and check their answers before they submit it and leave zoom. 

    • Cameras On: Luckily for me, we were allowed to require all students have their cameras on while teaching. I know this requirement wasn't allowed for all schools, but I could see when my students were confused or distracted or not doing their work because they left. In the fall if you are doing virtual learning, I would recommend to teachers make cameras on a mandatory requirement. 

    • Premade Videos: I used Screencastify to record math skills. I saved those videos and attached them to online worksheets for students to watch while they complete their assignments. This allowed me to help students at home even when they worked on assignments independently after hours. I even had some students share that when they got stuck they would remember a line or phrase I said during the video to remind them of how to solve a problem. I know not every student watched the videos every assignment, but even if it helped one child it was worth it. Here is an example of one of my instructional videos.

    • “Mote” Google Extension: This was my last discovery. When teaching in person, any teacher knows there’s always at least one student who asks for the directions multiple times. The Mote Extension allowed me to record myself saying the directions for an assignment, or even reading a word problem aloud. I was able to easily insert the short  audio clip into the assignment for students to click on and listen to. This is not a video, it’s an audio clip. 

    As many of us are attending summer professional learning, I encourage you to continue to look for ways to connect with your students as we return to in-person learning in the fall. Yes, it was was a challenging year, but I am thankful to have spent the time trying new things and experimenting. I know even when we return to in-person learning with every student back in school, I will be using these tools to teach.

    Madeline Naumann is a 5th grade math, science and social studies teacher at North Salisbury Elementary School in Wicomico County School District. She is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership at Salisbury University. You can contact her via email at or find her on Twitter @MadelineNaumann

  • 06/17/2021 8:17 AM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)

    Please don’t do this.

    Whatever you do, don’t go there.

    Trust me, it will not end well.

    I am referring to looking in your rear-view mirror and going through your coulda, woulda and shoulda’s. You have been through an incredibly difficult two years. Allow yourself to feel good about where you are.

    Leadership expert Dan Sullivan would recommend that you focus on the gain, not the gap. In other words, reflect on the progress made, not the distance between where you ended up and where you wanted to be. This does not mean that you shouldn’t continue to strive to get better. It’s in your DNA. I know you are always looking for ways to improve. And just in case you were looking for more, I wanted to provide you three great ways to become a better educator this summer.

    Listen to Podcasts

    Am I biased because I host two podcasts? Probably. But is listening to podcasts a great to improve your practice in just ten minutes? Absolutely.

    The beauty of podcasts is that you can listen to them on the go. You don’t need to be sitting, highlighting or even have your eyes open to learn from a podcast. I know folks that listen to podcasts while they are driving, exercising, or cutting their lawn.

    Again, I am biased, but I would recommend one of the many podcasts on the BAM Radio Network. No matter what your position in education, there is a podcast for you. And best of all, podcast episodes usually only run between 4 and 15 minutes. Try just one. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

    Prepare Yourself Physically

    I will never forget my dad’s advice the summer before my first-year teaching. He said, “Jon, you are going to want to be in the best shape of your life before you step foot in that classroom.” At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about. I mean it’s not like I was going to be playing in the NFL.

    Now I understand what my dad meant. Teaching is exhausting. I played competitive sports growing up, so I had some idea of what it was like to be worn out. But there was nothing I played that prepared me for how tired I was after a long day of teaching. It is a tired like I had never experienced.

    Here’s the thing. You don’t have to spend hours and hours exercising and working out like you may have done when you were younger. Not that you still aren’t. Just don’t talk yourself out of exercising because of where you may be now. Go for walks. Do a few push ups each day. Play with your kids or your pets. You can get a good workout in as little as five minutes a day. Your body will thank you when you head back to school in August.


    Rest Your Mind

    What is the one thing that never seems to turn off during the school year? Your mind. Heck, even when we are sleeping, we are dreaming about the next day or being chased by a giant unsharpened pencil. Maybe that’s just me.

    Start by making a list of everything that comes to mind when you think about next school year. Take as much time as you need to get everything down on paper. When you are done writing, put the piece of paper away and don’t look at it again until the week before school.

    Finally, allow yourself to get more sleep than you did during the school year. You’re probably thinking, “Jon, that won’t be a problem.” Remember, when you sleep you allow your brain to rest and to flush out all of the toxins that built up during the day. Your brain will thank you and you will be more mentally prepared in August.



    Remember you have earned this summer. Enjoying your time away from school doesn’t mean you are unprofessional or that you don’t like kids or enjoy your job. Don’t let social media or non-educators try to convince you otherwise. Oh, and one more thing.

    I’ll see you in August!


    Jon Harper is a former elementary school teacher and current assistant principal in Dorchester County Public Schools.  


  • 05/05/2021 9:50 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)

    By Matthew Jones

    As the world started to shut down last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers worried about how they would reach their students. The 2020-2021 school year quickly approached and I started stressing about how virtual classes would work. Especially being an elementary school teacher, connecting with students at a younger age through a computer screen can be very tricky. 

    Before we went into a shutdown, teaching and connecting with students came naturally to me. We could sit down and chat about what was happening in their lives, we could play games, and we could even high five and say hello! Now, we have to be very creative in order to complete these tasks that were at one time so simple. As the school year started I felt lost trying to get to know my students, their interests, what they liked outside of school, or even what kind of student they were. I felt like they were just as nervous for virtual schooling as I was. 

    As the school year quickly progressed I started to hear other teachers discuss different strategies they were trying to implement. Nearpod was one website I heard over and over again from teachers. They raved about how awesome it was and how lessons could become somewhat interactive and normal again. I quickly hopped on the Nearpod bandwagon and fell in love. 

    I started using Nearpod slowly and incorporating small chunks into my lessons. I thought this would be a great idea so that my students wouldn’t get overwhelmed with something completely new to them. I also didn’t want to overwhelm myself in trying to go overboard with a new resource. Day by day, week by week I would try something new that I realized Nearpod offered. As I started to dive deeper into the different activities I started to get creative with how to add them into lessons so that students were being interactive throughout the lesson and not just listening to me talk. I wanted to start using Nearpod so my students could feel as if they were in the classroom with me. 

    The list below consists of a variety of activities that I like to use from Nearpod. These activities have made my online classroom come alive. I hope this list of activities and how I have implemented them into lessons will help other teachers who are struggling with meeting their students and getting to know them! 

    Nearpod Activities for Distance Learning
    • Time to Climb - This activity is awesome to review content that has been taught or if you want to crank up the competition within your classroom. It starts off with the teacher being able to pick a theme, Himalayas, underwater, space, etc… Then students are able to choose a character of their choice! Once the game starts, a question will appear and students as fast as they can have to select the correct answer. As the students get the correct answer their character begins to climb up the mountain. This activity I love to use at the end of my lessons to recap on skills that have been taught. It creates some competition that my students thrive off of and really like to show off their skills. 
    • Videos - When showing videos on Nearpod teachers have the option to show it off their screen, or they can have the students play it off their laptops. You may be thinking what is the difference of showing a video just off of YouTube or playing it off Nearpod? Nearpod has a feature when you upload a video you can add questions throughout the video. I like to use this for read alouds. For asynchronous learning, I like to assign students stories that are being read by myself. Once I upload the video to Nearpod, I go through the video and can add multiple choice or open ended questions. I like to see what my students are thinking about the story and check for comprehension as they are listening. It also allows me to see how well my students are able to write when asked to explain. 
    • Draw-It Tool - This tool is one of my favorites on Nearpod. I make Google Slides for Math class all the time. Before Nearpod I would tell the students to write or draw their work on

      paper or a whiteboard. Draw-It allows students to be able to show all their work right on the slide deck. What is also awesome about this tool is that as the teacher, I am able to see each student's “whiteboard” on my screen. This is a great tool to make sure students are understanding, or if they aren’t doing anything you can chat them on zoom and ask if they need help. 
    Here is an example of the Draw-It tool  on the students end. They can write with a pen, highlighter, or type their answers on the screen. Here is an example:
    • Voice-Recorded Answering - The newest feature I have found on Nearpod is allowing your students to use voice recording. I quickly learned that elementary students are not the fastest typers in the world. To solve that issue, time in class doesn’t have to be wasted waiting on them to type out a response. Nearpod allows students on open-ended questions to record their voice. After recording their answer students can send their recording to the teacher to listen to. This cuts down on time being wasted and really allows you as the teacher to understand the students thought process. 

    As the school year continues and Nearpod continues to add on more and more activities and resources I will do my best to continue incorporating them into lessons. I hope by using these resources my students feel as connected to me as I do to them. Using Nearpod in my classroom has allowed me to interact with students as close as we can during distance learning. We have fun in my classroom and love to try new things. I think the most important thing for all teachers to understand is we are all new to this. Never be afraid to be a risk taker and try it out! 


    Matthew Jones is a 5th grade self-contained special education teacher at North Salisbury Elementary School in Wicomico County Public Schools. You can connect with Jones via email at or find him on Twitter @Jones_Matt8

  • 05/01/2021 9:29 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    March 13, 2020. The last day that staff and students would be in the building for the 2019-2020 school year. No one knew how long this would last. No one was prepared to switch over to an all virtual environment. Fast forward to September 2020. Students are still virtual. New ideas were being proposed every week of new ways to be able to help reach and teach these students but the one topic that was always a question for me was: how am I going to teach PE virtually? A job where I am face to face with students every day, teaching them skills and getting them physically active, I now have to teach online. I’ve never done this before. 

    My school district does not require students to have their cameras on during Zoom classes. Though I respect the privacy of the students and families in their own homes, it does make my job as a PE teacher more difficult. I was told that the elementary school teachers were still doing physical activities with their students on Zoom and could see them doing exercises too. It was articulated to me students were excited to participate in P.E. Well, the challenge of middle school, is that not everyone is excited to be there all the time nor do some students want to do anything physically active.  I can probably count on one hand the student faces that I saw each day out of 180 students. I don’t even think I can average that out to 1 face per class. So, in my head, I’m thinking: there’s absolutely no way that I’m going to be going through and doing these workouts with them on the camera like the elementary school when I can’t even see them. I have two reasons for this:

    1. Because I could not see the students, I didn’t know what they were doing. I did not want them recording me doing these activities (by myself) and using them for whatever memes or jokes that their creative little minds could come up with. 
    2. And...I felt I would be giving way more effort than what I would be receiving in return.  So, I had to come up with a way to teach them physical skills and get them physically active. 

    I spent a a lot amount of time teaching students about fitness concepts such as health & skill related fitness components, heart rate, and FITT Principle. I created workout logs for them to complete in order to get them up and moving (on their own time & pace) and to give them a break from their technology. I provided workout exercises and workout videos from YouTube that they could follow along with that didn’t require any equipment. Some students even asked if their team sports practices could count towards their logs, which I encouraged! My main focus was to get them up and moving and away from their screens. I thought this was working well, but knew I needed to do more in order to evaluate individual skills to stay on track with the standards grading process. But how was I going to grade them on physical skills when I wasn’t even seeing their faces on the screen?  I tried doing breakout rooms and I would pop in and have them show me their skill and I got either no response, or some students logged off before I got to them. That’s when I discovered Flip Grid.

    FlipGrid Saves the Day

    Flip Grid allowed me to post a prompt, about demonstrating a certain skill, and allow students to respond to that prompt by recording a video of themselves discussing and completing the skill. It allows them to complete the video on their own time and at their own pace. It allows me to see them performing the skill and provide specific feedback to them – I can write a response back to them, or I could record a response back to them and actually show them how to improve on their skill. It took students a little while to catch up, but it has definitely improved the longer I’ve used it. I wish I would have discovered it sooner. I plan on, and look forward to, using flip grid in a variety of ways in my future lessons, both virtually and in person. 

    Here are some examples I have used this quarter to assess skills. 


    Hannah Parr is a Health, P.E. and Team Sports teacher currently working at Easton Middle School in Easton, MD. 

  • 04/25/2021 9:16 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    Source: “Here we go, again!” is often my thought at the beginning of the semester when preparing to teach Health to high school students.  I feel excited and positive about a fresh new start with a fresh group of students!  I love teaching, I love the content area, and (for the most part) I love my students.  But recently, each time I dive into a unit, teaching it the same way I have for years, driving the class and feeding them the content, I wonder:  Could it be better? Is “here we go, again” really the way I want to think about my experience in the classroom?  Are my students saying the same thing, only with an eye roll instead of enthusiasm?  And don’t they deserve the best I can offer?

    Things usually go well, and students seem engaged and able to demonstrate understanding of a variety of health topics.  So, I don’t often feel like anything is missing.  But there are moments, like when I break them up into teams to research a topic and create a product, when I see a much higher level of engagement, communication, collaboration, and creativity. The entire atmosphere of the classroom shifts in these moments, and I feel a different, higher level of productivity and learning happening.  It is because of these moments that I have decided to create a shift in my curriculum so that these moments become the norm.  I decide to re-design each lesson through the use of HyperDocs.

    According to, an online resource for teachers, HyperDocs are “digital lesson plans that are designed by teachers and given to students. They provide access for students to all content and learning in one organized digital space” (Get Started | HyperDocs, 2021).  In searching for a tool to use to upend my health curriculum and put it in the hands of the students, I found that HyperDocs provide the answer. These shared documents, full of activities and ideas, have given me the way.

    So now, instead of directing students to open their devices to take notes as I proceed to give them all of the content I think they should know, they are exposed to the entire unit at once.  They explore the content themselves, reading articles, watching videos, engaging individually through thoughtful responses and reflections, and working as a group through problem-solving and projects.  Have we used all of the technology tools I include in the HyperDoc before?  Sure.  But to offer the tools as possibilities, choices, and ways to deeply experience the content redefines the way that students learn in my classroom.  

    So, what exactly is in each HyperDoc?  It depends on the topic, but here are some examples of activities I’ve included for a few different health topics we study:

    • Mental Health - Make a Flipgrid of yourself demonstrating a stress management technique.  Use any strategy that works for you.  Watch the rest of the class and learn some new strategies.
    • Relationships - Create a Fictional Family in Imagine Forest.  Tell me about their relationships with each other, and then give them a conflict.  How does this conflict impact their relationships?
    • Wellness - Working in a group, use the information you have found to create a Public Service Announcement in WeVideo for your peers, encouraging healthy choices.

    One of my favorite things about using HyperDocs in my Health curriculum is the built-in opportunity for extending learning.  It felt scary, at first, to put my students in control of their own pacing.  Would they take forever?  Finish too quickly?  One way that I prevent my “high flyers” from sitting around waiting for everyone else to finish is through enrichment.  Finding and offering extra explorations, activities, and extension experiences to each HyperDoc has actually benefited my own personal knowledge within each topic as well as giving my fast-moving students something meaningful.

    I have started to really feel that “shift” I mentioned previously, and I am reminded of the “4 Shifts Protocol” developed by Scott McLeod and Julie Graber as explained in their book, “Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning” (2019). The four shifts include Deeper Thinking and Learning, Authentic Work, Student Agency and Personalization, and Technology Infusion.  Although I was just looking to shake things up in my teaching and give students more of a voice in their learning, I realized that using HyperDocs for Health actually addresses all of those areas.  The activities I include in each HyperDoc give my students opportunities for using technology to think critically, participate in real world work, research, and decide how they want to demonstrate their knowledge.  McLeod and Graber (2019) developed this protocol as a “down-in-the-weeds (re)design resource” (p. 12), and this innovative tool is the means by which I can use that resource.     

    I can hear you asking, “How do I start using this amazing tool?!” I highly suggest doing what any good teacher does - borrow!  There are so many pages of HyperDoc templates shared by amazing and generous educators available for use.  I picked through sites full of content specific and grade specific templates, found the ones that made sense to me, and adapted them for my classes.  It’s so easy to switch out images, links, and activities once you have a basic structure.  My students no longer sit down, pull out their devices and stare blankly at me, waiting to absorb my knowledge.  Instead, they actively jump into each unit, ready to engage in the content in a fun and meaningful way.  

    To learn more about HyperDocs, check out the following sites.


    Angela Romeo is the Performing Arts Department Chair, Dance Director, and PE/Health Teacher at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, MD. 


    HyperDocs Academy | HyperDocs. (2021).

    HyperDoc Templates. (2021). HyperDoc Templates.

    Mcleod, S., & Graber, J. (2019). Harnessing technology for deeper learning. Bloomington, In Solution Tree Press.

    The HyperDocs Toolbox: 20 engaging example activities - Ditch That Textbook. (2020, September 17). Ditch That Textbook.

  • 02/28/2021 5:00 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    On Episode 52 of EduDuctTape, Jake Miller discussed how when we look at all the technology tools available to us, it can be overwhelming. It's like walking into a hardware store. With so many options, it can be hard to find what you are looking for. Sometimes,  you need to narrow that search, in order to find what best fits your needs. He discussed certain tech tools being on our toolbelt -- we use them all the time. There are other tools we use less often, but take them out as needed -- those tools would be in your toolbox. There are still lots of great tools out there that we might not use, but that's okay.

    So with that thought in mind, I thought I'd share my toolbelt and toolbox tech tools. In order to gather a place of my toolbelt or toolbox, the tool needs to fit my TRANSFORM Tech Tool criteria. Those criteria include giving opportunities that are not possible without the technology, being versatile enough to use in any setting, subject or age group and transforming or enhancing the learning experience. 

    My Technology Toolbelt

    The tools that I add to my toolbelt are ones that I use all the time. They are always at my side and at the ready. Check them out to see why.

    1. Flipgrid: It is no secret that I am a huge Flipgrid fan! I love how Flipgrid's video based discussion board allows students to share their thinking anywhere and anytime. Flipgrid is not only versatile, but gives students opportunities for student to student interactions something that all of our students need in our current educational settings. In Falling into Flipgrid Fever blog postI share my Flipgrid journey- check that out.

    2. Google Slides: I believe that Google Slides is one of the most versatile programs out there. Not only can you use it to present, but there are so many more uses. One of my favorite ways to use Google Slides is for collaborative slide decks. I love how this use allows students to see each other's thinking and comment on it. Another great use is the linking feature. My students have used this feature to make an app like experience (Thanks Micah Shippee for the suggestion) and Choose Their Own Adventure books. Google Slides also offers a great way to share video ad free and edit as needed. These are some of my favorite ways, but there are so many more.

    3. Pear Deck: Pear Deck takes the power of Google Slides to a new level. I love how these interactive questions give every student a voice. This has been extremely vital in our current educational setting. In my Pear Deck to the Rescue blog postI shared the amazing ways my staff has been using this awesome tool.

    4. Wixie: Wixie, like Google Slides, is a fantastic kid-friendly creation tool for students in elementary school. Its easy interface combined with royalty free images, photographs and sounds make it a great way for students to share their learning. Like Google Slides, it also allows collaboration and now you can even add video into your projects. See how I share all the great things Wixie can do!

    5. Padlet: I have a love/hate relationship with Padlet. I love all the amazing things that Padlet can do, but wish that it wasn't freemium. Luckily, this year, my school has a Padlet Backpack subscription. Like many of these tools, I love how it helps students to interact with each other and see each other's thinking. Padlet allows many ways for students to respond video, audio, text, and drawings and gives students choice and voice as they respond. The variety of formats make this tool one that you can use so many different ways.

    My Technology Toolbox

    The technology tools in my toolbox are also valuable. I love using them but find that they are more specialized and pull them out of the toolbox as needed.

    The technology tools in my toolbox are also valuable. I love using them but find that they are more specialized and pull them out of the toolbox as needed.

    1. Smithsonian Learning Lab: The Smithsonian Learning Lab brings the magic of any Smithsonian museum to your device's screen. I love using this tool with students and it works particularly well with the Thinking Routine, See, Think, Wonder

    2. Pear Deck's Flashcard Factory: Pear Deck's Flashcard Factory is an amazing tool that many people do not know about. It allows students to create collaborative flashcards. This program like the others works in any environment. This fall, my students completed this in breakout rooms and loved it! You can use this for any subject area, even math. 

    3. Adobe Spark: Since Adobe Spark was not approved for student use under age 13 in my district until last year, it is a relatively new tool for me. I love the ease in which students can use the components of this tool: Post, Video, and Page. If you click it, you can change it. Last year, my third graders used Post to make "collagasauruses." My fifth graders used it to make illustrated picture books about light and my sixth graders made awesome trailers for their American Revolution Museum exhibits.

    4. EdPuzzle: Students are visual learners and look to video based platforms such as YouTube for everything. EdPuzzle capitalizes on that and makes any video interactive. This is an amazing tool for flipped learning and a huge library of pre-made videos are available. Plus, you can edit and make your own video interactive. 

    5. Google Forms: Google Forms is a great way to check in with students. It allows you to gather formative data and easily converts into a Google sheet. You can add videos, pictures and even your voice inside a form. Plus, using the branching features inside of Google forms, you can create responsive assessments. 

    Consider how my Top Ten TRANSFORM tech tools can enhance your classroom.  They all offer easy ways to get started using technology in a meaningful way. Don’t be afraid to get started, just pick one and start. If you need help, feel free to reach out to me @TannenbaumTech or check out my website: . After all, we are all better together.


    Debbie Tannenbaum works as an Elementary School Technology Specialist in Fairfax County, VA. She supports both staff and students to integrate technology tools into instruction through both co teaching sessions and weekly technology classes. Debbie emphasizes working collaboratively with other educators to use technology tools that amplify student learning and empower student voice.

  • 11/01/2020 8:08 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    It’s November 2020 and there is no sign of returning to school for in-person learning for the foreseeable future. Teachers, students, and families are navigating between synchronous and asynchronous learning the best they can each and every day.  All of a sudden it hits me...our classrooms are completely teacher-centered! We are in a virtual space with district-provided curricula our students need to be successful with limited synchronous instructional time. It was at this moment I realized we need to find a way to give students choice in a way that does not impede on our already limited instructional time. If you are in a similar situation, then you are just the innovative advocate your students need!

    How a Mythology Mini-Unit Led to a Love of Learning

    As a 4th and 5th grade English Language Arts teacher, I followed my scripted curriculum to fidelity to ensure students received instruction aligned to their grade-level Maryland College & Career Readiness Standards. As a result of following my district provided curriculum, I saw an increase in student data on our PARCC assessments, student confidence, and received accolades about my curriculum instruction from my colleagues and administration. This was great recognition, but something was missing. Were my students able to have a voice in their learning? Was I learning more about my students? Were they able to tap into unexplored potential? The answer was an astounding “no!” and that is when I chose to take matters into my own hands.

    I made a plan to take our 5th grade mini-unit on Mythology and add opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning. Students not only had opportunities through tasks within the curriculum, but also through student choice in the culminating project. For the culminating project choices, I utilized a few suggestions from our Gifted and Advanced Learning curriculum for sixth grade, but also allowed students to propose their own projects. My mind was blown! At the end of our mini-unit, students presented Facebook or Instagram pages for their chosen Greek God/Goddess, board games based on a Greek myth, cover letters applying for the head seat on Olympus, and other student-created ideas that highlighted their passions and interests. I learned more about my students, parents learned more about their children, and perhaps the most valuable learning was that my students learned more about themselves. Isn’t that what we want at the end of the day?

    There are some lessons you simply can’t teach your students. You work hard to prepare them with the ELA skills they need to be successful, supporting them with mastery of their grade level standards, and maintaining your instructional minutes, but you can also do this while supporting their love of learning through choice! 

    A Mini-Project Based Learning Project Aligned to Our Curriculum!

    I didn’t know then, but the mini-unit I implemented with my 5th graders was a bite-sized Project Based Learning (PBL) plan. It was by no means the “gold standard” PBL strives for, but let’s be honest, I had a district-provided curriculum and limited instructional time, so I did not have the time to implement a full-blown PBL long-term plan (Buck Institute for Education, 2012; Patton & Robin, 2012). This year, I decided to continue with the idea of a bite-sized PBL project and bring it to the current third graders at my school!  

    My bite-sized PBL vision supports third graders as they engage in Module 2 of our text-rich and knowledge building English Language Arts Curriculum. During Module 2 students learn about outer space and answer their essential question, how do people learn about space? (Great Minds, n.d.). This module is always a favorite with third graders, and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to learn about outer space? This makes this module the perfect time to implement this project! There are currently little to no opportunities for students to use their agency to choose “what” and “how” they learn in the virtual setting, to learn and practice research skills and digital citizenship, or to explore topics of interest aligned to the curriculum (extension and enhancement). This project will support the skills students have not yet learned or experienced but need to be successful as a 21st century learner. 

    Unfortunately, our 60 minutes of synchronous learning time is being maximized to the tee with our curriculum content so synchronous learning time is not an option. My vision is to begin this first implementation within 30-minutes or less a day. This vision will only require less than 30 minutes from students and will take place during the asynchronous learning block once students have selected their topics, final products, and authentic audience to share them with.

    After a whole group brainstorming sessions and one-on-one teacher conferences, students will be ready to explore their topics with the goal of answering the Driving Question: Why do explorers explore space? As students research their topic, they are using a website evaluation tool to determine if information is credible, tracking their references on a Google Docs tracker, and working on their final products. Students will have various options for their culminating project such as a brochure using Canva, a mini-lesson through FlipGrid, or a physical model using their STEAM kits. In addition, students will need to choose an authentic space to share their final products such as the Baltimore Museum of Industry, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Maryland Science Center, or the National Air and Space Museum. This bite-sized PBL opportunity will support student choices as they navigate their learning with a real-world connection at the heart of it.

    Deeper Learning Through My Bite-Sized PBL Design

    Meeting curriculum standards aren’t the only learning outcomes students will meet. This design will also support students with Deeper Learning Competencies (2013) as they will think critically and solve complex problems as they apply interdisciplinary skills to evaluate and analyze research, learn how to learn as they set goals, self-reflect, and advocate for their learning and needs, and also develop academic mindsets as they demonstrate perseverance and how to navigate through challenges, 21st century skills needed to be successful in the real-world.

    Perhaps the most exciting deeper learning for students comes through the integration of key International Society for Technology in Education Standards for students (ISTE, n.d).  Students will have an opportunity to begin their life-long journey of becoming Empowered Learners, Digital Citizens, and Creative Communicators (ISTE, n.d.). Our young innovators will become Empowered Learners as they create and articulate their chosen topic while utilizing technology and reflecting on their learning. Digital Citizenship will be supported as students use their Google Docs tracker to examine the credibility of websites, organize the resources they plan to use, and properly credit the sources of their research. I am also excited to see our third graders become Creative Communicators as they choose the appropriate platform and/or research tools that best support their final product choice.

    Support Your Students with Standards AND Choice!

    Curriculum expectations, limited time, and a virtual learning environment are real and valid concerns, but in less than 30 minutes a day, supporting standards AND student choice is possible! Join me on this journey…the time is now!


    Purvis is a literacy coach for Baltimore City Public Schools. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Educational Technology at Loyola University, Baltimore, Maryland. You can follow her on Twitter @plovesliteracy.


    Buck Institute for Education. (n.d.). What is PBL?

    Deeper Learning Competencies. (2013, April).

    Great Minds. (n.d.).

    International Society for Educational Technology in Education (ISTE). (n.d). ISTE standards for students.

    Patton, A. & Robin, J. (2012, February). Work that matters: The teacher’s guide to project-based learning.

  • 10/22/2020 8:10 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    The 2020-2021 school year has been incredibly challenging for most teachers, especially those in elementary school. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve looked at my first graders’ tiny faces on my computer screen and thought “how can you play video games for hours, but I can’t even keep you focused for more than 20 minutes!?!”  Whether you’re teaching completely online or in a hybrid setting during this pandemic, I’m sure you’ve felt the same way. This environment is new, confusing, and frustrating for students and teachers. We are all desperately searching for innovative ways to engage our students and push them to higher level learning, but we don’t even know where to start. Well, I’m here with some good news - I’ve found a way!

    Minecraft: Education Edition
    Minecraft: Education Edition is a great tool with features that make it more adaptable to a classroom setting. When I first started reading about Minecraft: Education Edition, I thought there was no way I could implement this tool in my classroom. There are too many variables and I, a Minecraft novice, would undoubtedly lose control of my students. Minecraft: Education Edition would require me to give up authority over my young students and give them free reign of a game that they’re used to playing without an educational goal. However, there are many classrooms who have implemented Minecraft: Education Edition successfully. 

    Jennifer Lewis, a teacher in the Cherokee County School District, created a Science lesson about light for her first-grade students using Minecraft: Education Edition (Minecraft: Education Edition, 2019). She modeled using tools and objects within the world in front of the whole class and afterwards, had her students follow a path within the game to learn new concepts about light. Once the students completed the game path, they applied their learning to build their own structures with light inside the game. Her students were incredibly engaged during this lesson and pushed themselves to learn even more about light while they were creating their structures. For instance, one boy discovered glass was transparent, so the light could still travel though it (Minecraft: Education Edition, 2019). 

    Another example of a teacher who successfully used Minecraft: Education Edition is William Dergosits, a co-teacher in a third-grade, special education classroom (“Educators Across,” 2020). He found that his typically reluctant students became quickly engaged in academics and eager to share about themselves once he introduced MinecraftHis students were able to easily share their work with peers in their class and collaborate with other students in their school because of Minecraft: Education Edition’s multiplayer feature (“Educators Across,” 2020). 

    These success stories aren’t at all shocking when you look more into the power of play and game-based learning in any classroom. Think about it; even as an adult, I’m more willing to take risks and make mistakes in a game-like setting than I am inside of a professional or classroom environment. The same is true for our students. While games and play are typically viewed as something that we mature out of, play is actually the easiest way to inspire learning. Play encourages experimentation, research, and continual learning in people of all ages (McLeod & Shareski, 2018). So why not try it? I’m kidding.

    After learning about Minecraft: Education Edition, my thoughts filled with everything that could be wrong and I’m sure you’re doing the same thing. So, I’ve created a list of six features and supports to help you and your students implement Minecraft: Education Edition without a hitch:

    1. Use the Pre-Loaded Worlds or Starter Kits.  Minecraft: Education Edition has pre-loaded worlds and lesson starter kits available for educators to use. Simply select the subject you’re teaching and explore the lessons Minecraft has ready for you! You can even preview the objectives and goals of each lesson before downloading it. It helps to make sure you front load a lesson enough so that your objectives are attainable for your students. That will also help them stay on track within the world.  As a first-grade teacher, I did find that I needed to adjust these lesson to the needs of my learners, but they were a great place to start! 

    2. Use Borders and Join Codes to Restrict Access.  My biggest fear when it comes to multiplayer games with young children is teaching kindness and digital citizenship. While your students are in the process of learning how to treat others in this new platform, consider using borders or Join Codes to restrict their access. Borders are used to surround an area and prevent students from entering or leaving the area. These borders are invisible, so students could still see each other’s work without having the ability to add to or destroy parts of it. Meanwhile, the Join Code restricts access to the world completely, meaning students cannot join the world without the correct Join Code. This code can be refreshed at any time. For instance, after school hours, I can refresh the Join Code so that students cannot access the world without my supervision or change their work without their collaborative team members present. 

    3. Utilize Non-Player Characters with the Immersive Reader. Minecraft: Education Edition gives you the ability to create your own Non-Player Characters (NPCs). NPCs stand in one spot. They can be used to provide resources, such as videos or links, and give directions. The NPCs also include an Immersive Reader button that will read aloud the NPCs directions to any students who are unable to read the directions or prefer to hear them.  

    4. Encourage Adult Support. Now that students are learning from home, if a student gets frustrated or forgets a control within Minecraft during independent learning time, I’m not available to help immediately. Encourage adult support by creating help pages or a discussion board for parents. Minecraft has many tutorials available on the app for anyone to practice using the controls (Minecraft, personal communication, n.d.). It’s helpful to give adults and students access to these tutorials as well so they can provide additional support at home. With that being said, it’s important to note that many students are already Minecraft experts and that’s okay! I’ve found that they are even more excited about Minecraft because they can teach me and any adults at home. All adult support from a teacher or parent should still allow students to take control of their own learning.

    5. Guide Your Students with Rubrics. I try to create rubrics with my class to help them take ownership of their learning. For instance, during a personal narrative writing lesson in Minecraft: Education Edition, we might sit down and decide together that they need to include two or more events in order, use correct mechanics, add details, and include pictures that match the words (yes, all of this is possible within Minecraft: Education Edition!). Creating a rubric also helps guide their learning and keep them on track for the duration of the project. In fact, you might find that your students produce even better stories because they are able to experience their story firsthand and, therefore, add more details.

    6. Implement Self-Reflections. After any project, it’s important to meet with your students and help them reflect on their work. Were they a good collaborator? Were they as creative as they could be? Did they try their best? Asking younger students these questions to help them learn how to think about their work and create attainable goals for next time. 

    Good luck! I hope these six features and supports helped you feel more confident in your Minecraft teaching abilities. Your students will be so excited to play that they won’t even realize how much they’re learning. If you’re not completely sold, check out the resources below to learn more! 


    Educators across the globe are using Minecraft: Education Edition for remote learning. (2020, June 17). Minecraft: Education Edition Blog.

    McLeod, S. & Shareski, D. (2018). Different schools for a different world. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

    Minecraft: Education Edition. (2019, May 22). Teaching the science of light with Minecraft Education Edition [Video]. YouTube.

    Wagoner,  a first-grade teacher in Howard County Public Schools, is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Educational/Instructional Technology at Loyola University.




Follow our activities

© 2023 Maryland  Society for Educational Technology

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software