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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. 

  • 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.

  • 07/15/2020 8:12 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    Ever been afraid to step out of your comfort zone? Standing in front of a camera and videoing myself, surely makes me uncomfortable, knowing I have to go back and watch myself. But, stepping up and standing out of my comfort zone, took me into the horizons of creating a more engaged classroom. Never be afraid to try something new, the world is endless with opportunities.

    Students, It’s Your Time To Work!

    Students in third grade complete many novel studies over the course of the 180 day school year. How do I keep students engaged? Allow them to be a part of the story. Get the students hands on. Near the end of the school year, students read Matilda written by Ronald Dahl. We always have the discussion if the students would like Miss Trunchbull to be their headmistress. Most of them say, “NO! OF COURSE NOT! WE WANT YOU!” As the story comes to a close, students can get a chance to be a part of the story. How? They can be involved with a green screen.

    Students will pick one scene or chapter out of the novel. They will then get to portray themselves are actual characters in the story. Students can be Matilda, Miss Honey, Miss Trunchbull, Lavender, Mr. Wormwood, Mrs. Wormwood, Bruce Bogtrotter, or Mrs. Phelps just to name a few. Students will then set up their green screen. What background would they want? Where is the setting? Then, students get to practice their acting.

    Everything doesn't always work on the first try. I learned that the hard way with the Green Screen. As all the students’ practice recording and acting their scene out with one another, we will collaborate how to make our acting better. At the end of the unit with the students practicing, acting, and adding their final touches, we will take a day to watch the work that was done. Students will then be broken up and be allowed to visit other classrooms and show them the work that they composed. This will engage students in other classrooms and show their peers what they have been doing. Who doesn’t love showing their peers and bragging about something fancy we’ve done?

    Students will be able to become hands on and prove to their audience the details of what happened in the novel, Matilda. Be engaged. Step out of the comfort zone. Take the chance. You never know the endless opportunities that are available, if you try.


    Finch is a 3rd grade teacher at Greenwood Elementary in Somerset County Public Schools. Connect with Finch on Twitter at @RockingReaders.

  • 07/01/2020 6:00 AM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)
    From “Makey Connections,” by S. Bradbury, 2019, June 27. Used with permission.From “Makey Connections,” by S. Bradbury, 2019, June 27. Used with permission.


    Innovation is a word that is thrown around a lot, but can have different meanings to different people.  Often, it is tied to the integration of technology.  While I think this is a fair connection, what makes an innovation truly innovative is the nuanced approach taken, rather than just the tool (or technology) used.  My project, Makey Connections, utilizes technology, but that is not what makes it innovative.  The innovation is found in the way the project reshapes the design and environment of my traditional classroom.

    Wagner (2012) encourages the empowerment of students through the power of play and discovery.  The Makey Connections Project harnesses this power and will help deepen the teaching and learning in my 6th grade computer science classes.  My traditional computer science class consisted of typing practice, mini-tasks and projects on Google Docs or Slides, and computer programming through  While classes ran smoothly, I controlled the majority of the class.  To give space for innovation in my class, I have to relinquish that control.  For approximately 90 sixth graders during the 2019-2020 school year, the Makey Connections Project will afford them the opportunity to take over and make an authentic impact in their community.

    Project Concept

    The Makey Connections Project is all about making connections between students and their learning, to each other, and to their community.  They will be incorporating a Makey Makey kit to help solve authentic problems in their own community.  If you have never heard of a Makey Makey, check out the link.  Imagine an invention kit that connects a circuit board with everyday objects “to interact with computers as creative tools” (Makey Makey, 2018).

    From “Makey Makey Piano,” by S. Bradbury, 2016, October 20. Used with permission.   From “Makey Makey Race,” by S. Bradbury, 2016, October 20. Used with permission.

    In this project, students utilize the Makey Makey and work collaboratively to design an application for a student or staff member with special needs, limitations, or conditions.  An example is designing a keyboard for a student who cannot manipulate a standard computer.  Another idea is designing an activity to combine computers and movement for physical education class.  Students research their design concept, then create and test a prototype.  Finally, students present their final design to a panel of educators.

    Deeper Learning

    My classroom admittedly lacks deeper learning.  I am my own biggest problem!  Of the four big educational shifts outlined by McLeod and Shareski (2018), student agency is the most glaring need in my classroom.  The Makey Connections Project is not a cure-all for this need, but it certainly helps move me out of the way and puts my students center stage!  Student agency swings the control of the classroom environment from the teacher to the students (McLeod & Shareski, 2018). Through the Makey Connections Project, I aim to have students experience ownership, control, “personalization, individualization, and differentiation” (McLeod & Graber, 2019).   

    Adhering to the TPACK model for technology integration will further support deeper learning and improve student outcomes.  The Makey Connections Project firmly lands at the intersection of technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge.  The TPACK model helps marry the different types of knowledge so that they are not just individual parts, but combined to create a more powerful and effective product. McLeod and Graber (2019) state that effective teachers live at the intersection of these different types of knowledge.  The Makey Makey kit alone will not be what drives the change to student outcomes.  The Makey Connections Project brings together best practices of empowered, student-centered learning, with computer science content knowledge, and technology infusion.  There is a lot of overlap between the types of knowledge leading to a more powerful learning experience.  

    Project Goals and Standards



    1. Students will utilize the Makey Makey kit and everyday objects to manipulate controls of the computer. 

    (3a) Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits (ISTE, 2016).

    2. Students will persevere through challenges by fixing mistakes and solving problems that arise.

    (1d) Students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies (ISTE, 2016).

    3. Students will collaborate by testing designs together in which all members play an active role.

    (4c) Students develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process (ISTE, 2016).

    (7c) Students contribute constructively to project teams, assuming various roles and responsibilities to work effectively toward a common goal (ISTE, 2016).

    4. Students will design a project using a Makey Makey kit that will enable someone with special needs or conditions to operate a computer.

    (3d) Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions (ISTE, 2016).

    (4d) Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems (ISTE, 2016).

    5. Students will create a presentation to communicate their Makey Makey design to a panel of educators.

    (SL.6.4)  Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation (NGA Center & CCSSO, 2010).

    (6d) Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences (ISTE, 2016).

    Project Design

    The Makey Connections Project is a three week activity for students.  The first week consists of introductory activities and Makey Makey demonstrations.  The remaining two weeks are broken into four main parts: research, design, iteration, and presentation.  In collaborative teams, students select the profile of a student or teacher who has special needs, conditions, or limitations.   The needs are not limited to learning needs, but could be environmental limitations.  All needs will relate to some limitations in using a computer.  Students research the needs and possible solutions.  Then teams collaboratively design a product to meet the needs and troubleshoot issues as they test their designs.  When students arrive at a viable solution, the student teams create a presentation for a panel audience of educators.  Highlighting their conditions, research, and design, student teams will demonstrate their product, then respond to feedback or questions from the panel.  As a final reflection, students will incorporate the feedback into a set of next steps for their final product.

    The materials needed for the Makey Connections Project will vary depending on the needs of the teams.  Each team will need a Makey Makey kit, laptop, and student or teacher profile.  At this point, students have a lot of choice as to what they will utilize in their designs.  Material requests are formally made during their research time in order to gather the appropriate resources.  


    By the end of the Makey Connections Project, students will have an authentic product that will empower their profiled individual to manipulate a computer.  In addition, the Makey Connections teams will deliver a polished presentation to a panel of educators.  Both products provide the opportunity to dive deeper into authentic tasks with an authentic audience.  Ultimately, my desire is to empower my students to make deeper connections with each other, with their learning, and within their community.  This can happen with them in control of authentic work that impacts real life.  I am excited to have my students make connections with Makey Connections!


    Steve Bradbury is a computer science/technology teacher at Armistead Gardens School in Baltimore, MD.  You can connect with me through Twitter, @MrBradbury08


    • Bradbury, S. (2019, June 27). Makey Connections [Digital image].
    • Bradbury, S. (2016, October 20). Makey Makey Piano [Digital image].
    • Bradbury, S. (2016, October 20). Makey Makey Race [Digital image].
    • International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE Standards for Students.  Retrieved from
    • Makey Makey. (n.d.). Home page.  Retrieved from
    • Makey Makey. (2018, January).  Makey Makey Educator’s Guide.  Retrieved from
    • McLeod, S. & Shareski, D. (2018). Different schools for a different world. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press. 
    • McLeod, S. & Graber, J. (2019). Harnessing technology for deeper learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
    • NGA Center & CCSSO. (2010).  Common Core State Standards (Speaking and Listening).  NGA Center & CCSSO: Washington D.C.  Retrieved from
    • Wagner, Tony (2012). Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. New York: Scribner.

  • 06/30/2020 8:14 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    When I stepped into the role of a Literacy Coach, I knew I needed to strengthen my personal learning network. My new job entailed keeping up with research and current trends in education, as I was now responsible of relaying this information to a team of teachers. I had several books by authors I trusted and respected, but what next? What else? What would keep me current, relevant, and be information I could access quickly?

    One word. One simple word. Twitter.

    I thought it sounded crazy at first, but now that I know how to use Twitter as a professional development tool, I. GET. IT.

    Around 7 years ago, I signed up for Twitter. Sent a few tweets, followed a few friends, and that was it. I quickly became bored with it as a social networking site and never thought much else about it. However, when I was tasked with creating a new, professional account, I was skeptical of how this site that doesn’t let you say all that much (I mean, 280 characters isn’t a whole lot of space) could really help me in a professional way. However, just in a few short months, I have realized how much more of a connected educator I am because of my professional Twitter account. And I’m not the only one. According to a 2016 study, Twitter is the number one tool K-12 teachers use to connect with others.

    I use Twitter to follow education gurus that I love and trust – Kylene Beers, Kelly Gallagher, Eric Sheninger – just to name a few. These educators taught me tons when I read their published books, and now I can continue learning from them as they post new ideas and links to articles they value.  And I learn from more than just the professionals. EdChats occur all the time, and this is when I get a huge growth in my professional mindset. Currently, I do a bit more lurking than participating in these group chats that focus on different topics in education, but as I read what other educators across the globe are discussing and sharing, the ideas begin to spin in my head: How can I incorporate something like that? Wow, I never thought of it like that! Interesting, I’m not sure about that, I’ll need to investigate that idea more. – The advice I’ve received from complete strangers, the work that has been shared, the great links I now have easy access to, these things have been matchless. I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of following a hashtag for hours, time and time again because the resources available are just so good. I have been able to impact the teachers at my school by providing great articles and ideas to them that I found through connecting with others via Twitter. In my role as a coach, I now have a wealth of resources that are quite easy to access.

    I know that in the future I need to become more of an active participant rather than just someone who watches what others do. I’m working on building up the courage to put myself out there. Though I will say, the one time I was engaging in an EdChat, I not only felt challenged through others’ comments, but also validated when complete strangers choose to like or share my tweets. How cool is that? Some people thought enough of my ideas to share them on Twitter. If that doesn’t give an educator a needed confidence boost and feeling of support, I don’t know what will. I want to continue to involve myself more in EdChats for this reason, as well as the fact that I can follow and am followed by people across the country that I have never met but can grow from and share ideas with. Way to go, technology!

    I’m certainly glad I learned how Twitter is more than just funny memes and casual conversations. If you haven’t explored Twitter with a professional mindset, I suggest you try it. I am confident it will help you become a more connected educator. 


    Katie Vinroot is an Instructional Literacy Coach in Dorchester County, Maryland. You can follow her on Twitter @vinrootwords.

  • 06/15/2020 6:00 AM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    I just entered my 3rd year of teaching kindergarten. I have such a wide range of energetic students in my class. When I first looked at the skill levels of my students, I thought “what could I do to differentiate my lessons and make learning fun.”  Then it hit me, TECHNOLOGY!

    In college, there was not a big focus on using technology in the classroom. However, when I started student teaching, in a first-grade classroom, it was incorporated in the students daily learning. The students were using the computers to practice and enhance their phonics skills as well as strengthen their math abilities.  

    I reflected on my student teaching and what I am currently learning in my graduate program. I started to ask myself a few questions. How can I make my classroom more student centered? How could I influence deeper learning into the classroom?

    Then I thought to myself, "What do my students talk about a lot?"  iPads and playing games! I begin to research games and websites that I could use to engage my students. Through my research, I found a lot of interactive websites to help engage my students. 


    I use EBooks in the classroom so that students can hear and read along with stories. I use a few different platforms, TumbleBooks, Epic, Storyline Online, and Vooks. My school district has a subscription to TumbleBooks. The other 3 are FREE! I like EBooks because it teaches the students basic print concepts. It also helps with lower readers, it helps them to still be able to enjoy reading. TumbleBooks and Storyline Online even have comprehension questions and other activities to go along with the stories. They even align some of their stories and activities to the Common Core Standards.  

    The other issue that I was having was differentiating the instructions and making learning accessible for all students. 

    I was able to achieve differentiating my lessons by using some apps on the iPad to make learning more accessible to some of my students. One student in particular has some fine motor problems and does not use a pencil, yet. So, what I did to make sure he was still participating in learning was differentiate his work using some apps on the iPad. The best thing about the apps is that they are still engaging!

    Number and Letter Writing

    One of our big focuses for math was to practice identifying and writing numbers. Knowing that this was not appropriate for one of my students, I started doing some research. 123 Numbers is an app that I use to help him learn his numbers. I was also able to find one to help with letter identification and writing, Trace Letters. What I really like about the Trace Letters app is that while using the app, students can hear a song that teaches the letter sounds. I found that my students who use this app sing the song a lot, and it is very helpful! These 2 apps are FREE! 


    Osmo is an interactive app on the iPad. It comes with an attachment that is added to the iPad as well as tangible pieces for the students to manipulate. The games talk to the students and gives them a great tutorial in the beginning. It also works with them throughout the game if they get stuck. When making the kids a profile, Osmo asks for their age, this will help determine what level to place the student. If you find the level too easy or too hard, you can adjust it. I like this feature because some of my students have the basic skills so I can add rigor and challenge them a little more. There are a few different games that Osmo offer, but I use the words and numbers mode. The words verse focuses on beginning, medial, and ending sounds. Numbers focuses on counting on, adding, and even multiplication for the older kids. Students have the options to work together as a team, or play against each other. 

    Teach Your Monster to Read

    I stumbled across Teacher Your Monster to Read during my student teaching. It is an online game that focuses on phonics skills and it's FREE! There are 3 levels to this game that covers about 2 years of reading skills. It is primarily for pre-k and kindergarten students. The first level focuses on letter sounds, blending and segmenting cvc words, and a few non-decodable words. Level 2 focal point is digraphs and blends, blending and segmenting, sight words, and simple reading comprehension. Level 3 focuses on more complex letter combinations and phonic schemes, as well as more in depth comprehension. With these 3 levels, there is something for all of my students to do and learn. 

    My students love that they can play a game and still learn. They get to move at their own pace and enhance their knowledge and acquire new learning. I can see the new knowledge transferring over to their writing and reading skills. My students benefit from this because our phonics program move fairly fast. Teacher Your Monster to Read also expose my students to skills I may not get a chance to cover before the end of the year. 

    Technology integration has really shifted my classroom. My students are more engaged and learn more.  


    De’Anna Green is a kindergarten teacher in Howard County Public Schools. Follow her on Twitter at @msdeannagreen or Instagram at @msdeannagreen.

  • 05/27/2020 11:00 AM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    As a student pursuing a degree in educational technology, I started to take a closer look at the technology that I use in my own classroom. I teach kindergarten and first grade in a self-contained special education setting. I feel fortunate to have access to a few different types of technology in my classroom like a Promethean Board that I use to deliver most of my whole group instruction, and several Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices that my students who are non-verbal use to help them communicate. Prior to taking several courses in Educational Technology, I thought that this was all the technology that I needed for my students; however, I have recently started learning about other types of technology emerging in classrooms around the country. 

    One type of technology that I never considered for my classroom is immersive technology which is “technology that blurs the line between the physical world and digital or simulated world, thereby creating a sense of immersion” (Donally, 2018a, p. 2) and includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality (AR/VR/MR).  I had previously heard of Virtual Reality for video games and Augmented Reality for Snapchat lenses, but I never thought of being able to use AR/VR/MR in a school setting. After learning more about the innovative ways that AR/VR/MR can be used in the classroom, I decided that this is something that I would like to try with my own students.

    Pilot Idea

    I developed a pilot idea for bringing immersive technology to my classroom. At first, I was skeptical that immersive technology could work with Kindergarten & first grade students, however, I found several examples of elementary school teachers successfully implementing it in their classrooms. One example I saw shared how students were able to use immersive technology to “visit” places such as Antarctica and the North Pole (Danhoff, 2017). This gave me inspiration for activities that I could incorporate into my district’s curriculum that would enhance my students’ learning. Through the use of immersive technology, students have the ability to see places and have experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

    Merge Cubes

    I read another article that explained different types of AR/VR/MR tools that educators have been using in classrooms across the country such as the Merge Cube. The Merge Cube, “a foam cube that acts as a marker to view AR experiences through different apps” (Cauthers & Cauthers, 2018, para. 9), intrigued me because it is an inexpensive and easy way to bring immersive technology into the classroom. Merge Cubes are inexpensive to purchase, with prices ranging from $1 to $20 (Donally, 2018b). The affordable price and versatility of the Merge Cube inspired me to begin planning instructional activities for my learners with Immersive Technology and Merge Cubes. My plan is to buy two Merge Cubes that my students will be able to use with several different free or inexpensive apps. I have access to a few iPads, as well as my own iPhone, which I will be able to use to download apps for the Merge Cubes. 


    One app that I am particularly interested in trying with my students is called MyARquarium which “allows you to select from more than 60 fish variations in your cube aquarium and feed them” (Donally, 2018b). I have always wanted to have an aquarium in my classroom to help my students with developing the responsibility of caring for a pet, but I have yet to get one because of all the work involved with taking care of the fish. MyARquarium will allow my students to have this experience without me cleaning a fish tank or bringing it home over school breaks. It will also help strengthen my students’ daily living skills, which is something that we focus on a lot in my classroom. One of the main goals of the program that I teach in is to prepare students for their future jobs and living independently. MyARquarium could supplement and enhance the life skills lessons I teach in the classroom and bring my students’ learning to the next level. 


    I also plan to use Merge Cube to help my students develop their Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills. SEL and managing emotions is another primary focus in my classroom. One SEL app that I would like my students to use is called MomentAR. The blog post “Moments AR - Day 9 #31DaysofARVRinEDU” explains how the MomentAR app, developed by Kevin Chaja, focuses on SEL in augmented reality. The author of the blog post, Marialice Curran, states “The app brings access for each student to an entirely new level by creating a foundation built on empathy and compassion. This emphasis on SEL allows students to identify feelings through developing and managing emotions, thoughts, and values” (Curran, M., 2019). It is extremely important for my students to be able to develop their social/emotional skills in order to be successful in the future. The MomentAR app for Merge Cube will provide my students with an engaging way to build these skills and prepare for their future jobs.

    These are only a few examples of how immersive technology can provide students with experiences that they would not be able to have otherwise. My overall goal for this pilot project is to provide my students with deeper learning opportunities and access to some of the amazing immersive technology that has been developed. If I find that my students have success with using Merge Cubes, I would like to expand our use of immersive technology and bring even more AR/VR/MR tools to my classroom in the future. 


    Samantha Warnke is a School Community Based (SCB) Special Education Teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland. Currently a student in the Educational Technology Program at Loyola University Maryland. Contact Warnke at


  • 05/18/2020 5:30 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    It’s yet another day of quarantine due to COVID-19. All time seems to blend together at this point, but it was just a few weeks ago I was watching as my theatre colleagues and former students announced their live performances were postponed...then cancelled. I reminisced to the days when I ran a school theatre program, and realized that the day schools closed in Maryland, March 16, would likely have been the opening night of our Spring Musical. 

    Even through all the cancellations and uncertainty, I’ve noticed something incredible! All of those creative people forced to adjust and reschedule didn’t just accept that their shows were cancelled and stop creating. They created collaborative spaces online.

    I’ve watched complete strangers meet up to read Shakespeare plays together over Zoom. I’ve seen completely new designed-for-online plays written and distributed for performances free of charge. I’ve even participated in the collaboration by connecting with a former student of mine to create character images for a Dungeons and Dragons Improv show.

    In short, the show goes on. It seems that the argument that theatre must be experienced physically and in the moment might need a bit of an adjustment in this technical age.

    It’s true that something magical happens when a room full of strangers comes together to share in an artistic experience. However, I believe the real magic comes from the people who create those experiences, the performers, technicians, designers, directors, and everyone responsible for creating this magic. 

    We can still share that magic from anywhere in the world with artists around the world. Perhaps more importantly, we can still teach others to create that magic in the world that will follow.

    An interactive, online textbook for high school learners has the ability to completely change the way we teach Theatre. What better way could there be to teach the most collaborative art form than by creating a textbook through authentic collaboration of artists in the entertainment industry and performing arts? My vision is to create a living, breathing online text to teach theatre that has the ability to change as frequently as the art form and industry. My vision of this interactive, online textbook will benefit students in three ways: Authentic Connections to the Entertainment Industry, Student Buy-in, and Access. 

    Authentic Connections to the Entertainment Industry

    When I taught high school theatre, I would watch as my students fell in love with the art form...and as their parents panicked about their futures. Not everyone can be on Broadway or a big shot in Hollywood, so what does a career in the arts actually mean?

    An online interactive text would answer this question better than any individual high school teacher could by showing exactly what a students’ career could be. Up-to-date videos could show the creation of a set as well as what the lives and schedules are like for touring actors. Students and parents could step into the theatre industry to see various career options such as prop shops, side shows, and stage manager booths, all in one resource. 

    Obviously, now might be one of the most difficult times to try to encourage parent buy-in for a career in the entertainment industry, but “theatre people” are resilient, and they’ll get through this with grace, aplomb, and probably some confetti cannons. I entirely believe that, even in these times, providing a resource created collaboratively by this resilient crew would help students and parents visualize realistic career paths in theatre.

    Student Buy-In 

    You’ll always have students who love theatre entirely, but I always wanted to reach the students who were just there to try it out. High school theater textbooks are, in my experience, tone deaf in one of two directions: either they think high school students are half their age or double it. For a student just trying theatre, an art form based on experience, nothing kills their curiosity faster than “open the textbook to page 67.”

    But what if they could actually contribute to the textbook? What if their original script could be published as a resource for other high school students all over the world to perform? Or what if their pantomime was filmed and used as an example? Perhaps their make-up design for the Big Bad Wolf makes it to the World Wide Web, instead of just Mr. Hughes’ third period?

    That student might not go on to work professionally in theatre, but their work will live on in the text. They’ll be a part of something bigger than themselves, which will stick with them, and further fuel their lifelong appreciation of theatre.  


    Not every school system or student has the resources to experience a professional, live production. Only a few students have the means to receive private coaching and training in singing, acting, and dance. However, with an online interactive textbook, more students could come closer to these experiences. Students interested in singing could watch breakdown tutorials, while a teacher could assign the class to watch videos of professional live productions. Even in areas where there are no easily accessible theatre experiences, students could engage fully with the art form.

    Interactive textbooks have already started to enhance core subjects in school, but too often, subjects like Theatre are forgotten. Through this idea, we could reach more students more authentically and to help them realize an appreciation for the performing arts they may not have otherwise experienced.

    So, what are we waiting for? For now, the lights might be off on stages around the country, but there are new, digital spotlights being lit daily. The show must go on.

    Join Me!

    My Theatre teacher taught me that “inspire” comes from the Latin “inspirit” which means to “fill or imbue with spirit, or breath.” He said our job as performers and artists was to “breathe life into a lifeless text.”

    So, I’m calling for theatre teachers, actors, directors, technicians, scenic artists, props masters, voice over actors, cameramen, foley artists, clowns, comedians, writers, producers, community theaters, critics, make-up artists, stage managers, soundboard ops, light designers, choreographers, fight choreographers, costumers, puppeteers, musicians, choral directors, amateurs, professionals, and any in between or beyond to join me the creation of an online interactive Theatre textbook. 

    Together, let’s breathe some life into the Theatre textbooks of yesteryear and inspire the creators our world will need tomorrow.


    Danny Hughes is an English and Theatre teacher currently working at Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore, MD. He is also one of the co-hosts and creators of the Baltimore Improv Group’s Gettin’ Biggie with It podcast and works professionally as a voice over artist. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Technology through Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland. To find out more, visit

  • 05/08/2020 12:20 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    Before the outbreak of COVID-19, I have always been interested in utilizing more of my county’s online learning management system Schoology. With the new 1:1 Chromebook computers for all students in grades three and above, I felt like this school year was the year to try it! As I began the shift my 4th grade classroom to a blended model, I struggled with updating the curriculum and scope and sequence to utilize the available technology in a modified or redefined way when COVID-19 hit. After taking some time to reflect on my own schedule during this time, I realized there was no time like the present to try it! 

    Sitting home each day during this quarantine period, I have a clearer picture of how the curriculum and technology could come together as one to meet the needs and interests of all students beyond a substitution level, while adhering to expectations and standards set forth by my county. I am fortunate to have time during this pandemic to spend extra hours adapting each lesson to a more “blended” style of learning, have more content put online, and more opportunities for students to engage with their peers and their world around them. Just like teachers across the country who are scurrying to put lessons online these past few weeks, I think curriculum writers and teachers should be regularly provided the time to transform each lesson of our curriculum into such a way that more could be done virtually. Not just for COVID-19 remote learning purposes, but for the purpose of greater equality and quality of our education system. 

    As already proven to be successful at one school in a South Dakota school district, Sioux Falls New Technology High School is already demonstrating this type of learning. Students and faculty at this school, “take great ownership and pride,” in being given Chromebooks to take home each night, and are immersed in “problems or projects intended to engage students in meaningful learning experiences” (Sioux Falls School District, n.d.).

    To give my plan some sort of structure, I refer to the four pillars as referenced in the text, Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning, “(1) deeper thinking and learning, (2) authentic work, (3) student agency and personalization, and (4) technology infusion” (McLeod & Graber, 2019, p.12). According to McLeod and Graber (2019), these four categories not only help organize this idea, but are also considered the “foundations of successful technology integration in the classroom" (McLeod & Graber, 2019, p. 13). The biggest takeaways from McLeod and Graber that are supporting my transition to remote learning are:  

    Deeper Thinking and Learning Change: 

    • For each lesson, students should be presented with a real-world or realistic problem. This problem could be one they create from their lives that they could apply to the lesson or could be one created by the teacher where they would need to solve and construct their knowledge. Students should have opportunities for discussion and collaboration to create solutions to the problem, as if they were in the real world. 

    Authentic Work Change:

    • After completing an assessment or activity, students should complete a reflection/feedback activity where they will assess how well they did in the assessment or activity, as well as provide feedback to the teacher about where they see themselves using this information in the future. If they do not see themselves using the lesson content in the future, the teacher can work with those learners to make further connections of the content and their future. 

    Student Agency Change: 

    • Students should be given choices in their learning and have at least one activity in each lesson that is up to them on how they want to complete it. This could be in a product creation, infographic or video or paper, or in how they want to learn the content, a video or graphic or reading.

    Technology Infusion Changes: 

    • Students are given an opportunity to extend learning at home for each lesson. Whether this be an assignment or a website to research, there is always one activity for them to explore, with some activities also engaging their parents. 
    • Teachers continue to modify additional activities for home-use to fit county given devices, IPADs, laptops, etc. 

    By the end of one school year, for instance, I should be able to see a rise in the interest and motivation my fourth-grade students have for learning no matter the amount of written work they are completing versus the online learning. Grades and test scores should improve, communication with parents should increase and turn more positive. Students and teachers alike will have more experience and time using devices to create, modify, and assess activities online. Most important, my students will move on to 5th grade and then middle school with more of a drive to learn for purposeful reasons.  


    Dannielle Neral is an elementary teacher  at Westowne Elementary School in Baltimore County Public School (MD).


    BCPS Curriculum, Internal Curriculum Resource, April 20, 2020 
    McLeod, S., and Graber, J. (2019). Harnessing technology for deeper learning: A quick guide to educational technology integration and digital learning spaces. Solution Tree Press.
    Sioux Falls School District. (n.d.). Welcome to New Technology High. Retrieved from

  • 04/19/2020 2:15 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    In the past four weeks, teachers have Zoomed and video conferenced more than ever imaginable. They have stressed over finding the share screen button or gotten upset when not seeing the same outcome on their screen after meticulously following each step in a training tutorial. Some emotions brought on tears and confusion while others get downright angry at the technology in front of them.

    News stories and social media feeds address the needs for social and emotional health of children, but behind the scenes tech coaches are addressing the social, emotional, and technology needs of teachers and sometimes administrators too. In calm, encouraging manners technology personnel are navigating educators into new worlds of learning management systems (i.e., Schoology, Google Classrooms, Edmodo, etc.)— trying to mimic the normalcy of the classroom.

    Many educators never desired the skill set to work in an entirely digital environment because it was not needed or so they thought. Taking those years of developing character voices and dramatic pauses to engage little ones in a read aloud is a skill like no other, but making that happen through the lens of a recording device is different.

    Elementary teachers are asking, Do I show myself as a I read with my spectacular facial expressions or do I show the pages of the books to help child and parent follow along when recording part of a lesson? Uploading the best read aloud in front of the best homeschool backdrop with the cutest fur baby is a shattered memory when a student cannot open the file because it’s not compatible with their device or file doesn’t want to open. Hours, recording and re-recording, are lost in frustration. Teachers immediately reach out to a help desk or tech coach wanting a quick answer because students are waiting to receive their instruction.

    As time goes by working one-on-one with a teacher, emails, phone calls, and text messages amount into hours of follow-up. Talking with hundreds of people across my own district, many that I never knew, I have developed five basic tips to support technology coaches as districts attempt to move their entire district into online learning.

    Listen to Every Technology Problem

    Understanding many schools are staffed with their own technology coach, teachers are used to having someone down the hall to immediately support there technology problem regardless of how big or small. When video conferencing or on the phone, it is important to speak calmly and ask clarifying questions to understand the problem and show they are important at that given moment.

    Stay Simple – Three Click Rule

    Tech folks love technology integration and toggling back-and-forth between tools; it’s our passion, but it is not always the same for the people we are serving. Try supporting your staff with the basic tools they needs to publish their content. Showcase the tools that your district already has purchased and teach them how they work in your learning management system. Already having some familiarity with the tools being used allows the transition into online learning to occur quicker for your teachers.

    Once using those tools, try to limit the amount of clicks and tabs students are opening when possible. The best practice I have found is take away steps when you can. For example, instead of clicking into a program and opening a pair of folders to get a PDF file. Instruct your staff to download the PDF themself and directly insert into the online class for the student; eliminating the multiple steps might make it as easy as click one-login, click two-find the course, and click three—open PDF.

    Teach How to Access Student View

    Nothing looks the same on teacher and student view in most programs. Always take the time to show teachers how the product looks from the viewpoint of a student. In younger grades, parents are often homeschooling students and going through lessons with them as well. It is easier in the long run to take the extra time to “login as a student” and walk through the student view; it will help the teacher when addressing parents who have questions as online learning progresses.

    Another common practice I have been doing is making how to videos from Student View and posting them for students and parents to follow. There are many screen recording programs (i.e., Screencastomatic, Screencastify, ShowMe, etc.) available for free to explore.  Sometimes what might seem as the simplest task can be difficult to a new online course user; it’s never a bad idea to walk through the steps and post that video into your classroom.

    Amping Up Online Instruction

    As days turn into weeks, teachers will dictate when they are ready to add more into their course. Tech coaches will observe this by receiving less frantic correspondences and a drastic cut in the volume of help requests; the requests will eventually turn into requests on how to review analytics of who is completing work and better ways to present a task for students online. At this point, teachers are building their technology capacity and ready to move onto more complex trainings.

    As teachers are ready to move forward ask your mid-level technology people what they needs to improve their online classes. Teacher feedback will drive your future virtual trainings. But also remember, sometimes teachers may not know of tools that are out there. Also, it is okay to add some higher level trainings too like creating self-paced lesson with various tools (i.e., Nearpod, Peardeck, Kahoot) as many companies are offering their pro versions of software available during school closures.

    Build Confidence By Following Up

    When I worked as a classroom teacher, I would do a PR Friday where I would send postcards home to students each week. I would try to focus on the small moments and really build them up in a short handwritten note. As a tech coach, I am doing the same practice complimenting individual’s online classes and reassuring them how their hard work is benefiting students in their classrooms. The nostalgia of snail mail and getting a hand written note brings that sense of human interaction that has been missing by schools being closed and many being in quarantine.

    In all, remember everyone has an important role in meeting the needs of students and staff during the recent school closure. Everyone comes to work with a different set of circumstances when working from home and meeting those needs will not be the same for every teacher. Take your time, have passion, and show grace as we are all in it together as we move into online learning.


    Brian Cook (@drbriancook) formerly served as a middle school language arts teacher before moving into his current position as the District Instructional Technology & Innovation Coach in Worcester County Public School (MD).





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