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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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.




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