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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. 

  • 05/27/2020 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).

  • 01/01/2020 9:47 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)

    Students are shown collaborating during Genius Hour.

    Students in the second grade at St. James Academy (Maryland) are shown collaborating as they research topics during Genius Hour.


    It’s 2:00 PM on a Friday afternoon. This is it - my last chance to instill even the tiniest piece of knowledge onto my students before the weekend. My lessons are planned, my materials are ready, and I’ve taken my rightful position at the front of the classroom. As I peer out among the crowd of eager young learners, wide-eyed and ready for knowledge – I wake up and realize - it was all a dream.So let’s try this again.

    It’s 2:00 PM on a Friday when what I actually see is pure chaos involving squirmy second graders whose minds have wandered anywhere but within the four walls of this classroom. It is at this moment I know I need to find something new and exciting - something that will inspire innovation and creativity within my students. I take to the Internet for advice, and this is when I discover Genius Hour.

    What is Genius Hour?

    Businesses have been doing it for decades. Allowing employees to spend portions of their workday devoted to projects that they are passionate about and reaping the benefits of their creativity and innovation.In the 1940s, 3M general manager, William McKnight, encouraged his employees to spend 15% of their time on experimental projects of their choosing. From this practice, the Post-It Note was born. 

    Fast forward to 2004, when Google’s founding duo, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, reported a similar workplace initiative called the 20% project, where programs such as Gmail and Google News have stemmed.

    So what does Genius Hour look like in the primary classroom? For me, it is one hour per week where students are encouraged to explore their own passions. They ask questions, research the answers, and create a project to present at the end. It’s messy, loud, and still a little chaotic, but students are engaged in a way that I have never seen before.

    4 Things I’ve Learned Since Starting Genius Hour 

    1. Take time to introduce Genius Hour, share examples, and set expectations. For many students, Genius Hour will be a completely new concept, so it is essential to take the time to set the scene properly. I like to begin by sharing my own passions first. This helps get the juices flowing for students. I also share examples of past projects to give students some visual inspiration for how to present their final project. Distinguishing the difference between researchable questions and those that can be easily answered is another essential skill to teach during this introduction process.
    2. Find credible and developmentally appropriate resources for student use.  Research can be difficult for students who are still learning to read but are not yet proficient in reading to learn. PebbleGo is a great place to start, with informational resources for kids and the option for read-aloud audio. There are also databases such as Kiddle, Schooltube, and Wonderopolis that are free to use. Talking to the school librarian is an excellent first step to learn about any database subscriptions your school might have.   

    3. Set students up for success by giving them tools for organization and structure. A teacher’s role during Genius Hour is that of a “guide on the side.” I’m there for support and to provide feedback when needed. Letting go can be difficult, but it is important to allow students to take ownership of themselves and their learning. We can still set our students up for success by providing supports that keep them organized. I like to set my students up with a research notebook or binder where they can brainstorm and take notes.

    4. Provide opportunities for students to present their projects to a broad audience. The ultimate goal of Genius Hour is for students to create and present some type of project displaying the results of their research. These projects can take on many different forms. It’s even better when students can share their ideas outside of the classroom, whether it be with another grade level, the school community, or globally. Teachers can use their websites or social media accounts to share student project as well as make global connections with other classes around the world.

    To learn more about Genius Hour, check out some of the following sites.

    Alison Glace ( ) is a second-grade teacher at St. James Academy in Monkton, MD. Connect with her on Instagram at

  • 12/09/2019 7:12 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)
    • Capitalizing on Opportunities in Second Grade Science, Social Studies

    Are your students motivated? Engaged? Happy? If not, how can you increase motivation, engagement, and happiness in your classroom? The answer is simple-let them learn about what they want! Allow students to take charge of their own learning all while using technology to build future-ready skills. Genius Hour, a teaching practice/model “sets aside 20% of class time each year for students to learn about whatever interests them,” says Maghan Cortez (2017). Cortez, an associate editor with EdTech, believes that incorporating Genius Hour in your classroom is an innovative way to meet standards and foster lifelong creative learners.

    Terry Heick (2019), an advocate for Genius Hour states, “In Genius Hour, students are in control, choosing what they study, how they study it, and what they do, produce, or create as a result. As a learning model, it promotes inquiry, research, creativity, and self-directed learning” (para. 2). Who wouldn’t want this for their students?

    Why Science and Social Studies? Well, the options are endless!

    Here is a brief description of each step for implementation:

    Step 1: Introduction - Get your students interested! This is the time to sell Genius Hour to your students! The goal is to inspire curiosity and get students excited for what is ahead. Show real projects completed by students and the outcomes.

    Step 2: Brainstorming and Planning - Do it together and encourage all! Create a list, web, or chart of ideas that interest your students.

    Step 3: Topic Selection - Narrow down on the topic and develop an inquiry question. What do I want to learn about this topic?

    Step 4: The “Pitch” - Use interactive platforms like FlipGrid to have students share why they have chosen the topic and what they want to learn.

    Step 5: Research, Learning, and Documentations - Encourage students to adopt roles appropriate to their project. If their project requires them to step into the shoes of a journalist or historian, provide them with the digital tools to do so such as video cameras, voice recorders, and primary sources. Scaffold the way with organizers if students are stuck.

    Step 6: Making, Creating, and Designing - Videos, websites, podcasts, articles, flipbooks, and posters are all choices for a final product.

    Whether students ‘make,’ publish, design, act, or do, ‘creating’ is core to Genius Hour. There is always a visible product or function of the learning” says Terry Heick (2019, para. 9).

    Step 7: Presentations - Create an authentic audience for your students!

    Jerry Fingal (2018), stated, “The goal is to connect with an audience beyond the classroom. Leave the old-school stand-and-deliver-to-the-class PowerPoint behind. Invite a live audience via videoconferencing or allow students to show their learning by publishing a blog or creating a podcast” (para. 15).

    Step 8: Reflections - What is going well? What is left to do? What was the outcome? These are all questions that need answers. Using various websites and platforms like Padlet, FlipGrid, and Google Suites, teachers and students can stay in constant communication and give immediate feedback.

    Kristin Choi is a second grade teacher in Montgomery County, MD. Connect with Choi via email  at, Twitter at @MissKristinChoi, or on Voxer @kchoi4727.


    Cortez, B., M. (2017, September 25). 3 Benefits of Establishing a ‘Genius Hour’ [Blog post]. Retrieved from

    Heick, T. (2019, October 30). 6 Principles of Genius Hour in the Classroom [Blog post]. Retrieved from

    Fingal, J. (2018, November 19). 4 Easy Ways to Boost Project-Based Learning with Tech [Blog post]. Retrieved from

  • 05/17/2019 12:05 AM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    When I started my teaching career I came in as the 5th grade reading teacher.  After two years of teaching only reading, my school converted to having each elementary teacher teach all content areas. As a result, I had to teach math.

    "...understanding 5th grade math is easy, teaching it is a different animal."

    William Thompson

    PictureA team of students share their work via FlipGrid in Mr. William Thompson’s 5th grade class at Choptank Elementary School.

    I was excited for the opportunity because I originally wanted to teach math, but took the available job offered as a reading teacher.  Once the year started, I realized that understanding 5th grade math is easy, teaching it is a different animal.

    Thankfully after time collaborating with other teachers, my math coach, and hearing inspiring outside consultants offered within my district, teaching math started to become easier.  

    But, there was still something missing. 

    My instruction wasn't as engaging as it could be. During a graduate course, I learned about some different tools I was able to utilize during my math instruction. Harnessing the power of technology allowed be to take my math instruction to  another level.
    I have never been a big Twitter fan, I always thought that this was a platform for people to be obnoxious.  After I had an assignment that required me  to follow a Twitter Chat, my mindset changed. I remember complaining to my girlfriend about having to do this assignment, and then once I started I was telling her how cool this was.  Since I am still trying to get comfortable teaching math, I have been interested in checking in on upper elementary grade levels and strategies they share via Twitter. 

    Some people can abuse Twitter, but when following the right people it can be a wonderful tool for a teacher to learn and share with others.  I have learned a bunch from other educators in ways to improve my craft through the Twitter world.

    For example, creative ways to improve the student mobility in my classroom.  One way is I plan to incorporate bike pedals under students’ desks.  I have spoke with my administration about this and we are going to try and work on a grant so I can pilot this in my room.
    Learning how to operate my math instruction through stations was one of the best moves I made in regards to math instruction.  Being able learn about some technology tools helped take my instruction to another level.  Tools like FlipGridProdigy, and HyperDochave helped improve the level of engagement that my students have during math.

    FlipGrid has helped improve my students understanding of concepts by being able to share their work and listen to their peers share theirs.  Not only has it helped with their understanding of math concepts, but has also improved their speaking and listening skills. 

    Prodigy was something that I started to learn from collaborating with other teachers and the students have fallen in love with this game.  I can align what I am teaching or have taught to students. 

    HyperDoc is something that I am still familiarizing myself with better, but my early implementation has allowed students to show another level of engagement compared to my PowerPoint lessons.  

    Incorporating these different tools within stations during my lessons has challenged me to upgrade my instructional practices. Another component that has supported my instruction is the advice from math specialist 
    Georgia Wensall; she stated have the students do the majority of the talking; students 80% teacher 20%.

    Now, I find my students doing that -- a majority of the heavy lifting; they are doing the work at much higher levels than expected.

    William Thompson, Choptank Elementary School Dorchester County,

  • 05/01/2019 12:04 AM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    I used to be a non-believer when I heard people talking about teachers making “magic” in the classroom. That was until the first time one of my students performed an original rap song in front of a group of their peers with the audience reciting every lyric by heart.      

    It all started during Empower Hour. This is a time during the school day at Hallie Wells Middle School where teachers get to teach any subject we want. Students get to select which classes they go to, and they get to just learn for the sake of learning. In the Hip Hop Empower Hour we analyze songs, write original lyrics, and practice performing them. Then once a week students sign up for after-school recording sessions. By the end of February this year, we had recorded fourteen different songs that we uploaded to our Soundcloud channel ( and burned onto blank CDs.

    Next we began passing out “The Hallie Wells Mixtape” to students and staff for free, as long as they agreed to come to the Hip Hop Showcase on Friday night, March 22. We ended up handing out over 100 CDs. We also arranged to have our music played on the PA system during class transition times. By the time March 22 finally rolled around, students and staff together were singing our songs in the hallways chanting, “I got the water, splash! I got the water, splash!”

    The night of the performance was electric. We had close 200 people of all ages who came out to support our program. Students (and staff) performed 20 original songs. All of the performers did a fabulous job, but there were definitely a few highlights that stuck out.
    A month or so before the concert, Rob Dahlin, our school’s band director came across a Youtube video of a tuba player performing with a hip hop artist. Having already discussed the musical genius of 6th grader Franciska Deutcheu with earlier in the year, he suggested that I encourage her to play with our hip hop group. He was thinking about it for next year, but I gave Franciska the CD with the songs, and three days later she had taught herself the notes on the tuba. The moment when she came out onto the stage with her sousaphone (graciously loaned to us by Clarksburg High School) to perform “Water” with Lil Maat and Ringz (Maat Garnett and Tyler Scholl) was truly incredible.

    Another highlight and special moment of the night was provided not by a student, but by a member of our school’s building service team. During our after school rehearsals, Mr. Gillison would often swing by to provide words of encouragement. If we were lucky, sometimes he would even grab the microphone and freestyle for us. When I invited Mr. Gillison to perform this year in our Showcase, he was just as excited as the middle schoolers were. The positive energy he brought to his performance was off the charts and truly shows how hip hop can bring communities together.

    8th grader Riley Nelson performed a song she wrote about the New Zealand shooting tragedy, a mere 6 days after the event occurred. 6th graders Chay Julien and Talea Haines each wrote songs about the transition to middle school while inspiring each other along the way and practically becoming best friends in the process. Drift and Retro (Eric Lawrence and Wisdom Martin) also became an iconic duo this year. They performed their song “Cautious” about the dangerous world they see around them. We even had a former student, Yung Tappboy (Latif Holmes) come back to do a song with current 8th grader 1KPrince (Raleigh Shaw).

    For so many students, our second annual Hip Hop Showcase was a night they will never forget. And the magic just keeps on growing. Rogue Flame (Kevin Song) an 8th grader who performed three songs in this year's Showcase, wrote me a thank you letter afterwards. It warmed my heart to discover that he plans on starting his own hip hop group at his high school next year.

    There’s something special and unique  that happens when a diverse group of adolescents put all their energy into supporting each other through music. It’s like an anti-bullying spell. Many of the students who performed songs in the Showcase this year have been victims of bullying in the past. Seeing them receive so much positive energy and encouragement from a crowd of their peers could only be described as magical.

    Michael Doggett is a language teacher at Hallie Wells Middle School in Montgomery County Public Schools. Connect with Stone on Twitter at @MrDoggettRMS

  • 04/24/2019 12:03 AM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)

    Elementary Students Embracing New Stations



    As an educator of intermediate students for most of my career, I took the leap in the primary world four years ago, and I have never looked back. During three of those four years, my classroom took on a blended learning station rotation model. My reason for doing so was to increase student agency. As educators we know we want our students to be focused, engaged and learning for as long as possible. In the primary world this can be a daily struggle, since their attention spans are so limited. That is the greatest asset of blended learning, the flexibility of being able to determine the pace, path, place, and time of lessons for your students.

    Updating the Rotation Model
    We already use a rotation model within our primary classrooms which include small group instruction, independent/partner activities, and stations/centers. So, for us to make our classroom blended we need to include a technology station in place of the stations/centers rotation. So infusing technology and personalization should be no problem.

    WELL ... as with anything in the primary grades, anything can happen. Will they be able to log in independently? Will they remember what to do? Will they interrupt my group a thousand times? Will they be engaged? The answer is YES! We just have to be patient and willing to have those moments until the onboarding process is complete.

    Model, Model, Model
    Onboarding is the process where we have to model, model, and model how to use a technology tool. We have to show them how to use it appropriately and for the purpose it was intended for. Primary students are familiar with lots of technology that allows them to be entertained (i.e. games and video apps), but we need to educate them on how technology can help them learn and demonstrate their understanding of concepts.
    We have to remember to “start small but think BIG” when it comes to using blended learning in our classrooms. Sometimes too much of a good thing ends up being not a good thing. When introducing a technology tool in the primary classroom, take about two weeks to model, explore, and use the tool before introducing another one. Determine those students who are your tech experts (“Siri” and “Alexa”) and give them the job to help others first who may need help. You will be amazed at how quickly they pick up on the technology tool and are eager to help others.

    As with anything in our primary classrooms, expectations are needed. Make sure to set clear expectations that are developed with your students so they take ownership of their responsibilities. Allow their curiosity to guide your lessons and technology tools that you integrate. You will be amazed at how much their student agency increases. This is the perfect age to create our 21st century learners and prepare them for the careers of tomorrow that haven’t even been thought of yet.
    Shari Stone is a 2nd grade teacher at Brunswick Elementary in Frederick County Public Schools. Connect with Stone on Twitter at @sharistone_FCPS

  • 02/19/2019 11:48 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)

    By BRIAN COOK, Ed.D.
    I was like many of you at one time. I knew I had to do more to become a better teacher, and I had the internal desire to do it. But, I wasn’t quite sure the steps to become better. I had a passion for educational technology because it drew me in, like it does for many of my students.
    I attended the Common Ground conference in Ocean City and stumbled upon a group called the Maryland Society for Educational Technology (MSET). By attending the conference, I had a one-year membership to MSET, but I didn’t know what that meant or how to get involved. I knew I wanted to get involved though.
    Spring Business Meeting 2014
    It was a bit of a hectic time of year, PARCC was coming soon, but I needed a break from school as much as the children needed. I decided to take the day off and head to the MSET Spring Meeting in Anne Arundel County. I’ll admit, it was the middle of the day, but it was worth taking the personal day.
    I was early and unsure of where I was going, but pulled into the icy parking lot and made my way inside. I was 10-minutes early as people were putting last minute touches on the breakfast items as a foldable table was not being as sturdy as intended. I caught the table to safe the Dunkin Donuts Coffee, but more importantly two other MSET officers came to help me out starting a conversation. One of them I had seen before on Twitter and at a former summer Educator Effectiveness event, but could not remember her name.
    As the day went on, I sat and listened to the MSET officers and the back-and-forth banter about EdTech. Everyone in the room was very like-minded to me, which was different coming from a then-employed rural school district on the Eastern Shore. I was finally able to ask questions on how others were implementing blogging in student writing and using formative assessment tools (before 1:1 had become more of a norm).
    In the midst of the meeting, I volunteered to serve on the professional development committee, which people thought it was great to have representation from ‘all the way out East’ I recall one person saying. I brought a different perspective the conversation, but more importantly others brought a different to me.
    Fast Forward to 2019
    Since this moment, I have been a regular at the Common Ground as an attendee and presenter, but more importantly I have made some major connections with a ton of Maryland educators. The relationship building moments over coffee or talking about the ways of middle school students have been invaluable to me.
    I now serve as the co-chair of the professional development committee and have been active in resurging the Digital Learning Showcase initiative, that initiative alone has connected me with some amazing educators. The work in the professional development committee, as well as other committees, is plentiful.
    I hope you will consider taking a leap of faith and come out to the March 27, 2019 business meeting as I did to meet people back in 2014. It could be an altering moment in your professional career to as MSET has a ton of opportunities to serve.

    Brian Cook is an English Language Arts teacher at Pocomoke Middle School. He serves on the MSET Professional Development Committee. Connect with Cook on Twitter at




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