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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. 

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  • 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

  • 02/04/2019 12:01 AM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)

    The ProjectLIT community was established as a result of The Atlantic’s article on the effect of growing up in a “book desert.”  The community’s founder, Jarred Amato, has facilitated the growth of the movement through social media. So when, like Amato, I followed my 8th grade students to high school, I knew that social media and engaging books would be the start to a blossoming chapter at Tuscarora High School.

    It’s easy to consider Tuscarora a “book desert” as there is not a library within the feeder system. For a student to walk from the school to the nearest library would take over an hour. And so, a social media presence would not be enough to get students reading. We had to work to bring books into their hands.

    Our group, which consists primarily of 9th and 10th grade students, use Twitter and Instagram to share updates about readings and donations. Students are in charge of these accounts, which promotes cognition on how to use social media responsibly - especially when representing a group and not just an individual. The students have created hashtags to trend communication efforts and followed other groups to help establish who they want to be.

    ​But behind the books is an incredible system of organization that freshmen and sophomores are still adjusting to on Google Drive. There’s no Google Classroom to label (though we could have used that as our hearht of information). Folders isolate work, and teams responsible for that work know exactly where to go to find what they need. However, the Drive didn’t help us disseminate information to the community - and what’s a community without, well, a community?

    Google Sites
    The students decided that we needed on place for people to go that included our Twitter feed and updates about out initiatives. And so began our venture into Google Sites.  The website let us do just that: update things quickly, share the site out on social media, and make it our hearth for everything we wanted to do. Students have editing rights, which allows them to make a decision as a group, and share the opportunity to update the design.  They have updated our site to include our group’s goals and book drives we ran to donate books to one of our feeder elementary schools, as well as wishlists and Donorschoose campaigns.

    Google Bulletin
    However, our growth is not quite complete. As we continue to create the foundation of our book club, we’re continually expanding our use of technology. We’re playing with Google Bulletin, a program that runs similar to programs like NextDoor - which limits who can post or see posts based on the area in which you are located. This will come in handy as we plan and share out book club information and can encourage more  involvement from our community.

    PictureUsing tools like Flipgrid, which are easily found within the classroom, provide students with familiarity while enriching our experiences.

    We have dabbled with Flipgrid so that students can share their reactions to our readings in a safe place, and are working to use MyMaps from Google to track where our book club stories take place, where the authors are from, and how the two aspects are combined to create a new perspective in literature. And next year, we hope to add Google Hangouts with authors and other book clubs to enrich our student discussions as well as podcasts and book trailers through WeVideo.
    Throughout the process of our book club’s development, I’ve been most impressed with the student’s use of the technology they already know. Students who have designed posters have used platforms they have used in other classes - infographic makers like Piktochart, for example. And students who are working on a t-shirt design, logo designs, or any other image for our club have used software for art that I can’t possibly understand (digital art is such an unfathomable thing for me).

    ​In the end, our community isn’t about technology for the sake of technology. If anything, this book club has taught me that students already think purposefully about the technology they use to communicate and spread awareness. Our book club will continually weigh the benefits of each technology so that we are using the most efficient tech tools in order to get the biggest payoff. And it will continue to work because at the heart of the community is a group of students who care about saturating their community with engaging literature. 

    Amanda Kremnitzer is an English teacher in Frederick County Public Schools and a ProjectLit Site Coordinator for her school. She can be reached via Twitter at @MrsKremTHS.

  • 12/04/2018 11:53 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    Shown is #LEGOtravelbuddy -- originally from Accident, Maryland -- taking some time off to explore in Thailand this fall.


    LEGO Travel Buddy is a global collaboration project that started in 2017. I felt that my students needed authentic connections with peers and educators abroad and that is what gave me the incentive to seek out collaborations. It’s so important to learn from other educators and grow your PLN. Working in a small rural district, it is crucial to connect, seek funding and resources to enhance student access. I love to see how digital access can provide my students with exposure to new cultures, people and places. It's the same concept of sharing an object and visually seeing it in another location.  It is our take on "Flat Stanley". Global collaborations provide windows (opportunities to observe diverse people and their cultures and develop empathy) and doors (incentive to move beyond one location and seek opportunities, connections and adventures abroad).
    Where do I get a LEGO Travel Buddy?
    I received my first official LEGO Travel Buddy kit free with a purchase from LEGO.COM shop and took it with me to ISTE in San Antonio and documented the experience to share with my colleagues. The mini-figure in this set has a very distinct space shirt and comes with numerous travel accessories like a camera, suitcase, fishing pole etc. You can still purchase the set on Amazon or BrickLink. Some of the first LEGO mini-figures that we have shared were custom made to look like the participant. I recommend 
    purchasing LEGO Education Community Mini-figures sets if you want to custom make multiple travel buddies! The mini-figures are inexpensive to mail and everyone loves LEGO! We have collaborated with students of all ages, PreK-12 and adults! Also, LEGO is a great representation of our school library where we host FIRST LEGO League projects and teams! Every LTB is unique and they all showcase their adventures in different ways! Adventures range from riding an ATV through the Atlas Mountains of Marrakesh to visiting the ALA International Conference in Dubai to touring the Harry Potter studios in London! Students from abroad who have received a LEGO Travel Buddy have shared information such as “What in the WORLD are you Reading” about their favorite books and where they live!  

    Need inspiration or just want to follow LEGO Travel Buddy? 
    Please view the links for sample projects, visit our Going Global MAP and share with your students. Connecting with LEGO Travel Buddy has been a life-changing experience. I highly recommend adding it to your educator/librarian bucket list! Last year, we sent a LEGO Travel Buddy to several different places and made our first connections thanks to the librarians and teachers in Hawaii, London, Australia, China, New Hampshire and Pocomoke Middle in Maryland! We also sent and received postcards from both Sarah Betteridge (Perth, Australia) and Lucas Maxwell (London, England) via AIR MAIL. The postcards are so personal and are displayed proudly in our school library. In an effort to save time and money, we found using digital tools has allowed us to increase our connections instantly and for free!  We received beautiful digital postcards from Sarah Betteridge and her students in Australia on a Padlet called “Where in the WORLD do we live?” My students created and shared their own about Garrett County, Maryland using Google Slides! In order to book talk or share information about our locations, our students collaborate on Flipgrid and they post pictures on Twitter.

    Current global connections include

    • Tom Bober (2015-16 Teacher in Residence for the Library Of Congress & librarian from St. Louis, MO) He is helping our 8th graders by sharing strategies via flipgrid on how to navigate the LOC website and find primary sources for our Maryland History Day project!
    • Cassy Lee & Chinese American School (2018 SLJ Champion of Student Voice from San Francisco) has connected us to her School Library Advisory Committee (the SLACkers). They shared how they prepared for an author visit with Stacey Lee.
    • Todd Burleson (2016 SLJ Librarian of the Year) Todd took the LTB to the ALA International Conference in Dubai! He introduced us to the EAU librarians of the year and went above and beyond to create an eBook of his adventures! 
    • Bayden Copely (NMS 8th grade student traveling from the Appalachian to Atlas Mountains in Morocco), Bayden connected with us using the flipgrid app and documented his experience with the Aragon goats, crocodiles and camels! He visits a Middle School in Marrakesh, Morocco and attending classes as a guest student! View Bayden's mix tape here!
    • FIRST LEGO LEAGUE TEAM 5588 Hoek's Future Lab from Holland. We exchange video messages and share ideas about our research and robot missions! Our LEGO Travel Buddy represents GIRLS in STEM!  GIRLS WHO CODE /LADIES of FIRST

    Students have even shared clues using the 5 themes of Geography on a mystery Flipgrid with students in South Carolina! This week, another Mystery Flipgrid location is in the works! I am not allowed to reveal the location but it is a very special librarian that everyone loves to connect with! We are also excited to see what adventures the following librarians will share with us who have recently received an LTB: 

    Digital and Global Citizens
    This is how we become better Global and Digital Citizens, with authentic connections. It introduces my students to new faces and places! We are often surprised that even when our global friends are 4,000 miles away, we are reading the same books! It also inspires us to learn more about our world that we will hopefully have the opportunity to travel. Connecting on Flipgrid and Twitter gives my students exposure to the world beyond the walls of our small community school.

    Is there a LEGO Buddy in your future? 
    After we sent and connected with our friends, we let them decide what to do next. Many of the LEGO Travel Buddies continued to explore. For example, our Hawaiian LTB "Hoa Hele" has traveled over 40,000 miles and is planning an African Safari next! Some passed it on to another teacher or librarian, also a wonderful option. Here at NMS, we are always seeking out new friends and adventures and would love to connect with you. Let us know if you would like to share your own LTB adventure with us by using the #LEGOTravelBuddy hashtag. Our school system allows access to twitter, so this is a great way for us to connect in school where we all have Internet access! 

    ​Happy Travels!
    Ali Schilpp is a media specialist at Northern Middle in Garrett County. School Library Journal named her the 2018 School Librarian of the Year. Connect with Schilpp on Twitter at @AliSchilpp

  • 12/03/2018 11:59 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


    By BEN HURLEY, Washington County Public Schools

    December is Computer Science education month. The first week of December is the kickoff with Computer Science education week December 3-9. The emphasis on Computational Thinking is becoming more prevalent in education today. Coding is a great way to foster those skills. Over the last 5 years I have been using the website with my 5th and 4th grade students to teach them the concepts of coding. However, just 3 years ago, at my school, we began an initiative to give all students access to these skills by creating a class that students visit approximately 1 time a week for 50 minutes just like they would go to PE, art, music, or media, that focuses on Computational Thinking and specifically, Coding. The elementary age is the perfect time to begin building the foundation for these skills just like any other academic subject. Once a solid foundation is laid than when they go on to middle school, high school and beyond, they will have a leg-up on those future careers. 

    Mitch Resnick, creator of the Scratch software, in his TED talk shares about the importance of why kids should learn to code. It’s a way for students to create and use their imagination. They continue to have a sense of accomplishment and it supports multiple standards in math and science. The importance of the process of design and taking an idea and creating something functional out of that idea. 

    Elementary age students need a lot of exploration and hands-on time when learning to code. With so many resources and materials out there, here a few of my favorites for elementary age.

    iOS Apps:
    Hands-on materials:
    • - This website is built for everyone. Take the time to explore it. There are activities for coders of all ages starting in Kindergarten. I use this is as the basis for skill building before and after we do hands-on activities.
    • Botley - This robot is great for students starting in PreK through 1st grade. My students learn about directional words and how we build sequences for the robot to follow. Using the materials they set up challenges with the cards for the robot to travel on. Their partner than gives the correct sequence to meet that challenge.
    • Osmo-Coding with Awbie - This activity is great for grades K-2. We discuss the importance of creating a sequence and use the blocks in the kit to guide Awbie through the forest. This gives students opportunity to begin exploring the basis for block-based coding. It also reinforces math skills such as counting, adding, sequential thinking and problem solving.
    • Ozobot - Great for grades 2-5. Students create color sequencing while also learning about the importance of paying attention to detail. Using markers and color sequencing students can draw and create and then give commands for the Ozobot to follow. Upper grades can also use OzoBlockly to use block-programming to code the robot to do even more. My upper elementary students create mazes. Then, their partner has to code Ozobot to solve that maze. 
    • Sphero - Students in grades 3-5, this robot is my personal favorite. Not only can students drive this device around with the SpheroEDU app, they also program it by writing block-based algorithms. One of the first activities I do, “Get Control”, students work in groups and set up an “arena” to code Sphero to move from one person to the next without touching anyone.

    Ben Hurley can be followed on Twitter at @HurleBen and on his website.

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