Building Student Creators

Idea Creative Creativity Imgination Innovate Thinking Concept

The ability to communicate ideas and thinking in effective ways is highly prized in the modern workplace. This  can involve creating visual, text-based, or aural representations, and can include all three in interactive formats. Think digital flyers, project reports, social media, and other work that requires creative thinking and skills to deliver a message. See the Creative Communicator section on the ISTE Standards for Students page for more specifics about the skills students need in this area.

Cultivating these skills is not always easy for time-strapped teachers operating within defined curriculum, but there are some simple ways to build these into activities that can also boost core learning outcomes. Here are a couple to consider:

  1. Ask students to use Autodraw to represent a concept or model thinking. Use the autodraw feature, free draw, shapes, and/or text to create in ways that force students to grapple with your content and creatively show understanding. (other options include Google Drawings templates, or inserting a Pear Deck drawing activity in Google Slides)
  2. Use Screencastify to record a how-to, a message, an explanation, or something else. Students can save it to Google Drive and embed it in a Google Slide or share it by link. See this screencast guide for tips and ideas for teachers and students alike.
  3. Extra bonus: combine these elements in one place by copying, saving, embedding, linking, or other means. See this published Google Slide that includes an image from Autodraw, video from Screencastify, and a link made in Slides. It is by no means a great example, but not bad for 15 minutes of work.

As with any tech-based activity, these will have the most impact when students receive feedback (peer or teacher), verbalize their thinking (turn and talk), and work in authentic tasks (a local company…). While that’s not so easy, it is achievable, and guiding students to create and communicate with these modern tools will help them build towards the expectations that await them.

Real Talk: Using Targets That Engage Students

There are a number of teaching practices that are lauded as effective, but they are not always easy to enact in ways that students connect to. One is establishing a clear purpose for a lesson/activity. You can see this article on how Hattie and Marzano think about the subject.  From what I observe, this strategy often manifests as a learning target on the board with some time devoted to going over it in class. With evaluation models like 5D setting expectations that students be able to know and refer to targets, this strategy is commonly used, but teachers struggle to make it engaging.

The value of a clear of objective makes sense, whether it’s working with coding or learning sentence structure. Without some clarity of purpose, there may be some learning occurring, but it is random at best, and it may be kids just messing around. Now, I recognize the value of play and exploration, but I also recognize that without some awareness and assessment of what is being learned, the end result is typically lackluster. My ongoing question is how do we get students to give a rip about a learning goal, and, more importantly, how do we involve them meaningfully in the process?

One connection that makes sense to me is empowering students in the process. See this ISTE article on empowered learners to consider the importance of student choice, self-direction, scaffolding, and feedback among other things. Trying to set this up though, especially for every learning outcome, is overwhelming. That is what led me to create this empowered target example. It sets a goal, explains a connection/purpose, and establishes what success looks like. The doc provides scaffolds for students and asks them to find their own resources on the topic as well as set a plan for showing they know it. If a copy is provided for each student, a teacher could provide real-time feedback on the doc and even facilitate assessment of the target.

Full disclosure: I have not used this doc in any learning setting, but I feel confident about the thinking behind it. There are many other forms these ideas could take (example from Agile Classrooms), and I’ve seen how something like it has been used in PBL and competency-based / standards-based systems. It could certainly be used in any traditional approach as well. With an outcome defined, a process for students to be empowered, and avenues for extension, we can make learning targets meaningful, and having a digital structure in place will enable us to support students as they progress. As with anything, it will require refinement and iterations, and if it isn’t useful, it should be scrapped. I’d love to see what others are doing to be intentional, engaging, and supportive with students.

#competency-based-learning, #edtech, #google-docs, #iste, #mitecs, #pbl

Beat the Post Spring Break Blues

‘Tis the season of testing and student squirminess. That means many schools experience reduced access to student devices, and teachers need to dig deep to engage students in the waning weeks of school. Here are a couple options that might help:

1.) Digital Breakout games. Pirate kids image

You are likely familiar with Escape Rooms and Breakout EDU. You can run similar games in your classroom with just one device (though a couple more would help). Follow these steps:

2.) Use one of the options from our REMC Maker Kit. See our list of available options that you can check out – FOR FREE – for 1-2 weeks. Your students could design objects to be printed on the 3D printer, explore circuits with Little Bits, record with a green screen, and much more. Ron and I are available to train and to help facilitate activities with students.

Let us know if you have questions or needs we can help with. We are here to serve and connect.


#breakoutedu, #educational-technology, #maker

Farewell Andrew – Now What?

We are sad to announce that Andrew has accepted a position with Plymouth-Canton Public Schools. He has been an excellent colleague and friend over the past six and a half years, in which he amassed a notable body of work. It has been a pleasure to learn from him and grow with him through our collaboration, and we wish him well in his endeavors.

You may be wondering what’s going to change for the Kent ISD Ed Tech team. The good news is that Andrew will remain as a contributor to this blog, though I am not sure he will be finding much time to post to it. Ron and I will be supporting many of Andrew’s continuing projects, and, as with everything we do, we will strive to optimize them for those we support. Please contact us to explore how we can coach, train, consult, or build around tech integration with you.

Craig Steenstra – – 616.447.5673

Ron Houtman – – 616.365.2320

Build Your Own Interactives

In many schools, especially at the elementary level, it is common for students to be using tech for core skill building. For example, they might be using Zearn to go through math practice at a level that is personalized based on pre-assessment results. This can be beneficial, but some research suggests that so-called drill and kill types of platforms might not be best and may even have negative effects on student learning. See this research page from Liz Kolb’s Triple E Framework site for more on that

I also believe that students can be doing much more than practice problems with the devices they are using. So, I have been exploring ways to design activities that involve application of learning and using tech to build or create based on the concepts being taught. This may sound a bit daunting, but here are two examples that are fairly simple to set up:

  1. Google Slides Place Value Interactive. You can add background elements, like a cartoon field, that won’t move by editing the Slide Master (how to edit Slide Master in Google Slides). When students load the link, they can make a copy, or teachers can assign it through Classroom as a copy for each student. Then they interact and build.
  2. Google Doc Array and Area Activity. This prompts students to build some simple layouts in Geogebra and then asks questions that farmers would actually have to ask when building a fence. Like in the previous activity, students need to apply their understanding. They also have links to reference in case they need it (e.g. perimeter and area).

These are not the most polished or amazing, but they incorporate some complex thinking and some personal interaction as well. Take a look, make copies for yourself, and modify as you see fit. Please share any ideas or questions with us so we can learn from you as well.

#edtech, #g-suite, #google-apps

Simple Ways to Represent Thinking

I just want to take a moment to share a couple tools and ideas for representing thinking. No matter what we teach or facilitate, we want ideas and understanding to be shared. The tools described below provide options for people to show what’s swirling in their minds. Given the visual options involved, these platforms can be used with non-linguistic strategies, modelling, and more. They can also be used across grade levels and subject areas. Here is a breakdown:

  1. AWW App – A whiteboard tool on which you can add text, shapes, drawings, images and more. There are options for real-time collaboration and adding additional pages. You can export the finished product without creating an account, or you can register to build a library. See my example at the bottom of this post.
  2. AutoDraw – This is a Google Experiment, and it has many similar features to the AWW App. It does not support collaboration, but it is simpler. You can also choose a drawing option that will predict what you are trying to draw. The predicted options show on the top toolbar for you to select.

There are other options out there (Google Drawings is a notable one), but these are less known and have some useful features. Take a few minute to try them out. Explore the menus for options and think about how you might use them in an upcoming lesson or meeting.

Sample AwwIce formations on beach with people


Spring Tech Ideas

Jacaranda tree in bloom

It is the season of testing, which means many of us are experiencing reduced access to tech. It is also likely that students are starting to get a bit squirmier than normal, and creativity may be needed to engage them meaningfully. Here are some ideas to consider – all of which can be accomplished with minimal devices:

1.) Visit and search “nest” or “birth”. You can easily find a live cam view of animals with their young (or soon to be young). This could be used for a writing prompt, exploration of geography, measurement, and much more. Plus, all it takes is a computer and a projector.

2.) Take a picture a day of a growing plant (or anything going through a spring transformation) and then combine the images into a looping GIF file using The images could be taken using a classroom computer with webcam, a student or teacher phone, or even a regular old digital camera. You could store the images in a shared folder for people to access when they have the opportunity to create the GIF.

3.) Record students doing stuff – audio or video of students speaking written work, enacting a scene, debating a point, or explaining a concept. For audio, you might try using, which will work on any Chromebook or computer with a microphone. For video, you can save space on your device by uploading it to Google Drive (see this guide for simple recording) where you can share it immediately.

No matter how you record, students will be moving and likely taking it a little more seriously because others may hear or see it. It may be a little tricky keeping everyone on task, but it is not impossible.

As always, Ron, Andrew, and I are here to help you plan and/or implement these and any other ed tech ideas you may have. Contact us at

Digital Text Sources and Tools

Many teachers express that they are overwhelmed by the tools and services that one can use to find and interact with digital texts. As part of our study session in Kent ISD’s Literacy Coaches Network, Andrew and I have facilitated investigations into some of the options that we feel have the most value to educators and students. Here is some of what we uncovered:

First, we really like Diigo, especially when used as a Google Chrome extension. When added, users can highlight and make notes on any webpage or PDF, and it’s all stored in a user’s library in a way that can be shared. It also has an outliner tool and a groups function, both of which can be used for many purposes. Tip: make sure you access the education upgrade to get more features.

We also looked at a number of platforms and sources for texts. See below for some basic details about the ones we chose.

    • Newsela / Newsela Elementary
      • Allows choice of non-fiction articles with option for different Lexile level for each article
      • Access articles by link without logins or set up a class
      • Helpful cross-text features like Issues and Text Sets
      • Users can annotate text but teacher can’t see annotations w/o paid model
      • Assessment questions available (more complex and varied than Teen/Tween Tribune)
      • They try to lure you into their paid model – comparison of free vs paid
    • Teen/Tween Tribune
      • Allows choice of non-fiction articles with option for different Lexile level for each article
      • Access articles by link without logins or set up a class (You can see student results w/ login)
      • Assessment questions included with login (mostly simple recall questions)
      • Provides a commenting option that allows students from everywhere to post comments on articles and reply to each other.
      • Student can access articles, take quizzes, and post comments without teacher assigning
      • Some great options for finding and exploring texts
        1. Bookflix (Read and listen to texts)
        2. NoveList (find books by interest, lexile, and more) No full text.
        3. eBook Collection / eBook k-8 Collection
        4. Gale PowerPack (magazines & more)
    • ReadWorks
      • Large library of articles searchable by lexile, skill, and other filters w/ audio option for some K-5 content
      • Questions, strategies, and much more available
      • Requires downloading or printing texts and sharing w/ students
      • Digital ReadWorks
        1. Requires logins for teacher and students
        2. Students can annotate texts, which are visible by teacher
        3. Allows teacher to assign and track quiz results
        4. Students can’t alter Lexile level but teacher can assign articles to specific students to differentiate
        5. Questions are fairly low level but provide feedback for students
        6. No way for students to select articles on their own

Yes, that’s a long list, and there is more to explore no doubt. Hopefully this helped you determine what might be best for you. If you have other ideas to share, please add them in the comments.

#digitaltext, #edtech, #reading

Assistechknow Roundup

In case you missed Assistechknow last week, or if you have no idea what it is, this is a roundup of Kent ISD’s two day conference on assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning. Ron Houtman, Kindy Segovia, and a host of others once again organized everything, and hundreds of educators from many places came to share and learn.

One key point to keep in mind: assistive tech can help everyone, not just those for whom targeted supports are designed. Take a look at these links to see if there is anything you can use in your work.

#assistive-technology, #kent-isd

August Ed Tech Workshops

workshop features

This is a reminder that the Ed Tech team at Kent ISD is offering a number of August workshops so that teachers can build and develop for the upcoming year. Of course, we will be keeping things fun and flexible. Check out the lineup below – dates and links with details & registration are included. Contact us with any questions.

  • Digital Course Workshop (Build a Course in 3 Hours) ~ Led by Craig Steenstra
  • Build for Blended Learning Workshop ~ Led by Kent ISD’s Ed Tech Team
    • August 25 (registration) Choose morning, afternoon, or both.