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

We predict that this will win the next science fair at school

Those cool coders at Google made an Artificial Intelligence terrarium that models weather conditions around the world.

Project Oasis, as its named, allows you to use the Google Assistant tools to ask about the weather in various parts of the world.  For example, you can ask “What’s the weather like in Grand Rapids?”, and the little terrarium will mimic the location with mist to simulate fog or clouds, light and even a bit of rain. I’m thinking that if you ask it what it’s like in Grand Rapids during the winter, it probably won’t respond with snow quite yet.

Check out this quick video on how it works.

The unit is powered by a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino and you can get more details and the source code for your own little biome here.

#ai, #arduino, #raspberry-pi

hackGVSU – Coming April 14


The eLearning and Emerging Technologies department invites you to the “hackGVSU” event at the main campus of Grand Valley State University.

This will be held on Saturday, April 14. The goal is to provide opportunities for students and teams to work together on programming projects. There are HTML, LTI, and REST API integration possibilities with Blackboard providing training on these during the event.

More information is available at:


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

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

PD opportunity – “AP Computer Science Principles”

Want to offer AP Computer Science at your school? 

The Michigan Math Science Centers Network, in partnership with, is bringing professional learning to educators to implement AP Computer Science Principles for high school students.

According to the latest data from The Office of Innovation and Improvement, computer science education is becoming critical:

“By the year 2018, more than half of all science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs are projected to be in computer science-related fields. And those remaining STEM jobs will almost all require significant computational skills. If we want our students to be prepared to thrive in this environment of rapid economic change, we need to start preparing them right now”

For more information on this upcoming professional development opportunity, please visit the MI Coding website , contact the program coordinators or download this informative flyer.

Open is Awesome – Using OERs with #GoOpen

The US Department of Education (USeD) has identified support for the production and adoption of Open Educational Resources (OER) as a strategic priority.  As we see digital resource availability and usage increase in our classrooms, we still have some issues to overcome before OER can be a larger contributor to innovation in education.

From ongoing research, we still see limited reuse and repurposing of OER by educators, manifested by a tendency to use OER as supplementary rather than primary materials. In addition, both lack of awareness and lack of digital and pedagogical skills on the part of educators contribute to limited utilization.6555467293_abe94016b5_m

As a practical application, teachers don’t have to create all of their course content from scratch, they can add and import OERs into their courses housed in a Learning Management System like Edify, supported by the Kent ISD.

As educators, how can we tap into these vast OER collections that will help our learners develop the skills required in the 21st century?   In the next few months, you will notice a bigger push by USeD to bring awareness to what OER are, where you can find them, how they can be used, and how to get your educators trained in using them.

In the meantime, if you or your district would like to know more about how to use OER in your teaching and learning practice, please contact Ron Houtman at Kent ISD for custom professional learning and consulting around this exciting area of education.



#education, #oer, #open, #professional-development, #research