July 17

PBL and STEM…One in the Same!

Today during our summer planning days, we conducted a protocol with teachers about the similarities and differences between PBL and STEM. The group was split into 4 groups, each group not knowing the question given to the other. The four questions were as follows:

  1. What are the characteristics of a PBL teacher?
  2. What are the characteristics of a STEM teacher?
  3. What are the characteristics of a PBL student?
  4. What are the characteristics of a STEM student?


Each group brainstormed characteristics of each and we sorted the characteristics on whether they were characteristics of a Student, Teacher, or Both. All of the characteristics listed here both student and teacher!


Why was doing this so important? Often we see PBL and STEM as two separate initiatives. They are indeed NOT. This really helped to visually see the collective thoughts of our teachers, and to show that what they are doing matters….whether they are in a full PBL or whether they are conducting a STEM activity, they are doing what is expected, valued, and believed by our school culture! It was an #exceptional day of learning!


January 16

Reflections on Embarrassment- Part 1

One of my new year’s resolutions was not only to read and tweet about what I have been reading but also to blog and reflect on it as well. This first snow day of 2018 has allowed me to begin this journey cuddled up with a new book, (embarrassment) by Thomas Newkirk. The title and why students are easily embarrassed are what attracted me to this book. As teachers, we think students shouldn’t care about their “image”, but they do….and we secretly do too!  I only started reading it today and just finished the first section of the book.

Embarrassment is a facet of learning. Newkirk states, “If we can take on a topic like embarrassment and shame, we can come to a richer, more honest, more enabling sense of who we are and what we can do”. @Winterboro_high we studied the teachings of Eric Jensen this summer and the value that student and teacher relationships play on student achievement. Very simply put, students will not care about content until they know you care about them….GENUINELY. Having relationships be our bedrock this year has been great. We have formed advisories, made connections, etc., but after reading Newkirk’s book, one of the next steps to student achievement is to be aware of triggers in class such as the blush or the crackle of a voice. Those triggers can be characteristic of students being embarrassed in class and are potential barriers in the classroom.  Newkirk states, “I am convinced, absolutely convinced, that embarrassment is not only a true enemy of learning but of so many other actions we could take to better ourselves”.

What are ways teachers can help to combat embarrassment in the classroom (other than having strong relationships)? Meet PBL- Project Based Learning. Although Newkirk hasn’t explicitly cited this in his book so far, it is heavily implied through tapping into students strengths while in class groups as well as teaching through a variety of modalities from Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. PBL is a great venue to do this, as it allows students to recognize their current strengths and develop their areas of weakness.

“The very act of writing can also serve as a form of rehearsal”. LOVE this quote! Embarrassment can be eliminated by giving students a trial run before open classroom discussions. Students can write about their thoughts or participate in “turn and talks” in the classroom. I am always looking out for new strategies, but often times some of the most effective ones cover so many areas. The turn and talk is widely used, easy to use, and does not discriminate when it comes to content. The turn and talk is one simple strategy that packs a punch!


Section 2 of the book will be coming soon! Hopefully without a series of snow days!

February 12

Blowin’ Off Some S.T.E.A.M.

The following is written by Teacher Leader and “Expert Down the Hall”, Heather Studdard (@HeatherStuddard). Thank you, Mrs. Studdard for your Leadership in leading our PD on Friday and also being a model classroom for PBL and STEAM in the Social Studies classroom! #exceptional

STEAM – the new big buzzword in education. Often times teachers hate to see these new trends move into their classrooms for fear that they will implement it and then it will be on its way out the door as soon as they understand it. For STEAM, however, this will not be the truth. There is a reason we still focus so heavily on ensuring students are proficient with 21st Century skills and that is because we do not know what the future will hold. I can guarantee that science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics fields will grow at a rate that we cannot even begin to imagine. If we do not incorporate these pivotal skills into teaching then we are setting up entire generations of students for failure.


One would think that all of the elements of STEAM would be covered in classes like science, math, and computer science. That assumption would be wrong. As with anything, students must be repeatedly exposed to these elements to understand that they are universal.  So, yes, this means that in the classes where STEAM seems to make the least sense, like social studies and English language arts (ELA), we must still ensure students are exposed to these all important skills.




There are several questions that arise when you talk about incorporating STEAM into social studies and ELA such as the following:

  1. Why do we need to do this?
  2. How do we incorporate this?
  3. How will this fit in with the other things that we must do in our classes?

Once you understand the answers to these questions it is easy to see that it is a perfect fit. Let’s see if we can answer them.

  1. Why do we need to incorporate STEAM?
  • Not all students learn well in a traditional classroom setting much like what you see in most traditional social studies and ELA classes.
  • It breaks up the regular classroom routine and reinvigorates learning.
  • It’s fun for you and your students.
  • It reinforces that it is okay to fail and that we must continually edit and revise (sounds like an ELA class to me!).
  1. How do we incorporate this?
  • First of all you must know what is available for you to use and know how to use it.
  • Research, research, research! The internet is full of ways that teachers just like us are incorporating STEAM into every class, you just have to find it.
  • Get with your math, science, and technology teachers and brainstorm and get advice from them.
  • Get creative! This is the whole purpose in STEAM in the first place and that is to think outside the box or sometimes in this case outside the classroom.
  1. How will this fit in with the other things that we must do in our classes?
  • The beauty of STEAM is that it goes hand in hand with Project-Based Learning (PBL). In fact once you learn about STEAM it is difficult to imagine one without the other.
  • The STEAM component does not have to be your end product. Don’t let STEAM drive your driving question!
  • Finally, remember this sequence: fail, edit, revise, fail, edit, revise, fail, edit, revise, success! This process is key in students learning.

So here is a challenge: if you are a Social Studies or an ELA teacher incorporate a STEAM activity into your class before Spring Break. Use the resources available at your school including collaboration with your co-workers. If you need some help getting started see the protocol card below for some ideas. Let’s blow off some STEAM in Social Studies and ELA!

February 4

Slice of the Day

Reflection is one of the most underutilized tools for teacher and student learning and allows metacognitive thinking to take place. Incorporating thinking strategies is “the single most effective way to increase student achievement” (Silver, et al pg 57), thus making metacognition and the reflective process taste that much sweeter to any teacher aiming to promote critical thinking in the classroom. How can you learn from others while teaching? Conducting a “Slice of the Day” is a great way!

To conduct a slice of the day, choose a school period and map out your schedule. @GraysonLawrence and I conducted our “Slice of the Day” during sixth period (A 96 minute period). We stayed in each classroom around seven minutes. We used the slice protocol to create a snapshot to share with teachers in Teacher Academy. Our goal was to show teachers the “Slice of the Day” and give them time to reflect on practice, create goals, and discuss classroom pedagogy that is impactful to student achievement.

@GraysonLawrence and I chose to do a new take on the “Slice of the Day”. We each had a lens of what to be on the lookout for. The only reported information was observable information/data garnered by the lense. His lens was student engagement and my lens was rigorous instruction. Here is what we discovered for each applied perspective:

Rigorous Instruction Lens:

  • Citing textual evidence
  • Academic vocabulary from the ACT Aspire in elective courses
  • Quality question by teachers
  • Students using content vocabulary in conversation without the teacher present (high expectations present)
  • Performance tasks (open-ended questions) in ALL content areas
  • Graphic organizers, such as ACE, in history and elective courses
  • Number talks in math
  • Manipulatives used by students to model thinking
  • Application of Ethos, Pathos, Logos in elective course
  • Differentiated Small-Group based on student needs
  • Students using Rubrics to assess their learning

Engagement Lens:

  • Classroom Managers present and eager to discuss their learning and the learning in the classroom.
  • Students troubleshooting through assignments together
  • Students using rubrics in groups to assess learning
  • Learning Targets posted that show a pathway to learning
  • Students asking questions about their own learning
  • Bellringers to start the day
  • Math Stretches
  • Students participating in PBL (Project Based Learning)
  • Blended Learning opportunities for students
  • Collaboration in Google Docs/Slides


Silver, H., Dewing, R. T., & Perini, M. (2012). The core six essential strategies for achieving excellence with the common core. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


**Small side note about The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achievement Excellence with the Common Core:  It is a short read, BUT very transformative!!! I highly encourage you to read and reread it! I have a copy you can borrow anytime! It is not content specific, rather just a focus on effective teaching strategies!

February 7

The Power of Time, Pace, and Scaffolding

CalcN0rUkAAVHwaThis week in Teacher Academy, we had a guest teacher, Nancy Clarke, from the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI).  Thank you so much Mrs. Clarke for coming to observe classrooms, plan PD, and highlight some best practices for us to implement and try! The framework of our discussion revolved around the power of time management, pacing students throughout a lesson, and scaffolding students. 

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The following highlights are a series of questions/statements to remember while planning future lessons:

  • We as teachers should plan with Blooms but assess with DOK (Depth of Knowledge)
  • With our DOK assessments, what type of thinking is required?
  • Tasks in the classroom should be at the DOK 3 Level because DOK 3 level incorporates DOK Levels 1 and 2.
  • As teachers, we focus on a lot of things and we try to do everything fast. The tasks we plan should have meaning and rigor.
  • Planning is extremely important. Planning should encompass areas where we anticipate we would have to scaffold.
  • We must plan where learning could possibly have a breakdown.
  • The power of time is invaluable.
  • The  use of a timer keeps us on track but also the students on track during scaffolding.  It is much easier to Close Read for 6 minutes then it is for 30 minutes.
  • If your students are having a difficult time turning in assignments, use a timer to help pace their work.  Time management for students is a necessary skill to be College and Career Ready.
  • For more information on Webb’s DOK, click here!


Just a few Teacher Takeaways

  1. Coach Strickland and Mrs. Brown said that their takeaway was starting out her small group lessons with DOK 3 questions then scaffold student learning from that point.
  2. Mr. Studdard and Mr. Gable both stated that their takeaway was the use of a timer.  This would allow them to maintain pressure throughout the lesson and help pace students toward completion of desired tasks.


Sentence Starters were also part of discussion amongst teachers.  Using sentence starters in the classroom allows students to have appropriate content dialog in the classroom. Sentences starters look different in each classroom.  There are millions of different sentence starters to use to frame productive classroom discussions. Share with everyone when you find some that best suits your classroom! Here are a few examples we can use in our classrooms:

Math:  Check Out Page 7

ELA:  Check out Page 3


Social Studies: Check Out Page 10

Career Technical Education


November 14

Aiming to Increase Student Engagement

Winterboro High School attends the Secondary Powerful Conversations Network sponsored by the Alabama Best Practices Center.  At our previous meeting we were introduced to the book, Leaders of Their Own Learning by Ron Berger.  The highlight of this meeting was Learning Targets.  Members were tasked to relay this information to their faculty and staff in a way that was meaningful to their school.  What better venue then Teacher Academy?!?!?

On November 7, 2014, we met to discuss the difference between Objectives and Learning Targets.  Objectives are the verbose definitions given to teachers in a particular grade or content.  Ron Berger defines Learning Targets as “ goals for lessons, projects, units, and courses.”

We read the literature presented by Ron Berger. Some very insightful points were brought out and discussed in Teacher Academy based on Mr. Berger’s research.  They were:

-Learning Targets increase student motivation in the classroom

-Learning Targets “shift” the ownership from the teacher to more of a partnership with the teacher and the student.

After reading the literature, we analyzed objectives that we used in our classrooms from the previous week and discussed ways we could have altered the objectives to create learning targets.  . We practiced writing learning targets for our lesson plans for the upcoming week.

If you have not read Leaders of Their Own Learning by Ron Berger, I highly recommend this book.  It will allow you to easily assess your current lesson plans, impact daily instruction in your classroom, and impact your school culture to promote engaged learning! The next post we will discuss how we took Ron Berger’s literature to the next level in our all day staff development day!


November 8

Technology Tools for the 8 Essential Elements of Project Based Learning

On Friday, October 31, 2014, Emily Nestor, our Technology Integration Specialist,  introduced Technology Tools that can be easily integrated into any stage of a project.  Thank you Mrs. Nestor for being our guest blogger and teacher!

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. While allowing for some degree of student “voice and choice,” rigorous projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed to help students learn key academic content, practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking), and create high-quality, authentic products & presentations. These elements are what create the framework for PBL and it is through the integration of technology within each element of the PBL framework that the PBL experience can be enhanced. Here a few tech tools that we used to address common questions related to the 8 Essential Elements of PBL:

Content: How can we teach the content?

GoClass  https://www.goclass.com/guestapp/index.aspx

The Learnia  http://www.thelearnia.com/

These tech tools provide teachers with an interactive platform to deliver content to students. They also help to provide a high level of engagement for students.

Driving Question: How can students reflect on DQ daily?

Today’s Meet    https://todaysmeet.com/

This tool is a great place for students to express their ideas and opinions related to the driving question. Students can also view other’s responses and provide feedback to their peers. This is a great alternative to Twitter!

Inquiry: How can we support research?

Instapaper     https://www.instapaper.com/

List.ly     http://list.ly/

Both of these tools offer great “storage houses” for web based content. Both teachers and students can use these sites to create folders/list of articles, videos, etc that relate to specific topics that they are researching!

Voice and Choice: How can students put voice and choice into a product?

Tackk    https://tackk.com/

Tackk is a simple way to create beautiful pages on the web. By creating their own page, flyer, blog post, or poster students are able to express their creativity through integrating a variety of design and content options.

Revision/Reflection: How can teachers offer feedback?

Kaizena    https://kaizena.com/

Kaizena allows teachers and students to digitally track and rate skills in student work through feedback! Students can “ask” their teachers to review assignments that are upload from GoogleDrive and teachers can give written and oral feedback that is accessible by the student!

21st Century Skills: How can we foster productive and not disruptive collaboration?

RealtimeBoard     https://realtimeboard.com/

RealtimeBoard is online whiteboard for visual team collaboration. Students and teachers can add pictures, mockups, drawings, videos, sticky notes, office documents and Google Drive files on an endless canvas, discuss it with colleagues, and enjoy real time visual collaboration without emails.

Public Audience: How can students create a product for a public audience?

UTellStory       http://www.utellstory.com/

UTellStory is a digital multimedia storytelling and sharing community. Student can create digital presentations that include a variety of media (videos, pictures, files) and share them with the world using a link! Students can also add music and/or narration to their presentations!


Below is our Protocol Card used this week.  We use Protocol Cards as a Take-away for teachers.  Teacher can keep these at their small group table and be used in a pinch while teaching, lesson planning, or reminders of best practices taught in previous Academy sessions!

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