“Yes, there are two paths you can go by BUT in the long run There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” Led Zeppelin

Teaching students to be reflective about their learning provides them with real world skills and why I believe we need more student-led conferences (SLC). In my eyes, SLC’s should happen routinely in the classroom, not just limited to parent/teacher conference time once or twice a year. I also believe SLC’s should also happen in all subjects areas, not just reading like some teachers believe. With personalized learning and student centered classrooms, SLC’s should be a core component of the classroom.

Why Have Student Led-Conferences:

1. Deepen their understanding of themselves as learners because the students are self-evaluate, self-regulate, and self-motivate

2. Student are empowered and develop ownership of personal goals and achievements.

3. It holds students accountable for their learning and work.

4. Students are practicing real world skills such as communication, critical thinking, reflection, organization and leadership.

5. It focuses more on growth of learning verse just grades and test scores; especially if students have a portfolio of work and use a range of diagnostic, formative, and summative tasks to monitor student progress.

6. It fosters positive teacher/student relationships.

What Should a Student-Led Conference Look Like?

Start the conference with a question to put the student in the lead for example: Tell me what you are working on as a _____ (fill in with what subject you are working with: reader, scientist, mathematician etc). This should lead you to decide what comes next, if the student is on track, ask how can I help you attain your goal or do a small teach point if they need support. Make sure after each conference the student leaves the conference with a goal/action step that they will be working on. Here is a possible dialogue of a SLC in reading (T = teacher and S = Student)

T: “Tell me what you are working on as a reader.”

S: “I am working on the strategy monitoring my comprehension. I am noticing based on my ‘tracks of my thinking’ I am having a hard time with vocabulary.”

T: “Let me show you a way to figure out hard words.” This is where the small teach point comes in. (The teach point is only a few minutes)

S: “I will add that to my goals for reading and practice it this week and record it in my readers notebook.”

or in math

T: “Tell me what you are working on as a mathematician.”

S: “I have mastered addition and I have moved to subtraction but I am struggling.”

T: “Which subtraction strategy did you try using? Let me see your work.”

S: “I have tried using compensation but I don’t think that strategies works best for me because I round one of the numbers to make it easier but forget to compensate for it.”

T: “Let’s try a different strategy such as decomposing the numbers to make the easier for you to subtract.” This is where the small teach point of reviewing decomposing comes in.

S: “I will practice decomposing when I subtract as I feel confident with place value.”


1. What happens if the student doesn’t know what to do? If you are consistently having student-led conferencing in your classroom, the students will be used to the routine and process. If you are not doing this consistently then you should make sure to add it into your class period. Having clear expectations also helps. Use tools such as goal setting sheets, data trackers and refer to mini-lessons as well.

2. Am I as a teacher involved in the conferencing? Yes, you will facilitate the discussion if needed and ask probing questions.

3. Some teachers are reluctant, how can they be brought on board? Understand change is hard, start with the willing teachers that want to try to let others ‘see’ teachers do them so they feel more comfortable. Start off in one subject, master that and then move on to conferencing in other subjects.

I do think SLC should have with parents too and an FAQ I always get is when parents are involved is:

1. What if the parent has a question for just the teacher? At the end of the student-led conference you can have a few minutes without the student or you can set up follow-up appointment. If you are consistently communicating, this rarely happens. Many are so impressed with how much their student knows it doesn’t happen as much as you think.


“Manipulative’s are a tool for instruction, yet teachers tend to not use them due to lack of education and confidence of their effectiveness to increase learning.” (Green, Flowers, & Piel, 2008).

With more and more Chromebook’s coming into school districts it is important to make sure our students are using them for creation verse consumption of knowledge. A great way for students to show creation is in Google Drawing App. Teachers and/or students can create manipulatives, task or games based on the skills they are learning. Below are a few examples along with how to create these in Google Draw.

1. Let’s Go Shopping: This is an example for our a second grade money task. The students must show how much money would represent what they are buying. They can do a screencast* to share their thinking as they are creating.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 9.22.01 AM

2. Water Cycle: This is an example a student created based on the water cycle. The student created the water cycle images, label the correct terms and then did a screencast* explaining their thinking. For younger grades they can do a screen shot.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 9.21.36 AM


3. Base Ten: Here I created a virtual base ten task. The students have to create the number by using the base ten virtual manipulatives and explain their thinking through a screencast*.

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 9.22.46 AM

Here is my folder of Google Draw templates I have created or I have found, click here to add them to your Google Drive.  They will only look like an image until add them to your drive, then you can edit and see more of the details.

*Screencast: We use the Google Extension Snag-it. (If you are in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, this extensions is put on all Chromebooks. All the students need to do to create the screencast is click the blue S to the right of the url window.)

How to Create Manipulatives in Google Draw: 

1. Decide what type of manipulative you need and brainstorm what the goal of the task is for the students. (Example: For the Let’s Go Shopping task I created above. I wanted to see if they could create the correct combinations to pay for the items.)

2. Then log into your GAfE account, go to your drive and click on new (you will have to go to the arrow where it says more to find Google Draw) click on draw.

3. Right click on the blank grey and white grid/canvas to choose a background color you would like to use.

4. Now you build your manipulatives or games the way you would like. Under the insert tab are where you can put pictures, create shapes and text boxes.

Here are a few other ideas you can create manipulative/tasks for but not limited too….

Math: fraction number line, quadrilateral chart, ten frame, clock/time etc

Reading: story maps, word sorts, vocabulary, brainstorming/mind-map etc.

Science: periodic table, cell diagram, rock cycle etc

Social Studies: history timeline, infographic, graphic organizers such as for cause & effect

Other Resources for Using Manipulative’s:

Alice Keeler Website

Graphic Organizers with Google Drawings

 Google Drawings Support

I would love to know how you use Google Drawing in the Classroom, please share in the comments.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” By Benjamin Franklin

If you are en educator you have gone through some-type of implementation process, be it a new initiative or program. In order to make growth in any type of implementation we need to look at what is going well and what is not going well. I like to call these, glows (what is working well) and grows (what do we need to improve on). This is a best practice reflection that should be used in all aspects of implementation from the classroom with students, to teachers at schools and with administration for the district.

How can you implement this in your classroom, school or district?

  1. First block off time and make sure to have these discussions often and regularly.
  2. Make sure to set up a safe environment so people will be honest and have authentic discussions.
  3. If you always look at only the grows, people tend to become negative. If you only look at the glows, you are not being realistic to making growth and change. Make sure you have a discussion about both.

In a classroom: Ask students what is a glow and what is a grow they feel about their learning experience. This helps not only the students reflect on their learning but also the teachers get an informal data point to see how they can maybe change their practice to better meet their students needs.

With teachers: Block off time during a staff meeting, and as grade level or individually discuss what is a glow and what is a grow of the school or of an implementation you are rolling out to see how you to best move forward.

As a district: Ask schools/admins what is a glow and grow of the district or of a specific implementation.

Below is the template I have used with students and educators I work with. To save time, I have also sent this to them ahead of time to fill out so when we are together we are having discussions to help improve us.  (*This also helps model a best practice that educators can use with their staff or teachers with their students.)  Reflecting on experiences encourages insight and complex learning.


Incorporating Brain Breaks

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” By Dr. Seuss

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 8.04.02 PM

Brain Breaks are a great way to get kids up and moving around after doing an activity. They are under utilized in the classroom yet very important in the learning environment. An easy way to add them into your classroom is during transitions. Before doing the breaks make sure to set up rules and procedures so students understand what is expected of them before, during and after brain breaks. Depending on the activity my students are doing, sometimes I choose a break for them. For example, if we are doing an activity that was independent, then I do one that has lots of movement and talking such as four corners (see below for details). If we are finishing an activity where I need them to calm down and regroup, we do Yoga. Most of the time I let the students choose. There are different ways you can do this:

  • Give them an option of two and vote
  • Create a spinner with the different brain breaks
  • Create a spinner or sticks with the students names, who-evers name gets picked, gets to choose
  • Star Student, Line Leader etc get to choose.
  • Create your own or use this roll a brain break chart 

Below are some of my students favorite brain break: (*I use these with adults too during PD!)

1. Rock, Paper, Scissors King/Queen: Each participant picks a partner to play rock, paper scissor. Whoever is the ‘winner’ from the pair gets a groupie, the last two standing have a throw down crowning the winner.

2. Vocab Jaunt: Chose a vocabulary word and have the students find the letters around the room. The rule is you can touch the same wall back to back, you must do different walls.

3. Minute to win it: There are a lot of great brain break ideas from the game show ‘minute to win it’. Google it or check out Pinterest etc for some ideas.

4. 5-4-3-2-1: Choose a leader that will decided on five different movements in descending order, pausing between each one. Example: Do five jumping jacks, spin around four times, hop on one foot three times, walk all the way around the classroom two times, give someone one high-five.

5. Plates: Give each student a paper plate. Students must walk around the room balancing the plates on their heads. If a student drops his or her plate, the student must freeze until another student picks it up and places it back on the student’s head (while keep his or her own plate in place, of course).

6. Dance Party/Yoga: Using Go Noodle (Great FREE site with lots of brain breaks) is a great way of saving spending hours on you tube etc to find the right kid friendly ones. They even have celebrities and popular songs such as Happy and Let it GO!

7. 4 Corners: Choose four different destinations such as states, cities, countries and have students choose where they would want to go on vacation and why with a partner in that corner. This gets students up and moving but also discussing possibly with classmates they don’t normal interact with. Ex: label one corner NYC and the others Orlando, LA and Denver. (This can be adapted to many other ways such as book titles, foods, colors etc)

8. Geometry Hustle: The teacher calls out a shape and the student collaborate to create that shape on the ground. Ex: If  square s called, four students get together and create a square by laying on the ground. (*I have also done this with angles, example: make an acute angle)


GoNoodle Inspiration Blog

Other Brain Break Resources:

Go Noodle (Also great for indoor recess)

20 Brain Break Clips

Energizing Brain Break Book

Incorporating Brain Breaks: Keeping Students Engaged

You can also find a ton on Pinterest too. If you have a favorite brain break that wasn’t mentioned, please share in the comments. I love trying new ones!

“STEM education isn’t just one thing-it’s a range of strategies that help students apply concepts and skills from different disciplines to solve meaningful problems.” Jo Anne Vasquez

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math = STEM has become a buzz word in education. Too often this happens to many best practices due to how they are explained or rolled out to educators. Look at buzz words such as differentiation, Higher-Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) and data driven instruction; all of these like STEM are buzz words for a reason as they are best practices, yet they get lost in the shuffle of other programs or initiatives etc. This blog post is to bring back WHY STEM is important and give resources to be able to help teachers integrate it back into the classroom with purpose and meaning.

STEM education is an instructional approach to learning that allows four (I think five as literacy is also integrated) subjects be integrated into one, to encourage real-world learning experiences. How often do you get asked by a student (and sometimes parents) when you are teaching, “when am I going to use this in the real world?” STEM bridges this gap and allows students to see real world application of what they are learning. Below are great sites, TED Talks and articles all filled with lots of resources such as lesson plans, games, activities etc. I hope these help you integrate STEM into your day.


Teaching Kids to Code: EdSurge Guide – A great guide in how to incorporate coding into the classroom along with a bank of different coding apps, sites and software with information to help you pick the best one for your needs.

NASA- Educators – Has lesson plans, activities, games and much more for grades K-12.

Exploratorium  – Interactive site for grades K-12 with lots of activity ideas.

eGFI: Dream Up the Future – Has lesson plans, activities, games and much more for grades K-12 geared toward engineering.

Engineer Your Life – Engineering site for 9-12 grade girls.

PBS Teachers – STEM Education Recourse Center – Lots of resources for a K-12 teacher

NC State STEM Resources -  Most of these lesson plans and activities were developed or used in their K-12 Engineering Teaching Fellows Program with great success.
TED Talks

Hands-on science with squishy circuits by AnnMarie Thomas – NC Essential Standard Connection – 4.P

The magic of Fibonacci numbers by Arthur Benjamin – CCSS connection 5.OA

Great articles on STEM:

STEM: Beyond the Acronym

Knowledge, Inquiry, Design: A Three-Ppronged Approach To STEM Learning

I would love to know other great STEM resources that you have used in your classroom too. Please share them in the comments.

“A deeper understanding of the child empowers us as educators to deepen relationships and educate appropriately and proactively.” – Kathy Walker

Personalized Learning (PL) looks different in every district because it is just that, personalized to fit each districts students needs. For example, check out Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in NC and Henry  County in GA approaches to PL. The foundation of Personalized Learning is the same, classrooms are student centered with an emphasis on student ownership of their learning. There are many myths out there about PL and in this blog post it is time we dismantle them.

Myth #1. PL is a program: PL is not a program but a philosophy. It is being purposeful in doing whats best for students based on their data, goals, interests and learning styles.

Myth #2. PL is the same thing as differentiation, individualized and blended learning: All these instructional delivery methods are on the continuum to Personalized Learning but they are not the same. Below is a chart Allison Zmuda and I created to help educators understand the continuum:

Chart on Delivery Methods

Myth #3. Each student needs to have a different lesson: In PL there are not lesson plans like you might have been taught in college. In PL the teacher takes a different role from lecturer to a facilitator. (See previous blog post: The Shift of the Role of Teacher.) Many teachers use learning guides, curriculum maps or the different pathways they create based on skills vs the typical, I do, you do, we do.

Myth #4. There is no direct instruction: Yes, there is direct instruction but it is not through whole group. The direct instruction is through small mini-lessons based on the students needs. If you have students that have shown mastery in adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators then why would you have them sit in that lesson?

Myth #5. PL is ALL Technology: In PL technology is used as a tool to enhance their learning anytime and anywhere. This myth comes from many software companies that say there product is personalized learning because it is adaptive to national tests such as MAP or uses algorithms to push out curriculum for the student on their level. While having a technology platform like this can be helpful it is not what personalized learning is ALL about. Nothing will ever replace great teachers and a huge piece of PL is the relationships teachers have with their students because that is what keeps many motivated, not a program.

Myth #6. Montessori and PL are the same thing: The easiest way to describe the difference between PL and Montessori is that they are different approaches. In Montessori program the students use the environment to develop themselves verse PL schools use the content standards. Montessori education is about following the child’s interest and allowing the student to lead their learning. With PL the teacher facilitates the learning creating mini-lessons, choice menus, pathways etc setting the expectations for the learning environment. Montessori students are also in mixed age classrooms and they use specific Montessori learning materials.

Below are great resources on Personalized Learning, but remember every district, school and classroom is going to look different because it is what is best for the students needs.

Student At The Center

Learning Personalized


“It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.” by Julius Caesar

3D printers are becoming more popular in classrooms and schools because of makerspaces and the need for creativity! Blokify is a 3D modeling App software that enables kids to create toys/items they can play with virtually or physically via 3D printing.*

I downloaded Blokify and was hooked! There are two modes: challenges and free play. I started thinking about how much fun this was even though I couldn’t print it and realized I could still share via email (great for classrooms that don’t have 3D printers yet). So I started thinking of ways to use it in the classroom even if you didn’t have a 3rd printer:

1. Students could create a scene from the book they are reading or for the stories they create.

2. Complete the challenge modes: It promotes problem solving and critical thinking skills. Can’t figure out when students would have ‘time’ to do this, have it be apart of your may do’s or when they finish something early.

3. Create challenges (they would do in free play) such as make an array for 4×5 or create a building with the area of 36 and perimeter of 42.

4. You can App Smash it with many other apps: Check out this student explaining his work on Blokify and Explain Everything.

More Articles about Blokify:

Blokify 3D Modeling Software

Blokify iOS app aims to make modeling for 3D printers accessible to kids

Blokify app is where Minecraft meets 3D printing

 I would love to hear how you have used Blokify in your classroom.

*”blokify.” 2013. 25 Nov. 2014 <http://blokify.com/>


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