Two Station Rotation: Frontloading Vocabulary and Differentiating Activities

At the beginning of the year, I asked students to answer the age old question, “What is your favorite subject?”  Most students answered, “science!”

However, when we got down to the nitty-gritty of learning, it was pretty obvious that some students found science easy, while others find the content confusing. That divide was based largely on content knowledge and prior knowledge. 

One Solution:  Two Station Rotation 

Group 1- 30 minutes computer, 30 minutes teacher center
Group 2- 30 minutes teacher center, 30 minutes computer
Closing- 10-20 minutes

Group 1 

Screenshot 2015-12-12 at 10.03.19 AM The playlist includes an INM video, usually through educanon, note taking and vocabulary practice on quizlet.

After 30 minutes, the students in group 1 rotate to the teacher center to receive direct instruction.  The teacher center objective is aligned to what students are practicing in the computer center.  

I start the lesson by discussing the video with the students, or pulling educanon data.  

Students are eager to discuss what they learned independently and are able to engage in the lesson without being held back by vocabulary gaps.  

Group 2

Students first receive direct instruction.  I’ll give the go-head for students to work on group 2 computer activities when they show mastery.  Anyone who needs more practice can either stay in teacher center for a second at bat, or they can access the group 1 computer content on the google classroom. 

Group 2 Activities- Exploration, Extend Your Thinking Questions  

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The Pros-   

  1. Front-loading Vocabulary and Content- The two station rotation allows students to preview the day’s lesson before receiving direct instruction.
  2. Independence- 100% of students can work independently on the computer and articulate their purpose on the computer. Most students taken ownership of their success by rewatching a video if they have a low score.
  3. Teacher to Student Ratio- We all know that a decreased ratio allows teachers to provide feedback quickly and frequently.  
  4. Academic Performance- Students on average meet the exit ticket goal every day.

The Cons-

  1. Boredom- This was an awesome structure at first, but now students are tired of their daily routine.  30 minutes of independent computer work doesn’t sit well with all students.  
  2. Learning Styles-  Some students who were in computer group 1 never got the chance to play the games or do explorations.  A student who has vocabulary gaps, or struggles academically, should not have to miss out on the fun part.  In fact, the fun, is usually what makes it… stickiest!   
  3. Discourse- Some of the students that were in computer group 1 never got to discuss the content with the highest learners in the class.  I tried tacking on a class closing so that all students discussed the lesson together, but it doesn’t compensate for the in the moment student to student feedback. 

In the Think-Tank

Do you use centers in your class? 

I want to keep using centers in my class, but I know It’s time to mix up what goes on every day.  

Are students in heterogenous or homogenous groups?   

I’ve recently switched up the groups in science.  They sit next to their ELA buddy.  Stay tuned… 




Create > Consume

For most teachers starting out in the profession, the desire for control is strong. Management is a primary concern – and understandably so. As the gate-keepers of knowledge, we feel the need to disseminate content as outlined in our scope and sequences. Our students become consumers of knowledge.

But what do we lose when we make all the decisions for kids? What can we gain when we let them take ownership of their own learning?

One way to give students agency over their learning – and in turn, allow students to think more deeply and critically about content, while also increasing engagement – is to allow for students to create.

Here are a few tech tools to help you bring a little creativity back into your classroom – the way you always imagined you would as a teacher.

1. ThingLink

A ThingLink is an interactive image, where students put ‘hotspots’ (buttons) on top of a large background image. Text, video, pictures, and links can all be placed as hotspots.The variety of hotspots allows for students to include additional information about a topic, or for them to input their own thoughts and opinions.

Analyzing a photograph? Try asking students to add their “see, think, wonder” statements on top of the image.

Researching important historical figures? Include links to biographies, videos, and famous photographs on top of their mug shot.

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2. Scratch

Coding is not just about writing <things in brackets> and staring at computer screens all day. The real genius of coding is how it reinforces problem-solving through a creative outlet.

Scratch is an excellent program for students of any age. Use it with any subject to push students to construct new knowledge from their classes. In English, have students create stories with dialogue. In Math, ask students to create concentric circles. In Social Studies, ask students to recreate major historical events. In Science, ask students to demonstrate physical laws. Whatever your task, ask students to share and remix one another’s work.


3. VoiceThread

VoiceThread is an incredible tool that can be used with as much – or as little – complexity as desired. This collaborative platform allows students to create multi-media projects with video, audio, and text, and to share it with the rest of the class. It even allows students to interact with one another through multi-media commenting.

Education-related resources, rubrics, and examples can be found across the web.


4. Pixton

Storytelling is an innately creative activity, and Pixton allows students to create and share their stories as comics. The design studio is easy and intuitive for students to navigate, allowing students to combine text and images into a fluid story.

Arts-integration can be difficult for some subjects. If you’ve wanted to include more creativity in your social studies or science classes, Pixton can be a fantastic way for students to demonstrate their knowledge of any topic.


What other tools are teachers using to bring creativity into the classroom?

STEM Night at Schaumburg!

Our first STEM night was an overwhelming success!  With about 150 people, from 70 Schaumburg families the event was well attended and everyone learned something, including the teachers.

Planning a STEM night was a challenge– we started by thinking about the science fairs we experienced in school, but that seemed too boring, considering the interactive, technologically-based projects that our students are used to.  We decided to showcase STEM work from each grade level, as well as invite community partners to participate.

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STEM Presenters:

STEM is a broad field so we invited outside organizations that have worked with us before.  NASA taught the students to build rockets and launched them by stepping on a water bottle.  The Energy Alliance taught students about electricity and allowed them to ride a bike that powered a light bulb.  The Health Committee had families measure out the sugar in popular drinks and snacks– information that shocked and disgusted many participants.  Sci Tech came and had students navigate a robot through a maze.  Each grade also presented a hands on experiment that explored a STEM topic on the curriculum.  It was great to see how STEM works in pre-k through 8th grade.

My favorite part of STEM night was the computer stations.  We had two first graders man the station and explain to parents, students and teachers about the blended learning programs use everyday– ST Math, MyOn and iReady.  We had papers explaining how to use the programs at home.  I was impressed with the number of parents who said they planned to visit the websites or download the apps.  The students also loved teaching their parents how to play the game.  I hope that this provides students with extra practice and gives parents a way to help their students learn.

We also had a station with free websites and apps that parents can use to help their students learn.  I find that many times parents do now know what to do to help their child.  The act of downloading an app is empowering to parents and will hopefully pay off for our students.  I learned a lot about apps that are available and hope to try to incorporate some of them in my class.

Looking Forward:

While we did have a great turn out, I would love to find a way to pass on some of the information to the families who were not able to attend.  I am hoping to have the information about our blended learning programs and the free apps available to parents at Report Card Conferences.  I am also considering sending home the information in homework folders to try and reach even more parents.

Next time I would like to incorporate more student presentations.  Each grade had a table and the experiments were engaging and educational.  However, I think it would be powerful to have students run the centers.  It also might increase turn out in the presenters’ families.

I would also like to showcase apps and websites for the upper elementary and middle school students.  I would suggest having a teacher that works with older students help in the planning of STEM night, our committee was all early childhood teachers so that was where we naturally focused the content.

In the future we need to figure out how to use social media to promote our event and share the outcome.  I tweeted for the first time at STEM night and Jiji, the super popular ST Math mascot, retweeted me!  This would be a great way to inform the community about the event as well as connect with STEM experts who may want to get involved.

Overall the event was great!  Parents, students and teachers all seemed to have a great time and learn something.  I hope that STEM night becomes an annual event at Schaumburg and that the other schools are able to plan an event with similar outcomes.


(Pictures by Juston Jackson)

Using For Review

Everyone knows that is a great tech tool for assessment at the end of class.  You can input a variety of questions – multiple choice, short answer, fill in the blank, true/false – and student answers are graded and given back immediately, closing the all-important feedback loop.

This week, I tried using as a review tool to help students self monitor how they would do on an end of quarter assessment.  Here’s what I did.

  1. First, I figured out what topics would be on the benchmark test.  I divided them into small enough topics that each “review quiz” would only be 5 questions (to get easy to use percentages and achievement levels for tracking).
  2. Second, I created a practice and tracking document.  Each page had a separate review topic and practice questions to complete before getting permission to take the “review quiz” on  I also included a place for students to track their data on each quiz.IMG_2665
  3. Then, I created the quizzes.  This part seemed daunting at first because I had about 10 topics for both grades I teach.  But I realized I could use the “Item Bank” feature to easily choose questions that I had already used for previous exit tickets months ago.  Sure, I added in some of my own just for variety, but what I thought would take hours actually only took 10-15 minutes.  Screenshot 2015-12-11 at 7.11.49 AM
  4. Execution Time!  In class, I explained to the kids that the benchmark would cover the topics in their packet.  I set expectations for completing practice using their partners and notes, checking in with me for an okay to get on the computer, and then completing and tracking their exit ticket.  IMG_2666


  • Students felt total ownership over their review.  They could work how they felt comfortable, and at their own pace.
  • Students were getting CONSTANT feedback – either from me or from the computer.
  • I was able to address and reteach any misunderstandings as students were working.
  • De-mystifying the testing process and giving kids confidence through practice in multiple modes.


  • The website was down and not working for one of the days we were doing the review, which was frustrating for both kids and myself.  We modified by completing the practice the first day and then completing the exit tickets the second day.  Still, always annoying when technology gaps foil your plans!

Overall, I would definitely do this again.  I might even include something like this during regular lessons to have students check in with me after their practice to get permission to take their exit ticket.  It would be a powerful tool in increasing investment and feedback for students on the daily.

Why you should try using Nearpod for INM

How do you fit tons of standards into one year in a memorable, interactive way? As of last week, I’m going to have to go with Nearpod !

Backstory: Since the 2013-2014 school year, I have been introducing new material to my class via Educannon. Educannon has allowed me to introduce new science material as a video which enabled the students to pause and self pace, provided my students with read aloud, and enabled embedded CFUs. However: I felt the format was basic, and as I been doing this same routine for the duration of my life as a science teacher in the NO, I was ready for a change. I think the kids were, too.

Last week, I decided to try Nearpod instead, which was suggested by an awesome co-worker.


  • Students do NOT have to be logged in– students can simply enter a class code- not unlike socrative :

This takes away one step, and we all know how precious time can be during class!

  • Students are easily monitored- ever since the loss of the amazing program hapara, I have been circling around my students and making sure they are the correct website. This is a time suck as I’d much rather be checking in to make sure they understand the content. With Nearpod, I am able to see if a student is active in the lesson or on a different tab with simple a red icon green icon system:Screenshot 2015-12-10 at 9.29.03 PM
  • We are all on the same page! Students start and end at the same time, as controlled from my screen. I still get data– but I can share it out with the students!

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highlight: one of my classes got 100% correct 3x in a row and burst out in a cheer!

  • Data can be collected in more than one way; students are able to answer a multiple choice question, complete a sentence by filling in the blank, or even draw:

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The students loved drawing on the above diagram of a plant cell! They were v. stoked!

  • Students still receive read aloud. Being that my students have Google Chromebooks on the basis of differentiation, it would be a disservice to them if they did not receive accommodations as needed. We are still reading the slides aloud, and my students love being able to “be the teacher” and read a portion of the INM to their class!


  • My highest students might need more of a challenge. To compensate, I include a view-only link of the presentation I used for INM on my class website. This enables the top three or so students  to move ahead, but still ask questions and participate in the embedded CFU’s during the presentation. If they finish early, they have a week long “early finishers” project or extension assignment they can work on.

Using Nearpod engages students, is more interactive than other programs I’ve tried, and enables me to provide students with IEPs with the read-aloud they need. Love it! AKR

Socrative for Quick Checks

Trying to gather what students know throughout a lesson, is probably one of the more challenging jobs for a teacher. I know when I was in school, one question was asked and then one student got the chance to answer.  Thus leaving the teacher will the question of “What do all of my students really know?”

There are a variety of ways that teachers can get a pulse on their students’ knowledge at the click of a mouse.  One of the favorite ones in my classroom is Socrative.

Socrative is great, because it can be used in a variety of ways.  First of all, you can use it to allow students to work independently on an assignment, and let Socrative self-check along the way.  Secondly, you can let them go at their own pace, without the self-check and click back and forth between questions. Finally, you can do teacher-paced, to make sure that you can clear up an misconceptions before going on to the next question.

It’s pretty harmless to get going, just requires a google log in. Once you get logged in, you come to your dashboard.

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You have a room that your students will log into.   Socrative will automatically generate a random code, but you can go into settings, and change your room name into something that is easier to remember.  I’ve turned mine into “FreshmanHistory”.

Before you can have your students log into your room, you need to make your first quiz.  By clicking the “Manage Quizzes” option, you are brought to a this screen:

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Simply, click create a quiz to get started.

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You will have 3 options to pick from for question types: multiple choice, true/false, and short answer. Click the type of question you want, and build your quiz with as many questions as you would like.  Once you are complete, then hit “Save and Exit” and it will take you back to the Dashboard.

When you are ready to launch this with your students, you will want them to go to the Socrative Log In Page:

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Make sure to stress to students that they need to log in on the “Student” portion.  I’ve had numerous students simply click the “Sign in with Google” button, and end up creating teacher accounts.  Students will type in the Room Name that you created (or had Socrative randomly generate) to join in on the fun.

Students will know that they are successfully in when they see a screen that looks similar to the one below.  Right now it shows a snowman, but this little guy changes depending on the season.

Screenshot 2015-12-10 at 7.25.51 PM

On your teacher screen you will start to see the number of students that are logged in.  Once you have all of the students logged in, you can click which every option you’d like from the dashboard.  For this post, I’m going to show you what the “Start Quiz” options look like

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You will want to pick which ever quiz you want to have the students do from this screen, and then determine if you want Student-Paced Immediate Feedback, Student-Paced Navigation (where they can go back and forth between questions without knowing the correct answer), or Teacher Paced.

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If you are doing a Guided Practice, I would use the Teacher Paced, with the Student Feedback turned off.  If you are doing Independent Practice, pick either one of the Student-Paced options.

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Once you get going, this is what your screen will look like for a Teacher Paced activity.  You can see the name of the quiz, what question you are on, how many students have answered, and what the choices are.  Once I have every student answer, we click the “How’d We Do?” button to show the correct answer with the percentages.

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I can quickly see how the kids did.  Students that got the correct answer usually do the typical “YES!,” meanwhile, the students that got the wrong answer are looking to you for an explanation. This is the point where you can walk the students through any misconceptions, and ask students why they picked what they did.  For instance, in the above questions, when asked why they picked what they did, they responded “I missed EXCEPT in the question…”

Although, you cannot see who got the right answer and who got the wrong answer on the screen above, at the very end of the quiz, once you hit finish, it gives you an option to see the results.  And in that chart, you get the percentage break down for each student, and what answer they picked. In addition, it will tell you the passing percentage of each individual question, and it can take you back to the percentage break down for each answer choice by clicking the question percent at the bottom of the page.



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You can return to these reports at any time by going to the “Reports” option in “Manage Quizzes.”

I hope that this has been helpful, and that you will find some time to use Socrative in your classroom in the near future.  It is a really great tool to get a grasp on where your students sit in a fun and interactive way.

Blended Learning Throughout the 5E Science Model

Most science educators are familiar with the 5E model as shown below. Until this year, I have not been able to fully incorporate blended learning techniques throughout the entire model. After much experimentation, and many learn-as-you-go classes, I have found how to successfully use technology not only for student engagement, but for data driven instruction.


ENGAGE: excite, hook, attract

Traditional Engage Activities Engage Tech Integration
KWL charts

Thought questions


Word sorts


Do Nows

Padlet: a digital corkboard, where students can post ‘sticky notes’ on a wall together.

Poll Everywhere: survey students current knowledge, create word clouds, etc

Socrative: quick ‘spark’ question to grab students’ attention/curiosity.

Exit Ticket: gathers and allows for teacher to access real time data on prior knowledge of topic. Tool for differentiating/forming groups.

Most traditional engage activities have some platform that can generate that same information and excitement that you are looking to gain in the classroom. However, in my opinion, there is no substitute for hands-on demonstrations to hook students into an awesome science lesson. I have used each of these platforms in my classroom, but still find myself going back to traditional ways of presenting an engage activity.

Engage Spotlight Item: Padlet
Glows 🙂 Grows 😦
  • Interactive
  • Allows for students to type, add attachments, take pictures, add audio
  • Visually appealing for kids
  • Kept students engaged with activity
  • Hard to set-up first Padlet
  • Students could not figure out how to write on Padlet
  • Too advanced for the simple answers I was looking for 

Screenshot 2015-12-10 at 10.06.50 AM

Overall thoughts: I really enjoyed the visual aspect of this program. I also found it really awesome that the posts were not just limited to text. Students really enjoyed seeing their answer projected for the rest of the class to see, and it kept even my wiggliest students engaged for an extended period of time.  However, I did find this to be too complex for the simple brain dump of vocabulary words. I think this would be a great tool to use in professional developments or with high schoolers, but not necessarily in a 6th grade classroom.


EXPLORE: inquire, examine, ask questions

Traditional Explore Activities Explore Tech Integration
Experiments/Labs PhET Simulations: students  explore essential questions/topics like a lab, but as online demo instead.

Web Quest: an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web.

Glencoe Labs: students  explore essential questions/topics like a lab, but as online demo instead.

Go-Lab: online portal that contains inquiry labs and apps for all branches of science. It also allows for teachers to create their own inquiry learning based spaces for others to use.

Gizmos: online lab simulations. Membership required after free trial period. Only some work with Chrome OS.

While most of these sites cover topics presented 6th-8th grade curriculum, there is not one site has labs that can be presented to students without modifications. Most virtual labs and interactives comes with downloadable resources that allow you to modify the content to the needs of your students. I often times find myself using snippets of these labs in my classroom, mostly for  standards that are highly conceptual or completing a traditional experiment would be too expensive.

Explore Spotlight Item: PhET Simulations
Glows 🙂 Grows 😦
  • Interactive
  • Premade worksheets are available in both Word and PDF form
  • Students are invested in these explorations
  • Only some simulations work on Chromebook OS
  • Simulations can be too difficult for middle school students, only certain parts are applicable to Louisiana standards
  • Simulations do not have written directions for how to complete them
  • No guided learning points throughout simulation

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Overall thoughts: I enjoy using this simulations when I am teaching an abstract concept, for example, conservation of energy. I have taught, and retaught this standard for the past 3 years, never seeming to be truly successful. The PhET simulation that allows students to explore conservation of energy has helped by investing students in their exploration of this topic, allowing for this conceptual topic to be shown in a tangible way, and allowing for reference points while explaining this concept during the explain portion of my lesson. I have found that this lab, as a whole, is too complex for my 6th grade students. I am only able to use the most basic part of this lab, which allows for only about 10 minutes of class time actually using a small portion of the interactive.


EXPLAIN: describe, make clear, give details

Traditional Explain Activities Explain Tech Integration

Introduction to new material

Connecting observations from engage and explore to conceptual concepts

YouTube: create notes video for each student to take notes at their own pace.

Educanon: create or use videos made by other educators and embed checks for understanding to assess student knowledge as new material is introduced. Teachers can access data in real time.

Edpuzzle: create or use videos made by other educators and embed checks for understanding to assess student knowledge as new material is introduced. Real time data not available.

Prezi: software that uses motion, zoom, and spatial relationships to bring your ideas to life. More advanced version of PowerPoint or Google Slides.

NearPod: presents interactive lessons & assessments that students can access on any device. 

The way that I have presented the explain portion to my students has evolved over the past 3 years. I began with projected notes, moved to YouTube videos, and have found myself now using Educanon. I enjoy that my students are able to complete notes at their own pace and I am able to check for classwide misunderstandings by looking at the data gathered from the embedded CFUs.

Explore Spotlight Item: Educanon
Glows 🙂 Grows 😦
  • You can embed CFUs
  • Students cannot skip a video, they must answer CFUs first
  • Variety of options for CFUs (fill in blank, open response, MC, check all that apply)
  • Easy to design bulbs
  • Share bulbs between teachers
  • You can use already existing videos and create your own CFUs or use the ones already embedded
  • Does not hold high expectations/engagement for students unless outside expectations are in place
  • When high volume of computers on Educanon is can freeze
  • Some issues with Firewall/Blocked Sites

Check out my video on work & power!

Overall thoughts: This is a great way for students to take self-paced notes. It is great that teachers have the option of creating their own bulbs for the class or search pre-made ones. The only issues we experience are technological ones, computers freezing or having to get past the network’s firewall.  My only personal issues with Educanon is the lack of engagement over time. If you want to keep your students on task and engaged in the videos it may be wise to have an outside incentive system to hold them accountable.


ELABORATE: practice, make habit, push

Traditional Elaborate Activities Elaborate Tech Integration
Guided practice

Independent practice

Check work  

Exit Ticket: online program that allows teachers to upload/create questions. Provides real time data as well as a mastery breakdown per student.


EVALUATE: assess, gauge learning, analyze

Traditional Evaluate Activities Evaluate Tech Integration
Exit Ticket



Exit Ticket: online program that allows teachers to upload/create questions. Provides real time data as well as a mastery breakdown per student. 

I have always struggled checking the independent work my students complete and therefore not really knowing if they are mastering a standard. I started using the Exit Ticket program for students to check their  independent practice and exit tickets from science class.

Elaborate & Evaluate Spotlight Item: Exit Ticket
Glows 🙂 Grows 😦
  • Provides real time data on overall assessment and breakdown of each question
  • Students can see how they did after each question
  • Students can see their progress over the week, semester, year
  • Has a projector mode which can be used to show students without giving away student data
  • Easy projects question breakdown for reteaching
  • Keeps a bank of all items you create/find
  • Students have to enter a code the first time they log-in
  • Sometimes link doesn’t work and students have to find from google
  • Free response answer have to match exactly for it to be counted as correct
  • Can only grade 1 point constructed response questions
  • Cannot be easily used or constructed response question with multiple parts

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Overall thoughts: I really like using this program to use hold students accountable for completing their independent work. I have found that this invests student in their science GPA. I have often times used this as a talking a way to address misconceptions in the moment (see image above). Often times I have students raising their hands to defend their answer or challenge one they believe is incorrect.