Why STEM Projects Work

As the Tech Ready Team has been working on building STEM projects this year, I’ve had a chance to see how these projects are working in the classroom and the great opportunities that these projects are opening up across our district.

The slideshow below is part description, part reflection on the ways they’ve been successful, and part vision of how they could be expanded.  Take a look at it.


How to Moodle… Just Ask Us

If you’re the type of person who likes to have a manual to refer to this is the Moodle resource for you.  howtomoodle

How To Moodle is a company that provides training for schools and teachers using Moodle as their classroom website.  They have decided to make available for free their Moodlemanualmanual on using the latest version of Moodle.  If you’re the type of person who likes to have a manual to refer to this is the Moodle resource for you.  The manual is useful with all versions of Moodle, but WUSD will  hopefully have the latest version of Moodle up and running soon at your school.

To download the manual click here, you can also find it on the WUSD Tech Resources page under the LMS section.  It’s in pdf format so you can refer to it as an eBook in electronic format.  Before you click the link and push print, be forewarned that the manual is 162 pages.  Below is a screenshot from the manual on the Moodle Quiz Activity:


Finding Common Core Passages Online

Common Core, or as Arizona calls it, Arizona’s College and Career Readiness Standards, states,

To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students must read widely and deeply from among a broad range of high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts….By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas.

Some school districts are purchasing “common-core aligned” curriculum to help their teachers find those complex texts in other disciplines.  However, many school districts do not have funds for this.  Teachers are left to search endlessly on the internet to find informational texts at their students’ reading levels.  Until now…..

ReadWorks.org is a non-profit website which offers high-interest passages and comprehension questions.  The passages are fully-searchable.  Teachers need only type in a keyword, select the reading level, and search.

The site is free and sign-up is quick.  There are hundreds of high-quality passages for grades Kindergarten through 6th grade.

Go to ReadWorks.org to start searching now.  You can search in the box in the top right corner.

When you have created a profile, you may save passages to “My Binder”.

If you don’t know exactly what you want to read about, you can search by standard.  Click on “My Standars Alignment” at the top.  If you already have a profile, it will direct you to your state standards.  If the pacing guide (curriculum map) for the week says “Cause and Effect” you can select that standard.  **Make sure you select the correct grade level.

Lesson plans are designed with the Gradual Release of Responsibility framework of “I do, We do, You do”.  Most lesson plans also include:

  • learning objectives
  • a vocabulary routine
  • guided practice
  • graphic organizers to scaffold understanding
  • student engagement strategies (Turn and Talk, Buddy Buzz, etc.)
  • independent practice with multiple choice questions and constructed response prompts
  • extension ideas
  • novel studies (for 5th and 6th grades, however, I have used some of those novels in 4th grade)
  • paired text

I want to take a minute to explain the paired text feature.  Common Core asks for readers to make connections between texts.  If your district-adopted curriculum does not provide paired texts, it can be very time consuming for teachers to find texts on the same subject and reading level.  On ReadWorks.org, the work is done for you!

For a tutorial on finding specific texts, watch this video:

Troubleshooting with 4 A’s

Schools everywhere are acquiring more and more technology with the goal to benefit teaching and learning.  Unfortunately, experiencing technical difficulties from time to time is inevitable. Good things can also come from these, sometimes frustrating technical problems.  Troubleshooting is a skill that in this day and age everyone should be prepared to handle, regardless of their level of expertise.  Teacher and students will become technology independent and more tech savvy, but the greatest benefit is the critical thinking and problem solving skills that the student will acquire.

There are two things to remember about troubleshooting:

  • The goal is not necessarily to”fix” the problem. If you can’t find the solution, that is okay! Sometime even the “expert” wont have a solution.  Instead focus on how you as a teacher, can use this problem solving process to publicly exhibit how your students analyze information, draw conclusions, take action, and evaluate by reflecting on the outcome.
  • Don’t think of troubleshooting as a technical term, think of it as a logical procedure.

Following the  4 A’s below will help guide you and your students through the troubleshooting process.

troubleshooting diagram

  1. ATTITUDE- The most important and most difficult step to when troubleshooting is having a positive attitude.  Your attitude will determine how you control the situation.  Having a positive attitude will also increase your chances of success.
  2. ASK – Stop, think, and ask questions.  Ask yourself and your students what happened and why it happened. The more questions you ask, the more in-depth diagnosis you will generate.
  3. ANSWER – Answer the questions you asked yourself and your students.  Let your student generate assumptions and evaluate the information.  From here, you can proceed with the process of elimination to narrow down the problem.
  4. ACTION – Use your and your students’ intuition to take action(s) to resolve the problem.

If the problem is fixed, you and your students will have saved the day!  If the problem is not fixed, do not get discouraged. Reflect on the outcome , ask more questions, and try again.  If after a few tries, the problem is not fix, don’t panic. Remind yourself and your students that some problems are harder to fix than others.  Effort and what was learned from the process is the most important lesson.  If you need to seek for additional help from tech support, try to stay involved so you collaboratively fix the problem.

The more practice, the more effective and successful you and your students will become. So next time your having technical difficulties, instead of having the “expert” work their “magic” and save the day, let your students be your heroes!

Innovation Nation: A STEM Festival

Ination poster

Click the picture to download the poster in pdf format. Print on legal size paper.

The rest of the country has set their clocks forward, Spring is around the corner, and it’s time for a STEM festival.
On Wednesday, May 14th, the Chief Alchesay Activity Center will be host to Innovation Nation.

This event has been designed to bring awareness of STEM opportunities to the White Mountain Apache Nation as well as spotlight student STEM projects in the Whiteriver School District.

Booths will be set up from private companies, STEM organizations, Universities, and Government Agencies that will highlight innovation, new ideas, and creativity.

Winners of school contests at each school will be presenting their projects at the festivals.   During the event students, community members, and teachers will receive tickets for participating in activities at the various booths.  Participants can use the tickets they earn to “purchase” food at the event.

Students can participate and win prizes at various engineering and math problem solving competitions during the event.

What Can Teacher’s Do to Participate?

1) Advertise it to your students.

You can download the Innovation Nation Poster here.  Make sure to print the poster out on legal size paper.

2) Participate in the Class Innovation Contest at your School.

Winning classes will receive a pizza party, and we’re also working on prizes for winning teachers.  Contact your STEM curriculum developer or principal for information about the deadline for this contest at your school.  You can download a flyer for this competition here.

3) Attend for Professional Development hours on Wednesday, May 14th.

You’ll receive more information about how to register in mylearningplan.com to receive PD hours for attending.

4) Volunteer to help.

If you’re interested in volunteering to setup, hold student contests, or clean up, please email me: bgoode@wusd.us

Innovation Nation Contest

Click the Image above to download a pdf version of this flyer.

Where Does Writing Fit In?


Science cannot advance if scientists are unable to communicate their findings clearly and persuasively. (A Framework for K-12 Science Education)


 When you think back on science in high school, there were probably lots of hands-on experiments.  Probably just as many lectures to teach you about the theories and laws of science.  But, how many times did you write about science?  “Well, that’s for the English Language Arts teachers to worry about.”  Not anymore.


The Common Core State Standards (or as Arizona calls them “Arizona’s College and Career Readiness Standards”), specifically state that writing and reading is now the job of all content teachers.  “The Standards insist that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility within the school.” 



The percentage of nonfiction text increases as students move up the grades

as well as the percentage of nonfiction writing projects.


Our STEM Curriculum Developers have looked extensively at the Model Content Frameworks to embed writing into the STEM units.  



We don’t wish to replace the novel studies and literature circles.  Quite the contrary.  We aim to step right alongside those fourth graders reading City of Ember to start a STEM project on renewable resources.  And we know that teachers have nine hours of content to teach in a seven hour day.  The solution seems to be integration.  Let’s use interdisciplinary units, that have nonfiction text, that prepare our students for 21st century jobs, and that produce writing projects for a global audience.


Common Core asks students to “write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences” in Anchor Standard 10.  We have embedded 


journal prompts:

Journal page for 2nd graders with sentence stems


constructed responses: 

Writing activity after Close Reading of text

online forums:

Students write in an online forum and comment on peer’s threads

and final writing projects:

Digital Poster for final project


Website with digital media for final project

Our STEM Curriculum Team actively seeks the input of our teachers.  As we look to future STEM projects, what writing projects would you like to see?

PARCC Navigation and Accessibility

In a few weeks, PARCC will be field testing the new online assessment with over 1 million students in PARCC states.  About 100 of those students come from our district.


Where can teachers (and parents) see sample test questions?


Teachers, parents, and students have a number of resources available to them.  You can go directly to PARCConline.org and see sample tests for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math.  Click here for a tutorial on how to access the sample tests and why it’s important to start looking at them now.  Click here for a tutorial on how to find the answers to the above tests and their point values.  Yes, different questions have different point values.  In fact, a student may incorrectly answer a math problem but still score points if they have correctly explained their rationale in the text box.


Just how different is this digital test compared to “fill in the bubble” tests?


The Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has released sample test items.  ADE has done a great job of embedding the digital tools in the test.  Click here to see the dramatically different digital testing environment.  What did you notice was different?


  • tabs
  • rubrics
  • typing
  • highlighting text
  • drag and drop
  • sliders

PARCC has released the first (of two) tutorials on navigation and accessibility.

This first release includes navigation and some accessibility features and a second tutorial will be released in mid to late February 2014 with all item interaction types.

As of just earlier this week, PARCC has also released information on graphing calculators for high school students.  Click here for a free download of Texas Instruments calculator.


What are these “computer tools” and “accessibility tools”?

highly encourage all students, parents, and teachers to go through the tutorial designed by PARCC.  There are so many “computer” things students need to know in order to take the test.  For instance, there are some questions which can have more than one correct answer.  Students need to know how to tell if a question allows for “multiple select“.  Hint, it’s all in the radial buttons.  Do you know what that means?  More importantly, do your students know what that means?  The writing portion will be scored based on a rubric, and PARCC has put the rubric right there……….on a tab.  What if your student doesn’t know they can select the rubric to see what the scorers will be looking for?


Click here to go directly to the tutorial.






Which features do you think your students will struggle with the most?  What can you do to support your students over the next few weeks so they don’t struggle?

What Does Common Core have to do with Project-based Learning (PBL)?

What is PBL?You might be surprised to learn that there is a direct connection between preparing your students for Common Core and the PARCC exam and using project-based learning in your classroom.  Project-based learning is a great tool to have in your teacher toolkit as you make plans and efforts to prepare your students for the deeper thinking and higher difficulty of the Common Core Standards.

The new standards aim to prepare students for college and career readiness.  Project-based learning (PBL) is a great way to prepare students for Common Core because it emphasizes significant content and real-world outcomes.

Consider the following quote from David Ross, director of professional development for the Buck Institute for Education.

Everyone knows that content is king and Common Core wears the crown. Significant content is one of our eight Essential Elements of PBL. Make an easy connection: Significant Content=Common Core.  Now let’s use a shorter word. When designing a rigorous, relevant, and engaging project, Common Core is the “what.” But what about the “how?” In our minds the answer is obvious: PBL is the solution for Common Core implementation. PBL is the “how.”

 Of course, we realize that PBL is not the only way to help students master these new standards. As states move toward implementation of the Common Core, however, more and more schools and districts are focusing on PBL as their go-to instructional strategy to prepare students for deeper thinking. Next-generation assessments aligned to the new standards (still in development at this writing) are expected to emphasize application of knowledge rather than recall of facts. Here, too, we find common ground with PBL, in which students demonstrate and share what they know or can do through performance assessments. For PBL veterans, student demonstrations of learning are not new at all. They’re an essential element of every project.

 Common Core Standards for English Language Arts include tasks that are very familiar to people who know PBL:

“Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions”

“Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners”

“Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others”

“Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question)”

Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice also echo PBL best practices. The math standards set expectations for students to do real-world problem solving, use mathematical modeling, apply statistical analysis, and communicate their understanding. “Mathematically proficient students can apply the mathematics they know Loading…to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace,” according to the Standards of Mathematical Practice. Such applications naturally have a place within high-quality projects that ask students to use mathematics concepts and procedures in authentic contexts.  (Excerpted from the book PBL for 21st Century Success: Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity, published by the Buck Institute for Education, 2013)

doonlinecoursesIn the Whiteriver School District, the Tech Ready Grant is currently developing STEM lesson plans for every grade-level that implement Common Core standards.

These units are structured around Science, but also include Math and ELA Common Core standards as well as digital PARCC-type questions in the units.  The Science and Technology elements of the units are used to engage students as well as fulfill the need for informational text required by the ELA standards.

These units are being developed to give WUSD teachers access to PBL units aligned to their curriculum and resources without having to develop them from scratch.  Teachers will be given complete access to the units so that once they are implemented they will be able to make changes, extensions, and additions to the STEM units.

You can access the units that are being developed here.
Use the following login to explore the units:
(Username: wusdteacher  password: pass123)

PARCC Sample Test Answers and Rationale

Fourth graders in our district will pilot the PARCC test in a few months.  I know that many of you are looking for digital learning resources to prepare your students for digital testing next year.  A previous post about digital learning everyday was one of the most viewed posts we have ever had.

If you read that post, you were guided through steps to get to a practice test released by PARCC just a few days ago.  Many of you took the test relevant to your grade level and posted your thoughts and observations on our Facebook page.
The most common comment we received was, “Wow!  That was hard!” followed closely by, “Where do I find the answers to see if I was correct?”.
That speaks volumes.  These comments came from parents and veteran educators.  Yes, it really is that dramatically different from what we are accustomed to.
Without further delay, here are the steps to the answers and rationale.  Note: I could just put a link here, but I feel that each webpage is useful and offers more insight than this blog can offer.  I encourage you to spend time reading the websites and viewing tests from your grade level band (one grade below and one grade above).
Go to PARCConline.org and click on “For Educators” tab at the top.
parcc online 2

 Click on “Sample Items and Task Prototypes”

 parcc sample items

On the left side, click the grade level and subject you are interested in viewing.

 parcc by grade level

I have chosen to highlight 4th grade, as they will be piloting the test this year.  For now, let’s look at Math.  By scrolling down, you will see 3 columns and prototype items.  Select one.

parcc prototype

On the left side, select the level you wish to view.

parcc prototype 2

Select a sample item.

parcc prototype 3

By selecting “Part A” at the top, you will be directed to the question page.

parcc prototype 4

Take a minute to read it and find the solution.  Thoughts?  Was it as easy as A, B, C, or D?  In fact, let me ask you this: how many equations did you have to do to find the answer to this one question?  When you click on scoring (at the top right), you will see that it was no less than 3 equations.

parcc prototype scoring

This page shows the solution, as well as the rationale.  Another new twist on the PARCC that we are not accustomed to is that students may get partial credit for questions.  For instance, this question is worth 6 points, and students can score anywhere on that spectrum.
When you are done looking at the prototype questions and getting the answers to your questions, return to the tab on your browser for PARCC online.

parcc prototype

This time, click one of the sample questions at the bottom.  For instance, Subtraction Fluency.

parcc 4th grade math

This question seems like a typical 4th grade question.  However, entering the answer may confuse some students. We teach our students to always start on the right side.  If they subtract 3-2, they will try to enter 1.  But, as an adult with experience with calculators, you know that the 1 will shift to the left when you enter the next digit.
I will highlight calculator games in the coming weeks on my series of STEM@home.  Check back in a week, when I walk you through the accommodations for PARCC (another eye-opener!).

Digital Learning Day, Everyday

Whiteriver Unified School District is taking a unique approach to preparing students for the PARCC assessment.  To give purpose and direction to the introduction of mobile technology, STEM units and Project-Based Learning are now driving training and instruction so that students are PARCC ready.  Students will engage with the technology every day in their STEM units.

The activities selected in the STEM units have been created to replicate the released sample PARCC questions.  The sample questions have been released so that teachers and curriculum developers and curriculum mappers will look at them.  They are to help guide a teacher in how to shift their verbiage, writing prompts, or classroom assessments.  They are not meant to be hidden; a surprise.  So, let’s explore some of them together.

“To get a true understanding of the range of rigor, item types and functionalities, users should try test items in more than just one grade, as each grade level does not have all item types. “

First, go to PARCConline.org .  Click the For Educators tab at the top.

You will see helpful links on the left side, like Model Content Frameworks.  We’ll discuss that on another blog post.  For now, look at New! Try out sample test questions:

Click on Try the Sample Test Items

Click the Sample Items Tab

Select your grade level on the left As you work your way through the test, list some of the testing vocabulary that you see.  For instance, the phrases “best supports that answer” and “the best evidence to Part A” come up frequently.  As a teacher or parent, you can begin to use that verbiage in your everyday interactions with the students.  In the writing portions, the phrase “cite your source” comes up often.  You can adopt that phrase as your own, by saying it (or writing it) for journal entries and formal writing prompts.  February 5th is Digital Learning Day.  Hopefully, our students experience digital learning everyday.  Afterall, digital testing requires digital learning.