Browse Category: OTMS Newsletters

Communications with the OTMS faculty.

Differentiation Resources Available through Mid-Continent Public Library

Mid-Continent Public Library is making an intentional effort to collaborate with teachers by providing quality classroom-appropriate content and educating teachers in the use of this content.  The first step in this process was creating teacher accounts for any educator who expressed interest in using Mid-Continent resources.  These teacher accounts allow educators to display and use any digital content provided by Mid-Continent within the classroom (OTMS teacher accounts do not allow for the checkout of printed materials).  If you do not have a Mid-Continent teacher account, contact Felicia Akins at for assistance in applying.  Students were also given the opportunity to create accounts.  Just because many students took advantage of this offer does not necessarily mean that they remember their library number or even know the location of their library card. The easiest remedy for lost cards (or for students who never applied for a card) is displaying your teacher account number in a permanent place in your room.  Students can login to Mid-Continent using your teacher account number and access the content during your class without wasting time associated with locating their own account number.  If students have access to their account number and wifi at home, they can access all off the resources available through Mid-Continent while off campus.

I will list a few resources available through Mid-Continent, but all of their online resources are accessible through their website.  There is also printed material containing summaries of their online resources available in the OTMS library. (Descriptions are taken directly from the Mid-Continent website.)

Live Homework Help connects students with expert tutors for live, one-on-one help with homework assignments. Use Live Homework Help from your home computer or inside the Library to complete your homework assignments and improve your grades. Available seven days a week for English and Spanish-speaking students in grades K-12 from noon to midnight. In addition, the Skills Center is open 24/7 and offers thousands of worksheets, tutorials, study guides, practice tests, and more.

The WriteTutor Writing Center’s Live Tutor service is open from noon to midnight, seven days a week, and offers one-on-one online assistance in English and en Español. Students can get real-time help on reports, essays, and papers. Adults get real-time help with writing resumes and cover letters, polishing business letters and proposals, and proofreading papers and essays. Tutors explain the writing and proofreading process.

Access Video provides instant access to world-class documentaries, award-winning educational films, and helpful instructional videos covering a wide range of subjects, such as business, career planning, health, history, travel, and more. Access Video videos can be viewed on PCs, Macs, iPads, and other Internet-enabled mobile devices.

Encyclopedia Britannica: Search or browse the encyclopedia alphabetically or by subject to find in-depth articles, related websites, video clips, and more. Check out the world atlas, timelines, year in review, and the spotlight archive with exhibits on dinosaurs, thunderstorms, the Titanic, and more.

Sustainable Web Resources

A current trend I see in instructional technology is the disappearance or limitation of free web tools for education.  For the last few years we have benefited from the availability of many free services.  Even paid sites offered a fremium model with limited features available to educators.  As schools buy fewer textbooks and print materials in the future, a few things will likely happen.

  • Textbook companies will have to make their money without printing anything (similar to record companies when MP3 players and peer-to-peer file sharing appeared on the scene).
  • Textbooks companies will have to redefine the textbook and update their content regularly to compete with existing web content.  The concept of using the same textbook for six to ten years is unrealistic.
  • Companies offering web-based tools and content will continue to compete for the money that was once spent on textbooks.
  • As educational start-ups run out of initial investor money, they are going to have start charging to stay in business (and the investors are going to expect a profit).
  • Traditional textbook companies may buy sites offering free content and services.  At that point, they may either start charging for those services or shut down the site completely to eliminate the competition posed by the site.
  • Any website offering free content or services may be bought out, shut down, re-purposed, or redesigned at any time with little to no notice.

Although we can not do anything to reverse this trend, we can plan ahead for a time when free will be the exception rather than the expectation.  If you have been following the recently passed legislation on Net Neutrality, you understand there is an intentional effort to monetize digital services, access, and content across the entire Internet–not just in education.  As old business models become defunct, companies are struggling to make a profit and compete in a digital economy.  When you add a generation of consumers who have grown accustomed to “sharing” all kinds of digital content (without payment) to the equation, companies are put in the predicament of trying to make a profit without alienating the public by daring to charge for their services.

When this trend collides with the trend of shrinking education funding, we feel the crunch.  It is not enough to expect the gap to be entirely filled with free content available through the Internet (or content supported through distracting or inappropriate advertisements).  Even newspapers are beginning to charge for their articles as print distributions decline.  The Internet is no longer an alternative publishing platform where companies can provide content as an additional access point.  Soon it will be the main access point, where the majority of profit will be made.

In the meantime, utilize as many free resources as you can, and use them for as long as possible while exploring for content and services that will not require payment from the OTMS budget. Realizing that nothing is truly free, the challenge is finding quality content and services that have been funded through other means than the school budget.  The best sources have sustainable funding that will ensure access into the foreseeable future.  Organizations such as public television, public libraries, universities, and consortiums may be the best sources of quality content.  Next week I will discuss some resources available through Mid-Continent Public Library that provide quality content with no cost to the school.

Recommendations from other Faculty Members

Aileen recommends that students use Grammarly to check for grammar errors in their writing. After creating an account, students can copy and paste text into the Grammarly website and see suggested corrections.  There is also a Grammarly Chrome Extension in the Chrome Store that works in Gmail and other websites.

Neil recommends using Sporacle as a review activity.  There are several quizzes available on the site, but anyone can create their own Sporacle Quiz.  The website was not created for classroom use, so there is no way to create classes, assign quizzes, or track scores.  Quizzes can be shared with students through the URL of the quiz.

Matt is currently exploring EdPuzzle as way to assign YouTube and other videos to his students.  Edpuzzle allows teachers to crop and narrate existing YouTube videos as well as add quiz questions at any point in the video.  Students can not continue watching the video until they answer the questions.  Student can not jump ahead or skip through portions of the video either.  Edpuzzle allows teachers to set up classes, and students can join those classes through a class code.  Annotated videos can be assigned to classes, and student progress can be tracked through the website.  Edpuzzle was recently updated to allow YouTube videos assigned through its website to go through school Internet filters.

Seventh grade science students introduced Mrs. Winningham to SkyView Free, a mobile app that locates planets, stars, constellations, and satellites.  Students are using the app as a virtual telescope that labels what they are seeing in the sky based on where the mobile device is pointing.  As you move the phone, the star map changes.

Reflections on the Iowa 1:1 Conference

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the Iowa 1:1 Leadership Day and Conference last week.  Although it is possible to learn through Twitter, blogs, other online resources, and local colleagues,  I always enjoy the opportunity to listen to other people share their experiences and to hear them think out loud.  When I gain insight into the thinking process of others, I not only hear their problems, but gain understanding in what brought them to the solutions.  I also hear the questions that guided their thinking and probem-solving process.

The big question I brought back from the Iowa 1:1 conference is “What things are preventing us from innovating?”  These things can be processes, procedures, traditions, physical spaces, equipment, technologies or anything that maintains or facilitates old practices.  I find the question interesting because it forces us to look at things and ask “Why are they here? Why are we keeping them?  Are they here for a purpose, for convenience, for security, or through the momentum of familiarity?”  Do we even realize when something we see or use every day is holding us back from transforming the learning in our classrooms?

Think of a process, procedure, or physical item you regularly use in instruction.  If that was suddenly taken away, how would your practice change?  Would it’s absence force you to innovate, or restrict your ability to innovate?  When we put everything on the table in light of these questions, we may start seeing familiar things in a new light.  Weeding the hindrances from our environment may not always be easy or comfortable, but it is very difficult to change or innovate with old equipment, processes, or routines that hinder us from transforming teaching and learning.

There were many great presentations that occurred during the conference, and rather than talk about specific workshops, I will share the page of presentation resources links so that you can explore them on your own.

Mark Your Calendars:  Edcamp KC is set for November 7, 2015.  Registration dates have not been set.

Don’t forget that we will hold another Student-Led PD session this Thursday during Early-Out.


Differentiation Through Texts II

The list of websites that facilitate the differentiation of texts continues to grow.  I will share a few more worth exploring.

Before I get to the tools, let me share a few thoughts I have conveyed to some faculty members recently.  As education continues to move to a digital platform, more and more entrepreneurs and companies are trying to make money off of this trend.  There is currently an explosion of new tools and services, each designed to solve some deficiency or problem created by how things were accomplished in the past.  This has been occurring for some time (especially when we include print materials), but it feels like the pace is accelerating in comparison to previous years.   Sometimes these products are conceived and created by educators, but far too often, they are built on a profit-based business model.  My intent is to share the best tools with an efficient design for teacher and student use.  It is not my intent or expectation that every faculty member uses every tool I share.  I would prefer you find a few tools that work within your teaching and classroom management style, and that you use these tools well.  Do not let the constant stream of new stuff distract you from what you do well.  Continually evaluate new tools, but never add something to your classroom just because it is new.  As always, make your decisions based on the needs of your students and the curriculum.  It is very easy to become overwhelmed with the ever-expanding options if you adopt the paradigm of doing lots of things in a mediocre fashion rather than doing a few things proficiently.

And now to my suggestions for your evaluation. . . .

Actively Learn allows you to annotate and assign texts to classes of students.  Student can create accounts with their Google login and join your classes with a class code.  After you import a text (as a Google Doc or PDF), you can insert questions, notes, or links anywhere within the text.  Students must answer questions inserted in the text before they can move ahead to the next section of text.  This tool was presented by the Tech Tidbits (7th Grade ELA) during the EdTech Chef Challenge.  Help resources are linked to the EdTech Chef Home Document.

Rewordify is website that will simplify a portion of text or a website.  Use the site by copying and pasting a portion of text or a URL into the text box and click the Rewordify text button.

Texthelp Study Skills is a Google Docs Add-On that allows students to highlight text (four colors for the first 30 days, then one color afterwards) within a Google Doc.  When students click “Collect Highlights,”  the highlighted sections of their document will be combined into a new Google Doc.  More information can be found in this blog post.

Speech Recognition is a Google Docs Add-On that allows students to input text without the keyboard.  This works with the built-in microphone on the Chromebooks (Click Allow on the banner that appears at the top of the browser window after you press START) Although this would not work in a noisy environment, this would benefit students who need to think out loud as part of the pre-writing process.

March 26 PD Day
We will be participating in another round of tabletop TAR discussions next Thursday afternoon.  This will be a continuation of the discussions we held during the January 7 faculty meeting, and we will be using the same discussion document from January.  This time, in addition to the TAR model, we will be incorporating our building technology goals and the ISTE Student Standards in our conversations.  After these discussions, we will participate in Edcamp OTMS.  The schedule is finished and ready to share.  Thanks to those who were willing to facilitate conversations.  Start thinking about which sessions you would like to attend and how you will contribute to those conversations.

Technology Celebrations

Kristie is arranging a connected classroom project with a kindergarten class at Indian Trails Elementary.  Her students will be sharing what they have learned about space with the kindergarten class.

Leslie is working with Karin King (who will be joining the Trailblazers next year) on a collaborative project.  Leslie’s students will be sharing a science assignment (on a Google Doc) with Karin’s ELA students, who will help edit the writing within the science assignment.  The cross-disciplinary activity will reinforce digital citizenship and the importance of writing skills in all contents.

Differentiation Through Texts

Since finding appropriately leveled informational texts for differentiation is critical to all content areas, I will share a few tech tools that contain leveled texts helpful for differentiation.  More will be shared next week.

NewsELA is a familiar tool to many of us that contains news and current event articles at a variety of reading levels.  Each article is rewritten in five reading levels, allowing the whole class to read the same article (at different levels) and participate in the same follow-up activities.

CommonLit is an online library of free texts for classroom use.  This site does not provide each passage in five different reading levels, but provides passages in a variety of reading levels organized by theme.  I had considered using CommonLit as one of the technology tools in the EdTech Chef Challenge, but replaced it with Actively Learn a few days before the event.

Books That Grow contains a library of books that are adapted in three to five reading levels (similar concept to NewsELA).  Teachers are able to setup classes and assign books to classes.  Teachers also have the ability to assign reading levels to whole classes or individual students, and configure the ability of students to override the teacher-selected level.  Teachers can also monitor student progress as they read through the assigned book.  The site is currently free, but they will be adding a PRO version this summer, which will likely take away some of the features that are currently free.

ReadWorks contains leveled fiction and nonfiction passages.  See their Support Center for additional information.

World Book Discover (The district subscribes to World Book Online) contains articles and resources for students reading below grade level.
World Book Student contains articles and resources tailored to middle school students.
World Book Kids contains articles and resources tailored for students reading at an elementary school level.

Edcamp OTMS
Thanks for submitting your conversation topics last week.  Mel and I will be working on the schedule and contacting facilitators this week.  The finished schedule will be linked in next week’s newsletter.

Technology Celebrations

Seventh grade science is studying the ingredients necessary to support life on a planet.  They are currently researching planets with these ingredients and will soon begin planning a colony (as well as how they will get there) on one of these planets.  They are using multiple internet resources and simulators as part of this project.

Thanks for your help with the Simulated Load Test on Friday.  There were some isolated device issues, but the network performed well.  The MAP app will remain on student devices and you are welcome to use the practice tests within the app at any time.  If a Chromebook will not login to the app, try restarting the Chromebook and then opening the app again.  We had several incidents during the simulated load test where the app would work after a restart or two.

Differentiation Resources and Edcamp OTMS

Our Professional Development Library contains several resources on differentiation and I have created an short bibliography to help you quickly find something useful in your classroom.  Although most are not specific to using technology in differentiation, they are still great resources to discovering new ideas and strategies.  Based on the great participation during the EdTech Chef Challenge a couple weeks ago, I have no doubts that we are capable of integrating technology into existing strategies.

I have also created a Thinglink where I will tag various differentiation resources in the coming weeks.  I have already tagged a few items to get it started and I will be talking about some of these tags in future newsletter posts.

Edcamp OTMS

  • To help us prepare to participate in Edcamp OTMS on March 26, I recommend two more resources. This edutopia article explains the purpose of an Edcamp and what happens during an Edcamp session.  (We have modified the described process slightly in that we are setting the schedule ahead of the event.)
  • Dan Callahan, the founder of Edcamp, discusses the growth and popularity of the Edcamp movement in this video.

Now it’s our turn to join the momentum of the Edcamp movement. To submit conversation topics or guiding questions for Edcamp OTMS, please use the form linked here.  If you have more than two topics to suggest, complete the form a second time.  If you are willing to facilitate a conversation on your suggested topic, please check the box indicating your interest.

Technology Celebrations

Student Chromebooks have been registered for the MAP test and another readiness check will be conducted on all devices during computer lit on Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for the simulated load test on Friday.

Art students are exploring art works shared in blogs by other art teachers.


I had originally planned to focus this newsletter on our building goal of differentiating student learning through the use of technology.  Before I get to that, I want to spend some time talking about differentiating adult learning.  Some of the comments made after the speed tables (January 16) and EdTech Chef activities indicated that you like having dedicated time to talk, collaborate, and plan.  There are conversations we all want to have with our colleagues, but there never seems to be the time to sit down and ask questions, share ideas, and get feedback from the experts who teach next door or down the hall from us.  Since we can not create more time in the day, Mel and I are planning an opportunity for the March 26 PD day that will give us a chance to have some of these conversations.  We are planning an extension of the speed tables format with what we are calling EdCamp OTMS.  If you have not heard anything about the EdCamp movement, or attended an EdCamp in the past, I will share a short video that summarizes the purpose and structure of an EdCamp.  EdCamps can be a powerful addition to your personal learning network, and are often referred to as an unconference–meaning there are no presentations, slides, keynotes, or set agendas at the event.  Rather than a script or presentation slides, sessions are conversation-based and focus on the needs of those in attendance.  To help give you a better idea of how this works, I will outline the process Mel and I are planning to take as we organize the event.

  1. We will send out a Google form the week of March 9 asking you to give us topics for conversations you would like to have with your colleagues.  These can focus on content, assessment, differentiation, technology, classroom management, professional practice, personal learning networks, or anything that impacts your classroom or professional growth.  The scope of the conversations can range from specific strategies, tools, and procedures to broad topics.  We will also ask on the form if you are interested in facilitating a conversation during the event.  Facilitators will be responsible for keeping the conversation on topic and asking questions to keep the conversation flowing.  Facilitators WILL NOT be responsible for doing most of the talking, presenting from the front of the room, creating presentation slides or making training materials (remember this is an unconference).
  2. Mel and I will tally your conversation topics, pick eight of the most popular, and communicate with those who indicated interest to facilitate specific topics.  We will then create a schedule for our first EdCamp OTMS.  Ideally, we would like to have two thirty-minute sessions with four different conversations taking place in each session.
  3. We will send out the session schedule the week of the event.
  4. During the event, you will participate in the conversation of your choice for the first session, then participate in the conversation of your choice during the second session.  We will create a shared document for each conversation (linked to the schedule) where anyone in the conversation can take notes or share resources.  If you decide at any time you would like to participate in a different conversation, you are encouraged to get up and walk to another room and join their conversation.  This is called the “law of two feet” within the EdCamp movement and is a necessary element that encourages participants to find a conversation that is relevant to their needs.

If you are still unsure of what an EdCamp, unconference, or conversation-based PD entails,  I will share more resources in the coming weeks to help you prepare to participate in our first EdCamp OTMS.  Mel and I will also talk about this during our faculty meeting on Wednesday.

Technology Celebrations
The seventh grade math team is collaborating to create Socrative quizzes for bellwork.  They have created a shared document that organizes the Socrative quiz numbers by math standards.  When someone creates a quiz, they add the Socrative quiz number to the document and other team members are able to import that quiz into their own Socrative account.

Many teachers in the building are giving students the opportunity to practice the online science tools for the upcoming MAP assessment.

The technology department is making the final technical arrangements for the online MAP test.  OTMS students began enrolling their Chromebooks for the MAP test on Friday and will finish on Monday.  Each device has to be individually enrolled, and we are fortunate that this can be accomplished within the computer literacy classes.  We will be conducting a simulated load test on March 13 where every student will login to the testing system at the same time to ensure that our network will function appropriately during the actual test.

Eighth Grade ELA is exploring how to create her own practice assessments in Edcite.  We will be exploring how to create different types of test questions (Drag and Drop, Multiple Choice, Essay, etc.) in Edcite on Monday at 2:30 in room 203.  Anyone else who wants to explore Edcite is welcome to join us.

OTMS Technology Goal: Differentiation

Our second OTMS Technology goal, Teachers will use technology to differentiate instruction, is certainly not a new topic, but one that is worthy of constant re-evaluation.  As existing technology tools become more sophisticated, and new tools become available, the potential for differentiation increases.  Differentiation can be applied to any of the six ISTE Student Standards, and ensures that content remains student-focused and meets the needs of individual learners.  For those of us who are visual learners, ASCD has created an infographic that summarizes what differentiation is and what it is not. This provides us with a quick reminder that differentiation is more than group work or ability grouping. (By the way, infographics are a great way for students to demonstrate learning and can be created in Google Drawings or easelly.  Easelly is a web tool dedicated to designing infographics and provides many templates to begin a new project.  Plus, easelly allows users to create accounts with a Google login.)  I will also share 3 Myths and 3 Truths, and Busting Myths about Differentiated Instruction.  Both of these articles reinforce the information displayed in the ASCD infographic and summarize the flexibility and benefits of differentiation.  In the coming weeks, I will share more information that is specific to using technology as a tool for differentiation.

Technology Celebrations
Students in computer lit are beginning a multi-week coding unit by creating their own Flappy Bird game using  By manipulating blocks of code, students are able to set the parameters of their game including speed, sound, scene, character, and scoring.  After they customize the game, they can play it on their Chromebook or phone.

Eighth grade ELA is using Plickers as a formative assessment tool to quickly collect student feedback.  Plickers creates a unique card for each student that has a four-sided shape–each side of the shape is associated with choice A, B, C, or D.  Students answer questions by holding the card with the side of their chosen answer facing up.  The teacher then scans the room with a phone or tablet (using the Plickers app) and the app instantly shows who answered correctly.

Seventh grade Read 180 students are taking turns teaching figurative language to their classmates.  Each “teacher” then creates their own quiz using Quizlet or Google Forms which their “students” take after their instruction.


EdTech Chef Reflections

This week, we will wrap up our four-part focus on Transforming Past Lessons for the 21st Century Digital Classroom with steps 8-10 from Michael Gorman’s blog. Step eight focuses on the final project, product, or outcome, step nine stresses the importance of establishing an instructional and activity timeline for the lesson, and step ten addresses how the final project, product, or outcome will be assessed.  As you have thought through the 10 steps over the past few weeks, I hope you have seen applicable ideas to transform your instructional practice.  Don’t get overwhelmed with trying to transform everything all at once.  Remember that replacement is also a necessary element, but don’t neglect the added potential that technology brings for creation, collaboration, research, innovation, and critical thinking.  As you saw from the STNA data presented on Friday, there are many great things happening at OTMS, and the positive culture that exists here will enable us to continue to grow as a community of learners.

EdTech Chef Challenge
I hope the conversations and collaboration we experienced while preparing our EdTech Chef presentations were beneficial and that these conversations will positively impact teaching and learning here at OTMS.  By celebrating the great things going on here, we can maintain this collaboration and continue to utilize the experience and expertise of each other as we strive to transform teaching and learning.  As Mel and I walked around the building visiting groups, we were encouraged to see high levels of engagement as you prepared your presentations.  If you want to explore some of the tech tools introduced by other teams during the presentations, the EdTech Chef HomeDoc is linked in the Symbaloo on the OTMS Instructional Technology Resources page.

STNA Results
I will be sending out a follow-up survey next week asking a few questions about suggested technology purchases and professional development for next year.  In the meantime, reflect on this year’s building-level PD and what you found effective, and begin thinking about any technology devices you anticipate needing next year. Thanks for your flexibility when Nearpod would not cooperate during our discussion of the STNA results.

Technology Celebrations
During the past few weeks, I have been reminded numerous times of the importance of celebrating successes within our learning community.  As teachers, we tend to shy away from public recognition, but it is also encouraging to receive public acknowledgement of our efforts and successes.   Our colleagues are our best professional development resource, and often great things are happening down the hall outside of our knowledge.  Celebrating successes in technology integration not only provides recognition for the educator involved, but provides encouragement to others through sharing ideas that can potentially spark conversations and collaboration between staff members.  For these reasons, and more, I will be adding instructional technology celebrations to future newsletters.  I will keep my eyes and ears open for reasons to celebrate, and I encourage you to communicate, both to me and each other, what you see and hear at OTMS that is worth celebrating together.


Two More Steps in the Transformation Process

We continue with steps six and seven in the process of transforming an existing lesson from Michael Gorman’s blog.  Step six involves choosing or developing an advanced organizer to help students connect previous knowledge with new information.  The article gives several examples of advanced organizers and a list of resources for further reading.  Step seven deals with collecting and applying formative assessment data throughout the lesson.

The final arrangements are underway for the EdTech Chef Challenge this Friday.  As you think ahead to the event, take a moment this week to review the competition rubric.  Mel and I developed this to reflect existing building goals to help ensure that ideas developed during the EdTech Challenge can be quickly utilized in OTMS classrooms.  Participating in the challenge will also give us an opportunity to continue the conversations on transformation, differentiation, and formative assessment.

I will be presenting a summary of the School Technology Needs Assessment (The needs assessment we took on January 16) data on Friday after our EdTech Chef Challenge.  There will also be opportunities within the presentation to provide more feedback to help the leadership team plan PD for next year.