Peer Review and Self-Reflection Techniques

I always enjoy peer reviews and self-reflection practices. It is a very important part of the learning process for both teacher’s and students.  I have already written about using my peers and trusted teaching partners as mentors during my own PBL projects.

For this post, I will write about tools that I have found that help students self-reflect. I plan to continue using these tools and techniques in future PBL units I implement.

Explain Everything Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 11.35.23 AM.png

Explain everything is an amazing app. It is a screen casting app that allows students to screen cast as they explain and interact with media within the app. The apps allows students to add media into the app and interact with that media (pictures, videos) as the record an explanation. They can also draw within the app to further those explanations.

As I became more comfortable with the app, I discovered that it was the perfect app to encourage student’s reflections. I also learned that the app allows teacher to create templates that can then be shared with their students through Dropbox or Google Drive. This will give the kids a much needed structure to reflect.  Below are some YouTube videos I created about reflecting in Explain Everything.

Here is a “flipped” video I created for my students highlighting how they can find and use an Explain Everything template I created to do a reflection on a book we read.

I see myself using this app and a template to help students reflect on their PBL projects and experiences.

Seesaw Learning JournalScreen Shot 2017-04-18 at 12.00.56 PM.png

I am such a huge fan of the app SeeSaw. The app and website create a perfect platform for collaborative student reflection. Students are able to post videos and picture in the the learning journal. Within the app, students can then view, comment, and like their peers work samples. Parents can also be linked to the journal to add their feedback as well.

SeeSaw could be used to document an entire PBL project.  I would add another layer of feedback in addition to class discussions and team meetings.

Those are two technology tools that I would use to encourage and implement self-reflection during a PBL project.


Post Project Reflections

Reflection is a powerful practice for teachers.  In the crazy pace of teaching, it is important to take a step back and think about the strengths and needs of your classroom projects and units.  This week is about post project reflections. When this project finished, it will be highly beneficial to the project’s future implementation to sit down with my fellow educators to reflect.

  • Who will you involve in the process?

I will invite in my fellow educators most likely those at my grade level.  Ideally, I would be running this project at the same time as another teacher, but if not I will certainly reflect with my grade level group.  I would also like to show the actual PSA’s to the videographer to pick up tips on how to improve the actual final products.  I will spend time with the technology teacher to look at the apps and whether they met the needs. I would also like to meet with the school administrators to see if there was an impact or school-wide interest in the PSA’s.

  • What will your process look like?

I would present my site and planning documents to my fellow teachers and talk about the flow of the unit. I would certainly show them the empathy planning journal as well as the final PSA’s.  I also think it would be beneficial to have members of my grade level visit and observe during the unit.

  • Is it just a one-time assessment?

Ideally, I think that I will have my team “assess” me throughout the unit. It would benefit the project more if some formative assessment was implemented. As I wrote above, I truly see myself as a reflective teacher so I know that there would be more than one assessment done on my PBL projects.

Teacher’s Role

Will my role in the teaching/learning process change?

The role of the teacher absolutely changes in a PBL unit. Teachers act as facilitators and truly work to guide the students through the unit.  In a primary level classroom direction instruction will still be necessary to teacher key concepts and skills, but plenty of time will given for students to guide their own learning. PBL seems to be a natural learning model for primary level classrooms because the general structure of classrooms will naturally lend itself to the key components of PBL. Effective instructional strategies in primary level classrooms align with effective PBL strategies.  When students learn to be independent and self-motivated in classrooms, then teachers can have more time to meet with small groups and really differentiate and scaffold instruction for all learners.  PBL calls for teachers to be a facilitator rather than the center of all classroom learning. Since that is a core belief of my teaching I feel my role will only expand as a facilitator.

What are the skills of effective facilitation?

Facilitation begins with the planning.  Rather than just delivering key concepts, teacher will need to plan methods and gather materials that will help students guide their own learning.  Teachers will also need to learn to have students build conversation and communication skills. Teacher will also have to model and teach students how to collaborate.  The classroom culture should revolve around this skills: communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Will the students develop the competencies and skills needed to be successful?

Student will absolutely develop key competencies.  Not only will they have experiences,  with the core standards but they will also develop 21st century concepts such as:

  • Critical thinking, problem solving, reasoning, analysis, interpretation, synthesizing information
  • Research skills and practices, interrogative questioning
  • Creativity, artistry, curiosity, imagination, innovation, personal expression
  • Perseverance, self-direction, planning, self-discipline, adaptability, initiative
  • Oral and written communication, public speaking and presenting, listening
  • Leadership, teamwork, collaboration, cooperation, facility in using virtual workspaces

PBL provides students with a very well-rounded approach to their educational journeys.

What changes will you need to make in order to become an effective facilitator in your PBL unit?

Like stated above, it all begins with planning.  That is what I have learned in this class. For PBL to be effective, in-depth planning is necessary. It is very easy after years of teaching to systematically follow previous lessons and curriculum.  However for PBL, teachers need to spend the time prior to the project to planning not only direct instruction lessons but also for technology tools and materials.


Scaffolding in PBL (EDTECH 542)

Blog Prompt: Reflect on the importance of scaffolding in Project Based Learning and discuss how you will address this issue in your project.

I think scaffolding comes quite naturally to primary level teachers.  I can see where teachers who teach in upper level classrooms or single subject classrooms could struggle.  Also, teachers in upper levels have a much larger number of students to manage and much shorter class periods.

Being a first grade teacher for over a decade, scaffolding is a skill that I feel most comfortable implementing.  With our littlest learners, the range of understanding is dictated by so many things such a developmental stages, previous exposure, as well as just overall temperament. So primary level teachers learn how to set up learning environments that are structured to meet the needs of all their students.

One method that has always worked for me is the workshop model.  Each subject operates like mini workshops where materials are presented in mini-lessons and the students learn skills and techniques to practice and interact with that material independently after the mini-lesson.  The cornerstone of the model is independence and self-motivation.  While the kids are working independently, teachers have time to pull kids into small group or individual learning experiences.  So while the class is working towards an overall skill or understanding, the teacher is scaffolding and nudging students in ways that meet their needs.

This natural flow of the workshop model is perfect for PBL.  While the classroom is workshop on the driving questions, teachers can be monitoring and assisting students in team or individual meetings throughout the project.

Scaffolding is important but it is most effective when it is tied to a predictable and reliable structure.  In my PBL unit, I plan on using the workshop model that my students will already be comfortable with to help scaffold our empathy unit.

PBL and Assessment (EDTECH 542)

Blog Prompt: Discuss how your planned assessments meet the key requirements for effective assessments. Reflect on how you might adjust your teaching during your project to allow more student input in the evaluation process.

This week we learned about developing assessment measures for our PBL unit.  My unit is beginning to take shape so taking this step felt natural.  Below are the key requirements for effective assessment outlined this week.

  • Assessment is for students. 
  • Assessment is faithful to the work that students actually do. 
  • Assessment is public. 
  • Assessment promotes ongoing self-reflection and critical inquiry. 

My project will have two key elements that will be assessed: an empathy learning journal and a final Public Service Announcement (PSA) on how students can use their new, deeper understanding of empathy to solve conflicts in our classroom and school. The journal will be graded individually and the PSA will be a group grade.

I have created rubrics for both pieces that are kid-friendly and tied to the standards that we are addressing in this unit.  I truly feel that rubrics and invaluable assessment tools.  Rubrics can be created or modified with students and can act as a road map of their work throughout the project.  I have learned through my reading this week and my experience in the classroom that rubrics are most effective when they are given at the beginning of the project.  The rubrics will be public and a cornerstone of kids learning throughout the project.

Both rubrics tie right into the work we are doing with empathy.  The rubrics are assessing common core standards and 21st century competencies that will be given to the students right from their start.  The rubrics will be available to them as they craft their journals and develop their PSA. They rubrics have ben crafted to not be abstract and should be easy for students to refer to and follow.

The assessment promote self-reflection and inquiry.  The empathy learning journal provides a place for students to put their thoughts, understandings, and questions down on paper.  It will provide me critical insight into where the students are in their learning journey.  The PSA is chance for students to be creative as they work together to craft a PSA in ways that promote inquiry and a deep understanding of what was covered and researched in this unit.


What I learned this week?

Blog Prompt: Reflect on what you have learned this week, as you have settled on an idea for your project. Comment on the tools you are using or the resources you have reviewed

I am learning so much about Project-Based Learning (PBL) in this course so far. I also appreciate that we learning about PBL in a time that it is shifting and changing to meet the needs of the educational world.  I am appreciating the new PBL Gold Standard model, and how it is adapting to all the standards and academic expectations of today’s teaching environments.

I was really hoping to build a PBL-type professional development series for teachers.  However, this is going to be tricky.  What I am learning is that PBL needs to be a deep, enriching experience that runs for weeks at a time.  PBL takes learning below the surface. The professional development contract I was working on is only for 3 visits to the school with each visit only being 3-4 days.  I think I would be selling the PBL experience short, so I have chosen to change course.

I have now decided to use this course to develop a project on a topic that I have always wanted to dive deeply into with my former 1st grade classes: empathy.  Empathy can be a tricky topic to cover with children at this age developmentally. So, I think tying this topic to something concrete like classroom and school-wide conflicts will make it more accessible.

This week we learned about writing driving questions.  I used many of the provided tools, but really appreciated the sample projects and webinars.  They really helped bring clarity on how to write a good driving questions that is rich with sub-questions. The Buck Institute resources are invaluable.  I have it bookmarked and have the window open throughout each week’s tasks.

So using all the tools and resources, I have crafted the following driving question for my  project: “how can we use empathy to solve conflicts”.  I am excited to have a clearer vision of where this project is developing.


EdTech 542 First Reflection

January 31st, 2017

Change is important and helps us grow as educators.  Change can help push teachers into the outlying areas of teaching where innovation happens.  This will be my first semester in 12 years out of the classroom and not attached to an actual school.  I will be operating for the first time as a contractor with a focus on providing innovating and engaging professional development to teachers.

I also happen to be taking a course on project-based learning which is pushing me to rethink how to engage teachers in my workshops.  In 12 years of teaching, I have sat in many professional development meeting.  Sadly, many of those were spent sitting at tables, listening to lectures, and engaging in many of the same types of collaborative activities.  It gets really old, really fast.

I am hoping to take some risks to change things up for my participants.  While researching projects, I came across many projects at schools such as High Tech High. These schools are rethinking the way students engage with school.  In all of the schools I researched this week, students were at the center of the learning experiences and were engaged in an authentic task that promoted collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills.

Why can’t teachers have more professional development experiences that are modeled after PBL learning models.  Teachers are always encouraged to be life-long learners, but during a school year many of their learning and professional development experiences are in stale meetings that are completely disengaging. By diving deeper into this new and uncomfortable professional area, I hope I can start to dive deeper into these thoughts and see if PBL based professional development is one way to create more dynamic and engaging learning experiences for teachers.

Final EDTECH 541 Reflection Blog

Part 1: Reflect on the entire course…

What you have learned?

This semester, I learned that so much can be learned when you challenge yourself.  I have been teaching first grade for a decade. I am an educational technology enthusiast who really stays up-to-date with current educational technology practices. When presented with the challenge of picking a content area to focus on, I considered choosing first grade literacy or math. Incorporating technology into those areas had been a focus of mine for a few years and honestly I thought it would make this semester a little less stressful.  However, I finally decided to with teaching coding in an elementary classroom.  This is my first year implementing coding into first grade. When reviewing the syllabus, I knew that I faced some challenges with some of the assignments.  The professor also expressed concern. However, I chose to stick with it because I knew that in difficulty lies opportunity.  I gained so many ideas about how to implement coding into my classroom due to the coursework in EDTECH 541.  I learned that coding can be used to enhance all subject areas.  I learned to think creatively and “outside the box”. The work I completed in this course directly impacted my classroom.  My students loved coding. They have used coding to create math games.  They have also used it to share out their inquiry-based learning and projects. Challenging myself this semester really paid off. I am very happy with my final project.

How theory guided development of the projects and assignments you created?

I was able to find great resources online about the benefits of teaching coding to young children.  Those resources gave me confidence as I moved forward with developing my projects.  It was challenging at times because coding with young children is a new practice or re-emerging practice but the more I searched the more I found. I am more of an “experience based” teacher. I haven’t relied on theory too much in my career and mostly “learn by doing”.  With 2 Graduate School semesters under my belt, I now know that so much can be learned from reviewing and referring to theory.  This course laid out great practices in the Robyner text which I referred to often as I was planning projects.  I will still “learn by doing” but will find time to stay up-to-date on the latest educational theory and practices.

How the course work demonstrates mastery of the AECT standards? 

Through this project, I was able to meet many of the AECT standards.  While laying out lessons, projects, and resources for educators to implement coding instruction into their elementary classrooms, I demonstrated a strong knowledge of AECT Standard 1 (Content Knowledge). I was able to brainstorm and develop many practices that blend theory and practice.  Many of my artifacts include instructional materials that are appropriate for my grade level. I have taught first grade for a decade so I have the content knowledge to implement this re-emerging technology into content that is already taught in my classroom. Coding will be used to enhance the content of my classroom rather than replace it.  The artifacts in this project will highlight this standard.

Through lessons plans that were created for this project, I was able to outline and create pedagogical practices that will help my peers implement not just coding but technology in general. This meets AECT Standard 2 (Content Pedagogy).  The entire projects is chalk full of pedagogical ideas that span across the content areas. Online presentations and lesson plans can be used as pedagogical and instructional tools for anyone interested in implementing coding.

My project encourages an innovative and collaborative learning environments. The use of games, buddy work, and collaboration via social network tools like Twitter and Google Hangouts help this project meet AECT Standard 3 (Learning Environments).

For this project I created many presentations that I have shared with peers.  The presentations meet the AECT Standard 4 (Professional Skills). The presentations can be shared through conferences but also online thanks to software such as Google Slides which make collaboration possibilities endless.

When reviewing the AECT standards, I am proud of this project.  I am hoping it leads to great conversations and collaborations that help coding in elementary classrooms spread throughout the nation.

How you have grown professionally?

I continue to learn about productivity and work flow organization. I work full-time in a school with very high expectations. I am also a dad.  As I continue on this educational journey, I am learning how to stay organized and focused.  My ability to manage multiple projects in work and school has really become more proficient. I also have learned tools such as Google Slides that will help me share out my learning with my peers.  I love collaboration so being able to create artifacts to share with my fellow teachers has really helped me professionally.

How your own teaching practice or thoughts about teaching have been impacted by what you have learned or accomplished in this course?  What will you do differently as an educator as a result of this course?

This class has solidified my belief that technology integration is necessary in today’s classrooms.  I really enjoyed reading and researching the latest tools, software, and technologies. I am hoping to take this new knowledge and continue to create innovative, collaborative, and creative learning environment for my students.  I am hoping to go deeper into my understanding of the iPad as tool that makes learning more accessible to all types of learners.  My interested was piqued in the assignment that talked about adaptive technology practices. I am hoping to learn more about different tools that can help my struggling learners.

Part 2: Assess your blogging performance

I have reviewed the rubric and will highlight my proposed blogging grade here:

Content: I would give myself 70 points.  I gave my best effort on each blog and really tried to tie in personal connections supported by online references.  My posts tie in nicely with the weekly artifacts I created.

Reading and Resources: I would give myself 20 points. I found relevant resources and tied them in nicely with my blog posts. I found the reading to be engaging and the course book laid out nicely.  I will use it as a future resource.

Timeliness: I would give myself 20 points.  There was a large amount of reading while also having to find relevant references. All of the work was on top of weekly assignments that were also quite in depth as well.  Taking all that in to account, I would give myself full credit for “timeliness”.

Responses to classmates:  I would give myself 15 points. In my opinion, this part was the hardest.  Between building quality artifacts while trying to write our own blogs that needed to be written and posted “early” in the week, finding the time to write quality responses was tough which why I am giving myself half credit.  I could have done much better but I know I tried my best. I hope in future classes there are other ways to collaborate with peers as well as more innovate ways to respond to weekly assignments.  I really enjoyed the Video blog, but we were only able to do that once.

My suggested overall blog grade: 125/140 points

Thank you,

Jake Lee

The Power of iOS Devices for Adaptive Teaching Practices

I am fortunate enough to teach in a 2:1 iPad classroom in Honolulu, Hawaii. My iPads have taken my personal teaching to new heights. I have been able to see my kids engage with such creative and innovative projects over the past two years.  I have also seen the power that the iPad holds for students with learning differences. When searching for iPad resources I turned to the developers for help.  In my opinion, Apple is consistently updating it’s features and software to assist people with a variety of needs.  On Apple’s website, they proclaim “Different ways to learn. For every kind of learner.” Apple also states “iOS devices are fun and powerful learning tools for students with attention deficits or other cognitive and learning disabilities. Teachers can minimize visual stimulation by limiting access to a single app, and students can use FaceTime and Camera to communicate with more than just words”.

iPads have many features that make learning accessible to children with types of learning needs. Apple outlines many of them. They are:

Guided Access

Apple highlights that “guided Access helps students with autism or other attention and sensory challenges stay on task. A teacher or therapist can limit an iOS device to stay on one app by disabling the Home button, and even restrict touch input on certain areas of the screen. So wandering taps and gestures won’t distract from learning.” I use guided access on regular basis in my classroom.  It helps keep my students on track and focused on the apps we are using.  You simply set up a passcode and when Guided Access is needed you triple click the home button.  Guided Access is not needed for all students all the time. However, as Apple points out, will help with students who have sensory or attention issue.

Speak Selection

Apple shares on their website “hearing a word as it’s being read can help with comprehension for a wide range of learners. Speak Selection can read a student’s email, iMessages, web pages, and ebooks out loud. Double-tap to highlight text in any application, tap Speak, and the device reads the selected text. Students can have words highlighted as they’re being read so they can follow along. And the voice’s dialect and speaking rate can be adjusted to suit students’ needs.” For students that have reading delays or difficulties such as dyslexia, iPads allow text to be read aloud to them when navigating the device.  This will allow learners to spend more time on the task rather than struggling with the device’s features.


Apple also shares on their website, “for some students, typing can be a challenge. Siri, Apple’s built-in personal assistant, can help students do the things they do every day — just by asking. They can say “Remind me to turn in my history paper Friday” or “Text Mom I’m staying after school.” Siri can help students who struggle with organization by scheduling activities and setting reminders. And Siri is integrated with VoiceOver — an advanced screen reader — so blind and low-vision students can ask where the nearest music store is, and hear the answer read out loud.” Siri can drive you nuts as a teacher.  Students really love to have funny conversations with Siri. However, Siri can also help students with visual impairments navigate the iPad. If they are trying to listen to an audiobook or listen to an online lesson, they can ask Siri to navigate them there.


Apple share on their website, “for students with print disabilities like dyslexia, it may be easier to speak a thought than to type it. With Dictation they can reply to an email, make a note, search the web, or write a report using just their voice. Tap the microphone button and Dictation converts words (and numbers and characters) into text.” I have taught children who are living with dyslexia. Dictation software makes the stress of writing and typing much easier.  This way they can share their work and thoughts without the pressure of writing.


Apple is now highlighting a powerful tool that makes differentiation possible. Apple states “iBooks Author gives teachers a way to create customized learning materials for iPad to support a wide range of learning needs. Interactive features like 3D images, video, audio, and photo galleries provide multimodal learning opportunities that make iBooks textbooks more engaging to learners. Features like multicolor highlighting, notes, search, study cards, and the glossary help students be better organized and better prepared. Built-in review questions give students an immediate assessment of their knowledge so they understand where to focus more study time. And iBooks supports VoiceOver, Speak Selection, and closed-captioned videos to help all types of learners.” As you are reading there iBooks author is a tool that supports many of the iPad accessibility features. I have explored this app this year and I really enjoyed it. iBooks allows you to create instructional materials for students with a range of learning needs. You can create differentiated books about a research topic. You can create whole instructional books for students with a range of needs.

iPads have really leveled the playing field in my classroom and classrooms around the world.  Kathleen Ronayne from the Concord Monitor “using an iPad, blind students can now translate written words to verbal with one touch; students with dyslexia or other reading disorders can complete work using only their voice; and students with autism can find alternative ways to express their thoughts and feelings”(Ronayne, 2013).


Information retrieved from:

Ronayne, K. (2013, August 14). iPads bring students with disabilities new ways to participate, excel in education Concord Monitor Retrieved from:

Challenges of Coding in the Content Areas

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 “Learning to program has been relegated to summer camps and through programs that exist because of fundraising. But there’s a case to be made about using school time, school computers, and school funding to teach programming to every student. And to start early: Programming is just writing in the language of computers, so why not teach kids to code like we teach them to write”(Vaidyanathan, 2012)”

Teaching coding in elementary classrooms is an emerging practice that many educators cannot get their heads around. I have spent the current school year fully integrating coding into my first grade classroom. I am constantly asked by my peers “why do they need to learn coding”?  It is a valid question. The computer programming field has been historically linked to a small subset of math geniuses, not first grade students, but educators have an opportunity to break this sterotype when they teach coding in elementary classrooms. Hadi Partovi (founder and chief of Code.Org) writes in an article for the New York Times “students learn fast at a young age, before stereotypes suggest coding is too difficult, just for nerds, or just for boys. Besides, building apps or games is far more engaging than arithmetic, yet these activities all teach the same concepts. Third-grade students can learn about angles as they work on animation, not just with multiple-choice questions”(Partovi, 2014).

Even Partovi makes a natural link to coding and math. My goal this year has been to teach coding throughout my curriculum and even I started with math.  The apps and programs I found tied naturally to patterns and algorithms but I am constantly searching for more opportunities in all curriculum areas.  When programmers are coding games, they are also telling stories but it is hard to find an app that ties coding and actual story telling together. Coding is a literacy but it is nearly impossible to find books about it to share with young children.  As this field continues to grow and integrate our classrooms, I hope that the coding resources available to teachers broaden and include curricular skills that might create more teacher “buy in”.  This will happen when coding can be seen as a valuable asset in all curriculum areas and I can share these resources with my peers so they might integrate coding as well. Partovi points out that “we’re on the right track. But in the United States, the so-called land of opportunity, the chance to learn to code shouldn’t just be available to a lucky few. Every student should have a fair chance to take part in building the technology that will change our world” (Partovi, 2014).


Vaidyanathan, S (2012, September 26). Should Students Lear to Code in Grade School? Retrieved from: 

Partovi, H (2014, May 12). Teaching Coding as Early as Possible. Retrieved from: