Differentiation through Project Based Learning

Transforming one’s classroom from a traditional setting to the implementation of project based learning can be an intimidating task.  One of the questions that can arise is how educators can differentiate learning in a project based setting.  McCarthy (2016) points out five key areas that can be differentiated in order to meet the learning needs of all students.  They are:

  • Authentic Purpose
  • Entry Event
  • Need to Know protocol
  • Checkpoints
  • Student Voice

Students who are at risk or struggle with learning in a traditional setting might become less motivated to learn or really cannot understand that what they are learning applies to the real world.  Through project based learning, students have a wider audience and they apply what they are learning to real-world activities.  They are not just answering to their teacher.  When they see that their projects make an impact on the wider community, they might be more motivated to work.  No longer can students say, “When am I ever going to use this?”

Likewise, a strong entry event sets the tone for the project.  It gets students engaged in the project and develops a purpose for what they are going to learn.  A strong entry event connects students interests with the curriculum.  Like the authentic purpose, an effective entry event shows students how the curriculum relates to their world outside of the school walls (McCarthy, 2016).

It is important to check for content understanding throughout the entire project.   McCarthy (2016) calls this the Need to Know protocol.  It is similar to the K-W-L  strategy except the questions are revisited throughout the entire project until all the questions are answered.  Because the Need to Know protocol is frequently run throughout the project, new questions may arise.  When the instructor reviews the answers with the students, the students vote whether the question was fully addressed.  If there are students who do not feel the answers were addressed, then the instructor must give additional support to those students who feel they need it.  The students help determine whether they feel their academic needs were met rather than the instructor deciding whether the content was covered.

Weekly or bi-weekly checkpoints should also occur along with daily formative assessments.  Students who pass the checkpoint move onto the next skill level; however, students who do not pass the checkpoint will receive differentiated support to meet their needs.  Checkpoints are useful to the instructor and student because they help identify any problems or misconceptions before they get too far into the project (McCarthy, 2016).

Finally, one of the biggest ways to differentiate learning in PBL is to allow for student voice.  Students might be able to design the topic focus, make choices on the end product, and/or design their own plan of action (McCarthy, 2016). This aspect may be hard for instructors who are very used to leading the show, but it is very important for students to be able to help lead their learning.

The two areas that excite me about project based learning are the authentic purpose and student voice.  I think when anyone with any type of ability feels like what they are doing has meaning and when they have a choice with regards to completing the task, learning will undoubtedly take place.  As I read about the Need to Know protocol and the checkpoints, they seemed very familiar and logically take place even in a traditional educational setting.  Formative assessments take place daily in both settings; however, I feel that the checkpoints discussed in PBL are more planned and probably take place more frequently in a PBL setting.  It seems that when carried out effectively, PBL feels more planned and more attention is paid to detail and whether all the students are understanding the material rather than just covering the content.

McCarthy, J. (2016, November 15). How do I differentiate through project-based learning?. In teachthought. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from http://wegrowteachers.com/differentiation-in-a-project-based-learning-unit/



Digital Games in the Library

Children learn best when the content is relevant to them and when they can make connections between new and old material.  Sometimes it can be challenging to make these connections, but using games can help.  Games can help strengthen teacher to student and student to student relationships.  Children like playing games because they can have fun while they are learning.  Teachers like games because they help boost students’ academic confidence and develop their social and problem-solving skills (“Teaching with Games”, n.d.).

Both games and gamification have been used for educational purposes from preschool all the way through higher education.  They are useful because they are engaging and motivate the learners (Young, 2016).  Motivating students to learn, especially in topics that do not initially interest them, can be a challenge for all educators especially for library instructors.   I have yet to meet an elementary student who loves to learn about library skills and research so using games, especially digital games, in my library has many advantages.  

One advantage is that the students are learning through the process of playing a digital game.   Digital games might help a student understand a new library concept or idea such as:

  • ABC order and how fiction books are shelved.
  • The Dewey Decimal system and locating non-fiction books on the shelf.  
  • Parts of a book
  • Literary Genres
  • How to search the library catalog
  • Library Orientation
  • Research Skills
  • Digital Citizenship

Digital games are more engaging for my library students.   From year to year, my students need a lot of review and practice with library skills.  Handing today’s students worksheets on these topics is not very engaging and meaningful.  Because my class is not graded, students are less motivated to complete worksheets, but a lively digital game sparks their interest and the students are more willing to participate.  

Digital games can help students make connections with the library content and form positive memories of their learning.  When activities are fun and interesting, they stand out in students’ memories and can facilitate learning.  The students may recall the information more readily after playing the game.   Some students might remember library vocabulary words after playing certain games, others learn from reading the clues provided in certain games, and other students learn when they hear their classmates call out answers. Using digital games appeals to all different types of learners because they provide a variety of experiences for students. (Stathakis, 2013).

Using digital games with young students is one of the many effective tools that can be used in library instruction.  Effective digital games create a collaborative and enjoyable experience for the students which increases their engagement and motivation resulting in learned material.  When used properly to meet desired objectives, digital games can have a positive impact on a student’s educational experiences.  


Stathakis, R. (2013). Five reasons to use games in the classroom. In education world. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/reasons-to-play-games-in-the-classroom.shtml

Teaching with games. (n.d.). In education world. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from   http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/strategy/strategy065.shtml

Young, J. (2016, July 1). Can library research be fun? Using games for information literacy instruction in higher education. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1973&context=glq


Relative Advantage of Instructional Software in the Classroom

Instructional software is used to deliver instruction or assist with the delivery of instruction on a topic.  Five specific types of instructional software include drill and practice, tutorial, simulations, instructional games, and problem solving.   

Drill and Practice

Drill and Practice software provides exercises where students work examples and receive immediate feedback for their answers.  It includes flash card activities, chart fill-in activities, branching drills, and extensive feedback activities.  Drill and practice is often looked down upon, but it does have its benefits.  Roblyer (2016) states that drill activities provides effective rehearsal for students and allows them to transfer newly learned information into long term memory.  Once students master lower order skills, they can use these skills for higher order thinking activities.   Drill and practice software provides immediate feedback to the students, can increase motivation, and save teacher time. Even though drill and practice software is sometimes criticized for being outdated, teachers should seek the use of this software to meet specific needs for their students (Roblyer, 2016, p. 81).  Quizlet is an example of a drill and practice software that I use in my fourth grade library class.  Quizlet is a website that allows teachers and students to create and share flashcards.  While studying literary genres, students can read and listen to the literary genre terms and definitions. They can use the program as flashcards, take a fill in the blank quiz, practice spelling the terms, and play games that involve the terms and definitions.   Through drill and practice, games, and quizzes, the students will be able to spell the literary genre words and identify the meaning of each genre.


Tutorial software provides instruction on a topic much like a teacher instructing in a classroom.  With tutorial software, students should be able to learn the material without any additional help or materials. There are two types of tutorials, linear and branching. Linear tutorials provide the same instructional sequence regardless of student performance.  Branching tutorials are more sophisticated and lead students along different path based on how they respond to questions and how they show mastery of the material (Roblyer, 2016, p. 83-84). Tutorials are generally used with older students who are able to read and are more popular in military and industrial training.  It can serve the needs of the classroom that use the flipped classroom or screencasting strategies.  Tutorial programs provide a more self paced review for students who need further instruction in a topic area.  They also allow more advanced students to move on to additional learning activities at their own pace when a teacher is not available to present the material (Roblyer, 2016, p. 84-85).  In my fourth grade library class, I use screencast-o-matic to record tutorials for all my research lessons and post them on my classroom website. When researching and completing projects, students work at all kinds of speeds. The screencasts help the slower students go back and review information I already presented and they help the more advanced students work ahead at a faster pace.


Simulations are a computerized model of a real or imagined system that is designed to teach how the system works.  There are two main types of simulations. The first type teaches about something.  The second teaches how to do something. Simulations are predominantly used in science. Simulations are best used when a real situation is too time consuming, dangerous, expensive, or unrealistic for a classroom setting (Roblyer, 2016, p. 92).   In the past, I have not used simulation software in my fourth grade library classes, but this year I am working on having centers set up when the students come to class.  I was able to obtain some laptops and iPads for my centers and found PhET to be good quality simulation software. PhET is an interactive simulations project at the University of Colorado Boulder.  It provides free and interactive math and science simulations at all grade levels. Using these simulations in the library would allow my students the ability to further explore and process topics that they have learned in class.   

Instructional Games

Instructional games software adds game-like rules and/or competition to learning activities.  They are often used in the same way as drill and practice games and simulations, but they are considered separately due to their different instructional elements.  Instructional games have rules, an element of competition, and are entertaining for the students.  Schools have been slow to adopt instructional games due to the cost, inadequate hardware to run the games, and good quality software has been hard to find.  Instructional games are beneficial because they provide the element of play and enjoyment for the students.  Teachers can capitalize on this enjoyment and spend more time on a curriculum topic with their students. Educators do have concerns with instructional games.  Some educators worry that students will get caught up in having fun and this will draw attention away from what is to be learned (Roblyer, 2016, p. 92-96).  In my fourth grade library class, I have used Jeopardy games to review library concepts.  It is a fun way to review topics at the end of a unit and circle back on old topics covered throughout the year.  We don’t play the game all the time so the novelty makes it more exciting for the students.  The students work together in teams to answer questions and the game is more engaging than providing review worksheets because we can discuss answers together and clear up any misunderstandings with the material.  

Problem Solving Software

Problem solving software is used to teach problem solving skills.  There are two main approaches used in problem solving software.  They are content-area problem solving skills and content-free problem solving skills.     Content- area problem solving software focuses on teaching skills mainly in math and science.  Content-free problem solving software focuses on teaching general problem-solving abilities.  Effective problem solving software must be clearly linked to cultivating a specific problem solving ability in students.  Problem solving software can be interesting and motivating for students; however, it is important to test the software for its effectiveness in teaching problem solving skills before adopting it with the students.  There is also concern that students will not be able to transfer knowledge they learned using the software to other areas (Roblyer, 2016, p. 97-100).  One example of problem solving software to use in my fourth grade library class would be Kidspiration.  The students at this age are still very new to looking up information, synthesizing and outlining the essential information they need, and using that information to write a well constructed report.  Inspiration provides the logical steps a student would take to perform these functions at their level.  Students can begin with a graphic organizer, then create an outline from the graphic organizer, and finally use the outline to create their report..  Students could work individually or with others.    Using this software might be more time consuming with the students, but the information created might be more coherent for the students to read rather than using paper and pencil.        

There are numerous amounts of instructional software available to deliver instruction in a variety of ways. It is important that educators are careful in selecting these programs to ensure that they provide the best possible educational experience for their students.   All programs have their benefits and limitations, yet can be integrated in a meaningful way.   

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed., pp. 81-100). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Content Curation

Beth Kanter (2011) states that content curation is “the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme.” Content curation is more than just picking a bunch of links to information about a topic and posting them. It involves careful consideration of whether the information is relevant to the reader, comes from a credible source, is annotated with a reflection from the curator, and is organized in a meaningful way for the reader to better understand the topic. The curated content is also continuously updated and kept current by its author in order to provide the best content for the reader. Curating content has become an essential practice due to the large amount of information that is shared all over the internet.

This week I worked with my PLN mini group to come up with a checklist for assessing the quality and value of a curated topic.  We used a Google Doc to create this checklist.  Using Google Docs is nice because each of us had editing rights to the document and could add information and comments at any time.  Because of some time constraints I had, I got started with the project by providing the group with a list of criteria or questions for evaluating our curated topics that I developed from reading our resources.  I also provided the links to the resources I used.    My next group member took the list I created and expanded upon it by providing explanations for some of the criteria, citing the resources, and developing our list of references. Finally, the other two group members finished the explanations and reviewed the references to be sure they were properly formatted using the APA style.  We worked well together as a group given our busy and varied schedules and I believe we developed a quality checklist.

Here is the link to the checklist our PLN created:

Content Curation Checklist

Kanter, B. (2011, October 4). Content curation primer. In Beth’s Blog. Retrieved from http://www.bethkanter.org/content-curation-101/.

Educational Technology Graphic

To me, Educational Technology is made up of three main areas: Study, ethical practice, and facilitating learning and improving performance. Educational technology requires continuous research in order to come up with new ideas and improve processes.  However, it is also necessary to reflect on this research in order to decide whether the new ideas are actually making an improvement in educational outcomes.  An ethical stance is also an important aspect of educational technology.  One cannot work effectively without a code of conduct or basis for how technology should be used.  Finally, educational technology should facilitate learning and improve performance.  Technology should be used as a tool to support the learner using effective processes and proper resources.  The products created with the use of technology should demonstrate effective learning and learners should be able to apply what they have learned in real world settings.

I chose to use Prezi for my Educational Technology Graphic.  In the past, I have avoided Prezi due to the fact that when my students have used it for presentations, I have nearly gotten sick with the zoom in and out feature that they enjoy using.  What I like about Prezi is that it is web based so I do not have to worry about whether or not the viewer has the proper software to view my presentation.  I also wanted to be able to show the “big picture” of the breakdown of the definition of Educational Technology and Prezi seemed to be the best option.  I liked that the information would be presented in a non linear fashion and could better show how the concepts are interconnected.

View my Prezi.


Content Curation

Content curation is the process of digitally collecting, organizing, and sharing information on a topic in a meaningful way either for personal use or with others.  I have been curating content for quite some time but never really put a label on it.  Three methods of content curation that I currently use professionally and personally are Pinterest, Evernote, and Symbaloo.  Professionally, I use Pinterest to curate ideas for my library and computer lab.  Personally, I use it to collect ideas for my house and recipes.  I have used Evernote to create lists and take notes.  I like that Pinterest and Evernote can be accessed on my computer, phone, and iPad. Symbaloo has been a blessing in my computer lab.  I struggled for two years to help my students plug in website addresses before I created Symbaloos for each one of my grade levels.  I include the websites that we visit on a regular basis for lessons and websites the students can visit when they finish their projects.  During the holidays, I also attach a Symbaloo of websites related to the holiday.   This has been a huge timesaver for me and the classroom teachers because the Symbaloos are on my classroom website that the students pull up as their home page when they go online. Because these Symbaloos are on my classroom website, many of my students have been able to visit websites from home that they enjoyed at school.  It pleases me that they are able to share websites that they learned about and enjoy with their parents.

For my project this week, I set out to explore three more content curation tools.  I decided to look at educlipper, ClipZine, and Scoop.It!  I was very excited about educlipper because it was education related and I thought it would be one that I could use in the computer lab with my students.  In educlipper, a teacher can set up classes, add students, and assignments. After attempting to work with the tool, I found it to be very frustrating. I could barely figure out how to create a board and clip information to put on that board.  It was very slow and I could not find any kind of help feature or instructions on how to use the tool.  I was very disappointed.

Next I investigated ClipZine.  ClipZine allows the user to create a visual collection of content related to a subject.  One can then share the information on a blog or website, in a brochure, or even in a collage on Pinterest.  This looks like a neat tool and I like how visually appealing the collages looked on the site, but I didn’t think it would be helpful for my curation project this week. ClipZine could be used by students to create a visual collage on a topic and present the collage to the class.  This would help them with their presentation skills by getting them away from reading PowerPoints and getting used to presenting by actually talking to their audience about what is on the screen.

Finally I worked with Scoop.It!  This was a wonderful tool to work with and I plan to use it both personally and with my students.  My students could use Scoop.It to collect information while doing research.  Scoop.It reminds me of Pinterest, but it has additional features that make it more robust such as being able to comment on your Scoops.  The user starts by selecting a topic which is then created into a board based on that topic and related key words.  You can add information to your board from suggestions given by Scoop.It, by re-scooping content from other users, by scooping a link by entering the URL or by using the Scoop.It bookmark.  Finally, you can share your Scoops via your social media accounts.  This tool was very user friendly and I look forward to using it again for other topics.

This week I chose to curate information on the world of gamification and game based learning in educational technology.  Last March, I attended the Kyste (Kentucky Society for Technology in Education) Conference in Louisville and sat in on a few sessions regarding game based learning.  The sessions were interesting but I still lacked a clear idea of how to include these ideas into my computer lab.

Since the conference, I have not been able to take the time to sit down and focus on the concepts of gamification and game based learning and how they could be implemented in my computer lab.  By curating relevant articles and videos on my Scoop.It board, I was able to centralize the information and start to formulate ideas.  I decided to focus on articles and videos that discuss the topic, weigh the pros and cons, provide ideas on how to use gamification in the classroom, and provide training.  I think this is a good start and after reading the articles, I am planning on taking small steps to pilot Classcraft with my eighth grade students.

Content curation is a powerful tool that helps both adults and students with their organizational skills. It is well worth the time and effort to curate materials on a topic in this world of information overload.  Please take a look at my Scoop.It Board:


RSS Feeds

It is amazingDigg that I have never heard of or used a RSS Feed before this week. I never knew something like this existed and how beneficial it could be.  I have started to use the tool Digg Reader to subscribe and receive updated content from my favorite websites.  I like the fact that RSS feeds and Digg make it more efficient for me to consume my favorite web content.  It is must nicer to be provided with the latest content rather than having to visit the website for information.  No more bookmarking sites for future reference!  I am also extremely thankful that I was able to import my classmates’ learning logs into Digg Reader.  This has made it so much easier to access and view them.

Because RSS Feeds and Digg Reader are so new to me, I am not sure how I would integrate them into my classroom at this time.  I’d like to spend more time working with both of them before I jump into showing them to my students.  Therefore, I plan on using RSS for my own professional development.  I’d like to get the hang of actually using Digg Reader on a regular basis, reading articles, and subscribing to feeds.   I look forward to getting to know this tool and all that it has to offer.

Digital Divide/Digital Inequality

For the past few weeks I have spent some time reading about the issues of digital divide and digital inequality. Digital divide and digital inequality are two separate factors that impact our society.  Digital divide refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology and those that do not or have restricted access.   The technology applies to landline telephones, cellular phones and services, television, computers, tablets, and the internet.  Digital inequality moves beyond an inequality in access to technology and encompasses inequality among people with access to technology.  Digital inequality includes people with lack of technical ability, lack of interest or computer literacy, and those who cannot afford it.

We rely on technology more and more each day. We cannot take for granted that everyone in society has the access to technology and knows the most effective way to use it. Even though a gap still exists between technology users, it is shrinking.  The next step is to provide users with the equipment and skills they need to use this technology.  Without this, the gap of digital inequality will widen.  With the knowledge I have gained from my readings, I will better be able to identify areas of digital inequality in my school  and address them according to the AECT Code of Professional Ethics.

After reading about these issues, I used the presentation tool Haiku Deck to explain the issues of digital divide and digital inequality and factors that create digital inequality at the school where I am the technology coordinator.  Please click on this link to view my presentation.  I have created many presentations in PowerPoint, but by using Haiku Deck, I learned new methods for making them more effective.  My takeaway from this project was to keep my slides simple, limit the number of images, use keywords, and break up information into multiple slides.  If I had more time to work on this artifact, I would have broken up my issues of digital inequality and my solutions for these problems even further into more slides.  In order to elicit a discussion from the audience, I  would have asked more questions of the viewer on the solutions slides. Finally, I might have also come up with some catchier titles on my slides and incorporated some of my own images rather than stock photos.  I plan on having my junior high students use Haiku Deck for a future project so that they can become accustomed to creating and giving a more effective presentation.



Welcome to my Learning Log.  As I travel on my journey through the EDTECH program at Boise State, I will be adding examples of my work from each course. Along the way, I will also include reflections of what I have learned, my accomplishments and struggles, and how this journey has impacted my role as an educator.