Author - Kristin Oropeza

The Argument for Transformative Learning Spaces

CUE Spark Dillon Article

Learning space design gets a makeover.

Bob Dillon, co-author of the book “The Space” with Rebecca Hare and “Redesigning Learning Spaces”, discusses changing the narrative around learning space design in his recent article for Medium website. Dillon states that “neat, fancy and cute have become the norm” and that many educators feel guilty because their classrooms may not be as Pinterest perfect as their neighbors. It is up to administrators, Dillon urges, to refocus the attention on the purpose of the learning space and not cosmetic appeal.

Dillon smartly states, “Space either inhibits learning or supports learning. It is very rarely neutral.”

He encourages educators to think about how instructional philosophy, and tools for learning intersect directly with learning space design.

Public support of innovative, new learning spaces is also key – but don’t rely on “emotional pleas,” Dillon warns. Substantiated research can be used to show that intentional classroom design supports brain-based learning.

Dillon also encourages educators to use student voice to support your space design practices. There isn’t anything stronger for an argument than hearing directly from the students and beneficiaries of these intentional learn space design practices. Dillon recommends recording videos, “showing students learning in these environments or discussing how space design supports growth.”

For more information or to read Dillon’s article in depth, visit the Medium website. He can be reach on Twitter @drrobertdillon.

Addressing Social Emotional Learning in EDU

Social Emotional Learning

Social Emotional Learning has – in recent years – become a priority in many districts. Youth suicide rates have shown a steady rise in recent years and the number of violent occurrences in schools is also on the incline. With mental health diagnoses growing at an alarming rate, many experts believe that this is the next national crisis.

Many see social emotional learning (SEL) as a preventative measure to address these growing concerns in the school system. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that only 8 states currently have standards that address SEL in grades PK-12th; these states include Nevada, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, West Virginia, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Maine. Thirty-six states – California included – have SEL standards for pre-school age students only.

In a recent article by Megan Collins for EdSurge, Collins recommends four easy steps to begin the process of addressing SEL within your own teaching practice. These steps include:

1) Reviewing the CASEL Framework: Use the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning as a starting point.

2) Taking an Inventory: Self-reflection is important – take a moment to reflect on your own interactions with your students and how those interactions fit within the CASEL competencies.

3) Starting Conversations: Explicitly identify these interactions in a meaningful way. The conversations that follow will “allow SEL behaviors to become observable and real to your students,” according to Collins.

4) Broadening the Scope: Having these real discussions will likely cause a shift in thinking for both students and teachers alike. SEL goes well beyond the classroom and it’s critical that everyone within the school system – from counselors to support staff to administrators and parents – be involved in those conversations.

For more information or to read Collins article in depth, click here.

To see what others are saying about SEL, make sure to follow the hashtag #SEL on Twitter for more news, articles, and tips for incorporating SEL instruction into classroom routines.

Students Grow with Formative Assessment

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is the ongoing process of evaluating student learning. Unlike it’s formalized, standardized testing counterpart, formative assessments are not used for grading but are focused on providing students opportunities to monitor their own learning and self-assess one’s mastery of content and skills.

As a former special education teacher who didn’t rely on formal standardized testing data to determine student growth or achievement (because, really – what good was the CAASPP for except for making my poor kiddos cry?) – I used more formative assessment pieces in my planning and instruction to help me establish if my students were really getting the instruction I was presenting in class. It also showed me which concepts I should probably go back and reteach for student mastery.

And, because we were lucky to have 1:1 devices in the classroom, I was able to pull in some educational technology to help me gather valuable data on my students. Here are some of my favorite applications that I used when teaching SPED and that I continue to use now in my TOSA position with my TK-5th grade classrooms.

Padlet: Padlet is a web-based platform for creating online bulletin boards that allow teachers and students to share and collaborate, from any device. Users can post text, links, files, photos, and videos. I started using Padlet with my younger TK and Kindergarten students who weren’t logging into Google Classroom yet. Because the boards can be password protected (and private), students were able to collaborate through this online discussion board, much in the same way that they would have done in Google Classroom. The only caveat to this program? Under a free account, you are only able to create three padlets at a time.

Pear Deck: Pear Deck is a web-based formative assessment tool that allows you to create interactive lessons using Google Slides. Pear Deck offers a library of free templates that you can use to create interactive assessments in your slides, with everything from math templates to critical thinking questions to slides on social emotional learning – and more! Pear Deck has a paid and free version. Although I get by quite nicely with the free version, if you have the funds to pay for a subscription, I would highly recommend it. If you’re looking to try Pear Deck Premium, click here for 3-months of premium access!

Edpuzzle: Edpuzzle is a great tool that allows users to turn videos into quick assessments, through the use of strategically placed questions. It’s as simple as choosing a video from YouTube (or uploading your own), trimming the video, inserting a question anywhere and then tracking your students progress. Edpuzzle does offer a premium account but most educators I know (myself included) use the basic version.

Kahoot!: If your students love game-based learning (and, really – which kid doesn’t?), Kahoot! should be your go-to for free engaging quizzes that will get all of your students actively participating. While you can create your own quiz, Kahoot! also offers an extensive library of games. Students can play as individuals, groups, or pairs.

Flipgrid: If you haven’t gotten #FlipgridFever yet, now is the time! Flipgrid is a free site that allows students to post videos in response to questions and topics posed by their teacher. It also gives students an opportunity to reflect, collaborate, and receive and respond to constructive feedback offered by their peers.

Google Forms: Google Forms is a great tool for creating quizzes or forms to collect data from your students. Forms allows users to use a variety of question types (multiple choice, short answer, paragraph, check boxes, drop-down, linear scale, etc.) – along with the ability to upload pictures and videos for students to view and answer questions on. I use Forms throughout the school year, across subject areas and is a quick and easy way of collecting information from your students.

Quizlet/Quizziz: Both Quizlet and Quizziz are web-based platforms that allow students an alternative to the traditional methods of studying new vocabulary terms. While I have used both platforms (and both are reputable, in my opinion), I will say that Quizziz has some perks that Quizlet currently does not offer. First, Quizziz makes it easy for me to important classes from Google Classroom. I also appreciate that Quizziz offers me data on my students after each quiz – making it a bit easier for me to determine who needs some additional help with certain topics.

Listicles in EDU (No, It’s Not What You Think)

Listicle Image

What on earth is a “listicle”?

According to Charles Logan, an educational technologist in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University, a listicle is the merging of a list and an article. Buzzfeed and other online news sites bank on them.

But how can they be used in the name of education?

In a recent EdSurge article, Logan explains what listicles are (he breaks down the entire anatomy of a listicle), as well as why and how teachers can be using them in classrooms.

Logan explains that listicles are great ways of “promot[ing] close reading, abstract thinking, and critical playing; develop[ing] digital and media literacy; and build[ing] upon a connected learning framework.”

To read his article, visit EdSurge. If you want to read more about listicles, check out Logan’s slide deck.

New Report Released by Schoology on Digital Learning

Digital Learning Report

It isn’t all about the technology.

In a new report released by Schoology, researchers made three key findings that have significant implications for digital learning. In a report released by the EdTech company that looked at the 2018-2019 digital state of learning (based off responses from 9,279 teachers and administrators), researchers identified three major findings that schools and districts should consider when it comes to integrating technology and focusing on digital learning.

These points included the following:

1) It’s Not Just About the Teacher.

The study found that infrastructure, budget, and access at home play a significant role in digital learning problems – and these issues are not something that teachers can fix alone.

2) Schools Need to Plan Before Integrating Technology.

While teachers are excited by the potential and utility of digital learning, they also recognize the challenges of juggling multiple tools without a strategic approach. Per this new report, administrators also recognize that teachers need the proper training with these tools.

3) Professional Development is in Need of an Upgrade.

Schoology’s study found that a little over 60% of the PD that teachers receive is still in-person and periodic. Schoology also reported that most districts – according to those individuals surveyed – don’t use their learning management system as a mechanism to conduct PD; less than 20% take a blended or online approach to professional development. Further, administrators seem to recognize that lack of collaboration among staff remains a major concern.

To read more commentary about this report, check out the original article on EdTech Magazine or read Schoology’s report here.

Call to Action – Join the #ObserveMe Movement!

Call to Action - Observe Me

Are you ready to be part of something bigger?

Join educators across the nation this May as they invite colleagues, administrators, and other other educators into their classrooms as part of the on-going #ObserveMe movement.

Founder Robert Kaplinsky explains what is #ObserveMe and why you should get involved.

For more information or to see how you can get started, read more here or follow the #ObserveMe hashtag on social media. Join in, share, and grow as an educator!

AMNH Takes on Science with New Site


The American Museum of Natural History is diving into science with their new site OLogy.

For almost two decades, OLogy has been recognized as a leader for science learning by encouraging children’s curiosity about their world. OLogy has now taken a step toward integrating science with reading comprehension for teachers and students everywhere.

OLogy – who partnered with the ReadWorks site – has paired dozens of OLogy articles with vocabulary activities and formative assessments. Not only does OLogy have these new offerings, but they also provide an array of multimedia, including videos, games, and hands-on activities for students in support of science concepts in the areas of biology, earth & space, and human cultures.

For more information, check out OLogy’s website.

#ObserveMe Takes the Spotlight

Observe Me

Robert Kaplinsky has spent the last 15 years in education and is no stranger to having all eyes on him.

He spent thirteen years in Downey Unified School District – eight of them as a Teacher Specialist, working with Secondary Math Teachers. Today, Kaplinsky is an educational consultant, international presenter, and newly minted author. Little did he know when he first invited colleagues to “observe” him three years ago, what a grassroots movement he would be igniting with educators around the globe.

What is the #ObserveMe movement?

Kaplinsky first blogged about #ObserveMe back in August 2016, when he shared a popular tweet from another teacher (Heather Kohn) in which she shared a photo that had been found on the door of a local school, inviting others into the classroom to provide constructive feedback.

In that same blog post, Kaplinsky proposed a call to action – challenging other teachers to post similar signs on their classroom doors and encouraging feedback from visitors. Kaplinsky welcomed colleagues and administrators alike to take a moment to come into his classroom and look at very specific goals he had written for himself. He even included a ready-made template for other teachers to use.

Three days later, he was already receiving responses to his challenge.

Five days after that – his challenge had gone international, hitting classrooms as far away as South Korea and China. Teachers around the globe were connecting with the idea of having fellow educators welcomed into their classrooms and started sharing their signs (along with QR codes and feedback forms).

Who benefits from #ObserveMe?

In his original blog post, Kaplinsky made the remark, “We must acknowledge that one of the best ways to improve practice is to have colleagues observe one another and provide suggestions for improvements. We should welcome others’ constructive feedback and practice giving it as well. Without it we aren’t able to adjust our practice and improve.”

His recent interview with OnCUE mirrored those same beginning sentiments.

“It’s remarkable but shouldn’t be remarkable at all – the act of going into other teachers’ classrooms,” Kaplinsky stated.

Three years later, Kaplinsky still advocates for #ObserveMe to become common practice. “[There is a lot of] value in observing someone else – a lot that can be gained.”

How does one get started with #ObserveMe?

Kaplinksy wants to normalize the process of seeing other teachers in action again and learning from other educators in the classroom setting. But how does one get started with #ObserveMe?

Kaplinksy said it starts with the end in mind.

“What would you be curious about? Are kids really having the conversations you want them to have? You get better because you make observations that help your lesson become better. If you could get even better observations, you’d get better by larger margins more quickly. What goals do I want? The #ObserveMe format has one major component which is – here are your goals. But how you write the goals is everything. How do you set it up so that you get good feedback? Student engagement is not a good format. Identify what you want to get better – and phrasing it ‘How can I get better…'” Kaplinksy stated.

From there, it’s as easy as posting a sign on your classroom door.

He does warn that it can be a slow process at first. “Let me be clear – this is not ‘Field of Dreams.’ If you put it up, people will not come. It’s not just magic. It takes some publicity.” Kaplinsky said that teachers who are interested in participating should personally reach out to colleagues and invite them in for some feedback.

According to Kaplinsky, the #ObserveMe movement works much better when it’s “not a top-down, mandated thing but rather a grass roots teacher led movement.”

He finalized his thoughts with this, “As educators, we all have an intrinsic desire for connections and relationships. If we work by ourselves, we are screwed. [#ObserveMe] should be a learning experience for everyone.”

To read more about the #ObserveMe movement, Robert’s work and to gain access to his resources, visit his website. To see more of #ObserveMe in action, check out the Twitter hashtag.

5Es and the Hero’s Journey

I remember it like it was yesterday! It was lunch break between a Keynote presentation on inquiry learning and follow up workshops for Kern County CUE on the campus of CSU Bakersfield. Despite the the enthusiastic mood of that teachers in that audience, and the general positive response to my talk, I found myself wondering through the campus in somewhat of a discouraged mood.

I had just delivered a presentation on sparking student curiosity which featured applicable research literature, examples from my classroom, and practical technology tips mixed in. It was a presentation I was proud of. A presentation that embodied all that love about teaching, pedagogy, and the trajectory of my career. Feedback from the audience was great. Books sold. Twitter happened. etc., etc., etc. But inside I felt bored by it. My confidence felt low.

Bored because deep down I knew I did not have the answer for the question I would always get at the follow up Q&A: “I see how this works in your science class but how does that translate into the English or history class? The language class?” This question haunts me. It amplifies the “imposter syndrome” that many educators have. Here I am, getting paid to talk to ALL teachers in the district about the magic of inquiry learning, the power of curiosity, using ONLY examples from the science classroom. The realm where inquiry learning makes the most sense…is the easiest to grasp. Was I speaking to only my science colleagues in the audience, and leaving everybody else behind. Did I believe it, when I said: “Don’t worry, although I’m a science teacher, these examples apply to all of you!”?  

My phone rang and it was my friend, and head of CUE Jon Corripo! We had scheduled a call to talk about a project we were currently working on and although my mood was low, talking with Jon always energizes me! A master humanities teacher, Jon was sharing some insight he had with me about the Hero’s Journey as outlined by Joseph Campbell and how it applied to a novel his students were reading in class. As Jon describe the events in the book that followed your typical journey: 1) The Hero is called to adventure, 2) The Hero faces challenge, 3) The Hero meets a mentor to provide new skills and insight 4) The Hero overcomes the challenge and is transformed, 5) The Hero returns home to be judged.

I’m not sure why it happened, or where it came from, but at that moment, our minds became one.

We had a realization. Our students…they ARE the HEROES! Our LESSON plans, they are their JOURNEY! Campbell’s Heroes Journey was nothing more than an outline for motivation…a protocol for how students are engaged, and how information transfer occurs in RESPONSE to student struggle.

As we continued our conversation we entered the magical flow state that occurs when two colleagues are collaborating perfectly! I would say: “OMG…this changes everything! The 5E Learning cycle, IS THE HERO’s JOURNEY!” Jon would then counter with “Yes, and teacher professional development is also a HERO’S JOURNEY.” I then would be drawn back into the granular: “Ok, so, in the 5E Learning cycle, the first goal is ENGAGE our students. This is the Call to Adventure!. Then we give then a task to EXPLORE. This is the Hero’s Challenge! We then EXPLAIN something to our students. This is equivalent to the Hero meeting a mentor! We then ask our students to EXTEND their knowledge. This is the transformation of the Hero. We then EVALUATE their progress. The Hero returns him to be judged! OMG!!! It all fits.

After an hour more of conversation, many things were born. My lesson planning changed dramatically. I no longer viewed the 5E Learning Cycle as a nerdy pedagogical construct that applied primarily to science instruction. Rather, it was transformed into a universal schema, or way of seeing the world. An accepted paradigm for engagement that all great stories, and all great lessons derive their structure from. The answer to the question that haunted me was was clear: “How does Inquiry Learning relate to disciplines other that science? How is the 5E Learning cycle applicable to the Humanities, etc.”? Answer: “How does it not? We are engaged outside of the classroom via a set of understood parameters…a journey that grounds all movies, literature, and psychology. Why not right our lesson plans according to the same structure?” The mentor is never the first person you meet! All engaging stories involved a delayed mentor? Hero’s learning through struggle, not for it. These principles can be applied to any discipline, and in any context. Our students ARE HEROES! We have the power to write their Journeys.

If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between the 5E Learning cycle and the Hero’s Journey, click here to purchase my book, “Spark Learning: 3 Keys to Embracing the Power of Student Curiosity”, and click here to register for my four-part Master Class on leveraging the 5E Learning Cycle in your classroom.

A diagram of the connection between the 5E Learning Cycle and the Hero’s Journey is also shown below for your reference:

Ramsey Musallam is a secondary science instructor at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California. Ramsey has also has served as an adjunct professor of education at the University of San Francisco and Touro University in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to his role as a science instructor at Sonoma Academy, Ramsey served as a Science Instructor and Director of Inquiry and Innovation at Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown San Francisco for 15 years. In addition his role as a science teacher, Ramsey runs invention workshops for elementary and middle school students in the greater Bay Area.

Are You a Weekend (PD) Warrior?

Weekend PD

I am one of “those” teachers – you know the kind. The one who comes in early and stays later than most. The one who takes work home and is up late working on new ideas and activities for her students. And the one who spends her weekend attending conferences and professional development opportunities.

You, like me, might even be an educator like this, too.

I had a colleague ask me recently why I would give up my weekend to attend events I’m not compensated for – why I would give up time with my family and kids to go to weekend PD. And the answer came easily…

It’s my job.

Since transitioning into my new role as a Technology TOSA this past year, I’ve learned a lot about myself – and the kind of teacher I need to be, not only for the hundreds of students I serve, but also for their teachers. I considered myself pretty tech savvy before starting this position. But what is considered tech savvy one year could be obsolete the next, as I’ve learned in the 8+ years I have been using 1:1 technology in the classroom. And I don’t claim to know it all…which is why I like to spend my time learning from others who know a lot more than I do.

So, yes…I am one of “those” teachers that actively look for professional development opportunities. I jump for joy when I find events that are free and willingly bite the (financial) bullet for those that are not.

If I’m going to be the best teacher I can be, I HAVE to know what’s going on in other classrooms, see what other teachers are doing, and take my new knowledge and apply it to my own classrooms. If I want to continue to be a source of inspiration or information for my school sites, I need to give up a part of my weekend (every once in a while) to build that knowledge base and hone the skills I already have. It’s the kind of thing that comes with the territory…and I’m happy to do so if others benefit from it.

For those interested in sharpening your skills, here are some upcoming professional development opportunities:

Beach Cities CUE Tech Fest 2019: $15, Westerly School of Long Beach, May 4th

CUE BOLD Symposium: $99-129, Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad, May 4th-5th

Computer Science Community Summit: FREE; Riverside County Office of Education, May 11th

Computer Science Fundamentals – Deep Dive Workshop: FREE, Los Angeles County Office of Education, June 8th