Tag Archives: elementary

Brilliantly Blended Learning

Another title for today’s blog post could be “Blending Learning Effectively.”  I have been deeply interested in blended learning for the past two years and I must say that I have come a long way in my understanding of how to craft engaging lessons that will help my students think deeply and learn successfully.

At first, I was reactive in my efforts to flip lessons.  I had a student that was going to be absent for a significant amount of time due to a major surgery.  My principal suggested flipping lessons to help her keep up with the work of her peers.  The only thing I could think of was to tape the lessons that I was teaching the rest of the class and later post them on my classroom website.  It quickly became apparent to me that I was missing something because as I reviewed my videos, I could see that my lessons tended to “wander.” Could I, let along a student, sum up the learning target in 1 or 2 sentences afterwards?

I began to experiment with different platforms to deliver content.  I learned that opportunities to interact to the lesson and draw upon prior knowledge resulted in increased student success.  I learned that students performed better when they had the chance to work in cooperative learning groups.  I used to think that the sky was the limit in my potential to provide individualized instruction for my students with the use of technology.  Perhaps one of the biggest “aha” moments was when I read in John Hattie’s “Visible Learning” book for the first time that individualized instruction has a low effect size (translation-didn’t give much bang for its buck).

I have included some resources here today that I will be sharing with my colleagues that are interested in learning more about blended learning.  One of the most powerful and influential books that I have been reading this year is “Visible Learning for Teachers Maximizing Impact on Learning.”  If you are familiar with Hattie’s work, you will recognize some of the suggested instructional elements in both the SlideShare and the notes to accompany the presentation.


Click on the following link to access notes that support learning activities that go along with this session:  Blended learning notes

Click here  to access examples of K-12 flipped lessons to evaluate.

You’re almost done!  I first delivered this presentation at the 2014 MN TIES Educational Technology Conference with my co-presenter, Mike Henderson.  Click here to access our resources page.  You will find a brochure to accompany the presentation in addition to examples of student lessons.  (Note: the Layar science and social studies activities are time sensitive and are no longer “active.”  If interested in experiencing the lesson through the eyes of a student, just email be at bsimo@gk12.net and I will send you current campaigns.)

Enjoy and, as always, if there are any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me or comment below.


TIES 2014 Education Technology Conference-Flipped Classroom Technology: Blended Learning for All Students

There are a lot of teachers and tech integration coaches geared up right now.  The countdown is on!  The 2014 MN TIES Education Technology Conference is taking place December 6-9th.  My co-presenter, Mike Henderson, and I are excited to share tips and tools for creating blended learning activities for students of all ages.  After seeing our presentation, your previous ideas about blended learning may be challenged.  What many teachers once thought was for older students is now applicable to even elementary age students.  I promise that those attending our session will walk away with ideas and strategies that can be put into practice right away.  With Augmented Reality (AR) at the heart of our presentation, be prepared to gain the skills to “wow” your students and increase engagement in the classroom.

Read below to learn more about the tech tools that we are using to deliver content to students.  You will see step-by-step guides that you can easily follow to navigate the technology successfully.  In addition, you will also see real examples of lessons that students are completing.  Take off your teacher hat and view the activities from the eyes of a student.

Attending our session on Monday, Dec. 8th?  (11 a.m. Lake Superior B)  Download and print the student examples below that will be referenced during our presentation.  You know you will be glad you did!

image credit: www.clipartpanda.com
image credit: http://www.clipartpanda.com


Flipped Classroom Technology: Blended Learning for All Students

(Download the above brochure to learn more about creating blended learning activities for students of any age.)



image credit: stream.goodwin.drexel.edu

Layar How-To


Clicimage credit: mms.monticello.schoolfusion.usk on the links below to see actual examples of elementary ELA, Science, and Social Studies learning activities.  Use the free “Layar” app, on your mobile device, to interact with each activity and experience it from the standpoint of a student.


Moon Layar Activity

Language Arts Layar Activity

Police Officers Layar Activity

image credit: itunes.apple.com
image credit: itunes.apple.com

image credit: stream.goodwin.drexel.edu

Creating a Nearpod Presentation How-To 2014



Nearpod is a great tool that you can use to create interactive slide presentations.  Gone are the days of just listening to teachers talk.  Now, students can listen, respond to teacher questions, and interact with their peers on a whole new level.  The new homework feature is also and easy way to present content to students.  They can complete the activities at a later time in class or even at home.  You have the option of having students work independently or in a cooperative learning situation.

image credit: mms.monticello.schoolfusion.us

Click on the link below to see the activity sheet that elementary students use to complete a Nearpod homework activity.


Nearpod homework example-flipped timeline activity

QR Codes

Using QR Codes to Flip Handwriting Instruction

image credit: mms.monticello.schoolfusion.us

Olympic Themed Handwriting Activities

Click on the link below to see a QR code sheet that contains handwriting demonstrations created with the “ShowMe” app.

Flipped handwriting lessons

What do students do after they complete a handwriting assignment in their handwriting journals?  They turn it in for teacher review.  To reinforce correct letter formation, I have set up a system where students can work towards a prize.  Each assignment successfully completed means that I cross off one olympic symbol on the child’s tracking sheet.  When the sheet is filled up, the child earns a handwriting certificate and a medal.

can write like an Olympian Click here to see the tracking sheet described above.

Click here to read an earlier post explaining how I use QR codes to flip my handwriting instruction.

Interested in seeing other ways that QR codes can be used in your classroom?  Click here to see!

If you have never flipped a lesson, or if you teach elementary or middle school, the above resources may give you a lot to think about.  If you have already been using tech to deliver content to students, my hope is that you  might find a great tool here that can help you refine the process and make it easier.  Whatever the case may be, remember to start slow.  Don’t get overwhelmed and quit.  Begin with one step at a time.  Enjoy the process and the discoveries that you and your students will make.  It will be a fun ride and you will that both you, and your students, will be more engaged as a result!

Any questions?  Feel free to contact me via email at bsimo@gk12.net or Twitter (@BillieRengo).

See you Monday!

Rich Vocabularies-More Tips from “The Word Lady”


Good writers purposefully and carefully select words. They are much like artists as they use language to paint pictures in the minds of their readers. As teachers, we strive to equip our students to use rich and interesting language both in speaking and in writing. Larger vocabularies means more success in reading and a richer life in general.

I have quickly learned that the playing field is not level and I need to strategically teach vocabulary if my students are to be successful. I teach lessons on word choice and encourage children to lay to rest overused words. (You know the ones…little, big, nice…). I have a math vocab wall that I consistently add to. I have a word collector that I use to record new and interesting words that my students and I find together as we read. And now, I have learned another way from “The Word Lady.”

When my class was learning about size words, Miss Jill used storytelling to engage my class. It was unforgettable. She told the story of Jack and the Beanstalk and she weaved different words for big throughout the story. It was a natural, authentic way to drive the concept home. What first grader doesn’t enjoy a great story?

Afterwards, my students and I used the free app, “Pic Collage” to create the following poster to cement their learning.


Since then, I used the story “Thumbelina” to teach different words for small. I had a blast using the iPad app “Puppet Pals” to bring the story to life.

Thank you Miss Jill for another great lesson!

Integrating Comprehension Strategies into Mathematics Instruction

One of the building goals in my school is for teachers to integrate comprehension strategies into our mathematics instruction to help students truly understand the concepts we are trying to teach on a deeper level.  We already have a strong foundation of how the strategies apply to reading and now we are striving to make the connection in math as well.  As I began to learn more about the topic, I got really excited as I taught math in my own classroom.  I am not only convinced that they help students understand math better, but I believe it has helped me be more succinct as well.  Math just makes more “sense” to me now!  I will be sharing the following presentation with my colleagues next Tuesday.  The strategies I am focusing on initially are making connections, visualizing, predicting, and inferring.  The works of Laney Sammons, author of “Guided Math: A Framework for Mathematics Instruction” and Arthur Hyde, author of “Comprehending Math: Adapting Reading Strategies to Teach Mathematics, K-6” are the foundation for this presentation.

comprehending math (A helpful brochure to accompany the presentation.)

A Strong Team Means Success For Students

Wisconsin educators are facing some changes in the future. That should come as no surprise. Education isn’t static but is always developing and changing. According to the Wisconsin DPI, 50% of our teacher evaluations will be based on student achievement and 50% will be based on educator effectiveness. This might be intimidating to many teachers. The purpose is for all students to succeed. I understand that and I will do my best to make this happen. Some teachers might be tempted to work in isolation to ensure that they succeed at their job. I am grateful to work with a wonderful team of teachers who is committed to working together and helping each other learn and grow. We enjoy bringing our students together on many Friday mornings to celebrate reading and to present different anchor lessons to our children putting the different comprehension strategies into practice. We put aside our nerves and we get really fired up about reading which in turn causes our students’ excitement about reading to grow. Last Friday we focused on metacognition and made the analogy between metacognition and a tool kit. We labeled different tools with the metacognition thinking stems we have been teaching our students to use and put them in an actual tool box. I then read the humorous story “Dog Breath” by Dav Pilkey and purposefully got confused throughout. My fellow first grade teachers modeled how good readers can “fix up” their thinking when things don’t make sense and start to get confusing. The lesson would have been okay if I did it alone, but it was much more interesting and meaningful when we did it together. An added bonus was that we even recorded the lesson using our iPad in case a new student moves in without prior knowledge about metacognition or if a student is developing in their understanding about it and would benefit from experiencing the lesson again.


Giving Students a Voice in Assessment? Seriously?

Today I had a revelation! (I find myself saying that a lot this year…). As I am helping prepare my students for the end of the year assessments that my school district administers to ensure that all students meet minimum requirements in math, I had a conversation with my first graders about what they thought it would take for them to get a proficient score (a 3) with basic facts. Of course, going in to the conversation, I already knew. What I wanted, at this critical point in the year, was for students to take ownership in their role in the learning process. After reading “Guided Math” by Laney Sammons, I realized that involving students in self-assessment is essential. Students need to hear both what they are doing right as well as what they need to improve upon. I have been mulling this over in my head for quite sometime now. Students need to know the grading criteria, but what exactly would that look like for elementary students? I started the conversation off by asking students what a 3 (confident score) might look like. I modeled adding using my fingers without counting on and right away hands shot up. They knew that wouldn’t be a 3! We ended up concluding that students would need to solve facts quickly and accurately by using strategies and that a 1 would be working slowly, making many mistakes and using no strategies at all. This all makes sense, right? As a teacher, I know the grading criteria but is it necessary to lay it all out for students? Ask me in person and a resounding “Yes!” would spring forth from my lips. Here’s a case in point…The student that doesn’t attempt parts of a multi-step number story now sees that doing so would warrant a 1. Nobody really wants to get a 1 and this student is no different. He now attempts each portion and tries his best. (True story from my classroom…). Another student who writes down 8+3=5 and later explains that he wrote 5 because that was the first number that he thought of, now must reflect on his thought process and acknowledge what he has earned and is inspired to be more metacognitive. My students aren’t the only ones self-reflecting. All our talk this year about goal setting has forced me to be reflective myself. I have spent a lot of time trying to think of how I can connect all of our learning, make it as coherent as possible, and communicate the purpose of each skill we are learning. (Sometimes the purpose wasn’t even readily recognizable to me and so I knew I had to examine the activity more closely so that I could better articulate the objectives before I started teaching the lesson.). If you are anything like me, this all might be a bit new to you. I invite you to at least give it a try. If you’ve ever caught yourself saying “I don’t know what they were thinking today! They just don’t get it!”. Try involving your students in the process more. Start small. Pick one skill and go from there. I sure am glad I did!


Mixed feelings about math…

Have you ever felt frustrated teaching math? In all honesty, sometimes teaching first graders how to fluently add or subtract, count money, or identify rules and apply them to numbers given in a “function machine” left me feeling tired and even a little bit cranky at the end of math. I wanted to meet the needs of all the learners in my class but didn’t always know how to organize my math time to make this possible. The book “Guided Math” by Laney Sammons has caused me to think about math in a whole new way (and I have to say that the “light bulb” has been going on in my head as a result). Drawing an analogy between guided reading (which I already know and am very familiar with) and math, Sammons has practical ideas to teach students to comprehend and effectively communicate mathematical strategies. Knowing that students can often learn a skill in math without fully understanding the process behind it, I’m now taking care to think aloud often, create anchor charts that cement student learning, and teach students to make connections between new learning and previous learning. (Boy was I surprised when I learned that students can make math-to-math and math-to-self connections!) I must say that I’ve spent more time planning and individualizing my lessons than ever, but the end result is a sense of fulfillment. I am energized when I hear students explain a complex mathematical concept to a peer and when they truly demonstrate that they understand something. The best part is seeing all of the students in my class work independently at meaningful activities, which in turn enables me to conference individually with students or meet with small groups of learners.