Pivoting from In-Person to Virtual PD

Live and In-person to Virtual, Remote, & Online Learning

Every year as part of my job as a learning designer, I help to design, host, and train teachers that will be running professional development training over the coming year.  We do this training in person over the course of a long weekend. So what happens when that training suddenly has to pivot to being done online? How do we adapt? What does that even begin to look like?  So many questions! And, not a lot of answers. In some ways, I feel fortunate because I’m trying to figure out how to host online training for adults as opposed to many of my k-12 teacher friends that are currently trying to figure out how to approach a similar shift with kids.  All the same, I think there are some similarities, and right now is a good time to share thoughts around what’s sure to be a common challenge faced by many educators across the country and even around the world. In some ways, this is much bigger than any of us as individuals or as educators and is a question of citizenship because the root cause is a global pandemic.  Since we’re taking this online, it’s a good opportunity to review digital citizenship as outlined by the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) Standards.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 2

ISTE Standard 2, Digital Citizen, students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical. Students will:

  1. Cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the digital world.
  2. Engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices.
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
  4. Manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their navigation online.

As we look at being good citizens overall during a challenging time, thinking about what good online citizenship means is a good review and preparation for better overall interactions and guiding of learning online.  Acting in model ways that are safe, legal, and ethical are important ideas to keep in mind. As educators, we should model the type of choices and behaviors that we want to see from our students. Online actions are much more permanent because there’s a digital record so being cognizant of this is important.  Assuming positive intent is especially important because tone and body language are often hard to communicate online. Additionally, a genuine understanding and respect for intellectual property is important online as well as a general area for improvement in education. Finally, managing personal data as an educator means not only monitoring your own personal data but protecting that of those whom you work with and teach as well.  All of these things are natural extensions of good citizenship during the best of times let alone during challenging times, and extending these critical ideals to an online learning environment will make for a much better and overall more productive experience for everyone.

Essential Question

How do teachers shift from in-person professional development to virtual online learning for their own edification and what are the andragogical versus pedagogical implications?

Shifting from Face-to-Face to Online Face Time

Synchronous Video Chat Programs with Chat Rooms: Transitioning from face-to-face in person to face-to-face online is not as straightforward as one might imagine.  It is difficult to engage a large group via video chat. Some programs support up to 9-10 in a group well but once you grow beyond the “brady bunch” frame then it’s extremely difficult to have small interactions that normally occur in an in-person large group setting.  So this medium cannot just be approached as a substitute for in-person but as its own unique thing and as a different way to engage a group of people. For example, one difference that can be an enhancement is the back-channel chat that allows more voices to be heard without interrupting the presenters and also allow for more interaction.  This combined with breakout rooms for smaller chats that can instantaneously become small group discussions or work groups which can then regroup with the large group. Some examples of common video chat programs are Skype, Google Chat, Zoom, WebEx, Teams, Big Blue Button, and Google Meet, but there are definitely many more options out there.

Asynchronous Video Chat Programs: This is where online gets more interesting, in my opinion, and it can truly augment in-person interactions.  The ability to record short videos that can then be shared with a group, interacted with, commented on, and viewed or saved for later enhances in-person as well as remote interaction adds quite a bit to the learning experience.  There are many options and programs that can be used for this approach, including many of the common video chat programs. The one that is most common and launched this kind of interaction to the mainstream is called Flipgrid.  Approaching online interaction with unique tools and approaches helps to make the time more engaging and compensate for some of the aspects lost from being all together. Whether live or virtual, at the end of the day, it all comes back to relationships and a sense of community among participants and the instructors.

Online Professional Development Beyond the Video

Interactive note-taking applications: This is one type of tool that allows for a fair amount of asynchronous interactivity online but is not a huge shift for users. These are not too different from current computer word processing applications except that they add an interactive collaboration component.  Google Docs, Word 365, and OneNote are all great examples of spaces where people can share their notes together and add information while watching the same presentation, in a meeting, or working asynchronously on a particular problem.

Interactive annotation applications: A slight variation on interactive note-taking is digital annotation web applications, which are becoming common.  These allow for a commonly selected text to be shared and then both highlighted and commented on in such a way that all participants can interact with the information and grow the interactive annotation into a more global conversation.  Perusall and Edpuzzle are great examples. Edpuzzle even allows the usage of digital media with questions inserted by an instructor for a slight variation on the task. This is also an excellent way to practice digital citizenship in terms of both honoring and emphasizing intellectual property.

Interactive brainstorming: This is another take on web collaboration and allows everything from a virtual whiteboard to an online mind map to virtual sticky notes.  Virtual whiteboards, like Miro, allow for people to virtually interact in a Whiteboard space. The disadvantage is the lack of kinesthetic movement in the space and interactivity but the advantage is that the work is instantaneously saved and people can work on the project asynchronously from any location.  If mind mapping is the focus then Coggle is a great resource for quick and efficient mind maps outlining ideas, workflows, and similar tasks.

Additionally, padlet allows for interactive usage of sticky notes and is a great way to conduct online group interactions, thinking, brainstorms, and reflections.  Again, the information is automatically saved for later review and accessible to any group members at a later time for reference.

Less Obvious Online Interactions

While somewhat less obvious, online simulations and interactive coding opportunities provide new and unique ways for participants to experience a virtual version of hands-on learning.  Freely available PhET simulations from the University of Colorado are a great option for both math and science simulations that can be done via a computer, tablet, or phone. Block-based coding software makes computer programming much more accessible and can be both quickly learned and shared via platforms such as Code.org, Scratch, MakeCode, and Polyup to name just a few.

Completely Synchronous to Asynchronous and Beyond

When pivoting from in-person synchronous to online synchronous and asynchronous, I think the main lesson to learn is that there are very few direct substitutes or replacements.  Most interactive online learning tools have their own advantages and disadvantages when compared with in-person learning. Most importantly, there are many ways in which these online tools can also be used to augment and improve in-person professional development.  This is probably the best of both worlds where both tools can be used to supplement, complement, enhance, and amplify learning together. In this way, tools such as Google Office and Microsoft Office 365 can be used both in person and online. These traditional office tools now have several options for online collaboration and can make working together digitally more seamless when done both in-person and virtually as well as synchronous activities combined with asynchronous activities.

How then does the average classroom teacher apply this?  This is a question that’s been in the back of my mind as I prepare to adapt adult professional development and many of my peers prepare for their students to learn remotely.  In some ways, this means looking at where the andragogical aspects end and the pedagogical implications begin. In other ways, it means simply jumping in, trying whatever you can, doing your very best, and giving yourself permission to struggle, fail, and try again with different approaches.  Normally, I’d recommended starting small and just trying an activity here or there but recent events mean many educators are going from all in-person learning to completely online learning environments virtually overnight. This is a challenging transition in the best of circumstances, and so I hope my colleagues will give themselves and their students grace while they try to learn in a brave new virtual world that’s familiar only to some and foreign to most.  I know it can be done, though, I believe in my fellow educators, and I hope that somehow I can help support them as we all work through these unique circumstances together.


  1. MIT. (2020). Scratch. Retrieved from https://scratch.mit.edu/
  2. Code.org. (2020). Hour of Code Full course catalog. Retrieved from https://studio.code.org/courses
  3. Microsoft. (2020). MakeCode. Retrieved from https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/makecode
  4. Polyup. (2020). Poly Challenge. Retrieved from https://www.polyup.com/
  5. International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students

Encoding Creative Communication

Creating Creative Communicators

Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity are often referred to as the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning.  These so-called “soft skills” are different from the “hard skills” of math and science” but essential for success in applying math, science, engineering, and technology in our modern society and, arguably, harder to teach. The Battelle Foundation’s Partnership for 21st Century Learning highlights these 4 C’s throughout its “Framework for 21st Century Learning Definitions”.  Another organization in this space, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), provides us with multiple references to these modern “soft” skills throughout the ISTE standards. One example is ISTE standard 6, Creative Communicator, which addresses all of these in one standard for students.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 6

ISTE Standard 6, Creative Communicator, students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals. Students:

  1. Choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
  2. Create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
  3. Communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.
  4. Publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences.

Successfully addressing ISTE Standard 6, Creative Communicator, requires aspects of all four C’s from the core set of 21st Century Skills.  Creativity is obviously required in order to be a creative communicator, as are communication and collaboration essential skills for creatively communicating with others.  Lastly, and perhaps less obvious, is the need for critical thinking as creative communicators (i.e. students) evaluate tools, mediums, and resources to use effectively in order to accomplish their goals as supported by this standard.  This last part comes out through the third component of the standard to “communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively…” and forms the basis for my essential question and the focus of this blog post.

Essential Question

How do teachers empower students to communicate complex ideas in creative ways so that they use a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models, and simulations?

Computer Science for the Non-Computer-Science Teacher

Encoding is a means of transforming information into a format that is easily transferred or communicated.  Encoding creative communication is one way to think about transforming student abilities so as to transfer information in more unique and creative ways such as visualizations, models, or simulations.  What better way to do this than computer science and programming? Not a coder? Not a problem. We need to move beyond the traditional definition of the computer science teacher and expand the communication medium to all classrooms and thus create computer science opportunities for the non-computer-science teacher.  Block based coding is an equalizer in this area and empowers everyone to approach and learn to write computer programs in an easily understood and transferable environment. This opens all sorts of doors for everyone to explore creative communication and to communicate complex ideas creatively via a variety of digital objects because those objects can be programmed by students as young as 1st grade and in some cases even kindergarten.

MIT, Scratch, & the Rise of Block-Based Programming in Education

MIT’s Scratch Website: The Logo computer programming language, otherwise known as the “turtle programming language” is what essentially launched accessible programming but MIT’s Scratch is what truly made block-based programming mainstream (it’s worth noting that Logo led to Lego Logo which was a precursor to Scratch).  Scratch is an accessible block-based language that is especially user friendly when it comes to animating a character, otherwise known as “sprite”, and assigning dialogue or interactions via code. This becomes extremely useful for integration opportunities across Language Arts, English language learning, and art among other areas.  Scratch is compatible with a wide-range of products and browser-based so it’s easily accessible (like most modern block-based programming languages).

BootUp: Scratch’s curriculum for educators has not historically been one of the more user-friendly resources. The newest iteration appears to be a definite improvement although still a little text heavy at times.  Those looking for something a little different may want to check out BootUp’s freely available Scratch curriculum which utilizes a variety of short student-friendly video vignettes to support instruction.  BootUp bills themselves as “what’s next” after initially jumping into computer coding via Code.org or some other introductory platform.

Google CS: This is arguably the newest block-based coding curriculum for mainstream k-12 computer science.  Google has created a series of introductory lessons that utilize Scratch as a means to teach basic computer coding strategies.  Google CS’s selection at this point in time is somewhat limited compared to other resources because it’s newer but new lessons and resources are being added on a regular basis.  Google CS’s choice of Scratch is an interesting one given that the block-based programming language, Blockly, is also created by and a project of Google.

Block-Based Coding with Blockly & Code.org as the Gold Standard

Code.org: “Hour of Code” was popularized by Code.org which essentially launched somewhat of a k-12 computer science revolution in a relatively short amount of time.  Code.org uses Blockly and is the current gold standard of providing student friendly lessons for all grade levels. Once students have progressed through the highly formulaic, structured, and scaffolded lessons then they can apply the basic computer science skills they’ve learned in couple of different settings such as Code.org’s Play Lab.  This is a fun environment for students to try out their newfound skills but slightly more limited than the more open forum provided by Scratch. To date, Code.org remains arguably the most user-friendly introduction to programming.

MakeCode as the New Kid on the Block & Physical Computing

MakeCode: Microsoft’s entry into the foray of block-based programming is only a couple of years old but has some powerful partnerships.  MakeCode’s main strength is through these partnerships and both the virtual and physical computing that this allows. Current partners include micro:bit, Circuit Playground Express, Minecraft, LEGO Mindstorms Education EV3, Wonder Workshop Cue, Arcade, and Chibi Chip.  The micro:bit partnership in particular is powerful because students can program a microbit: simulator on a computer web browser and take turns testing their programs on the relatively inexpensive physical micro:bits themselves (a basic microcontroller). The same is true of the Circuit Playground Express simulator as well as the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 simulator which provides a rough but workable simulated example.  Long story short, students can write programs for physical devices but test them virtually which increases accessibility and stretches limited physical resources further. With the notable exception of the Wonder Workshop Cue, the remaining options can all be programmed via any browser and have a series of accessible tutorials provided below the programming environment. The micro:bit in particular has a robust set of curriculum available as well as a significant number of accessories.

Coding in Mathematics with Polyup

Polyup.com: Polyup is a drag and drop website that allows the user to program via math and what is essentially a math-based functional programming language.  The platform gets around the challenge of doing this with order of operations by utilizing Reverse Polish Notation. Students can then use math to write basic programs, solve unique problems, and even code motion into objects.  All of this is done via Polyup’s gamified computational thinking and mathematical coding online platform. There is also a real-world model for this approach to programming with math via the Wolfram Alpha search engine which uses a similar computing language and algorithm approach to Polyup.  All of this bridges math, computer science, and a broader fundamental approach to applied computational thinking in a problem-based learning setting.

How Then Does The Average Classroom Teacher Apply This?

Again, think computer science for the non-computer science teacher.  A classroom teacher interested in incorporating computer science should consider his/her objectives and what s/he is hoping to accomplish with students in the classroom setting.  Is the focus on teaching basic programming itself? Problem solving? Content integration? Physical computing? Some combination thereof or something else all together? Additionally, gauging individual comfort level and available resources is important.  Code.org empowers the average teacher without any programming background, knowledge, or support to sign up students and get them started together on mostly self-paced programming lessons as well as detailed offline computing lesson plans. The more comfortable or advanced the teacher’s ability then the more robust the example they might try such as programming stories in Scratch from scratch, designing video games in Arcade, writing programs for micro:bit microcontrollers in MakeCode, or even exploring entirely new avenues like programming 3-dimensional shapes in Minecraft for virtual interaction or Tinkercad for physical printing via their respective coding environments.  The hardest part is starting but the journey of a thousand programming steps begins with that very first coded “Hello World” program. From there, the possibilities are infinite and students will no doubt exceed any expectations.


  1. MIT. (2020). Scratch. Retrieved from https://scratch.mit.edu/
  2. BootUp. (2020). BootUp Professional Development Curriculum Overview. Retrieved from https://bootuppd.org/curriculum/
  3. Code.org. (2020). Hour of Code Full course catalog. Retrieved from https://studio.code.org/courses
  4. Google for Education. (2020). Google CS. Google. Retrieved from https://csfirst.withgoogle.com/
  5. Microsoft. (2020). MakeCode. Retrieved from https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/makecode
  6. Polyup. (2020). Poly Challenge. Retrieved from https://www.polyup.com/
  7. Wolfram Alpha. (2020). Reverse Polish Notation. Retrieved from https://mathworld.wolfram.com/ReversePolishNotation.html
  8. Battelle for Kids. (2019). Partnership for 21st Century Learning Frameworks & Resources.  Retreived from https://www.battelleforkids.org/networks/p21/frameworks-resources
  9. International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students 
  10. Computer Science Teachers Association. (2019). Computer Science Standards. Retrieved from https://www.csteachers.org/page/standards
  11. Microsoft (2020). Minecraft. Retrieved from https://www.minecraft.net/en-us/
  12. Autodesk. (2019). Tinkercad. Retrieved from https://www.tinkercad.com/

Computational Thinking Across the Content Areas

Photo by Jan Zhukov on Unsplash

“Computational thinking is the thought process involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer—human or machine—can effectively carry out.” 

Wing, Jeannette (2014). “Computational Thinking Benefits Society.” 40th Anniversary Blog of Social Issues in Computing.

Computational Thinking

Jeannette Wing, a computational thinking researcher, describes computational thinking as a specific thought process for formulating a problem so that it can be effectively solved by someone or something that computes (human or machine).  This makes computational thinking an especially effective approach for developing computer science and programming approaches via physical computers and for those that program and utilize those computers.  But what about for other content areas beyond computer science? A good place to start with this in mind is a slightly closer look at computational thinking. There are four primary components of computational thinking that are commonly recognized as its pillars and they are as follows:

  • Decomposition: Breaking down data, processes, or problems into smaller, manageable parts.
  • Pattern Recognition: Observing patterns, trends, and regularities in data.
  • Abstraction: Identifying the general principles that generate these patterns.
  • Algorithm Design: Developing the step-by-step instructions for solving this and similar problems.

These four pillars are also explained well in a video for educators created by Google.  With these four pillars in mind, we can look at how the ISTE Indicators of Computational Thinking quantify computational thinking into a single applicable statement: “Students break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving,” ISTE Indicators of Computational Thinking.  Essentially, computational thinking is a process for quantifying, breaking down, and solving problems into small solvable pieces.  Problem solving can be done in any content area. By looking more closely at the ISTE Computational Thinking standard, we can get an idea for how computational thinking might be applied more generically across content areas as a way to approach problem solving in different subjects.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 5

ISTE Standard 5, Computational Thinker, students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions. Students:

  1. Formulate problem definitions suited for technology-assisted methods such as data analysis, abstract models and algorithmic thinking in exploring and finding solutions.
  2. Collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.
  3. Break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.
  4. Understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.

The ISTE Computational Thinker standard emphasizes the leveraging of technology in problem solving via computational thinking.  The focus is on formulating problems, collecting data, breaking down problems into quantifiable parts, and understanding automation via algorithmic thinking.  The ISTE standards aren’t the only standards that address computational thinking, though. We can also look to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Science and Engineering Practices and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Mathematical Practices for direct and indirect references to computational thinking.  The NGSS directly references computational thinking via the fifth Science and Engineering Practice, “Using mathematics and computational thinking,” and references aspects of computational thinking through other practices such as “Analyzing and interpreting data.” The CCSS Mathematical Practices do not explicitly state computational thinking but the components are definitely present in practices such as “Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning” and “Reason abstractly and quantitatively.”  With all of these references across a variety of standards, it makes sense to start thinking about applying computational thinking in as many relevant places as possible across the curriculum.

Essential Question

How do teachers effectively integrate computational thinking across academic disciplines in such a way that it becomes an effective tool for areas of instruction beyond computer science and math, such as engineering, science, reading, writing, history, and art?

Starting with Familiar Computational Thinking Problems

As we think about applying computational thinking beyond computer science and math, it’s probably best to reflect on how computational thinking is more traditionally applied in computer science and mathematics.  This will provide a starting point when thinking about applying computational thinking elsewhere.

  • Decomposition in Computer Science: in programming this means looking at how to approach a problem in small and simple enough ways that it can be written as parts of a computer program that utilizes primarily binary logic.
  • Pattern Recognition in Computer Science: by looking for patterns across any problem or problems then programmers can start to identify similarities and differences necessary for solving various aspects of a problem or problems.
  • Abstraction in Computer Science: once patterns are identified then computer programmers can begin to piece the various small pieces of a problem together into something that might become a larger solution as it’s applicable across problems of a certain problem type whether known or as yet unknown.
  • Algorithmic Design in Computer Science: the creation of a set of steps to solve a certain problem type can be described as an algorithm because it applies to both known and unknown problems.

These various steps when applied via computer science should start to sound familiar for mathematics.  We basically teach students to memorize a variety of algorithms starting with those that are most simple and building up toward the more complex.  Along the way, we also try to teach deeper mathematical thinking, concepts, and terminology but the algorithms tend to be at the center of instruction.  Teaching computational thinking in mathematics means taking instruction to a deeper level, though, because we need to show students how to identify, break down, quantify, and design algorithmic thinking itself.  This deeper approach to mathematics via computational thinking would go a long way toward helping students understand the “why” behind what they are doing.

Applying Computational Thinking Problems to Other Areas

Now comes the more challenging task of applying computational thinking to those content areas that we don’t normally think of as applicable.  By focusing on the four pillars of computational thinking, we can start to think about what this might look like. At its core is probably pattern identification.  So we need to start thinking about everything in terms of patterns. Computer science is patterns of binary logic and mathematics is patterns of numbers. Beyond these two, art is patterns of lines, reading is patterns of letters, writing is patterns of words, science is patterns of ideas, engineering is patterns of science applied to or with technology, history is patterns of events, music is patterns of notes, etc.  This list is probably an oversimplification but you get the idea that we can look at everything as being composed of patterns, and if we can do this then we can use a problem solving approach like computational thinking that relies on patterns to solve problems across all of these content areas.

  • Decomposition in Art: breaking down the components of a particular type of picture (e.g. landscape or portrait) into different smaller parts.
  • Pattern Recognition in Art: identifying patterns that a particular type of picture or pictures has.
  • Abstraction in Art: by synthesizing from the patterns of similarities and differences across a particular type of picture(s) then a more general idea or set of ideas can be described.
  • Algorithmic Design in Art: a set of repeatable steps for recognizing and possibly creating more pictures of a certain type allows for this type of art problem of recognition or creation to be repeatable and reproducible.
  • Decomposition in History: breaking down the components that lead up to collapse of a civilization in history can lead the student to understand the smaller details that may lead up to such a large scale event.
  • Pattern Recognition in History: recognizing that a certain pattern of events probably leads up to a collapse of a civilization and means the more similarities and differences that can be quantified then the more likely patterns can be identified.
  • Abstraction in History: by building a bigger picture of the patterns that occur leading up to the collapse of a civilization then a synthesized coherent and detailed description of this overall type of event can begin to emerge.
  • Algorithmic Design in History: a step-by-step description of the characteristics of events leading up to the collapse of a civilization and how these can generally be codified as repeatedly observable steps in a process means that students could be tasked with designing an algorithm for analyzing the typical civilization collapse and search throughout history for similar scenarios.

These are two fairly generic examples of applying computational thinking to content areas beyond computer science and mathematics.  Art and history are not traditionally associated with computational thinking and yet there is tremendous potential for applying this problem solving approach to problems that might exist in either subject area.  With practice, components of computational thinking can be identified in all subject areas and then applied to relevant problems by students with proper support through thoughtfully designed lessons.

How Then Does The Average Classroom Teacher Apply This?

Start simple and start small.  This fun video from the website “Hello Ruby” explains computational thinking in the context of everyday life.  The “Hello Ruby” website also has a selection of fun and unique lesson approaches that include topics such as computational thinking.  This Edutopia website article shared by one of my Digital Educational Leadership colleagues at Seattle Pacific University provides a variety of specific content area lesson examples where computational thinking can be applied in a classroom setting.  Looking at examples helps identify approaches to directly copy or inspire various ways that variations can be created and adapted for a different curriculum. There are a variety of online resources out there and more popping up every day with support from organizations such as the Computational Thinking Alliance.  Again, overall, the key is to start simple and start small while growing your classroom approaches from there over time.


  1. Liukas, L. (2020, February 29th). Hello Ruby. Hello Ruby Website. Retrieved from http://www.helloruby.com/
  2. Google School. (2016, October 26th). What is Computational Thinking.  YouTube.  Retreived from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJKzkVZcozc&feature=youtu.be
  3. Sheldon, E. (2017, March 30th). Computational Thinking Across the Curriculum.  Edutopia.  Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/computational-thinking-across-the-curriculum-eli-sheldon 
  4. International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
  5. The Next Generation Science Standards for States by States. (2013). Home Page. Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from https://www.nextgenscience.org/ 
  6. Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2020). Home Page. Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/
  7. Computational Thinking Alliance (2020, February 29th). Home Page.  Computational Thinking Alliance. Retrieved from https://www.computationalthinking.net

Design Process Quiddity

Quintessential Design Process

Next Generation Science Standards Engineering Design Model for Grades 3-5, NGSS Appendix I

What makes a design process qualified to be called a design process?  Before we can determine what the best design process is for educational application, we need to look at what qualifies an approach as a design process in the first place.  This is easier said than done because there are dozens of examples of design processes out there. Asking a professional is a good place to start so I asked an engineer what the best visual was for a real-life design process and he replied, “a giant hairball.”  While seemingly less than helpful, this visual represents the number of people involved and the infinite number of complicating factors surrounding a modern large-scale design project.

The giant hairball visual may also explain why we as educators have created so many simplified examples to try and show a step by step approach that is student friendly.  Suffice it to say, there is not one best example. However, by looking at multiple examples then an educator can begin to get a sense of what goes into most examples of a design process, as well as the various advantages and disadvantages of each model depending on the given context.  Most contexts in education these days start with the standards, so this is a good place to look first.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 4

Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions. Students:

  1. Know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  2. Select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.
  3. Develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
  4. Exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.

ISTE Standard 4, Innovative Designer, describes a level of foundational design skills that students should possess.  While not a design process itself nor referencing a specific design process, the ISTE standard describes the need for students to be able to generate ideas and utilize the design process to solve open-ended problems that require iterative solutions.  This generic and process-agnostic approach, makes the Innovative Designer standard an ideal educational foundation for this work.

Essential Question

How do we help educators navigate the plethora of design processes out there in such a way that they are comfortable selecting a process for students to develop, test, and refine prototypes as part of a design process activity?

My Recent Design Sprint

This whole process was on my mind a lot recently because I just completed a two-day guided version of Google Ventures’ Design Sprint process.  This particular design process is not focused on education or educators but on business. My business is supporting educators so this is where the convergence occurs.  We started by identifying the nature of the problem and then focused on defining this problem through the lens of our work. Next we worked to brainstorm various solutions that could guide our work.  We then designed several possible prototypes, tested them, and identified both failure points and successful aspects. The iterative cycle was repeated via a variety of different approaches several times until we had a rough potential solution.  Admittedly, the process was not linear nor was it cut and dry. In fact, those two days felt more like a giant hairball. Again, that’s not super helpful to an educator designing a lesson or unit but going through the design process experience was extremely helpful and I highly recommend it.  With this process fresh in mind, I think it is useful to look at some common educational models of the design process as examples to compare and contrast, learn from, and potentially utilize.

Common Models of the Design Process

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS): These standards include their own model of the engineering design process.  At first, three steps may seem too simplistic, however, a simple starting point makes for easy access as far as students are concerned.  There are detailed explanations expanding upon the three steps, and the model ties directly into both the NGSS grade-level standards as well as the NGSS K-12 Practices.  So if an educator is looking for a standards-based approach to a design lesson, unit, or project then it’s difficult to beat this model. The NGSS design process model.

Engineering is Elementary (EiE): EiE is generally considered the gold standard when it comes to K-8 education.  The five steps are intentional because they can be counted by students on one hand.  Starting with “ask” and “imagine” makes a lot of sense for students new to the process as does ending with “improve”.  The one-word steps also make this process accessible to young students and more easily applied by all. The process is also integrated throughout EiE’s extensive engineering curriculum product line-up which they’ve been developing, testing, and training teachers on for over 15 years. The EiE design process model.

TeachEngineering.org: If you like the EiE design process but are looking for more steps then this National Science Foundation funded version is a good place to start.  This design process model more explicitly calls out the “research” step as well as emphasizing the “create” step in the process. I need to do more research, but to me it looks like EiE developed their condensed process from this one.  TeachEngineering.org is different from EiE in that it started out as an NSF project and what curriculum they do now have is free and open-source, though only in downloadable lesson form. The TeachEngineering.org design process model.

100K-in-10 Project’s Engineering Fellows: The 100K-in-10 Project seeks to support the training of 100,000 new STEM educators over a ten year timespan.  One of the funded ventures was called the Engineering Fellows. This collaboration among teachers, engineers, and professionals produced an entire 5th grade engineering curriculum as well as a design process model.  While not as tried and true tested as some of the other models, this one better represents the nature of communication throughout the entire design process (quick note: I’m a little biased as I worked on this project). The Engineering Fellows design process model.

Stanford D-School: This is arguably the gold standard of a more universal design process approach.  In other words, expanding beyond the common engineering design process model and looking at how design in and of itself can be a process model applied to solving a wide variety of problems.  In particular, the idea of human-centered design with an emphasis on empathy make this particular approach powerful. I also like the idea of “Ideate” being a step as this really calls out the unique nature of brainstorming an idea into clear existence.  The Stanford D-School design process model.

How Does One Identify the Final Iteration?

How does any designer truly know when they’ve arrived?  The short answer is they don’t. Identifying the final iteration (or best design model for a lesson) is a balance of constraints against success criteria.  Whether seeking “good enough” or “perfection”, every design can always be improved. Like the a piece of writing, a design is never truly done.  The designer has just found an appropriate place to hit “pause” on the work. This is an important seed to plant with students as you encourage them to look around themselves for examples.  The original iPhone was an impressive design brought to market by Apple, but there have also been multiple iterations since then and will continue to be. The possibilities and potential for students are truly limitless when it comes to engaging in the design process.


  1. The d.school. Stanford University. Retrieved from https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources/k12-lab-network-resource-guide 
  2. International Society for Technology in Education (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
  3. The Next Generation Science Standards for States by States. Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from https://www.nextgenscience.org/
  4. Engineering is Elementary Website. Engineering is Elementary.  Retrieved from http://www.eie.org/
  5. TeachEngineering.org. University of Colorado Boulder.  Retrieved from https://www.teachengineering.org/
  6. 100K-in-10’s Engineering Fellows Project. Washington STEM & Washington MESA.  Retrieved from https://washingtonstem.app.box.com/s/43bphi02n06s5xyevpvy0uwkl50zetk7
  7. The Design Sprint. Google Ventures. Retrieved from https://www.gv.com/sprint/ 

Educating Students on Faux News in the “Fake News” Era

What do the Standards Say?

A standards-based approach drives much of what we do in education.  At the end of the day, we should also teach content because it’s needed and the right thing to do in addition to being aligned with standards.  When it comes to accurately researching factual information and recognizing misinformation, “all of the above” applies. The English Language Arts Common Core State Standards provide strong support through the Capacities of the literate individual: They demonstrate independence; They build strong content knowledge; They comprehend as well as critique; They value evidence; They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.  We also find support in the Practices of the Next Generation Science Standards where the following is stated: Analyzing and Interpreting Data; Constructing explanations; Engaging in argument from evidence; Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information. Determining accuracy of information is critical to these standards. Even the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice speak to this need as students are tasked with being able to “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” In terms of the modern era, there is a deluge of information published online every day so it makes sense that we’d look to the ISTE technology standards as a starting point for teaching these skills in support of all standards.  It just so happens that ISTE Standard 3 is well-suited to this task.

ISTE Standard 3

Knowledge Constructor: Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others. Students:

  1. Plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
  2. Evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
  3. Curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
  4. Build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.

Being able to “critically curate a variety of resources” requires a variety of research-focused abilities: knowing how to conduct online searches, being able to determine the authenticity of websites and online information sources, analyzing the accuracy of the information itself as presented, understanding how to conduct the verification process, and being able to appropriately cite resources.  ISTE Standard 3 provides guidelines for teaching these concepts as well as communicating the need for students to be technically capable enough to organize the information via a curation process and worldly enough to engage in content with a real-world context.

Essential Question

How do we teach students to critically evluate resources in such a way that they are able to effectively discern misinformation and other “fake news” from legitimate sources?

Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News

“Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” is the cleverly titled presentation that I recently attended at the December, 2019 AVID National Conference.  The presenters, Laurie Kirkland and Pat Regnart, walked attendees through a plethora of information and resources on the topic. While fully engaged, I felt as though I barely scratched the surface in terms of content.  With the topic of this article fully established and that in mind, the remainder of the content will be exploring ISTE Standard 3 through the lens of the presentation entitled “Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” and its primary focus on “Evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.”

Where do I even begin?

This article’s title graphic shows the inherent bias that even professional news media possess, but awareness of bias is just the start because knowing how to spot “fake news” is a skill that needs to be developed. According to a recent Stanford study cited by NPR, a relatively high percentage of surveyed students do not know how to spot falsification of information, “… at times as much as 80 or 90 percent…”  A resource referenced by the “Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” presentation shares a great tool toward this end. Entitled “Evaluating a News Article”, the infographic walks the reader through asking several questions including the following examples: Does the headline match the content?  Are there spelling or grammatical errors? Who is the Author? Are there references, links or citations? What is the website? Teaching these kinds of critical thinking and questioning skills is essential to developing students that turn into well-informed global citizens.

Evaluating Resources

Understanding primary purpose of media and the various types of misinformation (also known as “fake news”), this is an area where the “Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” presentation was especially helpful. The presenters outlined the following categories for media purpose: entertain, sell, persuade, provoke, document, and inform.  Understanding the purpose behind a media piece can be very helpful in terms of navigating the accuracy of information provided. Context is everything, and most likely the author has his or her own self-serving reasons for producing something.  Taking things a step further and understanding the types of misinformation makes it easier to identify “fake news” when a reader encounters. Presented examples included satire, false context, imposter content, manipulated content, and fabricated content. Satire, for example, is not bad but important to recognize for understanding while understanding the other types helps the educated reader remain vigilant. Although limited, when in doubt then a reader can utilize a website such as Snopes or FactCheck.org to verify specific statements. Ultimately, the reader needs to be able to be an effective judge of content in the moment or they won’t even necessarily think about the need to verify information via a third source (as all information should given even the smallest doubt and especially before referencing elsewhere).

Digging Deeper

Effective classification of websites enables the ability to curate information that those websites contain, and knowing what tools exist to facilitate this process is an important facet of evaluating resources in the process.  Most websites can be classified by their intended purpose and most fall under the aforementioned categories ranging from entertainment to provocation to information. Digging deeper is made easier by knowing both how and where to look.  The “Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” presenters shared several search tools that can help with information verification and include the “info:” search tool as well as the “link:” search tool (utilized by placing either term in front of your search). These allow targeted searches where as the “Whois” search tool provides detail background information on a given web address and the “Wayback Machine” allows the user to search old archived versions of websites and articles.  This is also a good lesson for students that shows them once something is online then it can stay online indefinitely—even if it is supposedly deleted.

Practice and Application

Scaffolding student practice of effective research strategies, evaluating resources, and curating information is necessary for students to internalize and build effective knowledge around identifying, understanding, and navigating a world filled with fake news.  By teaching students how to recognize media and author bias, look for “fake news” clues in an article, recognize categories of media and misinformation, and then providing them with the appropriate tools and time to practice, students can become effective consumers and curators of information from a very young age. Some possible places to start include providing access to a variety of websites designed for this exact purpose: the Pacific Northwest Octopus, OvaPrima Foundation, Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division. These also provide good places to practice site-specific searches by entering the unique web address immediately followed by a colon, a space, and then the search criteria. Overall, we as educators need to provide the information, tools, time, and space for students to do this.

Foreshadowing the Challenge Ahead

One final thing worth noting here is a random conversation at ISTE that predates all of this.  I had an impromptu opportunity to converse with the soon-to-be presenters of “Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News” and Alan November.  One thing that Alan was adamant about was that we do not give young students enough credit for the level of search sophistication which they are capable.  The conversation took a myriad of twists and turns but his insistence on providing opportunities for students to learn, search, and navigate online resources from second grade on stuck with me because of both his passion and examples of having observed these young students successfully doing so firsthand.  So I guess the question is, “What’s stopping the rest of us?”

*It is worth noting that, during the writing of this article, the following misinformation around the Coronavirus went viral in a school community and required a response from the local school district: https://ktar.com/story/2947583/mesa-school-district-debunks-hoax-about-coronavirus-infecting-students/.


  1. Kirkland, L. & Regnart, P. (2019, December).  Digital Literacy in the Age of Fake News: Misinformation, Bias, and Checking for Accuracy.  AVID National Conference. Talk presented at 2019 AVID National Conference, Dallas, TX.
  2. Ad fontes media (2019). Media Bias Chart 5.1 – Static Version. Retrieved from https://www.adfontesmedia.com/static-mbc/?v=402f03a963ba
  3. Domonoske, C. (11/23/2016). Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/23/503129818/study-finds-students-have-dismaying-inability-to-tell-fake-news-from-real
  4. Kirschenbaum, M. (02/01/2017). Identifying Fake News: An Infographic and Educator Resources. Retrieved from https://www.easybib.com/guides/evaluating-fake-news-resources/
  5. November Learning (2019). About November Learning. Retrieved from https://novemberlearning.com/educational-services/
  6. Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/
  7. The Next Generation Science Standards for States by States. Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from https://www.nextgenscience.org/
  8. International Society for Technology in Education (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students

Setting the Standard for Student Empowerment

Technology Standards

The ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) standards provide a solid foundation for planning, measuring, implementing, and evaluating student learning across the subject area of technology.  The 2016 iteration provides seven overarching standards for technology instruction. In ISTE’s own words, “The ISTE standards provide a support framework across the grades and for all subject areas that serve as a groundwork for what’s possible in learning using technology.”  There’s a lot to learn throughout these standards, so it’s helpful to focus on and ask questions about each standard one at time. In this case, let’s focus on ISTE standard 1 and student empowerment.

ISTE Standard 1 and the ISTE Standards

Empowered Learner standard: Empowered Learner: Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences. Students:

  1. Articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them, and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.
  2. Build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process.
  3. Use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
  4. Understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies, and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.

An entire book could be written on these standards, and, in fact, ISTE has written an e-book called “ISTE Standards for Students”.  This means that at least a chapter could be written on each standard if not more. So, in and of itself, asking just one critical question about one of these standards provides plenty to talk and write about.  Since not every educator is a technology teacher, a logical question to ask is how might ISTE standards connect to standards that I teach?

Essential Question

Where do opportunities exist for interdisciplinary integration in the NGSS and CCSS as related to student empowerment and the ISTE 1 Empowered Learner standard?

Seeing the Standards Forest for the Trees

A great visual for seeing how standards can connect is a VENN diagram that comes out of Stanford and is based on work by Tina Cheuk.  Shown above as the title graphic for this post, the visual shows how K-12 standards (CCSS Practices/Capacities & NGSS Practices) naturally supplement, complement, and overlap each other.  What’s perhaps missing to some degree is technology; where does technology fit into all of this?

Fortunately, two great resources provide examples that can help address this question.  The “ISTE Standards for Students” ebook provides several helpful vignettes. One of which is sample scenario 2 for ages 8-11 and describes the role that ISTE standards can play in “Solving Real-World Community Problems”.  The US Department of Education also provides a report entitled “Innovation Spotlights: Nine Dimensions for Supporting Powerful STEM Learning with Technology”. The seventh dimension shared provides both a description and a case study for “Project-based Interdisciplinary Learning”.  The examples show how technology potentially supports, intersects, and overlaps with other disciplines, as well as how technology empowers student learners.

Connecting the Standardized Dots

By considering how standards overlap and disciplines connect then we can begin to think about answering the question around interdisciplinary integration in the NGSS and CCSS as related to the Empowered Learner standard.

The “Solving Real-World Community Problems” describes a classroom project where students respond to a recent snow storm by designing solutions to help make their neighbors’ lives easier during the next storm.  Students are empowered to design real-world solutions to share with their community by thinking about the environmental and weather-related science, how technology can improve lives, utilizing the engineering emphasis of the design process to come up with new ideas, and the basic math required to diagram, measure, and build their solutions.

The “Project-based Interdisciplinary Learning” dimension describes a challenge-based learning approach where students research a real-world problem, organize, communicate, and then culminate their work via creation of tangible product solution for public presentation.  The associated case study shared how students researched, created, and presented posters based on their learning around sunscreen, the Earth systems, and how to improve human health while also protecting the environment from possible pollution. Students research biology, chemistry, and environmental systems to understand how potential technological solutions can be better designed while understanding the mathematical scale of the potential impact.

Empowering Student Learners

The two previous examples show strong connections among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics while providing opportunities to work within the English language arts as well, but technology is both implicit and explicit throughout. ISTE standard 1 emphasizes empowering students to take an active role in choosing, achieving, and demonstrating their learning. These examples allow students to leverage technology to do just that by potentially setting learning goals as part of their project work, customizing their learning environment, demonstrating their learning in a variety of ways, and understanding the fundamental concepts of the technology that they are working with via their projects.

Once we begin to see the potential connections that exist across potential lessons and activities, then we can intentionally plan interdisciplinary units. With this integrated end in mind, applying backwards planning through research-proven systems such as Understanding by Design allows educators to empower students to apply all of their learning across subject areas. Doing so with the goal of sharing or presenting as a means of assessment, provides real-world purpose to the problems that students are solving through these kinds of projects. This empowers students to apply all of their learning across subject areas while solving real problems and sharing that with their community.

For a deeper explanation of the standards and referenced examples as well as more in-depth thinking for interdisciplinary integration, I encourage you to explore the resources referenced below.


  1. International Society for Technology in Education (2017). ISTE Standards for Students (ebook): A Practical Guide for Learning with Technology [PDF version]. Retreived from https://id.iste.org/resources/product?ID=4073&ChildProduct=4074
  2. Office of Educational Technology (2019). Innovation Spotlights: Nine Dimensions for Supporting Powerful STEM Learning with Technology. Retrieved from https://tech.ed.gov/files/2019/10/stem-innovation-spotlights-research-synthesis.pdf
  3. International Society for Technology in Education (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
  4. Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/
  5. The Next Generation Science Standards for States by States. Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from https://www.nextgenscience.org/
  6. Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005). Understanding by Design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.