Monday, June 01, 2020

Summer passion projects for students

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in June of 2020 and is re-posted here with permission.

Dear Readers, this will be the last concurrent monthly posting of Kathy’s Katch. Perhaps it will be back in another form at some point. I appreciate the support of Discovery Education, the DEN, and the readers of this blog from its inception in September of 2012. #loveyouall

Back in the day, employees of Google could pitch an idea to their supervisor to be able to take advantage of the “20% Time” program. This program allowed engineers and others to spend 20% of their work time on a project they were passionate about. Many of these projects turned into important components of the Google products. I used to love Google Labs, which included prototypes of the ideas being developed. It was so exciting to see some of them “graduate” from Google Labs and become part of the Google product. Others were great tools and it was sad when they did not make it.
One great thing for education came out of the 20% Time projects. Cristin Frodella, who worked in marketing, realized using Google products would be perfect for teaching and learning and she created the Google Teacher Academy during her 20% Time. Many of us attended these useful trainings to become Google Certified Teachers. The program launched in 2006, and I became a GCT in New York in 2008. I was an instructor at the Academy as well as a participant to get my certification.
Here is a photo of the instructors for that 2008 Google Teacher Academy. It was a super team of very smart educators, all of whom you will likely recognize since they are still active in the edtech space!
The Google Teacher Academy had two components. There was this formal training session in NYC, but afterward, each GCT was required to complete two passion projects using the Google toolset and share them in a spreadsheet with all of the other GCTs. My two projects were “Google Goodies: a series of online screencasts for teachers and students for various aspects of Google Apps” and “Google Tips and Tricks: a weekly note to all teachers and students (grades 6-12) with ideas, tips and tricks for using Google Apps”.
I loved working on my projects! I was free to investigate what I wanted to research and create. The only caveats for these projects were they had to use the Google tools and be useful for administrators, educators, and/or students.


Fast forward to today and we know many teachers have adopted this same idea of giving students time during each school week to investigate something they are interested in. This model is usually called “Genius Hour”.  Meshelle Smith has written a great overview of how she implemented a weekly one-hour Genius Hour at the fifth grade level. I feel her model would work at any grade level!
She created a scaffolded model that served to outline the parameters for the goals of the projects without taking away the student choice of the content. For four weeks, the students explored ideas, spent the next three weeks narrowing their topics, and then spent most of the school year researching and creating each week. The last four weeks of the school year was set aside for presenting their projects to the class and to the “real world”. In addition, to keep the students on track, every five weeks they had to submit a “mini-project” about their research to show they were moving towards the goals they had set for themselves.
As with any project-based learning, students needed to keep a journal of their ideas, discoveries, failures, and questions. Meshelle also facilitated collaborative group sessions to allow students to bounce ideas off one another, brainstorm solutions, and help decide how they were going to present their project to the “world”.
I have created a visual overview of Smith’s scaffolding below.


What about extending this idea of “Genius Hour” to summer vacation time for students? Since summer is much shorter than the school year, perhaps students can dedicate 2 hours in a row, per week for 10 weeks, to a passion project of their choice. Or maybe they want to investigate two areas of interest, for 20 hours per project, and call them Snack Projects.
Here are some guidelines for these ideas.


One great site for students to research and learn more about a topic is Discovery Education. With a huge library of assets across the subject areas, students can easily find a topic to research, learn more about, and watch videos. They can create their project using Discovery Education assets or using the notes in their journals, gleaned from their research on the site, to create their project elsewhere. There is more than enough information in the Discovery Education content for both a Snack Project or a Passion Project!
First, I decided to be a 7th grade student who was interested in writing a book of poems for a passion project. I knew I liked listening to poetry when my ELA teacher read it aloud and also when I was assigned poems of different genres to read for class. I was unsure of what type of poetry I wanted to write, so I did a simple search in the ELA subject area of Discovery Education and narrowed the content to grades 6-8.  I found 540 resources to investigate which included videos and video segments, images of famous poets, lesson plan activities I could do, an interactive Haiku Builder, and Studio Boards that teachers all over the world had created to help their students learn more about poetry.
Secondly, I decided to be a 10th grade student who wants to pursue meteorology or fire fighting. I wanted to complete two Snack Projects, investigating each topic. After I conducted a search on “meteorology” in Discovery Education, I got 283 results including videos and video segments, readings in the Science Techbook, instructional images to learn more about weather, and some resources from practicing meteorologists about their career paths.
When I conducted a search on “firefighter”, I was presented with 89 results for the 9-12th grade levels. There were videos and video segments about fighting fires, firefighter equipment, and new firefighting technology. There was also a 26-minute podcast entitled “Stuff You Should Know Podcast: How Wildfires Work”.


The idea of having students working on passion projects over the summer is interesting to think about. With some structure for the time they spend and good online resources for research and information, students can explore their passions to learn more about them and then share their findings with others.
Do you have students working on passion projects in the summer? Do you provide them with some guidance? Do you have them using Discovery Education resources for these projects? 

Friday, May 01, 2020

Differentiation strategies to support learners

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in May 2018 and is re-posted here with permission.

Differentiation of instruction for all students in your classroom is sometimes a daunting task. How do you ensure all students receive the curriculum content in the way they learn and understand best?
Cathy Weselby, in a March 2020 post on the Resilient Educator Web site, provides a well-stated overview of the important research, history, and methodologies for differentiating instruction in the classroom.
I love this practical overview.
Differentiating instruction may mean teaching the same material to all students using a variety of instructional strategies, or it may require the teacher to deliver lessons at varying levels of difficulty based on the ability of each student.
Teachers who practice differentiation in the classroom may:
    • Design lessons based on students’ learning styles.
    • Group students by shared interest, topic, or ability for assignments.
    • Assess students’ learning using formative assessment.
    • Manage the classroom to create a safe and supportive environment.
    • Continually assess and adjust lesson content to meet students’ needs.
Differentiation may not mean implementing just one of these five methods, but let’s go over some specific ways teachers can use differentiation strategies by using a digital media product such as Discovery Education Streaming Plus.

For students in middle and high school, teachers can administer a survey that asks about their preferred method(s) of learning to help when designing lessons. One useful survey I found was the NC State University Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire. Teachers could also create their own survey using a Google Form. The Georgia DOE offers a learning styles survey that might work for the upper elementary students here.
For the younger students, this post by Michelle Baumgartner on the blog provides some practical ways to determine a student’s learning style. She suggests looking at note-taking style, problem-solving methods, observing social behavior and personal tendencies, and determining what learning aids the student turns to often. Baumgartner includes an overview of the learning styles and practical advice for each of these categories. These same strategies would work for ELL learners, too. The Georgia DOE offers a survey that may be useful for the upper elementary grades.
For special education students, by consulting with their special education teacher and reviewing the student’s IEP, as well as observing the student, would help the educator develop strategies to support these students.

To differentiate within Discovery Education Streaming Plus, teachers have the ability to both pick a multitude of content types, as well as assign the lesson to individual students, groups of students, or the entire class. This allows the teacher to group students by shared interest, topic, or ability.

Discovery Education Streaming Plus also includes a ton of instructional strategies, divided up by type of strategy, and there are many that can be used to as formative assessments. Below, you can see the menu and then just a few of the summarizing strategies you can use for a formative assessment.

Graphic organizers are included which teachers can assign to students as a quick formative assessment, too!

As you differentiate instruction and create groupings for a safe and supportive classroom environment, it might be good idea to use the online tool, Floor Plan Creator, to create multiple classroom set-ups that students can easily view to move their desks, chairs, and beanbags around. If you create a few of these, students will not get bored with the layouts and you can ensure you are able to get around to the areas and can see all the students.

There are summative assessment tools available in Discovery Education Streaming Plus, also, and it is easy to grade their work and suggest alternatives images, videos, or audio that they might use in their project. There is an assessment builder built-in that allows teachers to create Technology-Enhanced Assessment (TEA) from an item library that offers a variety of interactive item types. By using these tools, it allows teachers to easily adjust assessments.
Board Builder is a tool, found in Discovery Education, that allows users to create digital bulletin boards with a variety of media, including items from Discovery Education Streaming Plus and self-­created resources. The tool can be used for topic delivery and engagement, for assessment, and to determine student understanding.

As I wrote about in my April 2020 Kathy’s Katch blog post, there are also tons of editable assets in Discovery Education Streaming Plus that can be used with other tools like PowerPoint or Keynote, Padlet, the Adobe Spark Suite, and many other content-creation tools. Give some of them a try, too!
How do you differentiate instruction in your classroom? Have you used DES to do so? Please share your tips and tricks on Twitter! #kathyskatch

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Creating with Discovery Education

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in April 2020 and is re-posted here with permission.

For the past few years, I have focused my energies on supporting teachers who are creating assessments, both formative and summative, which target student’s higher order thinking skills. Oftentimes, as I was creating an exemplar to showcase to teachers, I turned to Discovery Education for content to use in the sample assessment.
Discovery Education includes tools within their product that allow teachers to create exemplar assessments and assignments and have students create them, too. However, I also love all the other online tools that allow students to showcase their content knowledge, so I tend to focus on online tools and local apps when conducting trainings.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
One of the coolest features of Discovery Education is the tons of assets that are found in their product! There are videos (full and also broken down into short segments), photographs, drawings, and more. These assets are searchable by grade level, type of asset, etc. What is best about these assets is, if your school has a subscription to Discovery Education, teachers and students can use the great editable content in Discovery Education with local and online tools and apps projects!

Adobe has a suite of tools called Adobe Spark. The three tools included are a web page creation tool, a video creation tool, and a graphic creation tool and there are tons of sample templates to pick from and images that can be easily added to the project.
A teacher can create an Adobe Spark Page and embed video clips in the Page. These editable clips will have to be downloaded from Discovery Education and uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo in order to embed them in the Adobe Spark Page. Teachers can then provide their own written overview of the content, a list of things they want students to look for in the video, and extension activities students can complete. The teacher can include links back to other videos within Discovery Education on the same page, too.

Teachers can easily create narrated overviews of content for student access using Adobe Spark Video, which allows the inclusion of images, photographs, and Discovery Education videos on separate slides and narration of the “show” which ends up a easy-to-create video lesson! Adobe offers the Adobe Spark suite of tools — Video, Post, and Page — to districts for no cost with the ability to limit the postings to just the district, but, if your district has not yet taken advantage of that solution yet, teachers and students over 14 can create their own accounts here. Adobe also includes a ton of ideas for using Adobe Spark Education that would tie-in nicely with the Discovery Education content!

Padlet is a great online tool that allows teachers and students to easily post and share their thoughts, videos, images, links, and much more. There are a slew of education-based templates to chose from.
Students can upload editable Discovery Education video clips or photos to Padlet and create a collaborative information board for classroom review.

Many teachers are already using Flipgrid to create a topic and have students leave video feedback to that topic and also to the videos of classmates. It is a super easy tool to use!
Teachers can use the editable assets in Discovery Education to create a topic in Flipgrid and have the students respond, reflect, and build upon each other’s knowledge. You can record to this grid at

Adobe Spark Posts allows students to bring in images and put text on them. Students can use an image from Discovery Education as a background for a 6 Word Summary or Six Word Story they create in Adobe Spark Post.
Here is my sample, created with an image from Discovery Education.

One of the easiest and powerful graphic design tools on the Web is Canva. Canva includes templates for wedding invitations to Instagram posts and everything in-between!
Students can use a series of images or screenshots (from the editable content) from Discovery Education videos to create a timeline in Canva or even create an informative infographic.

What are some other creative ideas you can think of for using the content in Discovery Education with online tools, local software, or apps? If you already have Discovery Education, have you mashed up the content in the product with other online tools to help students learn? Please share you ideas on Twitter! #kathyskatch

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Celebrating Pi Day

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in March 2020 and is re-posted here with permission.


What is it about pi that makes it so intriguing? Is it the fact it never ends? Is it the fact we all remember the formula we learned in math class and still use when we are sewing, or creating a playground, or simply drawing a circle? Pi is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle, which means that the circumference of a circle is equal to 2 time pi times the radius of the circle. The common formula we use for that is  C = 2 pi r (Tip: To type the pi symbol on a Mac, hold down the option key and type the letter P. On Windows computers and on a Chromebook, hold down Ctrl+Shift+U and type 03C0 and hit the space bar for a lowercase pi)
Whatever the reason for our infatuation with pi, the world has celebrated Pi Day on March 14th each year since 1988 because the first three digits of pi are 3.14 and reflect the date. Some pi-lovers celebrate Pi Day at exactly 1:59 to celebrate the first six digits of pi which are 3.14159!  (There was a really big celebration in 2015 when, on March 14, 2015 at 9:26:53 am, the first 10 digits of pi, 3.141592653, were honored!) The History Channel includes an interesting overview of the birth of Pi Day here.
This celebratory day is meant to increase interest in math and make it fun! Museums, schools, and even virtual worlds have parties and activities that involve round items like apple pies, quarters, pizza pies, and the moon. (And March 14th is also Albert Einstein’s birthday, so you can build some activities about him into the day, too!)


Discovery Education celebrates Pi Day each year with gusto. They have tons of resources to help teachers incorporate this fun holiday! Some include:
  • Lesson Starters: Hooray for Pi Day is a lesson for grades K-5 that has students watching some relevant video segments, and then, using popsicle stick puppets of themselves, creating a short shoebox video explaining pi using relevant screenshots from the video as the background. Older students might create the video while standing in from of a green screen and giving a “newscast” about the importance of pi in math and science.
  • Elementary students will enjoy the short video, Attributes of Circles, which includes information about the relationship between circumference and pi.
  • There is a wonderful video for middle and high school students, Pi Day: Live from NIST, which “presents a detailed tour of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and explains how different standards of measurement are calculated. The program also examines how pi factors into the many different facets of standardized measurement”.
Although Pi Day is a special day, the inclusion of pedagogically-sound activators and summarizers should also be part of the celebration so students get time for both creative thinking and reflection. The Discovery SOS series includes a wonderful group of instructional strategies to help develop mathematical thinking. Some of these include ways:
  • To help students justify and provide reasoning for mathematical solutions, the “Pick a Card, Any Card” strategy (CDN) “involves students as active participants in group discussion. The teacher uses prepared question cards and encourages students to discuss content, using evidence from the media to back up their claims and opinions”.
  • To help students draw conclusions and make connections, the “Silence is Golden” strategy (CDN) is “meant to focus students’ attention on imagery, making inferences, and predicting future content. Students describe what they see and teachers can ask guiding questions about the imagery to allow for deeper thinking”.
  • To help students represent and communicate mathematical solutions, the “Make it Concrete” strategy (CDN) “uses concrete, or shape, poems to allow students to demonstrate understanding. Students reflect on their learning and create a visual to represent something they have learned from a media resource”.


  • The Time and Date site, a place where all manner of global celebrations are covered, includes interesting information about Pi Day. I learned about a new pi celebration!
Because everyone should be able to enjoy a fun mathematical holiday, people in countries that follow the day/month (dd/m) date format, honor pi on Pi Approximation Day. The date of Pi Approximation Day – July 22 – when written in the day/month format or 22/7 corresponds to the fraction (22/7) that pi is usually depicted as.
There are other days during the year when one can honor pi. Some of these are:
  • March 4: The day marks the passing of 14% of the 3rd month of the year.
  • April 5: By this day, 3.14 months of the year have passed.
  • November 10: The 314th day of the year (November 9 in leap years).
  • The Teach Pi site has collected over 50 activities to use to help celebrate Pi Day. Some of these include:
    • Bring in some large round items for students to work with, like a hula hoop, a large garbage can lid, or a car tire.
    • Share the book or video of “Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi”.
    • Incorporate the arts into the day by having students sing some of the Pi Day carols located here.
  • Have students learn the first 100 digits of pi by memorizing this great video by ASAP Science, the guys that brought you my favorite instructional video of all time, the original Periodic Table Song from 2013 and the updated version from 2018.  Turn on the subtitles/close captions on the YouTube video to make it easier for students to follow along.
  • The PiDay site showcases the first million digits of pi!
  • The We Are Teachers site offers “31 Mathtastic Pi Day Activities for the Classroom“, including having students create “pi-ku” poems in the format of haiku (5 -7-5) but dealing with the topic of pi!
  • Wolfram Mathworld provides ideas on using mnemonics to memorize pi out to seven, fifteen, and 31 digits!
  • PBS Learning Media has collated over fifty ideas for celebrating Pi Day for students in grades K-13+.
  • MathGeekMama offers some original Pi Day lessons and support materials as well as linking to tons of other Pi Day activities on the Web!
  • Many teachers share their Pi Day bulletin board designs on the Web. Take a look!


How do you celebrate Pi Day in your classroom? What are some ways you have celebrated it in a content area other than math or science? Please share your thoughts, ideas, and links to classroom set-ups, images, or videos your students or you have created on Twitter! #kathyskatch

Friday, February 28, 2020

Review of Robo™ Wunderkind Robotics Kit

I admit it. I am not a coder. I have dabbled with block-based coding, Sphero, and some other products, but the last real coding I have done was in 1972 when I created punch cards to count from one to ten for the IBM System/360 at my high school!

Pete Birkinshaw, Used Punchcard,

So, when Robo Wunderkind asked me to review their Education Robotics Kit for elementary students, ages 6 to 12, they were happy to hear I was no expert, since the kit was so easy to use! (Probably these early learners have much more recent programming experience than I have!)

Upon opening the box, I was presented with colorful cubes with electronics, wheels, buttons, lights, and more.

The overview book, which explained the role of each piece, was easy to understand and I felt confident I understood each component.

I took the items out of the box and arranged them in my workspace. I also charged up the orange Main Block with the included USB cable.

Each color block has its own role.

  • The orange Main Block powers the robot, Bluetooths to the student's mobile device where they use the app, and controls all the other blocks.
  • The green Connectors have electronics, and both hold blocks together as well as allow block to communicate with each other.
  • The little green Lego® Connectors allow students to build up their robots by using Legos on the small baseplates.
  • The red Button is a smart button, which knows when students press and release it.
  • The yellow Light is just that...a programmable light source.
  • There are two large green wheels and a small, articulating green wheel.
  • The big red block is a Distance Sensor which measures distances to objects and well as detects sound.
  • The darker blue Motors helps a student's robot to move around.
  • The lighter blue block is a Servo which can rotate the robot to precise angles.
  • The green and black Wired Connector can connect blocks that are not next to each other and help go around the blind sides of the blocks.
  • There is also a little plastic pry bar which is used to separate the Connectors from the blocks, when breaking down the robot, in a way that protects them from too much force. Students under 10 may need some help when prying, since the Connector components fit rather snugly.

The first step was to attach the Main Block to the app on the mobile device via Bluetooth. It was a simple process that students, once shown how to do it, would be able to complete. At various times, as I built the robot and snapped on pieces, the app prompted me to tap the screen to apply a quick little update to the piece. In addition, there was a firmware update for the Main Block, too. These updates were simple to apply, and completed by tapping a button on the screen of the mobile device, so students will have no problem completing the task.

I then visited the Web site for a quick overview of the basics, and looked at some of the projects that were available.

The robots students create are controlled from an iOS or Android device. There are two different apps to support the robots- Robo Code and Robo Live.

The Robo Code app (iOS | Android) is the place to learn how to build, how to control, and to try building the sample robots in the tutorials. This is also where students can store, edit, and update their own projects. The sample projects showcase each of the robotic components, so students can learn about them and then experiment and create their own unique robots!

The Robo Live app (iOS | Android) allows students to remotely control their Robo Wunderkind robots by using a drag and drop interface to control the robot's actions like driving, turning, making sounds, and blinking.

I decided just to put some blocks together, based on what I had learned thus far, and came up with this simple robot. I actually clapped when it worked!

I then did a little digging in the projects in the Robo Workshop in the Robo Code app and made both a flashlight, which used the Light, and created an obstacle avoider that used the Distance Sensor block.

I had a ton of fun and learned how to both build and create code to make my robots do what I wanted them to do! I spent about 90 minutes reading the basics, creating my robots, coding my projects, and taking notes, photos, and videos for this blog post.

I feel the Robo Wunderkind robotics kit and the two apps -- Robo Code and Robo Live -- would be a great addition to a STEM program or a class that includes programming. The drag and drop interface to code the robots is easy to use and has sounds, effects, timings, and more to allow simple or complex programming for the robots. The kit includes enough pieces to make fun robots and make robots do fun things! 

Although the kit states it is intended for students ages 6-12, my recommendation would be to start with age 6 and go right up through high school. The Robo Wunderkind kit can be an introduction to electronics, programming, and coding at any age. (Even at my age!)

Getting a Robo Wunderkind kit for every four students in a class would allow collaborative building and coding, along with the creative aspects of design, the math computations of angles, and classroom contests with the robots! 

I received a Robo Wunderkind robotics kit to keep for writing this review.