Bringing STEM to All Classrooms

With a prediction of a need for 3.5 million jobs related to STEM by 2025, we need to focus on finding ways to bring STEM learning opportunities to all students in every classroom. Doing so can be a challenge, depending on whether we have access to the right resources or if teachers feel that they don’t have enough knowledge or resources available to get started. As I have learned in my own experiences, we just need enough information and a few resources to start with. Once we dive in, we can make a shift to being a facilitator of learning in our classrooms. We need to embrace the opportunities to co-learn with our students so that we can best prepare them and ourselves with the skills needed in the future.

With many unknowns when it comes to jobs that will exist in the future, we need to create a variety of learning experiences such as those made possible through STEM-based activities. The skills that are necessary today may not be needed in a few years. Jobs in demand and skill sets needed are constantly changing. To stay informed, I recommend referring to the Job Skills Outlook created by the World Economic Forum. Some of the top ten in-demand skills are collaboration, communication, critical thinking, problem solving and ideation, and resilience. Each of these are areas that we can focus on in our classrooms. Being flexible enough to adapt to a changing landscape of learning and work is key.

When we choose methods or tools, we should focus on how we can make sure our instruction is relevant to the growing demands in the world of work. These in-demand skills can be fostered through STEM activities and learning experiences.

Why STEM skills impact future success

Many skills can be built through STEM such as creativity, critical thinking, innovation, problem-solving, and teamwork which will help students to be successful in the future. Through STEM, students also build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills, especially in the areas of self-awareness and self-management. By focusing on the five SEL competencies, research has shown that it increases student achievement and has a positive impact on student wellbeing. STEM promotes the development of SEL and empowers students with new ways to create, innovate, iterate, and reflect, which are directly related to the skills needed today. Students set goals, make decisions, collaborate, and build relationships that prepare them for the future and foster SEL.

Ideas for any classroom

First, there are many different STEM challenges that we can use in our classrooms that do not require many materials or the investment of a lot of time to get started. With some STEM challenges, asking students to find materials to design with or reaching out to the school and school community to ask for specific items to have on hand for a STEM/STEAM makerspace are helpful for creating more opportunities.

STEM challenges help students to build many skills which are essential in the workplace. A few examples are the Cup Tower Challenge, the Straw Challenge or the Parachute Challenge. There are even some free STEM challenges to do Around the Home to involve families in the learning!

An easy challenge without much prep is giving students a design challenge. Have students choose materials and design a structure representing their name, or a concept from class that meets a certain requirement such as height for example. Each of these can be used in all grade levels.

For all classrooms, connecting students with a guest speaker, whether in person or virtual, who works in one of the STEM fields can be highly beneficial. For students to explore careers and connect with real-world examples, it will spark curiosity and students may learn that they have a deep interest in pursuing a STEM-related career.

Project-based learning (PBL) is a method that can be used to focus on STEM. Connecting with another teacher and engaging students in a cross-curricular collaboration creates an authentic and purposeful way for them to build content knowledge in a relevant and meaningful way.

Resources to explore for STEM

  • Birdbrain Technologies. When I started to teach STEAM, my 8th-grade students learned to code by using the Hummingbird Robots from Birdbrain. We focused on French and Spanish culture and students created projects to represent something they learned. Birdbrain also has the Finch Robot, which can also be used in any content area. With the Finch, students can explore AI and robotics using Google Teachable Machine with the Finch. Teachers can sign up for a trial period with these resources.
  • Offers many resources to help students of all ages learn about coding and STEM-related fields like computer science. According to statistics from the site, 67% of new STEM jobs are in computing, and as of today, only 54% of schools offer computer science courses to students.
  • CSFirst from Google: There are many resources to help educators get started with teaching computer science and that are aligned to the CSTA and ISTE Standards. Activities include focus areas of art and storytelling in addition to other free materials. Teachers can participate in distance training and download the lessons and other ready-to-use materials.
  • Defined Learning: They offer a variety of resources for educators to learn about STEM and topics such as PBL and SEL. Explore their blogs to find ideas for your classroom and check out their PBL solution that offers everything that teachers need to get started in the classroom.
  • Elementari: A platform that can be used for storytelling and coding together. Students can create a book and learn about coding by creating interactive stories. There are examples to explore that can be remixed. Teachers can incorporate STEM into any classroom by having students and have students
  • GoldieBlox: Offers materials for girls to become more involved in STEAM and also has activities and materials for use at home. They recently started the “Code Along” initiative with other STEM organizations including Black Girls CODE, with the goal of bridging the opportunity gap for underrepresented communities in STEM fields such as computer science.
  • Ozobot. A one-inch robot that can be used in any classroom and that has lessons and ideas available for subjects including English Language Arts, math, and more. There are also two different ways to code using Ozobots, screen-free by using markers and color codes and with the program on the computer. Some students have written a book summary and programmed the Ozobot to move around and stop at each point in the story timeline. There are many creative ways to use Ozobot in the classroom.
  • Marty the Robot. My students were thrilled when I brought Marty in for class. Marty is a humanoid that offers multiple ways to learn about coding. With infrared sensors on his feet, he responds to color cards, providing screen-free coding. The app has block- and text-based coding and students can quickly create a program to have Marty walk, dance and talk. Teachers can request a trial of Marty in their classroom.
  • Scratch and Scratch Jr. are free resources for students of ages 8 through 16. There are more than 70 languages available which help to promote accessibility and because Scratch is free, it also promotes equity in learning.

With STEM, we provide opportunities for students to drive their own learning. The knowledge gained and skills developed through STEM experiences will enable students to adapt to a changing world of education and work.

Looking for PD for your school? I provide in-person and virtual training on the following topics. If you want to learn more about and explore AI and ChatGPT, contact me to schedule! 

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Learning to Code with VinciBot

This post is sponsored by Matatalab, Opinions expressed are based on my own experience

During the past year, we have been exploring a lot of new products as we work on our coding skills in my eighth-grade STEAM class. My students really enjoy trying out different tools to find something that matches their interests and that gives them opportunities to build their coding skills. We also take opportunities to try tools that are geared toward younger students as well, to better understand how students can develop coding skills and the benefits. It also helps to spark interest in coding, which is an in-demand skill for the future. 

Sometimes, students hesitate to get started with coding because of a fear of not understanding how to write the code, or troubleshooting if the code does not work. However, with the different options and resources available through Matatalab, my students have really enjoyed the experience and are excited to dive right in.

Matatalab is a company that specializes in developing educational coding products for young children. What I love about using them is that their products are designed to teach early learners the fundamentals of programming in a fun and engaging way through interactive and hands-on learning experiences. It is not all about the technology, Matatalab offers screen-free coding and also comes with cards to teach students about the coding steps.  They offer a range of products that are suitable for different age groups and skill levels, from preschoolers to elementary school students and older.

Through the various products available, educators are able to provide opportunities for students to learn about coding, even at an early age as young as 3! Last year I started exploring the Tale-Bot Pro which makes it easy for kids to get started on their own and build their knowledge whether at home or school.

The VinciBot

The newest product from Matatalab is the VinciBot which is aimed at slightly older children, ages eight and above. Matatalab products are designed to be intuitive and easy to use. The coding blocks are color-coded, making it simple for students to understand the different types of commands and functions. This helps to make the learning process more accessible and enjoyable, especially for students who may be intimidated by traditional coding methods. By programming the robot, students can develop their problem-solving skills and spatial awareness and have fun working together to explore coding and the world of robotics! 

When I brought it into school, my students were lining up to be the first to explore it!  VinciBot is the new and maybe even one of the most popular coding products from Matatalab. It is a versatile and interactive robot that is designed to teach the basics of coding in a fun and engaging way. VinciBot can be controlled using a range of programming languages, including Scratch, Python, and the MatataCode App. With these options, it provides each student with a way to engage in coding at a pace that is comfortable and supports them as they build their skills and confidence in coding.

[creating a program for VinciBot]


The VinciBot comes with everything you need to provide an engaging learning experience for students. There is a challenge booklet with 18 challenges for students to explore.  The VinciBot is equipped with interactive sound, light, and movement effects and has 8 sensors. There are 21 musical instrument sounds, an LED matrix, and an LED RGB light structure. The infrared and ultrasonic sensors allow it to navigate its surroundings and interact with the environment. Students can program VinciBot to complete a variety of actions including dancing and can even program it to sing Happy Birthday!   VinciBot also offers the opportunity for students to explore artificial intelligence (AI) through its AI-based teaching scenarios and gameplay.  This is a great benefit, especially with the increased interest in getting started with AI, coding, and STEM, having one resource that can provide it all is a great opportunity. The Tiny Machine Learning of VinciBot is available even without the Internet in the classroom. Students will have programmed with the AI data and trained the robot before and perform their program in a non-internet environment. The Tiny ML enables students to go through the whole process by learning about model creation, data acquisition, training, and development to then programming. Engaging in this ongoing learning journey helps them to develop a much greater understanding of AI at their own pace and in their own way. 

Learn more through their video tutorials and the overview of the VinciBot in action. 


The coding program is available in multiple languages, making it more accessible to a wider audience. This allows children from different countries and backgrounds to learn to code using their native language. Additionally, the programming blocks are designed to be easily understood by young children, regardless of their level of literacy or cognitive ability, promoting inclusivity and accessibility for all.

[Students can select the language for coding, making it more accessible for all students as they build language skills and coding skills together!]

One of the key benefits of VinciBot is that it is designed to grow with the student. As they become more proficient in coding, students can use more advanced programming languages to control VinciBot and develop increasingly complex programs. This means that VinciBot can provide years of educational value for children of all ages.  


Extra features

The VinciBot is also compatible with LEGO bricks and other products, making it possible to even combine robots together for a larger project or a robotics competition!  Students are so creative and can problem solve and collaborate to design a solution to a challenge or work with design thinking in the classroom.

Benefits of coding

In addition to learning to code, students develop many other skills that are essential for future success. It fosters the development of social-emotional learning (SEL) skills, building self-awareness as students learn to code and evaluate their growth. It fosters self-management as students set goals and problem solve and deal with challenges that can come with coding. Students build relationships as they work with one another to create, while also building skills in communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. 

Why explore Matatalab?

Matatalab products promote hands-on learning and encourage creativity and imagination. Students can use the coding cards to think about the steps in the coding process or use the remote to drive the robot. Once logged in, students are able to create their own programs. Being able to explore their own ideas and interests helps to foster a love of learning and discovery. By encouraging creativity and imagination, Matatalab products help to prepare children for the challenges of the future.

By providing an intuitive and hands-on approach to learning programming, Matatalab products help to prepare our students for the challenges of the future. They are designed to be accessible and engaging for kids of all ages and skill levels. Whether you are a parent or an educator, Matatalab products offer a fun and effective way to introduce kids to the world of coding and programming.

About the Author

Rachelle Dené Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Educator at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Attorney, Edtech Consultant, Speaker, and the Author of seven books about education and edtech. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Rdene915

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Spring Ideas to bring STEM to your classroom!

By Rachelle Dené Poth, @Rdene915

As we continue to seek ways to best prepare students for the skills that they need to be successful in the future, it’s important that we are not afraid to take risks in our classroom by bringing new methods and different digital tools for our students. In looking at resources from the World Economic Forum and the Job Skills Outlook for 2025, for example, many of the skills that we’ve been talking about for years are still in demand and predicted to be even more essential in the future. Some of those skills include critical thinking and problem-solving, creativity, collaboration and communication, flexibility, resilience, leadership skills, and digital literacy. Deciding on methods to use or which digital tool to use in our classrooms can be a challenge sometimes, however, there are some easy ways to get started with STEM learning activities that provide many benefits for students.

Regardless of the grade level or content area, all teachers can bring in ​STEM-focused activities for students in a variety of ways. There may be concerns about a lack of teacher training, however, it just takes a little bit of time to become familiar with the technology or the concepts and then let students dive in and take the lead in learning. It is great when students teach us as well. It does not require us to be experts in all of these areas. We just need to find a few ideas and get started.

Why STEM Matters

Helping students to learn about STEM is important for their future success as many of the in-demand careers are in ​STEM-related fields. These careers will increase in demand and it is important that all students have opportunities to explore their interests in these areas. There are many benefits of learning about STEM including that it helps students to develop problem-solving skills, which is a valuable skill for any type of career. Students build collaboration skills when working with classmates to solve STEM challenges for example. These opportunities also spark curiosity as students become more engaged in learning, not just the content area but also learning more about the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Providing STEM-related learning opportunities helps students to become more comfortable with taking some risks in learning and also shifts students from being consumers to creators and even innovators. ​

STEM also helps students to build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. As students work through a learning activity, they build self-awareness in regard to their skills and their interests, self-management as they work through challenges, and develop persistence and resilience as they may face obstacles in learning. They also become better with time management as they plan their project-based learning​ (PBL)​ or need to meet a specific deadline for their work, depending on the methods used. Students build relationships as they collaborate with classmates and develop social awareness as they learn about one another or by exploring the United Nations’ ​S​ustainable ​Development Goals (SDGs) and learning about places and challenges being faced around the world. Decision-making skills are developed as they focus on their learning journey and make decisions and take greater ownership of their learning. Providing STEM activities helps students to become quite flexible in their learning as they have to continue to iterate and reflect on where they are in the learning journey.

Getting Started and Ideas to Explore

Finding the time to get started with ​STEM may present another challenge for teachers, especially with benchmarks that need to be met and specific curricula that must be followed. However, there are some different ways to bring STEM in even if it’s for a short term or as a class activity. 

  1. Start with a discussion about the various subjects of STEM and then encourage students to explore something related to their interests and share it with classmates. There are many online resources available and even educational programs and courses that can help students to learn about STEM subjects. It could be that they enroll in an online course or follow a tutorial and then create something to share in class. Hands-on learning is a great way to get students involved in STEM and that can require very little if any funding. 
  2. Think about the content that you are teaching and identify a real-world problem for students to solve or apply a STEM concept to it for a solution. Students can work individually or in small groups to come up with different solutions and then provide feedback to each other.
  3. Design ​h​ands-​o​n learning activities for students. Depending on the course you teach, it could be having students conduct an experiment in a science class, they could design a prototype for something, reconstruct a famous landmark from history or another course of study, and try to improve upon it using STEM concepts. Use the STEM challenges to connect students in the classroom and boost student engagement in learning.
  4. Bring in some digital tools and STEM materials. There are many digital tools available that not only provide students with opportunities to learn about STEM but also involve emerging technologies like artificial intelligence for example. We have been working with Marty the Robot, a humanoid that can be coded screen-free with color cards or using the app with text-based and block-based coding. This is another great opportunity to bring in STEM, PBL, and SEL and understand how AI is programmed. Also with the great choices focused on STEM and SDGs and more with iBlocks, students engage in learning that is authentic, meaningful, and personalized for them. Teachers have all of the materials they need to get started. Another option is Ozobot, a one-inch robot for teaching students about coding that is a favorite in my STEAM class. It can be used as a screen-free coding resource too!
  5. Think about cross-curricular collaboration. Finding time to bring in STEM activities can be done when collaborating with colleagues through cross-curricular collaborations. Find a common focus and have students apply their knowledge from these courses to design a project or work together with classmates to develop STEM and essential SEL skills.

Finding the Funding

Some of the challenges with bringing STEM into classrooms may include a lack of funding, depending on the type of resource that a school may want. Applying for grants or connecting with a local school or organization that offers a lending program or a library of resources that they share can be a great way to get started. Another suggestion is to obtain a few items and have students work in learning stations. Giving students a chance to explore multiple resources and then exchange ideas and reflect on their learning experience is also beneficial. When it comes to technology, not all schools may have access to the right devices, so finding a variety of resources to use that provide students with the opportunity to learn and engage with these tools is important. Also connecting subjects with other areas of the curriculum so that they see the real-world connection makes it more meaningful for students.

Another idea is to find guest speakers who can talk to students about STEM fields and the importance of these areas. In my school, we have access to a cohort that helps us find local organizations, technology companies, and local universities that offer resources or STEM-related learning opportunities for students.

The Benefits are Long-Lasting

Providing access to resources that equip students with the right information and opportunities to work at their own pace and explore based on their specific interests and needs is essential. Providing students with opportunities to engage in more student-driven learning through STEM-related activities will offer many benefits beyond just the content knowledge. It will prepare them for whatever the future holds and equip them with a variety of skills that will be adaptable to many areas of work and life.

About the Author:

Rachelle Dené Poth is an ed-tech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher. Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant and Speaker, owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting. She is an ISTE Certified Educator and currently serves as the past -president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education. She is also a Buncee Ambassador, Nearpod PioNear, and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

Rachelle is the author of seven books and is a blogger for Getting Smart, Defined Learning, and NEO LMS. Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU

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Zigazoo: Start Creating Today!

I have been recommending Zigazoo to many of my educator friends lately because of all of the wonderful opportunities available for having students engage in more authentic and meaningful learning opportunities by creating their own videos! I learned about Zigazoo about two months ago and have had fun checking out the videos being submitted by kids! 

When people ask me what Zigazoo is, I explain that it has been compared to popular social media tools such as Instagram and TikTok. Because of the similarity, this means that students feel more comfortable with the user experience and are more likely to enjoy the learning process on Zigazoo. It also is a good way to help students build their digital citizenship skills and become involved in more active learning and be creative!

What is Zigazoo?

Zigazoo is a free video sharing app that gives students the chance to create a short video in response to daily prompts and other activities. Teachers have been using it to provide students with a different way to share their learning and explore new ideas.  It is easy to get started with Zigazoo and find some prompts to assign to a class or to create your own.

Each video created can be up to a length of 30 seconds. There will be daily featured projects and the Zigazoo app gives kids a fun way to think about and try new things. It is a good way for parents to be more involved in learning with their kids. Creating their own videos also helps students to develop their understanding of privacy and social networks. Teachers can also record responses to student videos. 

Beyond the prompts that teachers can create, Zigazoo also gives families and teachers access to many prompts provided from a variety of educator channels that are now available. With these channels, we have the ability to share video-based responses to projects and interactive media from museums, zoos, educators, children’s musicians, and education organizations. In a recent article by TechCrunch, Zigazoo was referred to as the “future of remote learning.” There are so many possibilities for creating videos during remote and hybrid learning and exploring the new channels is a great way to start.

Through the addition of channels, there are many new possibilities for students to learn from global organizations! Check out the channels that have been added so far and stay tuned for new channels that will be added!

Some of the educator channels available

Zigazoo is an app that can be used to offer new and more engaging ways for students to share what they are learning in creative ways. Teachers and parents can find daily projects to explore or search through the hundreds of other projects available.  I also recommend checking out their Twitter feed and follow @GetZigazoo to see the videos and challenges being shared!

Explore the #dailyzigazoo to get started quickly. Here is one example, which was Kira Willey’s first project, “What is something kind you’ve done for someone?”

Many different topics to choose from!

In Zigazoo, there are challenges that offer kids a chance to explore and then create a video to talk about what they learned. It can also be a great option for project-based learning types of activities. What an opportunity to spark curiosity for learning and increase student engagement.

What do students think?

Here are some comments from educators about their experience trying out Zigazoo. 

“I love the energy behind it and the energy it brings out in my students!”

“My 2nd graders said it looked like Tik Tok (how 7-8 year olds know this, I do NOT know, lol).”

“The other video creation app that I have been using with my students in Spanish is Flipgrid. As I discussed the app with students this week, they hands down prefer to use Zigazoo for my assignments. They couldn’t adequately articulate why, but it basically comes down to the fact that Zigazoo feels more like TikTok or social media, which then makes it more fun.” (high school teacher)

A prompt for describing the weather

Zigazoo is free and educators can create their own classroom projects or choose from those available. Zigazoo is now offering a free premium account for educators, use the code ZPremium and sign up by October 31st. Parents can join in the global Zigazoo community. 

And join in Zigazoo’s Costume Contest! The contest is the first of several Halloween activities Zigazoo will host from now through October 31st. Other virtual activities will include haunted house tours, decorating jack-o-lanterns and telling Halloween jokes.

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Versatile Tools for Blended Learning

Posted originally on DefinedSTEM: Ideas for some AR/VR for Blended Learning

Years ago when I started to use more technology in the classroom, I thought that by having students watch videos at home, rather than in class, I would be “flipping” the classroom. Fortunately, I learned quickly that I was not, and made some changes to implement blended learning instead. As part of my ongoing reflection, I continue to think about the many changes that I have made and the tools that have helped me to create a more authentic and engaging learning experience for my students. There are so many tools available, and we always want to first consider the “why” behind using them and also think about the purpose and how versatile the tools can be. Learning opportunities for students are everywhere and the best part of having so many choices is that it promotes student agency. Students can find something that meets their interests and needs, and that offer more meaningful ways to engage with the content. Choices will lead to purposeful learning experiences for students.

Sometimes it is fun and beneficial to try unconventional tools or methods, to immerse students more in learning and do things differently than what they have become accustomed to. Making a change to t traditional style and structure of the classroom can feel uncomfortable at first, but giving students more control in designing their learning is worth it. The flexibility of these tools enables learning to happen anywhere and at any time, based on the student’s or school schedule, which help to foster a blended learning environment. Here are a few ideas to immerse students in learning.

Augmented/Virtual Reality

One of the biggest areas of growth in education has been the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality in the classroom. In  my own classroom we have used a variety of tools and students have enjoyed the time exploring new tools and definitely different ways to learn. The idea of teaching by using tools for AR or VR can  seem challenging, but it really can be quite simple to add it into the course and there are tons of resources available. I recommend exploring the resources shared by Jaime Donally on all things related to Augmented and Virtual Reality in education.

These tools can offer more powerful ways to immerse students in learning, to “travel” and “explore” places and things more closely. Students can create, problem solve, become more curious and experience something unique through the use of these tools, which enable learning to happen beyond the classroom walls and involve students in more collaborative experiences.

Tools to try:

  1. 3DBear: A newer platform that enables students to add objects into their space and then narrate a story in augmented reality. Teachers are able to create a class account and can choose from the lessons available for grades 1-6 and up, in content areas including ELA, Math, Social Studies, Science, and also STEAM-related topics. Each lesson includes links to reading materials, timelines, and also worksheets. Teachers can sign up for a free trial.
  2. CoSpaces:  A tool for creating “spaces” where students can tell a story, create a game to represent their learning in a more authentic and meaningful way. Students can work together on projects and design a more immersive story together. Working together helps students to develop their  digital citizenship skills as well as promote social emotional learning skills. An engaging way to reinforce content by having students design spaces they can then “walk” through in virtual reality.
  3. Metaverse: An augmented reality tool that teachers can use to create assessments with or have students design an interactive “experience” full of choices in characters, GIFS, 360 images, themed objects and more. There are “experiences” available and it is easy to get started by  watching the tutorial videos from Metaverse. Students can create their own experiences and share them with classmates and teachers can create more engaging review activities for students.
  4. Shapes 3D Geometry:  An app that gives students and teachers a more interactive way to explore core concepts of geometry and that can help students discover 2D and 3D shapes in an augmented reality experience. Using a Merge cube, students can examine 3D shapes by holding the solids in their hands, manipulating them and being able to more closely understand the core concepts of geometry.

Learning beyond  the classroom: Virtual Field Trips

It is important for students to experience learning and explore the world, beyond the limits of the classroom time and space. While we can’t easily take students to  faraway places,there are different tools that make these “trips” possible. The right tools bring in a world of learning for our students, enabling them to closely look at a location rather than by simply watching videos or looking at pictures in a book. We can even connect students with  other classrooms and experts around the world by using one of these options in our classes. Many of these tools are easy to get started with and some even have lessons available, which makes the lack of time factor, not an issue.

Tools to Try:

  1. Google Expeditions: By using Google Expeditions, teachers can “guide” students in faraway lands or have them closely view an object in Augmented reality. All that is required is the App, and then students need to be on the same wifi as teachers in order to “explore” in the classroom. Teachers can choose from more than 100 objects in augmented reality and 800 virtual tours to travel around the world. Each tour includes a script with guiding questions and enrichment activities, all easily accessible by downloading them to a device.
  2. Skype: Years ago, connecting with other classrooms took a lot of time to plan, working with different schedules and access to the right technology. Now through tools like Skype, students andteachers can connect with anyone in the world. By joining the Microsoft community, teachers can connect with other classrooms and create connections for students to communicate by using Skype or for more fun and pushing the critical thinking, collaboration and problem-solving skills, try using Mystery Skype.

Tools for anywhere learning

With blended learning, students have the online component as well as the traditional in-class instruction. One type of blended learning involves the use of stations. By using some of these tools, especially if access to devices is an issue, students can participate in station rotations and learn in multiple ways. The best part is that these tools are accessible when convenient for students as well.

  1. Nearpod: A favorite because it is such a versatile tool that offers a lot of options for how to have students interact with the content, and even go on virtual reality tours and explore 3D shapes. Some of the activities you can include are polls, open-ended responses, matching pairs, for a few and also including content such as BBC videos, PhET simulations and more recently, a Desmos graphing calculator. A tool to enhance instruction whether in or out of the classroom, and one which students can use to create their own lessons to share.
  2. Buncee: Students can create multimedia presentations that include a variety of items such as animations, emojis, 360 images, and web content including videos that can be embedded into the presentation. Teachers can create a lesson using Buncee by adding videos, audio, including hyperlinks and sharing one link with students, that leads to multiple other activities.
  3. Quizizz: A game based learning tool that can be used for instruction, both in and out of class, or for students to create their own games as more authentic practice. Quizizz has thousands of games available in the library and recently added a student log-in that enables students to track their progress and gives them access to prior games played so they can always go back and review. Having this available to students makes it more personalized because students can get extra practice whenever they need it.
  4. Kahoot!: Challenges with Kahoot have become quite popular. Teachers can “challenge” students to participate in a game as a way to practice the content or review for an assessment. Students can even challenge each other by sharing games and codes, which makes it good for peer collaboration and building the social emotional learning skills.
  5. Synth: A podcasting  tool that can be used to have students respond to questions, participate in a conversation by responding to a prompt or a “thread.” A thread is a string of responses in a conversation. Creating with Synth is easy and simply by recording a prompt that can also include a video, teachers can promote communication and student discussion beyond the school day. Teachers can then listen to all student responses as a podcast.

Finding new tools to explore is  always fun, especially when we have students create with them and share their work with classmates. We learn more about their interests and needs and they have a more personalized experience.

These tools have made  an impact on my students this year and I have seen a lot of benefits by offering students a variety of tools to choose from. Creating a more interactive classroom experience and expanding the where, when and how students learn, leads to more of a blended learning  approach. It is important to show students that learning can happen anywhere and give them the tools to make that possible.


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What skills will students need


I’ve been thinking about the world of education and work right now. We are experiencing so many changes, uncertainties and yet have to determine how to plan for the upcoming school year and what types of learning experiences to design for our students. For myself, something that keeps coming to mind is providing ways for students to have more choices, to become flexible with learning and new ideas, and to consider strategies or tools that enable us to transition between our physical and virtual learning spaces.  I thought back to some research that I started a few years ago and how that can help us now as we consider options in the new school year.

About two years ago, I read about something called the “gig economy.” Not knowing what that meant, I turned to Google to do a search and within .30 seconds, I had over 35 million results. After a more advanced search and filter, I learned that the term refers to jobs or work assignments that are the equivalent to a “gig.” Short-termed, specific types of tasks. Common applications of this are jobs that employ freelancers or independent contractors. When searching for the top “gig economy” jobs, a few common themes of the top 10 list include Deep Learning (think AI and machine learning), Bitcoin, Blockchain and Social Media Marketing.

Employment in a gig economy is on the rise, which means that our students need to develop a variety of skills that will prepare them to adapt to the changing landscape of work since we cannot predict what jobs will exist in the future. With statistics such as:

  • In 2015, 54 million people worked as freelancers and on average earned an estimate of 17% more per hour than full-time employees.
  • A projected 60% of companies plan to hire more freelancers rather than full-time employees. In 2016, 35% of workers were freelancers and it leads me to wonder what the number will rise to in another 10 years?

We need to prepare students for their future by offering innovative and challenging learning experiences. Experiences that will push their problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration skills and that involve real-world experiences.

As a Spanish and STEAM teacher, I am commonly asked why students need to learn a foreign language, or why I have them create different projects using emerging technologies rather than traditional document or powerpoint style presentations. My response is always that students need to develop a variety of skills that will enable them to adapt and be marketable to multiple job possibilities in the future. The ability to communicate in another language can benefit students in many ways and it is always a marketable skill to have.

Students also need the opportunity to explore their interests, whether in the arts, music, technology, through entrepreneurial courses, as a few examples. Learning how to establish oneself as an independent contractor, to be self-employed and to understand the traditional components of working in business, but yet preparing for non-traditional forms of business and work.

What experiences will help?

Entrepreneurial Courses: How can educators best prepare students for a gig economy workforce or to possibly become entrepreneurs? By designing learning experiences where students have an opportunity to explore, create, and innovate and have choices in the how, what and where they learn, we will offer more possibilities for inquiry-based learning and foster a growth mindset. Some schools offer programs and courses which lend themselves to these types of possibilities for students.

In my own school, we have a course on entrepreneurship, sports and entertainment management, and a variety of STEAM courses where students design problems to solve and explore emerging technologies. Patsy Kvortek, one of our business teachers, recognized a need for more relevant courses that provide students with opportunities to learn in more authentic ways. She believed that these courses “would prepare students for future success.” She created a course in “Entrepreneurship” and “Sports and Entertainment Management”  a few years ago and has continued to build more real-world experiences and project-based learning into the curriculum. In her classes, students learn about project management, business management, social media, finances and how to plan large events. In courses like this and others like it offered across the country, students are not only developing skills that will prepare them for many career options, they are also building critical skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving and as an added benefit, SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well.

Project-based learning: Alan November, international keynote speaker, and author, said we have to “teach students ​how to learn.​”​ During his keynote, November stated: “I think we should begin to move more and more toward the skill side, because if we teach you to memorize and regurgitate content and your job is wiped out by technology, you’re not well prepared to reinvent yourself if you didn’t learn how to learn.”

November’s message reinforces the importance for students to learn to communicate, collaborate, problem-solve, and think critically. These are key skills that will benefit students whether they choose to enroll in college, get a job, pursue specialized training, or possibly take a gap year to explore the world and different learning experiences before deciding.

Project-based learning (PBL) helps students to create their own learning path by looking for an answer to a question they come up with and not having a specific direction to go, nor one right answer to find. With PBL, students ​engage in sustained inquiry and the skills of critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving become part of the learning process. Students need more real-world experiences, especially those like in place-based learning where they can assess needs that exist in their own community or look globally, and then brainstorm possible solutions. Learning beyond the classroom walls with a more authentic purpose will benefit all students.

STEM and Emerging Technologies: Artificial Intelligence is a growing area in education and in the world. It is estimated that 40% of the jobs will be replaced by AI, so how can we prepare students to be competitive? We create opportunities for students to become the creators of AI, to learn how to code, to design new technologies that will make an impact on not only their learning experience but for the future. Even using AI for learning, students have access to virtual tutors and can enroll in online courses that are taught by AI, which expand the how, when and where they can learn. Knowing how to code becomes a skill that is marketable to many areas. Students can become app designers, create new innovations, and develop the critical “21st-century” skills that they need to be successful in whatever their goals may be.

Educators can facilitate greater, more personalized learning experiences for students by fostering a “STEM mindset” in students. As Dr. Jacie Maslyk states, “The way we engage with our students can build confidence and fuel curiosity.” In a world where the future of learning and work are uncertain, the best way we can provide for our students is to push their curiosity, promote risk-taking and challenge them to explore emerging technologies and different STEM concepts and be there to support them along the way.




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Reaching out and Sciencing

As I am getting ready for STEAM Night at Lawton Chiles Elementary School, I am faced with a familiar conundrum: what do I wear that will make me look professional and scientist-like and also fun and approachable? Which begs the question-what DOES a scientist look like?

I settle on a blue dress with zebras and look outside my window. Ah, Rainesville! As I sit in traffic, my friends/fellow scientists frantically text me about the traffic conditions. “Step 1 to doing outreach: Show up early.” I’m surprised when I am greeted by a full parking lot. Gosh, those kids must be ready to learn about science!

Alberto Lopez, the School Outreach Coordinator, has everything set up and introduces me to my volunteers who will help me out tonight. Turns out, I’m a bat biologist and will show people how to make flashlights using popsicle sticks, copper wire, batteries and bulbs. Because flashlights are important. Especially in the field. (Always carry three headlamps-one on your head, one around your neck and one in your pocket because you never know when the batteries will run out in a deep, dark cave but that’s a story for another day).

Station 4. Make a flashlight-Tools used in science.

As I arranged the brightly colored bulbs on my table, nothing could have prepared me for the number of people who showed up at Station 4. The kids could barely contain their excitement with popsicle sticks in hand, ready to make a flashlight. It’s a truly humbling experience when you try to interact with several little humans all at once, while trying to make each one enjoy their time at your station.

This brings me to “Step 2 for doing outreach: Learn how to improvise.” The school band seemed to match the tempo of the people showing up as they played a fast tune. Due to the sheer number of people that showed up (350+), Alberto helped us modify the flashlights so that we could make them a tad faster.

Towards the end of the evening, we headed up to the stage to have a panel discussion. Alberto introduced us to the audience who quietly lined up with their questions. Kids will ask you anything under the sun and they clearly keep up with current events. They ask hard hitting questions and it’s okay to not know all the answers. “Step 3: I don’t know all the answers.” It’s why I love doing science.

Alberto Lopez, Molly Selba, Aditi Jayarajan, Allison Bordini, Eve Rowland and Sarah McGrath-Blaser.

“Step 4: Love what you do.” My favorite question came from a little boy who asked why we got into science. I love that I get to work in the collections at the museum. I like the fact that each specimen holds a special story and that I get to share it with people.

Cabinets full of interesting specimens in the Mammalogy Division at the Florida Museum.

This brings me to “Step 5: Have fun.” I appreciate the fact that so many parents brought their kids to an after school program on a Tuesday night. You need that support to fall in love with science. I have so much fun doing outreach events, it is truly what keeps me going!

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A New Way of Looking At Student Created News

Guest post by Jason Clark, Innovation Specialist, Eagle Point School District 9, Eagle Point, Oregon     Twitter: @jpclark03    #Go3agles #epsd9 


Throughout my career as an educator and edtech enthusiast, one of my passions has been to use video to tell a story, or to deliver news. At every school that I have been at along my journey (elementary school), I have created a student news program. This started way back before digital video and personal devices, and that makes me feel like a fossil. I have created news programs that aired live through closed circuit cable every single day, and news programs that were pre-recorded and posted to our school webpage via youtube every day. It was always a huge hit with students and we found that it was a great way to reach our parents and community as well, once our shows were shared on youtube. That’s that magic of it, students reaching an audience to deliver a message in a fun creative way.

In my new role as an Innovation Specialist for my district, one of my goals is to begin student news programs in each school. Our district is a 1:1 iPad district which puts us in a very unique situation. Every single student from K-12 has a working studio in their hands, with the ability to reach a broad audience. That is powerful. Our high school just started a video production class this year and we’ve built a working studio that is based and focused on the iPad. We use Padcaster Studios along with our ipads to create two video news episodes a week that go out to students and the community. The episodes are fun and creative. However, it is very difficult for teachers to take time out of the day to watch the news with students. Time is always an issue.

One trend that I’ve noticed is that we aren’t generating the views that we had hoped to get.

How can we reach our high school students in a different way? The news and announcements are filled with important information that they need to know, but many are missing them because the don’t listen to the intercom announcements (I’m guilty as well) or get a chance, or the time to view our student video news (Eagle News) on youtube. Then it hit me.

There is a way to hit just about every student in our high school with the important news and information that they need to know. We are now taking a risk that many schools are not willing to take. We are using the platforms that the majority of high school aged students use regularly. We are pushing out our video news and announcements through Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. Our students are consumers of a constant bombardment of information, so watching a 3-4 minute news episode is unlikely to happen throughout their day. However, they check their Snap, Insta, and Twitter accounts between classes (never during class) and when they are away from school. We are meeting them where they are at. Our video students and leadership students are changing the way school news and announcements are sent and received. They are content creators of short bite-sized nuggets of news that will reach their peers and the community in multiple ways. We are evolving what school news can look like, and it’s exciting to see where it goes.

One thing to consider is building trust with students and the use of social media. They don’t necessarily want teachers to see what they are doing and posting on their social media accounts. The way that we build trust with our students is that our Eagle News accounts don’t follow anyone back. We are purely using the platforms to push out our content. All things said and done, our social media news does not replace our studio news. We still create our studio news episodes because even if we don’t have many viewers yet, the experience in a studio is vital to video production. What we have done is to mesh our created content together in multiple platforms to reach a greater audience.

Ask yourself this question: How do you get most of your news? Do you sit on your couch to watch the 6:00 pm news? Or do you get live updates from your local news station on Twitter or Facebook? As our world changes and technology changes, as educators, we need to pay careful attention to how our students view news so that we can adapt to meet them where they are. That place is usually one with a device close by.



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How Teachers Can Develop Computational Thinkers

Guest Post by 

Get students computer science ready by teaching them how to think with computational thinking.

The demand for computer science (CS) in schools has many teachers wondering which components of CS they should implement first.

A couple of years ago, I asked myself the very same question, and I had to remind myself that creating a computer scientist could take up to 25 years! I was relieved that I wasn’t responsible for developing middle school computer scientists in only one semester.

I realized that what I needed to do was build the capacity of my students for deeper learning of the right skills — so they could experience success, which would inspire them to continue studying CS after leaving my class.

Advanced expertise in computer science requires knowledge in mathematics (namely discrete math and linear algebra) and problem-solving, and there are plenty of CS fundamentals to choose from.

In my previous position with Richmond Public Schools, we chose to dive in with computational thinking, programming and coding (yes, in that order). Because computational thinking (CT) is the highest order of problem-solving, is a cross-curricular skill, and is understandable to both machines and humans, I recommend building student CT competency by developing their versatility for recognizing and applying the four elements of CT to familiar problems/situations.

Video by JULES discussing the 4 elements of ‘Computational Thinking’

The Difference Between Computer Science and Computational Thinking

CS is part of computing education and it’s the foundation for ALL computing. So, in essence, CS is the study of computers and the algorithmic design processes in both hardware and software — their application and overall impact on society.

On the other hand, CT is a problem-solving skill(s) that involves decomposition, abstraction, pattern recognition and algorithm design.

Element 1: Decomposition

Facing large, complex problems will often discourage and disengage the students who aren’t fully equipped to begin the deconstructing process. Decomposition (like factorization) develops the skill of breaking down complex problems into smaller and more manageable parts, thus making even the most complicated task or problem easier to understand and solve.

To introduce your students to decomposition, begin by having them break down a simple task they do all the time, like brushing their teeth, baking a cake, making a sandwich or tying shoelaces. This will help them focus more on their ability to analyze and synthesize familiar information.

Next, introduce them to more complex problems/scenarios that are both unfamiliar and engaging enough to compel them to decompose them, such as investigating a crime scene, coping with the aftermath of natural disasters or planting a school garden.

Teachers who aren’t teaching traditional CS classes can help learners build their decomposition skills in their own subject areas by having them apply the concept to improving their writingcreating timelinesfactoring quadratics or understanding living organisms. CS teachers can start building student capacity for decomposition with this CT lesson by In this lesson, students assume the role of imaginary players and figure out how to play a game with no given instructions.

Element 2: Pattern recognition

Pattern recognition is a skill that involves mapping similarities and differences or patterns among small (decomposed) problems, and is essential for helping solve complex problems. Students who are able to recognize patterns can make predictions, work more efficiently and establish a strong foundation for designing algorithms.

You can introduce pattern recognition by presenting a slide with pictures of similar types of animals or foods, such as pizza or desserts.

Next, have learners map and explain the similarities/differences or patterns. The beauty of this technique is that once students can describe one category (animal or dessert), they will be able to explain the others by following patterns.

For example, the general characteristics of desserts are that they are all sweet; they can be fruit, custard, puddings or frozen; and usually are served at the end of a meal. One or more dessert may be pink, have fruit and served cold, while another type may be yellow, have sprinkles and not use fruit.

Then task students with either drawing or making a collage of their favorite desserts using the patterns they identified (like in the examples above) to help them. Also, have them reflect on how they’d have to start from scratch with either creating or finding each instance of a dessert if they hadn’t first identified essential patterns (classification, color, texture, ingredients).

The primary goal here is to get them to understand that finding patterns helps simplify tasks because the same problem-solving techniques can be applied when the problems share patterns (pattern recognition is also used in mathmusic and literaturehuman intelligencehistoryweather, etc.).

Class projects can be more authentic by focusing application of pattern recognition in forensics, medical sciences, photo identification or behavioral patterns like web browsing and credit card spending.

Once students know what to do, have them map the patterns in some of the decomposed problems described above in Element 1. CS teachers will need to help students comprehend how computers use pattern recognition by numbers, text and pictures. Students using visual programming languages should also learn how the use of pattern recognition helps to find the commonalities of repetition in code for avoiding redundancy, and they can begin doing so with this lesson.

Element 3: Abstraction

Abstraction involves filtering out — or ignoring — unimportant details, which essentially makes a problem easier to understand and solve. This enables students to develop their models, equations, an image and/or simulations to represent only the important variables.

As the values of variables often change and can be dependent upon another, it’s important for students to be introduced to abstraction in relation to patterns. In the previous element, we noted common characteristics of desserts. Have students make a simple drawing of a dessert focusing on the important/common features (like classifications) and abstracting the rest (texture, fruit, sprinkles). The abstraction process will help them create a general idea of what a problem is and how to solve it by removing all irrelevant details and patterns (abstraction is also used in math and when creating models — the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the rock cycle, etc.).

CS teachers will need to help students focus on the layers (or levels) of abstraction they will want in the models they develop, along with correlations between abstraction and pattern generalization to figure out the right relationships between abstracted variables to accurately represent a problem. They also need to understand how abstractions are built with purpose and can represent an entire class of similar objects. CS students can become excellent coders using abstraction. Use this lesson to help them get started.

Element 4: Algorithm design

Algorithm design is determining appropriate steps to take and organizing them into a series of instructions (a plan) for solving a problem or completing a task correctly. Algorithms are important because they take the knowledge derived from the previous three elements for execution.

Keep it simple when teaching algorithms to students and have them create small plans using their newly learned CT skills, again using simple functions like brushing teeth, baking a cake, making a sandwich, tying shoelaces. Each algorithm must have a starting point, a finishing point and a set of well-defined instructions in between.

CS teachers will also need to help students understand that algorithm design builds upon the previous three elements — which moves a problem from the modeling phase to the operation stage. Students will also need to learn to design algorithms that are both efficient and allow for automation through the use of computers.

Also, by learning discrete math and how to create flowcharts, students can practice and build expertise in algorithmic thinking and design over time. Here is a great compilation of lessons for helping students bridge the gap between understanding basic algorithms to actual programming.

Resources to get started

Here are a number of resources to turn to for help:

Remember, learning has no finish line!

Take a moment to reflect on the words of Dr. Stephen R. Covey, “Though you may find some of it to be simple common sense, remember, common sense is not common practice, and I guarantee that if you will focus your efforts in these areas, you will find that great peace and power will come into your life.”

I believe these words can be applied to learning CT (and any new concepts or practices) as we help our students use what they already know to develop their CS superpowers!

Coding is a superpower video by

This article is adapted from an original post on this link.

If you like this work, please give it some claps, follow our publication and share this with your friends and colleagues.

Jorge Valenzuela is a teacher at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. Additionally, he is a national faculty of PBLWorks and a lead educator for littleBits. His work is aimed at helping educators understand and implement computational thinking, computer science, STEM, and project-based learning.

You can connect with Jorge @JorgeDoesPBL via Twitter and Instagram to continue the conversation.

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Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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Buncee: More than just a presentation tool

Buncee: More than just a presentation tool!

There are a lot of great digital tools out there for educators to bring into their classrooms. When it comes to deciding on a specific tool to use, we must always think about our purpose and perhaps ask ourselves a few questions, such as: why are we looking for a digital tool, what are we hoping to accomplish by using it and how will it benefit students and learning? I’m often asked by colleagues either to recommend a new tool or direct them to something specific based on their requirements, such as video, audio, text and more. Because Buncee is such a versatile tool and offers so many options all-in-one, I find myself recommending it a lot. It is easy to get started with and full of choices for teachers and students.

Educators want to use tools that promote student choice and student voice and offer more than just one purpose. The reason I recommend Buncee is because it offers much more than simply being a way to create presentations. In addition to all of the wonderful things that can be created using Buncee, there are additional benefits for educators and students that might be overlooked or simply not thought of when getting started. For example, educators can meet the ISTE Standards for Students and Educators. By having students create with Buncee, students become empowered learners, creative communicators, innovative designers, knowledge constructors and engage in learning that meets each of the ISTE standards. With technology, we want to make sure that it is being used in a way that amplifies student voice and choice in learning.

However, Buncee does more than that. Beyond addressing the ISTE standards and providing students with more authentic and personalized learning experiences when creating with Buncee, there are other skills that are being addressed. In my own classroom, we have used Buncee for many different projects and even for project-based learning (PBL). My students created Buncees to share with their global peers in Argentina and Spain. Creating an “About Me” Buncee enabled all students to develop a more global understanding and become aware of cultural differences, as well as to develop empathy in the process.

Students enjoy creating with Buncee and even more than seeing their own creations, they really enjoy seeing what their classmates create. I have noticed that students become more comfortable with one another in class and start to build closer connections while working on their Buncees. Even the quietest students begin to ask questions, interact more and have been more engaged in creating when using Buncee than they had with other tools before. Students tell me that they enjoy teaching one another, learning about their classmates in unique ways, and feel like they are part of a classroom community.

Knowing that students are picking up on this has been a great way to foster the social-emotional skills (SEL) students need now and in the future. Buncee is so invested in providing a lot of options and opportunities for students and educators to enjoy learning, creating and growing together. Now Buncee has templates available to address SEL.

What is Social-emotional learning?

CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), formed in 1994, is an organization which actively works toward promoting the importance of developing SEL skills in education. SEL is focused on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. The development of these skills can benefit the level of student engagement as well, leading to higher academic achievement and reduce discipline issues in the classroom.

Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of digital tools and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. Using some of the Buncee templates and emojis, students can comfortably express how they are feeling, provide a quick check-in based on their level of understanding, share personality characteristics or likes and dislikes, or respond to questions in class, for a few options. Buncee is “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

In my own experience, I have seen students who have preferred to not speak out in class or who voiced that they were not creative or would not be able to do a presentation, design amazing Buncees and be excited to share with their classmates. Students build confidence while creating and the benefit is that they become more engaged in and excited to share their learning and interact with classmates. It helps to foster the development of skills such as problem-solving, working with different layouts, visualizing and displaying student learning.

It is always a good idea to ask students for feedback. I want to know what their thoughts are, if the tool or strategy is making a difference for them and if so, how. Here are some student thoughts about Buncee.

“It helps me to express my ideas more easily and make presentations which are much more interactive for myself and for my classmates.”

It is made in a way that allows students to make it really personal and specific to what they need. If students are enjoying their work and are able to make it their own, then they will be more willing to learn and will improve because of using Buncee.”

Hearing from students is important and making sure that all students feel comfortable expressing themselves is even more important. With Buncee, students have many choices to find what interests them and to express themselves in a way that is authentic, meaningful and personalized.