About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Supporting STEM Education: Raul Santana

Raul Santana2Reviewer: Raul Santana

Position: Director of Technology

District/School: Upland Unified School District (UUSD), Upland High School (UHS), California

Number of Students in District/School: UUSD serves more than 12,000 students in 14 schools, which includes 10 elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools

Products: HP Workstations Hp


Upland Unified School District (UUSD) faced two of the same challenges that most public school districts are facing nationwide—we had a lack of funding to pursue programs of excellence, and the need to improve student achievement in math and science. UUSD’s ultimate goal was to find a way to provide educational technology to support rigorous programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.


In an effort to improve students’ math scores and skills in a cost effective way by leveraging outside funding, UUSD laid out plans to participate in Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a national program that provides rigorous and innovative science, technology, engineering and math education for middle and high schools. In order to meet the needs of the courses of PLTW, the district’s IT team created two 21st Century Classrooms at UHS, which are equipped with HP Z Workstations, digital projectors, an electronic white board and more.

The community has been incredibly supportive of PLTW and the implementation of HP technology. In fact, in 2008, the community passed a construction bond that has enabled the district to remodel many classrooms and incorporate leading edge educational technologies to create the 21st Century Classrooms needed to support PLTW.

Teachers believe that PLTW is helping to increase student success: “It’s not our goal to make engineers out of every kid in the class,” says Doug Hutchings, teacher, Upland High School, “But it’s very likely that students who participate in Project Lead the Way will have a better chance of being admitted to college and doing well once they get there.”

The program and school district are receiving support from local colleges and universities as well. California Polytechnic Institute at Pomona and the University of California at Riverside actually guarantee admission to students who complete the entire sequence of PLTW courses.

Learning Curve:

The district’s first PLTW course, Introduction to Engineering Design, is a methods course involving product design using Autodesk Inventor software. UUSD runs the software on HP Workstations. We have found that because Autodesk applications are thoroughly tested and qualified on HP Workstations, that they are the perfect fit for the classrooms where the PLTW courses are taught. Together, HP, Autodesk and PLTW have offered a wide-designed platform for science, technology, engineering and math education that has helped integrate the program pretty seamlessly.

How We Use It:

Using HP Workstations, students tackle four design projects in the introductory PLTW course. The first is a puzzle, which students design and engineer for manufacturing. Subsequent projects include a toy train, a full-size boat, and a fourth project serves a real-life community need and changes each year. Last year, the class is designed and built a mobile scoreboard for the local Little League.

Now in its second year of involvement with PLTW, UUSD has added a second PLTW course, Principles of Engineering. Students use HP Workstations to tackle more rigorous engineering challenges and are exposed to a wider range of engineering software packages.

All told, the high school has roughly 135 students taking PLTW courses today and that number should continue to grow as new courses are added.

Reviewers Note:

UUSD has a solid reputation for preparing its students academically, and several schools in the district have been cited as California Distinguished Schools.

Classrooms Collaborate with Projects by Jen

WagnerReviewer:  Jennifer Wagner

Position:  Online Project Coordinator

Online Site:  ProjectsByJen.com

Number of Students in School: 825

Products:  Voice Thread, Animoto, Smilebox, Google Docs & Forms, Dreamweaver, Microsoft Office, and the ProjectsByJen site - http://www.projectsbyjen.com/.


The primary ProjectsByJen goal is to seamlessly and effortlessly weave various opportunities of tech into Jw1 the PreK – 6th grade classroom, while at the same time setting up collaboration activities for interaction.


My first project in 1999 had 125 responding classrooms, most current project over 1300.
Because standards are shared with each project, and the projects can be molded to fit within each teacher’s schedule and curriculum, the response has been positive. I receive emails from teachers, admins, and parents thanking me for offering these projects online so their students can participate. Each classroom is also earns a participation certificate to showcase their involvement.

Learning Curve:

The learning curve is different within each classroom; however, detailed instructions are provided with each project as well as activities and extension ideas. Tutorials are provided as well as several online community forum areas. If a teacher has any difficulty, there are many ways to get support. If any teacher is creating their own worksheets, etc, they usually share out their ideas there. 

How We Use It:

Reviewer's Note: All of my projects can be found here:  http://projectsbyjen.com/archives.htm

Sample Projects:

Most teachers in the Prek – 6th grade level will have some sort of harvest lesson during the last week of October, which will probably involve a pumpkin. The Pumpkin Seed project takes what will already be done and weaves in a math lesson, pumpkin costume show, and many other activities, which can easily be used during this harvest theme time. If a teacher wishes, there are also opportunities for the classroom to collaborate with other classrooms via Skype, e-mail, snail mail, or various other ways.  At the end of this project, all results collected are displayed in graph form, available in a downloadable spreadsheet, and participants are placed on a map. This project easily incorporates math, literature, science, art, history, technology, spelling, and more.

What’s Ahead?:

ProjectsByJen has 6 more planned projects for the school year, including The Holiday Card project in December, which truly brings the holiday spirit into your classroom in a very geographical way. The St. Patrick’s Day project blends graphing, sorting, and estimation into the K3 classroom. A new project, “Picture This”, where 24 different classrooms will share in creating a masterpiece of collaboration will be hosted for Spring. 

Reviewer’s Notes:

ProjectsbyJen is offerered at no charge to classrooms around the world.  However, to subsidize website expenses, I do offer a monthly newsletter, Wordle Packets can also be found at http://www.projectsbyjen.com/, along with  a book entitled “35 Tech Tips for Teachers”. 

Exploring The Sketchpad App: Karen Blumberg

Key Karen Reviewer: Karen Blumberg

Position Held: Technology Integrator

District/School: The School at Columbia University is an independent school on the Upper West Side of New York City.

Number of Students in School: 500 students in grades K-8

Product: Sketchpad Explorer app from Key Curriculum Press


I have been a huge fan of The Geometer's Sketchpad for years (since I was introduced to it in 1994!), and I believe it is one of the best educational tools out there. Therefore, I was incredibly excited when I learned about the release of Sketchpad Explorer. I will be supporting the 5th grade team as they incorporate the Sketchpad Explorer app and the Dynamic Number Project  into their math curriculum this year. We're looking to fully engage the students and encourage them to hypothesize, investigate, understand, and share mathematical principles.


The School at Columbia University has a 1:1 iPad program in grades K-2 and a 1:1 laptop program in grades 3-8. Our website reinforces the four pillars of our school community: Innovation, Collaboration, Diversity, and Technology. Hence, our administration, parents, faculty, and students support our efforts to fully explore ways to integrate technology. My personal goal is to teach my students how to use technology academically, respectfully, and responsibly. 

Learning Curve:

After opening Sketchpad Explorer on the iPad, teachers and students are able to quickly navigate through a variety of mathematical investigations. Within seconds, students can adeptly explore and interact and make sense of mathematical concepts. 

How We Use It:

In addition to capitalizing on our students' enthusiasm and willingness to embrace technology as a learning and collaboration tool, the teachers and I are planning lessons and activities to integrate Sketchpad Explorer into the 5th grade geometric and algebraic curriculum. Also, there is a robust online community sharing ideas and lesson plans at the Sketch Exchange!

What’s Ahead?:

We are excited to use this year to examine how Sketchpad Explorer may engage, empower, and educate our students. I am hoping we can eventually build an in-house repository of homemade sketches for our students to use as a resource archive...sort of like our own version of a Khan Academy

FINDing Classworks: Cynthia Bridges, Tech Coordinator

C. Bridges Photo

Reviewer: Cynthia Bridges

Position: Technology coordinator

District: N. Pekin/Marquette Heights District #102, Marquette Heights, IL

Number of Students: 600 students

Products: Classworks FIND and Classworks by Curriculum Advantage


We implemented the Classworks FIND assessment system in fall 2010 in grades 2-8, after using the Classworks instructional software for years. Our goals were to measure students’ mastery of grade-level standards, differentiate instruction to meet each student’s needs, and impro


ve student performance on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).


Our teachers liked the FIND Benchmark Assessments. Reading was right on target with the state content for each grade. We found the math content was more advanced—about half a year ahead of our standards—so we adjusted students’ individualized lesson plans accordingly. Teachers appreciated that the assessment reports organized each student’s results by strand, so they knew exactly which areas to address. They also liked that students’ performance on the Benchmark Assessments showed a direct correlation to their performance on the ISAT.

Learning Curve:  

We had Curriculum Advantage come to our district for two training sessions. We conducted the trainings in small groups, which worked very well. Then I did one-on-one training with teachers, as needed, which allowed them to proceed at their own rate. We’re now ready to dive into the more advanced features of the system and create our own assessments.

How We Use It:  

In the fall, we administered the Benchmark Assessments to all students in grades 2-8 to gauge their mastery of grade-level standards. A key benefit of Classworks FIND is that it automatically linked the assessment results to targeted instructional activities in the Classworks instructional software, creating an individualized learning plan for each student. For teachers, this was a great classroom management tool since they could assign activities to review concepts that had already been taught, and turn off lessons that wouldn’t be covered until later in the year. In the spring, we administered the Benchmark Assessments again to measure students’ growth.

We also used the FIND assessments in our Response to Intervention (RtI) program. As students progressed throughout the year, we administered the Skills Snapshot probes to assess students skill by skill, and used the results to make decisions about instruction to address their needs.

What’s Ahead?:  

This year, we plan to use Classworks FIND for more in-depth progress monitoring in our RtI program. We will also give our Tier 2 students a second round of Benchmark Assessments that will be one grade below their grade level. The results will show us what skills they did not master from the year before and help us create their RtI plans.

In addition, since Classworks is aligned to the Common Core State Standards as well as our state standards, we plan to use it as a cornerstone for our migration from ISAT testing to Common Core testing. This will put us ahead of many Illinois school districts.

Reviewer’s Notes: 

We are currently reviewing our 2011 state test scores and are seeing improvements. In the fourth grade, which concentrated on math, 96.8 percent of our students met or exceeded the standards in math on the ISAT. In the third grade, which focused on reading, 91.8 percent of students met or exceeded the standards in reading. Our teachers felt that the assessments helped them plan their ISAT prep for all levels in their classroom. They also felt that the lessons in Classworks supported what they did in the classroom.

It’s important to note that we also interact with students quite a bit as they work on the Classworks instruction and assessment systems. The individualization we are able to provide complements the Classworks systems well. Our computer lab has turned into a differentiated learning dream.

Existing Technology Unleashed: Cary Peterson


Cary Petersen_Jefferson County

Reviewer: Cary Petersen

Position: Executive Director of Information Technology

District/School: Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, KY

Number of Students in District/School: JCPS is a K12 system, the largest in the state, with approximately 100,000 students and 6,000 teachers.

Products: HP EliteBook 2740p Tablet PC, HP 17-inch diagonal LCD monitor, HP docking station, HP Compaq Business Desktop PC, HP LaserJet printer


In order to prepare our students for their future careers, we knew that teachers had to embrace technology and use it effectively. Yet even after spending some $30 million on technology products, we discovered several years ago that teachers were still lecturing in front of classrooms much as they had done when the district was founded in 1829. In response, we searched for a way to unlock the potential of our huge existing investments in technology. We wanted a way to get teachers to actually use technology in the classroom, rather than let it sit gathering dust.


The adoption of HP Tablet PCs has been extremely well received on all fronts. After the pilot HP Tablet PC rollout, the number of teachers using computer technology jumped from 15% to 84%, and today the usage rate is approaching 100% in some of our schools. Since the introduction of the HP Tablet PC, the numbers of students receiving high-performance ratings has also risen. A survey of our school principals – a group who ranked technology dead last as a spending priority – showed the vast majority clamoring to continue the HP Tablet PC program.

The mobility of the HP Tablet PC enables our teachers to learn at their own convenience as well. Most importantly, our students are engaged and they’re excited.

Learning Curve:

As part of our Technology Integration Project, we rolled out approximately 6,000 HP Tablet PCs, some accessorized with HP 17-inch diagonal LCD monitors and HP docking stations, over several years as funding became available. To ensure success of the HP Tablet PC rollout, each teacher received three hours of training on computer basics and three hours on Microsoft Windows Journal, the software for creating and organizing handwritten notes on tablet PCs. After that, teachers got a year of follow up coaching from a Technology Integration Specialist.

How We Use It:

Teachers work within the familiar and effective paradigm of writing out material as they teach – solving math problems, for example, or listing the exports of Peru. Teachers traditionally had used overhead projectors to do this, but the HP Tablet PC is a mobile device they can carry around, that can project, not only handwritten notes but also slide shows, websites – virtually anything. It even lets them save notes for students who miss class, or hand them out as review material.

What’s Ahead:

We recently launched an initiative to create 21st Century Classrooms by installing state-of-the-art interactive tools and implementing a Lesson Study professional development model for teachers to learn to incorporate electronic whiteboards, wireless slates, document cameras and student response systems into their teaching.

Reviewers Notes:

More than 60% of our students receive free or reduced-price meals – a sign of economic need – and up to 10% are estimated to be homeless. Yet average student attendance rates are 95% and the dropout rate in grades seven to twelve is less than 5%. Newsweek magazine includes JCPS in its list of the Best American High Schools.

Google Sites for Interactive Class Content: Jennifer Levy

Jenni2 Reviewer: Jennifer Levy

Position: Social Studies Teacher

School / District: New Milford High School, New Milford, NJ

Number of Students in District/School: 3,300

Product: Google Sites, COURSEsites.com by Blackboard



To create an interactive website that provides course content, contact information, homework, class newsletters, syllabi, permission slips, classroom rules, SAT and college admissions information, and allows students to submit work directly to me.


Students are able to access the website easily, parents are able to check student progress, and my supervisor can view what I am doing in class both daily and monthly.

Learning Curve:

Google sites, along with Google docs and Google forms from Google, are very easy to use. You need to allocate some time to create your website, but you can always save it and come right back to it where you left off. You do not need to know anything about programming to do this. I have been able to edit and set it up without issue.

How We Use It:

Students go onto the course website during class to fill in online questionnaires, take quizzes or tests, or finish up non-essay related homework. At the beginning of the year, students submit their contact information and a little about themselves to the website.

Using Google forms along with the website has enabled students to take tests and polls. I have even used it successful to launch mock APs, SATs, and HSPA format exams. It does best with multiple choice or short response questions. I can program it easily to create spreadsheets and target individual student and class weaknesses. Your student answers in a Google spreadsheet  is similar to working in an excel document, but in my opinion it’s better, because you don’t need Windows Office software.

What's Ahead?:

Goals for the future...

Using my website to have students submit their essay-style homework to a central database (like a cloud) without having students email me, as well as using the new Blackboard COURSEsites.com to help accomplish this.

Easy Back Up: Nick Johnson

NickJohnson Name: Nick Johnson

Title:  High School English Teacher

School: Alexander Hamilton High School, Los Angeles

Product: Mozy


Like everyone I have lost files that should have been backed up. I have done a lot of writing over the years and before I had Mozy I lost 83 pages of a piece I had been working on for months. I never wanted that to happen again. I started using Mozy at home and school at the same time. I set Mozy for auto- backups every day. A few years ago I had a big crash over the summer. All my lesson plans and every file since I started teaching in 1999 was on the computer, but with Mozy I was able to get it all back.  Also, if I change or throw away a version and then realize I want an older version- I can check Mozy to see if that version was still there and it was easy to go and find that.

Learning Curve:

It was really easy to get started. It’s been a while since I first set it up, but even in its early stages Mozy had a windows format where files came out of folders to find things easily. If I changed or threw away a version and I realized I wanted an older version- I could check Mozy to see if that version was still there and it was easy to go and find that. Just deciding what should be backed up was really simple to do. I set it all up in 15 minutes.

How I Use It:

I use Mozy to back-up all my lesson plans for the semester. For example, I do a poetry unit that has hundreds of documents, including poems and audio files linked to word documents so students can read poems and hear the poetry out loud. I also store student work- past and present. Most of our students are inner city kids who don’t have a printer at home- they bring work in and store it on my computer so I have a folder of their work so their work is always backed up. 

What’s ahead?:

I haven’t used Mozy’s new mobile app seriously yet but that’s something I’d use more for personal use. Right now I can’t think of a scenario where I would need to look up a lesson plan when I wasn’t at home or school. But the mobile app is easy to use- it worked right away and it was easy to use and find files right away.

I want Mozy to take up as little of my life as possible- which is really how it is most useful to me. It’s just in the background of my consciousness. I just want to know all my files are safe no matter what.

Reviewers Notes:

Having a backup system in place is so important because computers can be stolen and they can break down. The files on your computer are more valuable than the computer itself- having them only on your computer is crazy. Teachers really don’t write things down these days now so it’s just on the machines and they need to have their work safe. I have Mozy set for auto backups every day, which makes it so easy to save and protect my files.

Students Pass the Tablet

  Mrs. Arias in action with her TABLET!
Lisa Arias

Position: Tech Leader/Math Teacher

School / District: Learning Gate Community School, Hillsborough County. Fla.

Number of Students in District/School: 191,000/550

Product: ELMO CRA-1 Wireless Tablet/Slate


The goal was to introduce Project-Based Learning by creating and recording math tutorials using the ELMO TABLET. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation generously helped fund the project.


Administrators said students gained technology confidence in project-based learning experiences. Students liked using the tablet from their seats and showing everyone how they solved problems, and teachers liked the classroom teaching mobility.        

Learning Curve:

Right now, I can easily pledge how user friendly the ELMO TABLET is, but at first, for someone not used to using technology, it took repetition and practice to become confident. Now, the only challenge is to remember charging the Tablet battery!

ELMO Technical Support’s patience and guidance were key to my success.

How We Use It:

Because our math textbook is online and resources are in PDF or Word, we use the ELMO TABLET just like a mouse to access lessons. We then use the annotation tools to model the steps needed to solve the problems. Teachers can circulate throughout the room at the same time, so “pass the tablet” is easy for student input.

What's Ahead?:

Using the ELMO TABLET for daily instruction, as well as teacher and student-created math concept tutorials.

Assistive Technology Creates Independent Learners

Saywire GarzaReviewer: Sally Garza
Position: Upper School Technology Director
District/School: Lawrence School, Upper School, OH
Number of Students in School:  225
Products:  Saywire, Read & Write Gold by Texthelp, Kindle for PC App with Accessibility Plugin


Lawrence School serves students with learning differences, many of whom need assistive technology to read or as a prosthetic processor to make reading an easier task. Our technology goals are to offer tools that allow students to become independent learners, and collaborate and communicate outside of school for school and social purposes.


Once students and teachers are trained it is very easy to use the tools. Saywire has allowed our students, middle school students in particular, to do school work and keep in social contact with their peers in a safe environment. The school monitors within Saywire.

Learning Curve:

Most of the software is fairly intuitive to learn, requiring training for staff but not as much for students. We do about 15 minutes of technology training for each staff member each week on specific tools in Read & Write Gold and Saywire to make it easier to use.

How We Use It:

Using the Kindle App for PC with Accessibility Plugin with Read & Write Gold (assistive technology software) allows books to be read aloud by the computer for students with dyslexia and other visual processing issues. Then students post reviews of the summer reading book in Saywire, the school online learning community as well as post their projects about their books.

What’s Ahead?:

We are going to expand the Kindle App Library to all students in the Upper School. We are also continuing to use Saywire in our classrooms for class/course pages, and incorporate it into “Calamity Days” plans for online school days through Saywire for weather cancellations.

Art and Tech Synergy: Corinne Takara

Corinne_TakaraReviewer: Corinne Takara   

Position: Art Education Specialist

District/School: Alum Rock Union School District/Horace Cureton Elementary School, San Jose, CA. 

Number of Students in School: 572 

Reviewer's Note:
The entire 5th Grade class of 69 students participated in the project.

Products: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, Repper Pro, and VoiceThread

Reviewer’s Project Notes:

The You are Here Street Banner Project is designed to engage in exploring community identity and geometry through photography and digital pattern design. The patterns created by the students were printed as digital textiles and used as ‘furoshiki’ (Japanese eco-friendly wrapping cloths) and as textiles for public art installations. The final expression of the project for the Cureton Elementary Students will be large street banners for the Street of Alum Rock, San Jose, CA.


Through The You are Here Street Banner Project I hope the children have a strong positive experience of being active creators and curators of culture rather than passive consumers of mass culture. I also believe that it is important to engage students in art technology tools as a way to expand their computer literacy. Being exposed to the synergy of art and technology which drives Silicon Valley hopefully will excite these students on the edge of Silicon Valley to continue to pursue learning technology tools, explore art and possibly a creative career. I am also hoping that with an application process in place and banners up, students from other schools will submit student designed banners in future years. An underlying goal was to engage students in a project that really valued process, collaboration and communication in a creative forum.


Students were proud to share their knowledge of pattern design as they taught others about the radial pattern project and they learned to collaborate in creating though provoking art for their community. The school board members and the Alum Rock Education Foundation honored the project by presenting a Certificate of Appreciation at a Board meeting. The principal, Jason Sorich, was very supportive of the project and selected the fabrics to be displayed in a Visual and Performing Arts Display at the District Offices. The San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs has been supportive of the project from the beginning when I contacted them in the fall of 2010. They offered a special forum for the students to present their designs at City Hall.

Learning Curve:

At the beginning of the school year, I requested that my school district install Repper Pro and allow access to VoiceThread on school computers. The tools were easy to use. Voicethread really requires headsets as once the audio responses are playing, the room can get very noisy. I had intended to have students upload and download photos they took from either Flickr or Picassa through a link on the project website, but since the District does not allow access to these sites, I used USB memory sticks to transfer images onto and off of each computer. Luckily I had the support of students who were in the Mouse Squad program. These students helped me to transfer images before and after workshop sessions. Finally, we got a site license for Repper Pro. This was necessary as only the Pro version enables high enough resolution seamless tile saving for the textile printing. Studio Ludens, the creator of RepperPro, offers free educator site licenses if you contact them via e-mail.

How We Use It:

Using VoiceThread, students peer critiqued other students pattern creations and written explanations.  Using this tool, students wrote comments or recorded their voices to share with the students of the other state. Next the Cureton Elementary students ventured out into their community to capture images using digital cameras and single use cameras. These photos were then used as source images in RepperPro software as students created digital pattern designs for their banners. In teams, students printed out their digital photos and patterns and collaged them to create 8x2 foot banners. Artist statements for the banners were written and drafted in Word for their presentation to the Alum Rock Village Business Association. They will be using a PowerPoint presentation for their banner submissions and present to the approving city board for banner design.

What’s Ahead:

For the upcoming academic year, I am in the process of designing a collaborative project, Slot Shelters, which will include Cureton Elementary, and will expand our explorations of community through pattern and photography. Slot Shelters will explore the design of slot building cards and the downloadable deck of cards will grow as more schools and students participate. There will be a Google Sketch Up online collaboration and Voicethread collaboration with students internationally.

Here is the rough draft of the Prezi which will be used to solicit grant funding to bring the project to life: http://prezi.com/wogjefkryjw-/slot-shelters/



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Best in Tech Today are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.