Home‎ > ‎RITS Blog‎ > ‎

RITS Blog Posts

REMC Presenters Fire-up the MACUL Conference!

posted May 2, 2016, 6:53 AM by wafflem@calhounisd.org

Submitted by Anne Thorp, PhD -
Ottawa Area ISD - REMC 7


An inaugural event occurred at the 2016 MACUL Conference through the REMC/MACUL partnership. 15 presenters from the REMC Association of MI, RITS and teacher teams interacted with attendees over the course of nine sessions held at the DeVos Center in downtown Grand Rapids.

Topics ranged from game design to digital stories, and collaborative projects to transforming meetings and professional development. Presenters were teachers, administrators, instructional technologists, and even students! Malena Schrauben from Portage Public Schools brought a team of middle school students who inspired participants with their humility, humor, and presentation of classroom projects revolving around programming and coding.

All sessions were well attended with few seats left open. Participants asked questions, collaborated with presenters, and each other, and came away with new and fresh ideas, strategies, and tools to incorporate into their own teaching and learning environment.

The REMC/MACUL partnership event for the 2017 MACUL Conference is already in the works!


How One C.I. Classroom Approached Robotics ... And What I Learned From Them

posted Mar 21, 2016, 4:46 AM by wafflem@calhounisd.org   [ updated Mar 28, 2016, 6:50 AM ]

Submitted by Joe Rommel -
Berrien RESA - REMC 11

I learned today that the state of Michigan has 411 teams registered for the just launched FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics season.  California is in a distant second place with 258 teams.  The robots these teams create are designed, built, and tested by students to complete a challenge while competing against other teams.  They are impressive to see in person.  Maybe too impressive.

I think that teachers often hear the term 'robotics' and believe they do not possess the skills needed to teach students this concept.  Some see a shiny finished product and forget the process involved.  Some are afraid to learn alongside their students.  And some just do not know where to start.  Hopefully this post will give you some ideas.

Steve Swenson and Cindy Chaney teach a cognitively impaired classroom in Berrien Springs Middle School.  They reached out to Berrien RESA inquiring about materials we had to support robotics.  I sat down and talked about using Little Bits Gizmo's and Gadgets Kits and Sphero robots.  They had never taught robotics before, were excited about the topic but nervous.

Their background in teaching their students thematically allowed them to approach robotics in the same way.  They wanted their students to build an understanding and see them in action.  So before they even started building anything they visited Vickers Manufacturing.  Vickers is a local machine shop and here the teachers set the stage for their students see the purpose and usefulness of robots.

When it came time to get hands-on we discussed several starters.  We agreed that the Little Bits were probably the best place to start with the students actually building, as they have very clear directions.  The colorful instructions provided an anchor document for the small, cooperative groups Steve and Cindy utilized.  We knew the students could build a working machine in a relatively short amount of time.  From their they progressed to using OzoBots, Spheros and eventually the Lego EV3 programmable robots.

The students were writing about their experiences throughout the unit and making other curricular connections.  The teachers found benefit in providing their students with some initial time to explore and 'play' with the materials.  The kids needed this exploration time before given a prompt or learning task.

 I think that the approach Steve and Cindy used in their classroom shows a great understanding of student learning.  By creating real world connections for their students, and providing them with authentic tools, they were able to really engage the students with their learning.  In fact, their curriculum director has encouraged them to have the students visit the elementary schools and teach the kids there more about robotics.  I know I learned from their approach to robotics, and hope you will as well.

More Meaningful Math

posted Mar 14, 2016, 5:31 AM by wafflem@calhounisd.org

More Meaningful Math

Submitted by Craig Steenstra -
Kent ISD - REMC 8

In order to understand math, you need to interact with it. Desmos and Geogebra may be the best tools for bringing math to life, and I want to share some features in these systems that make it easy for teachers and students to use them effectively. See below for more:
Desmos (online graphing calculator on steroids)

  1. Search the pre-made activities on a wide variety of topics. You can post links for students to access without accounts, or you can sign up and tweak the activities for your purposes.
  2. When students have accounts, teachers have access to an impressive dashboard to use when facilitating activities. Here is a guide for the steps involved.
  3. Here is a general learning guide for Desmos that I have used when working with teachers.

Geogebra (a geometry and algebra platform built for action)

  1. It also has a library of pre-made activities with links that you can provide for students. You can copy existing activities and modify them with a free account. (the editing features are a little bit cumbersome, unfortunately).
  2. Similar to Desmos, teachers can create groups (AKA classes) in which participants can complete tasks, provide feedback, and more. See this help guide for more details.
  3. Here is a sample activity I created to help provide opportunities for M-STEP tasks without “test prepping”.

There is definitely much more to explore with both of these tools, but this is enough to infuse any math class with some boom. Get them acting, talking, and exploring. Repeating question sets is not the answer for building mathematicians; nor is it the way to excite and ignite.

Three Chrome Extensions for Early Elementary and Special Education Students

posted Mar 7, 2016, 11:47 AM by wafflem@calhounisd.org   [ updated Mar 7, 2016, 11:50 AM ]

Submitted by Dale Ehrhart -
Genesee ISD - REMC 14E

Tablets rose to prominence in classrooms across the United States, in part, because of their excellent array of tools that support early elementary and special education students.  For example, teachers can push out web resources to their students via sound using an app called Chirp.  Additionally, young students can conduct web searches using voice-to-text and have the information read back to them using text-to-speech. 


Capabilities like these can be duplicated in the Chrome ecosystem (Chrome browser, Chromebooks, Chromebox) using the following extensions:

 Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 8.57.52 AM.png  You can use Google Tone to send the URL for any web page, including news stories, pictures, documents, blog posts, products, YouTube videos, recipes—even search results. Any computer within earshot that also has the Google Tone extension installed and turned ON can receive a Google Tone notification.

Support Video: Google Tone

 Voice search using any search engine easily. Simply press the  red microphone icon in the top bar. EasyVoiceSearch now includes the popular choice child friendly browser KidRex.

Support Documentation: EasyVoiceSearch Tip Sheet

 Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 8.58.40 AM.png
 Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 9.00.08 AM.png  ATbar is free and allows you to change the look and feel of webpages, have text read aloud, and spell check forms.

Support Documentation: ATBar Instructions

These  extensions are extremely versatile and support the diverse learning needs and styles of students across K-12. Google Tone can be used as a classroom management device to help students focus on an upcoming assignment or support students with motor and visual impairments. Text-to-Speech applications are effective aids for people who experience dyslexia, reading challenges, or visual impairment. General education students can experience benefits from a mixed learning method for long text passages and reviewing and editing their own writings. Similarly, speech-to-text applications can benefit students who have difficulty expressing themselves through traditional methods due to a variety of reasons.

Whether it’s age, learning style, physical disability, or learning disability these these free and easy-to-use extensions can be used in conjunction with any device running the Chrome browser to help make learning accessible for all.

Google CS First Michigan Launch

posted Feb 22, 2016, 6:58 AM by wafflem@calhounisd.org

Submitted by Justin Knull - Instructional Technology Specialist

Shiawassee RESD - REMC 14W

The REMC Association is supporting the partnership between Google and the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office to bring Google’s Computer Science First clubs to students across the State of Michigan, and on January 29th, 300+ 4th-8th graders from all across Michigan gathered at the Breslin Center in East Lansing to participate in the first ever statewide launch of Google’s CS First program.  

The program began with a short video presentation from the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office and an introduction from Google’s representative about how excited they were to hold the first ever statewide launch of their program in Larry Page’s hometown of East Lansing.

Students then had the opportunity to rotate between numerous interactive stations and hand-on activities that demonstrated some of the options a computer science background could lead to in their futures.  Stations were provided by different groups from MSU, Google, ITEC, Pixo Group, Strength in Numbers Studios, Boy Scouts of America, and Square One.  Students were able to get hands on demonstrations with Google Cardboard and other technology developed by Google and play a collection of games developed by the GameDev@MSU team, which is one of the Top 10 Game Development schools in the country.  Students also had a lot of fun trying out the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset on games that are in development and getting their first ride on a Segway.  In all, there were ten interactive stations where students could witness firsthand some of the options a computer science background could open up for them in the future, and their excitement was awesome to watch.  Check out #MiCSFirst on Twitter for more.

Although the official statewide launch has passed, it is not too late to get started with a CS First Club at your school this year.  The application to join the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office partnership is available here.  The program is 100% free, and club leaders don’t need to have a computer science background.  You can try out sample lessons and read more here, but go ahead, get your club started now… and cross your fingers that this event was the First Annual Statewide Launch.


posted Feb 17, 2016, 6:11 AM by wafflem@calhounisd.org

Submitted by Justin Cowen - 
Marquette Alger RESA - REMC 21

So one of the best features for Chromebooks was the Webcam Capture tool in YouTube. Using the Webcam Capture tool students could film themselves with their Chromebooks and have it uploaded to YouTube. Unfortunately though Google is pulling the plug on this great service on January 16th! So the question is, what do we do now? 

Well you don't have to worry, because I found a pretty good alternative. ClipChamp allows students to record up-to five minutes of webcam footage for free. This doesn't seem long, but normally it is more than enough for student projects. If the video needs to be longer, students can film multiple clips and put them together using several different methods, the YouTube video editor, they could put them together in a playlist, or have links to each video in a Google Doc or a ThingLink.

Watch the video above to see how easy it can be to do a ClipChamp webcam capture.

#EdTech Tips for New Teachers

posted Feb 8, 2016, 9:24 AM by wafflem@calhounisd.org

Submitted by Andrew Shauver -

Ingham ISD - REMC 13

Last night I was blessed with the opportunity to talk to about 50 new teachers about instructional technology.

As I prepared my talking points, I considered what I would have needed to hear when I was 23 and in the midst of my first year in the classroom. Here’s what I came up with.

Here were my closing tips:

Don’t fix things that work well – When you discover a new tech tool that you want to employ into your work (either instruction, assessment, or organization/workflow), don’t attack an area that is currently functioning well. Use the new tool to attack something that really needs some serious improvement. That way, then the roll-out inevitably falls short of your expectations, you are much likelier to be satisfied seeing an improvement. And you haven’t ruined a process that was productive.

Don’t try to do too much – Get really, really good at using one or two tech tools before you try to add to your collection. Sure, you run the risk of students saying, “Guh… we use Socrative ALL THE TIME…” But this won’t last forever. You’ll pick up more tools as you explore more. And it’s a big improvement throwing so many tools at your students that neither they, nor you, get really proficient at using any of them.

Be patient with your students – Don’t get caught up in what they “should” know how to do. In reality, as far as your course, they probably shouldn’t be expected know anything. And even if they’ve explored some of the tools before, you probably use them slightly differently than the last teacher. So, go ahead and assume that each tech tool will need a guided exploration BEFORE you can expect them to engage meaningful content with it. Mixing a new tech tool and a new bit of content in the same activity should be avoided whenever possible. Otherwise, you risk the tool becoming the END of the learning rather than the MEANS.

Ask questions – Find yourself a mentor in your building who will help you explore instructional tech pieces. Take advantage of your district coaches and know who you can reach out to at the county level. Make e-mail friends with these people. Demand to be mentored.

Network, listen, and read – Find a social media platform you are comfortable with and turn it into an non-stop educational brainstorming session. I use Twitter. Use it to get ideas. And then try them out. Talk about them with the teachers near you. Join local PLNs if they exist. (Folks around mid-Michigan can join #CapitalAreaEdTech). The time/energy demands tend to be fairly light and the potential upside is huge.

Don’t fall in love with specific tools – They are going to break your heart. That free tool you loved was awesome… until it wasn’t free anymore (e.g. Newsela). Moodle was IT! Until Google Classroom came out. (Apple is getting ready to unleash an iPad based competitor to Google Classroom, by the way.) You had just nicely gotten the hang of your students’ laptops when the school switched to Chromebooks as a money-saver. Listen… listen… These things WILL happen. It’s not an “if” situation. It’s a “when”. If you tie your professional heart to these tools, you are going to find their removal difficult to recover from. Instead, fall in love with the types of student interactions these tools facilitate. Then, hang on loosely to the tool. It is temporary, as much as we’d like to pretend it isn’t.

Have I missed any? Care to push back? Use the comments. Perhaps share an anecdote from your first year teaching. With the right support, we can keep our young, excited teachers in the classroom.

The Truth about Blended Learning in the Classroom….To Blend or not to Blend

posted Feb 1, 2016, 9:37 AM by wafflem@calhounisd.org

STAMP (1).png

submitted by Martin Jennings, Instructional Technologist  - Genesee Intermediate School District - REMC 14 East

As educational trends come and go there’s one that is likely to be here to stay as educators settle into 21st Century Best Practices:  Blended Learning (BLiC).  When I was tapped by leadership at the Genesee ISD four years ago to represent the organization for BLiC Training, it was a natural fit from work I had been doing for nearly 20 years.


In Genesee County, we have been fortunate to lead in distance learning, both online and using interactive television on a daily basis. In the late 1990’s, after 18 years in the classroom,  I was tapped by the district where I taught to be a GenNET ITV Teacher.  With trepidation, skepticism and concern I accepted the charge and “moved into 21st Century Teaching”….”3 years early.”    I became an ITV Teacher sharing my passion for educational theatre not just with students in my building, but students around the county.   After 10 years, what I feared and didn’t think possible became a way of life for many semesters.  Technology many had never heard of was the new normal.   A learning management system kept everyone on track even after class ended each day.    Student engagement on site and at remote sites increased. Colleagues shook their heads at how students could be learning with such “distractions.”

Fast-forward to 2016 where I’m now an instructional technologist at the Genesee ISD supervising the very program that brought ME into 21st Century Technology and a whole lot more.  Now, what people shook their heads at is “old-school.” Today, there are even more ways to connect just about anywhere in the world.   In traditional classrooms, collaboration and use of integrated technology is expected by students and administrators.   However, in the last several years facilitating as a Blended Learning Instructor for educators in the REMC Blended Learning Project has had even more unexpected rewards to move colleagues into a blended learning environment in new ways.  

The winter of 2016 will mark the third year for me as an instructor of a BLiC Cohort, and the rewards of watching both teacher and student engagement have continued to build.  Teachers who used to use the excuse that they weren’t “tech-savvy” are now leaders in their buildings!  Teachers who held back from change and growth in the ever-changing social and educational environment are catching up.  To NOT include BLiC elements in daily routines is not an option.  This winter we will once again change lives and take teachers and students away from their comfort zones and allow the way we learn as well as what we learn even more relevant!  At the end of the rigorous road to completing participation in the BLiC course, educators are the proof of the success and reason to look at Blended Learning in the Classroom….again.  As one teacher has coined a phrase in a final portfolio:  “It all about the Blend...No Troubles.”  Testimonials below help emphasize, in the end, blending is no trouble at all.

  • “This course gave me the chance to spend more time reflecting on all of my practices as I sought out ways to simply and effectively add tech tools into my teaching.”

  • “I had to develop better “Time Management Skills.”

  • “The more familiar I am with technology, the easier it will be to focus on the learner.”

  • “Transitioning from a minimal amount of technology integration to a truly “blended” environment, even for a short period of time, has forced me to examine my digital presence in a way that I would not have without this course.  I am now more conscious of what exactly I want my students to know, do and understand.”

  • “Parents like the online presence of my blended course because they can stay involved in and aware of what their students are doing on a regular basis.”

For more information about Blended Learning in the Classroom, go to:  http://www.remc.org/projects/blendedlearning/

First Steps to Personalized Learning

posted Jan 25, 2016, 8:05 AM by wafflem@calhounisd.org

Submitted by Jan Harding,

Macomb ISD - REMC 18S

There is a common denominator that motivates all of the educators I know: the desire to bring the joy of learning to students. Personalized learning is a term being used to describe those classrooms where engagement and purpose are part of the fabric of the classroom. The School Improvement Network identifies several key components of a “Personalized Classroom.” These include:

  • Creating learner profiles

  • Personal learning paths for each student

  • Individual mastery against clear goals and standards

  • Flexible learning environments

  • Student agency

Technology can play an important role in supporting each of these components.

Building Learner Profiles

To find the strengths, weaknesses, and interests of your students, use a survey tool such as Survey Monkey or Google forms to find out what learning preferences exist in your classroom. There are also many tools online (including this one) that ask questions designed to help you understand the learning styles of your students.

Personal Learning Paths for Each Student

While developing an Individualized Learning Plan for each student can seem daunting, take some first steps by asking your students to personalize the learning objectives or targets you set for them. Students can post what they know or want to know when you share the learning goal, and use the results to help personalize their learning choices. A resource such as Padlet or Lino can be used to collect class responses. Using a discussion board on Edmodo or a backchat space such as Today’s Meet can also help build enthusiasm for a topic of study.

Individual Mastery Against Clear Goals And Standards

In a personalized classroom, the teacher uses multiple checkpoints to see what students understand and find out where they are struggling. Use resources such as Edpuzzle, Socrative, Kahoot, Quizziz, or an assessment tool within a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Moodle or Blackboard to get instant feedback about progress toward a standard or goal.

Flexible Learning Environments

Provide different options and approaches to your instruction. Examples include websites with text and pictures, podcasts for auditory learning, text-to-speech for those needing reading supports, images and video for visual learners, and game like sequences and online simulations for a slightly more kinesthetic style.  Blending your classroom with a variety of face to face and online options for learning will help capture interest and support learners of various levels.

Student Agency

Giving students a choice of performance-based products promotes student agency. Providing student choice where appropriate for pacing, projects, and products also acknowledges student interests. You might reach out to some newer technology tools to support this kind of work, such as Microsoft Sway, Canva for online posters, Prezi, or digital storytelling tools such as those described in 21things4teachers. Sketchup can be used to help draw products, while Audacity (PC) or Garage Band (Mac/iPad) are tried and true podcasting tools for producing interviews, soundtracks, etc. Creating videos or screencasts are another way to demonstrate mastery.  Make the work even more meaningful by asking students to publish work to a blog, share with another class or audience through a video call, or write for a local news site.

Building a personalized learning environment for your students takes time, but the payoff for you and your students is huge. By taking advantage of the technology available to your classroom and leveraging it to provide personalized learning, students will become enthusiastic partners in their education and develop ownership of their learning journey.

Pipkin, Cameron. "Five Key Elements of Personalized Learning (EdSurge News)." Weblog post. EdSurge. School Improvement Network, 01 Apr. 2015. Web. 07 Jan. 2016. <https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-04-01-five-key-elements-of-personalized-learning>.

Unique Learning

posted Jan 18, 2016, 5:26 AM by wafflem@calhounisd.org

Submitted by Mark Lyons, 


Unique Learning System

When you say “web based curriculum”, for some individuals in the education world those words sound very scary.  But terms like interactive lessons, aligned to state educational and transition standards, and lesson plans done for you, tend to change the minds of the opponents.  The program is called Unique Learning System, run by News-2-You.  It’s a cloud-based system. They develop the special education curriculum, lesson plans, and materials so the teachers can spend their time teaching.  The system has three branches.   One of those branches is News 2 You (N2Y), which is a weekly newspaper with current events.  Another branch is SymbolStix that provides access to 26,000+ symbols and allows the user to create grids or choose from multiple device templates.  The third, ULS, is the heart of the program.  This is the online curriculum that supports preschool through transition aged students.      

The ability to have some type of interactive display or wireless devices really makes this program a true hands on curriculum.  In return, it cuts down on the usage of paper and printer ink.  With that said, you still are only a mouse click away from having the ability to put the curriculum in hard copy form.  Depending on the subscription package ordered, there can be many options built into the software.  Currently we are utilizing all three branches and focusing on monthly lessons, benchmark testing and transition passports.

The benchmark portion of the program provides online assessments which can be given on the computer or a wireless device such as a tablet.  Again, you can print the tests for students needing a physical copy.  The benchmarks cover 6 different domains with each domain typically having 7 levels.  The students’ results from the benchmarks are saved into the system.  This provides a baseline to work from.  Each time the student takes the benchmark it’s graphed to show improvement or regression.  Data drives instruction, and because of this teachers can write academic IEP goals from the results.  With our first set of benchmark tests complete for the 2015 school year we witnessed a very positive response from a majority of the students.  Due to the testing being on the computer or tablet seemed to really create a more “game like” feel to the testing.  Some students were upset because the testing was complete.  I’m eager to see if we get the same type of reaction from the students for the second testing window which is scheduled for January.   

Taking the time to get everyone trained and comfortable using a web based curriculum has been a slight challenge.  But the feedback we have received from the supervisors, teachers, support staff and most importantly the students has been very positive.    Below are the links to the official home page of News 2 You and a short video on the programs.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.



1-10 of 26