Tuesday, May 31, 2016

GUEST POST: Evolving (Darin Hallstrom)

This is in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

When I first started teaching, I promised myself that I would be an innovator…and I have been.  But, this year, my growth has been exponential, and the impetus for that growth resides in my role as a fellow.  

Crystal Kirch, my DLC, will tell you that the word “purposeful” has driven our work this year.  For instance, I am not interested in blindly adding a tech factor to my lessons, or using technology just to be different and edgy and current.  The technology I have incorporated this year has aided my instruction – or I have not used it.  Rather, I have developed lessons solely because of the learning opportunities that the technology allows.  If an app will allow me to provide students with more immediate feedback, I’ll use it.  If a website will allow my students to collaborate more effectively, I will use it.  If software exists that will allow my students to learn with greater facility, I’ll use it.  These principles have guided me this year.  Fortunately, apps and websites and software DOES exist that will allow my students to learn and grow with greater ease, and incorporating them into my curriculum has been the most rewarding work I have completed.

A few examples…


This is the website I use most often simply because it works so well for feedback.  I can immediately see the progress my students are making on writing assignments, and I can help them modify and improve their work before they submit.  The assignment below was an evidence-gathering activity used in conjunction with The Old Man and the Sea unit in my Freshman Transitional English class.  Timely feedback is critical in this class because most students are not as adept at writing as they should be.  It is incredibly beneficial to correct writing and grammar errors as they make them; doing so helps students learn to make modifications in their own grammar and syntax.  For example, my typical procedure for a Formative assignment is to 1) introduce the assignment, 2) model the assignment, and then 3) allow students time to start.  After 5 - 10 minutes, I’ll log in to “Live Results” on Formative and start reviewing students’ work.  It never fails:  Almost immediately, I will observe a “teachable moment” that I will bring to their attention.  I’ll project one or two students’ work on the screen and then commence the compliment/issue/problem. In the example below, for instance, I used the partially completed student examples to discuss the effective incorporation of quoted evidence into an argumentative literary analysis.


A terrific app for collaboration.  The assignment below was a collaborative effort involving three or four students per group.  Immediately after submission, students were able to evaluate the work of their peers anonymously (each was color-coded only when viewed in class) and determine superior and exemplary models.  The comments students offered were carefully contemplated as well.  It was extremely meaningful for students to have their opinions taken into consideration in the evaluation process.

I am routinely looking for insightful, relevant articles for my students to read, and this website provides them.  In addition, the fact that the reading level can be adjusted is incredibly helpful.  For example, I will adjust the reading level for my English 1 Transitional class to account for their language facility.  I do not automatically adjust the level to the lowest level either.  Instead, the lexile is adjusted based on the complexity of the article and the purpose (annotation, comprehension, etc.) The good news is that the articles do not get “dumbed down;” the content and message remain the same.   

Kami/Google Classroom:

After an entire year of searching for an effective annotation tool for text and poetry, Crystal introduced me to Kami.  Kami is an app you can find in the Chrome Web Store; it gets connected to your Google Drive so you can open PDF files with it in order to annotate. The annotations can be highlights, underlines, strikethroughs, text boxes, comments, or drawings.It has a terrific, easy-to-use interface that my students adapted to almost immediately.  It syncs perfectly with Google Classroom, making it both easy to use and easy to grade.


I really enjoy PearDeck; it may replicate my style of teaching better than any other app I have tried. A significant part of that feeling comes from the fact that the teacher can control the pace of the lesson on PearDeck.  I can control the slides and the flow of the questions.  Therefore, when we are completing an activity like the one below for example, where the students need to consider possible symbols and metaphors in The Great Gatsby before casting a vote, this opportunity becomes essential.  Why?  The one drawback to many apps is what I call the “behind-the-screen” factor:  Too many students simply put up the screen and disappear.  I want my students collaborating and talking and communicating and sharing.  PearDeck allows me the control to encourage discussions rather than simply having kids “disappear” to complete an assisgnment before the end of the period.  I can delay the next slide or I can push it through, based on the level of discourse in the room.

How do you want to continue to grow next year?  What are your goals and plans for progressing from where you are now?

I am definitely going to continue my growth next year.  Although I am a little worried that my time will not be as well-managed without a set weekly appointment to discuss technology, I am bound and determined to keep innovating.  I can keep myself motivated and focused on change.  In addition, I have forged new relationships with other teachers - in and out of my department - who are enjoying similar levels of innovation and experience with apps and websites and new tech-based teaching styles.  It is gratifying to collaborate with others - even if they are completing a math lesson as I plan a poetic deconstruction.

My plan for next year is two-fold:  I will continue to find apps and websites that supplement my teaching style and my objectives, and I will continue to utilize those tech aids I discovered and implemented this year.

What impact has the Tech Fellowship had on your teaching practice?

I sincerely cannot overestimate the impact that the Tech Fellowship has had on my instructional practice this school year.  The weekly appointments, the regular check-ups, the opportunity to keep a journal, the reflective requirement … all of it has combined to provide me with a lifetime of technology assistance in just one year.  Best of all, however, has been the guidance and support provided by Crystal Kirch.  She is the consummate professional:  approachable, knowledgeable and capable. I am often amazed at her willingness to assist.  Best of all, she does so with a steady focus on student achievement.  Working with her, I am often reminded of one of my favorite quotes:  “If you are too comfortable, you will never change.”  Crystal respectfully makes you just uncomfortable enough to want to change.  With great facility and endless expertise, she demonstrates that there is a better way for kids to learn, and she provides the support and patience and time necessary to make that change happen.  Honestly, this has been one of the best years in my 25-year teaching career, and I owe a tremendous amount of that credit to her influence.

My name is Darin Hallstrom. I have worked as a public school instructor for 25 years.  I love my job.  I work very hard to make lessons meaningful and purposeful for my junior Honors and freshman Transitional students at Beckman High School.  My room is always open; please feel free to come by and watch my amazing students learn and grow.

Follow me @DarinHallstrom

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