Deborah Thonus is a STAR member of the Discovery Educator Network

Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute Takeaways

Techno Titans

The Summer Institute was held at the American University near Washington, D.C. in July.  DENSI is a fabulous experience that changes my mindset and improves my teaching every year that I get to attend.  It is like being in “teacher heaven” as I am surrounded by educators willing to step out as risk takers, adventurers, and innovative leaders for their schools and districts.  I always leave energized  and excited to start the new school year, trying out new ideas and strategies.  But this year there was a different focus for me when I realized the power of how small acts of kindness accomplished by wonderful people made a difference for others who came into contact with the DEN this summer.  Thank you so much DE team for all of your hard work to organize and run the Summer Institute!

My Top 10
1. DENSI is a lot like Disney, the happiest place on earth!
2. Just a hug and hello can make all the difference to a DEN member, bus driver, or cafeteria worker.
3. If there were more people like the DENSI attendees, Washington DC would be a better place. (according to Wayne, our bus driver). I think so, too.
4. A supportive community is visible to and appreciated by others. We make a difference.
5. Effective tech integration is about using the right tool for the task, not just about the Wow Factor.
6. Duct tape is a very handy product to have for all kinds of problem solving, like slippery sheets and making airplane wings, Alison.
7. Friendships can develop in an instant among like minded people.
8. Collaboration is one of the most powerful skills to develop when trying to make effective change in the world.
9. Servant Leadership is a key element for creating a community with a common purpose or mission. It takes ALL of us to make our DEN community work.
10. Discovery Education cares about educators and supports us in so many ways to help us be the best we can be.
Thank you for a wonderful, energizing, and inspiring week!

July 31st, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Discovery Student Center Lights Up the Mind

The Discovery Student Center is an incredible tool for students, and it puts the power of digital media in the palms of their hands. The only limit is your students’ imaginations. Many Discovery Streaming users are aware of this fantastic resource, but I wanted to share how much my students love having their own accounts with Discovery.

By setting up a classroom account, educators are able to create and assign lessons, explorations, investigations, projects, quizzes, writing assignments, and so much more. Students receive a user name and password to access the assignments and to search through the extensive Discovery Streaming media library. They can download and remix editable assets to create their own content with Web 2.0 tools like GlogsterEDU and Voicethread. Students can remix images and editable video clips, change narration, and add transitions and effects with programs like Windows Movie Maker and iMovie. They can use Discovery images and video clips in their PowerPoints and Prezis to make them multimedia presentations. With the Discovery Student Center, students have access to the wonderful Discovery Streaming content 24/7. Give your students the gift of Discovery Streaming. Set up your classrooms today.

The Voicethread below is an overview of the Discovery Education Student Center for educators.

April 9th, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Project Based Learning

PBL as a highly effective pedagogy, closely tied to other effective educational practices. PBL is also supported by recent brain research about how we learn and numerous studies assessing the effectiveness of student outcomes.

According to recent brain research, the importance of motivation, emotion, and story are key components for learning, retaining, retrieving, and applying information and skills. Our brain processes many things we learn as a “story.” It is the “story” or larger context that helps us retrieve stored information. Project Based Learning is a powerful pedagogy that utilizes strategies recommended by the latest research. Learning only has value if it has meaning and context. Otherwise, it is just like a wisp of smoke in the wind. “If we don’t give students sufficient ongoing opportunities to puzzle over genuine problems, make meaning of their learning, and apply content in various contexts, then long-term retention and effective performance are unlikely…” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2008) The real world component of Project Based Learning is a perfect vessel to hold the context of our learning. The authenticity of the project connects the learning to purpose and meaning which are two more key factors for long term memory and learning.

If our brain does not perceive the information as relevant for future use, the data is often stored in short term memory and quickly becomes forgotten. I can’t even recall how many times I have “learned” information for a test and then could not recall it a month later. “…External test pressures demand superficial content coverage; and students who seem to know the material but don’t know how to apply it.”(Wiggins & McTighe, 2008) The information did not have any meaning to me personally or to the real world, and my brain discarded it. The “Backwards Design” model outlined by Wiggins & McTighe is a perfect fit with Project Based Learning. PBL projects begin with the Big Idea and Essential Question which are the components required in UbD (Backwards Design), including the connection to real world applications. Working in project groups develops the key 21st Century skills of collaboration, problem solving, and negotiation.

In the article, The Courage to Be Constructivist , Martin G. Brooks and Jacqueline Grennon Brooks made a critical point about the harmful effects of high stakes testing. This article hit a raw nerve with me. We are all living the nightmare of Education Reform. The threats from government agencies made to schools that do not make AYP are real, and they force schools to abandon effective pedagogies out fear of not “passing the test.” The strategies for producing accurate test takers can be counterproductive to the development of creative thinkers and problem solvers. Heaven forbid we encourage students to think “outside the box.” They may fill in the wrong bubble on the answer grid! After all, learning can be distilled down to one word or one sentence answers chosen from a list of four choices, can’t it? “A recent study by Kentucky’s Office of Educational Accountability (Hambleton et al., 1995) suggests that test-score gains in that state are a function of students’ increasing skills as test takers rather than evidence of increased learning.” (Brooks & Brooks, 1999)

Constructivist learning is a key component in PBL. “Learners control their learning. This simple truth lies at the heart of the constructivist approach to education.” (Brooks & Brooks, 1999) I just told my new third grade students last week that I was not their teacher this year. They looked at me concerned and confused until I told them their teacher was in the room. It finally dawned on one student that he must be his teacher. BINGO! We began the discussion of how they know what they know. It was only by their own efforts and some help from the coaches in their lives (teachers, parents, etc.) that they learned to walk, talk, ride a bike, read, etc. Here is a link to a forum article I wrote about this topic:   I also tell my students frequently that making mistakes in my class is expected and a good thing. The relieved faces tell me it is a message they need to hear, often. “But being wrong is often the first step on the path to greater understanding.” (Brooks & Brooks, 1999) The students understand that if they are not making mistakes they belong in fourth grade because they already know what we are learning in third. Mistakes come along with learning.

Constructivist learning creates an environment where student understanding is questioned, deepened, and redirected if necessary. A wonderfully funny (and sad) article that points to the misconceptions that can happen with direct instruction versus constructivist learning is called, “Lime is a Green Tasting Rock.” It was written a long time ago, but similar misconceptions happen in classrooms today. “…As educators we have great control over what we teach, but far less control over what students learn.” (Brooks & Brooks, 1999)

The emphasis on making sure every student “passes the test” is killing the real purpose of education. Which one of us has a job that is all about passing paper and pencil tests? No one! And yet I hear school systems claiming a high testing success rate as their educational goal. I worry about the future of education if this “just pass the test” mentality of instruction continues. Knowing information is not the goal of education. Jeopardy contestants may need random trivia, but, in the real world, we need information to process and solve problems and to create.

In all fairness to state mandated curriculum and assessments, we need to have a layer of accountability and assess our educational effectiveness. In the Edutopia article, PBL Research Summary: Studies Validate Project-Based Learning, many studies support the use of Project Based Learning as a pedagogy that works to “to engage students, cut absenteeism, boost cooperative learning skills, and improve test scores.”(Edutopia, 2001) Test scores and absenteeism rates are both components of making Adequate Yearly Progress in the state of Massachusetts. The ASCD Educational Leadership: Project Based Learning article pointed up the challenges of implementing PBL on a wide scale. Proper teacher training, uniform standards, inequity among schools, and high stakes testing all contribute to possible roadblocks for PBL. The article goes on to list several research studies that indicate a well developed, fully implemented PBL program can improve student learning. But beyond the high-stakes testing results is the more valuable outcome of students who are involved, motivated, and see the meaning and value of their learning. It is unfortunate that there are no standardized tests that assess those valuable attitudes that create life-long learners who will contribute to the global community.

My K-12 education spanned from 1958 to 1971, and I must sadly say there were very few memorable learning experiences. It was all a blur of sitting in a row and facing the teacher. I do remember a fifth grade class project I did about Hawaii. I enjoyed sharing the information I learned with my classmates and ending my presentation with a Hawaiian dance, complete with hand motions. The teacher encouraged us to use our creativity and imagination to plan our presentations. I enjoyed being given the choice of what to do for my project. As a fifth grader, I experienced just a small taste of the excitement that PBL will bring to the students in my class this year.

Educational Leadership:Teaching Students to Think:Project-Based Learning. (2008). ASCD Home. Retrieved September 6, 2010, from

Educational Leadership:The Constructivist Classroom:The Courage to Be Constructivist. (n.d.). ASCD Home. Retrieved September 6, 2010, from

PBL Research Summary: Studies Validate Project-Based Learning | Edutopia. (2001). K-12 Education & Learning Innovations with Proven Strategies that Work | Edutopia. Retrieved September 6, 2010, from

Wiggins., & McTighe. (2008). Educational Leadership:Reshaping High Schools:Put Understanding First. ASCD Home. Retrieved September 6, 2010, from

September 18th, 2010 at 10:11 am | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Discovery Student Center- Super Tool!

This Voicethread presentation,, is an overview of the Discovery Education Student Center for educators. The Student Center is a relatively new tool in the Discovery Streaming program and by setting up a classroom account, educators are able to create and assign lessons, explorations, investigations, projects, quizzes, writing assignments, and so much more. Students receive a user name and password to access the assignments and to search through the extensive Discovery Streaming media library. They can download and remix editable assets to create their own content with Web 2.0 tools like GlogsterEDU and Voicethread. Students can also remix images and video clips, change narration, and add transitions and effects with programs like Windows Movie Maker and iMovie. Discovery images and video clips may also be added to PowerPoints to make them multimedia presentations.

I have used Voicethread with my students, and they enjoy the conversational aspect of this Web 2.0 tool.   Voicethreads are easily edited and improvements do not require the creator to start over to make changes. Time and access to computers is always an issue in my classroom, but building a Voicethread can be done in very small steps depending on the availability of time and equipment. Voicethread was the perfect platform for my online presentation!

August 16th, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Masters in Instructional Media, Outstanding!

Two years ago Discovery Education teamed up with Wilkes University to create an online Masters program.  The Instructional Media program is wonderful.  I am now halfway through the coursework and have learned so much!  The courses are designed by many of the people we know and “love” like Steve Dembo, Joe Brennan, Lance Rougeux, Kathy Schrock, and many more.  I have learned more in the last year than in the past ten!  The courses are relevant, and the strategies and ideas can be applied the next day in your classroom.  I highly recommend this online Masters program!  For more information visit

July 15th, 2010 at 7:19 am | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Creativity in the Classroom with VoiceThread

What is the purpose of education but to help develop minds that can make decisions, problem-solve, and create?  Where would society be today without our creative minds?  Everything worthwhile that civilization has ever produced has been a result of an individual’s or group’s creative mind.  In my opinion, all of the other minds are the foundation upon which the creative mind sits.
One Web 2.0 application that I feel fosters the creative mind in Voicethread.   It is a tool for having conversations around media and so much more!  If you are not familiar with and would like to know more, please watch the VoiceThread below.

April 1st, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Is It Really Important?

So much fuss has been made about making sure the students of today have the necessary 21st Century skills to become productive citizens of the future.  As educators, we are told to prepare our students for a future we cannot even imagine.  Predictions abound about the number of careers our students will have in a lifetime.  Corporations chime in with their wish lists for the skills they expect their future employees to have.  Each state has set down strict guidelines as to what should be taught. Our students face high stakes testing every year in most subject areas.  We are expected to keep students motivated and meet their individual needs by adjusting our programs in order to make the mandated curriculum accessible to all students.  And among all of these pressures we know our students need to be adaptable, creative thinkers, cooperative, responsible citizens, problem solvers, and lifelong learners.  If these expectations were put into a job description, how many of us would apply for the position?  Hmmm?  And yet, we do.So we agree that being an educator is a worthy profession.  But can we afford to continue to teach students the same way we did when I first began teaching in 1975?  No. Yet this is the case at my school and at so many others.  Education has not kept pace with the new demands of this century.  How will we look our students in the eyes and explain to them why we did not prepare them for their futures?  How do we justify leaving them so far behind where they need to be?

We know the children of today are our future.  And as difficult as the job of educating them has become, it is a noble undertaking.  All of our blood, sweat, and tears are worth it if students leave our hallowed halls with the education that will allow them the freedom to choose their destiny and the knowledge and skills to be successful.  So is it really important for us to prepare our students for the 21st Century by making sure they have all the necessary skills? Absolutely. Where do we begin this daunting task?  How do we get up to speed?  How do we discern which skills are valuable, and which are all sparkle and no substance?  I don’t have the answers to these questions.  I wish I did.
There is a wonderful video that addresses some of these tough questions.  Lee Crocket spoke at the NECC in 2009 about Teaching the Digital Generation.  This video was one of the reasons I decided to pursue my Master’s Degree in Instructional Media. I think you will find this video is a real eye opener.  Please let me know what you think. Enjoy.

March 26th, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Homework with a Twist

There are many thoughts about the effectiveness of homework. Many say that it provides reinforcement of concepts taught during the day, others say that it teaches discipline and organizational skills. Still others say that it is a complete waste of time. I’m not sure where I fit in with these opinions, but it isn’t up to me anyway. Our school district has a homework policy that I must follow. For third grade there needs to be 30 minutes of homework, 4 nights a week.I ran across an interesting article from THE HOMEWORK MYTH (Da Capo Press, 2006) Copyright © 2006 by Alfie Kohn.  No definitive answer was found there either, so I decided to create some homework with a twist.  I developed an alternative assignment to my traditional homework using technology and our theme for the week; Penguins and the Antarctic.  My true motive for this homework assignment was to encourage increased use of all the online technology available to my class.  Students followed directions, did some research, and created a Glog project on our theme.  I will paste the homework assignment below.  One third of my class chose to do this homework in place of the more traditional paperwork.   I plan on creating a similar homework assignment for another theme coming up soon on human shelters and how they are adapted to the environment.

Here are some of the Glogs created by the third graders in my class.

Homework with a Twist: Link to homework document;

March 26th, 2010 at 5:04 am | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Who Is the Teacher?

I tell the students during the first week of school that I am not their teacher. Of course, this comes as a shock, and they wonder who it is. Then I say that their teacher is in the room. Who could it be? That certainly gets them thinking.

I’m just telling the students the truth about learning. They are their own teachers and always have been. I am only a coach. They don’t believe me until I ask them who taught them to talk, walk, and ride a bike? Parents encourage them, keep them from hurting themselves, give advice, but they were the ones who had to figure it out and get it done.

Their first grade teacher gave strategies, information, exercises, practice, tricks, etc. but they taught themselves to read. No one else can do it. ( I know this is true from being a first grade teacher for 13 years.) The coach is still in charge, just like for any team sport they play, but they are in control of their own growth. Therefore, to be their own best teachers, I tell them they need to sit where they can see, choose the best learning partners, listen carefully, ASK QUESTIONS when they don’t understand, follow directions, and never give up. These are just some of the strategies they need to use to become their own best teachers. It really gets them thinking about their learning. I tell them that probably no other teacher “coach” will ever tell them they are their own teachers, but it will always be true; in fourth grade, middle school, high school, college, etc. When I get notes at the end of the year telling me what a wonderful coach I was, then I know THEY GOT IT!

It works well for behavior issues, too. It is very powerful to tell the class to make good teaching decisions. If someone isn’t, I just have to ask ,”Are you making good teaching decisions for yourself?” WOW! It has never failed to make them think, and then change their behavior. Third graders still look up to teachers, so to ask them to act like one improves behavior instantly. Building this idea of personal responsibility for their learning changes the atmosphere in my classroom. Most people visiting my classroom notice a difference. I also use this strategy when I teach summer school for 4-6th graders. Letting students know who the teacher really is gets quick results. This is especially important when summer school is only 4 weeks long.

I have two valuable posters in my class that I refer to all of the time (Quality Work and Avoid Accidental Learning).  Please feel free to click on the links and use the posters however you would like.

March 24th, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Second Life as a Professional Learning Network

Since this summer, I have actively sought to create my own PLN, Professional Learning Network. There are so many ways to continue our professional growth. Consulting with fellow teachers, I began joining groups like Classroom 2.0 and setting up FaceBook and Twitter accounts. The Discovery Educator Network (presented in a previous post) and Second Life are other excellent ways to collaborate and learn from the best innovators in our field.

Then in August I joined the ultimate Professional Learning Network. I became a graduate student in the Discovery/Wilkes program, Instructional Media. The ideas have come fast and furious, and sometimes I feel overwhelmed with new tools and techniques. But it is all good! I have grown professionally more in the past 6 months than in the past 6 years. It has re-energized my teaching and given me the momentum I need to finish out my career for the next 8 years. I want to finish at the top of my “game”.

In this post I wanted to share specifically about Second Life. It was at the MassCUE conference in 2007 that I became aware of this platform for professional growth. Kathy Schrock introduced me to this virtual world and taught me how to fly, literally. I have attended workshops and presentations given by the Discovery Educator Network, , ISTE- International Society for Technology in Education,, and several universities. By the way, most universities have a presence in Second Life. Some give virtual courses using this platform. I have often thought that since the Instructional Media program is presented entirely online, the instructors should investigate using SL for some ‘real time’ interactions with the students in their classes.

For those of you who may be unaware of what Second Life is it is a virtual world where your avatar (cartoon representation of yourself) moves about and interacts with other avatars at various locations, landmarks. Communication can be similar to a chat room or be in an audio format if you have a microphone. Slide shows and videos are able to be shown during workshops, and you feel like you are “there” with others even though you could be continents apart. There are many virtual museums and cities that are unbelievable!

Being new to SL can be overwhelming, but ISTE and the DEN have docents who will give tours and advice on how to navigate and take advantage of the many professional development opportunities in Second Life. To sign up for your free account visit There are some wonderful places and some scary places, too. I strongly advise you to visit ISTE or the DEN for your orientation. Just like in the real world, you need to learn about places you should and shouldn’t visit. My SL name is Deb Telling. I hope to see you in-world! I created a screencast to give you a taste of Second Life. Sorry that I ramble on a bit because I’m speaking off the top of my head while navigating in SL. Enjoy!

December 5th, 2009 at 7:34 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink