BPLC18 – Providence

By Raymond Steinmetz

If our generation sucks, it’s kind of your fault too.

–Malitey Cummings (Student Panel at BPLC18)

Student Panel

This year’s Blended and Personalized Learning Conference in Providence, RI kicked off with an incredible student panel. The three students who are featured in the picture above had a clear and consistent message about the impact that teachers have on their students.  It really was impressive to see these young people have the guts to sit in front of hundreds of teachers, let alone inspire by remind us that:

  • Teachers have more of an impact on our students than we realize.  Something that may seem insignificant in the mind of a teacher can be something that a student will remember for the rest of their lives.
  • Its easy to forget that our students really are the future.  I know this sounds cliche to say, but I teach 7th grade, so it is sometimes easy to get lost in adolescence.  Hearing these young adults speak made me hopeful of what my students will become some day.
  • Every single person that we teach is a human being and deserves to be treated that way.  When you interact with so many students on a daily basis, I think we tend to only see students as a product of the work that they produce.  Just like every one of us, each and every student is an individual and should be taught that way.
Agenda for the day

Wow!  So many possibilities!  First a disclaimer – this article is simply my own experience at the conference.  As you can see from the picture above, there were way too many sessions for one person to see.  I encourage everyone to go to the conference webpage to access the materials for all of the sessions.

Also, kudos to the Highlander Institute for the improved registration process and printed materials.  This is only my second year at this conference, but both were a huge improvement from the year before.

Practice Playground

Practice Playground Materials

I stopped by the Practice Playground at the beginning of the day and I returned several times between sessions.  There were some great presentations and materials provided from the Highlander Institute.  Each of the bit.ly links in the picture above provides a playlist of items that will help improve your practice in blended learning.  There are tons of videos, articles, documents, and ideas that were shared in this space.  Everyone should check them out.

Fun Hyperdoc Formatting

One of my favorite things that I saw when I stopped at the Practice Playground in the morning was this great Hyperdoc.  I immediately thought about how I could use this as a playlist format in math.  I’ll probably try it this week and post it somewhere on my site.

Classroom Simulation


Elizabeth Gencarelli, a 5th grade teacher from Cranston Public Schools, ran a station rotation classroom simulation.  The amount of structure around her station rotation was really impressive.  Once again, there were things I saw that I want to implement in my classroom immediately.  Here are some things I saw:

Student data log – love the doodles

At the first station, students track their own progress in IXL and Zearn as they do problems on the given topic.  Though this data is readily available to teachers in these online systems, it is important for students to track their own progress towards mastery as well.  The systems used by Ms. Gencarelli were really detailed and really impressive.


At another station, the students work through the activities in the rubric pictured above.  All of these activities were about the same topic (volume of prims), but differed in rigor and required higher order thinking as they went along.  After the students complete the rubric, they fill out a Self Assessment Questionnaire.  Again, something I’ll be using in my classroom ASAP.


At a third station, the students were using Educreations to solve problems and explain them on video.  The tables had these great reminder signs to constantly remind students of the expectations.  Incredible!

Performance Based Tasks

I ended up leaving the classroom simulation a little early to check out a session about Performance Tasks.  The session was put on by an organization called reDesign who were working on creating a common structure around project based learning and performance based tasks.  The biggest thing I got out of this session was the website Out of the Gate.  These projects look incredible, but also extremely intense.  Hopefully some day I’ll wrap my mind around this and implement something similar in my class.

While on the topic, I should mention that I stopped by the Practice Playground and saw another incredible resource for Performance Tasks – Harvard’s Performance Assessment Resource Bank.

Playlists, Playlists, Playlists!

Packed house to learn about playlists

Jason Appel and Sam Schachter from Barrington High School presented in front of a packed house on their use of playlists in their high school math classes.  These guys both teach solely from self directed playlists and videos made from Screencastify.  They also use GoFormative heavily to track student progress in real time and then provide one-on-one assistance when necessary.  Needless to say, I was impressed.  Of course I had tons of questions for both of them, and they graciously answered all of them.  They were very honest in admitting that they themselves have a lot of questions about their methods as well, which was another reminder that teaching is an inexact practice sometimes, no matter how streamlined your plan seems.

Excel schedule for self paced playlists

Though I don’t know if I’ll ever be as organized as Jason with the spreadsheet above, I think that I need to stop shying away from video as a means for teaching in my classroom.  In the past I’ve been concerned about the appropriateness of learning from video for my 7th graders, but seeing what these guys do with Screencastify and GoFormative, I think that I can start doing more.

Crowd Sourced Coaching Strategies


Last but not least, I stopped by my fellow Portsmouth Patriot Tim “Tech” Marum‘s session on Crowd Sourced Coaching Strategies.  Tim had us use FlipGrid to introduce ourselves and comment on our videos.  I think I am going to have students start answering open ended math questions and correcting each other using FlipGrid.  What a great way to share thoughts and ideas.  Additionally, we used Padlet to share thoughts about what coaching should look, sound, and feel like.  Unfortunately, parenting duty called, and I had to leave the conference early to watch my kids.  I’d encourage you to check out the rest of Tim’s presentation from the bit.ly in the picture above.

Thoughts on the Drive Home

I’m really lucky to live in a place where we have a great organization like the Highlander Institute working to improve teaching practice and further the cause of blended learning.  Coming from Chicago, we really didn’t have anything even close to this available.  From an outsider’s point of view, I can say that Rhode Island really is on the cutting edge of educational technology.  I still feel like I have so much to learn, and it is great to see what is possible by having teachers share what is working in their classrooms.  I can’t wait to try some of this stuff out!

Raymond Steinmetz