Category: Educational Technology

Developing Computational Thinking Skills in Elementary School Students

As a science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) educator, one of the subjects I teach is coding. My elementary school students enjoy coding; however, some students have a difficult time with large, complex coding projects because they struggle with breaking problems into smaller problems and also with debugging their code when it does not work properly. 

In an attempt to help my struggling learners, I conducted a literature review of 18 peer-reviewed research articles. Through that research, I discovered interventions for struggling students and a recommendation for implementing a comprehensive K-6 computer science curriculum.

To learn more, please read my research report, Developing Computational Thinking Skills in Elementary Students, or watch my five-minute overview video.

Scaffolding Creative Thinking With Computational Thinking and New Literacies

As an art educator, creativity and creative thinking are important subjects to me. As such, they’ve been the focus of several projects I’ve done as a MAET student.

Deschryver & Yadav (2016) wrote about how to scaffold creative thinking with computational thinking and new literacies. In this video, I synthesized what they shared and extracted three key points:

  1. Students benefit from learning creative thinking skills, new literacy skills, and computational thinking skills.
  2. These skills are typically taught in isolation.
  3. These skills should be taught together so that new literacies and computational thinking skills scaffold creative thinking.

By the way, this video is the first stop-motion animation I’ve ever made, and I think is a good example of scaffolding creative thinking through computational thinking and new literacies.


Deschryver, M. D., & Yadav, A. (2016). Creative and computational thinking in the context of new literacies: Working with teachers to scaffold complex technology-mediated approaches to teaching and learning. In Creativity, Technology & Teacher Education (pp. 139-159). Waynesville, NC: AACE.


All videos in this blog post were created by Sarah Van Loo.

Other images used in the video were cited in the video.

Robotics in Grade 5 – A Formative Assessment

My fifth-grade robotics classes are challenging and fun. Students work cooperatively in small groups to build, modify, and program a robot to move autonomously (with minimal human intervention) while also learning to navigate social learning situations.

To plan for and reflect on one of the formative assessments within this fifth-grade robotics module, I have developed Formative Assessment Design Version 3.0, the third iteration of this assessment. 

You may also read prior iterations, Formative Assessment Design Version 1.0 and Formative Assessment Design Version 2.0, as well as my blog posts about FAD 1.0 here or FAD 2.0 here.

Revising a Second Grade Assessment Within a CMS

Course Management Systems (CMSs) can be an indispensable tool in any classroom. In a previous blog post, I wrote about why I chose Canvas when working with elementary school students. I then used Canvas to create a digital assessment for my second graders. You can read about the first iteration, CMS Assessment 1.0, and my second iteration, CMS Assessment 2.0.

I developed CMS Assessment 2.0 after critically considering my own CMS Assessment 1.0, and taking into account feedback from my peers and instructors. While CMS Assessment 1.0 consisted of a 15-question quiz only, CMS Assessment 2.0 includes several linked pages within Canvas.

This video is a screencast of my completed CMS Assessment 2.0:

Analysis of CMS Assessment 2.0

In my creation of CMS Assessment 2.0, I carefully considered how it aligns with professional standards, how it aligns with my Rubric 4.0, how this assessment will inform future instruction, and what link exists between the CMS and student learning. You can read this critical analysis here:

Brief Description of CMS Assessment 2.0

The new assessment page has three buttons, each of which links students with a different part of the assessment. The finalized assessment now includes three parts:

Part 1: 15-question quiz to be taken inside the Canvas CMS. Check out my screencast of CMS Assessment 1.0 to see a detailed description and screencast of the quiz.

Part 2: Sorting task to be completed in Scratch Jr., a coding app with which students are already familiar.

Part 3: Open-ended design task to be completed as a drawing and writing assignment on a sheet of paper that I will provide to students.


All images in this post were created by Sarah Van Loo.


Using Minecraft as a Tool to Assess Students’ Understanding of Symmetry

Symmetry is a concept that is important in the elementary art room, in engineering and design, and in math. There are many kinds of symmetry. In my Minecraft station, Sarah VL’s Symmetry Station, students learn about two kinds of symmetry: reflection (or mirror) symmetry and rotational (or turn) symmetry.

This video shows a walk-through of my assessment station:

The Assessment Process

For each of the two kinds of symmetry, students will view two examples of symmetrical designs. After they view symmetrical designs, they will complete a symmetrical design by placing the appropriate Minecraft blocks as directed. After completing two designs, students will create a third symmetrical design that they have complete control over.

An example of reflection symmetry

After they make their design, students will take a screenshot and share it with me in Seesaw. I will formatively assess their understanding of symmetry. If they created a symmetrical design, I will give them feedback telling them that, also through Seesaw. If they did not create a symmetrical design, I will use the drawing tool in Seesaw to identify blocks that are not symmetrical and ask them to redo that portion of the assessment. Based on the results of the formative assessment, I will reteach them as necessary. Because of the ease of working in Minecraft, students will be able to redo portions of the assessment as needed.

To help students know where to build, I placed build allow blocks. Students will learn to identify these blocks. When they are finished with the assessment, I will ask them to dig up their design so other students can return and build there, too. To ensure that they do not accidentally dig up blocks that are meant to stay, I placed build disallow blocks.

Advantages of Using Minecraft

There are other ways that a teacher could assess a student’s understanding of symmetry, including using physical blocks, making a paper sculpture, or coloring a picture. Minecraft has some advantages over those assessment methods.

An example of rotational symmetry

First, Minecraft is engaging for students. Even if they are challenged at first, they will eventually get comfortable in the Minecraft environment and will enjoy working there. My own personal experience was that I went from completely frustrating to not being able to stop working because it was so much fun.

Second, building in Minecraft is building with digital blocks. Although students could demonstrate their understanding of symmetry using manipulatives like pattern blocks or even plastic bricks, the availability of the technology in the classroom means that physical blocks are not necessary.

Third, if a student does not successfully make a symmetrical design the first time, Minecraft allows students to easily rebuild their design. By contrast, if they colored or painted or sculpted their design with paper and glue, it would be much more difficult to redo their work.

After completing a formative assessment in Minecraft and demonstrating an understanding of symmetry, students will be ready to create a paper sculpture or do some other summative assessment.

Rubric 4.0

During CEP 813, I developed a rubric by which to assess other assessments. You can view Rubric 4.0 or read about it in an earlier blog post if you want to know more. My Minecraft assessment meets some of those criteria but not all. Here are two criteria from Rubric 4.0 and how they are met (or not) by my Minecraft assessment.

7: Assessment requires transfer of knowledge to demonstrate understanding

When students complete a symmetrical design or create their own symmetrical design in Minecraft, they are applying what they have learned through a performance task. This allows them to demonstrate that they have truly learned the content and to begin constructing new knowledge around what they already know (Trumbull and Lash, 2013).

10: Assessment provides multiple means of action and expression

This Minecraft assessment limits students to a single means of action and expression. This does not line up with Universal Design for Learning (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014), by which teachers make assessments accessible for all learners. However, it would be possible to make an accommodation for a student who was unable to access Minecraft for some reason. This could be done using grid paper or pattern blocks, as previously mentioned.


Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST.

Trumbull, E. & Lash, A. (2013). Understanding formative assessment: Insights from learning theory and measurement theory. San Francisco: WestEd. Retrieved from


All screenshots and videos in this blog post were created by Sarah Van Loo.

Incorporating Games Into Classroom Assessments

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the specific application of using games to help students with executive functioning issues. However, Games are engaging for all students and can help all students learn course content and life skills.  

Students can learn skills and techniques for planning through digital games like strategy games, simulation games, and role-playing games. In these games, they learn skills such as predicting game events and switching between short- and long-term goals. They learn to prepare for an event by stocking up items in inventory, and they learn from their mistakes (Kulman, 2014).

Games like Minecraft and LittleBigPlanet and coding apps like Scratch help to support planning skills through fun and interactive means. Students need “foresight, planning, dividing the plan into steps, and then actually producing the work,” (Kulman, 2014, p. 118) to be successful.

I have some experience using and teaching coding applications like Scratch, Scratch Jr., Tynker, and Hopscotch. And I live in a house with teenagers, some of whom went through pretty long and obsessive Minecraft phases. But until this week, I had not personally spent any time in Minecraft myself.

That said, my first experience in going through the MSU College of Education’s hosted tutorial world was interesting. When I went to the library to work on my homework, I took my 15-year-old expert son with me. I am so glad I did.

In this video, I walk through parts of the MinecraftEDU Tutorial World and narrate my walkthrough with some information about my experience and how I see Minecraft in my teaching context.

My Difficulty / Challenge

I experienced several difficulties as I went explored in the MinecraftEDU Tutorial World. Two of them are particularly worth noting.

First, I had a difficult time making a long jump over a bridge that had fence pieces on each side. I did not screencast that scene and cannot remember exactly where it was. What I remember is that my son had to help me. He initially made the jump for me but I stubbornly insisted on doing it myself which took ten more minutes of frustrating falling and running up the hill on my part and lots of head shaking on his part. Really, he was a very patient teacher and once I got across that bridge on my own, I was thrilled.

Second, I had a hard time figuring out what to do in the Dig and Build zone. There were “Dig” and “Build” signs in bold all over the place but I could not actually dig anywhere. Finally, I did what my own kids would have done: I read the Wiki, where I finally figured out that all the players before me had dug the ground and built stairs out. So I followed those stairs out.

Relating My MinecraftEDU Experience to My Background

I think I had the difficulty with the jump because I did not grow up playing video games. I have owned a few systems and playing games has been a fun activity during short bursts in my life but I have not logged a lot of hours. So when I got to that jump, I just did not have the experience. I probably could have let my son play me through but I am stubborn and tried again and again. In the end, it was worth it.

My second difficulty resulted from the busyness of my life. I was probably one of the last students to explore the tutorial world and all the digging and building had already been done. The “Dig” and “Build” signs didn’t apply to me because I was just too late.

Minecraft as an Assessment Tool

Two of the criteria in my Rubric 4.0 are based on Universal Design for Learning (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014).

Allowing students to use games like Minecraft as an assessment tool can potentially meet both of them. Minecraft could allow for multiple means of representation (criterion 6) and multiple means of action and expression (criterion 10).

When students can demonstrate learning through Minecraft (multiple means of action and expression), they are engaged and motivated. Teachers like John Miller say that when he had students create in Minecraft, they were so completely engaged they filled his classroom at lunch every day and groaned at the end of class when he had to turn off the server (Gallagher, 2014).

My Teaching and Minecraft

Minecraft could definitely have a place in my classroom. In my current role as a STEM teacher, I am typically on a pretty tight time frame. I am responsible for delivering specific content to many students. However, I could think of some general ways to use Minecraft now:

  1. As a way to introduce content to my students
  2. As an ending enrichment activity to early finishers
  3. To support the Tynker lessons I teach in fourth-grade. Minecraft and Tynker have partnered up to let students do Tynker coding in a Minecraft environment.

These are general ideas but I look forward to developing more specific ones in time.


Gallagher, C. [Colin Gallagher]. (2014, February 19). Minecraft Minechat Episode 23: John Miller [Video file]. Retrieved from

Kulman, R. (2014). Playing smarter in a digital world: A guide to choosing and using popular video games and apps to improve executive functioning in children and teens. Plantation FL, FL: Specialty Press, Inc.

Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST.


Second Iteration of a Formative Assessment for Fifth Grade

In my fifth grade classes, students actively work in small groups to build, modify, and program a robot to move autonomously (with minimal human intervention). They use technology and navigate social learning situations to solve a problem that is anchored in the real world.

This module is challenging but using “focused questions, feedback, and diagnostic assessment” (Wiggins & McTighe,2005, p. 46) helps to uncover misunderstandings, questions and assumptions my students have. In turn, this informs my instruction and helps students learn more, avoid forgetfulness, and transfer what they know to other situations.

To plan for and reflect on one of the formative assessments within this fifth-grade robotics module, I have developed Formative Assessment Design Version 2.0. My prior iteration is Formative Assessment Design Version 1.0, which I wrote about in an earlier blog post.


Wiggins, G.P. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from


A Critical Review of Course Management Systems for Assessments

Online learning is becoming more and more common in our schools. It can include a wide range of courses from fully online courses to those that include an online component with face-to-face instruction.

Course Management Systems

To help facilitate online instruction, teachers may benefit from using a Course Management System (CMS) that allows them to organize and manage course content, assessments, students, and records. These can range from websites to all-inclusive, commercial systems.

As a teacher of science, engineering, and technology, my elementary school classes often include a digital component. In the last year, I have regularly used Canvas and Seesaw. When I was a middle school art teacher I used Google Classroom to facilitate assignments and record keeping.

Critical Review of CMSs

When I was tasked with critically reviewing the assessment features of three CMSs for my current K-5 technology teacher position, I decided to review Canvas, Google Classroom, and Edmodo. Although I have not used Edmodo as a teacher in the past, I have used it as a parent.

I also included Seesaw as a fourth option. While it may not technically be considered a CMS, Seesaw has been a great help to me in getting online content to my young students and collecting assignments back from them. Because I was curious about how it would compare to the full CMSs I was reviewing, I added it as a fourth system to review.

In comparing these CMSs, I used criteria that were provided to me, as well as four other criteria that I consider to be important in a CMS. I scored each criterion with a 1 for yes or 0 for no, so that I could easily compare the features of the CMSs.

My Results

Based on the results of my critical review, Canvas is the most robust system that can be tailored to provide easy access, even for young students. In the free version of Canvas, teachers have the option of building courses from scratch to gain unlimited access to the system (in terms of time and number of classes). I have scratch-built and customized existing courses in Canvas before and would be able to do this, but it may be a limiting factor for other teachers who prefer an out-of-the-box CMS package.

For the purposes of creating assessments in CEP813, I will use Canvas, which scored the most points in my critical review. Although I previously created a hybrid art course in Canvas for CEP820, I still want to further explore the full-featured assessment and tracking capabilities that Canvas provides.


Wordle Cloud for Drexler (2010)” by Chris Jobling is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (as header image)

Assessment Rubric 4.0: Including Technology and Universal Design for Learning

Over the past six weeks, I have been developing and revising a rubric by which to assess other assessments. Here are links to previous iterations and the blog posts that I wrote about them:

This week’s final iteration is Rubric 4.0, which I have updated to include criteria specifying the importance of a technology component in assessment and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Universal Design for Learning stresses the importance of providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression to make education accessible for all students (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014).


Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST.

Creating a Formative Assessment for Fifth Grade

Formative assessment, assessment for learning that occurs during a unit of instruction, is dynamic assessment. It gives teachers the opportunity to find out what students are able to do on their own or with adult help and guidance (Shepard, 2000).

By making students’ thinking visible and open to examination, it can reveal what a student understands and what misconceptions they hold (Trumbull & Lash, 2013). It also provides opportunities for scaffolding steps between one activity and the next, for each individual student (Shepard, 2000).

Guided by Rubric 3.0, my third iteration of a rubric to assess other assessments, I have created the first draft of a formative assessment. Formative Assessment Design Version 1.0 is meant to be used during a fifth-grade robotics module that I teach. During a typical school year, I teach this module four or five times, so I look forward to revising this formative assessment over time to make it the best it can be.


Shepard, L. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4-14.

Trumbull, E. & Lash, A. (2013). Understanding formative assessment: Insights from learning theory and measurement theory. San Francisco: WestEd. Retrieved from