Personalized Learning at SRMS

This year at Sandy Run Middle School we have cohorts of teachers working with their students to develop best practices with personalized learning, developing a culture of student empowerment and commitment.

At the heart of personalized learning is student agency. Personalized Learning challenges the premise that all learners are able to learn the same thing, the same way, on the same day. Learning is most effective when students are co-designers of the learning, partnering with their teacher to define purpose, make connections, establish context, and develop learning activities.

Personalized Learning includes:

  • An approach to learning and instruction that is designed around individual learner readiness, strengths, needs, and interests.

  • Learners as active participants in setting goals, planning learning paths, tracking progress, and determining how learning will be demonstrated.

  • An understanding that at any given time, learning objectives, content, methods, and pacing are likely to vary from learner to learner as they pursue proficiency aligned to established standards.

  • An understanding that personalization moves beyond both differentiation and individualization.

This video captures some of our grade eight teacher and student reflections on the process and practice (future posts will highlight the personalized learning work of 6th and 7th grade teams).

UDHS Students and Alumni Search for Dinosaurs

For the second year in a row, UDHS students and recent alumni had a rare opportunity to work alongside geoscientists and paleontologists as part of the (Dresher-based) Bighorn Basin Paleontological Institute’s 2018 field season.  Pictured are (from left to right) Jess Robinson (UDHS ’17), Blake Nutis (UDHS ’18) and Leanna Stackhouse (UDHS ’17) in front of the impressive remains of what is likely a 148 million year old Stegosaurus. To date, the bone bed includes multiple leg bones, the pelvis, several toes, vertebrae, ribs and the shoulder of this well known dinosaur species.  Based on the geology of the site, it is likely the animal died in a flood or river channel before being rapidly buried by sediment.  In addition, the site is also being surveyed by UDHS senior Jonah Carver through an ongoing partnership between the UDHS advanced geosciences program and West Chester University’s Earth and Space Sciences Department.  Jonah (pictured with the UAV and science payload) had the opportunity to collect data on the site using a drone-mounted multi-spectral scanner (MSS) capable of taking high resolution aerial imagery in both the visible light and infra-red portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.  This data will be used in support of an upcoming project centered on using advanced UAV technology in paleontological research.  The site was discovered in 2017 by UDHS advanced geosciences instructor Dr. Rick Schmidt and is still being excavated under his supervision along with other staff members of the BB

PI.  At the conclusion of the field season in mid-August, the fossils will be transported to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia for formal preparation.

Learners as Leaders: Cross Grade Collaboration

When instructional technology is adopted, teachers and students often begin with substitution activities, where they are using a digital tool in place of a conventional tool, as they develop proficiency. The promise and goal of instructional technology is to enable and support a transformation and redefinition of what is possible in the design of learning experiences, accelerating collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and student’s construction of knowledge. This is the ongoing work at the heart of our 21st Century Learning initiative.

Collaborating across grade levels and schools, Maria Burke and Nicole Adkins exemplify the mindset of lead learners, where the role of the teacher shifts from being the source of knowledge to being a leader in seeking and constructing knowledge. Enjoy this brief window into the learning journey they have taken with their students, and how modeling as lead learners, they turned their learners into leaders.

Exploring Composition in the 21st Century

Submitted by Ron Hillman, English Teacher.

The project, “You can get anywhere from anywhere”, starts in the summer before learners begin AP Language and Composition. Students investigate a series of “explorations” found in “How To Be an Explorer of the World” by Keri Smith.. These “explorations” are writing, or rather thinking tasks, that involve interacting in the world with a focus on observation.  Examples might be to sketch all the cracks in a sidewalk or eavesdrop a bookstore conversation. Students document their experiences as part of their summer writing assignment.   

In the fall students chose one “exploration” to rewrite into a polished essay.  For example, one student addressed how “We live in a world filled with distractions.”  Over the next few weeks students refined their essays through drafting and peer feedback.  The students then presented the ideas of the essay in a 2 minute video.  They were given models, websites and resources they could use.  The parameters were broad and students made choices on a variety of issues for their video.  These included the type of video (wevideo, powtoon, goanimate etc.), the script, music or imagery. We took 3 days to screen all of the final products.  Students gave their peers immediate feedback on their work.  The last step was a self-evaluation of their entire project.

I hoped the open ended nature of the work forced them from writing for the teacher or crafting work to satisfy a rubric.  I hoped the project would inculcate confidence in their ability to make choices.  I wanted to model how a deep dive into drafting and revising creates a richer more meaningful product.  I wanted them to collaborate with each other as colleagues and peers.  My role in this process was to coach them and present options. The last goal was to introduce a problem without a ready solution. Students had to learn to make a video and use technology in new ways.  That problem solving, was part of the learning as well.  

Student Voices

I don’t think I’ve ever been so passionate about a project before. I just had a vision and wanted to execute it. I spent over 25 hours at least on the video, trying to make it as impactful as possible and something I wanted to share.-Danielle Rutledge

I thought it was very worthwhile. I learned a lot about video editing and revising. Mostly
revising. It took me 5 “final videos” to get my definite final video. It taught me to be patient
with the creative process and to not rush it; it takes some time to work everything out.-Lindsay Bowen

I found the video tedious to create, but I was proud of the final product. I made A LOT of changes to the video, which is why I think it turned into “something”.-Jacob Blank

I learned how to use a site I would have never used before and I found resources to create more videos for the future.  I also learned more about my own writing through the telling of my narration and it made me want to really do well.-Liam Peyton

It was one of those enjoyable creative experiences, especially coming up with clever/funny drawings and narration. It gave me a way to share my thesis of life-awareness, which I genuinely think people don’t consider enough, especially at my age.-Dennis Li

I liked creating the video, because it’s not something I normally get to do for school and can actually be kind of entertaining for a lot of people. We all got to think about something new and learn from each other which is always worthwhile.-Joy Kim

The Role ofTechnology

Without technology this project simply would not have been possible. Students used technology throughout.

All students use Chromebooks and it’s an essential aid.  To start, students produce a 4-slide screencast they share in google classroom.  They’re required to watch others and comment which begins the dialogue with each other.  I see through classroom student’s progress and can comment. When they return, collaboration through google docs allows for great peer feedback. They hone their essays, then convert their text into images, music, words. There is a lot of choice in creating a video representation of their work. Screening day(s) allow students to enjoy their achievements. Using google forms students provide each other immediate feedback.   

Students drive all of the choices, work as collaborators and have satisfaction in the process of creation. Through google docs, google forms, screencast, wevideo, google classroom, I can decentralize my influence and allow students to help each other and decide on solutions. All with the support of technology.

To visit student portfolios click here.


Project Based Learning and the Unless Contest

Project-Based Learning (PBL) includes an open-ended challenge, mastery and application of content, individual accountability paired with cooperative interdependence, and an authentic audience. On Tuesday 2/14, Erin Loch’s 2nd period Environmental Science class took an important step in their PBL as they traveled to the Philadelphia Zoo to present their progress thus far in the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation Unless Contest.   Their challenge is to find a local water problem, find a solution and fix it.  The class has chosen to take on two challenges!   They are working towards installing a water bottle filling station at UDHS in order to reduce single-use water bottles and restoring a buffer zone at the Loch Alsh Reservoir in order to reduce pollutants from entering the water.  To assist in their work, the students are also leveraging the expertise of the High School librarian Mary Jane Lyons, Robbins Park program director Lisa Fantini, and Upper Dublin Public Library emerging technology coordinator Molly Kane.


The students had already pitched their ideas, been granted permission by the school and township, and have now begun work to implement their plans.  While at the zoo, they were given a tour, a special lesson on the golden lion tamarin and the opportunity to present their project thus far. The pitch was a huge success and now the real work begins. Using the library MakerSpace as their headquarters, the team has already taken on 3D design to create props for the presentation and stencils for their shirts, the button maker to give out reminders of their purpose and Breakoutedu as a method of team-building and interactive presentation (many thanks to the Upper Dublin Education Foundation for supporting the MakerSpace). The “Golden 13” has already raised $200 toward their goal of $2000 and they have only just begun. Look for water bottle sales as well as other fundraisers soon.


Dino Hunter, Dr. Rick Schmidt

Dr. Rick Schmidt’s passion for science transcends the classroom space and the school year itself. Engaging students in authentic inquiry, Dr.Schmidt’s students can often be found exploring with telescopes outside, scuba diving in our pools, learning to conduct aerial surveys with drones, and much more.

In the summer he follows his passion for research and discovery as a Paleontologist. This summer he found the complete head of a femur of a Camarasaurus in Montana.  CNN included the discovery as part of their GREAT BIG STORY series. This video includes a discussion of how technology is transforming the discovery process.  The aerial imagery and images on the computer screen were taken by a drone acquired through the support of the Upper Dublin Education Foundation.

Mystery Location Calls – It’s a small world after all.

From our New UD NEXT series.

UD NEXT celebrates innovation in teaching and learning experiences K-12, especially transformations facilitated by our technology initiative (Google Apps, Chromebooks, etc.). Every couple of weeks we will feature blog submissions which include a both teacher and student narratives.

Teacher voice: Tara Brady (grade 4 Fort Washington Elementary School)

This Winter and Spring, students in my fourth grade class participated in mystery location calls with elementary students from New Zealand, The Grand Canyon, Arkansas, New Jersey. In a Mystery Location call, students play 20 questions in order to figure out where in the world the other class was located. Classes were only allowed to ask “yes/no” geography questions. Using logic and knowledge of geography, climate, and culture, classes correctly guessed where in the world each was located!

Role of Technology in supporting learning outcomes?

Mystery Location Calls happen via Google Hangout, connecting a chromebook to our smartboard and conducting a live video session. I was able to reach out to other teachers around the world using Google Plus Communities, and connecting with other educators in the “mystery location” community. This online community made it very simple to find other educators seeking to complete a google hangout by simply scheduling a date/time on our google calendar. Students in my fourth grade class expanded their knowledge of geography, practiced their reasoning skills, and now have a broader understanding of how small the world really is!

Student Reflection (by Casey)

Last week, my class did a google hangout with a mystery class located in Michigan. My favorite part was when we figured out where they were from by crossing off the clues on the board. I also thought it was funny when they guessed that we lived in Kentucky! They were a bit off…It was interesting to see how their classroom was set up totally different than our classroom.

Administrator Reflection

While our fourth grade classrooms are not 1:1, Tara Brady leveraged shared devices to bring the world into the classroom. Additionally she regularly used tools like Peardeck, Kahoot, and Google forms/slides/docs to make her students’ thinking visible, inform instruction, and empower learners to present their understanding through various media.

Student created “science TV”

From our New UD NEXT series.

Teacher Reflection – Robert Miller

Over the past 3 weeks my five 8th grade classes have been creating a “Bill Nye the Science Guy” type TV show.  Each class has been working to create a unique TV show explaining the details of Energy and the Conservation of Energy. The class has elected an executive board consisting of:  Exec Producer, Exec Screen Writer, Exec Editor and Exec Production Manager.  These 4 highly motivated and talented students are the leaders of the production company.  The remaining students are organized into production teams where they are tasked with creating each segment of the overall show. Ultimately the students work as one team to write, produce, shoot and edit a 27 minute science show complete with commercials and a public service announcement.  As the instruction switches from teacher to student centered each learner has the opportunity to be an integral part of the big picture.

Role of Technology 

Ubiquitous access to technology allowed students to collaboratively manage their learning.

Google sites and the team organization

Each executive team created a class website for management of all of the tasks and assignments.  The exec. producer was responsible for the master plan and the scheduling of all activities (example site)

Verification of Work

The executive board and team leaders ensured that all work was accurately completed, like quality control in industry.  As work was assigned through Google Classroom, team members shared their documents with the leaders. The team leaders provided feedback directly on shared documents as work unfolded, as learners continually refined their product.

Sharing and reflection on the work process via blogging.  

As the TV show came to life, a second set of students were responsible for blogging about the experience.  This can be seen at  

Publication to Youtube

As each class completed their project, finished videos were posted on a private youtube channel for peer evaluation.

Student Reflection

The reflective blog maintained by students captures their appreciation for the complexities and challenges of authentic project based learning. This included negotiation openness to feedback as students held each other accountable for the quality of their work, the challenges of cooperative interdependence, learning from setbacks, and persevering to solve problems.

21st Century Project Based Learning

From our New UD NEXT series.

Teacher Reflection (Erin Loch):

I love teaching environmental science because the content easily lends itself to practice problem solving skills. Though we investigate many small problems throughout the year, typically my classes tackle a larger environmental problem in the beginning of the year and then another towards the end of the year.  Each year the problem is different as it reflects a true environmental issue that we have either at our school or in our community.

Every year, I take my classes to the Loch Alsh reservoir to discuss watersheds and every fall the APES class does an extensive water quality study.  During our visit, I tell the kids what little I know about the reservoir and always wish there was more solid information to provide. My 7th period was presented with the scenario: We don’t know much about the reservoir and we want to create an accessible resource.  Students decided to build a Wikipedia page on the reservoir in order to provide a centralized resource.  While they thought the first step was to collect information, it was really to gain some 21st century skills and awareness. To help with this we gathered a team of professionals. Not only did we enlist our school librarian, we also had the privilege of working with the district’s Director of Technology and K-12 Instructional Technology Specialist. As a result, students were provided with many perspectives on why this project was not just important for a grade in my class. Once these conversations and “trainings” took place (students became certified Wikipedia editors!), now we could tackle what they thought would be the first step! What an amazing opportunity to teach the complexities of group work and technology skills all at the same time. So off to the library we went…

With the help of Mrs. Kane (Head Teen Librarian), students explored primary documents at the Upper Dublin Township Library.  Sifting through meeting notes, books, and archived maps was a new experience for most students.  While paging through documents, one student commented, “I really wish we could google this.”  Several replied, in unison, “That’s the point of our page!”

Final touches to the Wikipedia page are currently taking place, so look for our “Loch Alsh Reservoir” page soon!

The Role of Technology

Of course, easy access to the internet was vital in the building of our Wikipedia page.  However, Google Classroom was also an essential component of successful peer collaboration.  Classroom was used extensively by students to post documents for whole class collaboration, as well as make announcements to keep everyone on the same page, and provide surveys to gather everyone’s opinions.  Classroom and collaboration through google docs allowed for all students to contribute and be heard, especially those who tend to be less vocal in whole class settings.
Students found our new access to technology and GAFE extremely beneficial in reaching their goals.  One student wrote, “We were able to share everything with each other and we were all able to edit it when we wanted and have our own inputs. The Chromebooks gave us easy access to any information that was on the internet.”

Student Reflections

When asked about the project (in an anonymous Google Form!), student responses centered around the themes of peer collaboration, new experiences, and skills development.

Here’s what they had to say:  


    • “I liked how we worked in a team and if we had challenges we fixed them as fast as we could.”
    • “It was something I had never done before and it was very interesting.  I didn’t learn from my teacher, I learned from my peers so it was a pleasant change up.”
    • “It taught us how to create an official Wikipedia page which we never even thought about doing before. I enjoyed learning how to do this.”
    • “I liked being the first ones to have to find out this information, being the first ones to ask the questions that we asked and getting feedback.”
    • “I gained valuable skills like how to organize groups together, how to contact people properly, and how to put together a professional wikipedia.”
    • “I was able to be more open-minded, meaning that I used to think that my idea was the best, but now I am open to other ideas.”
    • “We gained good people skills and how to talk to adults and act professional in the real world.”