New Caney Independent School District (ISD) added ThingLink to their roster of online learning resources in 2020 and it soon became a valuable tool with many applications. We spoke to the Director of Digital Learning, Gretta Rogne, and her team to hear about the many different ways the district has been using the tool throughout their schools.
Welcome to New Caney ISD
New Caney ISD (Independent School District) consists of 18 schools in Montgomery County, Texas, USA. There are 3 high schools, 4 middle schools, and 11 elementary schools within it. Students in all grades from pre-K to 12th grade (from 4-year-olds to the top year of high school) use the Canvas Learning Management System. It’s where students access their course materials, educational apps, and resources, where they submit assignments, receive feedback and collaborate with peers. Most importantly, it’s where district resources can be shared between schools and learners.
All 17,000 students in the district from Pre-K upwards are issued with a Chromebook which they use in school and, since the start of the pandemic, at home. Even before the start of the pandemic, the Digital Learning team had been looking for a way to create more interactive content within the LMS. Many staff were already familiar with ThingLink and in 2020, it was top of their wish-list of resources as they knew it would make both in-school and remote learning more engaging for their students. “ThingLink had been on our wish list for a long time. Covid made it ESSENTIAL. And once you’ve got it, you don’t want to give it back!” says Gretta.
New Caney ISD signed up to a school district account in 2020 and immediately began the task of using it to create new content. ThingLink resources aimed at the elementary years were created by a team of 30 curriculum writers, who built out material which formed the basis of blueprint courses. Meanwhile, the resources for secondary students were created by the teachers themselves.
Making a difference
The team report “overwhelmingly positive feedback” from students and staff – “it’s a tool that teachers WANT to use with their students”. The team also describe the difference between having previously used individual teacher accounts and now having a district-wide account as “huge”.
In short, a district account means that any teacher across the entire district can now access, clone and edit interactive content that’s already been created – saving time and creating an ever-increasing library of interactive resources that can be easily updated and adapted.
Since starting to use ThingLink, the number of ways in which they have applied the tool has grown. Some examples of the ThingLinks created by teachers and shared with the district are:
- Interactive app tutorials: The digital learning team have created interactive “how to” lessons in ThingLink to introduce students to the features of other applications such as Canvas and WeVideo. They found the Immersive Reader tool particularly useful in these intro presentations for new students.The digital learning team often add these ThingLink scenes into Book Creator, to create full interactive guides for students to help them navigate new platforms.
- Learning guides for students: The team created an interactive general guide to “Best Practices for Flexible Learning” for students to help them manage the new style of blended learning throughout the pandemic. They also created a thinglink to interactively demonstrate the “C4BeforeMe” approach by which students are encouraged to seek self help themselves from various sources before approaching a teacher. Some teachers have used ThingLink for creating interactive Bitmoji classrooms.
- Virtual field trips and presentations: One teacher decided to create a virtual field trip to Hawaii and Alaska for first graders, in which students could choose which islands they wanted to visit, linking to sites on each individual island. Teachers also used ThingLink to create virtual presentations for the district STEM camp.
- Resources for phonics and reading: Teachers have been creating interactive resources for phonics and reading for elementary students
- Formative assessment: ThingLink was used extensively for formative assessments with the youngest elementary students, and in teaching them general tech skills. The team told us that the simplicity and ease of use of the platform is ideally suited to these youngest learners.
- Interactive newsletters: School staff have created interactive school newsletters in ThingLink adding text and voice notes to images and graphs for better accessibility.
- Interactive student portfolios: Within the district’s Gifted and Talented Programme, students will be asked to create an interactive ThingLink product presentation for their own designs, which they then take onwards to their next institution as part of their portfolio.
The New Caney ISD team reports that in the secondary years the use of ThingLink throughout the district is now quite student-driven, with students from 6th grade upwards (age 11/12) regularly creating their own content and adapting the existing content to suit their needs. Take a look at this great student example of a maths function explained using ThingLink. The digital learning team are looking forward to introducing ThingLink creation to younger students over the coming year.
Access for all
Spanish is the most common second language in the district and a high proportion of the students speak Spanish as a first language. Therefore, much of the resources are also created in Spanish. The staff found that the embedded Immersive Reader was a great help in immediately making their content accessible. In addition, learners were easily able to translate the content into other languages themselves. Some senior students who are Urdu speakers recorded their own voices within thinglinks which they then shared with fellow students.
An evolving landscape
As more and more features are added to ThingLink, the school district makes use of these. For example, when ThingLink launched the Canva integration in 2021, the Caney ISD Digital Learning team created branded content using the two apps together, which was shared across the district.
“ThingLink is a tool you stick with – it continues to grow as you use it. As the education landscape evolves, so does ThingLink.”Gretta Rogne, Director of Digital Learning, New Caney ISD.
Lifelong skills for school and beyond
“Students are the drivers of their own learning – ThingLink matches that.” The team believes that the collaboration and co-creation at the heart of ThingLink teaches and reinforces the real-life skills of co-working and teamwork that will be so invaluable to students throughout their education, and beyond in the world of work. When students use ThingLink in an educational setting, “they’re not just consumers, they’re creators and collaborators”, says Gretta.
Thank you to Gretta Rogne and her team – Krista Keiser, Melissa Stoltz, and Lasonya Cobbs – for sharing their experience in using ThingLink across the district.