Does Your Class Tech Use Empower Every Learner?

When are you better off using paper and pen? How can teachers thoughtfully use technology that promotes learning, development, and success for all students and avoid uses that don’t?

These questions matter to educators now more than ever. Education is changing and technology is a part of it. Last year, American schools spent a whopping $8.38 billion on educational technology according to a Hechinger report. (See some of the purchase trends here).

Spending this much is acceptable if school leaders know exactly which outcomes they’re looking for. Digital content that support personalized learning, for example, is on the rise, and districts are clear on what they expect from those materials.

Edtech can amplify what good teachers are already doing and provide critical support for learners with special needs in particular. But in states like Pennsylvania, studies have shown that tech is actually widening the achievement gap. Access to tech is not equitable; limited budgets and inadequate teacher training keep some kids from the technological solutions they need. With the increasing diversity of classrooms across the country, school leaders must ask deeper questions on the pros and cons of using tech for student learning and development.

It’s not enough just to use technology in the classroom – teachers need to carefully consider if it meets student needs and produces positive learning outcomes for all students.

Here are 3 tips on choosing whether or not to supplement your lesson with tech:

  1. Do hands on demonstrations with students whenever possible, opposed to viewing them solely on the screen. I mean, as good as Steve Spangler is, your own live experiments can be emotionally engaging science theater. Check out some Pinterest worthy ones here. 
  2. Do leverage tech tools that help students understand and talk about more complex subject matter, like science concepts. Low-cost adaptive digital curricula that teaches the same content at each student’s reading level are available. Also tech platforms, like iMovie, that facilitate recording can be great ways for students, especially English Language Learners, to verbalize their understanding and start sharing their voices in the classroom. 
  3. Do remember technology is not required in small group settings. If the goal is to get your students to discuss deeply on a topic, put the tablet away. Sometimes you can have better conversations face to face.

This post was written by the talented and overall awesome Esther Lee

Meet our May Teacher of the Month, Joanne Salustri!

mayl-2016_teacher-of-the-month_joanne-salustriWhat makes an outstanding teacher is the ability to relate to students and motivate them to be their ‘best self’. Joanne Salustri uses BirdBrain to differentiate instruction and isn’t afraid to let students see her as a ‘caring mother’.  We’re proud to announce this knowledgeable and caring teacher is our May Teacher of the Month. Read her story below.

Tell us about what led you to become a teacher!

Growing  up, I found that I could turn to a teacher, whether in elementary or high school, for support and help if there were problems at home. These wonderful strangers helped me not only academically, but emotionally. I told myself that I would like to pay them back by helping children who needed a loving hand,the way they did for me. Also, I am a science geek at heart. I love learning and sharing my passion for science with my students.

What do you like to do for fun (when you’re not grading of course)?

I love gardening.  My husband and I have hiked in upstate New York, in Maine, and in the Rockies of Colorado.  I also have explored lighthouses along the East Coast.

How has technology changed your teaching philosophy?

When I was in Middle School and High School, the only technology available was the typewriter.  In my senior year in high school, I took a lab where we taught how to program a computer by punching out paper holes!

I feel that technology has enhanced the learning experience for all of us.  I have kept up with the changes in order to help my students get the most of these valuable tools. [But] I still believe in “hands on” projects and using paper and pencil. I like to balance both technology and the ‘old fashioned’ way of learning. One enriches the other.

Is there a student who BirdBrain’s helped move the needle for?

BirdBrain articles have benefitted many of my students.  It’s a resource students have been motivated to read because the articles are interesting and well-written. I like the way the articles speak to their interests. In 7th grade, I teach physics.  It is rewarding to see that after reading the articles and taking the free response questions, they do understand the concepts. 

What led you to start BirdBraining?

I am teaching 7th and 8th students to be literate in science, and BirdBrain has truly enhanced my lessons.  I like the way these articles are kid friendly. The articles from BirdBrain put a fun spin on reading–it’s great at helping them look for and understand specific information.

Do you have any innovative instructional practices you’d like to share with other teachers?

Everyday I teach six classes of Middle School students.  My style of teaching changes with each class, but I always try to reach out in different ways to address all the different ways my students learn and help each student feel successful in all their endeavors. I primarily use BirdBrain articles to foster an interest in science….by using hands-on projects along with technology, I can help students in many creative ways.

What is one thing about you that most people don’t know?

I would love to be a principal of a elementary middle school.  I see the opportunity for implementing so many great programs to reach every type of student as a person. Also, I would like to work with other teachers sharing ideas and cultivating their love of teaching.
I know that it would be a lot of work, but I know that this would be another opportunity to reach out to students and families.


YouTube Channels for Science Teachers

We’re drowning in content. Users upload more than 400 hours of video to YouTube every minute. So how do you find quality educational content that’s up-to-date and appropriate for the classroom?

Many of our BirdBrain teachers are keeping up and leveraging YouTube to preview and review new science content. Here you will find teacher-recommended channels that will educate, engage, and inspire your students. These videos offer creative animations about the REM cycle to explaining the physics behind the 2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.  Any of these high quality videos are sure to spark student curiosity toward science.

1. National Geographic

National Geographic has a fantastic collection of short videos with playlists arranged by topic. It introduces students to a whole host of natural and biological topics, from animals and their habitats to mountain exploration.

  1. AsapScience

This channel uses science and drawn cartoons to explain a range of daily phenomenons from the inevitability of gas to the science behind productivity. These humorous 3-4 min videos can be a gateway to important science concepts, and why not offer students extra credit if they learn this catchy Periodic Table song?

  1. SciShow

Another fantastic channel which presents animation videos on science that’s sure to intrigue your students.

  1. TedEd

No matter what your age, TedEd encourages people to expand their horizons and their ambitions by featuring videos of the world’s leading scientists and innovators on a wide and diverse range of topics.  For accurate closed captioning, watch the videos directly on their website.

  1. ESPN Sports Science.

ESPN’s series Sports Science breaks down the skills behind the world’s top athletes using mathematics and science in 2-3 minute videos. Check out their entire collection here.  Even those who don’t love sports will enjoy watching Stephen Curry draining threes.

Also check out Exploratorium’s more in-depth take on sports science.

Any we missed? What are your favorite YouTube channels for the classroom? Sound off on the comments below!

Meet BirdBrain Teacher of the Month, Chad LeDune


For many of us, the desire to learn doesn’t stop after school. Chad LeDune is a rockstar science educator who uses his curiosity to make learning more effective and enjoyable not only for his students but classrooms throughout Indiana. For this reason and more, he is our BirdBrain Teacher of the Month this April!

Let’s start with teaching. What made you want to become a teacher?

Well, teaching was not on my radar as a profession when I was younger.  Though I was surrounded by teacher friends and family members, I really never considered it.  I began college majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry. Even though I enjoyed my classes and had success, it just didn’t seem to be the right fit for me.  So, like many of my friends and family, I decided to see if teaching was my calling.  And now, even with all of the many challenges that face today’s schools and educators, I could not imagine doing anything else.

Outside of teaching, what do you like to do for fun?

I love being outdoors with my family.  Playing with my kids, fishing, golfing, grilling out, kayaking, hiking through the woods, spending time on the lake, or even working outside are all activities that I enjoy.  Being outside is a refreshing break from the classroom that I feel recharges me for school.

How about in school? Do you have a favorite BirdBrain moment in your classroom?

Even my most gifted students have voiced their opinions on how challenging BirdBrain is.  Which, as a teacher, is something that I appreciate about the product.  Many of my students are reading at the 11-12th grade level.  I think my favorite moments are figuring out the answers to these challenging questions with the students and showing them that the answers are in the details of the articles.  It’s great for these students to be challenged with ability appropriate material and questions.

That’s awesome. Is there a particular student who BirdBrain has helped move the needle for?  

I don’t think that there is really a story about an individual student here.  I like to look at the success that BirdBrain has brought to my entire group of students.  I love seeing students advance in their reading and comprehension levels and they love to see it as well.  I reward them for this with our PBIS (positive behavior rewards) monthly.  Many of my students will check with me to see if they have increased a reading level.  This shows me that they are motivated to do their best on these assignments.

 Do you have any innovative instructional practices you’d like to share with other teachers?

We are a 1:1 iPad corporation, which has given me the opportunity to have a class that does not require a textbook.  We use apps and sites for pretty much every aspect of our class.  I believe this gives me the chance to present information in many different methods.  This differentiation also keeps students much more engaged in their learning.  I feel very fortunate to teach science.  Kids love science!  My students and I both enjoy our time in the lab working on design process projects and the scientific methods labs, which we present using our iPads.

Where do you get ideas for these design projects and labs?

A lot of the time, I make them up on my own. With science, it’s one of those disciplines where you get the opportunity to learn something from a book then apply it in a lab. I try to incorporate as much lab and hands-on projects for my students as possible.

Are there any projects you have coming up on the pipeline?

You know, even after 13 years of teaching, I have yet to turn around the next year and use the exact same thing I used the year before. I am always trying to perfect my ideas. For example, I have a wall of fame in my classroom where I’ll put the name of the building project, and underneath, I put who set the record. Students can win the competition in class, but have extra motivation to continue if they’re working against a record holder on the wall. Something I’m working on for next year is making Youtube videos for each project.

 What is one thing about you that most people don’t know?

I was given the opportunity last year to write curriculum for my state [of Indiana]. From that experience and the contacts I made through that, I am now part of great professional development team called EdTechHeroes.  All of us on this team love staying up to date on the latest educational technology and strategies being used in classrooms and presenting these at conferences around the state. It’s an experience that has enabled me to grow personally and professionally.

 Every month, we honor a BirdBrain teacher who has gone above the beyond in his or her dedication to their students. You can send your nominations for Teacher of the Month to

Beth Donoghue is our Teacher of the Month!

Every month, we proudly honor a BirdBrain teacher who has gone above the beyond in his or her dedication to their students.  Read our interview with Beth Donoghue, a veteran teacher from Chippewa Middle School whose strong commitment to her students ensures their success every day…

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Congratulations! How does it feel to be named BirdBrain’s Teacher of the Month?

At first, I thought it must be some kind of mistake and then, I was shocked and excited. I feel honored to be chosen from all the educators using BirdBrain Science.

What led you to become an educator?  

I have always wanted to be a teacher. I thought teaching first or second grade would be fantastic, but after some observations in college, I found middle school was the place for me. I enjoy how students are beginning to think for themselves and make connections to the world around them.

Tell us about what you enjoy doing outside of the classroom.

I like to spend time with my family and play games with my daughter. I enjoy photography and making photo books for my family and I to enjoy.

How did you get introduced to the BirdBrain platform?

I first heard about BirdBrain Science on the National Science Teachers Association list serve. I applied for the free trial and found the articles interesting for students to read.

What’s your favorite part of the program? How about for your students?

Finding leveled reading resources with the same concepts had been a struggle, so I love how BirdBrain articles are leveled for individual reading levels, but still have common examples and vocabulary we could discuss as a class.

I also like knowing the lower level readers have the ability to have the text read to them. Knowing students will be challenged after passing a benchmark and will receive the next reading level is fantastic.

My students enjoy the humor behind the articles and the cartoons at the start of each article. They have also realized they can improve their scores by re-reading and re-taking the comprehension quiz.

You’re one of our most active BirdBrain users ever – tell us more about how you use BirdBrain in your classroom!

I use BirdBrain Science in two ways. First, I use it for vocabulary practice in the beginning of a unit to help build background knowledge. [By reading the articles], they practice the vocabulary words introduced in class in a more authentic way.

My favorite way to use BirdBrian Science is as a leveled center. The students can answer similar questions as they learn about a particular topic, but at their own level. It’s minimal work for me to help students succeed.  Sometimes they complete the free response questions on BirdBrain Science and sometimes they use information to complete a graphic organizer in their science notebooks.

Do you have any innovative instructional practices you’d like to share with other teachers?

I enjoy teaching science in small groups, so the students can have a more focused learning experience. I create stations – based in visuals, reading, and hands-on activities – which are designed to give students confidence and the ability to succeed.

Typically, students rotate to a teacher guided reading or demonstration station, a video station, an independent reading station, and real life application learning task all in one class period. Some stations are independent and some are completed as a group. BirdBrain is always an independent reading station, which students find engaging (ed. note: We absolutely love this idea and encourage BirdBrain teachers to implement this!).

 Sound off on your own instructional practices in the comment section below. You can send your nominations for Teacher of the Month to


February Teacher of the Month is Corbin Rice!

Every month, BirdBrain Education goes straight to the head of the class. We chat with teachers in public and private schools to discuss their educational philosophies and how they integrate BirdBrain in their classroom. Meet Corbin Rice, a 6th Grade Science Teacher at Northeast Middle School, who was chosen as our first ever ToM.

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Congratulations! How’s it feel to be Teacher of the Month?

At first, I thought it was spam… and then I read through the email again and thought, ‘Did they really nominate me for this?!’ Once I realized this was for real, I felt honored. I’ve never won anything before so it was a very pleasant surprise.

And how begins the epic tale that led you to become a teacher?  

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. When I was in 9th grade, I got to be a teacher’s aide at a middle school and the experience of supporting that teacher and seeing what happens behind-the-scenes as a student was eye-opening. It made me realize what my teachers have done for me all my life, and what it takes to be one. I knew I wanted to be a teacher since then.

What do you do with your free time (when you aren’t grading of course?)

Ice fishing, snow shoeing, hot yoga, cooking. Oh, and if I’m allowed to say this: I like to brew beer. My mind runs wild like a chemist with different recipes.

What led you to start using using the BirdBrain platform – and what’s your favorite part of the program? How about for your students?

I got introduced to it from the Tech Ed Summit at Google. The platform’s ease of use and intuitive design drew me in, but the differentiation piece is really the seller. I can look up a million articles on everything on my own, but the website already does it all for me. The format of how BirdBrain spins the ideas – it’s original, still hits the science concepts, and is direct enough so it’s easy for students to digest

I also appreciated the humor behind the articles and the goofy design. The kids catch on to the humor and they like it. They come into class going, “Did you assign a new BirdBrain today?!” Students have no problem adding themselves to a class and managing their assignments.  The reaction of my students to BirdBrain encouraged me to continue using it. I really try to listen to their feedback.  

You’re one of our most active BirdBrain users and it’s been less than a year since you signed up – tell us more about how you use BirdBrain in your classroom!

I teach at an inner city school, so there is a huge amount of diversity and that brings a wide range of ability levels. Like, in one classroom, I have students reading at a 2nd grade level all the way to a 10th grade level. The fact that BirdBrain levels reading automatically is a godsend and it’s amazing.

In a typical science class, I first give a hands-on lab, direct instruction, or some kind of demonstration for my students. I show them experience before I assess them on anything. I usually assign BirdBrain articles as a follow-up. Some students go straight to the assessment, and they’ll do well. If they do well on the assessment piece, then I trust they learned it in class and it’s a reiteration piece for them.

What I appreciate is that [BirdBrain’s] assessment questions are phrased in a way that truly measures their understanding. I’ve come across so many assessments over the years, and unfortunately, some of them are horribly written, but your questions were actually worth my time and worthwhile for the students.

Do you have any innovative instructional practices you’d like to share with other teachers?

My students are in a good flow right now. They know my expectations for their BirdBrain assignments and how they can improve their scores and re-try. I actually created a separate higher level reading class on BirdBrain for my students who are looking for something more challenging. They are vigilant learners and don’t like getting even one question wrong, and they’ll keep working at it.

For my students who are hardly speaking English at all, the website is really intuitive for them, and I use it to help boost their self-confidence. The individualized leveling on BirdBrain makes them feel like they can accomplish the task. It’s not daunting. They’re trying new vocabulary words and articles. It’s fun, relaxing, and helps my students want to complete the assignment. I was never a strong reader growing up and I always tell them that. [It’s important that] when their reading level goes up, we praise those accomplishments.

Every month, we honor a BirdBrain teacher who has gone above the beyond in his or her dedication to their students. You can send your nominations for Teacher of the Month to



Middle School NGSS PS2-5 Lesson Plans and resources for BirdBrain teachers!

NGSS MS-PS2-5: Conduct an investigation and evaluate the experimental design to provide evidence that fields exist between objects exerting forces on each other even though the objects are not in contact.

1. Educational Innovations Inc. World’s Simplest Motor LP

This simple motor Lesson Plan covers NGSS MS.PS2.5

Concepts covered are; Energy Transformation, Magnetic Forces, and Electrical Currents. Building the “Worlds Simplest Motor” procedures include identifying motors, conducting a Take-Apart Lab and links to resources to comprehending the entirety of the lesson.

2. Prove Your World LP

The attractive forces between objects is recognized through a simple material lab. Variations of the expirement guided through PYW videos demonstrate the objectives.

3. Magnet Exploration LP

Permanent and temporary magnet concepts are covered with a hands on lesson. The procedure covers creation of magnetic fields for students to observe and draw conclusions based on the results.

4.  Electromagnets LP

Teaching electromagnetism (temporary magnets) with a hands on lesson. By coiling a current carrying wire students can concentrate the magnetic field. The observations can then be used to complete a scientific investigation.

Other cool MS-PS2-5 Resources!






If you enjoyed these lesson plans, check out a free trial of Birdbrain Science!  We serve differentiated Science articles to all students at their independent reading level and adapt the level they receive as they improve!

Free Birdbrain Science Trial


NGSS MS-PS2-4 Resources! Construct and present arguments using evidence to support the claim that gravitational interactions are attractive and depend on the masses of interacting objects.

Hey Teachers!

We at BirdBrain Science are working our tails off to aggregate NGSS lesson plans and resources for you to use.  Enjoy these lesson plans, videos and other helpful classroom resources for Middle School NGSS PS2-4:

1. Mass Versus Weight: Travel to Other Planets LP

Students differentiate mass and weight between the various planets to better understand the properties of matter. This lesson plan is thorough, complete with a downloadable quiz to evaluate the level of understanding.

2. Gravity: Demonstrating Motion on a Slope LP

Students create a velocity over time graph demonstrating a model with motion on a slope. Recording the force of gravity on the object down a slope will acknowledge acceleration.


3. Weighed Down Investigation LP

Students determine the relationship between mass and weight. Regardless of the weight, students are able to prove that objects accelerate at the same rate (free fall).

4. NOVA: Finding Life Beyond Earth | Comets Bombard the Early Earth

PBS NOVA educates students on the dynamic model of the solar system. Support materials in this link include; background essay, discussion questions, and even some teaching tips.


If you enjoyed any one of these lesson plans, check out the following page for a free Birdbrain Science trial. We serve differentiated Science articles to all students at their independent reading level and adapt the level they receive as they improve!

Free Birdbrain Science trial


NGSS MS-PS2-1 – Apply Newton’s Third Law to design a solution to a problem involving the motion of two colliding objects.

In the below lesson plan, students apply Newton’s third law to design a moon rover and lander that lands on the moon!  Super simple and teachers can easily print and use the lesson plan worksheets.

Link to downloadable lesson plan in google drive:

The first two activities help students to review Newton’s laws and forces acting on an object.  In the culminating task, students are asked to design, test, and redesign a moon lander and rover.

The final project gives students design constraints and asks them to reflect and retest their design.  Teachers should plan on the culminating activity as a 3-4 day project (unless students are working at home).  Minimal teacher prep is required and most of the materials given to students can be basic household items and things you have around the classroom.

Don’t forget to check out a free trial of BirdBrain Science to get all students in your classroom reading independently!  We serve differentiated Science articles to all students at their independent reading level and adapt the level they receive as they improve!


BirdBrain + PBL = NGSS + Literacy

As a science teacher, both of these terms very intimidating. In the classroom, training these young scientists requires that they’re able to both read prior research in order to “stand on the shoulders of giants” and work collaboratively to solve problems.

When I started BirdBrain, the first goal was to tackle literacy in the science classroom. Science teachers need an easy way to integrate differentiated content into their lessons without spending hours a night seeking different sources from which to pull together readings or writing their own material. Through this need spawned BirdBrain and an easy way to bring Common Core expectations to students reading at different levels.

We now see that the Next Gen Science Standards (NGSS) require students to do more than just read critically. Students must build, design, and solve problems. This provides a perfect opportunity for us to bring Project Based Learning (PBL) into the fold. Here at BirdBrain, we’re newbies to the world of PBL, but the Buck Institute for Education is working this year to make huge leaps in developing a Gold Standard for PBL.

What does high-quality, successful PBL look like? How can educators ramp up their practice and collaborate with each other to improve PBL outcomes for their students? The answers to these questions are to be developed over the year by BIE and their findings will be released at PBL World in June.

We can’t wait!