Assessing Interactive Science Simulations (PhET)

With growing expectations for students to engage with material online and the desire of teachers and students to experience the learning process, it is no wonder that PhET Interactive Simulations have become so popular.

PhET Interactive Simulations, produced through the University of Colorado Boulder, have more than gotten the attention of science teachers across the world. Specifically in the US with new Next Generation science standards and assessments (NGSS), teachers are looking for high quality digital resources to enrich and align their teaching.

PhET Interactive Simulations, like Edcite, wants to give back to education through free content which is why all of their simulations are available under Creative Commons licensing. PhET’s open source policy enables many teachers to embed these simulations into homework, in-class practice, or assessments. In fact, we learned about PhET from our teacher community. Earlier this year, we heard from teachers in Ohio that these simulations were fantastic complements to their lessons.

After seeing how useful embeddable simulations were for teachers, Edcite now allows PhET Interactive Simulations embeds! So teachers can further enrich their Edcite interactive assessments with awesome PhET simulations to further engage and challenge their students. Dave Limbaugh, an 8th grade science teacher, has used PhET simulations in his class throughout this year, but now is able to use them on his summative or formative assessments on Edcite.

“With the additional Edcite feature of embedding a PHET simulation, I have been able to assess my Science students higher order thinking skills by having them apply, analyze and evaluate collected data. Using this technology allows me to incorporate 21st Century skills into my 8th grade classroom. ”
-Dave Limbaugh, Oakwood Middle School, Canton, OH

Check out these formative Edcite assignments that assess students using different simulations.

Click here for some directions on how to create your own Edcite assignment using a PhET simulation—and don’t forget to share it in the library. 🙂


When The State Opts-out, But The Kids Opt-in

Many teachers have come to know this time of the year as state assessment season. In the build up to increasingly high-stakes tests, you can see teachers motivating students through songs, pep rallies, and countless ideas represented on Pinterest. At my school we went as far as having a 24-hour fun day in February to build excitement for the benchmark assessment—“Benchmark Madness.” Even though supervising and engaging children from 7am on a Friday until 7am on Saturday is an exhaustingly crazy idea, we all bought in because we wanted this testing season to seem positive to the kids. As a former teacher, I know that investment from students is half the battle in getting them to show all the learning that happened in an academic year.

This year, many students are taking assessments online for the first time. In my role at Edcite, I see everyday the effort that goes into building confidence and investment into using technology for assessments. But what happens when your investment back fires? For most schools and districts in the state of TN, this is NOT a rhetorical question but a reality they have to deal with now! Many teachers and administrators have successfully prepared students for an online test, but now have to deliver a paper version. The TNReady test was not ready giphyfor the students when they began testing earlier this year which led the state to deliver paper assessments to the schools, delaying the start of assessments, disrupting student and staff schedules, and upsetting quite a few. The Tennessee Department of Education states on their website, “While we initially had hoped all our students would be able to take TNReady on a computer or device this year, ultimately we lost confidence in our test provider’s ability to provide students and teachers with a consistently reliable online platform.” Many teachers took their frustration to YouTube, Twitter and other platforms.

When I consider all of this from the student perspective, it feels even worse. It is hard to imagine being told how important it is to transition to digital versions, and then being told that you won’t be taking your test in that format. One student expressed online that he felt like it was all a waste of time. Although learning is never a waste of time—says the teacher in me—I understand the underwhelming feeling of not being able to show your learning in the digital format you have prepared to use. It’s like preparing to run a marathon, putting in months of practice outdoors, and then race day comes and you’re told to run on a treadmill. I mean, sure my training will be evident, but I was ready to run freely! Students have trained for online assessments, and online should be available.

The education field has accepted that while state assessments can have various purposes, they always comes down to measuring student learning. While the pen and paper assessment may tick the box for giving a state assessment, it falls short of measuring learning in an aligned way. After a year of hard work, an unaligned assessment just isn’t enough. If you prepared and pumped up your students for an online assessment, you should be able to give them one. Edcite is committed to making sure teachers in Tennessee, or any area that runs into trouble with their state assessments, have access to free online summative assessments. Click here to see some of our math and ELA assessments, or create your own!

The state of Tennessee may have opted out of the online assessment, but that doesn’t mean our students can’t opt-in. Alright students, show us this year’s great growth!

Edcite Super Bowl Playbook (Teacher Resources)

With Super Bowl 50 around the corner, why not give students a formative assessment that’s football focused? Check out some of these formative assessments on Edcite that incorporate the Super Bowl.



  • “Does the score add up?”
    How much do you really know about the Super Bowl? Learn more about every aspect of the game through multiplication of two digit numbers, telling time, division, and addition.
  • “Super Bowl L”
    Are you ready for some Super Bowl math questions? Exercise your table creation skills, multiplication, geometry knowledge, and addition skills to help you get ready for the BIG GAME!
  • “What were the odds?”
    5 Question assignment that covers mean, median, interpreting graphs, probability, and the difference between theoretical and experimental probability.
  • “Super Bowl Stats”
    6 Question assignment that covers definition of probabilty, graphical analysis, and a few writing questions where students act as a CEO and decide what a company should do.



  • “How the Super Bowl Got Its Name”
    In this lower elementary assignment, students will practice their reading comprehension and identify main ideas. They’ll also play a fun word game at the end!
  • “Super Bowl Consumption”
    Middle school reading assignments where students read about the amount of consumption Super Bowl fans engage while celebrating this football game. With a focus on an author’s word choice and tone, students will answer technology-enhanced questions about how the way an article is written impacts the way the information is received.
  • “Super Bowl Ads”
    High School students listen to an NPR interview and read an article from the Washington Post to consider whether the cost of Super Bowl ads are worth it. After some basic comprehension questions, students write a letter to the CEO of Coca Cola with a recommendation.

Check out Edcite to find our Super Bowl assignments and more!

Assessments: Start with the Why

“Assessment” has become one of the biggest buzzwords in education: formative assessment, summative assessment, state assessment, district assessment, digital assessment, continuous assessment, common assessment, etc… Literally anything could be considered an “assessment” when you are gathering data. Assessments are not anything new; they have always been, and should always be, a part of every teacher’s toolkit. We have to know where our students are, in relation to the material that we are teaching, in order to best target the learning.

Although the act of assessing a student can be as simple as asking a student a verbal check for understanding, in recent years the term “assessment” has developed a bad reputation. In the US there has been uproar that we are “over-assessing” our students and many are calling for restrictions on the amount that we assess students. While people may have had a bad experience with a particular assessment or group of assessments, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Speaking with such vague generalities is confusing the issue. Regular assessment and data are not inherently bad—although some would lead you to believe that they are.

Assessments and data are essential, but they can be tainted when the administration doesn’t align with why the assessment was meant to happen. The problem isn’t that we are over-assessing, it’s that we aren’t always clear WHY we are assessing and therefore, aren’t ensuring the how and what follow appropriately.

Julia Sweeney_Data

Let’s not waste our time waging a war on data, or focusing our energy on attacking specific assessment providers, let’s instead take the time to reflect on assessment practices in our schools. Let’s discuss the why behind assessments and then make sure we align our how and what.

Using the Start With Why book and Ted Talk by Simon Sinek as our inspiration, we started our recent Professional Development event with a Michigan school district with an exploration into their why regarding assessments. The session sought to help their school district develop common assessments to measure student learning and develop ways to respond to the data. Often times when people think about developing assessments, they immediately think about scheduling and the form the assessment will take. That approach doesn’t start with why and will lead you to question whether these assessments were “successful.” You have to know what it is that you want, in order to know whether you’ve gotten it. So, we started with what they wanted in assessments–we started with their why.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 1.59.01 PMWe had the coaches begin by thinking through the various rationales behind assessment. Coaches evaluated some potential reasons for assessment, by considering statements like:


  • We assess to provide students feedback.
  • We assess to hold teachers accountable.
  • We assess to inform our instructional decisions.


From there, groups collaborated to identify the three biggest reasons they want to assess student learning. Once we had a clear picture of why we were creating assessments, then we could better ask and answer questions about how we create and administer assessments, and THEN coaches could start developing assessments (or creating the structures to have assessments developed).

The schools and districts that I support, in their creation of common assessments on Edcite, have a much healthier relationship with data when they have a clear understanding of why they assess students. The problem isn’t the assessment; the problem is, that too often, we don’t know why we are doing it.

If you would like more information about the Professional Development events we have done in regards to school and district assessments, please contact me at

Our Year in Review: 2015

They say time flies when you’re having fun–you can guess what that means about the last 12 months since they certainly flew quickly! We want to share with you some of the highlights from 2015.

Stand-out Teachers:

Throughout this year, teachers in the Edcite community continued to impress us. From content creators like Abby Baughman (who on her own has shared more than 100 assignments in the Edcite Library) to Edcite Evangelists like Jonathan Muster (who continues to share Edcite with his Twitter community even over the holiday break), teachers have been the highlight of our 2015.

Read about a fraction of the incredible teachers we have in our community and some of the great work they have done in 2015.

  • Shelley Cline, Middle School Teacher from Newcomerstown, Ohio
  • Sharon Julien, Elementary School Teacher from Marlboro, New Jersey
  • Matthew Zimmer, Elementary School Teacher from Bethalto, Illinois
  • Brian Darr, Middle School Teacher from Warsaw, Ohio
  • Amy Wise, Elementary School Teacher from Canton, Ohio

Quality Content:

At the end of the day, and especially at the end of the year, we have to reflect on whether Edcite is having a positive impact on education. When we look at the high-quality content being developed and shared by teachers around the world, we know that Edcite is enhancing learning. You can find our best digital assignments from 2015 across all grade levels here, but here was our most popular assignment this year with more than 20,000 student submissions.

The Black Pearl
Middle School English

black pearl

Amazing Partners:

Collaboration always yields better results, which is why we are very excited to partner with two incredible organizations this year. We partnered with Story Shares to bring passages to Edcite in the release of our Passage Library.

We also continue to work with Camara Ireland on mapping the Common Core State Standards to the Irish Curriculum to improve resource sharing between teachers in the US and Ireland.

We’ll continue to work with these partners in the next year, and add more partners!

Product Enhancements:

2015 was exciting as Edcite saw numerous product enhancements. Each week the Edcite team meets to review what we have heard from our community of teachers–changes to make Edcite better, new question they need, additional features on the platform, etc. And, we prioritize and deliver! And, 2015 brought these enhancements:


This year we saw some excellent commentary about education and education technology. We heard from Cody Shumaker, an elementary school principal in Mississippi, as he spoke up for Mississippi students and their ability to rise to rigorous state standards in his piece “Am I going to get fined for this?” We heard from Meghan Gieg, a middle school teacher in Louisiana, about how to overcome tech challenges in the classroom. And we heard from Nicole Bixler, a middle school teacher in Los Angeles, about the professional value of Twitter.

This year has been one of incredible growth. In 2015, our community grew at double the speed of 2014. Today we have more than 65k teachers, 1 million students, and 11k assignments! We can’t wait to build on the positive momentum and make 2016 even better. Stay tuned for all of the Edcitement to come! 🙂


More than Cúpla Focal: Edcite in both Irish and English

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the the Indigenous, Minority, and Lesser Used (IML) Languages Conference hosted by the British-Irish Council in Dublin. The two days confirmed what we have already learned in our time working with Irish teachers–technology needs to do a better job supporting local languages.

I am proud to say that Edcite has taken a proactive strategy in regards to language equity–responding to the language needs that we see. Although Irish is required in schools and is an official language of the country, most educational websites don’t offer a translated interface. At Edcite, we decided that this was worth doing!

Earlier this year the Irish Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs praised Edcite for taking on the translations.

Full Minister Quote

We have translated the student side, thank you to the volunteer contributions from one of our Irish Edcite users and October 2014’s Edcite Teacher of the Month, Graeme Higgins. This means that our site can be used by students across the entire country of Ireland, whether they are receiving their instruction through the medium of English or Irish.

This school year, Coláiste Ghlór na Mara became our first campus to roll-out Edcite to all of their students. As an Irish speaking secondary school, they were very excited to have a site that they could use with their students as gaeilge (through Irish). Volume Icon
You can click on the green icon next to any Irish words to hear how they are pronounced.

Bláithín, one of their science teachers and a technology champion at the school said:


Is acmhainn iontach í seo go háirithe leis an rogha do leathanach na ndaltaí a bheadh ann trí Ghaeilge Bhí Julia chomh cabhrach agus tháinig amach chun na scoile chun dul tríd gach rud leis na múinteoirí agus chruthaigh sí ár ranganna uilig dúinn. Mholfainn an suíomh seo go mór do gach duine Volume Icon
(English: This is a wonderful resource to have especially with the choice of student page in Irish. Julia was so helpful and came out to the school to go through everything with the teachers and set our classes up for us. I would highly recommend this site to everyone.)

It is really exciting to see teachers sharing content in the language of Irish. You can see some of the content in our library as gaeilge by clicking on the blue title of the assignment.

We are happy to see the translation of the student pages leading to more shared resources in Irish. This approach is replicable and we are in conversations with several groups and individuals to explore the potential of offering the platform in the language of their choice. We will continue to value languages not just based on the number of speakers, but rather by what they mean to their communities. If you value having content in your language, we welcome an opportunity to speak with you.

Earlier this year we wrote about our Curriculum Mapping initiative with Camara Ireland and our hackathon with teacher volunteers to open up more resources for teachers and improve the process of sharing content between teachers in Ireland and the US. We hope that our language options will ensure that as we improve the usability of Edcite for our Irish teachers, we do so equally for teachers teaching through either of their national languages.

If you have ideas or interest in regards to offering Edcite in your local language, please reach out to me at

BIC Conference
Group photo at the BIC Conference

To close out I just want to give a special thanks to everyone at the conference last week–it is quite amazing to see what is being done to preserve the history and culture that is intertwined with language. A special thanks to Ailbhe and her team at Trinity for developing the Abair website which was used to provide the audio for any of the Irish words you clicked to hear pronounced.

#EdTechEquity, Committing to the Conversation


When we actively believe that all people deserve a high quality education, we become more mindful in aligning our actions to making that happen. Every individual and group has a responsibility and part to play in fostering and ensuring equitable education for all. We look to teachers in the classrooms to ensure that students are taught in an equitable way. We look to school leaders to ensure that teachers are supported in providing that equitable education. We look to communities and families to support the schools and work in partnership with their educators. We look to policy makers to write equitable policies. Everyone has a role. And everyone has a responsibility to fulfill it. But what does it look like to commit as a company or organization, as opposed to the individuals within it, to education equity?

I am a proud member of the Edcite Team and make education equity a priority in everything I do. I also know that every member of our team does the same. But how can we leverage the reach and potential as a company to also make education equity a priority? What responsibility do companies have in engaging in the extremely necessary conversations and actions in regards to equity around the world–specifically in our line of work, education technology equity? The answer should be obvious–a huge responsibility! With great power, comes great responsibility. When building a platform that has the power to touch the lives and education of millions of students, we have a responsibility to build it with equity in mind. When supporting teachers and schools who are already pushed for time and finances, we have a responsibility to provide with equity in mind. And when engaging with the world online in regards to Education Technology, we have a responsibility to do so with equity in mind.

This is why we are partnering with like-minded companies and organizations like Story Shares to provide free high quality reading material to students in our passage library. This is why we are mapping all of our content to the Irish Curriculum with Camara Ireland and providing resources as Gaeilge (in Irish). This is why are launching a Twitter chat next week, not about Edcite or EdTech in general, but about a conversation that needs to continue to grow–a conversation about equity in education technology.

Nobody has all the answers–but it is through dialogue that leads to action that moves us forward. Join us on Sundays at 2pm ET for a conversation about #EdTechEquity.

First chat starts on Sunday, November 1st as an introductory chat: What is #EdTechEquity?