Students Create Digital Tools to Improve Popular Scrabble Program

Published from the UNC Charlotte College of Education website: 

Making learning fun is a consistent ambition for many educators, and starting this fall, resources developed by two College of Education students will make reaching that goal a little bit easier.

Elementary Education major Katrina Buchanan and Child and Family Development major Kierra Boyd built a set of online resources to supplement popular Scrabble Clubs at 12 Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. Communities in Schools of Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CIS) launched the program last year. Scrabble in Schools pairs students up into teams to play the board game for 40 minutes a week. CIS aims to engage students in an activity that they enjoy while building important language and math skills.

This summer, Buchannan and Boyd put together a website with vocabulary tips and Scrabble strategies for students and evaluation tools for teachers. The site is meant to “provide an assessment with meaningful results for teachers and coordinators while still keeping the fun in it for the students,” Buchannan said. Boyd echoed Buchannan’s thoughts, saying she was drawn to the program to “help young children learn and grow through something fun”

The pair’s work was made possible through the Charlotte Community Scholars program, a new initiative that pays for students to spend the summer on community-based research projects.

The UNC Charlotte Center for Adolescent Literacies supported Buchannan and Boyd’s efforts on the website. Dr. Bruce Taylor, the Center’s director, said though students have many opportunities to be involved in schools, the community scholars program “takes that kind of involvement to a new level.”

“Kierra and Katrina have been agents of change to help improve the quality of this co-curricular program. They’ve not only brought value to the program, but also enhanced it through their own scholarship and creative work.”

Frederico Rios is Director of Elementary Schools and Immigrant Services at CIS. He said though it’s not yet clear how the Scrabble in Schools program will affect academic scores, there have been encouraging signs.

“We do consider it successful from the standpoint of seeing kids get enthusiastic about a game that involves vocabulary, word knowledge, team work, problem solving, math and that critical thinking piece, that is so crucial to learning.”

Katrina Buchanan also noticed that enthusiasm. She recalled meeting a little boy at Nathaniel Alexander Elementary who was particularly excited about playing Scrabble.

“He had downloaded the app on his phone to play when he isn’t at school,” she said, “The fact that these kids truly enjoyed the program inspired me to create these assessments in a way that they were not aware that they are being assessed.”

Dr. Taylor advised the COED students on the project, and said they exceeded his expectations in every way.

“It’s clear that these students have a passion for education and are already thinking about their work beyond graduation. They understand the impact that teaching and programs that foster community support can have on students.”

Buchannan and Boyd’s website makes it easier for CIS site supervisors at individual schools measure and standardize the program, which will help the organization improve Scrabble in Schools over time.

“Dr. Taylor, Kierra and Katrina’s work has really revamped the whole focus of the initiative. It answers so many of our implementation questions and helps us to make the most of our program by standardizing it and giving our staff the tools they need to be successful,” said Rios, the CIS director.

Communities in Schools is looking for volunteers for the upcoming academic year. If you’re interested, contact Federico Rios at

Scrabble Tiles” by Joe King is licensed under CC by 2.0

– See more at:


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RWS Tutor Training scheduled for Sept. 13, 2014


United Way of Central Carolinas and the Center for Adolescent Literacies is co-hosting another ReadWriteServe tutor/mentor training. The training will be held on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Bliss Hall.

St. Peter’s is located at 507 S. Tryon Street, Charlotte, N.C. 28202.

The training, Tutoring 101, is an initial tutor and mentor training for adult tutors and mentors and those working with Project 1,000, a United Way program to recruit, train and support 1,000 tutors, mentors and readers in the community. Others are welcome but seating is limited. Contact Sarah Degnan of the United Way of Central Carolinas at for more information.

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PBS News Hour report on Freedom School

PBS News Hour reports on the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools in this 5-1/2 minute report aired Aug. 11, 2014. And yes, the study cited 4 minutes 15 seconds into the report was conducted by the Center for Adolescent Literacies at UNC Charlotte.

Follow this link to learn more about the Center’s Freedom School research.  Visit the following websites for more information about Freedom Schools:

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Project Based Learning

One of the biggest goals I have next year as a 7th grade math teacher is to engage my students through socially and culturally relevant units. My Multiliteracies summer course has opened my eyes to how diverse my students are and their literacies. Students are literate in ways that I’m not and I’m literate in ways that they aren’t. For example, some of my students may be able to communicate things to me about particular video games that I have no idea about. I may be able to communicate things to my students about math that they don’t know about. This is something as educators that we can use to our advantage. If we know our students well enough to know what they are literate in then we can use that expertise to help them grow in their literacy in other areas. One of the avenues in which I plan to do this next year is through Project Based Learning. I plan to use the website listed below to aid me in this endeavor.

In creating a weebly website for the Multiliteracies class I came across this great weebly for Project Based Learning. It contains several different parts. It explains Project Based Learning. It provides links to other websites for Project Based Learning. It provides links to ideas and links to rubrics and how to create rubrics. It provides links to tools, links for how to manage project based learning, and links for the driving question behind project based learning. It contains links to videos about project based learning, links to professional learning communities, and research about project based learning. It also has links to other things like blogs, workshops, and technology ideas.

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Using Garageband in the Classroom

In the process of doctoral coursework, I recently came across a spoken word video by a student from England related to standardized testing. I think it has some great social commentary, and I found myself thinking things like: “Hey, that is how I felt in high school.” I confess I also thought: “Wow, I know I made my students feel that way sometimes as a teacher.” The fact that it comes from the voice of a student, rather than a scholar or policy advocate, gives the embedded critique a sense of authenticity. And the spoken word performance element is pretty good too.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the performance for me was that it represents an act of resistance against perceived injustice. Ironically, voice of young people is not often a part of the conversation about education policy. In my work with high school students, I have found that music is a huge part of the social fabric of adolescents.

Music was a huge part of my life as a teenager too. I tried to learn to play the guitar, played in some “bands,” and channeled a lot of my social activities through the punk-rock and hardcore music scene. I still love music, and I still write and play music as much as I can. As an amateur musician (and I do stress AMATUER), I have spent some time fiddling with the software program Garageband. As many of you may know, Garageband is a software program that allows you to compose and record music on a personal computer. You can play instruments, loop samples, record drum tracks, add effects to “real” musical instruments, record vocal tracks, and then mix all your “tracks” into a final piece. Essentially, it is like having a recording studio in your computer. You don’t really need any musical equipment, although I do recommend a decent microphone. To give you an idea of what is possible, click on the link below to hear a song I recorded using Garageband (Don’t laugh…this is all about sharing, right?). Beside an acoustic guitar, the only equipment I used was a microphone, mic stand and pop filter (though this is not necessary). You don’t even need the microphone; students can just use the built in mic on a computer.

As a high school social studies teacher I would often assign group projects that required a product of the group’s choosing. I would encourage students to think of their individual talents, and to incorporate those into their product. Pretty much anything was fair game, as long as it was under 8 minutes and would not disturb other classes. While many groups created products like posters and PowerPoint presentations, we also got lots of video documentaries, live musical performances and dramatic interpretations. You can imagine which types of presentations were the most memorable for fellow students (and me). Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) offer tremendous possibilities for student self-expression, which can be readily be incorporated into a variety of curricula. Software like Garageband and sharing tools like YouTube are ways to facilitate student voice in the classroom and beyond. The freedom of self-expression represents an avenue for empowerment and resistance within an institutional context that often fails to appreciate the voice of students.



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Using technology to keep students interested in grammar

Grammar seems to be the thorn in every language arts teacher’s side. Each year a language arts teacher adds to their students’ knowledge about how sentences are developed and identifying specific parts of speech. Then the next year the students tell their language arts teacher they have never learned parts of a sentence or even parts of speech. So, here are a couple of technology ideas that just might help them remember some grammar from year to year. Organizing the different parts of speech by using the website called which is a digital graphic organizer where you can label the eight parts of speech with its definition. Then after you have used to introduce the parts of speech, assign groups of students to a specific part of speech where they will create an iMovie (a free iPad app) trailer to explain what their particular part of speech is. They can use anything that relates to their life. Then the groups will present their creations.  Students can review these mini-grammar trailers to help them remember their grammar.


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Help Team Cam and United Way of Central Carolinas Win On and Off the Field

 As you know, United Way of Central Carolinas has been working to recruit, place, and train volunteer readers, tutors and mentors to help students in our area become academically successful. The effort is in collaboration with United Way Worldwide and TEAM NFL.

This weekend and in the upcoming weeks, we have a unique opportunity to reach more volunteers and earn dollars to support this effort. United Way Worldwide is encouraging all United Way TEAM NFL player reps, teams, and local United Ways to boost their volunteer efforts (readers, tutors and mentors) with a post season challenge that “plays off” the NFL Playoffs. Starting this weekend, Wild Card Weekend, the top 12 performing NFL player representatives leading in volunteer recruitment will compete for the title of United Way Team NFL Super Recruiter. Currently, our very own Cam Newton is #9 out of 12 with 1,205 volunteers who have signed up online to be part of Team Cam. 

During the five weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the pool wanes from 12 players to 2, based on the number of pledges logged on at The two finalists will be invited to New York during the week of the Super Bowl for a series of media and recognition opportunities. PLUS, the United Way in the winning market will receive a $10,000 grant to advance youth success with their respective NFL Team.

Another part of the program encourages volunteers to participate in the +3 Network where they can log in the number of hours they volunteer. The volunteer with the most hours will receive some incentives.

HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP! Please post this Facebook message and Twitter message TODAY on your social media channels. We need to get the message out over the weekend. And stay tuned for more ways to help promote as Cam advances to the next level, thanks to your support!

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