The Design Pacesetter

August 2019

Welcome To Design Pacesetter

Welcome to the Design Pacesetter. A pacesetter is someone in a competition that sets the pace at the beginning of a race or competition. Often the pacesetter helps another competitor by setting a brisk pace leading to the breaking of a record. At China Grove Middle School, I envision us to be pacesetters, not only among Rowan-Salisbury Schools, but also in the Charlotte and Triad region as well as the state.


In order to help each of you become your own pacesetters, the Design Pacesetter will provide useful tips, tools, and practices. The Design Pacesetter is a new tool to help guide and enhance instruction at China Grove Middle School. Be sure to spend some time reviewing this information and, as always, reach out if you have additional ideas or questions.

Checking For Understanding

Over the weekend, I spent some time in an online course and one of the lessons focused on checking for understanding. As you design your lessons, I encourage you to think about how to check for understanding as you design instruction.


Checking for understanding played a crucial difference in the academic success of students in my classroom. Years where I did not do a good job checking for understanding were painful based on how my students performed on the year end exam. Many students underperformed. When I reflected on this underperformance, I realized that I had not done a great job checking for understanding on a regular basis with my students. As a result, I failed them and that was a hard pill to swallowl. When I did a more consistent job with checking for understanding, I saw my students blossom. While they did well on the state tests, they blossomed in more important ways. They increased their confidence, engaged at higher levels, and developed a greater growth mindset.


As we journey through this year, consider spending some time thinking developing effective ways to check for understanding. Below are some examples to check for understanding.

Checking for Understanding


  • Think, Pair, Share: Have students create dyads (groups of 2). Provide a question for students. In the think stage, students spend a designated amount of time thinking silently about a question (Think). Then the student shares with her/his partner for a designated amount of time (Pair). In the final stage, the dyad will share with the large group (Share). This allows students to share their thinking with others while helping them to develop a more thorough understanding. Additionally, this will allow the teacher to determine to what degree that students really understand the material being covered in class. Learn more about this strategy.



  • Exit Cards/Tickets: This is one of my favorite activities to check for learning. When I used them, I saw tremendous growth in student understanding. You can either do exit tickets on paper or digitally. If doing digitally, you can use a google form, Socrative, or another favorite app. If using paper, you can have students respond to a few questions on a scrap piece of paper. The questions that are asked should allow the teacher to gauge to what degree the students understand the material. The teacher then uses the exit cards to determine what may need to be reviewed the following day. Learn more about this strategy.



  • Dos & Don'ts: In this strategy, ask students three things to do and not do (hence, Do and Don't) regarding the topic or content you are teaching. Review what they share and determine any necessary review activities or ways that you can enhance students by pushing them forward. For example, you may ask students to list three things that they do when solving equations and three things that they do NOT do when solving equations. Learn more about this strategy.



Below are some additional websites to help with checking for understanding:




If you need additional support in checking for understanding, please let me know.

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Design Thinking's Connection to RSS Directional System

Thank you for a great introduction to Design Thinking during our workdays. You all were on fire! I know that the activity was challenging but I hope that you were to see the advantages of Design Thinking.


Design Thinking is a process in which empathy is applied to solve problems that creates solutions that matter. I believe strongly in the power of Design Thinking and look forward to helping you incorporate it into your course this year. While its implementation will take time, I know that it makes a difference with helping our students learn the skills necessary for a vibrant and productive future.


Remember I am available to help you with implementing Design Thinking in your classroom. This includes team teaching with you. If you are interesting in planning Design Thinking activities, please let me know. For those who have already touched based with me, thank you so much.


Below is an article that describes the importance of empathy and how it can be build in a corporate setting. More and more companies are finding that they have to build empathy among their employees. This is a great way to connect to the system's strategic plan and will be especially useful in helping our school respond to the RSS Directional System for Interpersonal Skills. Additionally, by helping our students build empathy, they will be better prepared for the workforce. Through our use and modeling of empathy, we will build stronger relationships with our students helping to meet our school's Panorama Survey data goals.


As the article points out, empathy takes time. Empathy requires individuals to be genuine. I also think that it is a great life skill that we need to teach our students in today's technological world. As you read the article, think about the following:



  1. How do you demonstrate empathy in your classroom and with students?
  2. How can we develop and grow empathy with our students?
  3. How can you build and improve your own empathy for others?
  4. What roles does listening play in empathy?


Keep in mind that the article's intended audience is a corporation so the activities described in the article may need to be modified to better meet our the needs of our students.

Design Thinking Process

Below is a graphic that was created to show the Design Thinking process. I encourage you to take some time to review it and ask questions. Be curious about that.


For more resources on Design Thinking, visit my Waklet site. Wakelet is a great curation tool that you can use to organize various websites, graphics, blogs, and other internet based sources for your students.
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