4 Ways to Reflect on and Evaluate Educational Content

Guest post by Douglas Konopelko, Education Strategist CDW-G , @dkonopelko

Knowing how to assess educational content is a foundational skill, especially because the technical aspects often change in our fast-paced world.

As an educational technology leader, I was often asked to evaluate educational content to help principals, teachers and other educators fill out district software request forms or decide on purchases. This involved talking to them about compliance, data privacy, interoperability, standards alignment, and, of course, costs.

While these factors are certainly important to making smart district-wide decisions around ed tech adoption, integration and use, I realized that they mostly hit on the logistics — the what and how aspects of educational content. By simply focusing on these factors, educators and administrators fail to address the basics: the purpose of a specific product, the expected outcomes from using it, and the educational experience they’re trying to create for their students.

Educators should be intentional about what content or product they introduce in their classrooms. Before they suggest or implement a new tool, they should ensure that it aligns with their instructional practices and consider how it might play out in a real classroom scenario with their actual students, staff, or lesson plans.

To better assist teachers and administrators going through this process, I came up with a strategy for evaluating educational content. Assessing Content in Education Systems, or ACES, is a great jumping-off point for discussing content and the role it plays in the curriculum. It helps educators look at content as if it were on a spectrum — not a diametrically opposed world of good and evil, but one that is flexible and focused on the student experience.

ACES is based on four key spectrums: active or anchored, creation or consumption, educational or entertainment, and social or solo. I’ve outlined them as questions below for educators to reflect on and use to drive conversations around a specific piece of content.

1. DOES THE CONTENT REQUIRE A STUDENT TO BE ACTIVE OR ANCHORED?

This question is all about the physical aspect of the experience you’re trying to build. As you’re planning your lesson and thinking about learning objectives, consider whether it would make the most sense to have a motion-packed or stationery activity. Which one would enhance the learning experience for your students? Which would best help them grasp the concepts you’re teaching?

2. DOES THE CONTENT PROMOTE CREATION OR CONSUMPTION?

Think about the different ways a tool might encourage students to create something from scratch or passively absorb knowledge. There are plenty of educational tools that are flexible enough for students to do both. For instance, Nearpod is a great online tool that enables teachers to present information to students in an engaging way. However, Nearpod can also be used to foster creativity; some educators have had students produce and present their own Nearpod lessons, allowing for a completely different learning experience.

It’s also important to remember that even though helping students become active creators is a crucial goal, especially with creativity being a 21st-century skill, consuming content is still necessary. Being a smart consumer of information is critical to developing a deep understanding of a specific subject and taking that understanding to the next level: innovation.

3. DOES THE CONTENT FOCUS ON EDUCATION OR ENTERTAINMENT?

This question will get you thinking about the primary purpose behind the content or product you’re evaluating. However, the answers aren’t always so clear. As educators continue to look for ways to motivate students and keep them engaged, the line between education and entertainment gets blurrier. Today, there’s content that’s clearly based around education with entertainment as an add-on and vice versa. Take educational apps that gamify learning, such as Kahoot, which can really bring learning to life. Again, there is no right or wrong when it comes to this spectrum; it all depends on what kind of experience you’re trying to create for your students.

4. DOES THE CONTENT REQUIRE SOCIAL INTERACTION OR IS IT COMPLETED SOLO?

Last but not least, ask yourself whether there’s an aspect of the content or product you’re evaluating that will require students to work by themselves or with others. Some classes or lessons may benefit more from one tactic than the other. It’s also important to think about learning objectives here; for example, if the goal is to get students to gain independence in problem-solving and practice self-reflection, basing an activity on a Zoom breakout room may not be the way to go. Introducing the use of a digital notebook may be the better option.

Knowing how to evaluate educational content is a foundational skill, especially because the technical side changes often in our fast-paced world. Before getting down into the nitty-gritty of data sharing or platform access, it’s crucial for educators to prioritize and reflect on the learning experience they want their students to have — from what kind of interactions they want their students to have to how they should feel when using that content or product in the classroom.

Doug is a passionate educator, designer, writer, speaker, and leader. He currently serves as an Education Strategist for a Fortune 500 Technology Solutions company. Doug focuses on acting as a connecting point between people, ideas, and solutions. On his education journey, he has served in both urban and suburban school districts as a teacher, high school administrator, school district instructional tech leader, and state education organization leader. You can follow his work on his blog at http://designededu.com or on his web series and podcast, Focus on K-12: EdTech and the Education Experience, at http://youtube.com/focusonk12 and all popular podcast platforms.

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Reflecting on what we learned

Guest post by Jessica Belanger @MrsJBelanger

Politicians, teachers, psychologists, and parents alike are discussing the learning loss occurring during this lost year. Simply put “learning loss” into Google and you can see over 1.12 billion results. The belief that this is a year of lost learning is not only incorrect, but it is harmful to the morale of school staff and parents as well as to the success of students. People who, often drastically, adjusted their lives to meet the needs of students are being told that their efforts are not enough. Students whose routine was completely disrupted are told, you didn’t learn enough.

Yes, students missed school due to required or optional temporary and long-term learning at home. Yes, students learned in a variety of, often less than ideal, environments. But no, this is not a lost year because students ARE learning – they are just learning things they can’t find in a book.

The unpredictability of learning during COVID-19 has taught students how to be adaptable, flexible, and resilient outside of the isolated, heavily structured environment of schools. With parents who are balancing work and home life, many students have been forced to take responsibility for their learning. Students have learned how to independently join meetings, do their work, seek help from teachers, and manage their time and schedule. Instead of teachers trying so hard to foster executive functioning skills in students, students are developing these skills themselves in a truer to life environment. A friend of mine had a discussion with her grade 6 class who had to transition to emergency at-home learning. She told them that they are now responsible for their learning as she can’t go to their house and make them learn and their parents can’t do the work for them. Her class changed from a class who needed to be externally motivated to work to a class that stepped up to the challenge by cracking open their agendas and joining drop-in help times. When Terence Tong, a middle school teacher, started online learning in Spring 2020, teachers “had to force students off screen to make sure students take the necessary breaks – get some water, go to the bathroom, stretch, and give their eyes a rest.” When students returned this year, “learners began advocating for themselves and taking breaks when necessary, communicating via chat message that they were going to walk around, give their eyes a break, and come back in five minutes.” Students are resilient, they learned new skills and adapted to an ever-evolving learning situation.  

Let’s not forget what skill students developed the most: technology. I taught grade 1 online in 2020. My class of six- and seven-year-olds were able to join our Google Meets with complete independence. From turning on their tablet/iPad to going to Google Meet to putting in the password (my last name) to muting and unmuting, camera on and off, screen sharing, and changing backgrounds. Never before have I had Grade 1 students even be able to spell my name, let alone type it!

It is important to acknowledge that some students struggled with this learning model. Not all students had equitable access to the resources needed for successful online learning. At minimum, online learning requires access to technology and a solid internet connection. Students do their best learning in a safe environment conducive to learning, which was not the at-home learning environment for all students. Depending on the age, parental help will make a huge difference to online learning success. Those who lacked these required resources as dictated by technology and Maslow’s hierarchy, struggled during online learning.

Students were able to learn numerous skills during this “lost year” while living through history. Right now, students are in the middle of one of the world’s most widespread pandemics in recent history. For the first time in history, excepting the World Wars, sports, schools, movies, celebrity events, and more were cancelled. Restaurants, theaters, hairdressers, and schools were closed. Living in history provides nearly limitless potential for project-based, interdisciplinary learning. Students can research the origins and spread of the pandemic; learn about the role of governments during the pandemic; compare to prior pandemics; inequalities that have become more evident during COVID; problem solve what we could have done differently at the beginning, what we could be doing now, and how we can prevent the next pandemic; and debate policies and ideas to problem solve the pandemic. Students are living through a historical event that will be recorded in thousands of textbooks and discussed in thousands of classes across disciplines around the world.

Instead of focusing on what students didn’t learn during their unconventional learning journey and capitalize on those newly developed, non-quantifiable skills. This wasn’t a lost year or a year of learning loss, it was a year of gaining different learning. 

ROUGH DRAFT:

Hi there, this is my first time writing a pitch like this, I am hoping this is what you were looking for – I am always open to feedback and constructive criticism!

My name is Jessica Belanger, I am a Grade 1 teacher from Alberta, Canada. I use genuine relationships to create capable, educated, and empathetic students. Collaboration is the foundation of the teaching profession and we have the technology to connect to others throughout the world. I am passionate about career long learning and love how easy it is to access information that can better your teaching practice.

PITCH:

Politicians, teachers, psychologists, and parents alike are discussing the learning loss occurring during this lost year. That belief is not only incorrect, but it is harmful to the morale of teachers and the success of students. Yes, students missed school due to required or optional temporary and long-term learning at home. Yes, students learned in a variety of, often less than ideal, environments. But no, this is not a lost year because students ARE learning – they just aren’t learning thigs they can find in a book.

The unpredictability of learning during COVID-19 has taught students how to be adaptable, flexible, and resilient outside of the isolated environment of the school. With parents who are balancing work and home life, many students have been forced to take responsibility for their learning by independently joining meetings, doing their work, and managing their time. Students have been challenged to further develop their executive functioning skills. While some students struggled with this learning model due to lack of tech, support, or other reasons, there were many students who developed crucial life skills.

Students were able to learn numerous skills during this “lost year” while living through history. Right now, students are in the middle of one of the world’s most widespread pandemics in recent history. Sports, schools, movies, celebrity events, and more were cancelled, some for the only the first time in history, or second time if you count World War II. Restaurants, theaters, hairdressers, and schools were closed. Living in history provides nearly limitless potential for project-based, interdisciplinary learning. Students can problem solve how we could have done better at the beginning of COVID, what we could be doing now, and how we can stop the next pandemic.

This wasn’t a lost year or a year of learning loss, it was a year of gaining different learning

Rethinking Our Language and Mentality Around Career Growth and Transition

(image courtesy of ESPN.com)

Guest Post by Dr. Jerod Phillips, Assistant Principal, Magnolia, DE

Twitter: @japhillips0722

To say that this has been a school year like no other is an understatement. Now, we are in the season of the school year where educators, regardless of the role, are deciding their next move(s) for next year. Those moves could be any of the following:

  • Retirement
  • Switching grade levels or switching grade bands (elementary, middle, or high school)
  • Transitioning to a new school or district

The intention of this post is to offer encouragement to those educators that are in the midst of any of the above career and life-changing decisions.

I encourage you to make decisions based on your goals, or desired contributions to the field of education, and passions. It’s imperative that you don’t let external influences in the form of fixed mindset, or negative advice. Many educators have found themselves in situations that have not fulfilled them due to listening to advice that was rooted in a form of one of these statements:

  • “Don’t take that job. That could be a career killer.”
  • “You should leave that place. That’s a tough population. That’s a dead end job.”

I boldly declare that we need to get the “career killer” and “dead end job” language and mentality out of our psyche. I must preface the rest of this post by saying that one must first understand their calling, along with passion, to be able to put the above statements in relation to your own situation in its proper context.

Anyone that knows me knows that I love sports, and many stories in sports about perseverance can be sources of inspiration for our profession. As these thoughts all came rushing to me at the same time, I immediately began to think about the Baylor Bears basketball team that won the NCAA national championship on April 5th of this year. Their coach, Scott Drew, has a remarkable story. From following college hoops the way I do, in addition to this year’s coverage on sports outlets in reference to Coach Drew’s journey, I’m going to summarize his path to a national championship.

Coach Scott Drew, 32 years of age at the time, knew within himself that he could be a winner at Baylor. When he took over the men’s basketball program in 2003, the program was not a desired job. The program had been handed down sanctions from the NCAA under the previous coach as a result of scandal and the events surrounding the tragic death of one of its basketball players. Those first several years of his coaching tenure at Baylor were challenging. The sanctions made recruiting difficult, and he had to utilize walk-ons. In those first 3 years, he compiled a record of 21-53. That would be enough to either make a coach want to look for another job, or the Athletic Director to consider firing the coach. Coach Drew kept that positive mindset of knowing that he could be successful. Not only did Coach Drew tough it out with Baylor, those players toughed it out with him. Fast forward to 2021, Coach Drew is now 50 years of age, and he is a national champion. According to media reports on ESPN, Fox Sports, and other sports outlets, after this year’s Elite Eight, Coach Drew sent personal letters to all of his former players, including those walk-ons from the early years of his tenure at Baylor. In those letters Coach Drew included 2 things, a “Family Legacy” Baylor t-shirt and a piece of the net from the game that clinched the Big 12 Championship. 

How does this relate to our field of education? It relates to thein the area of perseverance in making a difference. I’m sure there were people advising Coach Drew not to take the Baylor job. I’m sure he, like many of us, had people tell him, “Don’t take that job. That could be a career killer.” Or after that third year and the 21-53 record, he probably heard, “You should leave that place. That’s a dead end job.” Coach Drew stayed the course, and in doing so, he changed the trajectory of the program. In education, we can help change the trajectory of a child’s entire family. If your heart, prayer life, or whatever you do to seek meaning and purpose is guiding you to a specific purpose in a role or position, you can’t be sidetracked by someone that hinges on the role being a dead-end job or career killer. Now, there is sound advice and expertise to take into consideration, but there is also purpose to take into consideration as well. 

Let’s paint a very real and vivid picture. You may be that 25 year old teacher that has purses in that currently low academic performing school. You may be the catalyst for changing the life of a student. Imagine you at 25 being the first teacher to help a young man or woman taste academic success by believing in them. Fast forward 15 years when you are 40 years old. That students and you cross paths again after losing contact due to moves or just life. You find out from the student that you were the catalyst for them continuing to do good into high school after leaving you in 8th grade. You find out that the student was able to receive a full scholarship to college, sparing them from debt, considering that they were already coming from a low-income household.

The student proceeds to tell you that they were able to get a graduate degree and in the process encouraged their parents to go back to school. Both their parents got their GED, attended community college afterwards, and then ultimately obtained their Bachelor’s degree from a local college. The former student is now doing great in their chosen profession as well as their parents finally were able to buy a home that they all convene at during the holidays. You, no matter your role (i.e. teacher, paraprofessional, custodian, nutrition staff employee, and administrator), are the catalyst in helping change the course and mindset of a whole family.

Let us all continue to grow on this journey and rethink our language and mentality around career growth and transition. 

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Klassboard: School Management App

In Collaboration with Klassly

Over the past year, we have learned a lot about the importance of communication. Being able to connect not only with our students and our colleagues, but also to be able to provide essential information to families is critical. We need to have a reliable way to communicate last minute changes in schedules or inform about events happening in our communities. Being able to provide all this information and manage it within one space is essential. While many educators and schools may have been using a variety of tools, we’ve learned that it’s really important to streamline these communications to provide more consistent and reliable information in one space. Leveraging a platform where all stakeholders can interact, and access information and have support is key to avoiding the overwhelm that can come with the use of multiple tools.

Klassly is the parent-teacher communication app that can be used on any electronic device. It is easy to navigate Klassly and find the information you need when you need it because of the platform design. Klassboard is a dashboard for school leaders that is available as a web app. Klassly offers a centralized space for the exchange of information and for carrying out the essential daily tasks that educators and administrators need. There is greater consistency in communication between home and school which promotes more family engagement in the school experience.

For classroom teachers and families, The Klassly App, enhances the possibilities for more frequent communication about important issues including student attendance, upcoming events and the student learning experience and makes it easier to create a strong support system for students where families and teachers work together with ease.

For school leaders, Klassboard provides school administrators, principals, district leaders or any school leader with access to relevant data such as student attendance and the reach and deliverability of messages sent to parents. With Klassboard, school principals or superintendents can easily communicate with teachers and families which promotes smooth school-family communication. Klassboard facilitates the access and management, organization and guidance of the school community with a simple and free tool.

As we have all experienced this school year, being able to communicate in real-time and share resources is critical. With Klassboard, multimedia messages can easily be sent to the entire school community instantly, which helps to foster a strong and vital partnership between school, families and educators. Messages can include audio and video, documents, polls and essential information about school events. Leaders can broadcast messages as posts on the timeline of each Klassly class or as a push notification that appears on the mobile device of all school parents and family members who have the klassly app. It’s the most efficient option for real-time communications.

Klassboard makes it easy to communicate directly with teachers and families. It is easier to manage the communication that is being sent out to the school community and access centralized attendance reports. Principals can attach each teacher’s Klassly classes and then manage all communications within one place. Using Multicast, messages can be distributed to all parents of students. Quickly broadcast messages to all Klassly classes instantly, or send to a specific class or students’ families. In addition to scheduling messages, an SMS can be sent in the event of any emergencies, and notifications are received to inform administrators that the messages have been received by parents. You can schedule the time at which messages will appear on teachers’ and families’ apps, request they sign your message to prove they took note of it, or even allow a private reply that only you as the Klassboard manager will see.

Members can comment and react if this is allowed in their Klassly class on the message that appears in the timeline.

On their personal dashboard gathering all their classes, administrators can check the reports and look at the statistics related to student attendance, absences or late arrivals to school. The dashboard makes it easy to collect valuable information about the impact of your messages

Klassroom complies with GDPR and FERPA. All information is private and never transferred to any third parties. It is easy to get started; you simply go to Klassboard.com and create an account. Once you enter your school information you can then add the classes of your school for each of the teachers and link them to their Klassly timeline with their secret passcode (the class key) and then, manage the school all within one space.

When it comes to communication tools, choosing something comprehensive is essential to providing consistent and reliable information to families. We need to streamline the overwhelm that comes with the use of multiple apps and tools that are being used and instead, leverage all of the capabilities that can easily be done using one tool, Klassroom.

With Klassly, teachers have the power of a messaging app, calendar, event planner and more all within one safe and user-friendly platform.

With Klassboard, schools can better support parents, families and student learning. Having a district-wide communication platform establishes consistency and enables teachers and parents to communicate through messaging instantly, privately, and as often as needed.

About the Author:

Rachelle Dene is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was recently named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.

She is the author of five books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World and her newest book “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us” is now available. All books available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or directly from Rachelle.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

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Sharing Our Passions

Guest post by @deidre_roemer Deidre Roemer

Something I have really missed over the last year has been gatherings at the table. I love to cook and bake for family and friends. I love long lingering meals in the backyard and big family dinners. I love family-style meals with my work family in our office. I have been thinking a lot about why I miss those so much. It the sense of community that I feel in those moments. It means something that people take the time to gather, take the time to prepare food for each other, and pause whatever else is going on to sit and listen to one another. A shared meal is a community experience that brings people together in a beautiful way. I had the honor of being invited to a bake-off with a class of third graders a few weeks ago. I couldn’t stay the whole time, but I was able to be there at the start. I watched almost fifty young people in an online session that were so excited to be there. Nearly every student had their camera on and enthusiastically asked questions, mostly all at once as third graders do when they are excited.  

Two classes started doing bake-offs together during emergency remote teaching to continue to build community no matter what the circumstances. They have continued doing shared activities around food or other common interests that are amazing. As we moved to a hybrid model, one of the teachers wanted to continue that work, so she asked if she could get bread machines for their classroom. She wrote this wonderful blog post about the experience of baking together as a community with a focus on the skills the learners are gaining through the process.  

What stuck out to me the most was how it all started. Last spring, I was watching our families post things online about how they were teaching their young children to cook, doing home repair projects, building and making things, and participating in the #epictomatochallenge with the extra time at home. We wanted to find a way to take everything our teachers, learners, and families were doing from home and tie it to their school experience. Our teachers found new passions and spent time doing the things they were already passionate about. Our learners were developing new interests or perfecting things that they were already passionate about. We wanted to find a way to live our strategic plan, empower our learners to share their interests with us, and engage some learners who were starting to disconnect.  

We have been working for the last several years on embedding the Deeper Learning competencies into every single classroom as our way to prepare our learners to live life on their own terms after graduation. The competencies focus on the skills needed for life success- content mastery, communication, problem-solving, collaboration, self-direction, and most importantly, having an academic mindset, which means feeling such a strong sense of belonging that you want to push yourself to try new things and work hard to achieve your goals. We always look for ways to move that work forward and have seen pockets of unbelievable success over the last few years. Watching the way our community united around the tomato challenge and watching what was happening at home on social media prompted us to move to a four-year-old kindergarten through twelfth-grade passion project. 

It was amazing to see the increase in school attendance, the incredible things our learners and families worked on together, and the shared experience across an entire community. We had learners gardening, making movies, participating in online challenges, doing home repair projects, cooking, learning about broadcasting, and many, many more. While our learners were investing their own interests, they were also learning to start with an idea, get feedback from the teachers and other experts, ask probing questions, iterate again and again, write lengthy reflections, use new technology tools to share their knowledge, and produce artifacts about what they had learned that they were very proud to share with an authentic audience. It is that learning experience, tied to academic standards, that we want them to have every day. Watching the momentum of that project carry over into this school year has been inspiring.  

Our staff started sending me copies of their own passion projects last spring. They were doing some new things and some things that they have always loved. Watching adults articulate their learning process with reflections while they learned how to use new technology tools to share what they had learned was fantastic. It became a shared process for learners and staff. It pushed all staff, including teachers, educational assistants, school leaders, and our facilities staff, to share parts of themselves with our learners and invite our learners to do the same. We are always looking for access points to move our Deeper Learning work forward. This became an amazing window for staff and learners to see the power of authentic, learner-driven work.  

I received a lot of feedback on the projects and the whole process and still do almost a year later. Some of the families’ feedback was that their learner needed a more structured learning method, and therefore this was not working for them. Some shared that they were worried about the level of rigor involved. Some were concerned that our teachers had not had enough training in project-based learning to ensure standards were embedded. Many families and learners thanked us for taking a step that helped their child feel empowered. One parent shared that she started the project concerned about rigor and ended up watching her child learn many new skills, build his confidence, stretch himself to do more and more, and connect to his father through common interests. She saw the academic success he experienced in many different ways by the time his first project was done.  He went on to do several more throughout the summer and fall. That learner started something at school that inspired him to connect and go deeper- so powerful.   

Staff also shared some equally thought-provoking reflections. Many of them started the process being frustrated that they were asked to make a shift during such an uncertain time but ended up inspired by what our learners could do. They started to talk about how the strategies they would use to empower our students identified as gifted and talented were the same ones they should be using with our learners identified as having special education needs. One teacher wanted to learn about digital storytelling to engage and deepen the learning for “advanced” students and discovered that she would use the same method to create innovative ways to engage reluctant readers. Another teacher shared she felt overwhelmed at the start of the project but watched her learners come alive as it moved along. She shared that one learner wanted to learn about broadcasting. This led to a new connection with the band teacher, who also knows a lot about sound engineering. He worked collaboratively with the learner and teacher to share what he knows and connected the learner to a local expert who does a professional podcast for the GreenBay Packers for an online meeting to learn more. This kind of cross-curricular, authentic learning was happening for thousands of learners across our community.  

One of our leaders, who was new to us last year, had such inspiring reflection as he was reviewing the learners’ projects and writing about them for his own blog. He chose to review the projects from one of our Advanced Placement courses.  He shared:

That is when I had my a-ha moment. It didn’t matter what student I picked. I didn’t have to think hard and critically about what students would or wouldn’t look good on the blog. They all had a helpful, reflective, communicative project that they did with fidelity. You couldn’t tell a “5” student on their exam to “1”, or an “A” student to a “B”.

This is what the vision should be not for 70 students, but 1000. This is what Central should strive for. I should be able to go into any classroom, any period, and I wouldn’t notice SPED, remedial, or different opportunities. All students would have access and output that would be equitable. It was a powerful feeling for myself.”

All feedback is important as it informs our practice.  Our goal is never to make sure every learner has the same experience. It is that we find a way for the right learning experience for each learner at every moment we can. As we create more access points for our learners to become empowered, we will find the right ones for each learner over time.  It will always mean balancing structured activities, lectures, and a more traditional approach to teaching combined with multiple ways to investigate, explore, try, fail, and try again with opportunities to share what they know and get feedback.  Finding the right balance, being patient with the time it may take, and ensuring the learners have the skills needed to create their own pathway with our support is what creates an empowered learner experience.    

The number of staff members who sent us videos, reflections, and samples of learner projects was impressive. They were so proud of their learning communities that they sent emails, posted things on social media, and have used what they had learned in planning instruction for the future. That community of bakers grew out of some of the moments we shared as a community last spring that they will remember for a lifetime. The power in that is immeasurable. 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

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Gamification and SEL with MyPeekaville

In collaboration with Peekapak

Everyone in the country is talking about social-emotional learning (SEL), and rightly so. Kids, teachers and parents alike have been challenged to their furthest extent throughout this pandemic and regardless of whether students are in-person, remote or hybrid, we need to find ways to focus on SEL and bring it to life to build resiliency. Doing this in a remote environment can be a challenge, as students are more limited in teacher and classmate interactions, and therefore, experience fewer opportunities to socialize in the ways they were used to. Social interactions are such an essential part of their learning process. Choosing the right methods and tools can help create spaces where our students feel more connected to us and to each other. Therefore, we must help students build academic skills, as well as essential SEL skills as the two go hand in hand.

As an individual involved in EdTech and as a teacher myself, I believe that we need to leverage technology to maximize student engagement and provide teachers with flexible, easy to use resources. I recently came across an SEL curriculum called Peekapak that offers an online game called myPeekaville as a complement to its teacher-led curriculum. This online game allows kids to practice SEL skills in real-life scenarios, which engages them further in the learning and embedding of SEL competencies. Games like these are fun of course, but more importantly, they can provide students with opportunities to learn and master strategies while building problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration.

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For example, in the first activity in myPeekaville, students help Leo the Hedgehog identify his nervous ‘first day of school’ emotions. This scenario is highly relatable to their own feelings about the first day of school and how to manage through this anxiety. This type of game-based learning also promotes more interactive learning experiences in class or at home. In Peekapak, the use of myPeekaville provides teachers with another way to understand students’ specific interests and gives parents an idea of the learning that is happening in our classrooms.

Another key benefit I appreciate in this digital resource, is that teachers can monitor and assess student progress and student moods, so they can identify which students may need additional support – particularly if they’re not seeing the student in person or if the student is not directly asking for help. The mood tracking lets students share their feelings and become more aware of the feelings of others which helps in the development of empathy.

When I see kids using the game, building their personal avatar, collecting berries and reading the SEL themed books, I can see how this technology can engage them in a variety of ways to build SEL along with the core skills of reading and writing. It reinforces academic areas that we are primarily focused on with young students.

Ultimately, it is important for children to be able to build SEL skills of self-awareness and self-management, especially in dealing with some of the changes experienced throughout this past year. As we work through what has been a challenging year and plan for the future, we need to make sure that we are focusing on the mental health and wellness of our students. To do so, we must be intentional about creating opportunities for students to build their social-emotional learning (SEL) skills in our classrooms.

Overall, Peekapak offers a robust platform and space for students to learn about themselves and to better understand one another, creating increased opportunities for social-emotional development. Explore Peekapak today!

About the Author:

Rachelle Dene is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was recently named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.

She is the author of five books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World and her newest book “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us” is now available.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

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Are students drowning in the stream?

– Guest post by Dr. Michael Harvey @Doctor_Harves

recent education report from Tokona Te Raki has argued the streaming, also known as ability grouping needs to stop as it disproportionately affects the academic performance of Māori and Pāsifika students. Having now read the report, the paper does have a statistically significant conclusion that Māori does not have the same long-term outcomes as non-Māori, however, this is a correlation and not necessarily the cause of this underachievement.

So yeah, I decided to go down the internet rabbit hole and see what the global situation was and if indeed streaming was a major cause of Māori educational underachievement. First things first let me define my terms so anyone reading knows what exactly what I am talking about. ‘Streaming’ is used to describe a variety of approaches by which students with similar levels of current achievement (note I do not say ability) are consistently grouped together for lessons.‘Streaming’ can involve grouping students into classes for all or most of their lessons or only for some, in particular Maths, English, and Science.

In the New Zealand context, most students in different streams follow the same curriculum. The purported aim of streaming is to enable more effective and efficient teaching by being able to focus on learners with similar achievement in those subjects, in the hope to improve or enhance that achievement (think gifted and talented). Although this approach is sometimes described as ‘ability grouping’, I would see this more as ‘achievement’ rather than ‘ability, as schools generally use measures of current performance, rather than measures of ability, to group their students.

So after wading through the research (see the reference list at the bottom), just how effective is streaming? On average, students whose classes are streamed make slightly less progress than students taught in mixed achievement classes. The evidence suggests that streaming has a very small negative impact for low and mid-range achieving students and a very small positive impact for higher achieving students.  So, the effects are small, and it appears that streaming is not an effective way to raise achievement for most students although it is unclear whether the achievement at lower ends is due to streaming or other factors.

Other effects on students must also be considered, however, such as the effect on their confidence. I remember the effect on my friends at high school when they were told they were in 9J “stingray”, and being labeled stingers – the bottom feeders of the ocean. The research I looked at from the broader evidence base concludes that grouping students on the basis of achievement may have long-term negative effects on the attitudes and engagement of low achieving students, for example, by discouraging the belief that their achievement can be improved through effort and reinforcing the idea they were ‘born dumb’ and that intelligence is not malleable.

2012 OECD review concluded that streaming students is not associated with higher learning outcomes and that students from low-income families are likely to be negatively affected. Although the report did not go on to investigate the effect on local indigenous communities – though poverty is a large part of those community experiences globally.

But what of the actual research, is it reliable and can it be used to make inferences into best educational practice? The evidence on streaming that I read had been accumulated over at least 50 years and there are a large number of studies, some involving large student groups others with small. The conclusions on the impact of streaming are relatively consistent across different evidence reviews and meta-analyses. However, most of the reviews present relatively basic analysis and few investigated the different pedagogical approaches being used in the different extremes of the streamed classrooms. They do not explore whether effects vary between different interventions and the evidence base would benefit from new reviews which address these issues in more depth. Overall, the evidence is rated as limited.

One example of this is that the majority of the experimental evidence comes from the USA, and there are few rigorous experimental studies from other countries like New Zealand and the impact on indigenous communities. There was more evidence from secondary schools than primary schools, as streaming is more commonly used for older students. 

So there, you go, streaming has a small effect either way on overall learning for both low ability and high ability groupings and there is little support for the claim that streaming is the cause of Māori or Pāsifika underachievement – though such research is scant either way. So we must look to develop our pedagogy as educators to cater to the diverse needs of our students, no matter their present achievement 

References:

Collins, C. A., & Gan, L. Does Sorting Students Improve Scores? An Analysis of Class Composition.
(No. w18848). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. (2013)


Duflo, E., Dupas, P., Kremer, M. Peer Effects, Teacher Incentives, and the Impact of Tracking: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Kenya American Economic Review 101 (5): pp 1739-1774. (2011)

Dunne, M., Humphreys, S., Dyson, A., Sebba, J., Gallannaugh, F., & Muijs, D. The teaching and learning of pupils in low-attainment sets. Curriculum Journal, 22(4), 485-513. (2011)

Hallam, S., & Ireson, J. Secondary school pupils’ satisfaction with their ability grouping placements.
British Educational Research Journal, 33(1), 27-45. (2007)

Hanushek, E. A. & Woessmann, L. Does educational tracking affect performance and inequality? Differences-in-differences evidence across countries. CESifo working papers, No. 1415. (2005)

Henderson, N. D. A meta-analysis of ability grouping achievement and attitude in the elementary grades
Doctoral dissertation, Mississippi State University, Mississippi: Department of Curriculum and Instruction
(1989)

Ireson, J., Hallam, S. & Plewis, I. Ability grouping in secondary schools: Effects on pupils’ self-concepts.
British Journal of Educational Psychology 71. 2, pp 315-326. (2001)

Ireson, J., Hallam, S., Mortimore, P., Hack, S., Clark, H. & Plewis, I. Ability grouping in the secondary school: the effects on academic achievement and pupils’ self-esteem. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, the University of Sussex at Brighton, September 2-5 1999. (1999)

Kulik, J.A., & Kulik, C.L.C. Effects of ability grouping on student achievement. Equity and Excellence in Education, 23(1-2), 22-30. (1987)

Tereshchenko, A., Francis, B., Archer, L., Hodgen, J., Mazenod, A., Taylor, B., Pepper, D., & Travers, M. C. Learners’ attitudes to mixed-attainment grouping: examining the views of students of high, middle and low attainment. Research Papers in Education, 1-20 (2018)

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Spaces: #21for21 Great Ideas from Educators

If you haven’t heard about Spaces EDU, now is definitely the time to check it out. Besides offering a lot for educators and students when it comes to creating digital portfolios and building the essential skills to be prepared for now and in the future, they’re offering a lot more for educators this month!

Check out the 21 Educators, 21 interviews and the 21 days of giveaways to teachers. The #21for21 is a podcast series in which each teacher shares their experiences, what has worked for them in the classroom and what they believe we need to provide for our students in order to be successful in our 21st century world. Make sure you subscribe to the 21for21 newsletter to be entered into the giveaways, and check out each of the 21 videos available.

Each educator offers some helpful tips about preparing students for a skills-based world through real-world experiences, promoting communication and collaboration skills, and more. Take some time to listen to each idea and borrow it for your classroom!

Listen to each and click “Tweet to vote” for your favorite “Borrow and Share idea. Check out the great prizes still to be given away. The top five educators with the most votes will win cash prizes for their classrooms. 

Sharing PBL for my Borrow and Share!

Preparing for the Future with Spaces

It is important that educators find ways to  better understand students and their interests in learning. Having the right tools or methods in place, can help with not only supporting students on their learning journey, it helps with building those vital teacher-student relationships. A key part of this is that it helps to focus on the social-emotional learning (SEL) skills as students build their self-awareness and also self-management skills, when they look at the work that they’ve done and set new goals for their continued learning journey.

portfolios enable us to be able to give authentic, meaningful feedback to students and develop a better understanding of each student’s strengths and needs. These “spaces” also help to build relationships as we get to know our students and their learning needs and strengths more. 

Spaces provides a great choice for creating digital portfolios and more. Through digital portfolios, students can choose and compile artifacts of the work that they have done throughout the year or during a PBL experience. By including samples of projects or even reflections on career explorations or participation in community activities that they engaged in during their high school career, educators and future employers will be able to see student growth over time. Portfolios are a great way for students to show their learning journey. Creating portfolios in a digital space gives students the opportunity to self-assess, track their growth over time as they build their narrative. With the use of digital portfolios, we help students focus on their own learning journey as they develop these other essential skills. 

Students can record their daily work, reflect on their learning experiences and express their thoughts, which is a beneficial way to promote the continued development of SEL skills. Teachers can assess students and provide real-time feedback. It also helps students to share their work publicly and build confidence in learning.  Get started with Spaces today!

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Ziplet: A great tool for SEL and exit tickets

Having taught the majority of this school year in hybrid and fully virtual teaching, finding ways to assess students and to check-in with them regularly was a challenge.

As a Spanish teacher, it is important for me to know how they are doing with the content and how they are doing in general. I started to use Ziplet, which helped me to better understand where students were in ​the learning​ process​, do a quick check-in ​to monitor wellbeing, or use it for an exit ticket at the end of class.​ ​

When I look for digital tools ​to enhance instruction, ​whether virtual, hybrid or in-person, having a versatile tool like ​Z​iplet makes it easier to involve students in learning and be able to gauge their understanding quickly.

During this school year, as I had to transition between these learning environments, using Ziplet helped me with staying consistent when it comes to communication. I can send a quick announcement to my students in the group, ask questions and check in with them to see how learning is going or ask about any challenges that they are facing for just a few examples.

​Getting started​

​Using the question templates available within Ziplet makes it easy to get started quickly. ​What I appreciate is that you can choose from the response types which include emojis, ​multiple choice, open response​s​, or a rating scale. I like to select two different response types such as asking ​students an open-ended question and doing a quick check-in using an emoji​ or a scale.

Questions can be saved under your favorites so that you don’t have to create a new question every single time you use it.

[template options with sample questions that appear for each]

​Reviewing responses​

Accessing student responses is simple and through the scale or emoji options, it’s easy to get a quick glimpse at how students are feeling about a particular topic or their well-being in general.

Asking a quick question such as “How do you feel about the lesson covered?” and using the scale of 1 to 5 makes it easy to gauge a student’s responses and the text response helps students to elaborate or reflect on the lesson. Answers can be posted anonymously and responses are private between student and the teacher.

Messaging with Ziplet

You can also use Ziplet to send a quick message to your class. Since Ziplet integrates with Google Classroom, you can easily import your student roster and share questions directly.

If your school does not use Google Classroom, students can join using the group code provided by the teacher or can be added with email. You can use the email to post a question and students will receive an email message or a notification through the Ziplet app.

Ideas to get started

Start class with a quick check-in to see how students are doing or ask specific questions about the prior lesson. Another great idea is to use Ziplet for a 3-2-1 exit ticket which encourages students to think closely about what they are learning and help them to become more self-aware which is great for developing SEL skills.

Check out the example exit ticket ideas for different content areas here.

Key features

  • Ziplet meets all privacy and security requirements, COPPA and GDPR Compliant
  • Collect classroom or even school wide responses instantly
  • Use it for a daily check-in or a weekly reflection
  • Create announcements to share with students
  • Schedule questions in advance
  • Promotes timely and authentic feedback

Creating accounts

There are several options for getting started with Ziplet including a free plan for teachers to create up to three groups with 50 students and two teachers per group. There are additional plans including Ziplet Plus, a custom plan for K through 12 schools and even one for higher education.

Upgraded plans include unlimited groups and students with many additional features such as student response filtering, reply to all, ability to export response data, and more.

Ziplet, founded in 2016 and based in Melbourne, Australia is being used in more than 10,000 institutions including schools, universities and even in corporate training environments.

Ziplet is available on the App store and Google Play. Getting started with a new digital tool often takes time but that’s not the case with Ziplet as there are preloaded questions available that teachers can use to get started right away!

About the Author

Rachelle Dene Poth is an edtech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher. Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant and Speaker, owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting. She is an ISTE Certified Educator and currently serves as the past -president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education.

Rachelle is the author of five books available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @Rdene915.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

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Increasing Independent Work time can mitigate learning loss

Guest post by Lis Bluford, @LisBluford @EdLightPBC

To accelerate learning, we need to focus on student work output daily.

Students show us their learning every day. It’s our job to give them time to show us their understanding and listen.

Authentic student work should be at the center of learning.

As part of my role at EdLight, I’m constantly observing remote classrooms of all ages. One of my greatest takeaways is how few classrooms prioritize independent work time.

I recently observed a 60-minute lesson where the teacher skillfully modeled a procedure and engaged 100% of students in a guided practice. While this was impressive, I kept waiting for students to have a chance to apply the learning themselves through independent work or an exit ticket time. It never came.

Unfortunately this has become a trend with remote / hybrid learning. Perhaps it’s the camera that makes us want to perform, but for whatever reason, teachers are reluctant to have students working independently + quietly.

Supported independent work time is the number one thing you can do to increase learning, whether you are in person or remote.

When I was teaching in person, administrators were confused by the sheer volume of work completion in my classroom. I reserved at least half of class time or more for supported independent work. And it worked — my students performed at the top of our network of schools.

Silently watching students working may feel uncomfortable, but time spent trying hard on challenging tasks is never wasted. Here is why that matters, even in remote learning:

Benefits for Students

Independent work is important in building stamina. As students grow older, they are required to sit and work alone for longer periods of time. As a teacher, I have to facilitate this ability to focus for a sustained block or on a single project.

This is one of the best ways to support students of various learning styles and personalities. For students who are quieter and more reserved in group discussions, this might be the only time you get to understand if they really “get it.” You can’t hide behind independent work.

With the increase in formative remote learning tools (selecting a multiple choice answer, drawing on a trackpad) students have minimal opportunity to interact with content with pencil and paper. Handwritten work facilitates deep thinking in a new way, gives students a welcome break from technology, and guides younger students to develop the occupational skill of handwriting.

Extended work time allows students to show mastery of content of a single standard in a variety of ways. You can give multiple versions of one math problem, ask a question various ways in reading, etc. The more independent work, the more students can show their understanding of a concept.

Benefits for Teachers

The more work students are submitting, the easier it is for teachers to find the misconceptions. Teachers can check for understanding by looking at student work before class is over and figure out the gaps in learning in order to address them.

Giving feedback to students on their work will allow teachers also see higher engagement, which can help build relationships.

But what does “supported independent work” mean?

Teachers must find a way to give feedback to students in the moment when they complete their independent work. Whether this is on a Google Doc, in an online learning portal, or on paper — so long as you are acknowledging work!

Another great way to support independent work is to close out the lesson by showing an example of work a student completed that day. It can be work that students fix together or an example of mastery. Either way, this can build a culture of teamwork and pride over work completion.

If you’re looking to push student understanding in your classroom – sit in the silence, break out the pencil and paper, and let kids work. For more than just a 5 minute exit ticket at the end of class. I guarantee both you and your students will grow from it.

About the author: Lis Bluford has taught in high-performing charter schools for ten years, demonstrating exceptional student results. Most recently, her fifth-grade students earned the #1 student growth in the state of Massachusetts. She is currently the Master Educator at EdLight, where she tutors students virtually while prioritizing targeted feedback.

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