Integrating Technology: What are the next steps?

My second post for Edueto Magazine:  Edueto

So you have been working on integrating more technology in your classroom. Maybe you’ve added a social messaging tool such as Celly or Remind or even Class Messenger, there are a lot of great options out there. I can imagine it took some getting used to at first and maybe you even tried using it for only one purpose.  To send a reminder, as a way for students to ask you those late night questions or some other need that you had was in your classroom. I hope that if you chose to add a messaging tool in your classroom, you now feel comfortable with it and that it has brought about the positive changes that it has brought about in my own classroom.

Did you take another step and begin using a Learning Management System?  Even though I use Edmodo, which gains many new users every day and is not something solely used for teachers and their students, but can be used to engage other educators and join a variety of professional communities.  Connecting this way is important for our growth as educators and for building our personal and professional learning networks. But it’s okay if you have not yet gotten to that next step, integrating technology is an ongoing process and it is best done in phases, working towards building your comfort level and learning how to use it effectively. But if you have taken both of these actions, you’re probably ready for some new challenge.

So again I ask you, what is it that would make a difference in your classroom? What do you think that you possibly are not providing or that your students are not giving back? The answer to this question could be the same, but sometimes it can be very different so it comes down to what your individual needs are. I can only tell you from my experience how I progressed on my path of integrating technology, and it did not happen overnight. Although when I speak about the tools that are used to my classroom or I give presentations at conferences or participate in Twitter chats, I talk about a lot of tools that are available but by no means should one infer that I use them with my students every day, all the time. Using technology completely and trying too much at once would impede real learning in the classroom and is much more effective when integrated into units.

Deciding to integrate more technology grew from my curiosity in ways to flip the classroom, so that I had more time to interact with the students and engage them more in the discussion rather than spend valuable class time watching videos or listening to audio activities or sometimes even a teaching a new concept.

So through my research for the answer to this question, led me to a great tool called Blendspace. You might wonder what it is and how it’s different than other tools like it?  You may have used or at least heard of tools like Livebinder and Symbaloo, which many people are familiar with and perhaps even use on a regular basis with their students. But when I found Blendspace and started using it, it was simply a way to avoid the struggle the students had typing in such long URL addresses, which wasn’t an easy task because those great URL shorteners were not around yet. I used Blendspace to create lessons for each chapter in Spanish class.  Students enrolled in their respective classes, had access to shared lessons and I let them have the time to explore the different resources I had put into the lessons. Some of the resources were from my list of favorites and others were ones that I quickly found by using the different tools available through Blendspace for quickly creating a lesson.

Over the years my uses for this have evolved and I will tell you more about that later but for right now my main purpose is to tell you that sometimes it’s beneficial to have a tool like this to curate your materials both for your students and for yourself. I recently presented a 1in3 session at ISTE in Philadelphia and Blendspace is gaining in popularity.  It is an app available in Edmodo, so if you’re looking for a package deal you may decide to choose the same tools that I did. But again, while what I’m telling you may sound like great ideas that seem to be applicable to your personal experience, I still recommend trying these things out first.   Don’t hesitate, create an account, check out the examples that are available and see what other people are using it for. Think about your initial question, and decide if this tool is helping to solve it and providing opportunities.  If you come up with mostly an affirmative answer then by all means continue working with the tool until you are a bit more comfortable. And even better, engage the students in this discovery process, encourage them to seek answers and try new things. It’s all about taking risks and learning, and with technology the learning possibilities are limitless. We learn from each other and even though we have the title as teacher, we don’t always have to be it. EDUETO2

I hope that your answers are coming to you and that you are feeling more comfortable with some of the technology you are using in your classroom. It just takes that first step, some discovery, curiosity and patience.  Take a chance and see what benefits your classroom will receive from something new like Blendspace. I will share some ideas with you but first, see what you can learn on your own.  Or even have your students figure it out with you.

I’d love to hear from you so feel free to contact me with questions at any time. And in closing, don’t stop questioning. Be curious. Be reflective and be active. Think of goals to enhance meaning and growth. Thank you

Integrating Technology: Why should educators make the move?

This is a blog I wrote for the Online Magazine Edueto about integrating technology and how I started with my own classroom.

Blog Link:  Edueto

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It seems that recently there has been an increase in the discussion about the best ways, the best tools, and the best ideas for integrating technology in the classroom. The one thing that all of these themes have in common is that technology does need to be integrated into the classroom, regardless of what level, what course, and what topic is being covered, the possibilities with technology infused into the learning environment are limitless.

Teachers may find themselves on varying ends of the spectrum of what I will refer to as being technology savvy. Teachers who have taught around 20 years or were 80s children like myself, have seen many changes in the world of technology from the entrance of Apple computers and programming in the early 1980s to the start of the Internet in the nineties to cloud computing and other emerging technologies today. There will be more tremendous changes on the horizon.

I find myself in a unique grouping in that I’ve grown up in the age of computing, so for me, adding technology into my classroom was not something I found to be a daunting task. I would not consider it seamless either.  However, with that being said there are always risks involved with starting a new venture such as integrating technology and there are many questions one might ask about where to begin, how to begin and what is the best way to use the new tech while adding to the learning and not having it become an interference.

So where does one begin? Well it depends on where you are now. Have you been using computers and technology or is the concept completely out of your area and new?  In my experience as a foreign language teacher, I had been using some games and activities, and the typical computing tools like word processing and other presentation software, but other than that, the technology used a few years back was somewhat limited in my classroom to audio and video and the occasional use of the Smartboard. But then a period of change occurred, and I realized that there were so many possibilities out there for adding to the learning experience and engaging the students and so I asked myself one question. What am I missing?

This initial question quickly led to additional questions. What is it that I am NOT providing to my students and alternatively what is it that my students could be doing better?  What are they NOT providing for our class?

With this initial question, I placed the demand on myself to seek an answer, I wondered what I could do differently to bridge what I have now termed the “disconnect” which I felt was occurring. So I began my search for ways to solve this problem of disconnect and sought to find one thing that I could change as a way to make a difference. What I came up with is that we needed a better way to communicate. And this may be where you find yourself.

Have you wished that your students would be able to ask you questions when they have a question?  That when you find a good resource or perhaps want to remind a class of something after an extended weekend or break, that there were a reliable way to do that? If you are answering yes to these questions then what you need first is a messaging tool. That’s where I started, & I found Celly which enabled me to send reminders to students, to receive their questions, to share resources and to be available when the students needed, which often was later in the evening or during the weekend when their questions appeared.

So what did this messaging tool do? It began solving the problem of the “disconnect”. It was the first step in a series of changes that I made to my teaching style and to my classroom procedures that have brought about many positive changes in the educational experiences I provide for my students, but more importantly it has enabled them to have more access to the help they need when they need it.

Once I felt confident that this tool was working, I began to think about something else that might need improvement. This would be the next step for you as well.  Perhaps it’s a way to organize your class materials so students can get those extra copies of the papers or find the requirements for the project that’s due the next day or try some of the many web tools and review activities that you have shared with them. If these sound like good ideas to you, then what you need is a Learning Management System. For myself, this was the next step and after some research I found Edmodo. I have made presentations at conferences and my message is the same, which is this:  There are many wonderful learning management systems available and depending on where and what you teach, Edmodo may or may not be the best choice for you.  But I believe that each classroom should have a common site.  For my classroom it is a great choice.   I have worked with many of the other options and I can tell you what you might want to know about them. I have continued to use Edmodo because my students stay with me throughout their Spanish studies, and it makes sense to keep them in the system, so they can see their growth, so I can track their progress and have access to the materials which then become a part of their digital portfolio. Maybe an LMS is not what you want but instead you choose to create a website, for example through Google sites or Weebly or even use Wikispaces as a way to post resources and links.  No matter what you choose you can’t go wrong. Centralizing your materials for your class and your students is a great idea and you and they will benefit from it.

Going back for a moment to my initial word of “disconnect”, perhaps it is clearer now how these two tools really help to solve that problem.  Individually either one would work in my favor to promote the communication and collaboration with the students and to make class materials and resources available, but the combination of them builds even more into what I can offer because the students can be assessed, they can have their voice expressed in many ways using Edmodo or Celly and each year we can track their progress through Edmodo.

So I ask you, what would help you the most? If you were asked to name one thing that you could change or would like to change, figure out what that one thing is and start small and build. Take a step, work with it and then add something else. You may find that your first choice is not the best but it takes action and follow through. So that means give it some time. Trying something new can be a challenge and it is definitely a risk.  It may work and it may not, but as an educator it is our job to actively be taking risks, facing challenges, working toward goals to completion. When all is said and done, we take the time to look back and reflect and that’s what you must do as well.

Did you find an answer to your question or did it bring about additional questions? Keep wondering and keep seeking more information. Be curious.  Be persistent.

Technology changes every day and there will be many opportunities to find the perfect answer to your question, it just may take a little bit of time, but that’s okay. Learning has no time limit.

#BackToSchool: How I Teach a Language Class With infographic Visuals

This is a blog I had written for Piktochart, an infographic I have used in my classroom since last summer.  Students have created projects and I have also used it for my own personal work for presentations and coursework.

Piktochart’s Intro:

Teaching isn’t easy. The school system, which was designed to prepare kids for a normal career path – high school, college, a good and stable job, retirement – hasn’t been updated in decades. Nowadays, kids have other needs and want to explore their different abilities. They (generally speaking) don’t enjoy their experiences, hence they end up bored and not paying attention in class. Luckily, there are some awesome teachers who recognize this, and try their best to encourage kids to learn in a different way.

One of these fantastic teachers is Rachelle Poth. Apart from being an attorney in Pittsburgh, she has been a Spanish and French teacher at Riverview Junior-Senior High School for over 18 years. In addition, she is the Spanish Club Sponsor, the Foreign Language Department Chair and a Member of the Mentoring and Technology Committees.

In her own words, she ‘enjoys finding new ways to use technology with my students and my purpose is to provide a variety of experiences for them that are more than just learning the language of Spanish. I want to help prepare them for the future and enable them to use a variety of tools in their high school and future careers’.

In her search for new technology, Rachelle stumbled upon Piktochart, and started using our tool to diversify and accelerate her children’s learning of a new language. 

Enter Rachelle

As a foreign language teacher for almost 20 years, I have assigned many different student projects in my classes. With each passing year and each passing chapter, we teachers try to come up with new, creative ideas to incorporate into our classroom, and to liven up the projects our students create. In years past, creativity usually came in the form of colored construction paper or poster board or by adding glitter, confetti, bright markers or paint to paper presentations. All of these additions were great and really helped to demonstrate the individuality and creativity of the students. However, some of these elements resulted in a somewhat messy display, glitter-covered teachers and materials. Worse still, these projects would sometimes result in students feeling a bit inhibited because of a perceived lack of creativity or artistic skills in their work.

The Age of Technology

As time has passed and technology capabilities have grown, students, teachers, and society have accumulated so many more options for creating projects or presentations. The possibilities of incorporating the same types of styles and effects into projects exists; however, the end result is much different. As a Spanish teacher, I teach all levels of Spanish and I need to assess my students and provide opportunities for them to complete a variety of multi-themed projects each year. The number of projects that I assign for all four levels requires some serious creativity on my part.

Teaching a Language Class

For example, in Spanish, students study the food and culture of a Spanish-speaking country. The assignment is for them to research and then complete a brief report using Microsoft Word or a similar word processor. In addition to the report, the students have to create a paper menu. For all of these projects (sometimes close to 80 or 90 individual projects), paper was necessary to display the work in the classroom. Most teachers have assigned similar projects in their classrooms. However, today, projects can be easily done using an infographic. This format enables students to complete their whole project using one tool. Within this tool, they have many choices regarding how they will enhance their work. Whether it’s choosing between templates or deciding which artistic object to include, these options are all laid out for the student. During this entire process, the project is readily available. It’s durable and accessible to anyone at any time,  and can easily be added into a digital portfolio.

Piktochart in the Classroom

In my classroom, the great thing about using infographics, especially Piktochart, is that students can create brochures, flyers or posters, and they can add various multi-media elements and select different presentation modes. They’re still completing the exact same assignments before there was Piktochart, but in the process they’re working with technology and enhancing the vital technology skills they will need for their future. Best of all, grading rubrics still apply.

Using Piktochart is one way students can learn to complete a task without the standard form of paper. For example, Spanish II students have created school club flyers and brochures with Piktochart. Their individuality and creativity was reflected in the backgrounds, templates, colors, and objects they chose to add to their work. These tools helped make their learning more meaningful because it was all about student choice. They were engaged and had fun creating their infographics but, more importantly, they were really focused on the processes behind learning the language.

How Teachers Benefit from Introducing Infographics in Their Classroom

Any teacher at any level and in any subject can benefit from using infographics in the classroom. My first step was to create a syllabus for each of my Spanish courses using different infographic tools available. I did this for a few reasons:

  1. Students could easily access the information displayed on our Learning Management System and Edmodo page, which eliminated the possibility of the papers being lost.
  2. Students could see the potential for engaging the reader because of the infographic’s visual aspects.
  3. I was able to show students a different way of presenting information, to encourage trying new things, and to model taking a risk with a new method of conveying information.

It was my way of setting them up for one of their first assignments which was to create an infographic. In Spanish I, the assignment was to write a self-description of interests and family background. In Spanish II, it was to create a school club, and in the higher levels of Spanish, there were respective assignments for creating infographics as well. The students then took these tools and used them in other classes and outside of school. Giving my students the benefits of creativity and technology is really what I aspire to do as a classroom teacher.

I want to teach my students Spanish and Spanish culture, but I also want to teach them skills that will follow them and empower them in the future. It’s my goal to provide them with opportunities for growth and to create a more engaging, meaningful, curiosity-inspiring learning experience.

Some of Rachelle’s Creations

Rachelle uses Piktochart for almost everything, but we wanted to share a few infographics on education. The first one is a talk she gave at EdCamp, on August 1st, about using technology in education.

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