Pear Deck to the Rescue

Guest post by Debbie Tannenbaum @TannenbaumTech

It is no secret that I am a huge Pear Deck fan! As my district and school have navigated virtual learning, it has indeed become a game changer. As a result, we became a Pear Deck Premium school this year. Pear Deck has not only enabled my teachers to create amazing interactive experiences, but also to examine their students’ progress through the teacher dashboard.

During my weekly tech tips, I have been sharing all of the amazing ways that my teachers are using Pear Deck. I have been truly astounded the amazing ways that they have been engaging their students using this tool. So I asked them if I could amplify their awesome work on my blog; luckily, they said yes.

Ms. Liberatore

Ms. Liberatore really loves doing assessments in Pear Deck- EVERY assessment, for EVERY subject is done in it. She loves it because it forces the kids to stay with her on each question (since in first grade they read the questions and answer choices to them).

It also really helps her to know which kids have not started their slide yet from the names at the bottom. That allows her to prompt them to get going and helps so she does not have to go back to a question just for one kid.

** She has really been loving doing word searches on Pear Deck. She had been previously trying to do them on Google Slides with moveable circles, but then realized – how easy would it be for them to highlight it in Pear Deck

Ms. Char loves using the Pear Decks for math and science in particular. Being able to guide the students step by step through some of the lessons and then giving them immediate feedback is extremely helpful, particularly in the virtual setting. 😊

She also likes the takeaways and the ability for the students and parents to look at what the kids have written or drawn on each of the slides. It helps deepen their understanding and allows me to see those students who are really struggling. It holds them accountable for doing the work because I can see who is and who is not responding.

Ms. Char

Ms. Oberdick

As the librarian, her favorite way to use Pear Deck is for class read-aloud lessons. It has been a fantastic way to allow students to see the pictures in the books clearly and engage with the story. Students can interact with the text and illustrations and share their thinking and questions as we read together.

TIP: She tries to incorporate at least one of each type of Pear Deck slide (text, drawing, draggable, etc.) in each lesson to differentiate and keep it interesting. If she wants to make a lesson asynchronous, she utilizes the audio feature and record the story text on each slide. She also loves that she can share a spreadsheet with classroom teachers for formative assessment and participation tracking purposes.

Ms. Field

Ms. Field uses Pear Deck for her students to make mood meters.

Ms. Layton loves using Pear Deck. In math, she uses it for spiral review and would you rather questions. During language arts, she has students reflect on what they have read and share thoughts in books. Lastly, during social studies and science, her students use Pear Deck to do reflections, check in questions and thinking routines like See, Think, Wonder.

Ms. Layton

Kindergarten Team

Ms. Bryan, Ms. Philips, Ms. Belcher, and Ms. Lazcano

In Kindergarten, the teachers have been using Pear Deck in a few different ways. In Language Arts, they’ve used slides with 2-3 letter cards on them. They give a letter sound and students move a colored dot to the card representing the sound. They’ve also done letter card slides and had a “snowball fight”. They make a sound and students use the white large pencil tool to “throw snowballs” at the corresponding card.

In math, they’ve used slides to have students fill ten frames, draw lines from groups of items to the correct number, and draw to represent numbers that we call out.

They’ve enjoyed using Pear Deck in our instruction as a way to engage all students at the same time. It’s beneficial to be able to use the teacher dashboard and watch in real time as they practice the lessons. They can see if students understand letter sounds, 1-to-1 number correspondence, number writing, following directions. They’ve been impressed with how well these young students have been able to utilize this learning tool! Check out the examples below:)

So for this blog post, my teachers are the stars! I am so proud to work with such an exceptional staff. I love when teachers take the ideas shared in a learning opportunity and make it their own. True awesomeness!


**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  

Reflecting on Hybrid: Part II

What worries me

There are so many questions and concerns I have, beyond teaching the lesson itself. If I want to give students a paper so we can break from the screen time, I worry about passing out papers or collecting them from students. I worry about them having to sharpen their pencil. I worry that a student did not clean their desk or the desk shield enough. I worry about it all.

When I’m looking in my classroom with my students, I worry that I’m losing the engagement of the students who are at home. That I’m doing them a disservice because I’m somehow not providing enough and that there’s something that I could do better. I asked myself: Should I create a video of myself teaching every single lesson and then have all of the students watch it? Should I have the students at home watch the video while I teach the students in my classroom? When I give a test, do I provide students in the classroom with a paper copy and create a digital assessment for the online students? Should I wait to give all students the test when they’re physically in the classroom so I can answer their questions and make sure they’re not looking up the answer somewhere? But what about the students who are fully virtual? There are so many things to consider each day.

I believe that if schools were doing the four days synchronously and one day asynchronously, then all students would be getting the same instruction, the same activities, they could hear and see the teacher at the same time. In the hybrid world, as it is in this definition of hybrid, I feel like because of the split, we are going to lose more of the students. If we would have them together four out of five days in virtual, I do truly believe that the hybrid cuts that in half. That might be an unpopular opinion but that is what I notice based on my own experience, my thought process, the conversations that I’ve had, and everything that I’ve seen shared from teachers over the last couple of months. It is how I am feeling during my own experience and I’m working on finding ways to improve.

My best tips

What has helped me with some of those initial challenges is bringing in some extra equipment and deciding on a few digital tools to use consistently. First, by using my HUE HD Pro Document camera, students could see me in the classroom and I didn’t have to stay in front of my netbook computer webcam. It also helps with being able to write on paper and share it on the screen for all students to see. Connecting a microphone to my desktop so that the sound could be heard in the classroom, students can speak to each other and I was not attached to my computer, and could move around the room. Making sure that I set everything up ahead of time, keeping a list nearby that reminded me of the time for each class, and a checklist for each period of what we need to do to maintain our safety.

Choose some different digital tools to provide interactive lessons. The tools that I’ve been using the most have been BunceeEdpuzzleFormativeNearpodGimkit, and Synth. These are tools we have used for several years however they provide more possibilities for collaboration and are great for having students engage more in the lesson.

The first couple of days of hybrid I felt like I was not managing everything very well. Shifting from fully virtual to hybrid is a big transition for students and teachers and families of course. But when we started virtual, it took a few weeks to feel like I was in a better workflow, and then making the shift to hybrid I felt like I was starting all over again. Although this has been a challenging time with all of our transitions since March, we are much better prepared than we were then. Even if we do have to continue shifting between virtual, hybrid, and in-person, we have more experience and versatile tools available to us and our students that can help and we are building our skill set in the process.

There is no perfect solution but the best that we can do is to keep trying and being open to new ideas and tools and strategies. We need to embrace the challenges and times where we feel like we failed, and learn from it and move on.

**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  

Reflecting on hybrid: Part I

Having taught the first nine weeks of the school year fully virtual, it took some time to adjust to all that goes into teaching online. Unlike the end of the past school year, we were running a regular schedule with classes meeting synchronously. After the first two days, I quickly figured out that I needed more than one computer and headphones. I needed at least two devices, a computer stand or two, and a ring light so that my students could actually see me. Beyond these tech adjustments, there was a struggle to get into a workflow. While we do many of the same tasks in our physical classroom space, it takes less time and the way we complete them looks different.

It was a process. Remembering to take attendance, mute and unmute myself, record the lesson, and make sure I turned off the incoming video for the students first, took some time. Developing a routine so I could minimize loss of instructional time as I worked to share my screen and verify it could be seen, teach while also letting students in who kept getting kicked out of meetings or were coming late to class, and remember to download the attendance list before ending the meeting. Of course, that meant I had to end the meeting, rather than just leave, otherwise the meeting continues and I don’t get the recording. Remember to download and then upload the recording to each class Teams space. This is just a short list of the tasks that we have to keep up with when teaching in the virtual space and if all students are learning remotely.

To say that it’s exhausting is an understatement. There are a lot of things to balance, challenges we have to push through, and roadblocks that pop up, especially when it comes to technology. We need to make sure our students can participate and that we provide them with the most meaningful learning experience that we can while also acknowledging that we are not in a typical learning situation.

While it was challenging, part of me wanted to stay with virtual learning because I felt like I finally had a good workflow and had improved on the types of learning opportunities I was creating for my students. But I also wanted to shift to hybrid so I had that time in class to see the students. Neither of these is ideal and I look forward to when we can all be back in our classrooms together.

Preparing for the shift

How do you teach in this type of hybrid, the teaching live and online simultaneously? I tried to prepare myself ahead of time by joining in discussions in different learning communities, participating in Twitter chats, and asking my own questions to find out what other teachers were experiencing. What many of them said was that it was overwhelming doing two jobs at the same time. Beyond its impact on us as teachers, I worry about the students who have questions that most likely can’t ask them because teachers are interacting with the students in the physical classroom or vice versa. It is a lot to take on and it’s not ideal but what I learned from spring school closures is that you have to make the best of it and you do the best you can.

How do you prepare? You have to be intentional about the types of learning experiences our students need. They need to feel comfortable in their learning space wherever that is. They need to be able to ask questions and find resources whenever they need them. We need support from our administrators when it does become overwhelming or we’re exhausted because we are and will continue to be. We need to know that it’s okay to take a break and to not have to worry so much about covering all of the same content that we normally would in any other “normal” school year. Nothing about this right now is normal and unfortunately, the likelihood is that it won’t return to normal anytime soon.

From the spring until now I’ve changed a lot about myself as a teacher. It has been hard to break away from the typical activities, content, or other materials that I have been accustomed to using in my classroom. But what I have learned is that we really need to think about how to best assess students and give them opportunities to practice because the answers are all over the Internet. As a language teacher, I battle against the use of online translators and a website that provides students with answers to any textbook or workbook you can find. There is also the issue of students copying each other’s homework. With these challenges, it forces us to think very carefully about what we’re asking our students to do. I tried some new tools thinking I could steer students away from using those and it was an improvement but there were still problems.

When it comes to technology, we can’t assume that students know exactly how to use it so we have to show them. When they use the technology for copying text directly from a website or in my class, using a translator, or finding an answer key, it is so frustrating. It is a struggle but we need to instead teach them why they shouldn’t use these tactics and how it negatively impacts their learning potential.

The great balancing act

The first day was interesting making the adjustments to our new classroom procedures and setup. As students come in, they grab towels to wipe down their desks and then log into the Teams meeting on their phone so they can access any notes in the chat.  I have a workspace at the front of the room, with one computer on a stand in front of me and my other computer propped up so that if I am screen sharing something on one, I can let students into the Teams meeting on the other computer. I use the stand so I am visible to the students in my classroom and online however I felt like I was greatly limiting my ability to interact with all students.

I started to lose my voice from having to speak louder through the mask and students at home could not hear me well. If the students at home spoke, only I could hear them and if students in the class asked a question, I often could not hear them because of the headset, so I kept having to remove one of the earbuds. I had to keep repeating everything and typing it into the meeting chat so that all students could read the message.  When I wrote on the board, students at home could not see what I wrote and so I needed a better plan.

**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  

15 AR and VR Immersive Learning Tools

There are many different tools available to educators today that help to put learning in students’ hands. With all of the technology, we now have endless opportunities to take learning beyond the confined classroom space and can now access the entire world, within only a few seconds with the right access and devices. Having access to this technology helps to connect students with learning in more authentic and meaningful ways, especially with some of the possibilities for students to engage with the content through the use of augmented and virtual reality tools.

When it comes to these more immersive technologies, figuring out where to start can feel overwhelming. However, as with all methods and tools, when thinking about bringing technology to our classrooms, we always want to focus on the purpose. Start with some clear goals for what it’s going to help our students do differently and how it’s going to positively impact their educational experience.

Going beyond imagination

There have been many times where I’ve told my students to just imagine what it would be like to explore a location—or, as a student myself, trying to grasp certain concepts in science or math courses, perhaps learning about animals or places that were mostly unreachable. All of this has changed with the rise of technology and in particular, immersive augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tools. These tools enable us to offer more interactive learning experiences that the students can control and build upon. Wondering where to start? Here are 15 resources to try.

1. Catchy Words AR: This fun AR word game promotes more active learning by giving students a word to solve by breaking the bubble of letters, grabbing and placing the letters into the right spaces to solve the word puzzle. Words can also be added that are specific to the content being covered. This has been an app helpful for students with dyslexia as well. (iPhone/iPad)

2. Curiscope Virtuali-Tee: More than just a t-shirt, it creates an AR learning experience for students to learn about human anatomy. Simply wear the Virtuali-Tee, scan and explore layers of the human body in AR. Curiscope is also launching their Multiverse AR poster series for learning about planets and other science topics.

3. Devar: A fun way for students or anyone to learn about AR by bringing colorful animated characters into the real world! Choose characters and then record a story to go along with it. Explore some of Devar’s other products such as AR books, cards, games, a globe and playsets available for learning about the alphabet, anatomy, chemistry, geography and more.

4. Experience Real History: Travel back in time to the Alamo in 1836 using an AR book, trading cards or mat. Download the ERH app to engage in interactive learning in AR with historical figures that come to life before your eyes.

5. Figment AR: This free tool offers both AR and VR in one. Create with Figment AR and add animated characters, objects, special effects, and portals. Enter the portals and transform them from AR to VR. Screen record to narrate a story in the real world. (iOS and Android)

6. Google Expeditions: With more than 800 virtual reality and 100 AR tours to choose from, you can engage students in a more immersive learning experience. Simply download​ the free app​ using either Google Play or the App Store and let students explore the world beyond their classroom.

7. Google Translate AR: Instantly translate signs, letters, images and more into 38 different languages simply by using your camera. Great for instant translation.

8. Just A Line: Have fun drawing in AR with Just A Line. The app is free and can be used for more active learning and also to have students record a video to tell a story about the drawing or the real physical space they are in.

9. Light Up Learning: Looking for a more hands-on way to help students learn about different structures and science-related topics? Try one of these apps from Light Up. Using Bridge Builder AR, students can design their own bridges in AR and test their structures. With Magnet Lab AR, students can use the app to simulate experiments to learn more about magnets and force. Animal Safari AR enables you to place animals in the real world and make your home or backyard a safari. Great for storytelling when combined with video recording for students to narrate their experience.

10. Merge EDU: Imagine holding a frog, a volcano,​ the earth, ​and more for close explorations right in your hands! Merge EDU is an AR/VR platform that provides more interactive learning for students to explore science-related topics in AR through Merge Explorer. Start with the free lesson on Terraforming Earth. ​Object Viewer can also be used for creating your own 3D content to upload onto the Merge Cube to bring into the real world.

11. Narrator AR: Add some AR fun to handwriting practice for students. Once a word is written on paper, use the app to scan the paper and then watch as a rainbow unicorn trail or rocket spell the word in AR. (iOS and Android)

12. Nearpod: An interactive multimedia learning platform that provides a quick way for educators to get started with VR. There are thousands of lessons to download that can include 3D objects for students to explore and VR field trips powered by 360 cities. Lessons can be found easily through the VR filter, and some favorites include the college tours. ​

13. PlayShifu: Have fun with AR games made for children including Shifu Orboot (an interactive AR globe) and Plugo (math, music, languages and more). Each of these provides games and lesson activities that are STEM/STEAM-focused.

14. Quiver: Bring a drawing to life with this coloring app available on iOS and Android systems. Start by printing a page, coloring it,  and then use the Quiver app to see the coloring in 3D AR.

15. Thyng App: A personal favorite for creating AR experiences that include animated characters, text, and more. Upload your own 3D objects or videos into the Thyng App and submit your “Thyngs” to be included in their library. Thyng can also be used to scan a target image and record up to a 10-second video to go with your target image. (iOS and Android)

These are just a few of the many tools available to explore AR and VR and get started quickly at different levels and content areas. For more ideas, follow #augmentedreality #virtualreality on Twitter and check out #ARVRinEDU, a weekly chat with Jaime Donally on Wednesday nights (9:00 pm EST).

**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  

Immerse in Buncee: Explore the New AR!

Immerse in Buncee! Explore the New Augmented Reality!

As a Spanish and a ​STEAM teacher, I enjoy using a lot of different technologies in my classroom. Over the past couple of years, one tool that we have used a lot ​is​ Buncee. What I love about ​Buncee is​ that the​r​e really are endless possibilities for what educators and our students can create. Over the past five years, I’ve used it to make newsletters, signs for my classroom, interactive lessons, social media graphics, greeting cards, presentations, and so much more.

My students have ​relied on it for their project-based learning, ​class presentations in Spanish and ​for cross-curricular collaborations between my ​eighth grade STEAM class​. Beyond our class uses, my students have even used it​ to make their own ​greetings ​cards​,​ bookmarks​ and flyers for their own personal​ use.

​With Buncee​ there is definitely something for everybody and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it adds ​something else new and exciting and​ takes it to a whole new level. Bun​cee​​​​ now has augmented reality available on the iOS app​! How awesome is that! ​The timing couldn’t be any better as my students in my ​STEAM course have​ been ​learning about Buncee for the past few weeks. We spent time ​creating business cards and flyers, as we discussed entrepreneurship and participated in ​G​lobal ​M​aker ​D​ay. ​Students created their own business and I enjoyed sharing some of the business cards and flyers.

[photo courtesy of Eda Gimenez]

The next topic ​we started just so​ happened to be augmented and virtual reality​! ​​​​Finding out that we could keep learning and creating with ​Buncee was just what we needed.​ ​

​F​or anyone who’s looking to learn about augmented reality, this is definitely a great way to get started. You can create a ​Buncee and add animations, emojis, stickers, messages and tell a story right in your own space.​ Students can have fun creating something more engaging and learn about emerging technologies. ​

Whether you are learning in the classroom or remotely, this is definitely something that will work well! Students will have fun creating with and it would be a great option for teachers to use to welcome students into their classroom space.

Check out the video above to see Buncee AR in action!

Here are some fun ideas to try out

  • Ask students to create a greeting for family and friends.
  • Have students summarize a book that they are reading by creating an AR experience
  • Create a scene based on something they are learning in math or science, which makes it better to be able to interact with the content.

Encourage students to create something based on their own interests! Maybe they are interested in animals and would like to see what it’s like having animals in their home. Or perhaps they can create a festive holiday scene, or maybe even an augmented reality birthday party for a friend or family member!

There are so many ways that we can use Buncee AR in our classrooms to give students a different way to create and share their learning. We will bring stories to life with Buncee AR and also it will help all of us to better understand emerging technologies like augmented reality and provide a fun way for everybody to get started and explore together! See what you can create to teach a lesson to your students and have fun seeing what they create too!

Check out this video from Buncee that shows all of their fun creations! And for more fun, get involved in the Global Write! Like my students, have your students become entrepreneurs and market their own business!

To learn more about Buncee, join in their daily training! Sign up here!


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. She is also a Buncee Ambassador, Nearpod PioNear and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

Rachelle is the author of four books, ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” (EduMatch) and “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” Rachelle Dene’s latest book is with ISTE “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World.” Rachelle is a blogger for Getting Smart, Defined Learning, District Administration, NEO LMS, and the STEM Informer with Newsweek.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU

Highlights from the week of ISTE20 Live

Each summer, I look forward to attending the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. Typically held at the end of June, this 5-day event brings in educators from around the world to learn more about how technology transforms teaching and learning. In past years, more than 70 countries have been represented with upwards of 20,000 or more participants. As with many conferences this year, ISTE had to make the shift to a virtual event. Initially pushing the event back a few months to the end of November in the hopes that it could be an in-person conference. Unfortunately circumstances due to the pandemic led to the difficult decision to make the event fully virtual. 

While there have been many conferences making the shift to virtual events this year, none of them have been the size of what ISTE typically brings in each year. You might wonder how could an event of this size be held fully online, considering the variety of session types, the number of people and the additional events that are typically held during the in-person event.  To provide all of this and more, ISTE created the event using a custom-built virtual platform and extended the length of the conference slightly, spanning it from November 29th through December 5th. More than 11,000 attendees were registered and in the platform, attendees could see the number of people participating live in the platform, engage in conversations with other educators and edtech companies, and navigate easily through their dashboard. 

ISTE CEO Richard Culatta kicked off the conference with the Sunday Mainstage events with featured speakers Megan Forbes, Brandie Wright, and Dr. Quentin J. Lee, high school principal known for creating viral COVID parody videos, including Can’t Touch This. Among the highlights were the featured voices this year, Ibram X. Kendi, a professor and award-winning author of several bestselling books including “How to Be an Antiracist” spoke during the Monday Mainstage event. Each day, the mainstage events had a theme such as inspire, include, empathize that connected with each featured speaker throughout the week.

Making choices for professional learning and networking!

I was impressed right away once I had a chance to interact with the platform, prior to the start of the conference. I looked forward to seeing how the ISTE team would create all of the learning opportunities in the virtual space. This year, the conference includes thousands of sessions with hundreds of options each day on topics such as assessment, blended and online learning, digital citizenship, emerging technologies, equity and inclusion, social-emotional learning, data privacy and cybersecurity and more.  There were some great topics and events to look forward to including esports, VR, Ted Masterclass talks and ignites! Sessions were divided into main categories which included:

Explore & Create, which offered experiences including Creation Labs, playgrounds and activities for educators to explore new ideas and tools. There were sessions grouped under the Listen & Learn category which included the Mainstage theater sessions, hundreds of panel discussions and snapshot sessions. The Participate and Share options included formats such as discussion forums, poster sessions, interactive lectures that were designed for attendees to be able to interact more with the presenters. The last type of session focus were Engage and Connect, which provided opportunities for networking and building social connections.

[image from ISTE conference site]

Finding Your Way  in a Virtual Conference

Once logged into the platform, you could navigate to your dashboard to view upcoming sessions, meetings requested, access the chat, favorite sessions and other digital resources in your digital tote. Each day attendees would receive some personally picked sessions for that day, to help with sorting through all of the hundreds of options available for each day of the conference. Similar to prior ISTE conferences, there was an email or posting on social media as well as announcements that popped up on the platform to let you know what to look forward to throughout the day. At the yearly in-person event, ISTE relies on a conference app to help attendees find sessions, locate rooms on the map, engage in gamified professional learning, add items to a digital tote and more. The app concept was fully embedded within the Live platform used for the conference which was quite amazing with all of that it offered and how robust it was.  Everything was easy to find and very visually engaging in your dashboard. 

For anyone looking to gamify their conference experience, they could go to the Game Center. Attendees joined a team, and then received points by attending sessions, participating in conversations or video meetings with other attendees, exploring the exhibits and completing daily activities and challenges.  

With so many choices, searching the program schedule for a conference of this size can be overwhelming, however this year, ISTE offered a “Learning Journey Design Desk” with live designers available to help attendees build their personal conference schedule!

Daily Conference Takeaways

For anyone who joined in the conference or just wanted a daily recap, Chris J Nesi, of House of Edtech podcast, held a live recap each night at 10pm EST and Brian Romero Smith and Valerie Lewis held a #PassTheScopeEDU After the Bell live broadcast at 6pm EST. Each night educators joined in both shows to share the sessions they had attended during the day and to engage in some conversations about all things education.

On Sunday night Chris Nesi had Dr. Quentin J. Lee, who spoke on Sunday during the Mainstage session how school impacted him and the importance of relationship building. Dr. Lee placed emphasis on communication and customer service, reaching kids beyond the screen. He said, “Build relationships and we will watch schools soar.”  On Tuesday night, I was able to join with Jaime Donally, ISTE Author, Educator and Consultant, to chat about augmented and virtual and recap our conference experience and how educators can get started with AR/VR in the classroom.

ISTE in VR. James McCrary, the incoming chair of ISTE Virtual Environments Network, and Steven Sato, organized several sessions of ISTE held in VR. To do so, they used Engage, which is a virtual reality platform that can be used for holding classes, events, meetings and more in a virtual reality environment. The sessions were held entirely in VR, and anyone could create an account and did not need any experience to participate. During the week of ISTE, there was a nightly gathering held in Engage where speakers shared about the history of VR in education and what the future might bring with these technologies. The speakers included Hall Davidson, Caitlin Krause, and Azine Davoudzadeh

Building PLN. Attendees were also able to network in a variety of ways during the conference. One option was to initiate a video or text chat in the “Connect.” Using information provided from your profile, a custom list was generated of people you should meet based. Profiled questions were focused on educational interests, preferred session formats and attendees also had to choose a team (owl, fox, octopus, and more) to participate in gamified professional development through networking activities and challenges each day. The live chat had more than 60,000 messages on Monday and so the ISTE team then created separate channels focused on topics, to help streamline conversations and also to encourage more networking. 

Playgrounds. Many of the professional learning networks held virtual playgrounds, having educators present on different topics for 30, 60 or 90-minute sessions. These took place throughout the weekends and during the week and spanned a longer period than what might typically happen during the in-person conference. One thing about a conference the size of ISTE is that it can be hard to get to all of the things. Thousands of steps logged each day by attendees, traveling throughout the conference and the post-conference events.  In a virtual event, we have less of the feeling of missing out on some sessions because we can catch recordings or we can access the content beyond when the actual event takes place. Playgrounds are always an opportunity to learn a lot of new ideas and make new connections.

Poster Sessions. A new feature was the virtual poster session which provided a very helpful template for anybody to create. During the scheduled time, presenters would interact with attendees, share additional resources and could check in with the chat throughout the week. Each poster had a demo video so attendees could learn about the session if they did not make it to the live presentation.

[a glimpse of the virtual poster session, Infographics]

Expo hall. During the conference there was a virtual Expo hall with over 300 exhibitors.  Attendees could visit each booth to watch live demos, chat live  with representatives from the tech company, quickly add resources to their digital tote and enter raffles for the chance to win prizes. The expo hall is always a space that I make time for when in-person because of the opportunity to talk with each company and see new features and devices. The platform offered a good substitute for the in-person experience.

There are benefits to conferences which offer virtual components of course, being more accessible to more educators and in many cases with a decreased cost. The variety of learning opportunities during this year’s ISTE conference were fantastic. Typical events at the conference include sessions, workshops, networking events, the expo, and poster sessions and playgrounds. One might think that it will be kind of difficult to offer the same types of events in a virtual space however ISTE provided  a great learning opportunity for educators from around the world. Being able to access the session recordings, connect with others on a global scale, set your own schedule and gather new ideas and resources all within the interactive conference platform. I really appreciated the ease of navigating the platform, accessing sessions and resources and making new connections. 

A big thanks to the ISTE Team that planned this impressive virtual event. Although I prefer being able to be in the same “space” with PLN, ISTE20 Live did not disappoint. There were learning and networking opportunities everywhere.  Hoping to see everyone in person for ISTE 2021, to be held in San Antonio, Texas in June.

**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.

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Designing Authentic Project Based Learning

Guest Post by Stephanie Rothstein, @Steph_EdTech

I hear it often, “Oh yeah, I do projects.” But doing a project is very different from Project Based Learning. Chairing a Design Thinking PBL pathway has changed me as an educator. I now look at all situations through a project application lens. A few years ago at a leadership conference, I went to a session on Project Design. The speaker explained that there are three ways to approach project design. 

When designing projects, you can be inspired by your content, you can be inspired by a real need in your own community, you can be inspired by an issue that impacts the world. 

I have thought back to this approach often as I approach project design. I find when I work with educators, that most approach projects trying to figure out how to apply their content to a project that helps students showcase their learning. But Project Based Learning means revamping this idea and essentially inverting it. So instead of a project at the end after doing the learning, it is through the project that students learn the concepts. It might not be in the order we would have planned for them, but they will learn it and in my experience will go deeper because they developed questions and created meaningful connections. 

So, what does this actually look like in the classroom? How does it actually work? I will take you through one of my English 9 projects to walk you through.

I have done Service Learning for 18 years but it was only about 8 years ago that I finally felt like this really became Project Based Learning. Based on a general interest survey on service topics, I split the class and bring them to 6 different locations. We learn about that service organization and volunteer. These students then come back and present to the class about the organization. Students in the class are able to ask questions to the student experts. After, students then pick their topic to focus on for the unit. 

Students are then organized into shared topic groups and together these students pick a non-fiction book. I have a suggested book list that has been made by local and global non-profit groups, teachers, and students. Groups are also encouraged to propose a new book. While reading their book, students hold their own book chats, record them and use them to create their own podcasts to submit to the NPR student podcast challenge. This is not “the project” and is just one part of the project design. Students also select their own individual research topic and use articles, the interview of an expert at their non-profit, and reflection on their time volunteering to help inform their research paper. 

The last part of this unit came because students asked me a question. They said, “I’m glad we volunteered 20 hours, interviewed someone, read, researched, wrote a paper, but shouldn’t we be doing something more? Shouldn’t we apply our learning and give back in some way?” After that, the real Project Based Learning opportunity was born. Students create a Give Back Opportunity that helps spread awareness, collects items to donate, or fundraises and must be based on the needs of that organization. These projects have brought about real impact. This year, being virtual has broadened my perspective on how to make an impact with this project and we will use Solve In Time Cards to Design Think their Give Back Opportunity and The Global Goals for Sustainable Development to help students think both locally and globally. This unit takes 14 weeks and closes with group presentations to the class and an invited group of non-profit panelists. 

This project approaches from all three focus areas: content, local, and global. I always knew for this project that I wanted to connect with local non-profits and that I wanted students to better understand non-fiction resources. The other layer to consider when building the unit plan is which tech skills will students build upon during this project. 

Project Based Learning is complex and is rooted in questions. It must begin with an entry experience. My “workshops” are based on student needs that they create at the start of the unit. These workshops may be for small groups or the entire class. Students still have deadlines, they still have goals, but project based learning means that groups may be at different stages of the project. I use a shared SCRUM board to help students track project progress so that I know where they are and the team understands where they are in the process. Topics for this project vary based on year and interests. And this is real life. I have had students who focus on Foster Care, Women’s Rights, LGBTQI, the Environment, Black Lives Matter, Food Insecurity, Animal Rights, Homelessness and more. It is the variety of topics that helps me know that my students are connecting individually and are able to teach something to their classmates and to me. They are all learning the skill of researching using articles, non-fiction books, interviews, and personal experiences. 

It keeps me on my toes and no year is ever the same but I am proud of the learning experiences created through deep Project Based Learning.

**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.

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Spreading ideas and empowering student voice

Communication and Collaboration: Podcasts for Empowering Student Voice


There’s no shortage of digital tools available for use in classrooms today. No matter what category of tool you are looking for, there are so many options to choose from. While this is great to have so many choices, at the same time it can be challenging to filter through them to find exactly what you’re looking for. Fortunately many of these tools offer multiple uses, beyond the traditional purpose for which they were created. Sometimes it comes down to being innovative and creative and trying some of the tools yourself, and possibly even asking students for their ideas. We always need to be purposeful when choosing technology for our students. Think first about the “why” behind wanting to include a new tool into your class. What will it enable the students to do differently and how will it promote student learning?


One area that I like to focus on each year is finding new ways to build communication and collaboration skills with students. Using different digital tools has has led to more authentic and meaningful ways for students to learn, more ways to share their ideas, and in some cases, has served as a catalyst for increasing student engagement and empowering student voice. With the new tool Synth, we can create more opportunities for students to share their learning using a platform that goes beyond a simple podcasting tool. And it is a free service for teachers to use!


Communication is key

I have long been a fan of the tool Flipgrid. After finding it a few years ago, it quickly became one of our favorites for sharing ideas, doing Spanish speaking assessments and even for reflecting on progress with project based learning. It was also used for students to give me feedback about our class and share their ideas for what we could learn about. The best part about using Flipgrid was how it positively impacted students in my classroom. I had students who rarely spoke up in class, sometimes afraid of being wrong and others just not feeling comfortable speaking in front of their peers. I noticed almost immediately that students felt much more comfortable and built their confidence as they used it more frequently. When they became more comfortable speaking using Flipgrid, the confidence that they developed transferred over into our physical classroom space as well. We have an even better way to communicate and keep building on the conversations that we’re having in the classroom as well as out of the classroom. Everyone can be involved in the discussion on their own schedule.


We hear a lot about student choice and student voice and wanting students to develop confidence when sharing their ideas and learning to interact in both the physical and the virtual learning spaces. Students who may be shy, and less likely to speak out in class, somehow developed a comfort to share their ideas when using one of these voice or video response type tools. There’s something to be said for being able to offer a simple tool, that leads to such positive and more personalized learning experiences for students.

There never seems to be enough time in the class to involve all students in the discussions or to even cover everything that we want to. Sometimes we have to stop a great discussion because the bell rings, and have to wait until the next day. This is where Flipgrid really stands out. It enables educators to open up more time for students to share their thoughts and to work independently beyond the school day. One of the best features is that you can listen wherever you are, and whenever it is most convenient for your schedule. Learning on the go!


Let’s get them talking, thinking and learning from one another

Another tool that I love using in the classroom is Synth. There are so many ways that Synth can help students and teachers. Think about some lessons that you teach where students would benefit from additional instruction to listen to at their convenience. You can create a series of Synths which give students a different explanation or offer some tips for students to follow as they are completing an assignment or working on a project. Create one for each topic and then continue to add more depending on the questions that you receive, it’s a great way to have an interactive discussion that everyone can listen to.


How about having students share an idea or teach something by creating their own Synth. This can be a great way for students to collaborate and brainstorm ideas for a topic for independent study. They could ask their peers to respond to their Synth and brainstorm ideas together. A great way to help students feel more comfortable talking through technology that will lead to more comfort in the classroom as well.


How great would it be to have your own class podcast? Where there’s not only one person leading the podcast and interviewing guests, but rather the whole class can be involved. Why not create a podcast that can be shared within and beyond the school? Set up interviews with different student groups or teachers and share the story of what’s going on in your classroom and the school community.


Synth is powerful for sharing student voice, for generating new ideas and really helping students to learn in a more authentic and meaningful way. And it is so easy to get started, I was able to create a podcast within minutes. It evens generates a transcript of your Synth.

If you are looking for an idea to use with your students, then explore Synth. Enjoy listening to the responses wherever you are and on your own schedule.



**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