Sharing Our Passions

Guest post Deidreroemer

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  

Hopping into spring with Buncee

We have been having a lot of fun exploring all of the new backgrounds and stickers and animations and definitely the augmented reality in Buncee. 

There are always so many new features being added and updates that come with it that it really makes it your one-stop shop for creation!

For anyone that hasn’t used Buncee, it is a multi-purpose content creation tool that can be used for any grade level or content area and getting started is easy by exploring the Ideas lab or choosing from one of the thousands of ready-to-go templates available

There have been some really great ideas shared this year, and I love starting the new year with some fun Buncee ideas to get my students creating and for me to create too!

First, I want to mention that there are Buncee Idea o’clock events happening in the Buncee community. You can join in on YouTube and learn how educators are using Buncee and will gather lots of ideas regardless of your role in education: classroom teacher, tech coach, administrator, anything, you can use Buncee.

Design a digital business card! Great first step in using Buncee, then you can share it on social media!

If you want some ideas to have students create current events, definitely check out the possibilities with Buncee. What I love about Buncee is that they are always adding new templates based on current and relevant events happening in the world. 

Have students create and be a space explorer!\

 So many options to choose from! Simply select “Create” and look at the newly added templates or search from the possibilities on the left! 

Some ideas to try!

Some fun things to try are use Buncee to promote reading. Whether you create or have students design a book trailer, a book summary, make a personal bookmark or one that reflects the book, it is a more engaging way to learn and share! Create some choice boards using Buncee slides and adding images with links for students to explore on  their own to learn more about a topic.

Check out this choice board from Shannon Miller!

For anybody looking to have students create and build skills over time,  you can use a Microsoft document and then embed a Buncee right into the document to make it a more visually engaging presentation. There are so many wonderful integrations, being able to directly connect Microsoft Teams to Buncee and take advantage of the Immersive Reader makes a big difference for learning. 

As students create, they can work from school, at home, or anywhere, and be able to share their work with me wherever I am. Teachers can assign fun projects for students or choose from the many ideas in the Buncee Ideas Lab

Learn about the Bunceefied student-led conferences from Barbie Monty here.

Try some of these ideas for a change! Explore the templates available in the Buncee library:

Learning reflection themed Buncees

Create a timeline of events

Design classroom signs

Create a news report

Daily journals

Digital citizenship lessons

Social media profiles

Design a digital business card

Record a video for PBL

So many choices!

Virtual lockers, class schedules, organizers, newsletters, About me Buncees and so many other options to get started with here

Updates and training!

If you’re looking for some help in getting started with Buncee, don’t miss out on the daily live training that is offered throughout the week. I also recommend  that you join the Buncee Educator Facebook community to connect with other educators using Buncee and share your ideas or look for some! 

And if you are on CLubhouse, join on Saturday mornings at 10am EST for a chat with Buncee and friends and participate in the weekly Buncee challenge from Kathi Kersznowski!  So much fun to create together!

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

Rachelle is the author of five 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,” “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.”

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

**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  

Preparing for the Future: Learning Activities

An ongoing question in education today is “How we can best prepare our students for the future?” It is now 2020. It is hard to believe how fast the past ten years have gone, as we now enter a new decade and move one year closer to 2030, a popular year for conversations focused on how to prepare our students. We need to put plans into action and prepare more than ever before, because 2030 will be here before we know it.

Thinking back over the past 10 years in education, many things have changed. Some for the better, some for worse, and some that we just don’t have enough information yet to decide. What has changed? There have been changes and disagreements about the best practices when it comes to assessment, classroom management strategies that are used at the different levels of school, the role of the teacher in the physical classroom space, whether homework should be given, and probably the most changed in the past 10 years is the role that technology plays in learning.

When it comes to technology, it’s not simply about the types of devices and tools that we can use in our classrooms. We now have access to many different types of technologies that we can bring into our schools to give students powerful learning opportunities. We can leverage these tools to engage them in more authentic and meaningful learning and foster the development of skills that will best prepare them for the future. But what are the skills that they will need, so that we know exactly what types of experiences and resources to provide for them? That is the question that we need to keep asking and actively seeking an answer to.

The World Economic Forum shared the Future of Jobs report in 2018 that provided a list of the growing skills for 2022. Here are the top 10:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Creativity, originality, and initiative
  4. Technology design and programming
  5. Critical thinking and analysis
  6. Complex problem-solving
  7. Leadership and social influence
  8. Emotional intelligence
  9. Reasoning, problem-solving, and ideation
  10. Systems analysis and evaluation

If we look at these 10 skill areas, what types of learning experiences or learning spaces can we create for our students that can address most if not all of them? Looking at these skills individually and thinking about the nature of our work, it can seem overwhelming. However, there are some simple ways to create a space where students can build all of these skills and more.

Here are six ideas to try that can help to address these skills:

1. Project-based Learning (PBL): Through PBL, students can work on building all 10 of the skills listed. Providing students with choice in PBL promotes more independent, active learning that empowers students to develop many skills. Through their work, students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, take initiative in determining their learning path and how they will share their learning, build leadership skills as they present to a public audience, and emotional intelligence as they develop a deeper understanding of global issues and social concerns.

2. Coding: Coding is an engaging way for students to work on skills of collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving and can be beneficial for building SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well. Students become self-aware as they push through the challenges of coding and will develop a better understanding of their strengths and build confidence as they experience success while working with peers. Coding promotes more inquiry based learning that leads students on their own learning journey to become creators and problem solvers.

3. STEAM and Makerspaces: Through STEM or STEAM curriculum and activities, students can explore new technologies and build core skills that they need now and in the future. Using different tools available and creating a space where students are able to explore, collaborate, and innovate will benefit them in many ways. Through these hands-on experiences, students can experience productive struggle, failure, reflection, goal setting, and work as a team to design new technologies.

4. Place-based: Through place-based learning, we offer students the opportunity to engage in the content through real-world experiences which lead to more meaningful and authentic learning. In collaboration with the school community, local businesses, and organizations, students apply their knowledge and build their skills in more personalized ways. When students have more opportunities for hands-on learning and work alongside community members, they develop a greater understanding of local and global issues and build some of these vital skills.

5. Genius Hour: Genius Hour provides an opportunity for students to explore their passions. Through inquiry-based and student-driven learning, we promote student choice and foster student agency by creating time and space in our classrooms for students to explore their interests. Whether by setting aside a specific day of the week (20% time) or time each day, experiences such as this promote student curiosity, encourage collaboration, and increase student confidence as they drive their own learning. To start, I recommend looking at the book Pure Genius by Don Wettrick for some ideas and inspiration.

6. Student-Led PD or Teacher for a Day: We can help students develop leadership skills and engage in more meaningful work by giving them the opportunity to become the teachers. During a PD session, have students share digital tools and strategies that help them to learn better in the classroom and work with teachers to build skills together. Or through a Teacher for a day activity, students make a shift from learners to leaders, helping them to develop confidence, to think critically and problem solve, and continue to build their collaborative nature and interpersonal skills.

These are just a few ideas that can be implemented at any grade level and content area. As educators, we need to take some risks with new ideas and strategies in our classrooms so that we can not only prepare our students for the future, but so that we can prepare ourselves. Creating different learning opportunities will help us to promote more student driven learning where they can build these essential skills and more that will enable them to adapt to whatever changes they will face in the future of work.

**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  

EdTech Report: Key Findings in Response to Remote Learning

education technology report

With the end of the 2019-2020 school year transformed completely and the sudden shift to distance learning, it comes as no surprise that there was a tremendous increase in the amount of technology being sought and used by teachers and students. For some, this may have even been the first time implementing technology into the classroom.

Over the last couple of years we have continued to see a dramatic increase in the number of digital tools available which can of course make it overwhelming for educators trying to decide where to begin, which tool to use and how it may best impact student learning. Having time to explore the tools and gather feedback from students is always helpful, however in light of our recent circumstances, the benefit of time to explore with our students was not an option. So as a result, many educators quickly sought to begin implementing different technologies into their classroom to facilitate learning and establish methods of communicating with students and families.

LearnPlatform, which provides educators with tools to “organize, support, and evaluate classroom technology use, improve instructional decisions, and ensure compliance,” completes an analysis of the different digital tools being used by educators and students throughout the United States and gathers all of the information to create an EdTech Top 40 list.

With the school closures and the widespread shift to online learning, LearnPlatform recently released its annual EdTech Top 40 report, which was an update to their list, to determine which digital tools were accessed most by educators and students during the past few months. The annual report, given its release date, reflects usage both pre and post COVID this year, providing an interesting insight into how usage changed across products as a result of COVID-19.

Image from LearnPlatform

The list is compiled after a nationwide analysis of the edtech tools that have been accessed the most via the Internet. The report shows the impact that the pandemic had on the types of tools being accessed and the frequency of which they were being used by educators and students during this time period. In the report, they compared the 2019-2020 academic year with the most recent findings to compile their rankings based on before and after the school closings.

Leveraging the Right Tools

In thinking about the difficulties that we all faced over the last few months of school in this new virtual learning environment, there are some positives that we can take from our experience. We had an opportunity to try something different, perhaps for many it was the push needed to explore new ideas and tools and possibly embrace some risk-taking when it came to new methods or technologies. It was also an opportunity to think about our instructional methods and reflect on our teaching practice, and to closely consider the why behind the tools and methods we choose.

For students, although it was a challenging shift to online learning, hopefully it also provided the chance to prepare them for the future by building digital skills as well as time-management and communication skills which are essential.

Key Findings

The findings in this special edition were based on 1.7 million learners and the averages were compared between pre- and post-COVID use. The tools are categorized into four groups:

  • Assessment includes tools designed for creating formative quizzes or testing online.
  • Curriculum is specific to online textbooks and supplementary course materials and ways of providing instruction to students.
  • Reference is focused on research and anything related to an online database or a news site.
  • Operational is focused on resources used by educators and administrators such as creation tools, parent communication tools and platforms, LMSs, online gradebooks, and other school and district wide communication tools and systems.

Looking at all four categories collectively, there was an average of 1,055 different edtech products being used every month during the 2019-2020 school year, which was an increase of 50% from the 2018-2019 school year, when the average was 703.

When schools closed and all instruction shifted to remote, the average number of tools used each month rose from 952 to 1,327, which represents an 89% increase compared to that of the prior year.

Operational tools comprised the largest portion, occupying 50% of the top 40. Curriculum tools comprised 37%, reference tools accounted for 8%, and the remaining 5% was for assessment tools.

In the top ten, Google tools comprised 8 of the 10, with the other two in the top ten being Zoom and Clever. Additional Google tools that made the list were Google Calendar and Google Drawings. Both Google Hangouts and Zoom were new to the top 40 list in this post-COVID edition, taking the 6th and 7th position on the list, which shows the increase in need for communication tools during the school closures.

For learning platforms, Google Classroom stayed near the top of the list and other platforms used were Canvas and Seesaw.

New tools to the list included ClassLinkEdpuzzleFlipgrid, Google Drawings, IXL MathPadlet, and Seesaw. These tools were not in the 2018-2019 Top 40 list. All 7 were new into the Top 40 post-COVID. Educators looking to create videos and also provide students with a space to record their own, likely account for the ranking of tools like Edpuzzle and Flipgrid.

Tools like Kahoot!NearpodQuizizz, and Quizlet, which are commonly used by educators, stayed in the top 40 although they moved down the rankings after school closures.

Finding the right tools to use can be a challenge. For me, the greatest challenge was in deciding how to take what I was doing in the physical classroom space and make that happen in the virtual learning space. What many of us have learned is that it is important to find the right balance for our students, their families, and ourselves when surrounded by so many options in technology. It was definitely a learning experience and one that will help to inform us as we face the upcoming school year and the unknowns when it comes to what learning and schools might look like in a few months. It was interesting to review this report from LearnPlatform to see what other educators have been using and the type of tools being used.

LearnPlatform was founded in 2014 by Karl Rectanus who continues to serve as CEO. The venture backed startup has raised $6 million from investors including Emerson Collective and New Markets Venture. In addition to being a leading source on edtech use patterns, LearnPlatform supports the Project Unicorn data interoperability initiative.

**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  

Assistive Technology: Finding the Right Resources for All Students


Finding resources for our classrooms today should seem like an easy task. When it comes to technology, there are thousands of options available within seconds by completing a simple Google search. However, with so many options, the choice can become somewhat challenging. Knowing which tools will provide the best learning experience for students and that goes beyond a simple substitution of a traditional method or teaching tool, takes time. Technology is constantly changing and new apps and teaching tools are being developed every day, especially when it comes to accessibility, there are amazing developments for individuals with disabilities. The decisions we make need to be based on selecting the tools that will enrich the learning experience and provide personalized opportunities for each student, rather than based on which tools populate the Google search the fastest.

I wanted to learn more about the resources available to teachers for working with special needs students. I felt that I did not know enough and was overwhelmed by the amount of information available and uncertain of what I needed to know. After attending a session on inclusion at a local edcamp and then doing my own research, I felt more confident in providing for my students and sharing my new knowledge with colleagues. My experience also reinforced that collectively, all educators need to prepare by understanding the different types of tools available, learning about each student’s specific needs, and being aware of how to implement these tools in our instruction.

One area that I have focused on learning more about has been Assistive Technology. Assistive technology is used to help students who have learning disabilities overcome barriers. Assistive technology can be used for many types of learning difficulties, including listening, reading, writing, and speaking, and also assist with some routine daily tasks.

Finding the Right Information

The number of special needs students in schools was estimated at 6.6 million students making up 13% of the overall school population. An interesting fact I recently came across is that from the year 1989 until 2010, the amount of time that special education students spent in general education classrooms increased by 90 percent. With 62% of the special education students being enrolled in general education classes for the majority of the day, regular education teachers must be knowledgeable of the needs of each student and prepared to provide a variety of tools to enhance each student’s learning experience.

The  ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Teacher Education Network recently focused on assistive technology for its monthly newsletter and Twitter chat. Each month we focus on a specific theme and our goal is to gather resources through multiple avenues. This supports a thorough collection of information shared with the ISTE community and our own professional learning networks (PLN).

In our February newsletter, there were several guest posts which shared information about many of the tools, strategies, experiences and best practices when it comes to assistive technology. If you are looking for organizations or people or hashtags to follow on Twitter or just some ideas of tools specific to writing skills or reading skills, you will find the newsletter to be full of helpful information and tips. While it is impossible to know everything, educators can stay current with the best practices and tools for fostering an inclusive learning environment by being part of a learning community. ISTE and its state affiliates provide increased access to resources through Twitter Chats and other forms of social media for learning.

Resources to Try

There are many tools available to educators and families to help students with the process of learning, in particular, those who may struggle with some aspects of the learning process. It is important to make sure that the tools are accessible and work on different devices and that there is a way to find tech support if needed. Here are some tools and websites for getting started. While not all tools necessarily work on each device, the majority of those listed will be accessible. There are also some really good apps available, among thousands to choose from, but these can be used in multiple grade levels and content areas.

  1. Microsoft Learning tools. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, I enjoy being part of a learning community that is dedicated to lifelong learning and providing tools and resources that promote personalized learning and accessibility for all. Through Microsoft Learning Tools, students can improve reading and writing skills through the use of the Immersive Reader, Speech to Text and Text to Speech, and improve comprehension using the picture dictionary if needed. Students simply hover over a word to see a picture representation in order to determine meaning.
  2. Read and Write enables students to interact more closely with a document by using the text to speech (TTS) feature to hear the words, use the text and picture dictionaries to understand the meaning of words, and create a summary or simplify the webpage by removing distracting ads.
  3. Artificial Intelligence – Using virtual assistants such as Alexa, Bixby, Echo and Siri can help students with physical disabilities, or visual or motor impairments have better access to information and additional learning resources without the barrier of interacting with a physical device.
  4. Assistive Tech for Reading, Writing, and Math – Some examples of tools available are Bookshare, an online database of books available to students with a documented print disability. Using a tool like Natural Reader, students can copy text or import a document, choose from a variety of speaking voices and speed, to listen, or read along as the text is read for them. Rewordify is helpful for students working on reading skills and comprehension, as it takes the text input and replaces the more difficult words so students can build on their skills. SpeakIt! is a free text to speech app available in 50 languages, where students highlight the text to be read and can then practice.
  5. Quizlet offers many options for practicing vocabulary through flashcards that include an audio component through TTS. The availability of different activities for learning and reinforcing the content offers more personalized options for students.
  6. Augmentative and Alternative Communication Tools – TapTapSee is a free app on iOs and Google Play that can identify objects once the user “taps” the screen to take a photo of an object and then can listen to the description (if Talkback is enabled on the device).  Let me talk is a free AAC app where you can line up images and have them read back as a sentence. Speech Assistant is a free medical AAC app that helps people with speech impairments create sentences by typing in words or selecting images from categories in order to communicate. 
  7. Symbo Talk is a free app with communication boards that provide a voice to those who are unable to speak for themselves.
  8. Learning and Attention Apps lists eight apps listed that offer students tools for text to speech, organizational tools, help with staying focused and even note-taking strategies through the app. Most are free and available on iOs with some available now on Android.
  9. Understood is an organization that is focused on providing resources for students and their families on topics such as learning and attention issues, feelings, school and learning, and assistive technology, as well as many other areas.
  10. Early Childhood Education Zone offers the 20 best apps for special education for students with Autism, or ADHD, and provides links directly to the App store to purchase or download the free apps.

The most important step is to always start by getting to know your students. Building relationships are the most important aspect of our role as educators. Find ways for students to interact by including time for students to work together and learn about one another. Sometimes technology is the way to do this, choose a game or find a resource online that students can engage in together. Make time to connect with families and share the resources that are being used in school so that families can provide the same support at home. Also don’t be afraid to reach out to the special education teachers in your building or even through social media like Twitter, follow hashtags such as #specialeducation#spedchat#inclusion. We are preparing students for the future and need to provide all that we can to give them the best opportunities for learning and growing together.

**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  

Learning about AI

For educators looking to get started with learning more about artificial intelligence to use in the classroom with students or parents interested in providing opportunities for children to learn about AI, I recommend exploring what is available through AI World School. There are a variety of courses available that provide engaging learning experiences about artificial intelligence and machine learning for students. Each module include challenges that are great for getting students to think about becoming creators with AI.

Getting Started

There are three flagship AI courses offered by AIWS based on age group. AI Novus is for ages 7 to 10 and provides a step-by-step introduction to AI. AI Primus is for ages 11 to 13 and in this course, it focuses on how everyone can learn AI and explores machine learning and ethics in AI. AI Meritus is for children ages 14 and above, and this course helps students to not only understand AI but also begin building AI and challenging themselves to build a portfolio that demonstrates their knowledge. In each of these flagship courses, there are multiple video lessons that focused on an overarching theme and that include modules.

Here are the components of the AI Primus course:

For example in AI Novus, it begins with covering the questions such as: What is AI? Can AI recognize human emotions? Do machines understand human emotions? What is machine learning? Each module includes videos and challenges and a quiz at the end of each module to check for understanding. With each of the courses, you can get started by trying a free lesson to better experience the types of learning activities that are included.

AIWS Micro Courses and Resources

In addition to these three flagship courses, there are other micro courses available that are divided into the three age groups and with topics ranging from the Five Big Ideas of AI, to creating with Scratch, to building an Android or iOS app, and more advanced for older students with JavaScript and Python.

Why learn about AI?

Many people wonder about the benefits of learning about AI and why bring it into our classrooms? We are interacting with AI everyday and our students need to understand what it is, how it works, the impact that it has on our lives and what AI might mean for the future of work and education. We are able to create the right learning opportunities that spark some curiosity and build skills in these emerging technologies.

By exploring some of the courses and the free play activities that are available through AI World School, we can help students and ourselves to develop a better understanding of AI and also enjoy learning together.

There are many resources available through their site for educators and for parents, articles and information and even a free to tutorial is available for parents to get started

For anyone looking for an all-in-one space to get started right away with AI and to have access to videos, rich content, additional articles and links for use in our schools, explore AI World School. Start by having students explore the free play activities or try one of the demo lessons yourself.

AI World School is a great space to find the right resources to begin adding AI into your curriculum regardless of what grade level and content area that you teach!

For more information check out AI World School here.

**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  

A Group Doth Not a Team Make

Guest post by By Chad Dumas, Educational Consultant, Author, Trainer, and Collaborator

Author of Let’s Put the C in PLC: A Practical Guide for School Leaders


#LetsPuttheCinPLC #Teams

You’ve likely heard the cliché, “There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM.”

While this is true in a literal sense, the development and growth of individual members, coupled with the development of the group, is what makes all the difference in whether or not a team is effective.

Element Three of what school leaders need to know to create a collaborative workplace environment is all about teaming. Let’s take a look at a few practical applications of what it means to build teams: Effective grouping, Focusing the work, Using protocols, and Networking.

Effective Grouping

First of all, the ideal group size is three to five; effectiveness of groups tends to diminish with six or more members.

Second, just because a grouping of staff makes sense to you doesn’t mean that it makes sense to everyone else.


Use data. Both professional practice data and student learning results.

While it may make sense, scheduling-wise or from a theoretical perspective, to group a Special Education teacher with the Algebra I teachers, or the elementary Counselor with a specific grade-level, or all of the “specials” together…it may not make sense for the purpose of improving professional practice and results for kids. Group for improving practice and for student learning only, even if it’s harder.

Further, groups don’t need to be set in stone for all eternity. Flex. Use that data. And Talk.

Here are two questions that can be helpful in talking with colleagues about appropriate groupings:

  • What does your student data show you about what their needs are? (Student data)
  • What do you need to learn in order to be able to meet those needs? (Professional practice data like observations, evaluations, and self-assessments)

These questions, openly asked and genuinely pursued, create possibilities for groupings that will build a collaborative environment, maximize the time of staff, and improve both our practice and results for students.

Focusing the work

Of course, thoughtfully and collaboratively grouping staff together is just the first step. What is the “stuff” of effective teams?

Quite simply, the focus is on improving teaching and learning. This is the filter through which we ask ourselves if we are doing the right work.

Not field trips. Not bus coordination. Not arrival and dismissal schedules.

Improving teaching and learning.

The work to improve teaching and learning can be thought of in three big areas:

  • Working, planning, and thinking together
  • Reflecting via dialogue regarding professional issues
  • Observing and reacting to teaching, curriculum, and assessment

If we are doing any of these three, while focused on improving teaching and learning, then we’re doing the right work.

Using protocols

No one ever trained us how to collaborate. And it doesn’t come naturally.

Sure, we can get along. But collaboration to improve teaching and learning? That’s a whole other realm.

One effective answer? Protocols

I’m reminded of a study from Google from a few years ago. They looked at teams in their organization and tried to figure out why certain teams were successful and others were not.

What made effectiveness was not the degrees of the individuals. Or their expertise. Or how much they liked each other.

What made effectiveness was two things: 1) Social sensitivity and 2) Equity of turn-taking.

Social sensitivity involves the ability to read each other’s non-verbal cues and then respond accordingly. And turn-taking is just making sure that everyone has a voice and that one or two individuals don’t overpower others.

In times of heightened awareness of equitable practices for students, it behooves us to also consider equitable practices with adults. In other words, making sure that all voices are in the room, no matter their color, gender or other reason someone may not be heard. And beyond simply being heard, making sure that all voices are valued as we welcome and encourage diverse views.

While social sensitivity is more nuanced and requires time, patience, and a host of other characteristics, ensuring the equity of turn-taking is a relatively simple proposition that can be solved through the use of protocols.

There are lots of protocols that can be helpful. A couple of my favorites are Trios PPPI (from the Thinking Collaborative) and The Last Word Protocol (from the School Reform Initiative).

Here are two great resources of protocols and strategies for improving our practice: School Reform Initiative and Adaptive Schools Strategies.

Before you jump in, two pieces of advice:

  • Know the protocol REALLY well before using it, and
  • If at all possible, try the protocol out with those who don’t have a vested interest before using it with colleagues.

I’ve seen protocols fall flat on their face more than once, and then this leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths. So don’t wing it.


Finally, observation can be a powerful tool.

Engage each other in observing effective teams in action. Go and visit–be a mouse in the corner and just observe.

Then reflect with each other and make changes to your own practice.

We learn a ton by seeing others, comparing their practice against our own, and then making changes to improve our work.

The Power of One

Never underestimate the power of one person to alter the dynamics of a group.

A few years ago I was in a meeting with both building principals and district leaders.

It was heated.

Whatever the topic was, passions were flying. And little movement was being seen.

At one point, a member lifted their palm-up hand in front of them and, in a calm voice, said, “So….[with an appropriate pause]. It seems as though we’re concerned about three things. First… Second… Third…”

The entire room was stunned into silence as the temperature came down, we looked at each other and said, “Yep–that’s about right”.

Had she not done this, I don’t know how long we would have gone nor how futile our efforts would have been.

While there is no “I” in “TEAM,” there are definitely individuals. And an optimum number of individuals doing the right work, focusing on improving teaching and learning, and learning from others are the foundation of high quality teams.

Question for Reflection

  • What steps might I take to increase the effectiveness of our team(s)?

**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  

Check out Genially!

Genially has been on my list of tools to check out for quite some time and I finally made it a point to get started. After seeing so many awesome presentations and hearing the conversations happening in different educator communities on Facebook and Twitter, I decided to dive right in.

As a language teacher, I love giving my students a lot of different choices for creating with the language to not only help them to build their language skills but also technology skills and also promote digital citizenship. For each level of Spanish, I often provide multiple digital options for students to explore so they can find something that sparks curiosity for learning. I’m always excited to learn from the students based on all of the unique choices they make for creating something that is of interest to them.

Where to begin

I started with Genially by choosing using one of the Genially templates that caught my attention. All of the templates available are very visually engaging and make it so easy to get started. I used the inspiration in the template to write a quick story and added some extras so that I could show my Spanish II and III students what a presentation might look like. I knew that they would be excited to try Genially, especially after their responses to seeing my story brought to life with the vibrant and colorful backgrounds, animations, GIFS, characters and more!

The first project was for students in Spanish III to create a book describing their childhood or write a fairytale. When I provide choices in platforms, they always include tools we’ve used in the past and one that is new, especially one that I want to learn more about. That’s when I brought in Genially.

What is Genially?

For anyone who doesn’t know, Genially is quite a versatile and interactive platform to create pretty much anything that you might want for your classroom. Use it to create choice boards (next on my list!), interactive images, presentations, and even digital escape rooms There are so many options for what can be added into your presentation like sound, hyperlinks, social media buttons and so much more. The best thing about it is that there are so many ready-made templates and options to choose from that it is easy and quick to get started.

What I think is so awesome about Genially is you can use it to create a class website, a newsletter, a book, a flyer, and so much more. You can add icons to each page and make it more interactive by adding in hot spots similar to some other tools out there like or even Thinglink.

What makes it really beautiful and a standout when it comes to presentations are the choices that you have with animations that enable you to bring your presentation to life. You can spend as much or as little time as you want on it, adding a variety of visual effects with transitions between the pages of your presentation. You can add videos, social media links, or even 3D images to your presentation. I love that students and educators can find exactly what they need to create something amazing with Genially.

Great for hybrid and fully virtual learning

Genially is collaborative so you can work with other educators or have students work together on the same project. Especially as we are working through challenging times with learning environments, having a space for students to collaborate and create makes a difference. You can choose from more than 1200 templates in 12 different categories, with hundreds of additional resources available including illustrations, figures, icons and so much more.

When I think about the possibilities for my classroom, my students have opportunities to create so many types of content throughout the year. Whether they make infographics for project-based learning, introduce themselves in an About Me, create a health poster, design a family scrapbook or create a flyer for a school club, these are just a few of them many ways that we use presentation tools and especially interactive presentation tools in our classroom.

Beyond my initial purpose for trying this amazing tool, I discovered that I can do a lot within one space! Create infographics, lessons, posters, presentations, quizzes, social posts, and even use it for gamification!

Students in my Spanish II class had to create a travel ad or brochure for travel to a Spanish speaking country and also write a postcard as though they took the trip. Students loved creating with Genially and being able to include so much in one beautiful presentation. I love that I have these new resources to share with students and other educators.

If you are looking for ideas, start with the templates on the Genially site. I have been planning to have students create announcements, timelines or anything that they choose to design as a way to share their learning.

Click here to try Genially for free!

A great choice for all educators, give students a chance to create!

Something else that I thought was pretty awesome was when I learned about collaboration between Genially and Flipgrid. It’s easy to find different topics available in Flipgrid’s Discovery library to get started quickly and what is also so helpful is that you can reuse the different genealogy presentations available and then make it your own.

**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  

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Rachelle Dené Poth @Rdene915 #THRIVEinEDU #QUOTES4EDU

Rachelle Dené Poth @Rdene915 #THRIVEinEDU #QUOTES4EDU

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