Digital Story Contest!

It’s Time To Write! Join the Digital Story Contest hosted by The Global Write and Bronwyn Joyce

Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month? It is a great time to join the Digital Story Contest! We can promote writing in our classroom by providing prompts to spark some curiosity and creativity and give students time to work together to brainstorm ideas for their own story. This contest is perfect for creating that spark!

As many of us are now finishing up the first quarter of our school year, it’s always a good opportunity to think about what we’ve tried in the new year, what has gone well and what is something we might want to explore next. I am always looking for ways to have my students build their social emotional learning skills, to collaborate, and definitely to get them writing more especially as a Spanish teacher. I want students to enjoy reading, writing and creating in my classroom and sometimes it requires that I provide them with some prompts to get started. Other times when they work collaboratively, they can support one another in the writing process. Literacy is important and as educators there are many ways that we can promote literacy and the development of these essential skills in our classrooms regardless of grade level or content area that we are teaching.

With November being national literacy month, there is a great opportunity for students and educators to participate and learn from not just with members of their school and school community but to collaborate on a global scale. This year, teachers can participate with their classrooms in the Digital Story Contest hosted by The Global Write and supported by Bunceee and Capstone!

Getting started

You can learn more about the contest here. For teachers that do not already have an account, you can try Buncee free for 45 days when you enter the code Globawrites1121. Once registered, choose a classroom account to get started and add students who can then write their own stories and create a book. As students develop their skills and have fun in the writing process, they will be engaged in authentic and meaningful learning that is more personalized to their own experiences. These experiences will better meet their needs and interests for writing and help them to feel comfortable as they are creating.

This contest will encourage students to write and share their work with students and educators beyond your school community. Students will have real-world experiences that will help them to better prepare for the future by seeing the relevance of their learning and sharing it with the world. Talk about promoting creativity and interest in writing!

There are three grade level categories: K-2 , 3-6, and 7-12.

In their stories, students can use audio, animations, stickers, text, video, and more to write their own stories on Buncee. During the month, there will be several events happening including three live streams with educators such as Bronwyn Joyce, Michael Drezek, and Shannon Miller who will share ideas and inspiration for promoting literacy in our classrooms.

Giving students an opportunity to find something that is interesting or unique to them and providing a chance to write a story, to brainstorm, to work together, to be creative, and to express themselves in ways that meet their interest and needs will lead to more student engagement. Learning opportunities like these will boost student confidence and will help to build relationships and a sense of community within the classroom and beyond the classroom space.

During the contest, teachers can share students’ work with their school, school community and globally. They can build a library of resources for all students to learn from and build their essential SEL skills, in particular social awareness and relationship building.

Literacy is important and finding ways that we can encourage students and support them along the way in the writing and creating process is important.

Have fun creating and entering to win prizes! Check out the prizes available:

All educators receive a digital badge that can be shared with students who participate. On December 3 there will be a livestream event, where Bronwyn Joyce will showcase the stories that were chosen as winners for each category. Prizes can include:

Join in these upcoming live sessions about fostering creative writing, literacy and community with Buncee!

Visualizing, Organizing, and Planning Your Story Ideas November 10th 7pm ET, with Bronwyn Joyce.

Fostering Connections Through Collaborative Digital Storytelling November 17th 4pm ET, with Michael Drezek. How to create and use Buncee boards to collaborate!

Building an Engaging Reading Community for All Readers

November 22 7pm ET, with Shannon McClinktock Miller. Learn how to use Buncee to build a reading community

Special Malay Session: Unleash Your Creative Writing Superpowers

November 8 at 8pm MYT, Goh Kok Ming, hosted by Rooban Arumugan

Don’t forget to check out the Buncee SEL resources and so much more in the Buncee Ideas Lab!

**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? Find these available at

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Build Skills for 2030 Now With These Ideas

Updated from a prior post for Getting Smart

The start of a new school year is a great time to think about long-term plans for the upcoming year, but also the plans we need to make for our students for years to come. Each day there are news alerts on topics such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, augmented and virtual reality, digital citizenship and literacy and their relation to education. These are the trends and terms that are already a part of our world and will become an increasing part of our future.

Beyond these technology-themed trends, we’re learning more about social-emotional learning (SEL), mental health awareness, mindfulness and trauma-informed teaching. These are important issues and educators must stay informed on best practices and ways to make these ‘themes’ part of our daily practice.

As educators today, it’s no longer about simply planning instruction with our students in mind. We also have to consider how changing technology trends and important societal issues will impact our students both now and beyond high school. How can we best prepare them to not only find success for themselves but also make an impact on others? So the pressure is on, to really consider how we can best prepare students not just for this school year, not just for life after high school graduation, but well beyond. We need to prepare our students for the year 2030 and the future. But how?

What Skills Are Needed?

A recent McKinsey report shows nearly 40% of the jobs that currently exist will be obsolete by 2030. Jobs held by approximately 15 million workers between the ages of 18 to 34 will be automated, which means that these individuals will need to continue acquiring new skills. Research shows the most common skills needed are collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking, coding, and computer science—many of which were the common skills required five and ten years ago.

We are also looking at changes in ‘who’ is doing the work. A prediction was made that by 2025, there is an expected shift to 48% human, 52% machine or algorithm making up our workforce. In order to stay relevant and to keep up with the changing landscape of work and required skills, estimates are that leading up to the year 2022, we will need an extra 101 days of learning.

While technologies will continue to evolve, some skills may not change as much. ‘Human’ skills such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will likewise retain or increase their value, as will attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem solving. Also named were emotional intelligence, leadership and social influence, which can be developed through the right opportunities to build SEL skills. Students will need these soft skills as much if not more than technical skills in order to be successful in the future.

“Communication, the ability to work as part of a team to overcome difficulties, listening mindfully and empathizing with others,” are all characteristics this College Central Network article identifies as just as important as hard skills. This means that as educators we must create truly different learning opportunities and find unique experiences for our students that will provide all of this and more. Beyond simply possessing skills like collaboration, our students need to know how to collaborate from wherever they are with anyone in the world.

Organizations and Experiences That Can Help Make a Difference

If you follow various blog series from Getting Smart, many resources are available for educators to explore best practices and ways to prepare students for the future. In particular, referring to the future of work series and the future of learning topic, we can learn more about entrepreneurialism, generation DIY, the gig economy and preparing students for the future.

We best support students by staying informed of different learning networks, organizations, and opportunities available, which provide resources for these emerging topics and trends. Here are some ways to learn more and to start making connections with real-world learning for students and educators.

Organizations With Global Reach

1. Remake Learning, a Pittsburgh-based network formed in 2007, that provides networking and professional learning opportunities for educators and offers events throughout the year.

2. Future Ready, a network started through an initiative in 2014, provides support and resources to educators and districts who want to bring about transformations in learning for students. The Future Ready framework provides seven key categories for successful digital transformation with students at the center.

3. StartEdUp Foundation, formed by Don Wettrick (@DonWettrick), is an organization focused on innovation and fostering an entrepreneurial mindset. Through StartEdUp, Don wants to create a “new normal” for students. Listen to Don’s podcast with Tom Vander Ark on teaching entrepreneurship and the benefits for students.

Experiential Learning and Different Learning Experiences

1. Career Technical Education (CTE) offers students an opportunity to build academic and technical skills by exploring career options while in high school. Students build knowledge and develop skills applicable to many different types of work.

2. Project-based learning (PBL) is a way to promote personalized learning and help students develop many of the necessary skills for future work. Through PBL, students can explore areas of interest, and engage in meaningful, real-world learning experiences.

3. Teach SDGs promotes global understanding by providing resources for educators and students on issues faced around the world. The United Nations identified 17 areas related to sustainability and finding solutions to these issues by 2030. Students can explore global issues and focus on finding solutions on a local scale.


1. One Stone is a student-led nonprofit that empowers students through experiential learning, entrepreneurship and a goal of reinventing the learning experience. More than two-thirds of the One Stone board are students.

2. NExT: Network for Experiential Teaching and Learning is a platform to connect students in grades K through 12 with experiential learning opportunities. NExT supports educators by connecting with higher education and community partners, providing professional development and other resources for educators and their classrooms.

3. New Tech Network (NTN) is a school design partner that helps schools and districts to create more innovative learning experiences for students. NTN focuses efforts around four design principles and two outcomes: agency and collaboration, and designed rubrics for these outcomes.

We can best prepare by exploring options such as these to connect our students with real-world learning within their school, community and globally. We must start by ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to explore and discover their passions. By supporting our students as they set learning goals, engage in more self-driven learning experiences and self-assessments, we will provide them with a solid foundation and diverse skill set, that they will need to be successful in the future, far beyond 2030.

The Imaginary Me

Guest post by Laura Steinbrink, @SteinbrinkLaura


As I scrolled through Twitter recently, I happened upon a quoted tweet by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon. The tweet he was quoting was making statements about him, and his response in the quoted tweet was simply, “The imaginary version of me has many wrong opinions. Here’s a sample.” Regardless of how you feel about Scott or his cartoon Dilbert, that phrase, imaginary version of me really struck me as something I could use with students. We all must handle critics at various times in our lives, and we also know that we can frequently be our own worst critics. I always work with students on positive thinking strategies as part of my Train Like a Navy SEAL SEL program, and when I saw this phrase, several ideas hit me all at once.

We’ve all had to deal with others who call us names, and those who make assumptions and judgements about us. How we handle those and the resulting after waves of self-doubt can determine current and future successes, well-being, and resiliency. I’ve frequently looked back on that old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me,” with amazement. Words certainly can hurt us. I remember a parent telling my mother, after our 4th grade music concert, that I couldn’t sing but was really loud. Those words haunted me for 30 years. As an adult, I battle them each time they crop up in my mind, but I know now that they aren’t true. I’ve sung in front of hundreds of people and have been paid to sing, and still those words make an appearance periodically. Now I know what to say to those words: That’s the imaginary me, the one who can’t sing. That’s not the real me.

So how do we use this with students? There are a lot of possibilities, but here are just a few that I’ve come up with so far.



Introduce the idea of “The Imaginary Me” during the first few days or weeks of school (or anytime, really). Find your own story of words that hurt, and then explain how those words must fit the imaginary version of you, because they are certainly NOT true of the real you. Then, like me, you might be tempted to have students share out things they have been called or assumptions or judgments that have been made about them. Don’t. As my friend, Elizabeth Merce, reminded me when I ran my idea by her, it is best not to have students share those negatives out loud in class. That kind of information in the hands of other students with whom a relationship hasn’t been solidly built yet can be very detrimental. I knew this, but in my excitement of the possibilities with this strategy, I forgot about Piggy. Piggy, you ask? Yes, for those of you who haven’t read The Lord of the Flies, Piggy is the only character whose real name we never learn. In the very beginning of the book, he tells the Ralph, main protagonist, that he could call him anything other than Piggy, which is what the bullies at his school called him, and so Piggy wasn’t known by any other name throughout the book. So, to avoid another Piggy situation in your own classrooms, let’s look at ways to utilize this strategy without giving undue power over others to our students before solid relationships and trust have been built.



After you introduce the idea of the imaginary version our ourselves to your students, you now have some options for using it as an activity. Students can think up the UNTRUE things people have said about them and then for each untrue statement or adjectives, they come up with statements or adjectives that are TRUE about themselves. Those are what you build the following activities on:

  • Word Cloud (individual or class)
  • Class word wall
  • Poster silhouette
  • Affirmation cards (use index cards & have students write ONE of their Truths on it for a class set or all of their truths, one per card, for individual sets)
  • Reflection/blog post writing
  • Graphics / comic strip stories
  • Our Truths bulletin board (anonymous)


I will likely start my high schoolers off with affirmation cards, and possibly a word cloud for the whole class first, but all of these activities are in play throughout the year. January is a great time to do some activities like this since the start of the second semester can be hard, and you can also tie it in with One Word (students think of one word that can shape, guide, or theme their new year instead of resolutions) activities. For a digital version of affirmation cards, students can use Google Slides, and then those could be combined for a class set, either all of their affirmations or just one per student. It may also help to give students a number of the UNTRUTHS and then corresponding TRUTHS to brainstorm and then use for the activities so that you can manage the amount of time and or responses for the activities you choose. Each class I have is different, so the activities will be tailored to suit the needs of those students. I will add to this post once I have examples from our classrooms, but I’m sharing the idea now so that you can also find ways to adapt it for your students. Happy new school year.


**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? Find these available at

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Poth: Building Digital Citizenship Skills with Book Creator

Sponsored post. All opinions are my own.

Each October, educators and students have opportunities to participate in events focused on digital citizenship. This year “digcit week” will be held from October 18-22. Learning about digital citizenship is important not only during October, but should be something that we focus on throughout the entire year. With such an increase in the use of technology, especially during the past school year, educators need to intentionally create opportunities for students to build digital citizenship skills in our classrooms by exploring the digital tools and learning experiences that we can provide with them.

Book Creator for DigCit!

Using Book Creator, we can create opportunities for students to become more digitally aware and literate and to be responsible in using and creating with technology. Helping students to learn to safely navigate through what has become a highly digital world is something that we are all responsible for. Students need to learn how to collaborate online, to access and share information, to create and manage accounts and protect their personal information, which are essential elements of digital citizenship.

With so many students interacting and having access to social media and digital tools, they need to develop the right skills to navigate in these spaces and be prepared to deal with any challenges or barriers that may arise. When students have the chance to collaborate and create a book together, there are many benefits. Some of the positive outcomes include building essential SEL skills like strengthening relationships, becoming more self-aware and developing a greater understanding of diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

Ideas for a digital citizenship book with Book Creator

  • Creating passwords and Internet safety
  • Using social media and responsible posting
  • Cyberbullying and how to respond
  • Finding balance on social media platforms and with technology
  • Communicating and collaborating in the online space
  • Create a book about an experience related to the theme of digital citizenship or one of the focus areas.

Getting started with Book Creator is easy!

Book Creator now has three books available to help educators get started with activities and experiences focused on digital citizenship. In June of this year, the new books were created in collaboration with Common Sense Education and are available for use in classrooms with students ages 5 through 11. In addition to using these books, Book Creator is a great choice for having students create their own books to share what they are learning about being a responsible digital citizen. Students are able to collaborate with their classmates in the digital space and learn how to post responsibly, access and use information, and build their own digital citizenship skills during the process.

Book Creator promotes more authentic and meaningful learning that helps students to build content knowledge and the essential skills they need now and for the future. All books can include audio, images, text, and video. Why not have students select a relevant topic or one of the nine elements of digital citizenship, to create a book to share with others in their school community or with global connections?


The Book Creator team worked with the Hillsborough County Public School district in Florida to design special events for their entire district. Using the Digital Citizenship Week curriculum from Common Sense Education, they created templates to use for activities which will be part of a competition. There are many important topics to choose from including: Choosing the right words, avoiding drama in the online space, social presence on the social media platforms, this is also great for educators. There are options available to use with students in grades K through 12 as well as for teachers. Everyone can use their templates which makes it easy to get started today with some digcit activities using Book Creator!

Having access to great topics and ready-to-use templates saves a ton of time! All you need to do is add the books to your library and with the “remix” feature, students and educators can really make the books their own.

Also check out the book by Dr. Monica Burns which is based on the 6 themes of the Digital Citizenship curriculum from Common Sense Education.

Join some of the events happening during #digcitweek through Common Sense Education and @BookCreatorApp. Be sure to sign up for some of the upcoming Book Creator webinars to learn more!

About the author

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

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

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

**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? Find these available at

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Mondays and Fridays at 5pm EST THRIVEinEDU on Facebook. Join the group here

Tract for Authentic Project-based Learning!

Tract for Authentic Project-based Learning! 

To create authentic and meaningful learning experiences for our students, we need to provide choices in learning. With the power of choice, students will engage more in learning while also developing essential social-emotional learning (SEL) skills that will best prepare them for the future. Project based learning (PBL) is a great way to do this. A method that works well for any grade level and content area and that provides many benefits beyond learning the content area, is project-based learning. 

Authentic PBL has been a great way to promote student choice as they explore areas of interest, brainstorm ways to solve a problem, or look for challenges that are impacting their community or the world. PBL promotes student-centered learning which empowers students to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, fosters creativity, time management, and leadership skills to name a few. When I first got started in my own classroom, I took time to learn about the elements of authentic project-based learning and the benefits for students before diving into it with my students. PBL has become a very popular topic of discussion, especially in the past school year as we have looked for new methods and tools to provide for our students that will amplify their learning potential. I have recommended that educators use PBL especially when having to transition between in-person and virtual learning environments.

Why Tract is perfect for PBL and more!

At the end of the past school year, I found Tract. If you’re looking to try out a new platform and get started with PBL, then Tract is definitely the way to go. In project based learning, students drive their learning experiences based on inquiry or trying to identify a problem happening in their community or globally, or they choose to explore an area of interest or curiosity. As they work through their research, they develop solutions, and may find additional challenges, which helps them to develop their problem solving and critical thinking skills. In PBL, students explore topics that are meaningful to them which then leads to greater student engagement and content retention.

Tract is a great space that provides teachers with what they need to get started with PBL in their classroom in a way that amplifies student choice and voice in learning.

Looking through the platform, you will learn that Tract is a web-based application, which means that teachers can access it from any device. Students become the creators and through Tract they have a space to share what they are learning. Throughout the process, they have fun with the gamification aspect of Tract by earning coins and giving awards through the Tract platform. Most of the awards available are digital and are things that will benefit others.

Beyond the classroom

Besides using Tract for project-based learning, it is a great option to use as an extra activity for students to explore on their own or for a school club. It would also work well for doing genius hour with your students.

Why Tract is different 

Unlike other platforms, students are in the lead and determine their path and pace.. Students can dive in and take classes that are already made and taught by students or they can choose to become the creators and design their own classes for other students to take. Teachers shift from being the sole creators of content and give students the opportunity to become leaders in the classroom and design their own learning experiences and even better, to share those experiences with others. Students can start with the 7-mission, self-directed learning path and will soon be creating and presenting their own  video lessons. What I really like about each class that is available is that it gives the overview and some guiding questions, it tells you what the subject or relevant areas are and the difficulty level is included. It also tells you a little bit of information about the creator so that you know their background and experiences and when you click on the about me it also links to other classes available from this same creator. Each class has missions to work on and as students complete it then they move on to the next mission.

To get started you can use my access code RACHELLE to try out the platform. Be sure to look at some of the many examples available and the different topics available for students to choose from.

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

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

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

Choosing the right technology to encourage parental engagement

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Guest post by Al Kingsley @AlKingsley_Edu

Schools know that the more involved parents and carers are in their children’s learning, the more effective that learning will be. The benefits are numerous, with positive effects on students’ behavior, motivation, attendance, and achievement – and a parent’s engagement with their first child’s learning also brings benefits for siblings.

Tech provides the way in

EdTech opens the door as far as parental engagement is concerned and, in many ways, creating a digital connection with all parents and carers (the hard-to-reach group included) can be easier than trying to encourage face-to-face interaction at school or from the classroom.

With the complete change to the education landscape over the last 18 months, parents of elementary-age children have had to take on a much more active role in supporting learning at home. It hasn’t been easy. Nor has it been for educators, who had to adapt with lightning speed to delivering lessons, activities, and resources online, as well as remaining in the classroom to teach the children who were still in attendance. However, a valuable lesson they have learned in terms of technology is that ‘less is more’ – and becoming familiar with just a couple of EdTech tools and then using them to their full capability is much more productive than using multiple solutions for different activities.

Keeping it simple

This idea of keeping it simple extends to parents supporting learning at home, too. If parents are juggling all the balls of trying to work remotely, supervise more than one child’s schoolwork, cook, clean, look after family members, and so on, making access to online resources for learning needs to be easy as possible or it simply will not happen. Elementary teachers have understood this well and have therefore used EdTech in its simplest forms during periods of remote learning, for example, by sharing resources directly from their school website or uploading videos of stories and activities to YouTube for parents and children to watch together.

For families struggling to get themselves and/or each child online during normal school hours, technology means that the learning resources supplied by the class teacher can be used and accessed at different times. Providing this flexibility lifts the burden of having to be online for school at a set time (impossible for those sharing a device anyway) and allows the parents and children to better engage with activities perhaps later in the day, the evening, or at the weekend when there is less pressure and more time to explore them together. Having these as prompts to talk about what is being learned is valuable for parents. It allows them to engage with and support their child as they learn – and involves them to a greater degree than if their child were simply in school.

Join the conversation where it takes place

Social media is a valuable tool for schools, not just because of its widespread use but also because it can help to give its users a voice that they may not feel they have the right to use in person. With millions of people using it every day, it is technology that parents are both familiar and comfortable with.

Schools can capitalize on this by choosing dedicated EdTech apps with a communication element that prompts and supports conversations; ones that parents will find intuitive to use because they are modeled on familiar technology. Even starting with short exchanges when a child has achieved something good can help to create a sense of pride for them and the parent – a positive experience for everyone that forms the basis for further communication.

Parent-Teacher conference

The time teachers most want to talk with parents is at parent-teacher conferences and, of course, during the duration of the pandemic, face-to-face meetings have not been possible.

However, many schools are now using digital solutions to allow meetings to be delivered virtually. This offers several benefits. From the school’s perspective, it allows the evening to be measured with fixed times for each parent, prevents appointments from running over, and ensures concise and clear sessions with each one. And for parents, using technology solutions means they can talk to their child’s teacher wherever they are, and they will know exactly how long it will take.

Much of the feedback from schools is that these virtual sessions are reaching more parents and are even preferred by some, as they feel they’re having a more private conversation than they typically would if they were sitting at a group of tables, for example.

Moving forward

What have we learned about encouraging parental engagement during this time that we can take forward?

Having found success with easy-to-access resources for parents and students from school websites and YouTube, schools will hopefully bring these into play for snow days and revision sessions and the like, so that teaching and learning can continue uninterrupted and any potential loss of learning is minimized.

When schools are choosing new EdTech to implement, such as social-media-style apps for observing skills in the classroom, I think they will be more mindful of considering the parental part of the equation and how easy they will be for parents to use to support and contribute to their child’s learning journey.

And let’s not forget social media itself as a tool to support connection and conversation. Until now, some schools have hesitated to embrace it fully, perhaps put off by its immediacy. But both WhatsApp and Facebook are heavily accessed by parents, so, with careful use and good digital safety policies in place, this is a logical way to reach out.

At the heart of encouraging digital parental engagement is enabling them to do so easily. And now, after supporting their own children’s education themselves, many parents have a new-found respect for the job that educators do and this, in itself, will prompt a higher level of communication, at least for a while, giving schools the chance to develop those valuable connections and build on them for the future.

Tech tips

Tips for successful use of technology for parents:

  • Make it easy for them to become involved and invested in their child’s education by choosing simple, intuitive technology solutions to communicate and share achievements.
  • Minimize digital barriers by requiring them to only use one or two carefully chosen EdTech apps for communication, alongside regular social media.
  • Maximize your school’s social media use and go to where the parents are. Parents use it all the time and understand it well. Even if you don’t hear back from everyone in a Facebook class group, they will likely read the messages and remain informed.
  • Use a variety of messaging media. It’s easy to upload text notices to your website, however, video messages can speak directly to every parent and may also be easier for those with English as a second language to understand.

About the author:

Al Kingsley is the author of “My Secret #EdTech Diary”, Chair of two MATs, Chair of his local Governors’ Leadership Group, and is a member of the Regional Schools Commissioners Advisory Board for the East of England and North London. Connect with him on Twitter at @AlKingsley_Edu.

Blended Learning and the Flipped Classroom

The transformation of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guest post by Dr. Matthew Friedman, @mfriedmanPGH 

School administration and educators continue to face a daunting task in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: how to educate students without a classroom. As many schools remain closed, educators rely on Google Classrooms, Zoom, and other online platforms to connect with students. 

Although the pandemic has caused an incredible strain on our society, it has also opened doors for the growth of blended, online and outside the box educational practices. More than ever, people are relying on technology to learn. With the ongoing transformation of blended and online learning, we step further away from the traditional education model and towards a future where students are more active participants in their learning process. 

While the online learning environment has some imperfections and no one is safe from things like Zoom fatigue, the rapid shift to blended and online learning environments has highlighted the resiliency of teachers and students and showed us how beneficial these strategies can be. While much of the future remains uncertain, it seems blended and online learning are finally here to stay. 

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning is an educational strategy that uses online and technology-based material to support traditional in-person learning. A 2010 study from The U.S. Department of Education found that blended learning strategies yielded better results than classes that solely used in-person strategies. What exactly qualifies as blended learning is still a topic of debate among scholars, but there are a few models that have been recognized for their positive impact on learning:

  • Rotation model: students rotate stations on a fixed schedule, moving from technology-based stations to face-to-face time with their teacher. 
  • Face-to-face driver model: students use technology-based materials on a case-by-case basis. This helps teachers deliver personalized instruction, allowing students to progress at their own pace using technology in the classroom. 
  • Flipped learning model: students complete readings, join online discussions, and conduct research at home before meeting in person at school to further discuss content. 

While the amount of time students will spend in the classroom this year remains uncertain, concepts such as flipped learning seems to offer the most effective model for students and teachers. Flipped learning centers the student as they take on a more active role in their learning process. Unlike the traditional teacher-centered classroom where students show up with a ‘blank slate’ to be filled by the teacher, flipped classrooms require students to study new information online before coming to class. Then, the teacher can give support as needed and dive deeper into the topics.

Many teachers have used the flipped classroom model, especially during the pandemic when students were only coming to school part time. It’s been a great strategy for teachers during the temporary shutdowns, but will this model simply be a tactic for getting through the pandemic — or will this be an instructional model for our future? 

The flipped classroom has actually been in practice long before the pandemic changed life as we know it, and its success implies that it will be a popular model of education for years to come. So, what do people love about flipped learning? First, flipped learning is an opportunity for students to learn how to self-regulate. Flipped learning also teaches students that information is widely available via technology and the internet. Teachers also love the flipped classroom’s ability to provide multimodal content to students; content can be shared in the form of videos, readings, recorded lectures, discussion boards, and interactive labs. 

For many students, the opportunity to introduce themselves to new information at their own pace is a welcome change from the in-person learning style where content is delivered to students at the same time, at the same pace. Teachers can also appreciate the ease at which personalized learning takes place in flipped classrooms. 

But no instructional model is perfect, and we can’t ignore the imperfections of flipped classrooms. The biggest issue facing flipped learning is socioeconomic variation among students; not all students have access to the technology needed in order for flipped classrooms to work. Another obstacle are the differences in students’ personalities; those who struggle to self-regulate and work independently will quickly fall behind their peers. 

The pandemic has challenged much of what we thought we knew about education. We now, more than ever, understand the importance of helping students learn to teach themselves new information and regulate their learning. We also know that in well-planned structures, learning happens outside of the classroom just as successfully as it does inside the classroom. Personalized learning has helped students find that success and  technology has a lot to do with that success. 

Yes — this pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges public education has faced. As educators and people passionate about education, we have to look for learning and growth opportunities in these challenging times. When it comes to education, not only have we learned how to get through the pandemic, we’re also discovering the benefits of non-traditional learning methods. 

With a new school year upon us and a new variant of COVID-19 spreading through the country, consider the challenges that we have faced and the growth we have made as we continue to re-envision what education truly looks like moving forward.


Dr. Matthew Friedman serves as an Assistant Superintendent at South Orange Maplewood School District. He has over twenty-three years of experience in public education and has spent the last eighteen years in administrative/ leadership roles, including Assistant Principal, Chief Academic Officer, and Assistant Superintendent. Dr. Friedman has extensive experience in post-secondary education, teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, acting as a Supervisor for the university statewide teacher certification program, and serving as a dissertation chair in the graduate school of education.  Recognized as a visionary leader and educational innovator, he frequently provides educational consulting services on a national level.  In his work, Dr. Friedman is passionate about creating learning environments that foster transformation, designing innovative learning experiences for all learners, curating personalized professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators, and community building within schools/districts. 

Preparing for the Future: Building Interest in Computer Science

virtual learning experiences

image via Getting Smart post

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been discussions focused on the need for computer science curriculum in schools. During recent Twitter chats and in webinars and panel discussions, educators have shared concerns about bridging the K-12 computer science gaps. There is a growing need for students to develop skills in coding and in STEM-related fields however, there are either real or perceived barriers to providing these opportunities for students.

Possibilities include, lack of resources, or inadequate staffing, perhaps not enough room in student schedules, or a perceived lack of knowledge by educators when it comes to bringing computer science into their classes. For some, it can also be a lack of confidence in knowing where to begin or a hesitancy to not start if we don’t feel confident enough, which was the case for me.

Fortunately, there are many options available for educators to bring CS into their classrooms. The benefits include promoting student agency and self-paced learning, the development of essential SEL skills, and promoting student curiosity and innovation in learning. What I believe is important is that all teachers create opportunities for students to learn about computer science, how to code, and apply coding skills to all grade levels and content areas.

Last year, I referred to the World Economic Forum, for the job outlook for 2022. The report shared the importance for students to develop skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. The need for STEM skills will continue to increase as we see new and emerging technologies develop. A prior projection was that 3.5 million STEM jobs will need to be filled by 2025.

In addition to STEM skills, students specifically need exposure to computer science. I recently took one of the newer Microsoft Educator courses on computer science and it also shared some interesting statistics. It stated there will be 49 million more digital jobs created by 2025 in fields including AI, cybersecurity, and data analytics, which will require students to have computer science skills.  Families are also in support of bringing more computer science into our schools, as a Gallup poll from September 2020, reported that 69% of parents and guardians in the United States expect schools to integrate computer science into the curriculum.

As educators, we need to have resources available that enable us to build our own skills but that also provide students with personalized learning opportunities to explore computer science and find something that meets their specific interests and needs. The goal is to better inform students and hopefully to spark curiosity for learning and lead our students to become creators and innovators.

Here are six resources to explore that will give students a chance to see how computer science impacts our world and build their skills in a variety of focus areas.

Amazon Future Engineers: An interesting opportunity for students to learn how computer science, engineering, algorithms, and machine learning are used in Amazon’s fulfillment centers. There are options to take a tour focusing on computer science, or to interact with an Amazon tour guide or to sign up for a one-hour learning experience. There are many resources including slides and activities aligned to the computer science standard available in the Teacher Toolkit. This provides a real-world learning opportunity for students. Teachers can register for tours that will continue through July 1st. This is a good option for in-person or remote learning.

AI World School: Offers a variety of courses and resources for learning about STEM and coding. In addition to three flagship AI courses, there are several micro-courses available divided into the three age groups and with topics including creating with Scratch, building an Android or iOS app, and more advanced options such as JavaScript and Python coding for older students.

CoderZ: A cloud-based STEM learning opportunity, where students can code 3D robots. There are different courses available through CoderZ including CoderZ Adventure for ages 6 through 10, Robotics 101, a self-paced program for ages 11 through 14, Summer Robotics 1 or 2 for ages 11 to 14, and Python gym for students ages 15 and older. It has 3D simulations of robots, students can write and test their own code, and teachers have access to self-paced curriculum and teacher guides. Students receive immediate results of their work which is great for in-person or remote learning. CoderZ integrates with Clever, ClassLink, and Google Classroom.

Grasshopper: For teachers or adult learners looking to build their own skills, Grasshopper is a coding app for beginners. The name is in recognition of Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer science. The Grasshopper curriculum is divided into topics including fundamentals, array methods, animations, web page design, and more. There are many types of coding activities and lessons available through Grasshopper that are available for free on Android and iOS as well as for desktop use.

Kubo coding: A good program for starting with elementary students specifically grades K through 5. Students can build their coding skills through a tag tile programming language which is a puzzle-like coding concept. Kubo Play is a new simulation tool that works well for a blended learning experience by giving students hands-on coding activities and 300 tasks that cover ISTE standards for coding.

Mblock: Easy to get started with coding by choosing to code with blocks or code with Python. They have featured coding products and additional resources such as online coding training for Scratch, robotics programming, and Python. There are also sample projects where students can view the code and then start creating their own projects.

These are just a few of the resources to explore that will be helpful for learning regardless of whether in-person or virtual. The end of the school year is always a good opportunity to try some new ideas that will help to keep students engaged, and hopefully develop an interest in computer science. These can even be fun options to explore with family and build skills together. Check out the Family code night!

**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? Find these available at

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Facilitating Change

Guest post by Joël McLean, @jprofnb

As school principal, it is my responsibility to facilitate change initiatives based on goals and action steps chosen by my teams. As a connected leader, I have access to resources (people, information) that can help my organization implement change. But this isn’t always easy. Public education is a static organization: change is slow and often complicated. All the more reason to be proactive (anticipate), and to seek out any and all opportunities to collaborate with team members.

Translate Ideas and Vision Into Action

Being able to facilitate doesn’t come automatically. As leaders, we must continuously grow and improve our skills. By adding value to ourselves, we are then able to add value to others.

There is a quote from John Maxwell that has always rang true for me:

“Successful leaders have the courage to take action, while others hesitate.” 

A change leader must be equipped to be able to translate ideas and vision into action. Actions always speak louder than words. A leader must possess the necessary skills, training, and support to answer this call to action. I learned very early in my career as a leader that action is a key factor in gaining people’s trust, and without trust, people will not follow.

Getting People Moving

A great leader understands the need to grow others in their organization. They can’t do it alone. The 3 most important elements to develop are relationships, relationships, and relationships. A leader must discover what drives each and every person on their team. What are their passions, and how can that be leveraged? What is their zone of proximal development? As a leader, if I want to get people moving, I have to invest in them, and walk the path with them. I have to provide opportunities for them to step up as leaders. I have to celebrate their successes, but also allow them to make mistakes. This helps to build trust, and trust helps to get people moving.

Maintaining Forward Momentum

Being able to sustain change and make it a reality takes patience, faith, resilience, skill, humility, and a growth mindset. Throughout the years these have been key elements of my growth plan. Being intentional with my growth has given me the tools and the understanding that are necessary to implement and sustain change initiatives. It is what helps me to keep moving things forward.


Creating The Right Environment For Change to Work

I often make the time to stop and “zoom out” to see the big picture of where my schools are regarding change. This allows me to identify the areas we need to “unfreeze”, and target change initiatives with a laser like focus. I then identify key players within these areas and start having conversations to seed ideas and ask questions. But before having these conversations, I have to be clear about how we can improve this area, and the reasons why it is important to bring change. I offer different forms of data to help support the change initiative. Once unfrozen, I provide whatever support I can to facilitate the change.

Spreading Ideas and Challenge Positions

As a leader, I have to be ready and willing to have the courageous conversations needed to implement and sustain change. Although I can plant the seeds of change, I believe that once people are motivated, the best ideas will come from them. Intrinsic motivation can move mountains, and collaboration is the vehicle that drives positive and healthy cultures.

The culture that I want to develop as a leader is one in which we are constantly challenging positions. We need to be comfortable doing this. That is how we manage to unfreeze processes or habits in order to improve or change them. We should always ask ourselves the question: “How can I make this even better?”.

Anchoring Change

Once change has been achieved, I like to leave a little bit of “wiggle room”. We know that we are implementing change for the better, but we also know that eventually, we most likely will improve it again. Always looking to improve is the “wiggle room” that we have to allow ourselves. Therefore we can fully support a change initiative by refreezing, however I believe that we need to also provide that “wiggle room” to honour the continuous change process.

**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? Find these available at

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