Bringing PBL to Every Classroom

In collaboration with iBlocks, All opinions are my own

A new school year is the perfect time to try out different methods and tools that can amplify student learning and foster the development of essential skills. Project-based learning is a method that educators should definitely try in their classrooms because of all of the benefits it offers. According to the PBL Works of the Buck Institute for Education, PBL is “a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.” Different from traditional projects, PBL is an iterative process that requires reflection and continued goal-setting. It helps students to become more independent learners and to develop a greater motivation for learning.

When students engage in PBL, they begin to shift their focus from an end product of learning, to the process of learning itself. PBL is also a great option for addressing the 4 C’s of critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. These are the skills that students need to be successful now and in the future.

As educators, we’ve all had our students do projects, but there is a big difference between this and PBL. Years ago, I thought that my students were doing PBL, however, they were only doing projects, in a very linear and finite learning experience. It was all about the end product and did not offer students the chance to build their skills and appreciate the process of learning itself. Different than traditional projects, authentic PBL will promote curiosity, facilitate student-driven independent learning, and enable them to develop the skills to work through and reflect on the productive struggle that can come through these learning experiences.

Finding time for PBL

PBL can be woven into our everyday curriculum. We can start small and gradually progress through a PBL experience. What we want is for the experience to be authentic, purposeful and relevant for our students. When they see the relevance and applicability of their work to the real world, it boosts their engagement and motivates them because it is more meaningful. Authentic PBL will have a positive impact on their learning experience.

We have so many different tasks in the work that we do and finding extra time can be a challenge. However, there are resources available for educators to use that make it less time-consuming and easier to bring PBL to their classrooms.

Getting started is easy with iBlocks

iBlocks provides teachers with everything they need to get started with PBL and STEM lessons in their classroom in a way that amplifies student choice and voice in learning. 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.

With iBlocks, there are so many choices available in content, especially in areas where we want students to build skills in understanding global issues, by looking at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. With the different iBlocks available, students engage in purposeful learning and figure out how to solve some of the challenges being faced by people in the world.

The modules are student-led and teacher guided. The focus is on students demonstrating mastery in learning as they go through the process of self-assessing, collaborating with peers, and receiving ongoing support from their teacher. As they work through the modules, their comfort and confidence builds and they become more engaged in their project.

Deciding where to begin

Think about a topic that you cover and find an iBlock to use as an enrichment opportunity or dive into bringing STEM to your classroom. Either way, iBlocks provides you with all of the content that you need to be able to effectively implement PBL and design thinking in the classroom.

Each iBlock comes with:

  • A teacher’s guide that includes everything educators need to be able to facilitate the use of iBlocks with students. It also includes what the student workbook has so that teachers have guidance and tips to use as students work through the modules.
  • Workbooks for students which provide them with a space of their own, and guides them as they work through each module of the iBlock. Giving students a space where they can identify challenges, process their thoughts, ideate solutions and then reflect is so important for their learning.
  • Assessment materials for students to gauge understanding and develop SEL as they become self-aware and work on self-management skills during their project.
  • Lesson plans that include detailed descriptions, activities for the classroom, the expected outcomes from the lesson and more.
  • A Skills Matrix, which give the structure, the goals and the outcomes. The framework that is used offers all of the skills detailed in the Matrix

It is a 10-part sequence that ends in a Capstone project, which helps students to focus on the learning process they’ve been involved in rather than one finite experience like a traditional project. There are so many different topics involved in the experiential learning for students. It will foster Innovation, creativity and curiosity from learning

iBlocks is different

For teachers who want to dive in, they can. All it takes is a quick review of the materials and you can get right away. iBlocks offers an “out-of-the-box” experience in that it simply requires taking the materials out of the box to get started in the classroom.

One of my favorite iBlocks is the Rube Goldberg machine. There are so many benefits to having resources like this because it takes away a lot of the frustration and nervousness that can come with implementing a new method or trying a new tool. Everything we need is within the iBlock! If you take a look at all of the options available a great choice is applicable to ​STEM and ​STEM- related fields, and many will spark curiosity for learning and be really authentic meaningful, and engaging ​learning experiences for students.

Embracing the risk-taking and learning journey

If you have not implemented PBL into your classroom yet, then the start of the year is the perfect time to dive in. Don’t worry about being an expert. We must be willing to try, to fail, to learn from our mistakes and to try again. It can be uncomfortable at first, but it sets a good model for our students and helps us to continue to grow in our practice.

For teachers who are considering PBL but may be a bit hesitant because it seems like involves a lot to get started, that’s where iBlocks makes a difference. With iBlocks, teachers will realize that PBL is something they can start with in their classroom without having to worry about so many variables. It is important to take time to talk about PBL with students, find out what their interests are and then dive in together in a new learning experience. It may feel like a challenge, but that is okay because the benefits are great and it will spark curiosity and creativity in learning.

About the Author

Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior 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 is the author of sevens 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,” “Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-person and Digital Instruction” and “Things I Wish [..] Knew.” All books are available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble.

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

Rachelle is available for in-person and virtual PD sessions for your school.

**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 bit.ly/Pothbooks

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How to Motivate Student Practice with Mystery Pixel Art

Guest post by Allie Beldin @Alliebeldin

Let me start off by saying when I tried this activity with my students this past week, they have been asking me every day to give them MORE Math practice… I thought I was dreaming. I heard that using pixel art motivates students to practice their skills, but I did not realize how quickly it worked. I tried this activity with my remote and in-person sixth-grade Math students and realized that this was an activity that could also be used for skill differentiation and classroom management. You will need to log in to your Google account and go to Google Sheets to see how this works. The free template can be found at the end of this post. See what the activity looks like in action in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/embed/aepRWBEPr1g?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparentHow It Works

For a differentiated activity, create a Google sheet with three tabs at the bottom. Label each tab “level 1,” “level 2,” and “EXPERT level”. Students will want to find the mystery picture for each level to reach expert level.

To help with your classroom management, tell your students that each week you will be picking a student of the week. When they complete the pixel art activity, you could use the student of the week’s name as the mystery picture!

https://www.youtube.com/embed/pP4V3w6c1eo?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparentHow to Add Your Own Questions to the Template

https://www.youtube.com/embed/zj7D94PNSl0?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparentHow to Change the Mystery Picture on the Template

If you want to create your very own mystery pixel art activity from scratch in less than ten minutes, watch the video below. Before learning how to create this activity, I had hardly any experience with conditional formatting on sheets. At first, I thought making this activity would be too overwhelming, but I quickly realized you only had to know use one “formula” on Google Sheets.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/yIuVBCQbKFo?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en&autohide=2&wmode=transparentHow to Create This Activity from SCRATCH

Do not forget when you are adding your own questions and you are using words as answers you will have to put quotations around the words in the formula. If your answer is just a number, you will not have to use quotations in the formula.

If you would like the free template for this activity click here!

Have you made any mystery pixel art for your students? Show me what you have made! I would love to see what you have made!

@ALLIEBELDIN

Helping students to demonstrate learning in more than one way

Updated prior post on NEO

As educators, we must provide a variety of options for students to develop their content area knowledge and skills in ways that meet their interests and needs. When choosing methods and tools to use, it is also important to create opportunities for students to develop social-emotional learning (SEL) skills, as they are essential for personal and professional growth.


Read more: Fostering the development of SEL skills in your classroom


Our decisions need to focus on helping students by designing assessments and ways to show what they have learned while also promoting voice and choice in learning. Depending on the types of methods and tools we use for our assessments, they must help students identify where they are on their learning journey and provide us with evidence of student learning that we can use to further give feedback and additional resources for our students.

Some questions to consider when deciding on methods or tools can be:

  • How can we promote more interactive and collaborative experiences for students?
  • Which tools assist us by providing access to real-time feedback?
  • What are some ways to promote more student choice in learning?

In addition to the traditional homework assignments, projects, and tests that we use to determine where students are in the learning process, we have access to more tools and methods than ever before.

For several years, I have enjoyed doing project-based learning (PBL) with my students and recently learned about Tract (use code RACHELLE to try), which offers so much for educators and students exploring PBL in their classrooms.


Read more: 10 DOs and DON’Ts in Project-Based Learning
I recommended PBL often during the past school year, as it could withstand transitions between learning spaces. As educators had to seek new ways to assess students and provide opportunities for them to share what they were learning, ask questions, interact, and feel connected to a classroom community, many sought digital tools. Technology has provided many options for learning and enables educators to find something that meets each student’s needs and interests, and sometimes even their comfort level.

It is important to convey to students why we choose a certain method or digital tool for use in our classroom, and doing this helps us stay focused on our purpose. Consider how the method or tool will enhance learning or provide more benefits for students beyond being a way to practice the content or take an assessment.

5 Ways that edtech can help students to demonstrate learning

The use of digital tools promotes collaboration, communication, creativity, and many more essential skills while also boosting student engagement in learning as they have the power of choice in how to share what they have learned.

Here are five ways for students to demonstrate learning.

  1. Blogging has been effective in my Spanish classes for years. The digital tools available make it easier for students to have a space to build their writing skills as they share ideas with their teacher and possibly their peers. Having students engage in blog writing also helps promote the development of digital citizenship skills, especially if they have the opportunity to respond to classmates and provide feedback. One option that has been great to try with my students is Spaces. Using Spaces promotes communication and collaboration between teacher and student, or it can also be between students and include audio. Read more: Digital reflection tools your students can use in class
  2. Data visualization. being able to process information and create a representation of new concepts helps students better retain what they have learned. For visual learners, using tools to create a concept map or an infographic can help process a lot of information. With tools like Canva or Piktochart, students can choose from templates available to help them get started with designing an infographic. These tools and others alike promote critical thinking skills and creativity as students decide how to best illustrate what they have learned. There are also options for students who prefer not to use technology, such as drawing a concept map or creating a sketchnote to capture what has been learned.
  3. Digital storytelling. Whether at the beginning of a new unit or at the end, having students create something using one of the many available digital tools will help them share their learning in authentic and meaningful ways. For example, you can opt for the many uses of digital storytelling or encourage them to make a video. My students enjoy using tools that offer multimedia options and libraries full of choices in characters, backgrounds, animations, and more to tell their stories. Some of our favorites include BunceeBook CreatorGenially, and Story Jumper. With several of these, students can even work together to create a presentation or a book to share with classmates. Read more: 6 Digital storytelling tools for hybrid learning environments
  4. Game-based assessments. You can encourage practice and be able to provide feedback and more targeted lessons by using some of the digital tools available to do a pulse-check for where students are in the learning process. We can implement some hands-on games through flashcards, gestures, conversations, or leverage game-based learning tools, such as BlooketGimkitKahoot!Quizizz, and Quizlet Live!. Each of these tools offers a variety of question types or modes of play that will connect students with the content and provide us with real-time data to help plan our next steps and give meaningful feedback to our students. Read more: 5 Awesome online tools for game-based learning
  5. Interactive lessons. Using tools that promote student engagement through the variety of content and activities that can be added to the lesson helps educators better understand student progress and enables students to build self-awareness in learning. With tools like EdpuzzleFormativeNearpod, or Pear Deck, educators have many options for adding in content and activities to help students build their skills. What I really appreciate about tools like these is that we can provide students with a variety of ways to demonstrate their learning through open-ended responses, polls, multiple-choice questions, quizzes, and more, depending on the tool. Read more: Assessing with multiple choices instead of multiple-choiceFormative was a game-changer in our classroom last year because I could use it to create lessons with videos and audio instructions that students could work through at their own pace. I could also use it in class for assessments which enabled me to provide timely feedback directly to students and adjust my lessons as needed. These options enable us to differentiate our instruction while promoting student choice in voice and learning.

Wrapping up

These are just some of the many ways that we can have our students demonstrate what they are learning. Whether through technology and the many tools available that facilitate communication, collaboration, and creativity, or using traditional methods, it is important to offer choices to our students.

When we can provide options that promote agency in learning, it leads to more meaningful experiences that promote the development of essential skills for the future and empower students through self-driven learning.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

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Work-Based Learning

In collaboration with @x2VOL

Work-based learning, internships, Co-Ops, and other work-based school programs are becoming extremely popular optional programs for students to take advantage of. Along with participating in community service, being in a work-based learning or internship program is an excellent learning opportunity and provides diverse opportunities outside of the classroom that improves student outcomes.

The Increasing Popularity of Work-Based Programs

While work-based programs are rarely required, they are becoming increasingly encouraged within schools. As many students seek out work and internships for varying reasons, schools and districts offer class credit and additional recognition. States even offer incentives for students.

For example, in the state of Florida student work hours are now accepted as part of the Bright Futures scholarship program. Historically, the Bright Futures scholarship has been based on students participating in community service. However, Governor DeSantis recently announced that work hours can now count toward the requirement for the Bright Futures Scholarship that many Florida students take advantage of each year. 

In Arizona, schools across the state saw increased graduation rates amongst students that were involved in a CTE work program. Career and Technical Education programs are an excellent option, especially for students exploring various trade careers. These programs are increasing in popularity and support improved student outcomes. In fact, one Arizona high school reports that 45% of their student body is enrolled in a CTE course

College and Career Readiness Schools and districts often structure their programs a little bit differently, however, participating in work, internships, career, and technical education, Co-Op, work-study, or similar programs offer students opportunities to set them up for future success. 

Whether a student chooses to pursue a four-year university after high school, attend a trade school, or move straight into the workforce, there are valuable skills a student needs to be successful. These skills are developed best when a student is actually utilizing and building those skills regularly – this can be done through work-based learning programs. Students gain real-world knowledge and skills that prepare them early on for what life after high school will look like. 

Why Students Should Participate in WBL or Service

Community service and Work-based learning/internship programs often go hand in hand and are sometimes under the same umbrella in many schools and districts. While these programs or classes can have different criteria, they both have one thing in common: improved student outcomes.

In a work-based learning program students will:

  • Learn leadership skills and gain personal responsibility and accountability 
  • Gain deeper knowledge around finances and the value of hard work
  • Learn basic skills that will serve them in future jobs 
  • Explore various career paths that might have interest in

In school community service or service-learning programs students will:

  • See the direct personal impact of service to others 
  • Discover new skills and talents through diverse service experiences 
  • Learn vital leadership and communication skills
  • Widen their world-view and become more well-rounded individuals

Students emerge from these programs with a greater sense of self, valuable skills and tools, and experiences they can leverage on college, scholarship, and job applications.

While these programs are important offerings for students, managing the student data, hours, progress, etc. can be overwhelming and cumbersome. It’s important for students to have an easy way to log their service and work experience, see their progress toward goals, and have a location to write reflections about their experiences so they can leverage them in the future. 

It’s also necessary for educators to have a streamlined way of managing these programs without adding to their daily burdens and tasks. An online tracking and reporting solution makes this easier on the student and educator. 

Districts that implement work-based learning programs also have a need to report on student success. Through reports and data, district leaders are able to see where students are at, how these programs benefit students, see where to make adjustments, and report back to stakeholders. 

x2VOL comes in to meet these needs at the student, educator, and district level to support all parties in executing a successful work-based learning program.

Hear from three school districts on how they’ve implemented successful service and WBL programs and how they use x2VOL to support the tracking and reporting of these programs. 

Improving Student Outcomes

If you’d like to learn more about x2VOL and how we can support you and your students you can watch our demo here or download our free e-guide – Supporting College & Career Readiness: The simple way to manage service, work-based learning, internships, and more

Download E-Guide

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Promoting Student Choice & Voice Through Meaningful Assessments

Student choice and voice in learning are essential. It is important that we provide a variety of opportunities for our students to develop skills in ways that meet their specific interests and needs. We need activities and tools that will help students to develop content-area knowledge and skills, while also developing essential social-emotional learning (SEL) skills to best prepare them for their future.

As educators, when choosing learning activities and digital tools to use in our classroom, we must also be focused on how our choices will enable us to meaningfully assess our students. Assessments should help students to be able to identify where they are on their learning journey and offer a variety of ways for students to show what they have learned and can do. Assessments should enable us to gather evidence of student learning as they build skills in the content area, promote more engagement in learning and increase motivation for learning through the power of choice and voice. Assessment for learning helps us to keep students on track throughout our course and informs our instruction.

When planning for assessments, I ask myself a few questions such as:

What am I assessing and why?

Do my students understand how they are being assessed?

Which methods or tools will enhance my understanding of student progress and promote choice?

How will I effectively provide feedback to students?

How often do I assess and what comes next?

It is important that students understand the importance and value of assessments. Some questions that we should encourage students to ask themselves are:

What have I learned?

How did I learn it?

How do I know that I have learned?

How can I apply what I have learned to the real world?

These questions are beneficial for helping students to develop the SEL skills of self-awareness and self-management. Asking students to think through these questions encourages metacognition, which is an essential skill for student success. Through metacognition, students develop skills to connect with, evaluate and think about their learning.

Choosing a type of assessment

There are many possibilities when it comes to the format and frequency of assessments. We have traditional formats such as projects, quizzes, and tests which can be done using paper and hands-on materials. But we also have more possibilities than ever before through technology. Regardless of the type we choose, I have always believed it to be important for students to understand why I choose a particular method or tool. I always take time to talk to students about the reason behind using a certain method or tool, and also how I feel that it will help them to better understand the content or develop essential skills. When it comes to bringing in technology, consider how the technology enables us to enhance learning, provide more for students or how it empowers them to drive their own learning.

There are many ways to assess students at varying stages of the learning process. Here are five ideas to explore:

  • Brainstorm: Use a collaborative space to have students share ideas and questions that they have. Some options include using a Trello board to provide a collaborative space to brainstorm ideas or gather questions. Additional options include Lino which is similar to a Trello board, or Padlet where students could also add audio or video responses. For a simpler option, try Google Jamboard which is quite versatile and could be used for many purposes in our classrooms.
  • Learning pulse checks: Encourage practice and be able to provide feedback and more targeted lessons by using some of the digital tools available to do a pulse check for where students are in the learning process. We can implement some hands-on games through flashcards, gestures, and conversations or leverage some of the game-based learning tools, such as Blooket, Gimkit, Kahoot!, Quizizz, and Quizlet Live! Each of these offers a variety of question types or modes of play that will connect students with the content and provide us with real-time data to help plan our next steps and give meaningful feedback to our students.
  • Open-ended: Ask students to talk about what they have learned in a way that they choose. Some possible options could be using a tool like Synth or Flip which promote speaking skills as well as give students a chance to share their learning in a way that helps to build confidence. Students can also ask questions, respond to classmates and build communication skills.
  • Daily or weekly prompt: Give students a prompt or a sentence starter and ask them to compare or contrast, explain something specific that they have learned, and create a representation of it based on what interests them. Blogging is a great option because it creates a space for students to build their writing skills as they share ideas with their teacher and possibly their peers. It also promotes the development of digital citizenship skills. Using Spaces promotes communication and collaboration and enables teachers to give timely and meaningful feedback directly to students.
  • Creation: Have students design something visual to share what they have learned. There are many possibilities including the use of digital storytelling or making a video. Some tools such as Storybird, Story Jumper, or Buncee, offer many options for students to create a presentation. To represent data and information, students can create an infographic using tools like Piktochart or Canva. To promote collaborative creation, check out Book Creator. For an option without technology, encourage students to create a drawing or a sketchnote to share learning.

Beyond focusing on a specific digital tool, we can also use different methods such as choice boards, HyperDocs, or playlists, which promote students’ learning at their own pace, path, and place. These options enable us to differentiate our instruction while promoting student choice in voice and learning.

Ongoing assessments are essential for student learning. When we can provide options that promote learner agency in learning, it will lead to more meaningful experiences that promote the development of essential skills for the future and empower students through self-driven learning.

About the Author

Rachelle Dené Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Educator at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Attorney, Edtech Consultant, and Speaker. Rachelle is the author of seven books about education and edtech and a blogger. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Rdene915

**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 bit.ly/Pothbooks

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

Join my weekly show on Mondays and Fridays at 6pm or 6:30 pm ET THRIVEinEDU on Facebook. Join the group here

Promoting SEL in our classrooms

As we prepare our students for the future, we also need to make sure that we are focusing on the mental health and wellness of our students. To do this, we must be intentional about creating opportunities for students to build their social-emotional learning (SEL) skills in our classrooms. If you are interested in learning more about SEL, I would start with CASEL. CASEL provides a wealth of resources and it is where I started when I realized that I was not providing enough opportunities for the development of SEL in my classes.

I realized that although I had been creating opportunities for students to build their self-awareness, social awareness, and develop relationships, I needed to do more and be intentional about the choices that I was making. I had taken a course “Creative Expression and Social-Emotional Learning” with Buncee that is available through the Microsoft Educator Center. It is a one-hour course on using Buncee for SEL, that was co-created by Francesca Arturi and Laura Steinbrink.

Regardless of whether we are in-person, fully remote, or hybrid, there are ways to do this that don’t require a lot of time to get started. The benefit of having so many different technology tools available is that we can leverage them to create spaces where our students can feel more connected to us and to each other. We can help them to build academic skills as well as essential SEL skills. There are multiple ways to promote communication and collaboration while fostering a sense of community for students and for ourselves.

The new school year presents a great time to try new ideas or tools, especially as we look to build relationships and also boost student engagement in learning. Creating a variety of activities where students can interact with one another, engage in some purposeful learning, and have fun in the process while building essential SEL skills, will be highly beneficial.

Here are six ideas that can help with creating opportunities for students to collaborate, become self and socially aware, and stay engaged in learning. In my classroom, I quickly noticed that students were engaging more with the content, felt connected to one another even if not in the same physical or virtual classroom space. And for self-awareness, they are better able to track their growth in the language or specific content area.

1. Blooket has been a favorite every year. Students stay engaged because of the different modes to choose from. Gold Quest is their favorite because they can swap gold, and at varying points of the game, their items are reduced by a percentage. While students get a bit annoyed at this sometimes, it serves to keep them all in the game because they don’t have any idea who will end up being on the leaderboard. It promotes conversation between them and it’s fun for them to learn together.

2. Classkick.  A versatile digital tool for teachers to create lessons, assessments, or for doing a quick check-in with students. Each slide in the lesson can include images, text, and uploaded documents for students to interact with. Using the tools, students can respond in audio, text, video, or share links. Classkick enables teachers to see student work and provide individual feedback in real-time. Students can also ask peers for help anonymously.

3. Google Jamboard. Using breakout rooms through Google Meet or Microsoft Teams with Google Jamboard offers a quick way to promote collaboration and conversations. With a Jamboard,  students can work together in a collaborative space while communicating in a breakout room. Leveraging these together helps to create a greater sense of community especially if students are split between home and the classroom. In the classroom, it is still a great way to have students brainstorm and collaborate in one space!

4. Pear Deck. An interactive presentation tool that takes your Google Slides or Powerpoint online and enables you to add in activities to further engage students in the lesson. To launch PearDeck, you open your slides and choose the Pear Deck add-on, to begin adding activities to each slide. Students can respond in text, draw on the slide,  select from a list, and more depending on your account. Lessons can be instructor-led or student-paced. For SEL, Pear Deck is a good way to check in with students and through the student-paced lessons, it promotes self-awareness and self-management as students track their learning.

5. Quizizz Another favorite has been Quizizz which offers many options for creating interactive lessons. Playing in “Team mode” promotes collaborative skills and individual play helps students to better understand their learning, further developing self-awareness. Quizizz is also great for doing a quick check-in using the poll or open-ended questions with students to find out how they are doing.

6. Spaces A digital portfolio platform where teachers can better understand students and their interests helps with building those vital teacher-student relationships. A key part of digital portfolios is that they help students to develop social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. As students build their self-awareness and self-management skills by reflecting on their growth through the work that they’ve done and setting new goals for their continued learning journey. Students also develop greater social awareness through their interactions and working collaboratively with others.

Finding ways to bring SEL into the classroom does not have to be something extra added on to what we are doing. With these options, we can weave in activities that engage students in learning the content while developing these essential SEL skills.

About the Author

Rachelle Dené Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Educator at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Attorney, Edtech Consultant, and Speaker. Rachelle is the author of seven books about education and edtech and a blogger. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Rdene915

**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 bit.ly/Pothbooks

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

Join my weekly show on Mondays and Fridays at 6pm or 6:30 pm ET THRIVEinEDU on Facebook. Join the group here

Virtual Spaces for Learning

Updated from a prior post on Getting Smart

Over the past two years, we’ve had to adjust so much of our personal and professional lives. People who were not using a lot of technology found themselves using it for nearly every part of their day, whether for work and/or personal life. We had to adapt, grow and persist throughout the many changes we experienced in how we communicate and connect with others. Technology already played such a big part in our everyday lives and over the past two years, we kept schools going, kept working, we could access essential items that we needed for our homes, and probably most important, stayed connected with family and friends.

The use of video conferencing tools like Google Meet,  Kaltura, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and the many other options that are out there increased. We relied on these tools to be able to teach, learn, work, and connect. Businesses found new ways to survive and thrive in what was definitely a challenging time. Through it, new ways to work emerged, creating even more opportunities for collaboration and giving us the confidence and knowledge that we can persist when met with challenges. To do so, we need to simply explore new ideas and innovate in our practice, regardless of our work.

These spaces were not only beneficial to educators and the world of work. Thinking about the activities that we enjoy like spending time with family and friends, traveling, and engaging in activities from conferences to concerts, these technologies created a means to find some normalcy amidst uncertainties.

Impact on education

During virtual learning, so many traditional events were changed. However, schools leveraged the tech to keep them going. There were high school graduations, academic ceremonies and sporting events carried out through unconventional means. Some schools held graduations at drive-in theaters and held band and chorus concerts through live streaming or meeting platforms so that families and friends could participate.

However, even with tools like Zoom or Teams, we don’t truly get the feeling of being in the same “space.” This is where I believe that web VR tools can make an impact.

Web VR makes it possible to experience virtual reality from right within our internet browser. With Web VR, everyone can experience virtual reality without needing a specific device or even a headset. My initial experience with Web VR was through some experiments for playing games that I tried with my eighth-grade students in my STEAM course. There are many Web VR options out there that can be used for education, work, or even to explore a different way to connect with families and friends.

For anyone looking to explore virtual reality meeting spaces, depending on your role or the grade level that you might teach, several of these might work. While not all of these might be a good fit for your specific purpose, it’s good to know that there are several options out there that we can try, if only to explore something a little, and promote a discussion with our students about the potential impact of these technologies.

Here are four options that I have been exploring. Some of them are easy to get started with and the ones that I used with students didn’t require much instruction from me at all. I was learning from them faster than I probably could have taught them how to interact in the spaces.

1. InSpace Chat. The most recent one that I tried was InSpace, which I learned about after joining in a conversation about the future of education. Thinking about the future, I’m always interested to learn what opportunities these tools might bring and what we can provide for our students. With InSpace Chat, you can sign up for a free 2-week trial and set it up to use it with one class with breakout rooms or set up an event that has four different rooms. You can set different backgrounds in the rooms, screen share, play a YouTube video, have a chat, and more. As you move closer to people in groups or in the room, you can actually have a conversation, which I think takes it to a higher and more impactful level than using some of the traditional conferencing tools. I created an account, got started very quickly, and was impressed with what it offered.

2. Mozilla Hubs. With Mozilla, you create a virtual meeting room. You have an avatar to represent you and can interact with students or with other educators, in a way that is different from being in our standard class or school meetings. It is a space where 3D objects and other content like PDFs and videos can be shared. What I like about this also is that for anyone who prefers to not have the camera on, they can be represented by an avatar and be involved in a class but in a more visually engaging way. You can even upload images or take photos with you and the other  “people” in the space. It was a fun experience with my eighth graders.

3. Kumospace. I’ve heard about it a lot and dove into trying Kumospace last year. Kumospace is not specific to education but you can create a customized space for use as a library space, for gatherings in places such as a rooftop restaurant, and other spaces that enable you to feel like you are meeting in a more authentic way. Choose from the different backgrounds available and be able to feel like you are meeting in a real classroom or in an office, it just gives it a different experience With spatial audio, you can have clear conversations with others, and with the live video feed through your avatar, be able to see and interact with others in a more engaging way.

4. Frame VR.  Probably the most complex but again as with the other options, it does not take too long to get started or at the very least, to experience what it offers. My first time exploring this was with my friend Jaime Donally. Frame VR enables you to design a more immersive space for collaboration that can be experienced through your web browser, desktop computer, mobile devices, or using a VR headset. In “Frame”, you don’t need to download any app and you can simply share a link with others to join, and do a presentation which includes sharing a whiteboard or screen sharing, engaging in conversations, and more. With the photospheres, you can provide virtual field trips or tours. You can also import and play audio files that those who join in can hear.

With each of these options, you want to learn more about the options and of course, make sure you can use these depending on the grade level you teach. The best we can do is inform our students about these tools because they may need to learn or interact in one of these web VR spaces. To best prepare students for the future, we need to give them experiences that will likely be part of their future in education or in the workforce.

About the Author

Rachelle Dené Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Educator at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Attorney, Edtech Consultant, and Speaker. Rachelle is the author of seven books about education and edtech and a blogger. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Rdene915

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