Take A Knee


I beat Colin Kaepernick to the knee by a cool twenty-six years. 

Before the former 49ers quarterback literally took a knee during the national anthem to raise awareness about police brutality and social injustice, I had already begun the practice, albeit for a far less political purpose. 

As a waiter at a local Pizza Hut, I started the unorthodox practice of taking a knee when I took orders. Regardless of who was in front of me, I just thought it was easier, and more comfortable, to take a knee and write the orders on my pad while leaning against the table. For me, it was about ergonomics because standing and writing were awkward, and because I have terrible handwriting, I needed to lean on something to ensure I would be able to understand what I wrote minutes later. 

At one point, my boss called me over and asked why I took a knee. I explained, and he just looked at me and said, “But it looks weird. I’d rather you stand up.” 

Now, at 19, I wasn’t about to make a stink. He was my boss, and I needed the part-time job. Still, as I look back on it, what difference did it make? I would argue my customers appreciated me meeting them on their level instead of making them look up at me like some deranged, pizza-wielding, megalomaniac. 

A few years later, as I started my teaching career, I took a knee all the time. When I would stop by a student’s desk to offer feedback, redirect, or check in, I would take a knee. Now, in year twenty-four, I still find myself on bent knee, despite one of them being ravaged by arthritis and a torn meniscus, and I make sure to start on day one. 

Whenever I meet our new kindergarteners during summer meet-and-greets, I always take a knee when I offer my hand to introduce myself. The action has become as involuntary as a sneeze; the reaction from kids invariably features disarmed smiles and enthusiastic high-fives.

As conversations in education continue to focus on equity and access, we need to be mindful that our students first associate equity with their access to us. Providing a model of those two complex concepts ensures kids can see and feel each Immediately. 

But it’s much more powerful than that when you consider that children are forced to look up to grown ups as a matter of course, their little necks perpetually craned to get our attention. Taking a knee flips that script in such a way that balances power, something children experience rarely. 

Ultimately, we are all just grown-up versions of the children who once had to look up to people all day. Some of us still do. But no one should have to. 

Take a knee. 

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So you’re rolling out MTSS

What is MTSS? The basics

Guest post by Bonnie Nieves in collaboration with Class Composer

A Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) is a framework designed to meet the needs of each and every learner in a school district. According to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015), a multi-tiered support system is “a comprehensive continuum of evidence-based, systemic practices to support a rapid response to students’ needs, with regular observation to facilitate data-based instructional decision-making.’’ This is accomplished through three tiers of support: universal, targeted intervention, and intensive individual support—each with academic, behavioral, cultural, and SEL components. Teachers need access to this information in order to best provide for all students.

What is the difference between MTSS and RTI?

It is essential to note the difference between MTSS and Response to Intervention (RTI). RTI was a result of the reauthorization of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 and was designed to focus on identifying and supporting students who have specific learning disabilities. MTSS is built upon the belief that systems such as schools and districts themselves have disabilities in their systems that can prevent students from learning. The goal of MTSS is to have support and resources in place so that they may be seamlessly put into practice as a result of data-based monitoring. MTSS implementation is rooted in a benefit mindset. It uses tools that most schools currently have and views them with a new lens that sees the system as the component that needs to be fixed. This is very different than the traditional support systems which force students to fit into standardized systems.

Getting started with MTSS

The first step in the implementation of MTSS is to take an inventory of current methods of academic, behavioral, and social-emotional instruction and the current supports available from administration, teachers, counselors, non-academic staff, families, and the community. The identified supports are then divided into tiers.

Tier 1: Supports provided in the universal curriculum to all students.

Tier 2: Supports available to some students in need of targeted support.

Tier 3: Supports provided to students in need of intensified support.

With a current matrix of supports, schools can easily identify gaps in their support for students at various levels. For instance, there may be extensive resources available to some students who are in need of additional behavioral instruction but limited support for the few students in need of intensified support. This may prompt a search for community partners to provide wraparound services. If a school discovers that there are numerous interventions in place for tier 2 targeted academic support in Mathematics and few for universal curriculum, they will be prompted to explore tier 1 measures that can be taken to decrease that need. Decision-makers shift their thinking from deficit thinking “What interventions help students who are unsuccessful?” toward a benefit mindset “What do students, teachers, and schools need in order to be successful?”

Benefits of MTSS

When new initiatives are rolled out in schools, there is sometimes an immediate eye roll from exhausted staff who have seen numerous variations of similar themes roll in and out over the course of their careers. MTSS has the potential to be a transformative system-wide framework that supports students and staff by reimagining existing routines, resources, and interventions. This does not necessarily mean additional work for individuals but may involve a shift in mindset in order to identify and implement high-leverage practices for academic, behavioral, and SEL instruction. It will behoove an administration to approach the implementation of MTSS with care. Build teacher buy-in by ensuring that teachers view it, not as a repackaged version of an earlier, failed initiative, but as a more effective method of putting current valuable resources into practice. Providing teachers with the right tools can make a big impact on student learning experiences and potential. Class Composer empowers teachers to provide this support for all students.

How Class Composer Can Help

When you dive into Class Composer, you’ll see that it is easy-to-use online software that allows teachers to streamline their data to create equitable classes that will appropriately meet the social, emotional, and academic needs of each student. It provides a more efficient way to manage student distribution during the school year and serves as a powerful tool for day-to-day needs in the classroom. With Class Composer, teachers have instant access to ongoing progress monitoring, flexible grouping capabilities, and readily accessible historical data on students. The Class Composer platform makes what can be an extremely time-consuming process, a simpler, streamlined experience for teachers. Compared with traditional methods, we can lose valuable time with our students. Rather than waste time with the paper, leverage the technology to access a more informative, easily accessible, data-driven platform that promotes academic achievement and SEL skills

Class Composer provides a simplified way to create custom identifiers & assessment fields to match the needs of your students and your school.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Class Composer can help your school make better student placement decisions and provide ongoing day-to-day value in the classroom, don’t hesitate to contact us. We offer free trials and our Sandbox allows for a quick hands-on experience in a test school with pre-filled demo student data.

Give Class Composer a try today: classcomposer.com

About the Author

Bonnie Nieves is the author of “Be Awesome on Purpose” and has over a decade of experience as a high school science teacher. She has a Master’s Degree in Curriculum, Instruction, and Educational Leadership. Her passion for creating immersive and authentic experiences that fuel curiosity and creating student-centered, culturally responsive learning spaces that promote equity and inclusion has led her to establish Educate On Purpose Coaching.

In addition to being an award-winning educator, Bonnie works to ensure equitable and engaging education for all through her work as a copy editor at EdReports and Classroom Materials and Media reviewer for The American Biology Teacher journal. She serves on the MassCUE board of directors and enjoys connecting with educators through social media, professional organizations, conferences, Twitter chats, and edcamps. Bonnie is a member of the National Association of Biology Teachers, the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, and the National Science Teaching Association. She encourages you to connect with her on Twitter @biologygoddess, Instagram @beawesomeonpurpose, Clubhouse @biologygoddess, and LinkedIn.

Please visit www.educateonpurpose.com for information about her current projects.

Teaching History/Social Studies in the Era of AI Writing Tools

Guest blog post by Torrey Trust and Robert W. Maloy, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Interactive digital tools have been shaping and reshaping the way K-12 students engage with history and social studies materials for decades. Multimodal historical timelines, videos, podcasts, digital collections of primary sources, engaging games and simulations, 3D modeling tools, and other types of interactive technologies offer exciting new ways for students to explore historical information and make connections between the past, present, and future.

Now comes ChatGPT – an interactive artificial intelligence (AI) tool that uses natural language processing to generate concise responses to user questions in seconds. It can provide instant access to information, write work emails and press releases, brainstorm creative ideas for parties, write code, compose poetry, solve math problems, balance science equations, explain concepts for different developmental ages, and do many other tasks for you with ease. 

But, ChatGPT is not just another example of an interactive digital tool remaking how history and social studies can be taught to students in elementary, middle, and high schools; it is a direct challenge to teachers and students to rethink and re-envision the roles of research and writing in the history/social studies classroom. 

Look what happened when we posed a history-based focus question about the influence of the Roman Republic on our modern-day United States government to the ChatGPT system – a question that comes directly from the Massachusetts History & Social Science Curriculum Framework. The system generated a concise, readable, textbook-style response (see figure 1).

Figure 1. Screenshot of ChatGPT Response to “How did the Roman Republic influence the United States’ modern-day government?” 

Similarly, when we asked ChatGPT to respond to a key focus question about the separation of powers in the United States government, it produced a well-written, easy-to-understand text (see figure 2). 

Figure 2. Screenshot of ChatGPT Response to “How does the Separation of Powers Function Within the United States Government?” 

With this type of information access, do students need to conduct their own research or write their own papers?  

With the release of ChatGPT, some educators and journalists have already proclaimed that the “essay is dead” (e.g., Marche, 2022) and even have gone so far as to pronounce “The End of High-School English” (e.g., Herman, 2022). 

Why should students do research and write papers when they can just ask an AI system to do that activity for them? 

Let’s take a closer look at the word “research.” Taken apart, it can be read as “re-search” meaning “to look again.” That is what historians do all time, examine and re-examine historical information and evidence to revise and update explanations of historical events. 

Similarly, writing is not a matter of summarizing information. It is a process of generating new knowledge (new to the world or new to the writer), deepening thinking about a topic, and composing words to communicate with others. In history and social studies, writing offers students ways to connect people and events – often from long ago and far away – to their own lives, experiences, and communities. Students’ writing forges connections between past, present, and future and it can help students envision themselves as history-makers whose decisions and choices matter. Writing in history and social studies can take many forms, from expository to persuasive to creative. In every case, students give their ideas and perspectives a sense of permanence and importance as they commit words to paper or screens. 

So, what does this mean for students in history and social studies classes who might be drawn to the ease of asking AI writing tools to do their research and writing for them? 

Students must learn how to become HISTORIANS and WRITERS, not simply how to research information and summarize it in writing. To do this, students need opportunities to interrogate what it means to be a historian and a writer. They need guidance on how to find and critically examine historical information and evidence. They need opportunities to break free from the 5-paragraph essay to uncover the purpose and intellectual benefits of writing. And, they need open-ended learning experiences that allow them to construct their own thinking and learning. 

Here is an example of what that might look like when students examine the history of the sugar and spice trade in a Global History course. Spices came into high demand in European societies during the time period 1000-1513. Traders traveled across the globe to find these goods – but why were these goods so popular? And how did the trade of these goods influence individuals, communities, and societies throughout history? 

While ChatGPT might be able to answer these questions in a textbook-style response, students can dive deeper. They can look for primary and secondary sources that provide evidence of the use of sugar and spices in different regions, continents, and cultures throughout history. They can critically evaluate historical sketches, photographs, audio recordings, and other types of media presentations of these commodities (see the Illustration of a sugarcane plant in a collection of medical texts, Italy (Salerno), c. 1280–1350: Egerton MS 747, f. 106r on the Medieval Manuscripts Blog). They can try to uncover like a historian would, people’s firsthand experiences with sugar, spices, and the trade of these commodities in different eras and countries. And, then they can build an interactive map (on Google MyMaps or Padlet) or multimodal timeline, and, like a writer, present a deep interrogation of the influence of the sugar and spice trade throughout history and on present-day society (something ChatGPT cannot do – see figure 3). In this learning plan, inspired by Marina Amicizia, a history/social studies teacher licensure candidate at our college, students do the analytical and creative work of historians and writers – curating, evaluating, and synthesizing information into new forms of text. 

Figure 3. Screenshot of ChatGPT Response to “Draw a Map of the Sugar Trade Throughout History.”

In this learning plan, you can see how information retrieval, made quick and efficient with ChatGPT, is shifted to information curation and analysis. 

The AI writing tool can free students from spending time trying to find basic, textbook-style information online (and potentially getting lost in the process) so they can spend more time thinking like historians and acting like writers. Of course, this does not mean that students should trust whatever any AI writing tool produces as true and credible information (see Trust, 2022 ChatGPT & Education). OpenAI, the designer of ChatGPT, openly admits that the tool may provide harmful, biased, misleading, and false information, especially when asking about anything that happened after 2021 since ChatGPT is not connected to the Internet and the data used to build the ChatGPT database was pulled prior to 2021. This makes the need for information literacy skills – essential for historians and writers – more important than ever. 

Ultimately, AI writing tools, like ChatGPT, are simply just tools. They are tools that present information. They will not replace teachers, but they might spark a rethinking of what teaching really is and can be. With these interactive digital tools, teaching does not need to consist of simply presenting information that students then summarize on paper or a worksheet. Instead, teaching can be a means of empowering students to creatively construct their own knowledge, experiences, and understandings of the world and to rethink and re-envision research and writing in the era of AI writing tools. 

Google Drive Folder with High Res Images: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/18mKZl5P4EqM2BJKxBzH_MymcQWsIa92a?usp=sharing 

Author Bios

Torrey Trust, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Learning Technology in the Department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her scholarship and teaching focus on how technology shapes educator and student learning. Specifically, Dr. Trust studies how educators engage with digitally enhanced professional learning networks (PLNs), how emerging pedagogical tools (e.g., HyperDocs), practices (e.g., Making), and technologies (e.g., 3D printers, augmented reality) facilitate new learning experiences, and how to design and use open educational resources (OERs). Dr. Trust served as a professional learning network leader for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) for five years, including a two-year term as the President of the Teacher Education Network from 2016 to 2018. In 2018, Dr. Trust was selected as a recipient of the ISTE Making IT Happen Award, which “honors outstanding educators and leaders who demonstrate extraordinary commitment, leadership, courage, and persistence in improving digital learning opportunities for students.” www.torreytrust.com

Robert W. Maloy is a senior lecturer in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he coordinates the history teacher education program and co-directs the TEAMS Tutoring Project, a community engagement/service learning initiative through which university students provide academic tutoring to culturally and linguistically diverse students in public schools throughout the Connecticut River Valley region of western Massachusetts. His research focuses on technology and educational change, teacher education, democratic teaching, and student learning. He is co-author of Transforming Learning with New Technologies (4th edition); Kids Have All the Write Stuff:  Revised and Updated for a Digital Age; Wiki Works: Teaching Web Research and Digital Literacy in History and Humanities Classrooms; We, the Students and Teachers: Teaching Democratically in the History and Social Studies Classroom; Ways of Writing with Young Kids: Teaching Creativity and Conventions Unconventionally; Kids Have All the Write Stuff: Inspiring Your Child to Put Pencil to Paper; The Essential Career Guide to Becoming a Middle and High School Teacher; Schools for an Information Age; and Partnerships for Improving Schools. 

Let’s Chat: OpenAI and ChatGPT

Want to learn about OpenAI and how ChatGPT may impact education and the world of work? Read a bit here, check out my recent podcast and the latest article on Getting Smart

Recently there has been a lot of discussion and concern about Chat GPT. For educators everywhere, the concern is heightened because of the capabilities of this technology. If you are just starting to learn about what it is, let me explain. 

Chat GPT is a new AI chatbot basically, that has been built and is an upgrade from GPT3. You can learn more about GPT3 from this post I helped research in 2020. GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer. This AI chat has been released by Open AI, and it is artificial intelligence that is able to respond to prompts instantly and basically engage in what feels like a human conversation that is full of information. It uses natural language processing (NLP), which enables it to understand the questions from humans and to be able to generate responses that mimic a human conversation. It is able to understand the context of conversations and can answer within seconds of being asked about anything ranging from how to bake a cake to something very complex.

It is a language model, and it was released fully on November 30th. Within one week only, it had more than 1 million users trying to explore exactly what it does. This is the latest chatbot from open AI that had its launch back in 2015, and it has tremendous capabilities. It simulates a chat similar to what you might get from a chatbot when using an online website for example. But the difference is that it provides responses that mimic what you might find in a normal human conversation because it has been trained through machine learning and artificial

Chat GPT will take the input, the prompt, or the question, and then it will generate a response based on what has been asked using algorithms. The use of deep learning algorithms enables it to understand the context and the meaning behind the question and then it uses this to create its response in a conversational manner.

Questions are asked about its security and based on what has been shared, it is safe and all data that has been generated by Chat GPT is encrypted and is in compliance with regulations. It has also undergone a tremendous amount of testing before it was launched for more widespread use by the public.

I will be sharing more information in my blog but for now, I just decided to open with this and record a podcast episode about ChatGPT and my experience, some concerns, and some benefits that could come from it.

Hope you will listen, subscribe and share the podcast: ThriveinEDU Let’s Chat

Also, read this article published on December 16th that I helped to write. Nate McClennen and I wrote it for Getting Smart Education is About to Change

Check out a recent prompt:

**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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10 Tips To Get Some Teaching Time Back

Educators have so many responsibilities each day. The work does not end when the school day does (nor over the weekend).  Daily teaching schedules can become so filled with all of the tasks that teachers have that it leaves very little time for anything else. We can lose a lot of time trying to balance all of the tasks and make time for continued learning and growing as educators. It is important that we find methods and focus on being more balanced—at least as balanced as we possibly can during the year—while also setting aside time for professional learning.  

Especially during the past couple of years, as we have all experienced so many changes, it has been challenging to keep up at times. With so much to balance, it is not surprising that we often lose focus on self-care or can feel like we just are not accomplishing enough. Something that has worked well for me and that may be helpful for others is having a list of ideas that can save time, reduce stress and lead to greater efficiency. Having shortcuts or even hacks for doing the things that tend to take up the most time makes a big difference.

Here are ten tips for getting teaching time back:

  1. Find a focus: Think about ideas you want to try and make a list. Then, break that list into priorities and set up a schedule. By choosing a focus for each day, week, or even month, it will help us follow through with plans and feel more efficient and effective. For a start, think about topics that you read about over the summer or even ideas that you hoped to try last year but ran out of time. Make a list and hold yourself to it, and even consider creating a plan with a colleague. It can definitely help to have a friend to collaborate with you and you can keep each other accountable.
  2. Finding time-saving hacks: One secret that I have shared the most, which some have called a ‘game-changer’ is that I use the voice-to-text feature of email and documents to do most of my writing. I’ve done this for years and it has saved so much time that I can then devote to family and personal interests. Emails, parent forms, review materials, blogs, and even books have been generated by simply speaking into the phone and then editing as needed. 
  3. Have backup plans and ideas: Keep a list of ideas to use just in case the schedule changes, technology does not work, or something else comes up. Having some backup plans will save you from losing time when trying to find a solution.
  1. Use tech when with purpose: Leverage technology when it makes sense. How can you bring in digital tools that will save you time which can then be used for working with students and colleagues? Focus on the why and then how it facilitates more with less.
  2. Chunk similar tasks together: What are some of the tasks that you have on a regular basis? Group them to make a better workflow. Create assessments or lesson plans on the same day/same time. Pick a day to make phone calls home or schedule meetings.
  3. Schedule emails: There is nothing wrong with creating a document or using your email provided to create canned responses. Do you often write similar emails or have a common response? Create a canned response that saves you time later.  Also, schedule emails to send at a certain day and time so that you reduce the influx of emails that can happen.
  4. Make to-do lists: Use a calendar, create a daily to-do list and have tasks that become part of a consistent routine. Plan out the week and then cross off the tasks you complete before adding more to the list.
  5. Leverage tech: Save time with meetings in person or with challenging schedules by using some different tools to connect with students and families. Rely on the messaging apps or video conferencing tools your school uses.
  6. Choose versatile tools: Don’t overwhelm yourself, your students or their families, by choosing a lot of different tools. Find a few that offer many possibilities for use in the classroom.
  7. Fix your classroom set up: At the end of each day, take care of your materials before leaving school so you are ready the next day. Make any copies, set out papers, and write notes on the board so that you can be better organized ahead of time.

About the Author

Rachelle Dené Poth is an ed-tech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher. Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant and Speaker, owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting.

She is an ISTE Certified Educator and currently serves as the past -president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education. She is also a Buncee Ambassador, Nearpod PioNear, and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

Rachelle is the author of seven books and is a blogger for Getting Smart, Defined Learning, and NEO LMS. Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU https://anchor.fm/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!

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4 Ways to Help Students Develop SEL Skills

Previously posted on DefinedLearning

During the past school year, it has become increasingly important to focus on the mental health and wellness of our students and ourselves. As educators, it can be a challenge to find balance in our days and it is important that we do so and model this for our students. Learning can be a challenge and designing the right experiences that will support students on their journey and help them to develop SEL skills in our classrooms is critical. Why do these skills matter?

Because there is a direct correlation between SEL and the skills that employers look for, we need activities and tools to help students develop these skills in our classrooms. Essential skills for the future like communication, decision-making, problem-solving, and teamwork, to name a few of those listed by the World Economic Forum.  When we consistently address the five SEL competencies, research has shown that it leads to increased student achievement and positively impacts student wellbeing. With these benefits for students, it is important to explore the options available to us and then leverage different methods and digital tools to create spaces for students to build academic skills and SEL skills. 

Finding the right resources

First, I recommend that educators explore all of the resources from CASEL. There are materials for educators and parents and additional materials that can be helpful when starting with SEL. Also, a few months ago, Buncee, a multimedia presentation tool created a SEL toolkit that provides educators with everything they need to get started including ready-to-use template activities for grades K-6 and 7-12

The Five Competencies

Self-awareness: Students understand where they are in the learning process and are becoming more aware of their skills and interests as they learn. 

Self-management: Students develop the skills to deal with any emotions or stress experienced during the learning process. 

Social awareness: Students develop an understanding of others’ perspectives and different cultures. The development of empathy is important for students. 

Relationship skills. Developing supportive relationships to feel confident in asking for help and working as part of a team will prepare students for future workplace success. 

Decision making: Students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, learn to process information, and find solutions.

Four Ways to focus on SEL

We can promote the development of SEL through teaching methods and activities which do not require technology. For example, using methods like project based-learning provides many benefits for students and is a good way to also help students to develop SEL skills. Finding ways to connect students with other classrooms or to learn about different places around the world, to solve problems, and communicate, can be done with a variety of digital tools. Here are four options to help students develop self and social awareness in addition to digital citizenship skills. 

  1. Book Creator has added new features that promote student choice and voice in learning. Because it is collaborative, we can connect students with global peers to develop social awareness and in particular, empathy as they learn. We can have students create a book to use as a journal or portfolio to use for reflection as they develop self-awareness. It is also a good option for students to create an artifact for their PBL experiences.
  2. 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. 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. 
  3. Tract is a peer-to-peer program for students ages 8 and up in which students can work through on-demand classes or become creators of their own content. With Tract, educators support SEL and self-efficacy through student-directed, project-based learning through the enrichment clubs and on-demand classes available.
  4. Wakelet was a very beneficial tool for my students to share their PBL artifacts with classmates during our remote and hybrid learning. Students can create their own Wakelet collection to add artifacts of work, collaborate with their peers, and even record short Flipgrid videos to explain their learning.  For PBL, creating a class Wakelet collection enables students to learn from one another and explore new ideas and perspectives, promoting the development of social awareness and empathy.

**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!

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Could an edtech audit save your school money?

Guest post by Al Kingsley, @AlKingsley_Edu

Wherever your school is, it’s likely that costs for everything are going up but your budget is not. Combine that with an energy crisis that’s making the coming winter look even more gloomy than usual and balancing the books in the months ahead is going to be extremely challenging.

Reviewing how our schools spend money is a priority if we are to make the most of what little we have. And a great place to start is by reviewing, improving, and maximizing school technology use.

Check your tech

Has your school done a technology audit lately? If not, this is a good time to take stock of what you have and see where your money is going. From 2020 onwards, many schools had to hastily adopt different software solutions and devices in response to Covid-19 lockdowns, often without a real chance to research whether these tools would be appropriate to meet their needs beyond the immediate requirement to ‘keep education going. As a result, schools may now find themselves burdened with subscriptions to multiple edtech or software platforms that they are no longer using fully, as well as having more devices around than they need.

A tech audit should detail your school’s assets and devices, current edtech, and other software, and clarify how they are being used. It may be that your needs have changed and you can now discontinue some of the subscriptions. On the other hand, schools using multiple edtech platforms may find one of them offers multiple solutions for what they want to do, which could make the budget go further.

Tighten up on your power use

Every school wants cheaper electricity bills and some solutions can help by tracking and analyzing the powered-on state of computers across the school. This provides accurate insight into energy consumption and pinpoints where energy wastage occurs, e.g., when devices are left on standby outside school hours. Schools can then set a schedule that automatically powers them off at the end of the day. If you have this functionality in any of your existing solutions, ensure that you use it. Every cent you save here will mount up over time.

Revise your digital strategy

Alongside your technology audit, take the opportunity to consult with all staff to ensure your digital strategy is still fit for purpose. A clear digital strategy should include a consistent vision of your school’s aims and identify short-term priorities for initial focus. It should also ensure your technology minimizes tasks and does not create extra work.

When researching and comparing different edtech offerings, it’s a good idea to ask suppliers for robust evidence to back up their marketing claims. This will help you to see whether their promised outcomes will be genuinely useful in your school’s unique environment. If you can find independent evaluations, then so much the better.

However, the most important consultations are with educators with hands-on experience. Twitter is a great source of information exchange and a simple question about others’ experiences is sure to provide you with different views to consider. Other educators’ knowledge of what works to save time and money in their school is the best evidence you can get, so it is well worth going the extra mile to talk to them. 

Maximize what you do

Once your school has trimmed and tailored its edtech and IT assets, the next task should be to set out a clear plan for ongoing training for staff. The aim should be to take them beyond simply operating the technology – instead, elevating their proficiency level and allowing them to apply it creatively to their practice. This way, your school’s investment in IT is maximized; it is doing its job improving teaching and learning, rather than sitting around not being used.

Your technology audit can also help schools make the most of their existing IT assets. For example, in schools with enough devices, buying digital textbooks could be significantly cheaper than hard copies – and digital handouts instead of printed copies will save a small fortune. 

In an ideal world, our students’ education should not be held to ransom by rising costs but the reality is that there are tough times are ahead. However, collaborating and sharing best practices with other educators in our schools and beyond costs very little and remains our greatest strength right now.

This blog has been adapted from the original published in Schools Week.

About Al Kingsley

Al Kingsley is Chair of a UK multi-academy trust, an EdTech author, speaker, and podcast host, as well as being CEO of NetSupport. His book, “My Secret #EdTech Diary,” is published by John Catt Educational Ltd and is available from Amazon. 

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Diving into PBL with iBlocks!

Providing a variety of options for students to show what they have learned or using different methods like project-based learning (PBL) will foster student agency and boost engagement and student motivation in learning. As educators, methods like PBL can help us learn more about our students’ passions and interests while providing students with learning experiences that will stretch their thinking and shift them from consumers to creators and innovators. Students become problem solvers and will take risks with learning and as a result, embrace the process of learning itself, rather than an end product.

When we create learning experiences that will more meaningfully engage students with the content, it increases student engagement and amplifies student achievement. Through PBL, we can create unique, authentic, and meaningful opportunities for students to explore real-world issues and better connect with the content and understand the world around them. By cultivating a student-led learning environment that promotes choice in learning, students will build confidence and these experiences will help to amplify student learning.

When thinking about beneficial learning opportunities that provide a lot of experiences, PBL is a perfect choice. PBL promotes the development of essential SEL skills and STEM competencies, and iBlocks provides everything that teachers need to get started. With iBlocks, there are a variety of topics to choose from that connect with different content areas and real-world issues. Students can design their learning journey and be supported in the process through resources like the student workbook. In the workbook, students can brainstorm ideas, add reflections, and chart their progress in their work. With the guiding supports in place, students will become more independent learners and develop a greater motivation for learning. Being able to see and feel the relevance and applicability of their work to the real world will have a positive impact on their learning experience.

Getting started

Teachers need to simply open the materials and can get started without worries about finding the time to review all of the materials and gather additional resources. iBlocks provides you with all of the content that you need to be able to effectively implement PBL and design thinking in the classroom. Teachers have everything needed to get started with PBL and bring STEM-focused lessons into their classrooms.

Unpacking the iBlock materials

When exploring the iBlock materials, teachers will find everything they need to dive right into PBL with students. First, explore the Skills Matrix which helps to set up the structure for the learning experience. It includes the goals for the lesson and the intended outcomes for learning.

Next, I recommend checking out the Teacher’s Guide. The guide has information about the process for using iBlocks, the student workbook, and activities for each module are included in the Teacher Guide and it also has the standards and other relevant PBL-related information to guide teachers in the implementation of PBL with iBlocks.

For ideas on how to use the iBlocks and the flow of the lessons, teachers will find it easy to get started with the lesson plans that are included. In each plan, there are detailed descriptions, classroom activities, and also outcomes that are anticipated for each learning activity and lesson.

Take time to look through the Student Workbooks to explore the activities and ways that students are guided through their learning journey. Students have writing space to answer questions, brainstorm ideas, ideate solutions, work through challenges, and then reflect on what they have learned. Each of these is highly beneficial for SEL skills.

And finally, after reviewing the Teacher Guide and Student Workbook, there are assessment materials that are great for use with students to determine their understanding of the work they are doing with the iBlock content. Some of the materials are great for SEL as students reflect on learning and the challenges with the PBL experiences. They will develop skills in self-awareness and self-management skills during their project.

Choices through iBlocks

There are a lot of great iBlocks to choose from for different grade levels and content areas. Think about topics related to your content area or skillsets that students need and find an iBlock that can provide everything in one.

Here are five options to start with:

Build Literacy Skills: For example, to help students build their literacy skills, there are iBlocks where they can create a short story or design a comic book. Students might also enjoy creating a one-act play and then hosting a performance for classmates or even the school! These would be great choices to boost creativity and spark curiosity for learning. It also gives students the opportunity to collaborate and create something truly authentic and relevant to their lives.

Social Awareness: It’s also important to help students understand issues that are being faced by people around the world, so exploring iBlocks related to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would also be a great option for teachers. The “Clean Water and Sanitation” iBlock, explains SDG Number 6 and the “importance of ensuring availability and sustainable management of water for everyone.” Students can explore where water comes from, identify contaminants and then design and engineer their own water filtration system. The No Poverty and Xero Hunger iBlock, focuses on SDG Number 2. This iBlock not only will help students to focus on math but also develop social-emotional learning skills as they learn how they can create something to benefit people from around the world. These would be great choices to help students not only learn about math, science, and STEM but also develop essential SEL skills.

Each iBlock matches skills to standards such as the Common Core or the NGSS standards.

Collaboration and Problem-solving: Students need to develop these skills to be prepared and with iBlocks, there are fun options that help students to build these and other skills like critical thinking and creativity, as they design and carry out their own Escape Room or even make up a traditional board game.

Emerging technologies: Students can become designers and engineers through the Wearable Technology iBlock. Providing students with an opportunity to think about the purpose and how the technology can benefit people and then design something, fosters creativity and moves students from consumers to creators and innovators!

Financial Literacy: Another very important topic for students is to be financially literate. In the financial literacy iBlock, students learn about concepts related to economics and then design and reflect upon their own personal financial plan.

There are many more iBlock options available that help teachers enrich the content being taught and leverage the right tools that will help students to develop core curricular skills as well as STEM-related and SEL skills.

Benefits of choosing iBlocks

What I like the most about using iBlocks is that for teachers who are looking to bring a new method like project-based learning (PBL) and also to give students an opportunity to build SEL skills and to be prepared for a growing need for skills in STEM-related fields, this is the solution for everything. When we find tools and resources that enable us to do a lot with less and it saves time, it will be highly beneficial for students but also for helping teachers to embrace and provide these new and transformative learning experiences for all students.

The iBlocks framework 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. By using iBlocks, teachers will be confident getting started with PBL without having to worry about so many other variables.

iBlocks makes it easy to provide enriching and engaging learning experiences for students that are flexible regardless of where learning is happening. You can download a sample iBlocks to start with today!

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 bbit.ly/Pothbooks

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

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