Parent Communication App: Consolidating Your District’s Communication Silos

In collaboration with Bloomz

Throughout the past twenty years, educators have relied on a variety of tools to communicate with families. In addition to tools used by educators, each school has a variety of ways to communicate. They can use robocalls & mass notification systems in school districts, send emails, distribute blogs, post on a school website, implement branded apps for one-way information & calendaring, and leverage various social channels. In addition to school-wide communication, teachers also rely on classroom communication apps in addition to using behavior management & tracking tools. There are a lot of tools available to educators today.

Parent Communication App

However, what has happened, especially during the past two years, is that many educators and families found themselves overwhelmed by so many tools being used to facilitate communication and instruction. Reflecting on this experience, we need to consider what we have learned as a result. Are we using too many apps? How can we all benefit from implementing a modern, centralized communication system?

By having one platform, we can help families who experienced frustration due to having many places to navigate, websites and apps to be aware of, and calendars to manage in order to support their children’s academic life. Having a unified space helps with this frustration and it is a better way to support social-emotional learning (SEL) for students and families.

Beyond communicating with students, their families, and the school community, we also need to consider the benefits of having a centralized space for other school activities and staff. For example, for students involved in sports teams, extracurricular clubs & organizations, or for younger students, families may need to arrange before/after school care. We also need to provide access to relevant school board information, PTO events, summer programs, and support services provided by the school. There is so much information and deciding how to effectively and consistently distribute it all is important. Finding the right platform that facilitates all of this and more is essential for today’s schools and the families who rely on them.

How do we choose the best platform for our students, teachers, and families?

With so many options available, we need to consider the features of the platform and what makes the most sense for schools and families. We need to focus on supporting the whole child and keeping families informed about what is happening in the classroom which will provide them with access to more information in real-time. However, it needs to be unified, streamlined, and centralized in one space. And a key to this is unified communication. What does that mean?

It’s not having just one feature that is a standout rather it is having a variety of options within that one space. It replaces the need for so many apps and tools and makes it easier for teachers and families to stay connected. Families have access to information regarding student behaviors and absences and administrators are able to provide information to families in real-time. It is about the consolidation of the information which goes beyond using other communication tools like Remind or Seesaw because Bloomz solves more than one problem. Bloomz is a parent communication app that can be used for communication, it boosts family engagement in learning, and provides teachers with many more options for truly connecting home to school and involving families in the student learning experience.

Providing the best choice for families and students

When used with schools, Bloomz facilitates school-wide communication. Schools and families can communicate in ways that meet their preferences because it is focused on individual parent needs. It provides a choice for how they get their information (SMS text, email, and voice) in an easy-to-navigate platform that is fully available on any device. When thinking about accessibility, Bloomz offers robust and automatic language translation which helps to make sure that all families are receiving the message in the language that meets their specific needs.

Bloomz offers translation in more than 100 languages.

What does Bloomz offer in its Centralized Communication System?

What makes it the right choice is that it supports all the different types of communication that need to happen in schools. It offers 1:1 communication, group and classroom communication, and school and district communication. Beyond using it for the classroom space, other school groups can use the platform to communicate information about clubs and sports team events, PTO events, groups of staff members, and even bus routes. Bloomz is also the perfect choice for childcare communication.

Schools and teachers can send urgent messages as needed and have the capability to override user notification rules when information is critical. Being able to share information in a timely manner and knowing that the messages are being received and read is critical and Bloomz makes this all possible. It also has the capability of sharing messages on social media networks and websites.

Beyond communication, Bloomz has behavior management rewarding, flagging & tracking behaviors (both positive & negative) with support for administrative referrals and administrative-level/behavior team data & analytic reporting. Rather than needing to use a separate app or an entire system, Bloomz provides everything in one space.

Why Bloomz makes it easier to stay connected

Bloomz makes it easier to provide and have access to the essential information shared between school and home. It is a single access point for all types of communication that needs to happen between all stakeholders in our school community. Parents that may have children in different grade levels and buildings across the district will be confident and supported knowing that they will have access to information in a simplified and streamlined way.

When it comes to school, we know there are many activities that students are involved in, academic and athletic events happening, and arrangements that might need to be scheduled on a calendar. Bloomz offers coordination tools for calendaring & synchronization, forced reminders, volunteer signups, and conference/office hour/tutor scheduling. Having all of this within one unified space makes it easier for families to stay in the know and to feel more connected to and supported by the school and school community.

For schools, it is cost-effective because there are so many tools available within Bloomz that it eliminates the need to purchase many tools that have overlapping functionality. It promotes equitable access for all school community members and helps to increase participation in school events. Because schools can track whether the message has been received and read by each recipient, they can take action to make sure that everyone has the information they need.

Alerts through Bloomz

Rather than having mass notifications coming in from a variety of different apps and spaces, it is a modern way to have conversations and engage in a dialogue that enables schools to create a true community between home and school.

The entire school community benefits by having a consistent and efficient program in place that meets the needs and preferences of each of its members. Check out Bloomz today to build your home-to-school community by visiting http://www.bloomz.com.

Spring Ideas for SEL

As we prepare our students for the future and look for ways to provide more support as we work through what has been a challenging year, we need to make sure that we are focusing on the mental health and wellness of our students. To do so, we must be intentional about creating opportunities for students to build their social-emotional learning (SEL) skills in our classrooms. For anyone looking to learn more about SEL, I recommend starting with CASEL, which is where I found some very helpful information a few years ago when I thought that I wasn’t providing opportunities for the development of SEL in my classes. After reflecting on some of the activities I had been creating and the tools that I was using, I realized that I had been creating opportunities for students to build their self-awareness, social awareness, and develop relationships, I just needed to do more and be intentional about the types of choices that I was making for my classroom. I also took the new course “Creative Expression and Social-Emotional Learning” with Buncee. Through the Microsoft Educator Center, there is a one-hour course on using Buncee for SEL co-created by Francesca Arturi and Laura Steinbrink, that I highly recommend for educators.

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.

Spring presents a great time to explore new ideas or try some new tools, especially as we look to boost student engagement with the content and keep up the momentum through the end of what has not been an easy or typical school year. 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 seven ideas that can help with creating opportunities for students to collaborate, become self and socially aware, and stay engaged in learning. During the past few months of using some of these tools, I’ve noticed that students are engaging more with the content, they feel connected to one another even if not in the same physical or virtual classroom space and they are able to track their growth in the language.

  • Blooket has been a new favorite this year. It has brought a lot of fun into our classroom, as there are multiple modes to play whether as a live game or for homework. 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.
  • 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 an uploaded document 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.
  • 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.
  • Kahoot! A game-based learning tool that provides many new possibilities for either teaching students about SEL or using the question options to check in with students. Whether students collaborate on teams and build teamwork skills or use the games to track their own growth and set new goals, Kahoot! offers many options for use with any grade level or content area.
  • 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 their account. Lessons can be instructor-led or student-paced. For SEL, Pear Deck is a good way to check in with students and the student-paced lessons, it promotes self-awareness and self-management as students track their learning.
  • Spaces A digital portfolio platform where teachers can better understand students and their interests which 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.

Spaces can have audio, text, video and more!

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.

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We’re Using Engineering Tools to Teach With

Post Written In Collaboration with Ness, Blackbird Code

It has never been more important than it is now to focus on creating more opportunities for all students to explore STEM topics. However, there are gaps in the types and levels of the curriculum being offered in our schools. It has been reported that there will be 3.5 million jobs available by 2025 that require STEM skills of which coding makes up a large part of that need. While we recognize that there is a growing need for students to develop skills in coding and in STEM-related fields, there may be barriers, whether real or perceived, to providing these learning opportunities.

We need to provide students with opportunities to explore their interests in coding. We need options that lead to more authentic experiences that develop essential skills for the future. There is a level of comfort needed when bringing in STEM, whether familiarity with some resources for getting started or willingness to dive in and learn right along with and from the students. Regardless of comfort level, we all need to promote the development of STEM-related skills in our classrooms.

A solution

About a year ago, I came across Blackbird and started to use it in my classroom. It has been a great way to help educators bring coding to students because it provides the support they need and opportunities for more authentic and personalized learning, integrated with subjects they are already teaching.

Blackbird helps educators to bring more engaging, student-driven, hands-on learning experiences to the classroom – including coding in a way that is accessible to both students and teachers, and develops data processing skills for the future.

Many educators may think that coding is not something that can be done in their classroom. Often schools lean on the skills of specialized computer science teachers, taking it as given that they are the only people who can share this knowledge, and that it’s so difficult to learn that only a few students are going to succeed. But education is changing, and those assumptions are increasingly out of date.

How Blackbird makes a difference

Blackbird makes it easy for all educators to bring coding to the platform because of its design and the many supports and resources that it offers. Blackbird uses an educational version of JavaScript. Programming languages, like JavaScript, Python, C++, and so forth, are engineering tools, and on their own, they’re terribly unfriendly, especially for those just getting started in the classroom. This may sound like a technical distinction, but the difference is important, so let’s take a closer look.

First of all, programming is a process of:

  • writing code,
  • testing it to find the mistakes, and
  • correcting (or “debugging”) these errors.

The most important feature of an educational coding system is how it teaches debugging. With a regular coding language, when you run a program with a bug, the most common result is that you get a blank screen, or sometimes an unintelligible error message. This result is fine for engineers, who are used to it, but for beginners, it’s very discouraging! Imagine students or teachers getting started with coding, who are just building their confidence, what this unhelpful response can do to their interest. It would lead students or teachers to disengage from coding and potentially miss out on areas of personal interest that could impact their future.

Images from Pexels

Blackbird is different, however. With an educational language, when you run a program with a bug, it opens up an educational debugger – a friendly tool to help you correct your mistakes. The process of learning is supposed to involve the making of mistakes, but we need to have support in place to help students to work through challenges and build their skills.

The structure and scaffolded support of the platform enables students and teachers to build skills at their own pace. Blackbird allows for differentiation and enrichment through the workshops and built-in supports that are available. For students who may be hesitant to start with coding, it supports them as they build their skills at their pace and in a way that is supportive to their needs. When working on their own, whether in the classroom or at home, the system takes them through the process of fixing errors with the debugger. Learning to code can take place anywhere.

There are other supports in place for them, such as “Show Me” which provides a correct line of code when the student needs it (students get a star when they don’t use Show Me). This promotes more personalized learning, as students can work at their own pace, completing challenges and quizzes, earning stars, and doing capstone projects that allow them to use the skills they’ve learned in a more creative way.

Blackbird Code

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7 Digital tools for student engagement across all grade levels

As we head into the spring, we may notice a decrease in student engagement. For some students, there have been midterm exams, extended school breaks, or we find ourselves in the middle of standardized testing season. Over the years, I have noticed that student engagement tends to decrease in my classes around this time and I  reach out to my personal learning network (PLN) for ideas or tools to boost engagement. 

Especially during our experiences over the past two years with hybrid and virtual learning environments, we have worked through transitioning learning spaces, and it was challenging to engage students in learning. When we create learning experiences that meaningfully engage students with the content while also aiming to move them from being simply consumers to creators, we also amplify student achievement. By offering more choices in terms of digital tools for student engagement, we can better meet specific student interests and needs. 

When we can take risks by either trying something new or using digital tools for game-based and collaborative learning, we will see students engage more with the content. Students should also be part of the process of deciding on different tools to try. Additionally, it is important that we ask for their feedback so we can continue to provide the best learning opportunities for them. 

Digital tools for student engagement no matter the grade level

To engage students, we need tools that work well regardless of where learning is taking place — a hybrid, virtual or in-person. For this to happen, teachers can opt for a mix of game-based learning tools, conducting a quick assessment or social and emotional learning (SE)L check-in, or asking students to create and share what they have learned in a way that meets their interests. 

Here are seven tools to check out, each of which offers something unique and is versatile for different content areas and grade levels: 

  1. Buncee is a multimedia presentation tool that fuels creativity. It has been a favorite for five years in my classroom. Creating lessons through Buncee enables us to include a lot of content and a variety of media formats all within one space. Within one Buncee, you can add animations, 3D objects, audio and video, links, and more. There are sample lessons and other templates ready to use in their library. My older students use it for teaching a lesson or to present their project-based learning (PBL) findings. It has definitely boosted student engagement through the power of choice.  Now with Capstone’s Pebble Go, students can bring their stories to life by creating their own Buncee to represent learning! Read more: Spring into creativity with these 5 digital tools!
  2.  Classkick, teachers can quickly create assessments, check-ins, or design an entire lesson. Documents, images, text can be added to each slide in the lesson for students to interact with. Classkick has several options for students to use for their responses including audio, text, video or sharing a link. Teachers can see student work in real-time and provide individual feedback to students. Another nice feature is that students can anonymously ask classmates for help if needed.
  3. Figment ARStorytelling or creating a quick check-in with students is fun with Figment AR, one of my favorite augmented reality apps over the past few years. More than just AR, it also has portals that transform the experience into virtual reality. We have used it in class to create a quick story that includes animated characters, portals, and special effects. Read more: 6 Digital storytelling tools for hybrid learning environments
  4. Formative allows teachers to deliver lessons in a more interactive way, that empowers students to respond to different types of questions, draw, record audio or watch embedded videos.  Lessons can be done live in class or they can be self-paced. Teachers have real-time data and can provide timely and personalized feedback to students. During virtual learning, Formative was a game-changer for creating asynchronous lessons as well as for assessments that would provide data immediately and in a space where feedback can be given.
  5.  Genially is a versatile and interactive platform that can be used to create so many different projects and things you would want for your classroom. Some favorites are to use it for creating a class website, choice boards, flyers, designing interactive images, newsletters, presentations, storybooks and more. Presentations can have sound, hyperlinks, social media buttons and so much more. 
  6.   Gimkit is one of many game-based learning tools available and it has been a favorite of my students each year. There are more personalized learning experiences because of the repetitive questions which promote increased content retention.  My students also like Gimkit Draw, where they have three options and then select one to draw and have their classmates guess the word as the drawing appears on each device. Gimkit also launched a new mode of play called Fishtopia which offers another engaging way to not only practice the content but build strategy, have fun while learning, and try out something new in class. There are several modes to play and teachers can access detailed reports with individual student progress and a general overview, to better prepare for the next steps in the lesson. Read more: How to set up a classroom gamification level system
  7. Spaces can be used to boost class discussion in the “feed,” for creating activities for the class, or by creating spaces for students. We have been exploring new ideas in our Spanish classes and students are really enjoying it. In a group space, students have collaborated to create a fashion show and either write or narrate a description and add an image to their post. Individual spaces are perfect for daily writing prompts, feedback, and understanding students and their interests which helps with building those vital teacher-student relationships. A key part of these activities is that they also help students develop social-emotional learning (SEL) skills and promote more active learning which they enjoy.

Boosting student engagement

For anyone deciding where to begin, you can’t go wrong with any of these. They have multiple benefits and possibilities for using them in your classroom.  Students can create, collaborate and interact with one another and do so in any learning space. Bringing in new technologies and learning opportunities will better equip students with the essential skills that they will need moving forward. 

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Celebrating Librarians

April is School Library Month and it brings an opportunity to highlight the work done and the impact made by librarians and media specialists. It is also a time when we can help students to build their media literacy skills. First sponsored in 1958 by the American Library Association (ALA), it originally got its start after the creation of the National Book Committee, a non-profit organization in 1954. After some concerns were raised about the amount of reading and research being done by students, they kicked off the First National Library Week in 1958 which had a theme of “Wake Up and Read.” There are several days that highlight the work of the librarians.

National Library Workers Day

National Library Outreach Day

Take Action for Libraries Day.

“Connect With Your Library” is the theme for National Library Week which will be held from April 3-9. The purpose is to highlight libraries and how important it is for people to continue to build their literacy skills especially when it comes to changing technologies and access to more information than ever before. The American Library Association (ALA) wants to promote the idea that “libraries are places to get connected to technology by using broadband, computers, and other resources. Libraries also offer opportunities to connect with media, programs, ideas, and classes—in addition to books.”

Another recognition is World Book Day which is celebrated on April 23rd this year. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proposed the creation of World Book Day as a way to celebrate reading and the joy that comes from reading. More than 100 countries celebrate this every year; after first being established on April 23rd, 1995.

In our schools: Recognizing the importance of libraries for learning

It is important to take time to recognize all that our libraries provide in our communities and our schools and the difference that librarians make a difference in libraries every day. As a child and even in high school, I always enjoyed going to the library to do research, to look through all of the books, to explore old newspapers. Whether at school or at our public library, we all relied on the help of the librarian for many things. Whether to find books, to learn how to use some of the machines to access older periodicals, to correctly prepare a bibliography or to read to use, they provided so much for students and teachers.

The work done by librarians and media specialists is essential and in schools, these educators take on many different roles. They lead book chats, they help students to develop research skills, they promote digital citizenship especially when it comes to accessing and evaluating the information that they receive.

Celebrating Librarians and Libraries with Capstone and PebbleGo

In recognition of these important events, there are many different activities that students can engage in depending on grade level and content area. For students that need to do research, making a connection with their school librarian and learning about all the resources that are available to them. In upper grades, perhaps exploring and making a case for having librarians available at all schools because of their impact on student learning and being available to help students to build skills in this highly digital world full of information. Via Capstone, “School librarians achieve better educational outcomes. In fact, 34 statewide studies confirm links between strong school libraries and student achievement.”

Capstone posted a great quote by author Neil Gaiman which said, “Google can bring you back, you know, a hundred thousand answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” But more importantly, librarians teach students how to discover and discern credible information for themselves.

Looking at the resources available through Capstone, librarians can make recommendations for books for students to read and help to guide them as they create a representation of what they have read. Leveraging Capstone and PebbleGo Create, students and educators can join in this month-long recognition of books and reading and boost creativity!

PebbleGo Create is a great way to share learning and bring it to life. There are so many templates and backgrounds that represent a library and a media center, that students can really find something to create that is authentic and meaningful and would be a wonderful way to recognize the work done by librarians in our school.

Seven Ideas to Join in the Celebration!!

Here are some ideas for having students join in the celebration of librarians and libraries. Using Buncee, students can record audio or videos to share how librarians have made an impact on their learning process and then post them on a Buncee Board or send their creations directly to their librarian!

  • Interview a librarian: a great way to learn about all of the impactful work that librarians do in our schools
  • Design a library: Create a new library space and add your favorite books to the shelves
  • World Book Day: Students can share what they learned in their book, design a new book cover, or write a book review. Choose from the amazing titles in the Capstone Library which promotes student choice and voice in learning and gives them a way to highlight their creativity.
  • Publish a library newsletter: Create a newsletter to inform classmates and the school community about resources available in the library and also to highlight the librarian!
  • Curate a group of books: Interview your librarian to get book recommendations and then create a virtual bookshelf!
  • Launch a campaign for librarians: Create a flyer about why we need libraries and librarians. Include some quotes from students or teachers about the impact librarians have.
  • Lessons from the Library: Create a reflection on what you’ve learned during your time in the library and how the librarian has helped you during the year.

Want to get started with some fun designs? Check out the “School Library Month” and “Library Week” Buncee templates here, If you want to find more, simply go to the search and look for relevant words such as “books,” “reading,” “library” or choose from some of the awesome ideas in the Ideas Lab!

Head to Capstone and check out these blogs: Reading is for everyone and school librarians curate book collections that both reflect their communities and expose students to ideas and experiences beyond their own neighborhoods.

Capstone loves librarians! Learn more about their resources here!

Meet 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, and 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.

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“The Practical Classroom”

From: Not Yet…And That’s OK: How Productive Struggle Fosters Student Learning (2021)

Guest post by: Peg Grafwallner, @PegGrafwallner, Solution Tree author and educational consultant

In my most recent book, Not Yet…And That’s Ok: How Productive Struggle Fosters Student Learning, I explain the mindset of the Not Yet approach as an opportunity for teachers to create an authentic classroom experience where students value setbacks and obstacles as ways to grow, learn, and develop. Instead of allowing failure to define the student, the not-yet approach creates opportunities to normalize development and empowers students to realize learning takes time and that mastery isn’t the end of their growth.

The not-yet approach encourages teachers to allow setbacks and obstacles to support students in realizing that those bumps are necessary to learning. Instead of using failure as an excuse or a justification for indifference, it becomes a tool for empowerment as the student learns from it and – here’s the most important part – moves forward as a result of that failure.

But, it’s April and you’re thinking: with only six to eight weeks of school left in the year and so much content to get through, I can’t possibly take on one more thing. While the not-yet approach sounds intriguing, implementing something new this time of year is more than I can do.

Absolutely true. As a classroom teacher, your plate is full and another of anything is too much.

However, you might already be implementing some components of the not-yet approach without even knowing it. As an example, the Practical Classroom is one of the 12 “classrooms” highlighted in the not-yet approach. The Practical Classrooms targets specific language that is useful to students – language that offers hope and empowerment to students while reminding them to move beyond the setbacks and obstacles they face.

Focusing on one’s language is a manageable task that doesn’t take any extra time; except perhaps, a conscious effort to be mindful of the language one is using and its impact on students.

As you’re thinking about the language you use in your classroom, ask yourself: is your language practical and useful to students? Is it authentic and relevant? Can students apply it both personally and academically for their own hope, growth, and empowerment? 

In assessing student work, do you sometimes use “deficit” language – language that focuses on incorporating punitive judgment and critical evaluation? Oftentimes we must critique student work to determine a grade. When utilizing judgment and evaluative language, without noting the severity of that language, students can feel discouraged from engaging in productive struggle.

But, when teachers use practical language, language that is useful and hopeful, students endeavor to stick with problems and try new strategies to overcome an obstacle or setback. 

For example, here are some examples of deficit language in the classroom that has been replaced with practical language from the not-yet classroom:

Examples of Deficit Language in the ClassroomPractical Examples of Not-Yet Language in the Classroom
“I read your response paper. Did you read the text?”“I read your response paper. From what I read, you seemed uncertain in your response. Let’s talk about how I can help you make your response more convincing.”
“I’m not going to say it again. You need to listen next time.”“If you are unclear, can you tell me where the confusion began?”
“This should be easy for you. You’ve been studying this since you were in elementary school.”“It seems this particular concept is challenging for you. Let’s figure out where the concept becomes challenging and try again.”
“I never give As in my class because an A means perfect, and no one is perfect.”“I want my grading to be fair and authentic. I’ll be grading your work according to standards and using rubrics so you will always know the grading expectations.”
“Any late work is a zero. You will fail the assignment or the assessment if the work is not turned in on time.”“I realize that sometimes it might be difficult to turn in your work on time. Let’s discuss due dates, why they’re important, and how to adhere to them as best as possible.”

As you read the examples of practical language, you will notice a collaborative tone from the teacher inviting the student to share their thinking and explaining, as best as they can, the obstacle that is causing them to be immobile. The teacher uses language that is hopeful and empowering as it encourages the student to utilize productive struggle to move forward. The teacher is not going to do the work for the student; rather the teacher acknowledges that the work or deadline might be challenging and offers opportunities of support. It is up to the student to use this setback or obstacle as a way to learn from it and try again – without judgment or evaluation.

Think about your language and how much of it already mirrors the practical classroom. However, we always know there is more work to be done and opportunities to improve. Consider asking a colleague to observe your class to gather some of the language you use or ask your peer to make a list of the written feedback you offer students. Are you noticing practical language or some elements of deficit language in your communication? 

Please don’t consider the practical classroom as one more thing that must be done. Rather, reflect on the language that is already useful and authentic in your classroom and utilize these last several weeks as a chance to fill in some of the gaps. The not-yet approach gives all of us – teachers and students – a chance to value setbacks and obstacles as ways to grow, learn, and develop. Instead of allowing a misstep of language to define us, the not-yet approach creates opportunities to try again and empowers us to do our very best for our students.

About the Author 

Peg Grafwallner, Solution Tree author and educational consultant

Check out Peg’s newest book: https://www.solutiontree.com/not-yet-and-thats-ok.html

www.peggrafwallner.com

Guest post submission

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What do we want?

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

Author of Let’s Put the C in PLC: A Practical Guide for School Leaders and An Action Guide to Put the C in PLC: Reflecting and Doing

http://www.NextLearningSolutions.com

@ChadDumas

#LetsPuttheCinPLC #Teams

What Do We Want?

Some of my recent travels and interactions have left me pondering this question: What do we want?

And I’m not talking about some philosophical question about the meaning of existence, or some existential query. I’m thinking about practical, day-to-day desires about our work as educators (and, quite frankly, more broadly, as people).

It seems to me that we all want the same thing. Teachers want to work in meaningful teams that improve their practice. Principals want to support staff in doing this work. Central office leaders want to support principals and teachers. So where’s the disconnect?

A Disconnect?

Teachers tell me that they want to collaborate, but their administrators (at whatever level) just don’t support collaboration.

Principals in those same schools share with me how their district administrators just don’t understand collaboration and seem to put up roadblocks. Or how their teachers would rather shut their classroom door and do their own thing.

And, of course, district administrators tell me that they just can’t get their principals or teachers to engage in meaningful collaboration

What’s going on? Why can’t we see each other’s perspective? What’s getting in the way?

The Result

As you can imagine (or maybe experience!), this disconnect leads to a great deal of frustration.

I believe (and have experienced) that all of us want what is best for kids.

I believe (and have experienced) that we want our work and lives to be meaningful.

And I believe (and have experienced) that working together in meaningful ways builds momentum toward accomplishing both.

Unfortunately, the mechanics of what we are doing seem to be getting in the way.

The Answer?

Those familiar with me and my work know well that I believe a significant part of the solution to the problems we face is listening. Whether it be this problem or most any other issue, we too often fail to see each other’s point of view.

Might we take a good pause when someone else is sharing their perspective? Maybe a deep breath to create some “distance” between their comment and our thinking? Maybe a glance to the side to ponder what another is sharing?

Might we paraphrase what the other person is telling us? Maybe consider the emotion with which they are sharing, in addition to the content? Maybe seek to truly understand before trying to be understood?

Might we, instead of getting furious, get curious? Maybe pose a question before supplying a ready-made answer? Maybe ask for more specifics, or probe for the impact of their sharing?

In a few words, might we Pause, Paraphrase, and Pose questions? (And check out these posts for more on this topic: A Recipe for the Future, Part I and A Recipe for the Future, Part II)

Where to Start?

It seems to me that we start by slowing down, and by becoming genuinely interested in the perspectives of our colleagues–whether superiors, subordinates, or partners.

Then we use some of these skills to demonstrate that interest.

And then, as we listen carefully, maybe we can hear each other.

Wouldn’t that be great? Maybe that’s what we all want.

Questions for reflection:

  • In what ways do you demonstrate genuine concern for others?
  • How might you increase your listening skills to ensure others are heard and valued?
  • What support systems might you need to be able to achieve this?

**Are you an educator interested in writing a guest blog for Rachelle’s 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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Robo-Writers, Translators, Chatbots: Developments in NLP and What it Means for Education

Prior post on Getting Smart

Did a student write that essay or a robot? Did a teacher provide that six trait feedback or was it an automated feedback system? Did that student understand that Mandarin dialog or did they translate it on the fly? Is that student talking to a mental health professional or a therapy-bot?

If you are worried about plagiarism, things just got a lot more complicated with developments in Natural Language Processing (NLP), a branch of artificial intelligence that enables computers to understand, process, and generate language.  

AI, and particularly NLP, is changing the way humans create, consume, and evaluate content. Financial reports, sports news, and legal briefs are increasingly computer drafted. NLP is changing the nature of employment and will increasingly show up in classrooms–welcomed and otherwise.  

Language Processing

Natural language processing is a branch of computer science, specifically artificial intelligence, that enables computers to understand human language, process it and create language to interact with humans to communicate. Computers have been trained to process large quantities of data and language and then generate communication in return. It’s highly likely that everyone is interacting with NLP every single day because of all the places it is found. 

Some examples include the use of chatbots, voice assistance, translation tools, and search engines. In my eighth grade STEAM course on emerging technologies, a good part of our year is focused on artificial intelligence and its various components. We explore a variety of materials such as AI4K12, ISTE U AI Course Materials, and have recently come across AIClub which has activities for students to see NLP in action and also work with some of the projects. They offer many free activities to explore AI. We want to move students from consumers to creators, especially in these areas, and with AI, it is impressive to see what students create, especially with chatbots. A group of sixth-grade students created the Calmzilla app to help middle school students deal with stress through a chatbot, showing a great way to focus on SEL through the use of chatbots and having students create.

How does NLP work?

NLP is possible through machine learning. Through algorithms, it is able to understand the meaning and structure of human language, analyze text, and even respond. The system stores all data whether that’s words, sentences, books, or any information that is loaded into the system. The computer then uses its data to find patterns to analyze.

Chatbots or messaging systems read the language that we use and can learn over time.

NLP can be used for different processes such as in documents for correcting spelling, translation of words, it can also respond to human language and react based on the information that it receives. Computers interpret what humans say, process human speech and then respond or react. It can evaluate speech based on context and intonation and then respond. We often use it for machine translation, text to speech, image description, and speech recognition.

Developments in NLP for accessibility and language creation

There have been many developments in NLP that promote accessibility and language uses from a variety of providers including Facebook, Google and Microsoft. For promoting accessibility, with NLP, companies can leverage the technology to provide more language capabilities. 

Launched in 2020 by San Francisco R&D shop OpenAI, Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3 (GPT-3) is a third-generation model that demonstrated dramatic progress in creating human-like text. 


Amazon Comprehend is NLP that locates insights and makes connections in text. There are many advances in large, “pre-trained transformer-based language models” such as BERT (Biodirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers). BERT, developed by Google is leveraged in its search engine and was trained on language modeling and next sentence prediction and its use has continued to grow.

The use of NLP is expanding into all areas of work and life. There are some key trends with NLP to look out for in 2022 and here are some of the new developments (with thanks for Jack Clark for regular updates):

  1. Facebook teaches language models to speak about 30 languages: These developments have been referred to as being better than an equivalently sized GPT3 model…” To do this, Facebook trained a family of language models that are better at translation than GPT3. The XGLM ( an autoregressive language model) was trained on a mixture of 30 languages, varying from languages with a lot to very little data. They found that by training with more diverse language data than GPT3, the Facebook models performed better, especially when using ‘few-shot’ prompting. Few-shot prompting is where the model is fed a few examples of the target language, and then is asked to translate. 
  1. Facebook new AI supercomputer: Facebook introduced a new AI supercomputer to be used for AI research in what is called the AI Research SuperCluster (RSC). Facebook (Meta) believes it is one of the fastest AI supercomputers available. The use of this supercomputer will be for moderating the content on its platforms, creating new services for the metaverse and developing augmented reality tools. 
  1. Google’s big text model – LaMDA is a GPT-3 competitor which is part of a family of language models ranging in size from 2B to 137B parameters (GPT3: 175B), and that have been trained on a massive dataset of 1.56 trillion words. LaMDA is different from other big language models because it is centered around dialogue, with 50% of its data coming from “dialogues from public forums.” With this new capability, LaMDA can be used in a variety of useful applications that will be more practical and safe open-ended dialog, which is why we need people with the skills for the program to ensure the safety of these technologies.  
  1. Microsoft makes MoEs easier to train: Microsoft is trying to scale-up mixture-of-experts (MoE) networks, which are one of the more promising routes for creating trillion-parameter-plus AI models. MoEs are more efficient to train than GPT3, which is a more dense model. MoEs work well for auto-regressive natural language generation tasks. With improved efficiency and training models, the result is great improvement in language accuracy. Beyond the efficiency, there is also a potential reduction in cost. Microsoft has stated that it can train 350M and 1.3B parameter MoE text models that have better (or the same) performance as GPT3 for a range of different tasks. What this means is that it nets out to models with the “same quality with 5X less training cost”. DeepSpeed-MoE offers massive MoE models with up to 4.5x faster and 9x cheaper inference when compared with quality-equivalent dense models.

NLP Applications 

NLP has applicability in a variety of sectors of work and daily life. 

  • Sentiment analysis: NLP tools can “read” giant data sets to assess consumer brand sentiment and identify areas for improvement. It can detect negative comments as they are posted and can respond proactively. 
  • Chatbots: NLP streamlines communication in many areas of work and has been used to process customer requests because it is able to analyze the language and create a response to common requests. When a request is not understood, the message is sent to a human agent. There are many companies that are using virtual assistant technology to facilitate calls. For example, when you make a call to the electric company, airlines,  banks, or hotels, many of the most common requests can be responded to via chatbots or customers can manage their accounts using some of the voice commands. Companies often use the Alexa Skills Kit that is provided through Amazon.
  • Reducing online bullying: detection of Cyberbullying is another way NLP is being utilized for good. On social media, classifiers are being developed to detect the usage of abusive and derogatory language, as well as hate speech. 
  • Fake news detection: While it may contribute to the problem, NLP has become a critical tool for detecting and reducing the spread of fake news and analyzing speech on social media. NLP is being used for automatic fake news identification this year, and this is an area we will likely see more of in 2022, with so much incorrect information about Covid-19 and other world issues circulating. 
  • World of Work: NLP is being used in various sectors such as finance, healthcare and human resources. In healthcare, NLP can analyze voice records and convert them into text to be added into patients’ records. NLP is being used to train algorithms on mental health disease which can then be used to provide cognitive behavior therapy or virtual therapy assistants to patients with PTSD, autism, or depression. In finance, NLP can extract data for credit scoring or combined with machine learning and predictive analytics to detect fraud. In human resources, NLP screens resumes and recruiting chatbots use NLP to schedule interviews, facilitate onboarding of candidates and more.

What NLP Means for Edu

Students should have an understanding of what AI is, the impact that it has on our lives and how it could shape the future–both good and bad. They should know that they are living through the first decade of widespread human-computer co-created content, art, and music–an amazing opportunity that will challenge historical views on intellectual property.  

Upper elementary school is a good time to teach digital literacy and critical consumption. Middle school is a good time to introduce AI ethics and begin the conversation about what it means to co-author with a machine.

High school should create opportunities for students to use machine learning tools to attack problems and create solutions. This could happen in a computer science course, a social studies and tech block, or an after school program (see AI4All).

And, keep an eye on student writing. Plagiarism detectors will be challenged by new content creation tools. Live performance assessment will remain the best way to determine if it was Robbie or robo-writer. 

Finally, a real person wrote this post. But the next one you read, well, you may not be able to tell. 

**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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Flexibility

Guest blog post via James Kapptie @jpk38 @cowboyedpod

Opinions are those of the guest author

Covid 19 made the entire world reimagine what work should look like. The work environment and non-negotiables ( time & location) suddenly became negotiable. The world suddenly was not so concerned about where the work was done but simply that the work was done. Education made changes to what school delivery looked like, but was continually highlighting the idea of when we get back to normal. Now as we get back to “normal’, educators are leaving education at a rate we are not prepared for. So now what…

While there are lots of aspects to address for schools to continue to attract educators, one simple option is flexibility within their schedules. The stresses of teaching have never been greater, schools are expected to ensure everything from proper nutrition to emotional health all the while delivering content that guarantees students reach standards and are academically proficient. Educators need us to reimagine what their days look like. How do we do that? Start with a simple idea. Talk to them! Ask questions and listen to answers. We have solutions to lots of concerns that don’t increase cost but can change morale and the future of education.

Question One: What about your schedule would you change and how so? Can we flex time within a group of teachers? Can we mix virtual and in person learning? Can we work with community groups to offer engaging learning opportunities? Should paraprofessionals be hired by teachers? Could those paras take rolls like Physicians Assistants? What does Professional development add to your schedule?

Question Two: How can the community and parents be more involved? What are the ways that communities can take active parts in all these areas that schools are tasked with? Is the community involved in your school? Should parents be expected to be in school on a regular basis? Parents were forced to deal with sudden change of balancing work and children when COVID hit and employers adjusted. How can employers support parents being more active in their children’s education experience. Will more community involvement help build respect for teachers and the education arena? Will behavior issues inside schools decrease because of parent and community expectations and presence in schools?

Question Three: If educators need to be gone, how do we deal with that? Consider substitutes in other professions. Doctors, short term absences, they reschedule appointments. Long term absences, can they get someone to cover. Teachers need freedom to be gone when they need to be gone. Teachers should not face the burden of, I need to be gone but it’s so much work to do lesson plans, get sub and on and on. Can we take the focus off of content and move toward student experiences if educators need to be gone?

Question Four: What are the perks of this profession? What are perceived perks? What are industries offering as perks that educators would benefit from? The common issue that most educators face is that their job has lots of time off and that should balance everything else. How much time do teachers have “off” compared to other professionals?

Question Five: What was the hardest challenge for parents and students during COVID? Why did so many parents want their kids to go back? DO we want the answer?

Education has run on the same schedule for over a century. If we aren’t willing to consider what it can look like, we will never get to what it should look like. Solutions are all around us. There is no one right answer but there are solutions in each of our communities and states to address those needs. The biggest question is do we have the courage to ask? Do we have the courage to listen? Most importantly, do we have the courage to act before we miss out on that next great educator? We often ponder, maybe our student will find the cure to cancer or be a great musician or the next awesome developer. We need to wonder what if that next great educator is “lost” in some other profession.

**Are you an educator interested in writing a guest blog for Rachelle’s 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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Celebrate Women’s History Month with Buncee & Capstone!

Buncee March

March is Women’s History Month and throughout the month we take time to recognize and celebrate women who have made contributions to the world. The month-long celebration grew out of what started as a week-long celebration held and organized by a school district in California in 1978. Students at the school participated in a “real woman” essay contest. The event drew a lot of attention which inspired more school districts and organizations across the United States to participate. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation that declared the week of March 8th as Women’s History Week.

Six years later, the event became a month-long celebration in March after the National Women’s History project petitioned Congress to make the change. In March, we also celebrate International Women’s Day which first took place on March 8, 1911. Many countries participate by having celebrations and engaging in activities to recognize the contributions of women. Each year a theme is chosen for the month. This year, the theme is “Women providing healing, promoting hope.” It is focused more on recognizing how women from around the world and from different cultures have impacted society and supported others.

To help our students become more aware of these important events and to broaden their cultural awareness, it is important that we find resources that will help students to explore in authentic and meaningful ways. Once students have time to explore and learn, they need opportunities to create and share that learning with classmates and even beyond their school community. Buncee and PebbleGo Create make this possible because together they provide the right resources to create a meaningful and engaging learning experience for students.

Choosing a focus

To help students learn more about impactful women from history, teachers can get started by exploring some of the templates available and lessons from the Ideas Lab. Depending on the grade level or specific content area, there are a lot of options to choose from. Students can start with one of the templates available for Women’s History Month or start from a blank template to create something more authentic and personalized to their specific interests and needs.

For younger students using PebbleGo, they can choose from the resources to search biographies about women history makers. They can then design a Buncee to visualize and share their learning. Teachers can get started quickly with PebbleGo because it provides lesson plans and all of the materials that teachers need, which makes it a great choice.

Learning together.

Having students share their creations and learn from their classmates builds social awareness and understanding of different perspectives. To enhance learning and encourage students to share their work and build essential SEL skills, we can use a Buncee Board. A Buncee Board promotes collaboration in a digital space, helping students to develop many of the essential skills for the future and also to feel connected, especially if we are in virtual learning environments. Buncee boards can even be shared with other classrooms!

Check out some of the great examples for Women’s History Month in this Buncee Board.

Buncee Board of templates for Women’s History Month

Provide them with opportunities to share their ideas, engage in inquiry based learning, and explore different resources as they build their self- and social-awareness. By sharing their work with others, they focus on building social awareness and relationship skills during the learning process and develop a greater cultural understanding of others and their experiences. With Buncee, we have more choices available that will engage students in meaningful learning during Women’s History Month.

There are many templates and wonderful activities that you can do using Buncee and PebbleGo in your classroom. Perhaps have students select a woman from history to research and to create their own Buncee to share what they have learned about this woman.

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Students could even decide to interview someone about the work that they’re doing, a person that inspired them, it could be a family member, someone from their community, a business owner, anybody and they could use all of the features to share what they learned about that person in a Buncee. Being able to talk about what they learned using all of the graphics and media options available within Buncee would enable them to create something truly authentic and meaningful. And the best part is that students will be able to create something that is purposeful and will help others to learn about and honor influential women from history.

More ideas

Create a timeline and consider specific events that change history, for example in 1920 when women gained the right to vote.

Create a Buncee with a famous quote from a woman and express how students interpret it and share information about the woman who is known for it.

Explain an experiment, a process, a complex idea and find innovators and inventors throughout history who are known for work in this area!

Research writers or artists and create a Buncee to share information about them and create a work of art or a poem in their style.

Explore careers and women who are known for their work in these areas. Maybe a Buncee job shadow or career exploration would be a great idea!

Whether students choose to focus on a particular area, perhaps someone that made an impact in the medical field, in science, in history, in the arts, in sports, in any area of interest, promotes student choice and voice in learning. Connecting their own interests with learning about a person who made a difference in that area, will boost engagement and foster creativity in learning.

Rachelle Dené

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.