Reflecting on hybrid: Part I

Having taught the first nine weeks of the school year fully virtual, it took some time to adjust to all that goes into teaching online. Unlike the end of the past school year, we were running a regular schedule with classes meeting synchronously. After the first two days, I quickly figured out that I needed more than one computer and headphones. I needed at least two devices, a computer stand or two, and a ring light so that my students could actually see me. Beyond these tech adjustments, there was a struggle to get into a workflow. While we do many of the same tasks in our physical classroom space, it takes less time and the way we complete them looks different.

It was a process. Remembering to take attendance, mute and unmute myself, record the lesson, and make sure I turned off the incoming video for the students first, took some time. Developing a routine so I could minimize loss of instructional time as I worked to share my screen and verify it could be seen, teach while also letting students in who kept getting kicked out of meetings or were coming late to class, and remember to download the attendance list before ending the meeting. Of course, that meant I had to end the meeting, rather than just leave, otherwise the meeting continues and I don’t get the recording. Remember to download and then upload the recording to each class Teams space. This is just a short list of the tasks that we have to keep up with when teaching in the virtual space and if all students are learning remotely.

To say that it’s exhausting is an understatement. There are a lot of things to balance, challenges we have to push through, and roadblocks that pop up, especially when it comes to technology. We need to make sure our students can participate and that we provide them with the most meaningful learning experience that we can while also acknowledging that we are not in a typical learning situation.

While it was challenging, part of me wanted to stay with virtual learning because I felt like I finally had a good workflow and had improved on the types of learning opportunities I was creating for my students. But I also wanted to shift to hybrid so I had that time in class to see the students. Neither of these is ideal and I look forward to when we can all be back in our classrooms together.

Preparing for the shift

How do you teach in this type of hybrid, the teaching live and online simultaneously? I tried to prepare myself ahead of time by joining in discussions in different learning communities, participating in Twitter chats, and asking my own questions to find out what other teachers were experiencing. What many of them said was that it was overwhelming doing two jobs at the same time. Beyond its impact on us as teachers, I worry about the students who have questions that most likely can’t ask them because teachers are interacting with the students in the physical classroom or vice versa. It is a lot to take on and it’s not ideal but what I learned from spring school closures is that you have to make the best of it and you do the best you can.

How do you prepare? You have to be intentional about the types of learning experiences our students need. They need to feel comfortable in their learning space wherever that is. They need to be able to ask questions and find resources whenever they need them. We need support from our administrators when it does become overwhelming or we’re exhausted because we are and will continue to be. We need to know that it’s okay to take a break and to not have to worry so much about covering all of the same content that we normally would in any other “normal” school year. Nothing about this right now is normal and unfortunately, the likelihood is that it won’t return to normal anytime soon.

From the spring until now I’ve changed a lot about myself as a teacher. It has been hard to break away from the typical activities, content, or other materials that I have been accustomed to using in my classroom. But what I have learned is that we really need to think about how to best assess students and give them opportunities to practice because the answers are all over the Internet. As a language teacher, I battle against the use of online translators and a website that provides students with answers to any textbook or workbook you can find. There is also the issue of students copying each other’s homework. With these challenges, it forces us to think very carefully about what we’re asking our students to do. I tried some new tools thinking I could steer students away from using those and it was an improvement but there were still problems.

When it comes to technology, we can’t assume that students know exactly how to use it so we have to show them. When they use the technology for copying text directly from a website or in my class, using a translator, or finding an answer key, it is so frustrating. It is a struggle but we need to instead teach them why they shouldn’t use these tactics and how it negatively impacts their learning potential.

The great balancing act

The first day was interesting making the adjustments to our new classroom procedures and setup. As students come in, they grab towels to wipe down their desks and then log into the Teams meeting on their phone so they can access any notes in the chat.  I have a workspace at the front of the room, with one computer on a stand in front of me and my other computer propped up so that if I am screen sharing something on one, I can let students into the Teams meeting on the other computer. I use the stand so I am visible to the students in my classroom and online however I felt like I was greatly limiting my ability to interact with all students.

I started to lose my voice from having to speak louder through the mask and students at home could not hear me well. If the students at home spoke, only I could hear them and if students in the class asked a question, I often could not hear them because of the headset, so I kept having to remove one of the earbuds. I had to keep repeating everything and typing it into the meeting chat so that all students could read the message.  When I wrote on the board, students at home could not see what I wrote and so I needed a better plan.

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Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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15 AR and VR Immersive Learning Tools

There are many different tools available to educators today that help to put learning in students’ hands. With all of the technology, we now have endless opportunities to take learning beyond the confined classroom space and can now access the entire world, within only a few seconds with the right access and devices. Having access to this technology helps to connect students with learning in more authentic and meaningful ways, especially with some of the possibilities for students to engage with the content through the use of augmented and virtual reality tools.

When it comes to these more immersive technologies, figuring out where to start can feel overwhelming. However, as with all methods and tools, when thinking about bringing technology to our classrooms, we always want to focus on the purpose. Start with some clear goals for what it’s going to help our students do differently and how it’s going to positively impact their educational experience.

Going beyond imagination

There have been many times where I’ve told my students to just imagine what it would be like to explore a location—or, as a student myself, trying to grasp certain concepts in science or math courses, perhaps learning about animals or places that were mostly unreachable. All of this has changed with the rise of technology and in particular, immersive augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tools. These tools enable us to offer more interactive learning experiences that the students can control and build upon. Wondering where to start? Here are 15 resources to try.

1. Catchy Words AR: This fun AR word game promotes more active learning by giving students a word to solve by breaking the bubble of letters, grabbing and placing the letters into the right spaces to solve the word puzzle. Words can also be added that are specific to the content being covered. This has been an app helpful for students with dyslexia as well. (iPhone/iPad)

2. Curiscope Virtuali-Tee: More than just a t-shirt, it creates an AR learning experience for students to learn about human anatomy. Simply wear the Virtuali-Tee, scan and explore layers of the human body in AR. Curiscope is also launching their Multiverse AR poster series for learning about planets and other science topics.

3. Devar: A fun way for students or anyone to learn about AR by bringing colorful animated characters into the real world! Choose characters and then record a story to go along with it. Explore some of Devar’s other products such as AR books, cards, games, a globe and playsets available for learning about the alphabet, anatomy, chemistry, geography and more.

4. Experience Real History: Travel back in time to the Alamo in 1836 using an AR book, trading cards or mat. Download the ERH app to engage in interactive learning in AR with historical figures that come to life before your eyes.

5. Figment AR: This free tool offers both AR and VR in one. Create with Figment AR and add animated characters, objects, special effects, and portals. Enter the portals and transform them from AR to VR. Screen record to narrate a story in the real world. (iOS and Android)

6. Google Expeditions: With more than 800 virtual reality and 100 AR tours to choose from, you can engage students in a more immersive learning experience. Simply download​ the free app​ using either Google Play or the App Store and let students explore the world beyond their classroom.

7. Google Translate AR: Instantly translate signs, letters, images and more into 38 different languages simply by using your camera. Great for instant translation.

8. Just A Line: Have fun drawing in AR with Just A Line. The app is free and can be used for more active learning and also to have students record a video to tell a story about the drawing or the real physical space they are in.

9. Light Up Learning: Looking for a more hands-on way to help students learn about different structures and science-related topics? Try one of these apps from Light Up. Using Bridge Builder AR, students can design their own bridges in AR and test their structures. With Magnet Lab AR, students can use the app to simulate experiments to learn more about magnets and force. Animal Safari AR enables you to place animals in the real world and make your home or backyard a safari. Great for storytelling when combined with video recording for students to narrate their experience.

10. Merge EDU: Imagine holding a frog, a volcano,​ the earth, ​and more for close explorations right in your hands! Merge EDU is an AR/VR platform that provides more interactive learning for students to explore science-related topics in AR through Merge Explorer. Start with the free lesson on Terraforming Earth. ​Object Viewer can also be used for creating your own 3D content to upload onto the Merge Cube to bring into the real world.

11. Narrator AR: Add some AR fun to handwriting practice for students. Once a word is written on paper, use the app to scan the paper and then watch as a rainbow unicorn trail or rocket spell the word in AR. (iOS and Android)

12. Nearpod: An interactive multimedia learning platform that provides a quick way for educators to get started with VR. There are thousands of lessons to download that can include 3D objects for students to explore and VR field trips powered by 360 cities. Lessons can be found easily through the VR filter, and some favorites include the college tours. ​

13. PlayShifu: Have fun with AR games made for children including Shifu Orboot (an interactive AR globe) and Plugo (math, music, languages and more). Each of these provides games and lesson activities that are STEM/STEAM-focused.

14. Quiver: Bring a drawing to life with this coloring app available on iOS and Android systems. Start by printing a page, coloring it,  and then use the Quiver app to see the coloring in 3D AR.

15. Thyng App: A personal favorite for creating AR experiences that include animated characters, text, and more. Upload your own 3D objects or videos into the Thyng App and submit your “Thyngs” to be included in their library. Thyng can also be used to scan a target image and record up to a 10-second video to go with your target image. (iOS and Android)

These are just a few of the many tools available to explore AR and VR and get started quickly at different levels and content areas. For more ideas, follow #augmentedreality #virtualreality on Twitter and check out #ARVRinEDU, a weekly chat with Jaime Donally on Wednesday nights (9:00 pm EST).

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Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Immerse in Buncee: Explore the New AR!

Immerse in Buncee! Explore the New Augmented Reality!

As a Spanish and a ​STEAM teacher, I enjoy using a lot of different technologies in my classroom. Over the past couple of years, one tool that we have used a lot ​is​ Buncee. What I love about ​Buncee is​ that the​r​e really are endless possibilities for what educators and our students can create. Over the past five years, I’ve used it to make newsletters, signs for my classroom, interactive lessons, social media graphics, greeting cards, presentations, and so much more.

My students have ​relied on it for their project-based learning, ​class presentations in Spanish and ​for cross-curricular collaborations between my ​eighth grade STEAM class​. Beyond our class uses, my students have even used it​ to make their own ​greetings ​cards​,​ bookmarks​ and flyers for their own personal​ use.

​With Buncee​ there is definitely something for everybody and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it adds ​something else new and exciting and​ takes it to a whole new level. Bun​cee​​​​ now has augmented reality available on the iOS app​! How awesome is that! ​The timing couldn’t be any better as my students in my ​STEAM course have​ been ​learning about Buncee for the past few weeks. We spent time ​creating business cards and flyers, as we discussed entrepreneurship and participated in ​G​lobal ​M​aker ​D​ay. ​Students created their own business and I enjoyed sharing some of the business cards and flyers.

[photo courtesy of Eda Gimenez]

The next topic ​we started just so​ happened to be augmented and virtual reality​! ​​​​Finding out that we could keep learning and creating with ​Buncee was just what we needed.​ ​

​F​or anyone who’s looking to learn about augmented reality, this is definitely a great way to get started. You can create a ​Buncee and add animations, emojis, stickers, messages and tell a story right in your own space.​ Students can have fun creating something more engaging and learn about emerging technologies. ​

Whether you are learning in the classroom or remotely, this is definitely something that will work well! Students will have fun creating with and it would be a great option for teachers to use to welcome students into their classroom space.

Check out the video above to see Buncee AR in action!

Here are some fun ideas to try out

  • Ask students to create a greeting for family and friends.
  • Have students summarize a book that they are reading by creating an AR experience
  • Create a scene based on something they are learning in math or science, which makes it better to be able to interact with the content.

Encourage students to create something based on their own interests! Maybe they are interested in animals and would like to see what it’s like having animals in their home. Or perhaps they can create a festive holiday scene, or maybe even an augmented reality birthday party for a friend or family member!

There are so many ways that we can use Buncee AR in our classrooms to give students a different way to create and share their learning. We will bring stories to life with Buncee AR and also it will help all of us to better understand emerging technologies like augmented reality and provide a fun way for everybody to get started and explore together! See what you can create to teach a lesson to your students and have fun seeing what they create too!

Check out this video from Buncee that shows all of their fun creations! And for more fun, get involved in the Global Write! Like my students, have your students become entrepreneurs and market their own business!

To learn more about Buncee, join in their daily training! Sign up here!

Author

Rachelle Dene Poth is an edtech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher. Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant and Speaker, owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting. She is an ISTE Certified Educator and currently serves as the past -president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education. She is also a Buncee Ambassador, Nearpod PioNear and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

Rachelle is the author of four books, ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” (EduMatch) and “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” Rachelle Dene’s latest book is with ISTE “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World.” Rachelle is a blogger for Getting Smart, Defined Learning, District Administration, NEO LMS, and the STEM Informer with Newsweek.

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

Highlights from the week of ISTE20 Live

Each summer, I look forward to attending the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. Typically held at the end of June, this 5-day event brings in educators from around the world to learn more about how technology transforms teaching and learning. In past years, more than 70 countries have been represented with upwards of 20,000 or more participants. As with many conferences this year, ISTE had to make the shift to a virtual event. Initially pushing the event back a few months to the end of November in the hopes that it could be an in-person conference. Unfortunately circumstances due to the pandemic led to the difficult decision to make the event fully virtual. 

While there have been many conferences making the shift to virtual events this year, none of them have been the size of what ISTE typically brings in each year. You might wonder how could an event of this size be held fully online, considering the variety of session types, the number of people and the additional events that are typically held during the in-person event.  To provide all of this and more, ISTE created the event using a custom-built virtual platform and extended the length of the conference slightly, spanning it from November 29th through December 5th. More than 11,000 attendees were registered and in the platform, attendees could see the number of people participating live in the platform, engage in conversations with other educators and edtech companies, and navigate easily through their dashboard. 

ISTE CEO Richard Culatta kicked off the conference with the Sunday Mainstage events with featured speakers Megan Forbes, Brandie Wright, and Dr. Quentin J. Lee, high school principal known for creating viral COVID parody videos, including Can’t Touch This. Among the highlights were the featured voices this year, Ibram X. Kendi, a professor and award-winning author of several bestselling books including “How to Be an Antiracist” spoke during the Monday Mainstage event. Each day, the mainstage events had a theme such as inspire, include, empathize that connected with each featured speaker throughout the week.

Making choices for professional learning and networking!

I was impressed right away once I had a chance to interact with the platform, prior to the start of the conference. I looked forward to seeing how the ISTE team would create all of the learning opportunities in the virtual space. This year, the conference includes thousands of sessions with hundreds of options each day on topics such as assessment, blended and online learning, digital citizenship, emerging technologies, equity and inclusion, social-emotional learning, data privacy and cybersecurity and more.  There were some great topics and events to look forward to including esports, VR, Ted Masterclass talks and ignites! Sessions were divided into main categories which included:

Explore & Create, which offered experiences including Creation Labs, playgrounds and activities for educators to explore new ideas and tools. There were sessions grouped under the Listen & Learn category which included the Mainstage theater sessions, hundreds of panel discussions and snapshot sessions. The Participate and Share options included formats such as discussion forums, poster sessions, interactive lectures that were designed for attendees to be able to interact more with the presenters. The last type of session focus were Engage and Connect, which provided opportunities for networking and building social connections.

[image from ISTE conference site]

Finding Your Way  in a Virtual Conference

Once logged into the platform, you could navigate to your dashboard to view upcoming sessions, meetings requested, access the chat, favorite sessions and other digital resources in your digital tote. Each day attendees would receive some personally picked sessions for that day, to help with sorting through all of the hundreds of options available for each day of the conference. Similar to prior ISTE conferences, there was an email or posting on social media as well as announcements that popped up on the platform to let you know what to look forward to throughout the day. At the yearly in-person event, ISTE relies on a conference app to help attendees find sessions, locate rooms on the map, engage in gamified professional learning, add items to a digital tote and more. The app concept was fully embedded within the Live platform used for the conference which was quite amazing with all of that it offered and how robust it was.  Everything was easy to find and very visually engaging in your dashboard. 

For anyone looking to gamify their conference experience, they could go to the Game Center. Attendees joined a team, and then received points by attending sessions, participating in conversations or video meetings with other attendees, exploring the exhibits and completing daily activities and challenges.  

With so many choices, searching the program schedule for a conference of this size can be overwhelming, however this year, ISTE offered a “Learning Journey Design Desk” with live designers available to help attendees build their personal conference schedule!

Daily Conference Takeaways

For anyone who joined in the conference or just wanted a daily recap, Chris J Nesi, of House of Edtech podcast, held a live recap each night at 10pm EST and Brian Romero Smith and Valerie Lewis held a #PassTheScopeEDU After the Bell live broadcast at 6pm EST. Each night educators joined in both shows to share the sessions they had attended during the day and to engage in some conversations about all things education.

On Sunday night Chris Nesi had Dr. Quentin J. Lee, who spoke on Sunday during the Mainstage session how school impacted him and the importance of relationship building. Dr. Lee placed emphasis on communication and customer service, reaching kids beyond the screen. He said, “Build relationships and we will watch schools soar.”  On Tuesday night, I was able to join with Jaime Donally, ISTE Author, Educator and Consultant, to chat about augmented and virtual and recap our conference experience and how educators can get started with AR/VR in the classroom.

ISTE in VR. James McCrary, the incoming chair of ISTE Virtual Environments Network, and Steven Sato, organized several sessions of ISTE held in VR. To do so, they used Engage, which is a virtual reality platform that can be used for holding classes, events, meetings and more in a virtual reality environment. The sessions were held entirely in VR, and anyone could create an account and did not need any experience to participate. During the week of ISTE, there was a nightly gathering held in Engage where speakers shared about the history of VR in education and what the future might bring with these technologies. The speakers included Hall Davidson, Caitlin Krause, and Azine Davoudzadeh

Building PLN. Attendees were also able to network in a variety of ways during the conference. One option was to initiate a video or text chat in the “Connect.” Using information provided from your profile, a custom list was generated of people you should meet based. Profiled questions were focused on educational interests, preferred session formats and attendees also had to choose a team (owl, fox, octopus, and more) to participate in gamified professional development through networking activities and challenges each day. The live chat had more than 60,000 messages on Monday and so the ISTE team then created separate channels focused on topics, to help streamline conversations and also to encourage more networking. 

Playgrounds. Many of the professional learning networks held virtual playgrounds, having educators present on different topics for 30, 60 or 90-minute sessions. These took place throughout the weekends and during the week and spanned a longer period than what might typically happen during the in-person conference. One thing about a conference the size of ISTE is that it can be hard to get to all of the things. Thousands of steps logged each day by attendees, traveling throughout the conference and the post-conference events.  In a virtual event, we have less of the feeling of missing out on some sessions because we can catch recordings or we can access the content beyond when the actual event takes place. Playgrounds are always an opportunity to learn a lot of new ideas and make new connections.

Poster Sessions. A new feature was the virtual poster session which provided a very helpful template for anybody to create. During the scheduled time, presenters would interact with attendees, share additional resources and could check in with the chat throughout the week. Each poster had a demo video so attendees could learn about the session if they did not make it to the live presentation.

[a glimpse of the virtual poster session, Infographics]

Expo hall. During the conference there was a virtual Expo hall with over 300 exhibitors.  Attendees could visit each booth to watch live demos, chat live  with representatives from the tech company, quickly add resources to their digital tote and enter raffles for the chance to win prizes. The expo hall is always a space that I make time for when in-person because of the opportunity to talk with each company and see new features and devices. The platform offered a good substitute for the in-person experience.

There are benefits to conferences which offer virtual components of course, being more accessible to more educators and in many cases with a decreased cost. The variety of learning opportunities during this year’s ISTE conference were fantastic. Typical events at the conference include sessions, workshops, networking events, the expo, and poster sessions and playgrounds. One might think that it will be kind of difficult to offer the same types of events in a virtual space however ISTE provided  a great learning opportunity for educators from around the world. Being able to access the session recordings, connect with others on a global scale, set your own schedule and gather new ideas and resources all within the interactive conference platform. I really appreciated the ease of navigating the platform, accessing sessions and resources and making new connections. 

A big thanks to the ISTE Team that planned this impressive virtual event. Although I prefer being able to be in the same “space” with PLN, ISTE20 Live did not disappoint. There were learning and networking opportunities everywhere.  Hoping to see everyone in person for ISTE 2021, to be held in San Antonio, Texas in June.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Designing Authentic Project Based Learning

Guest Post by Stephanie Rothstein, @Steph_EdTech

I hear it often, “Oh yeah, I do projects.” But doing a project is very different from Project Based Learning. Chairing a Design Thinking PBL pathway has changed me as an educator. I now look at all situations through a project application lens. A few years ago at a leadership conference, I went to a session on Project Design. The speaker explained that there are three ways to approach project design. 

When designing projects, you can be inspired by your content, you can be inspired by a real need in your own community, you can be inspired by an issue that impacts the world. 

I have thought back to this approach often as I approach project design. I find when I work with educators, that most approach projects trying to figure out how to apply their content to a project that helps students showcase their learning. But Project Based Learning means revamping this idea and essentially inverting it. So instead of a project at the end after doing the learning, it is through the project that students learn the concepts. It might not be in the order we would have planned for them, but they will learn it and in my experience will go deeper because they developed questions and created meaningful connections. 

So, what does this actually look like in the classroom? How does it actually work? I will take you through one of my English 9 projects to walk you through.

I have done Service Learning for 18 years but it was only about 8 years ago that I finally felt like this really became Project Based Learning. Based on a general interest survey on service topics, I split the class and bring them to 6 different locations. We learn about that service organization and volunteer. These students then come back and present to the class about the organization. Students in the class are able to ask questions to the student experts. After, students then pick their topic to focus on for the unit. 

Students are then organized into shared topic groups and together these students pick a non-fiction book. I have a suggested book list that has been made by local and global non-profit groups, teachers, and students. Groups are also encouraged to propose a new book. While reading their book, students hold their own book chats, record them and use them to create their own podcasts to submit to the NPR student podcast challenge. This is not “the project” and is just one part of the project design. Students also select their own individual research topic and use articles, the interview of an expert at their non-profit, and reflection on their time volunteering to help inform their research paper. 

The last part of this unit came because students asked me a question. They said, “I’m glad we volunteered 20 hours, interviewed someone, read, researched, wrote a paper, but shouldn’t we be doing something more? Shouldn’t we apply our learning and give back in some way?” After that, the real Project Based Learning opportunity was born. Students create a Give Back Opportunity that helps spread awareness, collects items to donate, or fundraises and must be based on the needs of that organization. These projects have brought about real impact. This year, being virtual has broadened my perspective on how to make an impact with this project and we will use Solve In Time Cards to Design Think their Give Back Opportunity and The Global Goals for Sustainable Development to help students think both locally and globally. This unit takes 14 weeks and closes with group presentations to the class and an invited group of non-profit panelists. 

This project approaches from all three focus areas: content, local, and global. I always knew for this project that I wanted to connect with local non-profits and that I wanted students to better understand non-fiction resources. The other layer to consider when building the unit plan is which tech skills will students build upon during this project. 

Project Based Learning is complex and is rooted in questions. It must begin with an entry experience. My “workshops” are based on student needs that they create at the start of the unit. These workshops may be for small groups or the entire class. Students still have deadlines, they still have goals, but project based learning means that groups may be at different stages of the project. I use a shared SCRUM board to help students track project progress so that I know where they are and the team understands where they are in the process. Topics for this project vary based on year and interests. And this is real life. I have had students who focus on Foster Care, Women’s Rights, LGBTQI, the Environment, Black Lives Matter, Food Insecurity, Animal Rights, Homelessness and more. It is the variety of topics that helps me know that my students are connecting individually and are able to teach something to their classmates and to me. They are all learning the skill of researching using articles, non-fiction books, interviews, and personal experiences. 

It keeps me on my toes and no year is ever the same but I am proud of the learning experiences created through deep Project Based Learning.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Spreading ideas and empowering student voice

Communication and Collaboration: Podcasts for Empowering Student Voice

 

There’s no shortage of digital tools available for use in classrooms today. No matter what category of tool you are looking for, there are so many options to choose from. While this is great to have so many choices, at the same time it can be challenging to filter through them to find exactly what you’re looking for. Fortunately many of these tools offer multiple uses, beyond the traditional purpose for which they were created. Sometimes it comes down to being innovative and creative and trying some of the tools yourself, and possibly even asking students for their ideas. We always need to be purposeful when choosing technology for our students. Think first about the “why” behind wanting to include a new tool into your class. What will it enable the students to do differently and how will it promote student learning?

 

One area that I like to focus on each year is finding new ways to build communication and collaboration skills with students. Using different digital tools has has led to more authentic and meaningful ways for students to learn, more ways to share their ideas, and in some cases, has served as a catalyst for increasing student engagement and empowering student voice. With the new tool Synth, we can create more opportunities for students to share their learning using a platform that goes beyond a simple podcasting tool. And it is a free service for teachers to use!

 

Communication is key

I have long been a fan of the tool Flipgrid. After finding it a few years ago, it quickly became one of our favorites for sharing ideas, doing Spanish speaking assessments and even for reflecting on progress with project based learning. It was also used for students to give me feedback about our class and share their ideas for what we could learn about. The best part about using Flipgrid was how it positively impacted students in my classroom. I had students who rarely spoke up in class, sometimes afraid of being wrong and others just not feeling comfortable speaking in front of their peers. I noticed almost immediately that students felt much more comfortable and built their confidence as they used it more frequently. When they became more comfortable speaking using Flipgrid, the confidence that they developed transferred over into our physical classroom space as well. We have an even better way to communicate and keep building on the conversations that we’re having in the classroom as well as out of the classroom. Everyone can be involved in the discussion on their own schedule.

 

We hear a lot about student choice and student voice and wanting students to develop confidence when sharing their ideas and learning to interact in both the physical and the virtual learning spaces. Students who may be shy, and less likely to speak out in class, somehow developed a comfort to share their ideas when using one of these voice or video response type tools. There’s something to be said for being able to offer a simple tool, that leads to such positive and more personalized learning experiences for students.

There never seems to be enough time in the class to involve all students in the discussions or to even cover everything that we want to. Sometimes we have to stop a great discussion because the bell rings, and have to wait until the next day. This is where Flipgrid really stands out. It enables educators to open up more time for students to share their thoughts and to work independently beyond the school day. One of the best features is that you can listen wherever you are, and whenever it is most convenient for your schedule. Learning on the go!

 

Let’s get them talking, thinking and learning from one another

Another tool that I love using in the classroom is Synth. There are so many ways that Synth can help students and teachers. Think about some lessons that you teach where students would benefit from additional instruction to listen to at their convenience. You can create a series of Synths which give students a different explanation or offer some tips for students to follow as they are completing an assignment or working on a project. Create one for each topic and then continue to add more depending on the questions that you receive, it’s a great way to have an interactive discussion that everyone can listen to.

 

How about having students share an idea or teach something by creating their own Synth. This can be a great way for students to collaborate and brainstorm ideas for a topic for independent study. They could ask their peers to respond to their Synth and brainstorm ideas together. A great way to help students feel more comfortable talking through technology that will lead to more comfort in the classroom as well.

 

How great would it be to have your own class podcast? Where there’s not only one person leading the podcast and interviewing guests, but rather the whole class can be involved. Why not create a podcast that can be shared within and beyond the school? Set up interviews with different student groups or teachers and share the story of what’s going on in your classroom and the school community.

 

Synth is powerful for sharing student voice, for generating new ideas and really helping students to learn in a more authentic and meaningful way. And it is so easy to get started, I was able to create a podcast within minutes. It evens generates a transcript of your Synth.

If you are looking for an idea to use with your students, then explore Synth. Enjoy listening to the responses wherever you are and on your own schedule.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

 

Learning: Anytime and Anywhere

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Leveraging Technology to Enhance the Learning Experience

Rachelle Dene Poth

Technology creates many opportunities for teachers to provide innovative learning experiences for students. An even greater benefit is that these learning experiences can take place regardless of the time and place, and offer students more personalized opportunities for interacting with their peers and the content. With so many choices now available, sometimes deciding on a specific digital tool or a type of tool can present a challenge.

I am often asked about where a teacher should start when either implementing technology for the first time or creating a blended learning environment. What I suggest is to first think about some of the learning activities that are already being used in the classroom. What has seemed to work the best and what are some that possibly either take a lot of time to create or that don’t offer students a lot in the way of choices. Another consideration is focusing on your goals and what you are hoping to accomplish by using technology. Is it to create an access point where students can ask questions, obtain class resources or interact with their peers? Or is it to provide students with different methods to practice the content and also to apply their learning in more authentic ways?

Here are four strategies for helping students to communicate, collaborate and create in the traditional learning space as well as beyond the classroom setting. By trying some of these ideas, you will see some positive changes that promote student voice, create more time for you to interact with and support students in learning, and it will help students to build digital citizenship skills as they learn to leverage the technology and navigate in the digital world.

Improve Communication Through Effective Technology Use

One way that I have used technology that has had a big impact in my classroom is by using a messaging tool. A few years ago I noticed a disconnect with students and the class, either they were absent and could not get materials or they had questions after the school day had ended. By using messaging apps, I can send reminders, answer student questions and provide feedback when students need it. You can also use some of these apps to connect with families as an alternative to email. There are a lot of options available and your choices will depend on the level and area you teach and whether your goal is to set up communication between students and you or with parents. I use Remind with students and parents, and BloomzApp is another option for creating a space to interact with parents. Either of these are good for providing students and parents with live feedback and more. It is easy to sign up for any of these using any device, and privacy and security are provided.

Enhance Collaboration with Digital Learning Spaces

By establishing a specific location for students to access class resources, find out about assignments, and to ask questions, we can provide the support that students need to be successful. Some of the ways that I have used Edmodo and Google Classroom are to curate and provide resources, post daily assignments or reminders, announce upcoming class events, and to be accessible for student questions. Depending on the platform you use, it is easy to update the site and it is also a good way to help parents stay informed of what is going on in the classroom. It can be a collaborative learning space for students to interact with their peers or to connect globally using additional digital tools that are all housed within one learning space. Tools like Edmodo, a blogging site, Google Classroom or creating a standalone website will help to create a connection between you, the students, and their learning.

Foster Active Discussions

Sometimes you may want to have students brainstorm an idea, participate in a scavenger hunt, share a learning experience, or just respond to a question. While we can always use the traditional tools for this in class, sometimes we may want the discussion to go beyond the class time and space. I would recommend trying either Padlet or Synth. There are so many ways to use Padlet, that if you want students to post images, record audio, upload video, or simply respond to a question, it offers all of these options in one tool. Students have come up with some great ideas for using Padlet, such as building a digital portfolio, creating a multimedia presentation, or presenting their Project Based Learning. It is a versatile tool that many educators may already be using, but may not be aware of other innovative ways to use Padlet. Also by using Synth, a tool for podcasting, educators can provide daily class updates, add links or resources to supplement what was done in class, and even interact with other students in classrooms around the world. It enables discussions to happen at any time and is an easy tool to use for promoting discussions and helping students to share ideas. There are many ways that these tools can also add to the organization in the classroom by providing written or verbal directions and ways to reinforce instruction.

Enhance Visualizations and Presentations

Some students are visual learners and having tools which enable them to display different types of information and content, they will be able to retain the content in a more authentic and meaningful way as they create. Infographics are useful for so many class assignments and projects that are student created, but they are beneficial for teachers to create a course syllabus, make visuals for the classroom, or to create a flipped lesson and display all of the learning materials in one graphic. Beyond creating representations of learning, they are useful for sharing information and offering ways for students or parents to contact you or access class materials. Some of the options available are: Canva, Piktochart, Smore and Visme. It is always good practice to learn with and from the students, so try creating some new materials for your classroom as well. Perhaps create a class newsletter, or make some signs that will be useful for your learning space.

There are many ideas for how to expand the learning space and to set up different learning opportunities for students. These are just a few of the ideas that we have used and that have worked well in our classroom. Sometimes we just need to brainstorm a little or, if you want to find new ways to use some digital tools in your classroom, try asking your students. Students come up with really creative ideas and by involving them in some of the classroom decisions, they will feel more valued and have a more meaningful learning experience.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Providing the Right Learning Spaces for Students to Explore and Create

 

When looking at the design and structure of classrooms today, they may look quite similar to the classroom setting that you experienced when you were a student. Structurally, students in most schools follow a set schedule each day and spend time in different classrooms throughout the building. Unlike years ago when I was a student and even as recently as five or 10 years ago, learning was still confined to the physical classroom space. However, through the capabilities we now have with technology, the opportunities to connect students with learning that takes them out of the classroom space are incredible.

For most students, learning took place in the classroom and on-the-job or real-world learning experience had to wait until the end of the school day or in some cases, after high school graduation. Of course, there were students enrolled in vo-tech or career and technical education programs outside of the school building, taking them to a new learning environment to interact and collaborate with students from other schools, learn from different teachers, explore ideas and strategies, and even different types of careers. These types of learning spaces helped students to better understand the skills they might need in the future. However, not all students had access. But today, we have the power to offer these opportunities to all students. With the resources that we now have, we owe it to our students to offer them learning experiences in as many different learning spaces as possible so that they have time to explore and build the skills that they will need when they leave our schools.

So where or how do we provide these different learning spaces for students? We start by making sure that we are connected in the right spaces ourselves. As educators, this means being connected in a space that goes beyond our school community. It means leveraging social media and different networks, attending conferences, reading blogs, listening to podcasts for ideas or picking up educational books on topics that we wish to learn more about. We must make sure that we have the right knowledge to stay current and relevant so that we can design the best learning experiences for our students. Not that we need to create everything for them; we just need to get them started so that they can take the initiative to design their learning path in the space they decide best fits their interests and needs.

How to Provide Space for Students to Explore

1. Project-based learning (PBL): By implementing PBL, we empower students to look for problems or challenges in their community and globally, try to find solutions, and focus more on learning as a process. Beyond just doing PBL in a class, there are schools opening which are PBL schools, like Gibson EK, a public high school located in Washington. The motto at Gibson EK is “Real World, Real Learning, Real Life.’” Students do not enroll in traditional courses, instead they “earn academic competencies through projects” and work with a mentor through internships two days per week. The school is designed on principles such as “Stop learning for school, start learning for life.” I truly believe that students need opportunities to explore their passions, design their own problems or challenges, and have the time to work through the learning process. To best prepare students for the future, whether college or career ready, they need to decide on their learning space, experience productive struggle, reflect, revise and continue on their path of learning.

 

2. Student Organizations: Schools that have student organizations like the Model United Nations empower students to build skills of advocacy, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and self-confidence. In my school, I have seen remarkable growth in the students who have become involved in the Model UN under the leadership of Mr. Ken Kubistek, a history teacher, who has led this group through conferences and competitions for many years. Through work with the Model UN, students engage in authentic learning experiences that take them out of the classroom and connect them with real-world learning and global issues. Students develop their voice and build many vital skills for the future by exploring new learning spaces through organizations like the Model UN.

 

3. Media Creation. Students need opportunities to create their own space to show learning. Whether students create a YouTube channel and develop their own show, explore an emerging technology trend or prepare a solution to current event issues, there are many ways that students can create a different type of learning space for themselves and for others. Perhaps a student-created podcast using tools like Anchor or Synth, where they invite guests to discuss current issues, focus on themes for education or anything that interests them. A podcast designed with the goal to help educate not only classmates and members of their school community but the public at large. Opportunities like these promote more meaningful learning while also building digital literacy skills and empower students to find space that meets their interests.

 

4. School Community Connections: I recently gave a keynote about the future of education and how the look of school is changing.  I received a lot of great questions and comments and one suggestion that led me to think about the power of creating more community connections. The idea was to have students go to local senior care facilities where they can share some of the things they are learning in school, and engage in discussions with older adults to learn about each other’s experience in education, work, and life. I think this would have a great impact because of the connections that would form between students and members of the community. The learning space can be anywhere and it would be an authentic way to engage students with learning about the world around them. Build connections and greater understanding about what things used to be like, what things are like now, and make predictions for the future.

 

5. Brainstorming ideas: Push student thinking by asking them to brainstorm ideas for the top five or 10 challenges in a certain area of the world, maybe based on geography, a certain industry, or perhaps ask students to come up with a list of complaints or things they notice about the world around them. Give students space to develop plans for how to solve these challenges or how they could have solved them better. Another idea is to have students be part of project event management for planning. In my school, students can take an entrepreneurship course in which they design products, make sales pitches and plan large scale events. The course also takes students out into the Pittsburgh area to tour businesses and learn about different industries, where they can get that close view, ask questions and make connections. They begin in the classroom and then find the space to pursue new knowledge and explore.

 

There are many ways to expand where and how our students can learn. We have access to the world as our classroom and the more we can increase the learning space we provide the better prepared our students will be for the future.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Educators: 10 Ways to Make Time for Self-Improvement

Originally published on Getting Smart
As educators, we need to make more time for self-care. In order to bring our best selves to our classrooms and our schools, we must make time for our needs each day. Over the holiday breaks, making time to do some normal things like catching up with family and friends, and sleep in late, are good ways to recharge over the summer break.

When we have these breaks, it is easy to get into a new daily routine, finding time for all of the things that we wanted to do but couldn’t fit into our schedules throughout the year. It may take a few days to adjust, but I find that in a short amount of time, I am well into my winter break routine of catching up on some work and enjoying the extra time with family. The days are still filled but on a more relaxed schedule. Many take advantage of the extra time and lack of a set schedule to engage in personal and professional development. Whether it is a time to travel with family and friends or something more professional like attending conferences or taking a class, we all find ways to fill all of that extra time. We get used to a new routine, and likely feel pretty good about our improvement and feel some balance until August arrives and educators return to their classrooms, hopefully, recharged and excited for the new school year.

This has been a challenging year and educators can quickly become burnt out trying to prepare everything and keep up with the changes. We can struggle with finding balance and making time to keep up our personal and professional growth during the school year . So how can we still do ‘all the things’ and stay balanced and find enough time for ourselves?

Here are ten ways to add in more time for you and to be more productive each day:

  1. Connect. We are surrounded by so many people each day in the midst of thousands of interactions. But how many of those interactions are truly meaningful and give us the needed time to pause, lean in and really listen? Are we able to connect with family, friends, students, and Professional Learning Networks (PLN)? Find a way to connect every day. Make time for family first. Share a meal together, go for ice cream, take a walk, watch TV, or play a game. Family time is critical; remember to make time for your ‘school family,’ too. Whether it’s by greeting students at the door, spending time in the hallways or the teachers’ lounge, or using social media to connect through messaging, make time for those moments. Find at least one person to connect with each day. It helps to keep us grounded and gives us access to a constant support system.
  2. Have a routine. Sometimes it comes down to just having a little bit of consistency in each day. Maybe this means setting aside a specific time to read in the morning, listen to music, respond to emails, or simply reviewing your schedule for the day. Personally, I find that having these activities during the day is one way to keep myself in balance. Knowing what my day holds or starting each day with a certain task like reading a blog keeps me accountable for taking time for myself.
  3. Choose one. There are so many choices we have for activities that are worthwhile for our mental and physical well-being. Our days become quite full, and the worst thing we can do is overwhelm ourselves by trying to do everything. Some good advice I received from a friend is to simply choose one thing. Get outside and walk, meet up with family and friends, whether once a week or as often as your schedule allows. Try to pick one activity per day that will be good for your well being.
  4. Disconnect. We all stay connected by a variety of devices. Technology is amazing because it enables us to communicate, collaborate and access information whenever we need to. However, it disconnects us from personal connections, takes away a lot of our time, and can decrease our productivity. It’s beneficial for us to make time to truly disconnect. Whether you leave your device at home during a vacation or simply mute notifications for a period of time during the day, it’s important to take a break. Pause to reflect, and be fully present with family and friends. Personally, I struggle in this area but have been more intentional about taking a break from technology.
  5. Exercise and movement. Think about the students in our classrooms and the learning experiences we create for them. Do we have them stay seated in rows each day or are there opportunities to move and be active? Finding time for exercise and movement is important to our well-being. Go for a walk, have a dance party, or use an on-demand or online exercise program. Get up and moving with your students, and take learning outside whenever you can. Exercise has so many benefits that even setting aside 10 minutes a day is a great way to boost energy and mental wellness. Invite a friend or colleague to join you and hold each other accountable.
  6. Time to rest. Just like exercise, it’s also important to get enough rest. How many times do educators stay up late grading papers or writing lesson plans, and get up extra early to prepare for the day?  We can’t bring our best selves to our classroom if we are tired. Lack of sleep and quality rest will negatively impact our mental and physical health. Our students and colleagues will notice our lack of energy and possibly even mental clarity, so we need to ensure time for sleep to receive the positive benefits!
  7. Reflection. It is important that we model lifelong learning and the development of self-awareness and metacognition for our students. This involves setting aside a period of time where we reflect on our day, the progress we made, the challenges we faced, and even epic fails that we might have experienced.  Finding a way to capture these reflections whether in a blog or journal or using an audio recording to listen to later, are all great ways to track our progress. Then we can revisit our reflections and ask ourselves, “Am I a little bit better today than I was yesterday?”
  8. Learning. Education is changing every day. There are new topics, trends, and tools that make keeping up with everything tough. There are so many ways that we can learn today that don’t take up too much time, however. While traditional professional development training and in-person sessions are useful—especially for the opportunity to connect with other people—the reality is that carving out availability to do this on a regular basis is a challenge. Instead, find something that meets your schedule. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or participating in a Twitter chat once or twice a week, watching a webinar, reading a few blog posts, or joining a group on Voxer to discuss what’s on your mind and ask questions about education. There are many ways to learn on the go!
  9. Celebrate. Make time every day to celebrate something. Whether it’s a positive event in one of your classes, something one of your students did, recognizing a colleague, validating your own efforts or just a random celebration, focusing on the positives will impact your well-being in the long run. No matter how big or small, the steps toward success and achieving goals and even some mistakes should be embraced and even celebrated. Modeling a celebration of the learning process, especially from failures, sends a positive message and is a good model for students.
  10.  The power of no. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to say no. Educators are often asked or volunteer to assume additional responsibilities like sponsoring a club, joining a committee, chaperoning an event, or participating in other school events. There are so many things that comprise our role as educators and with our passion for teaching, it can be difficult to say no, especially when it comes to education and our students. But as hard as it is, sometimes it’s the best choice. Think about what is most important to you and the limited time that you have. I focus on why and how my participation or acceptance of whatever it is can benefit my students and the school community. Saying no is tough, but it is more than reasonable to say no sometimes. We have to do what is best for ourselves, so we can do what is best for our students.

These are just a few ways I’ve tried to maintain more balance and be more effective and productive in my work. We have to start each day with a focus on self-care, because that is how we can make sure that we are bringing our best selves into our classrooms, into our schools, and home to our families each day.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Supporting Educators and Students

Guest post by Lee Ann Raikes, @mastereducator @MRS.RAIKES/MES

Teaching is difficult. Studies have shown that some teachers have taken on symptoms of PTSD because they become so engrossed in each of their students’ lives. If you are human, it is bound to happen. One of the reasons I chose to pursue this profession was to inspire and empower our future generations to be bold enough to follow their passions regardless of any obstacles that stand in the way. Easier said than done when most of our students come to us with some form of past trauma that can hinder their desire to learn and grow both as an individual and a student. The students who need us the most are the ones who never miss a day of school and the students who challenge us the most. While I still struggle some days in finding a way to maneuver through the behaviors my students may present, I have found ways to make my life, as well as my students’ lives, in and out of the classroom more bearable.

I am a huge proponent of whole child education and realizing the importance of building relationships with my students. I am also a very passionate and emotional human being. I made myself physically and mentally ill because I could not find a way to help the most challenging students understand their potential. They would fight me every step of the way. The harder I tried to support them, their behaviors would escalate. After many conversations and battles, it all became so clear. These students were so afraid that I would let them down and give up on them, as so many others have. An epiphany of sorts, but that didn’t make my job at hand any more comfortable. Sadly, there were days I wanted to give up. I knew I couldn’t go on this way, so I began researching what I could do to transform learning in the classroom and improve my mental state. I am known as a very energetic, happy, and positive individual. My students feel comfortable in my classroom and know they can come to be at any time, but I knew I needed to find strategies that would better prepare me for dealing with obstacles that would impede learning and growth over the school year.

Like it or not, I, as the adult in the room, set the tone. It all begins with a mindset. If I am saying to myself I am going to have an awful day, then I will. If I hold preconceived notions about my students, that is a disservice to them. I would sabotage my day the moment I woke up by putting thoughts in my head that possibly weren’t even going to occur. Not only was this unfair to myself, but my students as well. I would engage in negative self-talk, which led to having a terrible day. I would think during my first period about a student I wouldn’t see until 4th period and how awful he was going to be. When he would enter the classroom, and he was having a great day, I already had it in my mind he was going to misbehave, so I would react negatively instead of correctly praising him for engaging appropriately. How wrong is that? Trust me, students felt any vibes I was putting out there, whether positive or negative. If I wanted to continue to grow as an educator and connect with my struggling students, I had to change.

For about two years now, I have followed the strategies of a growth mindset, the power of positive self-talk, and writing daily affirmations. I have brought these strategies into my classroom as well. My 7th graders had no idea that challenges grow the brain. They didn’t realize that the more they said they hated math, the harder it would be for them. They felt they were labeled by grades or the services they received; therefore, they wouldn’t give their best efforts. By visualizing where they wanted to go, it made the process of achieving their goals more bearable. Now, we as a community of learners catch ourselves before letting negative words or thoughts come off our lips or enter our minds. Just by teaching the students about the brain and the power of a positive attitude and mindset, I have seen substantial growth in my students academically and as humans. Yes, I prepare my students for meeting academic goals, but more importantly, I want to prepare them for life. Life is hard, but understanding positive thinking’s benefits and power can make difficulties easier to handle.

Reflecting is a powerful tool. I knew I could do better and find ways to deal with the teaching profession’s emotional aspects. Ask yourself, are you sabotaging your day? Do you hinder your relationship with your students or colleagues based on preconceived notions? Do you limit yourself based on negative thinking or a bad attitude? It matters! I challenge you to wake up each morning and start the day with positive self-talk and carry that into the world. You will find a sense of inner peace, and the negativity you encounter won’t consume you. Research has shown that people who are positive thinkers add years to their lives. We are what we say we are. Who are you choosing to be?

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