Pushing Through: Ideas for Student Engagement

Spring always presents a great opportunity for educators to try different digital tools or explore new ideas, especially as the school year winds down. Each spring, I notice that student engagement decreases, and I look for new ideas to boost engagement. Spring and the end of the school year present a great opportunity to bring new experiences into the classroom and even take some risks, especially as the year comes to a close and we reflect while also seeking new ideas for the upcoming school year.

When we provide students with experiences that will more meaningfully engage them with the content, also moving them from consumers to creators when we can, it will lead to an increase in student engagement and higher student achievement. Offering more choices helps us to better meet specific student interests and needs.

As we try to keep up the momentum through the end of what has not been an easy or typical school year and finish strong, adding in a few new or innovative ideas or bringing some game-based learning into our classroom, may create the boost that we all need!

Here are five tools and one idea to try before the end of this school year. Each offers something unique and in many cases, can be used for more than just one purpose. They can all be used for hybrid, virtual or in-person learning. Some options for game-based learning, quick assessments, or simply creating and sharing what students have learned! Also, a few of these might be used not just by teachers but can be opportunities for students to create with the content as well.

  • Figment AR: Storytelling or creating a quick check-in with students would be 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.
  • Gimkit. While Gimkit has been around for a few years, the team continues to add new features and look for ways to boost student engagement and retention of content. It is one of many game-based learning tools available and has been a favorite with my students each year. Students have more personalized learning experiences because Gimkit promotes increased content retention through repetitive questions and the different options for playing in or out of the classroom. A new feature is Tag Domination which has been awesome in my classes, the student love it! There are additional modes to play in Gimkit and teachers receive detailed session reports with student progress to help guide their instruction.
  • Nearpod. Offers many options for promoting student engagement through its interactive multimedia platform and the ready-to-run lessons and activities now available. There are many options for a quick game of “Time to Climb” to do an assessment or an exit slip for example, or explore their VR library and find some immersive learning experiences to take students on a trip around the world! There are quick activities to choose from and even matching pairs or short interactive video lessons available. We can quickly add engaging and interactive lessons that also spark student curiosity by bringing some virtual reality into the classroom!
  • Skribbl.io, A fun drawing game that can be played by using lists available within the platform or adding your own vocabulary words, which I did in our Spanish class. Teachers then provide a code for students to join the game. There are different rounds and throughout the game, each player gets a chance to draw while the other players have to type in a guess of what the object is. Players are not able to see the words guessed by other players if they guessed correctly.

And one non-digital option to try is sketchnoting, which has been a favorite activity for a hobby and a great one for learning! Creating sketchnotes is helpful for visual learners when it comes to better retention of the content. The opportunity to draw and design symbols, which can be personal to each student, is fun and different and even students who do not like to draw much, enjoy doing sketchnoting. It can be done on paper or using one of the digital tools available. It is helpful with analyzing or conveying concepts and attaching more meaning as students decide how to demonstrate what they are learning. We have used sketchnotes in my STEAM course and my Spanish classes.

Thinking about the end of the year as teachers wrap up the content material or look for ways to review, perhaps for final exams in some courses or simply to take a break and try something different, these have been some recent favorite additions. Although these tools are not specific to one area of focus or grade level, hopefully, they offer new opportunities at the end of the year and that will lead to more meaningful and engaging learning experiences. They also provide more ways for students to create, through hands-on creation or interactive lessons, which work well in any learning space. By bringing in new technologies and opportunities, we better prepare students with the skills that they will need moving forward while also helping them to build essential SEL skills.

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It Is Critical That We Maslow So That Our Students Can Bloom

 Guest post by Kris Jenkins @prek33

 First, a little background on Maslow and Bloom. 

     Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist. His hierarchy of needs framework is a popular theory of motivation.  In this theory, Maslow states that our actions are motivated by our physiological needs.  Most often this is represented by a pyramid, with the most basic needs at the bottom and the more complex needs at the top, as pictured below.

     Benjamin Bloom, also developed a theory around how children learn, called Bloom’s Taxonomy.  This framework suggested that various levels of skills and abilities are how children learn.  This pyramid is shared below.

     Many educators have heard the term; “You need to Maslow before Bloom.”  Basically, this means that before a child can ever learn, their basic human needs to be met first.  This fact, while present before the worldwide pandemic, was brought to the forefront during the pandemic and after.  Kids are coming into schools today without having their basic needs met!  During the pandemic, our children were isolated. Isolated from extended family and from their peers, as well.  This leads to what many in the education field are calling “Learning Loss.”  I will jump up on that pedestal and say to you, “They lost a hell of a lot more than just their learning.” The students we are seeing now have strong social and emotional needs. Check out this chart below:

     This is a chart showing the last time students of varying grade levels had a “normal” school year.  Abraham Maslow will argue that these children, now labeled The Pandemic Kids, will not be able to meet the stringent guidelines set up by some arbitrary textbook printing company until their basic needs are met.  If these needs are not being met for a child, there is no way that they will be able to meet the demands of “Learning Loss.”

     Social-Emotional Learning is now more important than it’s ever been.  SEL is not about teaching the student what to think. It is about teaching the child how to relate to any given topic in regard to their own perspectives and environment. It’s too bad that the importance of this has been politicalized to the point of being something bad.  It is merely a universal means of getting a high-quality education that prepares them for school, work, and life. The whole world has been going through something the likes of which many of us have ever seen.

     The core principles of SEL have been a part of educational philosophy for ages.  When our kids were in school, it was called “Life Skills” class. Same thing. Different words. The educational world does that a lot; changes labels on things.

     What SEL does do is to help kids (and adults) learn to regulate themselves in ways that will help them get along in school and within their communities.  If SEL is prioritized in schools, our students can learn, in a safe, non-threatening environment. It gives our kids a sense of belonging, a feeling of being valued, which is super-important to social and academic success.  Social and emotional skills kids learn can include goal setting, stress management, team building, and learning perspectives of others.

     Schools that have implemented strong SEL programs have dedicated time to practice social/emotional skills, opportunities for the students to have buy-in (such as helping to plan the class expectations), within a strong and supportive environment, and this is one component of what will help combat “Learning Loss.”  My other thoughts of Learning Loss is for another blog…

Follow Kris’ blog and on Twitter @prek33

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The Power of Morning Meetings

Guest Post by Bridget Gengler, Fourth Grade Teacher, Long Beach, California

Twitter: @BridgetGengler

Social and Emotional learning is a way to connect to the whole child. It is difficult to teach academics to a child if their social and emotional status is out of sync.

Social and Emotional learning addresses 5 different competencies according to CASEL Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning:

  • Self awareness
  • Self Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Skills
  • Responsible Decision-Making

CASEL envisions all children and adults as self- aware, caring, responsible, engaged and lifelong learners who work together to achieve their goals and create a more inclusive, just and equitable world. ( CASEL, 2022)

I try to incorporate all these competencies throughout the school year in my classroom. One of the main ways that I do this is through morning meetings. I have been doing morning meetings for several years. They are a way to bring the classroom community together and help to get everyone centered for the day. They focus on the five competencies and create awareness within the learning environment. They help to form a more inclusive, caring and compassionate group of learners who support each other. The meetings help students become more aware of themselves and their fellow classmates. They create student voice and dialogue that contributes to my overall message to my students that says, “you are important and you matter.

Our morning meetings start with a leader who runs the meeting each day. The leader begins with the calendar and then does a class check in.

“How are you feeling today? – Fist to Five?

Fist- I feel awful to Five- I feel awesome.

I remind students that the check in is for two reasons.

1.It is for each other, so we can celebrate or support one another.

2. It is also for ourselves- so we can self-monitor how we are feeling on that day.

The check in helps students become more self aware and it also helps them to be socially aware and focus on how they can be empathetic to others and their feelings.

After the check in, I let a few students share out and express orally what they are feeling and why. This builds the classroom community and inclusivity that I am hoping to accomplish.

The check in also allows me to see where my students’ mindsets are when they enter the classroom in the morning. It helps me to see who may need extra care and support throughout the day.

Our leader for the day then transitions our meeting to a lighter note by sharing a fun fact or a joke. It is followed up with an interesting poll of the day. These activities create active participation and get students involved right away.

From there we move into one of the competencies of Social and Emotional Learning. I like to bring in a short video or book to begin the discussion. I usually focus on a theme for a week or two. For example, if I am working on relationships then I may spend a week on empathy. I will find videos with short stories or an explanation of the topic. Following the video, we will have discussions focused on reflection questions pertaining to the topic. This allows students the time to share out on the topic. This dialogue creates meaning for them. They build upon what each other is saying. It allows for voices to be heard and different perspectives to be shared.

Morning meetings have become an important part of our day. My students look forward to them and are disappointed if we have to change the structure of the day. These meetings really set the tone for the day. They allow a little bit of time for students to get adjusted to the day rather than jumping right into the curriculum. It allows us time to be together and build the classroom community that is so essential to the foundation of learning that happens throughout the day. The morning meetings begin the social and emotional learning that is weaved into the curriculum during the day. Social and emotional learning is applied hand and hand with academic learning. When a child feels that they matter, they are valued and their voice is heard, then they will take the extra steps to achieve beyond what they ever thought they were capable of.

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PBIS Behavior Management with Bloomz

In collaboration with Bloomz, opinions are my own

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports or PBIS, is used in the classroom as a way to promote positive classroom behavior and assist with classroom management. PBIS has a 3-tiered framework: Tier 1 universal one is a foundation for Behavioral academics, tier 2 is prevented, which focuses on improving some specific skill deficits and tier 3 is intensive and individualized prevention.

PBIS has been used in schools as a way to provide support for students throughout the year and although it may seem like there is a lot involved, it should not be thought of as something extra added on to what teachers are already doing in their classrooms. When PBIS systems are in place, there are many benefits. It leads to a more positive and supportive classroom community and culture, it makes a positive impact on student academic achievement, and there is a reduction in disciplinary practices.

When schools are implementing PBIS Management, they want to be able to check on the strategies that are being used in the classroom and reflect on their effectiveness. Having a system that allows you to look at student data and see what is being provided and decide what is best and most effective for each student is important. Having access to this data enables schools to better monitor student progress, and share and involve families with how the student is doing in the classroom.

PBIS is not something new. Research started in the late 1990s and it was initially developed as an Effective Behavior Support (EBS) system that then evolved into PBIS. With PBIS, teachers can have different strategies, depending on how they set up their classroom space. When teachers have a consistent routine and set clear expectations for students, it helps to build this classroom culture. As teachers are focused on building relationships with students and employ a variety of classroom management strategies and ways to help students understand and reflect upon their behaviors, it leads to benefits for student well-being, academic growth, and behavior. Being able to capture all of this in one space and to be able to communicate to families and to other teachers is important for ongoing student growth.

During the month of May, there is a focus on school safety and wellness. Using PBIS is a way for teachers to focus on student well-being by creating a supportive structure in the classroom. This structure then leads to a reduction in disciplinary incidents by focusing on good behaviors and student well-being which are essential for learning. It helps to focus on the whole child.

When we focus on the whole child by addressing social-emotional learning (SEL) which is very important in our schools today, we better prepare students for the future as they develop the five core SEL competencies. These competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and decision-making will benefit students now and in the future. Bringing PBIS into the classroom and combining it with a focus on SEL and strategies will help teachers to create a supportive and positive classroom environment for schools to be successful.

For anyone who is not familiar with Bloomz, it offers a communication platform where educators and families can stay connected in a unified, streamlined, consistent space. Rather than relying on multiple apps or tools for many of the tasks and communications that need to happen in our schools, Bloomz can be used to facilitate all of this in one space. One big thing that makes Bloomz stand out is that it also has PBIS within its platform. While there are other communication platforms available, Bloomz is the only one that offers everything for schools and families to focus on PBIS and to be able to have behavior tracking.

What makes the Bloomz PBIS system unique is that teachers can record the behaviors happening in class through a powerful dashboard. Teachers can track student behavior and access the information to analyze it, and then work with students to improve and also reward them for their behaviors over time. There are also different modes in the Bloomz behavior tracking system which makes it easy to see where students are when it comes to behavior and to track their growth over time. The three modes are flowers, monsters, or neutral.

At the school level, Bloomz provides access to reports which are customizable and can include any of the information from the platform and make it available to teachers and to the school administrators. Another option is that teachers can set it up so that behaviors are tracked over time and students are automatically given a reward which then saves some time for the teachers.

Using Bloomz for communication enables teachers to stay connected and keep parents informed about how things are going in the classroom. Being able to send a quick note or even a photo can truly engage parents in the learning experience of the students. The communications happen in real-time and are based on each parent’s preference for receiving notifications whether through an SMS text message or an email. With all of the options for including audio, video, images, or text, teachers can send examples directly to parents. The benefit of having a behavior tracking system is that it helps teachers and families to work together to create a positive and supportive classroom community, focusing on the building of relationships that are essential to our classroom environment.

Bloomz enables schools to foster the essential home-to-school connection. Teachers can share learning as it’s happening, inform families about student progress, identify students needing additional support, and focus on promoting student wellness and setting students up for success.

About the Author

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

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Giving Grace

 Guest post by Melisa Hayes @MrsHayesfam

I love reading everyone’s perspectives about the pandemic. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We all are concerned about our kids and miss them so much! This pandemic reminds me of a firework that is lit. We wait and wait for something to happen. Sometimes we see the effects instantly and other times we wait so long we think it’s ok to touch it but then it backfires. This is the way I feel when people decide NOT to wear masks or practice social distancing. This post is about me giving grace to teachers, my kiddos, parents, my daughter, and even me.

As a mother and teacher, it’s been extremely difficult! I try to balance my teaching time with my classroom family along with homeschooling my 13-year-old daughter. Some of you may think, she’s 13 how hard can it be? Well for a child with Down Syndrome who loves to say the word, “NO” It’s a tug of war with me pressing pause constantly! LOL

Her work sometimes is modified and other times I recreate it. For example, she had an assignment which was Egyptian vocabulary. It was on Quizlet but it was all text. I knew there was no way I was going to have her do this. So I looked up all the key terms and found pictures for each. Then I added those pics to Piccollage along with the word. It was a picture dictionary. She was doing the work but it was at her level and it was something she could do and feel successful. I was annoyed at the Social Studies teacher for giving her that assignment but then I reflected: We are all in this together. She has a lot on her plate as well and we need to give grace!

I have a family member whose parent works midnights. She is a single parent and emailed me worried. She found out her daughter hasn’t done weeks and weeks of work. She asked what assignments she needed to do and she apologized. She expressed how hard it has been for her daughter as she works. I emailed and said, Don’t worry about any past assignments. If she can do x,y, and z this week she will be caught up. This kiddo and mom are going thru more than I know. Schoolwork should be the least of her worries! I gave grace.

Back to my Abbs:):) Before this pandemic, I attended Abbs IEP meeting and everyone including me agreed to ESY for her. This was an extended school year and I thought it was a great idea! Well, the pandemic hit and I recently found out they were still having ESY but it was digital. I have to be honest, I was horrified. My heart beat faster, I started to sweat and I felt nauseous. Yes, I am a teacher but NOT of my own kid – LOL I knew what I had to do. I gave myself grace and let them know that I respectfully decline the ESY. I knew this would be another tug of war where fireworks would occur daily. I want my summer with my girl to be a happy memorable one. We would definitely work on school but it would be at my own pace and would incorporate the real world. I knew this was the best choice for me, Abbs, and our family! I had to quit feeling guilty and give myself grace!

This is definitely a work in progress and I know I’m not alone but for me, I am working on being more selfless, patient, and empathetic. I am also working on giving grace to others including myself. Hopefully, the fireworks will end soon and we can all try to carry on with the new normal. Whatever that might be…..

You can follow me on Twitter: @MrsHayesfam

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Access all learners with voice!

Updated post

In education, inclusivity and accessibility are crucial to amplify student learning potential and foster the development of essential social & emotional learning skills. Our choices must enable us to provide ongoing, personalized instructional support that meets every student’s needs.

Choosing Mote

Finding resources for our classrooms today should seem like an easy task, especially when there are so many options available. However, there are not any that compare with what Mote provides for educators, students, and families. There are amazing features in response to the need of the educational community. When we design our lessons and choose tools to facilitate learning, it is important that the tools chosen promote accessibility and offer versatility for educators in varying roles, grades, and content areas. Mote does exactly this and more.

Mote has something for every learner

Mote offers exactly what educators need to empower all students to access learning. We have the power of voice to provide feedback to our students, explain concepts and provide instructions, build relationships, and inform our school community about events happening in our classrooms and schools. And these are just a few of the many ways to use Mote but which have a powerful impact because of the use of voice to communicate tone! Students can listen to or read the message, transcribe it and select the playback speed. For any class, having this capability is tremendous for providing individualized instruction for students on any topic or concept that students might need some extra reinforcement or to include as part of a lesson.

Learning from one another

Mote offers choices for amplifying learning, and promoting accessibility and does so while also offering a supportive learning community to educators. The Mote Community is dedicated to collaborative learning and continuing to build on how Mote can be used to best meet the needs and interests of all students. Being part of a community helps us to continue to grow and share our ideas and learn new ways to bring Mote into our classrooms to amplify student learning and provide what each student needs to be successful.

Rachelle, Stacey, Alex (top), Lois, and Jon (bottom row)

If you joined in our discussion on May 4th, you saw a lot of wonderful ideas and examples being shared. In the roundtable discussion led by Rachelle Dené Poth, Jon Neale, VP of Education for Mote, and Mote Ambassadors Lois Alston, Alex Isaacs, and Stacey Roshan shared how Mote promotes accessibility and much more for educators, students, and families. Focusing on accessibility is so important as well as deciding which tools will best serve our students. We explored ideas for elementary, middle, and high school and innovative ways to use Mote in our classrooms. If you are looking for a good place to start, anything you choose would be great. I would focus first on accessibility.

Accessibility and SEL with Mote!

  • Translate in Real-Time: We can offer meaningful feedback to students and do check-ins with families. Choose the language and slow down or speed up the transcription!
  • Build student confidence in learning by leaving personalized messages!
  • Provide authentic, timely, and meaningful feedback to support all students regardless of where learning is happening
  • Foster student-agency as they respond to the feedback received
  • Facilitate peer collaboration through Mote and build relationships and positive classroom culture!
  • Foster SEL with the features of Mote – Check out the SEL classroom

So what can you create with Mote?

  • Individual messages to students to talk them through a challenging problem, to provide encouragement. Our tone and voice make it a more authentic and personalized experience! Stacey loves that Mote gives teachers the ability to explain instruction with both text and audio.

Why Mote makes a difference

With the power of voice, Mote enables us to teach lessons with clear and personalized instructions provided through Mote notes. Students can listen to the messages, play them as often as needed and have that personalized learning experience when they need it.

Visual Art peer critiques! Check out Stacey’s awesome Art example

Teach lessons with instruction provided through Mote notes. Giving students the opportunity to learn a new concept or practice a skill and then try it on their own, having a Mote note with answer keys & explanation will guide them at their own pace and provide the support they need when they need it::  Check out Alex’s math lessons! Mote Audio in Google Slides

Create a class or school newsletter with Mote: Sharing information and with the power of voice engages the school community even more and helps with feeling connected to teachers and students. See Lois’ The EdTech Wave

Send Mote-ivational messages to families, colleagues and students. Check out the Mote + Canva SEL Room!

Creating a classroom space where students and teachers can listen to messages in one engaging and supportive learning space!

Creating Personalized Certificates: Check out Alex’s 3 Stars QR Mote Messages Receiving a certificate with a Mote message to explain the award and to offer encouragement makes a big difference for students!

Provide School-Wide Bulletin Boards: Themed Bulletin Boards and Positive QR Mote messages

App Smash!

What’s better than app smashing, especially when it involves Mote! Check out the Canva Virtual Classrooms with Mote Player Integration.

And now, learn about the latest integration with Wakelet! You can now embed Mote voice notes into Wakelet collections which will help you to save time, boost engagement, and connect with your community!

Some final tips from our amazing panelists Alex, Lois, and Stacey.

Is there a learning curve when getting started with Mote?

Stacey says: You can get up & running as soon as you add the Chrome extension! One truly beautiful thing about Mote is how easy it is to get going & how intuitive it is. Though it’s not required for students to install the Chrome extension to listen to your voice notes, it’s optimized when everyone has Mote installed.

The #moteminutes playlist on YouTube is a wonderful place to learn how to get going: Check out Stacey’s Walkthrough to get started! Leaving Voice Feedback (with Automatic Transcription!) in Google Docs using Mote

According to Alex,” I was quickly able to hit the ground running after installing the Mote Chrome extension last spring. I had no issues inserting audio motes into my Google Slides to add detailed explanations and warm greetings for my diverse learners. Since then, Mote has become even easier to use, and new integrations with platforms like Wakelet and Twitter have offered my students more variety and accessibility options.”

How does Mote enhance accessibility when facilitating learning in hybrid or fully virtual environments?

Alex says that Mote enhances accessibility in these virtual environments by offering translated audio messages to be sent with little effort. Students can then use these motes to help them approach math problems, understand multi-step directions, and receive updates about class news.

What are your ideas for an educator just getting started?

Stacey: Install Mote and use it to create a voice comment on your next Google Doc or Google Slides

Lois: Start implementing voice Motes in the platforms that you are currently using like Google Workspace for Education. For example, leaving a voice Mote in Google Classroom to welcome students each day would be an easy way to start and a great way to connect with students.

Alex: My best advice for someone starting with Mote would be to send a positive Mote message to a star student and their parent/guardian. The personal touch of a voice message compared to a simple email has made a big difference in my ability to form a stronger bond with my students and their families.

Boosting student engagement and SEL at the end of the year. What ideas can you share?

Lois: SEL + Mote classroom: This room is fully integrated with the Mote player in Canva. Alex and I hope that other educators will use this template to create their own digital SEL space in their classes. We also hope that personalized Mote messages will better assist students in emotional times of need.

What is your favorite way to use Mote?

Alex: My favorite way to use Mote is implementing QR audio motes. Not only have I used this function to create welcome messages outside of my classroom, but it has also allowed me to create more personalized certificates to celebrate student achievement.

Lois: My favorite way to use Mote is to enhance school-wide bulletin boards. Helping teachers create QR Motes has allowed for a more interactive experience for teachers and students when they scan them.

Why Mote makes a difference

Mote helps students to build essential SEL skills, while more meaningfully engaging in the lesson which leads to better content retention. Alex says “Mote has made a difference in my practice by enhancing my feedback and making it more authentic, meaningful, and personal. I am very thankful for how Mote has allowed me to make stronger connections with my students while providing them with memorable moments in my math class. The platform has also saved me time and helped me offer easy-to-understand messages to my diverse groups.”

For Lois, Mote has made a big difference in her practice as a Tech Coach. Using Mote audio messages for monthly EdTech Wave newsletters has allowed her to further explain what is shared on each slide. In addition, using Mote in Wakelet has allowed me to use my voice to leave a message in my collections. I love how Mote is now integrated in Wakelet where voice transcripts allow for more accessibility.

Designing a lesson and creating resources that support students whenever they need it is critical. Mote enables us to do just that.

About the Author

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

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

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

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

Become A Citizen Scientist – A Global Movement 

Guest post by Denise Wright, @DeniseCWright

Currently the world is facing many challenges such as the need for accelerating medicine, safeguarding water sources, and protecting the environment. Everyday people, from children through adults, can help conquer these challenges by volunteering to be citizen scientists. Globally, this April, we are celebrating Citizen Science Month. There are many different types of citizen projects that may peak your curiosity and can be done from an app on your mobile device or directly on your home computer. Where can you find these citizen science projects so you may participate ?

SciStarter contains over 3,00 projects that can be searched by scientific topic, age level, and location. This is a great way for educators to have their students from kindergarten to twelfth grade participate and integrate real world scientific research into their course curriculum across all learning disciplines. A unique project that can be found on SciStarter is Globe At Night. This citizen science project is trying to eliminate light pollution from our night skies. Light pollution impacts us from viewing stellar objects in the night sky, can impact animals, our personal health, and energy consumption. Volunteers in the project can easily submit local light pollution observations from their computer or smartphone.

Zooniverse contains over 70 online citizen science projects that cover topics such as medicine, the arts, history, language, space, social sciences, and nature. Volunteers sign up on the site and assist lead project scientists with their research. The site has tutorials for each project so participants can easily understand how to conduct the research. Online forum discussion threads are used so volunteers and researchers can discuss their findings. The Citizen Science Project, the Milky Way Project on Zooniverse was analyzing data from the Spitzer Space Telescope and WISE Satellite Observatory. From this project volunteers discovered “yellow balls” which were actually new star forming regions that were never noted before.

NASA has a variety of citizen science projects that cover topics such as the environment, wildlife, exoplanets, snow observations and more. One of the unique projects that I have used with students is the NASA Globe Observer. Participating in this research involves downloading an app that tracks global mosquito populations, clouds, land cover, trees, and global eclipses. This app can be easily downloaded on a smartphone or ipad. The NASA Globe Observer App containers tutorials to assist with your observations. Once complete these observations can be submitted to NASA. Mosquitos are studied due to the concern of spreading disease globally; populations are usually tracked due to changes in rainfall. This research is important since NASA satellites cannot track mosquitoes from space. Clouds play a role in transferring energy, observations can be easily made from space, but getting citizen scientists to help from the ground plays a vital role in research. Landcover and Trees provide information about the earth’s biomass, potential for landslides, floods, and wildfires.

So, since it is April , and we are celebrating Citizen Science Month , I encourage everyone to get your family members involved ! The benefits from these projects are many such as increasing curiosity , new discoveries and research studies, improving scientific literacy, increasing public education, and influencing local research and policy. When your family members become citizen scientists you are helping our world on a global scale. There is no better time to become a citizen science than right now.

Embracing Innovation and Risk-Taking

In collaboration with @Pikmykid

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” Brené Brown

It’s the time of the year when we recognize the work being done in education. We have days set aside to thank our administrators and administrative staff, paraprofessionals, and a Teacher Appreciation Week. Being an educator today involves a lot, and the past couple of years have not been easy for anyone. Trying to navigate through challenges, embrace new ideas, and explore different avenues than maybe what we as educators have been comfortable with, can be a bit scary. We may know change is needed but feel inadequately prepared or perhaps fear we may receive some pushback for investing ourselves in bringing about change in our classrooms and schools. Perhaps because some educators may be comfortable right where they are and as a result, are not so willing to embrace innovation and risk-taking. However, as educators, to do our best for students, we must do whatever it takes to help them to develop the skills they will need to be successful in the future. To do this means taking risks and innovating.

Regardless of our profession, we are learning every day. For some, this meant embracing innovation, when just the word “innovate” alone can feel overwhelming, or unclear. For others, they may continue using the same methods and tools to stay in their comfort zone. But as educators, we must be willing to take more risks, especially when we have had the chance to try new ideas, explore new tools and think about the impact that we can make when we do. The world is changing and the world of education and how we provide for our students in our schools needs to change right along with it, or faster. We have to stay ahead of what is happening in the world which means, we have to dive in, take risks and be innovative in our practice. Doing so empowers us to bring about some needed and maybe even long-overdue changes in our own practice and in our schools. It also empowers students to be willing to take risks on their own too.

Sometimes change is hard

We have difficult decisions to make in our work and we must always be willing to step in and do what is right, not what is easy. Even if it means we try and fail, that is okay. When this happens, we appreciate the process. When we do this together, we appreciate one another. There is learning and growing in failure. Risking, failing, reflecting, and trying again is an excellent model to set for students. It may be uncomfortable but it is necessary.

A friend once said that innovation comes from that place of struggle between where we are and where we could be. Being innovative just means doing something new or different than what is normally done. It only takes one step. One idea, one change, one different or new approach. And we can do this together.

Making changes like this can feel uncomfortable, shifting from our common practices can feel and look chaotic at times. Whether teachers may be either apprehensive or simply have their minds made up that they don’t need to make any changes to what they are doing. Things have worked just fine, so why do anything differently? But if we don’t try, we risk missing out on opportunities that will positively impact our students and ourselves. Although we may feel comfort in doing things the way they’ve always been done, staying stagnant in our growth comes at a cost.

Innovation is the way to the future

We are lifelong learners and as we think about Teacher Appreciation Week, reflect on the teachers that made an impact on you. Whether as a student or in your current role, who are the teachers that tried things that were different, or inspired you to take some chances now in your own teaching practice? Who do you lean on for ideas and support? Be sure to appreciate what they do and thank them. Use this as inspiration to push yourself to provide more for our students to continue to learn and grow together. We must take some risks with new or different ideas, and keep reflecting on the work that we do. Progress will be made, because focusing on how we can positively impact and benefit our students is at the heart of everything we do. Even if we don’t believe that our idea will work well, or particularly favor the use of technology or a new teaching strategy, we must keep our minds open to the learning part of it. Being mindful that while it might be something that does not necessarily benefit us, it isn’t about us. It can be of tremendous benefit for our students or our colleagues in the future and we are in the business of doing what is best for others.

Always remember “the future of the world is in our classrooms today,” and we can’t prepare by only sharing what we know and limiting it to our own skills. We must innovate in our practice, try new things, reach out to other teachers, and learn from one another. It just takes a spark, an idea, a curiosity to begin. What problem can we solve? What can we do better? Lean into your network, your mentors, and the teachers that guided and inspired you along the way to try something different, and think about the impact it has made. How can we innovate?

It starts with an idea or a challenge

We at Pikmykid are definitely all about innovation. We dedicate ourselves to helping teachers and schools have the technology to solve the everyday problems of getting students safely to and from school and securing a safe experience all throughout the day.

One of the most chaotic parts of the day for parents, teachers, and school administration is student dismissal. Traditional dismissal methods, including loud-speaker announcements, sticky notes, phone calls, and emails, not only overwhelm staff but also leave room for error.

Pat Bhava, CEO, and founder of Pikmykid, developed the idea after picking his daughter up from school one day. Bhava took a chance with innovation. While he thought this would be an easy task, he soon realized just how hectic the car line actually is when staff placed someone else’s son in the back seat of his car.

After conducting research, Pikmykid found that on average, schools that use the platform have 4,572 students who are car riders with 35 percent carpooling each month. Another 4,200 are walkers and schools have approximately 2,300 schedule changes per month. Frequent dismissal changes are a challenge for staff to monitor, causing staff to spend extra time each day ensuring students are accounted for rather than in the classroom – teaching.

The result of many schools struggling with dismissal processes is long car lines, frustrated parents and communication gaps, which ultimately causes staff to lose time in their day on outdated processes and chaotic dismissals.

Learning Impact Outcome

According to a third-party study conducted on Pikmykid, teachers can save an average of 15 minutes per day using the Pikmykid platform. This time saved each day can then be reinvested into the classroom rather than being spent managing dismissals through outdated resources. This extra time allotted to learning creates a tangible difference in increasing the learning impact outcome using existing resources without adding expenses elsewhere. More time for teachers to focus on students and make a bigger impact on learning.

Implementation of the Pikmykid platform within schools improves the process of learning by allowing students to have more time in the classroom dedicated to their education. Over the past few years, students have switched from virtual to hybrid to in-person learning, and this perpetual switch can be highly disruptive to students’ learning performance. Fortunately, Pikmykid opens the lines of communication between staff and parents, providing a clear and consistent way to communicate changes to parents as soon as they occur.

Providing students, teachers, parents, and administrators with peace of mind knowing each kid is accounted for, as well as allowing the ability to mitigate any potential stressors or dangers in the classroom, directly impacts student performance and therefore allows for overall institutional success. Clear communication is crucial for improving the learning process for students, especially in recent years.


Pikmykid streamlines dismissal, increases safety, and allows teachers, parents and students to focus on what really matters – learning. The platform accomplishes this by connecting schools, teachers, and parents with real-time tools to make dismissals safer and more efficient. These tools include a school dashboard, a student dispatcher application, a free mobile phone app for parents and guardians, and year-round customer support. Pikmykid saves staff 2,316 minutes per month on school dismissals, allowing for more meaningful time with students in the classroom.

During dismissal, when parents enter the geofence surrounding the school, the platform lets them instantly announce their arrival on the app, and staff in the classroom can see the student’s parent has arrived.

The platform allows for seamless integration into already existing school systems and provides parents and teachers with direct lines of communication. Pikmykid requires no additional hardware or an extensive setup and requires very little training to understand and is fully customizable to meet the unique needs of every school district. Schools can sign up and have the platform fully up and running within only five days. Even with potential staff changes at a moment’s notice, substitute teachers only require minimal training to understand how to navigate the platform. Pikmykid takes data privacy very seriously and is not only compliant with all mandated state and federal regulations but is also a voluntary signatory of a more stringent ‘Student Privacy Pledge.’

Pikmykid is used in all 50 states as well as several countries, and there are over two million active users per day of the Pikmykid platform, providing better communication between staff and parents. Pikmykid empowers schools to simplify dismissal, engage parents and keep students safe so that everyone has peace of mind and can focus on what really matters – learning. And it all started with an innovative idea and a risk taken.

Raising student achievement with interactive apps

Raising student achievement with interactive apps

Guest post by Robert Knilands, Twitter: @unitcirclerummy

For teachers who are looking to integrate technical components into their lessons, a new set of apps provides that opportunity. The 4OAK math apps allow students to develop their skills inside and outside the classroom. Teachers don’t need to create game boards or quizzes; they can simply blend the apps into their units. They can be used for formative and summative assessment, as the teacher chooses.

The apps include:

Unit Circle Rummy for trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus. Students match a set of degrees, radians, and coordinates, and then place the set in the correct place on the unit circle.

Angle Connections for geometry. Students identify a pair of angles in a category and then place them in the correct locations along parallel lines and a transversal.

Trinomial Scales for algebra. Students factor a trinomial. Feedback, both visual and in word form, is provided if the student answers incorrectly.

Math game page

Teachers can use the apps as a SmartBoard presentation, and they can have the students practice with them in a 1:1 setting. These formats also allow for small-group work if the teacher chooses.

Students who have used the apps have shown above-average growth on standardized assessments.

To obtain the apps, teachers can request a block of licenses at the website www.unitcirclerummy.com.

At the site, a demonstration is available on the landing page. Once teachers have obtained their licenses, they can assign them to students. The only information that is collected is a student’s name and e-mail address so the student can create an account and set up a password (which is encrypted). No other student information is gathered.

Conferences and demonstrations can be scheduled by sending an e-mail to unitcirclerummy@gmail.com.


What are the benefits of integrating the apps with a lesson?

The primary benefit is the teacher can still present the lesson in a preferred format. For example, if a teacher wants to use 30-60-90 or 45-45-90 triangles to introduce the radian values on the unit circle, that option is still available. The Unit Circle Rummy app can then be used to build thinking and memory skills. Teachers also can choose whether to have timed “races” among students or groups of students.

English Language Learners

The apps are excellent for use with English Language Learners, as they are highly visual and pattern-based. Feedback is structured in a format that can be interpreted quickly.

Extended use of license keys

A license key stays with a student throughout school. So a student who starts out with Trinomial Scales could theoretically use the 4OAK apps all the way through to pre-calculus or calculus when Unit Circle Rummy would be the most beneficial.

In addition, license-key holders receive all updates to the apps, as well as access to new apps that are developed.


The apps are located on a secure Web site, so no information is downloaded or uploaded. Students provide basic information to set up an account and a password that is encrypted. No additional information is requested from students.

Contact information: E-mail: unitcirclerummy@gmail.com

Twitter: @unitcirclerummy

URL: www.unitcirclerummy.com

Discovering STEM through Discovery Ed: Girls4Tech

Finding the right resources to implement a STEM curriculum can be challenging. Many require specific equipment, access to certain websites, or come with a high cost which limits the opportunities necessary to prepare our students for the future. Why does STEM matter?

Because according to the World Economic Forum, technology will greatly impact education and the world of work over the next 10 years, as approximately 1 billion jobs will be transformed by technology. We will see tremendous growth in fields such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and data analytics, all of which require STEM skills. With an estimated 3.5 million jobs available by 2025 that require STEM skills, educators must provide opportunities for all students to engage in the right types of learning. While we recognize the need and importance for STEM, we need a solution to the barriers that may exist.

Finding a solution

Discovery Education has partnered with Mastercard to launch a new phase of Girls4Tech, an award-winning initiative with the goal of introducing five million girls to the excitement of STEM and STEM careers by 2025.

Why is there an increased focus on girls? In 2019, Mastercard commissioned a study to better understand gender and generational differences surrounding perceptions and attitudes of STEM-based topics and programs. The study explored some of the challenges and motivations cited by students related to pursuing college majors and careers. The results showed that women are in need of more opportunities, encouragement and mentors in STEM fields. Girls4Tech, Mastercard’s signature STEM curriculum, addresses this need by providing middle and high school girls with access to STEM resources and career exploration tools.

What Makes Girls4Tech Different?

In partnership with Discovery Education, Girls4Tech offers a robust array of no-cost, standards-aligned, and on-demand digital resources that help students understand how technology can be used to solve problems that they care about and have an interest in. Girls4Tech places an emphasis on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity, the two of the fastest-growing STEM fields impacting the world of work and education. Additional topics include AI for Social Good, Cryptology, and Fraud Detection, which provide activities and plans for students in grades 5 through 9 and 6 through 8.

Learning from real stories

Educators can confidently get started with the authentic, real-world resources available through Girls4Tech. Students start by exploring their career profiles. Each profile includes activities that help students learn more about the careers of female cybersecurity professionals. Students will see that fighting hackers and keeping sensitive information safe has a global impact.

Each of the career profiles includes a video interview and a student evaluation for students to compare their own interests to the required skills for the job. These career profiles spark curiosity and will inspire young girls to dream big about the impact they can make in the world.

Powerful Learning

Girls4Tech will impact girls on a global scale. With its expansion to Canada, it will help to fill the need for Francophone STEM content that will spark student interest for topics like AI and cybersecurity. Being able to hear directly from women working in these innovative fields and growing fields encourages exploration of career options and creates a more authentic and meaningful learning experience. These experiences will positively impact young women in their pursuit of essential STEM skills for their future.

Resources that are ready-to-use

Educators can support students by using the educator guides and accessing all of the resources on the Girls4Tech site. With the newest phase of the Discovery Ed and Mastercard partnership, there are digital lesson bundles that focus on the foundations and evolution of technology and binary code.

Beyond the career profiles and video series, Discovery Education will also host virtual and in-person events focused on the importance of creating opportunities for young women in STEM education, and ensuring that educators have the best resources for integrating STEM into the classroom.

Preparing our future leaders in STEM

We will best prepare our students by providing access to innovative resources that empower them to explore career options based on their specific interests and needs. We may not know exactly what types of jobs will exist, however, what we do know is that students will need a variety of skill sets to be prepared for whatever changes the future brings. Students will develop these skills through STEM experiences.

When we give students opportunities to engage in more student-driven, independent, hands-on learning, it attaches more meaning and authenticity to the work that they’re doing. It also gives students a chance to engage in something innovative and unique and helps them to build the types of skills that they will need.

With Girls4Tech, we can better inform students and spark curiosity for learning which leads our students to become the creators and innovators of the future.

In Collaboration with DiscoveryEd

About the Author

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

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