accountability

Learning at the Speed of You

In the spring, I like to explore new tools and ideas for use in my own classroom and for colleagues who want to try something new before the school year ends. Spring is the perfect time to try out teaching methods or tools that you perhaps did not have time for yet, or to find something that will keep students engaged through the end of the school year and maybe even to use to avoid the “summer slide.”

A few weeks ago, I came across Socrates, a learning platform also referred to as a “learning engine.” Socrates offers many valuable features for students and teachers, that make it a standout and I am looking forward to sharing its features, ideas to get started and tips over the next few weeks.

The story behind Socrates

I’m always interested in the people behind the product and learning about their motivation for designing something for educators and students. To learn more, I contacted Brian Rosenberg, the Co-Founder, and Chief Executive Officer, to gather some background information on the platform, to find out how it uses Artificial Intelligence, which is a key area of interest for me, and the types of resources available for students, teachers, parents and for homeschooling. The platform, created by Education Revolution, LLC has already received recognition several times this year. Socrates offers such distinct features, which makes it clear why it was endorsed by and received a grant from the National Science Foundation. Less than 5% of the companies are chosen, and Socrates, selected for its unique innovation and having a clear benefit to society was the first winner in Nevada in six years. More recently at the Magnet Schools Conference in Baltimore, Brian had a chance to share the vision of Socrates. He shared that the platform “was created to help provide equal access to students regardless of their socio-economic background.”

Impressive features

I scheduled a demo with Brian and was able to “experience” the platform from the perspective of a teacher and student. As Brian showed me the different components in the Teacher Dashboard, the analytics, and a variety of information available for teachers to use to guide instruction was impressive. One of the first things I consider is ease of navigating through the platform and whether the layout is visually engaging and rich in terms of content.

One aspect of Socrates that makes it unique is that it functions through the use of Artificial Intelligence and cloud computing, there is no IT setup and it can be used on any device. Socrates is fully automated and using the AI, it can quickly assess individual student or whole class needs, and then make adjustments in the learning path. While it the artificial intelligence allows it to automatically adjust for each student, it provides extensive tool for teachers to take over the learning experience and is designed to be a teacher assistant, not a teacher replacement According to Brian, there are 1300 categories of information with millions of questions, and it can adjust to particular topics as students progress, and goes question by question to make changes and create a unique learning path for each student.

Currently available content is Math and ELA (K-5) with Science about to release. During our recent conversation, Brian highlighted a “roadmap” for some updates and new features coming up in the platform over the next few months and at the beginning of 2020. There are plans to roll out activities for K-8 Science, grades 6-8 Math and Language Arts throughout the summer and early fall. Later this year and into early 2020, plans are in the works for Social Studies, ESL, high school Math, and even Test Prep. The number of resources currently available within Socrates is impressive, but with the additional features being added, it will provide an even more robust learning platform.

Socrates recently launched in Mexico, and therefore the teacher and student application is available in English or Spanish.

I will have the opportunity to explore the Socrates platform on my own and will take a closer look at each of the features, comparing it to other tools that have the same end goal as Socrates: providing students with a unique, individualized, learning path.

Experiencing the Power of Socrates

A few of the features that I will be looking at:

  • Dynamic Assessment: How the platform assesses students to find out the specific student needs.
  • Teacher Dashboard: Explore how to move students between classes, look at options available for each student, sorting of data
  • Weekly Reports: Look at the information available, ease of obtaining a snapshot of student progress
  • Command Center: Closer look at features and tools available.
  • Navigation of platform: Evaluate the learning curve for teachers and students, watch tutorial videos
  • Categories of Games: Explore the different categories, rewards, and badges available for students
  • Shop: Look at “cards” available to students, some examples are Greek Mythology, Presidents and more.

If you have been using Socrates, I would love to hear from you. If you have not yet tried it, I recommend getting started here. Socrates offers a 30-day free trial, and Brian encouraged teachers to try it out for the rest of the school year and said that their students can use it over the summer at no charge if they sign up before the end of the school year.

The classroom version: http://withsocrates.com/classroom/

***Coupon code is THRIVEinEDU2019. It can be used for the classroom edition or for the summer edition ($39.99 for the summer for teachers with summer school classes)

Connect with them on Social Media to keep informed of the great new features coming. Twitter is learnwithsocra1Facebook is learnwithsocrates

In Other Words, my new book is now available! Click here for more information on how to get a signed copy.

 

This post is sponsored by ParentSquare. All opinions are my own

 

In my previous post, I shared the background of ParentSquare, where the inspiration came from and provided a basic overview of what the platform offers. To learn more, I scheduled a demo with Anupama Vaid, Founder and President of ParentSquare, and was able to “experience” the platform from the perspective of a parent, teacher, and administrator. I also had an opportunity to explore the platform on my own, delve more into each of the features, and compare it to the tools that I use in my own classroom as well as those used within my school.

ParentSquare offers unique features that make it stand out when compared with other similar home-to-school communication platforms currently used in schools. While other platforms offer similar benefits, one of the things I appreciate most about ParentSquare is understanding the vision that Anu has for the platform. She has a genuine passion for connecting families in the school community.

The Power of Technology

When I spoke with Anu, we first talked about technology and its benefits. When asked about the purpose of ParentSquare and what makes it different from similar tools, Anu said her goal is to provide teachers with “a system that takes care of everything, one that is automatic.” Because of the way ParentSquare is designed, teachers will find that there is not much of a learning curve at all and that it is very easy to navigate. She added, “The purpose is to simplify the technology enough so that everyone can use it because that’s the power in technology.”

Everything in ParentSquare has a similar look and feel, “if you know how to do one thing, you know how to do everything.” For students, parents, teachers, and administrators, this ease of use and accessibility are key.

When it comes to ParentSquare, Anu has a unique perspective. She can evaluate the benefits by using it as a parent, which gives her a more authentic experience with the platform. And she is in a position to make changes based on the feedback she receives and through her own experience in communicating with her children’s teachers.

What makes ParentSquare stand out?

The first thing that I noticed about ParentSquare is how easy it is to navigate in the platform. When looking at digital tools, especially those that offer as many features as ParentSquare, a common question is if there will there be a big learning curve. A key feature of ParentSquare is in its simplicity. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators, whether tech-savvy or new to technology, will be comfortable using ParentSquare.

With ParentSquare, you can streamline many of the tasks and communications that are a regular part of school, but that typically come in multiple formats. ParentSquare takes everything that schools and teachers are currently using and unifies them in one platform that is easy to use and widely accessible. Schools can establish consistency in communication which will increase family engagement and provide all of the necessary resources in a safe digital environment.

Features that make a difference

  1. Smart Alerts and Notices: Send alerts for school closings, urgent notices, or quick reminders to parents. Alerts can be sent to the entire district, individual schools, parents, or students. Sending a recorded message or using the text-to-speech feature provided by ParentSquare is easy to do. Through the reports, you can verify the number of messages that have been received, even getting a prompt that provides the percentage of contacts being reached and the number needed to reach 100%.
  2. Classroom Communication: Posting a message takes little time and messages can be sent to parents, privately exchanged with teachers, or as part of a group chat. Parents choose their preferred method of contact and you simply create one message that is delivered to parents in the format and language they choose.
  3. School Business and Workflows: ParentSquare offers many resources such as:
  • Parent Conference Signups
  • Class “wish lists”
  • Volunteer requests
  • RSVPs for events
  • Permission forms
  • Calendar of events (can be synced with personal Google calendar)
  • File and photo sharing
  • Quick polls
  • Absence excuses

Exploring the features of ParentSquare

While exploring the demo site, I decided to look at features related to two areas:

  • Clerical tasks: taking attendance, creating permission forms, and contacting parents.
  • Daily classroom procedures: sending class announcements, posting reminders, and sharing class materials.

Personally, I have been using between four and six different apps and websites to complete these tasks. However, with ParentSquare, you can facilitate faster and better communication and collaboration between home and school. And more importantly, it will help to foster the relationships that are the foundation of learning.

Here are just five of the many benefits of using ParentSquare in schools:

  1. Parent-Teacher Communication – With ParentSquare, it is easier to:
  • Provide updates on student progress
  • Be accessible for parent concerns
  • Arrange parent-teacher conferences
  • Verify when messages have been received and who you need to reach

2) Directory – Parental contact information is more accessible, taking less time to find and exchange emails or messages. You can search by student or parent name, email address or phone number.

3) Paper-free – Easier to keep track of permission forms, absence excuses, and volunteer sign-ups. Exchange information faster and access the “paperwork” when you need to without having to print extra copies or keep folders full of documents.

4) Grade reporting – ParentSquare integrates with your grade book and notifications can be sent to keep parents informed about student grades.

5) Attendance Tasks – Keeping attendance records and gathering excuses for absences is much simpler using ParentSquare. Parents receive notices of absences and can respond with an excuse instantly within the app or on the web.

These are the first five areas that I thought of which likely take up a good portion of time for most educators each day. Using ParentSquare to facilitate these five tasks alone would make a big difference. In addition to being beneficial for time management, it would foster the creation of a supportive and engaged community of students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Sign up for your demo today!

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This post is sponsored by Screenleap. Opinions expressed are my own.

At the end of January, I attended the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. FETC has become one of my favorite conferences to attend and each year I return to my school with a lot of new ideas and tools that I’m excited to try in my classroom and share with colleagues and educator friends. This year was no exception. After reading about the 31 start-up companies that would be participating in the “Pitch Fest” competition happening in the expo hall, I decided that I wanted to start there. These companies—the “best-of-the-best startups”—would be pitching their products and services to a panel of judges. I find this to be one of the “musts” for me each year to learn about the new ideas and products available to educators. I enjoy getting to talk with the companies to understand their tools and how it benefits educators and students.

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Before arriving, I had received a flyer from Screenleap. I took a quick look, but decided to set it aside and instead make time to meet with Tuyen Truong, the CEO and Founder of Screenleap, at the conference. We had a great conversation and I was immediately impressed with what I learned about Screenleap from Tuyen and from the reactions of other attendees who had stopped by the booth to learn more about Screenleap.

Not long after speaking with Tuyen, I presented my own poster session on designing “Creative, Personalized, and Productive Classrooms.” A common interest of the attendees was that they wanted to know options that would enable them to share lessons, to work with schedule changes that interrupted the normal class periods, and to provide access to learning opportunities for their students when their students needed them. Screenleap immediately popped into my mind and so I gave them a brief overview and pointed them in the direction of Screenleap’s booth in the EdTech Startup area.  

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Tools with Purpose: Getting Started Quickly

Common issues for teachers regarding education tools are knowing where to start and whether something will have a big learning curve. These are both important factors, but we should also consider the WHY behind adding the technology. Based on the interests of the educators that I spoke with, thinking through it and trying it out on my own, Screenleap definitely addresses these concerns by making it easy for teachers to set up and start using with students and by saving valuable time for teachers who use it.

So How Does It Work?

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Screenleap for Education allows teachers to share their screen with students and record it for later viewing. Whether the students are in the classroom or absent from class on a given day, they can watch the screen share live from wherever they are or access the lesson afterward when it is convenient for them. You can learn more about Screenleap for Education here. If you would like to try it out, you can start a free trial here!

Why Use Screenleap for Education?

When thinking about adding some new technology into the classroom, we really need to focus on the why behind choosing a specific tool or method. What difference will adding this tool make and how can it enhance the learning process and go beyond the traditional methods that are being used? What sets it apart from other tools you are currently using?

I think the benefits are clear with Screenleap for Education:

  1. Teachers can share from any device (including Chromebooks, iPads, Android, PCs, and Macs).
  2. Students don’t need to install any software to view their teacher’s screen, which makes it easily accessible to all students and saves time on IT administration.
  3. Everything is automatically recorded on the cloud for later playback. Teachers don’t need to manually upload the recording after the screen share.
  4. It saves teachers a lot of time because now they do not need to reteach lessons to students who miss a class since the recorded lessons are available for students to watch on their schedule. In addition, when it comes to re-teaching, you don’t always present the information the same way, so having a solid lesson that can quickly be shared with students to view and learn from is a real benefit for you.

Ideas for Using the Recording Feature

Depending on the content area you teach, or even if you have a different role than a classroom teacher, creating these recordings is easy and of great benefit. Having recordings available that you can share with colleagues, offer as extra instruction for students needing review, or even as a way to get feedback from colleagues about how you delivered a lesson, are just a few of the great ways to use the recording feature of Screenleap for Education. There are a lot of other possibilities for teachers, students, and administrators when the recording feature is used as part of a teacher’s daily instruction.

Getting Started

I found Screenleap for Education very intuitive and easy to get started with:

  1. After creating your account, there is an initial setup step where you can create your classes and add students to them.
  2. Once your classes are set up, it is easy to start sharing your screen with your students: all you need to do is click on the button for the class you want to share when your class starts. If it’s your first time sharing your screen, you will be walked through a one-time app installation before your screen share begins. null
  3. Once your screen share has started, your students can watch your screen share by signing into their accounts and clicking on the “View live class” button for your class.
  4. While you are sharing your screen, it is automatically recorded in the cloud.
  5. When you stop your screen share and have recording enabled, your recording will be processed and made available to you from the “Recordings” page. If you have automatic sharing configured, the recording will also be made available for your students to review.

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Additional Features That I Like

  • If you want to remove something from your class recording, you can do so and then upload the updated version.
  • You can share the same recording with multiple classes.
  • You can track student engagement in real-time by clicking on “engagement” or after the recording has been processed. You will see a snapshot of the engagement graph at the bottom of every recording.

Conclusion

Screenleap for Education offers a lot of benefits for teachers, students, and administrators: students can easily follow along in the classroom or from home, teachers do not have to reteach lessons that students miss, students can review lessons before tests, and administrators have resources available  that can help to improve test scores for their schools through better learning. In addition, being able to stay connected and keep up with class—even when not in the classroom—and having information available to share with other teachers and administrators really makes Screenleap stand out when it comes to tools that benefit student learning.

Let me know what you think of Screenleap for Education. Again, you can start a free trial here

Published on Getting Smart, February 3, 2018

The “gig economy” is fairly new to me, I was unaware of the terminology until recently. When I first heard “gig economy”, I could not figure out what it referred to, at least in the sense of both words used together. Separately, I can easily define “gig” and “economy.” The gig economy gets its name because each job or work assignment is similar to an individual “gig”. The gig economy was formerly known as the ‘sharing economy’, with one of the most popular examples being Airbnb. I recall first hearing “Airbnb” two years ago and not having a clue about what it meant then. I only knew that I had several friends who arranged travel as part of Airbnb.

So how does the gig economy work?

It is employment that is a temporary task, for example, delivery couriers, Uber (another term I did not understand when I first heard it three years ago), or Lyft, to name a few. A prior post in Getting Smart included some statistics related to the average income from providing these types of services. The numbers are fascinating. In 2015, 54 million people worked as freelancers earning an estimate of 17% more per hour than full-time employees. It is projected that 60% of companies plan to hire more freelancers rather than full-time employees in the future. In 2016, 35% of workers were freelancers and estimates are that by 2020, this number will increase to 43% in the United States. So it leads me to wonder: What will the number rise to in another 10 years, by the year 2030? In a quick estimate, perhaps it will rise to approximately 63% if following the previous increase as a trend.

Looking ahead, the students currently in kindergarten will be the graduating class of 2030. It seems a long way off, but we need to prepare them for their future, and if the future does involve less traditional educational paths and more “gig” jobs and freelancing, how do we start preparing them now? It is important to consider these statistics and trends when preparing your lessons each day, and it has led me to think about how I am instructing students in my class.

As a foreign language teacher, students often ask why they should learn a foreign language, or say that they won’t need a foreign language in their future. There are many benefits in learning a foreign language, but I think the gig economy presents a perfect example of how it could be of even greater benefit to students in the future. Having foreign language knowledge is a skill that can come in handy and benefit students later on in life. Some common examples that come to mind are sellers on sites like Etsy or even someone who works as an online tutor or an editor. These do not have to be full-time positions, but can be in addition to a more permanent job, and done as extra work on the side. It’s about having options available. And to best prepare students for the future of work in a gig economy, we need to give them options.

Prepping for the future

How do we prepare students for a future of freelance work or to become entrepreneurs? By offering more opportunities for them to explore and create, through opportunities to not only explore the types of jobs available but also job shadow to learn firsthand, the qualifications and skills that may be necessary.

So if this is the trend that will be coming in the future, then will schools continue to encourage students to seek a college degree, or an extended learning program or formal training? Or do students need to simply master a skill or have time to explore an interest they have, to become more marketable? Do schools have the responsibility to create different courses through which students can learn about a variety of professional options and afford time for students to explore on their own or by connecting with professionals in their community?

Many schools have started to offer more courses based on emerging trends, such as entrepreneurship, webpage design, sports and entertainment management, and other similar courses to help students develop skills necessary to create their own job opportunities. At my school, Patsy Kvortek, one of our business teachers, recognized a need for courses which would help students to develop some of these skills. She thought “we should provide students with opportunities to learn in more authentic ways that would prepare them for future success.” To do this, a few years ago she created a course in “Entrepreneurship” and  “Sports and Entertainment Management” in which students develop a wide variety of skills focused on project management, event planning and learning everything there is to know about being an entrepreneur. In her classes, students take on different roles, learn to collaborate and be part of a team that is entirely responsible for planning, organizing and executing large-scale school and community events. Some of the roles include: Project Manager, Committee Chairs, Social Media and Advertising. Students rotate through these roles so they develop the skills necessary to be successful in any of these areas in the future.

Through this course, students have developed skills to prepare them for many career options as well as better understand how to start a small business or plan major events. They also develop critical skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving and as an added benefit, SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well. Observing the students involved in these courses has always impressed me, and seeing them come up with new products and start their own business, has shown the value behind providing these opportunities. These electives grew in popularity over the years because of the truly authentic and relevant learning experiences they provided.

Degree or no degree?

What difference does having a degree make? There are a lot of statistics that point to alternate forms of furthering one’s education, which do not involve the traditional undergraduate degree. There is more of an emphasis on building skills in diverse areas, to be flexible and explore alternate training options. There is a growing trend of students “crafting their own career” and not being dependent on an employer to do this, but rather create a professional path based more on personal interest. Several former students, ones whom I thought would pursue a college degree, instead opted to venture into unique areas of business. They have been successful and it is even more rewarding knowing they are doing what they love and control their schedules. Some of these entrepreneurial ventures include: a dog daycare, photo booth rentals, personal shopping service, resume writing, jewelry making, party planning and photography. These students chose these paths because they were able to pursue personal interests through electives, and develop skills and knowledge to get their business started. There will continue to be a demand for these services and these entrepreneurs will be in control of when, where and how often they provide these services in a gig economy.

The preparation that all students need

What are the skills that all students should develop regardless of what the future holds in terms of education? We need to help students learn how to communicate, to collaborate, to problem-solve and to find out what they are passionate about. There should be opportunities for students to engage in more real-world experiences, where they can assess needs in their community and brainstorm ways to offer services that will be beneficial for others. Project-based learning is a great way to help prepare students for working with others and to have more of an authentic and meaningful learning experience.

The Buck Institute of Education is working to develop a High-Quality Project Based Learning framework (to be published in March), with six criteria that students should experience through PBL. One of these six is “project management”. The focus of this is more on how to support students with goal setting, time management and self-assessment. These skills will prove beneficial regardless of what the future “job” may be for students.

When we support students in setting goals, learning to self-assess, engaging in more independent work and developing time management skills, we help them to develop the skills that they will need to be successful in the future regardless of what they ultimately decide to do. Whether they pursue full-time employment or explore options in a “gig economy”, they will be ready to face any challenges that arise in a constantly changing workplace.

 

3 Quick Ways to Implement Blended Learning In The Classroom

Best practices for blending or flipping your classroom continue to be topics of discussion in education today. Much of the discussion focuses on finding clear definitions of what these terms mean and the benefit to classrooms.

There are many resources and ways to educate yourself on this topic available including a diverse selection of books and blogs (such as the book Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker, and of course the Getting Smart blog) related to the topic, reaching out to colleagues or members of your PLN or attending conferences such as FETC, ISTE, state edtech conferences, edcamps and other professional development experiences.

All of these are great for finding examples, vignettes, templates, suggested tools and ideas. But even with all of these options, sometimes it is more valuable to take a risk and try something out on your own. The outcomes will not always be the same for each teacher, classroom or student, but it’s at least worth a try.

There are different models for implementing blended learning, and the method used will vary depending on your classroom. I recommend starting with one method–if you see positive effects, that you have more time to collaborate in class and your students are more engaged then continue. If not, then use this opportunity as a way to learn more about your students and their needs. As teachers, we need to constantly reflect on our methods and encourage self-assessment with our students, all part of learning and growing together. Getting started can take some risk and exploration, and definitely time.

Here are some different ways to use technology to “blend” or “flip” learning that in my experience have worked well. These tools can offer innovative or creative learning methods in your classroom, opening up the time and space for where and when the learning occurs.

1. Flipping and Blending with Videos

In the past when I heard “flipped classroom” I thought that meant simply assigning a video for students to watch. It can be, as it was originally considered the traditional way of flipping the classroom, but there has to be follow-up, accountability and more than just simply assigning a video. How will we know what the students gained from the experience?

The benefit of having students watch a video outside of class is that it reserves the class time for discussion and peer collaboration, and moves the teacher to more of a facilitator in the classroom. There are video tools such as EDpuzzle and PlayPosit, through which students interact with the video.

By responding to questions throughout, they are held accountable for the material and can show what they are learning. The teacher has instant feedback and can better understand how the students are learning and provide more personalized instruction. Either of these tools are great for the teacher to create lessons, but also provide the opportunity for students to create lessons that can be shared with other students.

In my experience, these tools have both provided a lot of authentic learning, problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration. More importantly, they create an opportunity for students to move from learners to leaders, and from consumers to creators in the classroom. This is one of our main goals as teachers–to provide opportunities which empower students to take more control and drive their own learning. These leadership opportunities also help the students to feel valued because of the work that they are doing. There are sample lessons or “bulbs” available, so try one of from the library, and see how it works in your classroom.

2. Game Based Learning and “Practice” as Homework Alternatives

Perhaps you want students to simply play a game or have some practice beyond the school day. There are lots of options available, some of which enable students to create and share their games as well.

A few of these that you are probably familiar with are Kahoot, Quizizz and Quizlet. Creating a game with any of these three apps is simple. There are many public games and Quizlet flashcards available to choose from, and it is simple to create your own or for students to create something to share with the class. You can use these to differentiate homework and have students create something more personalized and beneficial for their own learning, and then share these new resources with other students and classes.

It’s another great opportunity to understand student needs because of the types of questions they design and the vocabulary they choose to include. Another bonus is that using something like Quizizz means students can complete it anywhere. Have you tried these  three? Give Gimkit a go. Created by a high school student, this is a game that students enjoy, especially because they can level up, use multipliers and really practice the content with the repetitive questions that help them to build their skills.

3. Discussion Beyond the School Day and Space

There are tools available for having students brainstorm, discuss topics or write reflections which can be accessed at any time and from any place.  For example, Padlet is a “virtual wall” where teachers can post discussion questions, ask students to brainstorm, post project links and more. It is a quick and easy way to connect students and expand where and when learning occurs. Take the posts and use them as discussion starters in the next class.

Synth is great for having students create or respond to a podcast. The idea is that students can do some of these activities outside of the classroom period, and teachers can create prompts which provide opportunities to engage students with their peers in a more comfortable way.

Even though all of these involve technology at some level, they are interactive tools to engage students, to expand and “flatten the walls” of the classroom and offer students an opportunity to do more than just sit and learn; to become more actively involved, giving them a voice and choice, through more authentic learning.

By giving the students a chance to do more than absorb information, but instead to create, design and think critically, we not only give them the knowledge to be successful, we encourage them to create their own path to success. And hopefully, in the process, they learn to better self-assess and reflect, both of which are critical skills they’ll need for success in school and in their careers.

 

8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

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8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

by Rachelle Dene Poth

My first year of teaching with project-based learning provided as much learning for me as it did my students.

Each year when I head back to my classroom in the fall, I have many ideas of new methods, new tools, and some changes that I want to make in my classes. These changes and ideas are the result of attending summer conferences, reading new books, and maybe the most helpful, student feedback that I review over the summer.

The biggest change I wanted to make this year was to have my students really engage in Project-Based Learning.

Interested in PBL support? Contact TeachThought Professional Development today! 

1. It’s not ‘doing projects.”

My students have completed many projects over the years, and I honestly thought they were doing “PBL”, but after the summer I finally realized that it was not authentic PBL. I was simply having students learn by completing projects. Coming to this realization allowed me to find resources to learn how to implement authentic PBL into my classroom.

If you are feeling the same as I did, don’t worry. There are the resources, tools, and shifts in thinking that can help you on your way.

See also: The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning

2. Students–and parents–need to understand the process.

To get started, I sought out resources that I had learned about over the summer.

I learned that there are several different methods of doing PBL. The theme can be something created by the teacher, independently chosen by the students, or a combination of something in between. Because I had decided to implement PBL with my Spanish 3 and 4, I decided to follow an independent method, enabling students to pursue something of personal interest. The opportunity for students to have choices through more independent learning, leads to a more meaningful experience, a few of the great benefits of PBL.

The opportunity for students to have choices through more independent learning, leads to a more meaningful experience,  a few of the great benefits of PBL. This is difficult without students–and parents!–understanding how PBL works so they can buy-in, support, and believe in this ‘long-tail’ approach to learning.

3. The right technology can make all the difference.

I started by explaining the purpose of doing PBL, what I hoped would be the benefits of doing this in Spanish 3 and 4, and using the resources I found, shared the PBL elements with the students. I wanted to make sure they understood the process, as much as possible, from the start. I knew it would be a learning experience for all of us, requiring ongoing reflection and feedback.

In our classes, we use a few digital tools which help open up opportunities for communication and collaboration. We use Edmodo for our classroom website, messaging apps (Celly and Voxer), and have also used tools such as Kidblog for blogging and writing reflections, and Recap and Flipgrid for video responses.

4. Developing quality Essential Questions takes practice.

I did my best to explain how to create an Essential Question (what TeachThought Professional Development calls ‘Driving Questions’), referring to resources I had found, as well as some books and educators for advice. I had struggled with crafting my own “Essential questions” in the past during curriculum writing and I knew this was an area that I also needed to work on.

What I learned is that Essential Questions are not answered with a yes or no, and answers are not easily found through a Google search. Essential questions will help students to become more curious, to seek more information, and in the process, develop their skills for problem-solving and critical thinking.

Essential questions drive the learning.

Last summer, I had read the book Pure Genius, by Don Wettrick, and had the opportunity to meet him during the Summer Spark Conference in Milwaukee. I also read a few other PBL books including  Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide, by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss, and Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie.

Once we started, the students had many questions, and I answered as best as I could. However, because this was a new experience for me as well, I sought additional help.  Don Wettrick spoke to my students through a Skype call and later in the fall, Ross Cooper spoke with my students about crafting their Essential questions. Another great resource I consulted over was  Hacking Project-Based Learning book by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy.

See also: Using The QFT To Drive Inquiry In Project-Based Learning

5. Project-based learning is a team-effort.

We have gone through this twice so far this year, and are now focused on one final PBL theme. It has been a tremendous learning experience for my students and I have learned so much from them. We have covered many new topics related to culture, language, sports, family and traditions.

The students enjoy having the chance to be in the lead, to drive their own learning, and have become more reflective on their work and on this PBL process. I did make mistakes and continue to work on improving each time we do this. The availability of these PBL resources to guide teachers and students and other educators who offer support along the way has made all of the difference.

The most powerful part of this has been the feedback from my students. I asked for the positives, the negatives, what could be different, how could I help more, and they were honest and offered such great information.

6. Project-based learning empowers students.

What I have learned is that it really does benefit students and the teachers to offer these project-based learning experiences for students, to find out about their passions and interests. We learn more about them and from them through their PBL. Having students take over the classroom and present their information opened up so many new learning opportunities for everyone. This is truly a great way to see students empowered in their learning.

Overall, the students are pleased about the work they have done, the progress they have taken and are excited about this next phase. We reviewed the feedback, did a little bit more research, and had some planning conversations.

7. Project-based learning forces students to see learning differently.

We need to create opportunities for students to pursue their interests when they learn. In order to prepare them for the real world, we should provide learning opportunities which connect them with other people, perspectives, and experiences.

The most difficult part for my students at the start of this was thinking about how they were going to present their information, and I kept telling them to work through the research part, gather their information first. I reminded them often to focus on the “what and why” part, and that the final product form would become more apparent as they progressed.

8. Patience is key.

I am pleased with having started PBL this year and I encourage other educators to consider implementing PBL in their classrooms. Yes, there can implementation dip. And without communication with students and parents and even our own colleagues, progress can be slow.

PBL is, however, a different approach to learning. It acknowledges that the school year is a marathon, not a series of sprints. It allows students to design and create and publish and reflect on and revise ideas, and this all takes time. Patience, then, is a critical characteristic of any successful–and sane!–project-based learning teacher! Given time, you’ll eventually help the students see the impact it has had on their learning.

 

Posted in Edutopia Community Discussion, the second part of my thoughts on Homework Alternatives.

As a student in elementary and high school, I recall having homework assignments in most, if not all of my classes each night. I remember carrying home a lot of worksheets, lugging home several textbooks, and at times transporting poster board and binders back and forth to school.  We had a lot of tests, pop quizzes, and projects.  Most of the time, I remember the homework was the same for each student, in each class, and I cannot recall now nor do I even know if I was aware back then, of students doing different assignments. I understand why teachers assign homework which is the same, the purpose is to assess students on a particular skill, and maybe it just really works for that learning target. And some benefits for students are having a peer, to work through an assignment with or ask for clarification, can be helpful.  But it can also be detrimental, for a few reasons.  Students are not getting the practice they need by having the same assignment, and the possibility of students copying assignments is also something to consider.  Copying assignments leads to a loss of learning, and students will have to re-learn the material twice. There is a lot of discussion about the real value of and purpose for homework, and these are just a few of the pros and cons to consider.

 

Over the past few years, with the rise of technology and so many options available for learning experiences through it, solely using a worksheet or assigning the same homework does not have to persist. I have noticed variations in my students, both during our interactions in the classroom but also while grading assignments and projects, or even just reading the responses to their reflections or blogs.  For homework, some students can finish the worksheet in two minutes, possibly before the end of the class period, if time remains.  And there are others, who may struggle to complete the work and as a result, end up spending 20 or 30 minutes on the exact same assignment. So, I asked myself, how can I reach both types of learners, and provide opportunities that will be beneficial, meaningful, but more importantly more personal to their needs. How can I give each student the practice that they need?

Making some changes

So how did I decide to change the “everybody has the same homework” practice?  After a holiday break and taking some time to reflect over the first part of the year and talking with students, I decided to seek ways to give students options for the type of homework they wanted to complete.  I came up with two or three choices of how I could do this, and will admit, that I was a bit anxious, since changing the traditional homework assignments would involve taking a risk.  But I truly believed that it was worth it, to see what, if any difference it would make for my students.

The three options I started with were:

1.    Quizlet: I had sets of cards and as an alternate assignment, I asked the students to select and complete activities which they felt would help them the most.  Because we have a class account, I can monitor their progress and they have many options for practicing the vocabulary, playing games and other activities to build their skills.

2.    Kahoot!: We have played games of Kahoot! in class for the past few years, and initially I was using it as a class game, using games which I created. But I soon realized that making up so many quizzes was really time consuming.  While there are lots of public quizzes available, I wanted to have the questions be more specific to their needs.  So for a different type of homework assignment, I asked students to create their own Kahoot! game using a specific number of terms or verbs and share it with our class. This led to more authentic practice and a lot more resources for all students to learn from.

3.    Blendspace: I have an account with Blendspace, and I can create and share lessons that I have created which include videos, games, tutorials and much more.  As homework practice, I can decide to assign a particular lesson for students to work through or I can simply share the URL and provide resources and give students the choice to use the resources within the lesson.

4.    Other options: Some other ideas for changing the type of homework assignments used are to create a list of different assignments or tasks and give students some choices in how to practice the content material. They may decide to work through all of them, or simply use some, but the important thing is that the choice is theirs and the practice will be more meaningful. Assigning homework in this way encourages students to have a choice on where to begin, not all students have to do the same thing, and it helps to focus on their individual needs.

 

What did the students think?

The students appreciated having more of a choice in assignments.  Using these options gave them the chance to try some new ways of learning, which they were not used to, but it was a way to provide differentiation.  I know that having a lot of games available to play in class with Kahoot and the extra Quizlet study cards, benefitted all students. The one tricky part is being able to monitor their work, but this comes with developing the relationships and having clear expectations. Including students in the conversation and making sure we focus on the accountability and responsibility aspects will help. The students are more engaged, become more empowered by having a choice in their learning path.

We can use methods like this to focus on the areas where students need help the most. Personalizing the homework assignments in these ways can prove to be time consuming, as far as tracking their work, but it is completely worth it because of how beneficial it is to their learning. And that is what matters most.

After recent technology showcases, finishing up an independent study focused on Student engagement, motivation and social presence, I wanted to learn more about what students want and what they need to do well.  Taking the digital tools we had used, with me leading the lesson, I put it in their hands to create and lead.  It was an exciting opportunity, as the year was winding down, to keep motivated and try new things, but to give choices for all.  Here is the second part of a series of stories, with student reflections.

 

Interactive Video Lessons:  EDpuzzle

Rachelle Dene Poth: I am a Spanish and French Teacher and I look for ways to include student voice, choice, and leadership when finding the right materials for every student. With the help of some students, we worked with EDpuzzle as part of a new learning adventure, I wanted to empower students to become more than learners in the classroom. I wanted them to lead the class and develop these critical skills and have choices.

Choosing EDpuzzle

EDpuzzle is a tool that I have been increasingly interested in using with my students, to add to our video experiences and find new ways to engage them more in and out of class.  As the school year started to wind down, I found myself wanting to try some new methods of instruction with my students.  We have used a variety of digital tools to complete assessments, have discussions, create projects, collaborate on class wikis and more.  The benefits have been tremendous.  Students have improved their Spanish language skills by creating a more authentic and meaningful representation of what they know and can do with the material by having a choice in tools. This personalization  meets their interests and needs and helps to motivate them.  

Motivation for trying new things in the classroom

One of my main goals is to work to find creative and innovative ways to introduce content in my classroom and above all, to make sure that students have choices and feel valued and supported in the classroom.  Giving choices for how to show their learning, leads to a more beneficial and personalized experience for all students and even myself.  If each student chooses something different, this promotes more meaningful and unique learning experiences, and builds vital technology skills in the process. Opportunities like this lead to many benefits.   

So who benefits from these new, interactive and flipped experiences?

IMG_20160531_131429391

We all do. Teachers and students benefit because not only have we all reinforced our knowledge of the content material, (Spanish language and culture in our case), we are learning about new tools, and maybe even more importantly, about each other.  

Giving choices is a risk.  With so many options available, it is not possible to know everything about each tool and its benefits.  So as teachers, we have to learn as much as we can, and then relinquish some control to our students.  They need to have the chance to explore, create, and share.  Give them the opportunity to do more than simply produce the same product as the other students, because they are not the same.  Let them become the “creators” and the leaders in the classroom.  Let them take on a more active role and see how this promotes engagement, curiosity and motivation within them.

Putting the plan into action

With these new reflective thoughts, I began a new venture into having students select from diverse tools, which are typically used by teachers for delivering content, and had them create and teach a lesson.  I thought this could be a bit risky, but would also be beneficial for many reasons.  It seemed like an interesting twist to try, especially at the end of the year, and I wanted to see if and how it was of benefit.

Why make the change to student created lessons

Accountability.  In education, there is a lot of accountability.   Both teachers and students are accountable for learning and classroom involvement, as well as many other responsibilities.  In my classroom, I use a variety of learning activities and offer choices of tools to help the students to learn.  I often tell the students that it is like having a room full of toys, find one and try it, if you like it, keep it.  If you don’t then select something else, because the idea is for it to be something that is beneficial and meaningful to you. No matter what you do, use each as a learning opportunity and a chance to reflect and grow.

Videos for learning

One area I rely on for helping students is the use of videos. In the past, I would assign the videos to be viewed outside of class, flipping the learning environment, and hope the students watched the videos as instructed, but without any real way to know.  Sometimes we would discuss the video or I would have them complete an in class activity, ways to hold students accountable for watching the video.  But students could skip through the video, gathering only the highlights, and get by with just enough information to complete the activity, or without watching the video, could learn the information elsewhere.  So the problem remained student accountability.

 

That is before tools like EDpuzzle which enable the creation of interactive video lessons with analytics to show who watched, analyzing their responses to questions and much more. Without having tools like EDpuzzle, assigning students to watch a video alone does not promote accountability and is not quite as engaging, nor is it interactive.  Students are less likely to really focus on the material.  

How else can videos be used?

We use a variety of videos to enhance our learning in the classroom and I have spent time this year, creating more interactive lessons, to hold the students accountable.  I also started wondering how the students would like being the creators, more active and interactive, rather than passive in their learning, and using these traditionally considered “teacher” resources to produce an assessment or a project and let them lead in the classroom.  

I am thrilled with how this new approach has gone. While I may think that it went well and was very helpful, what matters more to me is what do the students think?  I make it clear that I do not want to waste their time and would not assign something that I did not truly believe was beneficial. This is my hope, but I rely on the honest feedback of students, to reflect and move forward.

 

So what do the students have to say?   

Three of my 10th grade, Spanish III students reflect on their experience with EDpuzzle.

Adam: I had been struggling to find a good web source to meet my needs for entertainment as well as my education in the classroom and EDpuzzle is a great way to meet both of these needs.  When I faced the challenge of preparing a lesson to teach to my Spanish 3 class, I honestly didn’t know where to start.  I first tried some other resources that we had used but they really weren’t getting the message across like I wanted. Then Mrs. Poth recommended a new tool by the name of EDpuzzle to me and my reaction was

“Edpuzzle? Mrs. Poth this is a Spanish project, not a puzzle!”
“Just try it out!” She said.
So I went home that night, and after thinking it through, I again began my Spanish project.  I started with another source and was still disappointed in my product.  Finally I decided to give EDPuzzle a chance. By the time the loading bar hit 100 percent and that page loaded up I knew I found the perfect tool for not only this project but many more to come!

EDpuzzle was a fantastic way for me to use my sports video and transform it into something completely unique with a few easy changes. And for future projects, I will never have the issue of handing out papers with the questions. I can simply tell my “class” to pull out their mobile devices and answer the questions that I have integrated into my video. There are so many options for a user to enjoy and learn from the features that EDpuzzle has to offer! Thank you for providing the tool to not only teach my Spanish 3 class but to have them enjoy  as well.

BEN: I used EDpuzzle for a class project. The first time I saw EDpuzzle was in class and I thought it had a pretty interesting concept. So, when we were assigned a project for the camping unit, I decided to try EDpuzzle.

I created a lesson for my classmates by adding comments and questions to a camping video I found online. I found that EDpuzzle was easy to use and that it was a new fun way to make a class project that could be used as an interactive lesson. I especially enjoyed the many features EDpuzzle offers such as the being able to crop the video, make an audio recording over the video, and being able to make different types of questions. I felt that EDpuzzle impacted me in that it gave me a new way to present a topic and a more fun way to create projects and relay information. EDpuzzle is a fun and different digital tool to use that can be a great tool for learning.

EDpuzzle

 

A student who participated in the lessons of Adam and Ben said: “ By having all of the different choices of tools to use for our project made it easier to find something that I was interested in and comfortable with.  The activities included in their video lessons were educational and fun,  and made learning more enjoyable for the students. It provides more than just watching a video and not really being held accountable for paying attention. You had to pay attention in order to answer the questions.   I would recommend EDpuzzle to anyone looking for a new way to present information, in any setting.”

 

In the end

It is all about giving the students choices and allowing them the opportunity to try new things, lead the class and develop their content area skills, as well as many other critical 21st century skills.  EDpuzzle and the other tools,  provided an opportunity for students to take on a new role, to build their comfort level, and to learn new ways of integrating technology and having fun in the process.  They were the teachers and we all were the learners. 

Showing how to use EDpuzzle in class.  IMG_20160601_105253829