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Guest Post By: Gerald G. Huesken Jr, Social Studies Teacher – Elizabethtown Area High School, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania

@MrHuesken

As someone who has been teaching high school social studies, particularly government and economics, for the better part of the last decade, a study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania was quick to catch my eye. In this study, researchers found that American’s basic civic knowledge, as well as their basic understanding of current events around the world was startlingly lacking – only 26% of respondents could name all three branches of government compared to 37% of respondents naming a freedom protected by the First Amendment. Furthermore, researchers found that with this lacking basis of knowledge, respondents were even less likely to look at, consume, or engage in discussions about national or world events or understand their key significance. Quite shocking, to say the least.

While some of my colleagues would be quick to point out fundamental flaws in how we as teachers engage our students in basic civic education, we as educators do an equally flawed job of encouraging our students to read about and discuss current events and relate it to the broader issues of the day. Long seen as a “filler” in social studies classes, current events, in my opinion, serve a valuable purpose in relating course content to the real world for our students. Finding engaging and unique ways to get students making such connections and engaging with news media of all kinds is the real challenge. That is why I have become a believer in FANSchool.org.

Popularly referred to as “fantasy football for social studies and literacy standards,” FANSchool.org is an easy-to-use new learning site that attempts to “game-ify” current events consumption for students. Developed by Minnesota-based social studies teacher and FANSchool.org co-founder Eric Nelson, who was looking for a new way to engage his students in current events and the study of cultures around the globe.FANSchool.org (and its flagship games of Fantasy Politics & Fantasy Geopolitics) engages students in the study of current events in a new and different way, by turning it into a fantasy football-style experience. Students draft teams of countries or US states, follow those countries or states in the news, and get points for every time their countries or states are mentioned in assigned media outlines like The New York Times. The points are then tableted and posted on the FANSchool.org site. Using this game friendly system, teachers then have the flexibility (along with the network support of other educators using the FANSchool.org platform) to develop engaging activities, challenges, awards, and programs to engage their students more fully in the current events experience. The site also runs “March Madness-style” competitions for Presidential elections and the Olympic Games, pitting students from across the nation and the world in a knock-down current affairs slugfest for bragging rights and prizes.

In my classroom, I have used the Fantasy Geopolitics game as a way to further engage my Honors and on-level students in engaging with world events and international media, while promoting friendly academic competition. This November, FANSchool.org will roll out a new feature of their Fantasy Geopolitics game that includes the “drafting” of members of Congress along with US states, providing a new dimension of engagement for my Honors and on-level Government and Economics classes. Their Election Challenge game (provided every four years with the coming of a new Presidential election) also creates discussions of how the Electoral College will unfold and how Americans will vote for their next President, stimulating questions, discussion, and discovery of America’s political system. FANSchool.org’s devoted network of “Teacher-Commissioners” also provides a great opportunity for networking as well as a shared repository of activities, classroom ideas, and engaging projects. Have students write “Presidential briefs” of hot-current event topics to engage in civic or international action, or have them develop a podcast that discusses how the events of their game relates to the real world (like my students did with the Fantasy Geopolitics Podcast…)

With competition comes the quest for knowledge, and with knowledge comes true competency. That is the goal of FANSchool.org and this is why I would highly recommend fellow social studies educators check out this engaging and fun-filled current events tool for their social studies classroom.

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Guest Post by Dan Haiem, @danclasscalcco1 

“But teacher, why do I need to learn this math stuff if I can just use my calculator app?”

Every teacher has heard this at some point. Most students have asked this at some point. Up until around 2007, teachers had a great answer that kinda-sorta worked, which went something like “You’re not going to always have a calculator everywhere you go, are you?”

The opposite of that, of course, became a reality when the iPhone became the most common tool found in any student’s pocket, and gave them access to powerful calculators like Desmos, Geogebra and our very own ClassCalc.

Here’s my opinion though – the old answer was never a good answer, and the ubiquity of iPhones has given us a golden opportunity to re-evaluate a very valid question. What’s the point of learning math if we have calculators that do math for us?

In the words of NYC’s (possibly) most high-energy math teacher, José Vilson, “Math shouldn’t be limited to a disconnected set of rules and jargon that doesn’t seem to mean much of anything.” If math really was about the rules and jargon, then a calculator could truly replace the need for learning it. Fortunately (for humans), it’s not.

For the sake of simplicity, and because this is my first blog post ever, here’s a short roadmap of this post’s approach to this topic:

  1. First, we’ll discuss how math helps students build tools and skills, and define the difference between the two:
    1. Tools: Spreadsheets, running an analysis, doing taxes.
    2. Skills: Good communication, emotional intelligence, problem-solving.
  2. Next, we’ll discuss how math has shifted from serving us as a tool, to helping us sharpen our skills – most important of which is problem-solving.
  3. Finally, we’ll take a look at an example of how a specific math problem helps us build a specific problem-solving skill called mental-triage, and how we might help students make that connection as well.

Onwards.

Math serves two primary purposes in education: it gives students the tools to play with numbers, and it serves as practice to sharpen certain mental skills that are important in life. To define the two:

  • Tools: Concrete things a person “knows.” Examples include: spreadsheets, coding, writing blog posts (a tool I clearly lack), social media advertisements, taxes, etc.

  • Skills: More abstract, broad abilities that are not particularly associated with executing a specific task – the kinds you always see in leadership charts. Examples include: Hard working, communicative, optimistic, honesty with self, problem-solving, etc.

*Credits to Business Simulations

In this sense, math falls into an interesting crossroads as both 1) part of the abstract skillset a person has, (ie: “problem-solving”) and 2) a tool that can be put to work (ie: part of your “toolkit” – like running a statistical analysis on two data sets).

It’s important to keep in mind though that:

Math will play a fundamentally different role for different students, and we need to bring that understanding into the classroom.

An engineer will likely benefit from math as both 1) an exercise in problem-solving (skill) and 2) a tool to accomplish certain tasks.

An artist might use the abstract side of problem-solving (skill) but – and this is especially applicable today, with all the calculators in our pockets – they probably will not have much use for math as a tool

Here’s a screenshot I grabbed off the might internet that summarizes the point (albeit, aggressively):

*drops mic*

I believe it’s important and ok to tell our students that not all of them will be using math as a tool. At this point, most people don’t need math to do taxes (here’s a calculator for that), split a tab (here’s a calculator for that) or accomplish any of the other tasks that might have required math as a “tool” before calculators were built.

To recap:

  • Math confers two types of skills: Abstract problem solving (skill) and an actual tool in your toolkit (tool)
  • Everyone can (probably) benefit from the problem-solving (skill) aspect. While some people (engineers, some scientists) benefit from having math in their toolkit (tool), most can get by with their super powerful pocket calculator.
  • So, for students not interested in pursuing a career that would require a math toolkit, we must focus on the abstract problem-solving (skill) aspect of math.

As brilliantly stated by Baltimore Ravens lineman and MIT mathematician John Urschel, we need “students to see that math extends far past the confines of the classroom and into everyday life.” What’s more “everyday life” in the 21st century than problem-solving?

Now the questions shifts to: How do we show students the relationship between learning math and developing this abstract ability to “problem-solve”?

I have two thoughts on this:

  1. One thing to consider is that skills and tools are actually mutually conducive. Google is a tool you learn to use. Being able to learn stuff on your own is a very important skill in today’s workforce. Knowing how to use the Google tool will help you build the learn-stuff-on-you-own skill. I think the same applies to math.

Although students may never use calculus directly, the mental exercises they go through in solving calculus problems might help improve the mental muscles required for peripherally related skills.

  1. We need to find good examples to demonstrate the above. I mean good examples. Not the “Well, don’t you want to know how to do this without your calculator?” type of answer and not the “Being able to do your taxes is very important” type of answer and not the “here’s an example of Timmy calculating the volume of the Earth by standing on a ladder and looking at the horizon (although that’s super cool)” type of example. These examples all focus on the tool aspect of math, which we know won’t be as relevant to all students. We need to focus on the skill aspect of mathematics.

So now the challenge becomes being able to demonstrate to students a link between learning math and learning how to problem-solve. A good approach might be to 1) Have your students break down what sub-skills are required to succeed in math 2) Have your students break down what sub-skills are required to problem-solve 3) Discuss the cross-overs.

One of my favorite examples is mental triage: the abstract skill of quickly finding the most efficient path through a challenge given a limited toolkit.

Here’s an example of a math problem that helps sharpen the sub-skill of mental triage:

  1. Math itself is a limited toolkit. You learn how to move numbers around. How to draw graphs etc. Each time you learn one of these new tools, you’re essentially learning a new way to play with numbers. When we approach a math problem, we subconsciously run an analysis that goes something like this: What do I want to make these numbers do? What tools do I have to move these numbers around? What tools am I not allowed to use? What is the most efficient tool path to an answer?
  2. As an example, let’s take the following problem, a favorite of the SAT:

  1. Here’s how my brain runs through my math toolkit.
    1. I gotta solve for x.
    2. Problem: x is in the exponent.
    3. Do I have any tools to get rid of an exponent?
    4. I can raise both sides to ^(1/4x) which would lead to:
      1. No good. Back to step c.
    5. How else can I get rid of the exponent? Logarithms, let’s try that:
      1. which simplifies to:
    6. Great, we got rid of x in the exponent. Onwards! Divide both sides by 4log(2):
    7. Plug into by handy dandy ClassCalc Calculator to get:
      1. x=1

There we have it: mental triage in math.

Finally, we’ll bring it full circle with a real-world example of mental-triage as a sub-skill of problem solving.

Teaching my high school students how to pick a college

It was the last day of my physics class last year, and my students were just about done with school. They had already taken the AP test and were ready for summer. Instead of squeezing in another physics lesson, I decided to tackle a more pressing concern of theirs – choosing a university.

In retrospect, my method for picking a university was suboptimal – I just asked my good friends where they were going and what they thought a good college was, and ended up at UCLA. Lucky for me, I met good people there and had an awesome experience, but many others who take the same approach are not. I wanted to teach my students how to be proactive and problem-solving-oriented in making life choices.

Rather than start with “I want to go to college” I wanted to help each one of them hear their inner voice, and begin a dialogue with it. Start for the bottom. Here was my approach:

Student: *Says something*

Me:

And this is what the conversation ended up sounding like:

  • Student: What college should I go to?
  • Me: Why do you want to go to college?
  • Student: I need to get an edu-
  • Me: Yes, but why do you need an education? What’s your goal?
  • Student: I want to make money. Goal number 1: Make money!
  • Me: Honest, but fair. What else? A lot of jobs will make you money.
  • Student: I want to become a doctor.
  • Me: Do you for sure 100% want to become a doctor? Have you had real exposure to medicine? Or is it alluring to you for other reasons?
  • Student: I’m not sure. I want to figure out what I want to become. Goal number 2: Explore career options!
  • Me: Ok, what else?
  • Student: I want to make good friends and party. Goal number 3: Have fun
  • And so on..

By the end, we put together a list of priorities for each student. I could see their perspective change drastically. Rather than listen to a parent’s friend’s suggestion, they were determined to go online and research.

Now, I am not necessarily saying that a better mathematician is going to be better at selecting a college, but certainly, the tools we learn in math can inform our decision-making process for the important choices we must all make in life, especially if we are aware that there is a problem-solving oriented approach to making these decisions. Our jobs, as teachers, is to help students form that awareness.

A good method for cultivating that awareness is with Miyagi Moment every so often. What’s a Miyagi Moment moment, you ask?

It’s a metaphor for when a teacher (or sensei) helps a student develop a crucial skill by practicing adjacently related skills that at first do not seem connected.

In the first gif below, we see the legendary Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel San how to…wax a car. Not really relevant to fighting karate.

In a later scene, Daniel san gets angry, accusing Mr. Miyagi of wasting his time with chores, when he should be learning super cool action moves to take down the big bully Johnny. Right then and there, Mr. Miyagi throws a couple of HYAH punches and BAM. Daniel san blocks them – all the while shocked in disbelief that he had developed the skills to do so. That moment of disbelief in the newly developed skill is the Miyagi Moment!

In math, students will often be practicing skills that seem almost irrelevant to them in life. It is up to us teachers to remind our students every so often that that is not the case. The best way to show them that is with a Miyagi Moment. It is time away from teaching the next chapter or lesson, but it is time well-spent.

I think blogger and math teacher John Trout McCrann put it beautifully in writing “Deep understanding about the process of solving an equation helps everyone understand how to create systems to solve problems at work, in their families, in our world. The kinds of problem-solving strategies you might use to tackle a big project, develop a more efficient engine, or address an issue that’s arisen between you and your partner. Deep understandings about shapes help everyone understand how to reason spatially, a skill that you may one day apply as a designer or as you lay out the furniture in your first house or apartment.”

About Me (Daniel Haiem):

  • I love math and education.
  • I’m an ex-physics teacher
  • I founded and lead a company called ClassCalc – the lockdown calculator app that lets teachers lock students out of all outside distractions such as instagram, calls and texts, keeping students focused in class, and preventing cheating on tests. Our goal is 100% access to calculators for students across the planet by 2025.

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

This post is sponsored by Abre, all opinions are my own.

Abre provides a set of solutions for schools looking to manage and consolidate the different software apps and websites used for student attendance, assessments, communication, student data and much more. Abre offers a robust platform that enables you to choose specific solution areas to get started and then add to it over time, continuing to build additional features of Abre into your school.

Communication

With Abre, you can facilitate faster and better communication within the district, schools, and between home and school. Abre offers a consistent and reliable way to streamline the numerous communications happening within the school and school district. Having a consolidated and reliable platform helps to foster and build home-to-school relationships, promote better communication, and student success.

Learning Management Solution

Abre provides one space where teachers can access the resources necessary for classroom instruction and teaching responsibilities. Included within the Learning Management solution are a group of web apps such as Class. A teacher uses Class to communicate and manage all classroom activity, do grading, post homework and generally manage instruction. The Assessment App allows for easy creation, delivery, and analysis of formative and summative assessments. Schools can organize the curriculum, including pacing guides, for all their classes with the Curriculum App. For tracking progress through a lesson, the Learn App delivers on that. To make sure students are staying on task with their devices, the Focus App ensures that the browser is only being used for teacher-defined websites and documents.

Data Management & Integrations

Abre is all about consolidating data to help administrators, teachers, and students improve. Abre integrates with a large and growing number of other software providers. They even integrate with products that provide competitive solutions to theirs. The Students App is the centerpiece of this solution and provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place. It also saves paper! Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, which are easily accessible within the Abre platform. Individual student plans are also accessible in the Student app. Again, this provides a single place for staff and parents to easily find all their student’s information.

Administrators can access all student data and track growth over time, look at state and local assessments to analyze trends in academic performance. Parents can access student data which includes academic performance, behavior, forms completed, attendance, and state assessments. Access to this vital data is made simple with one platform!

Teacher Professional Learning Solution

For districts looking for better professional development options for teachers, through Abre, teachers can create their own staff and individualized professional development plan for use over an extended time. Abre offers a more flexible solution making it easier for administrators and teachers to create, deliver, and track professional development activities. Abre can integrate schools’ digital courseware and customized courses for delivering staff development.

For completing courses online or in face-to-face environments, districts can offer teachers opportunities to earn badges, micro-credentials, and engage in gamified professional development. This is great for building professional portfolios, as teachers can use these activities to receive CEU credits or hours awarded based on state requirements for continued professional development.

School Management Solution

Similar to Learning Management, Abre provides great functionality for staff to manage day-to-day school requirements. The Behavior App helps with the workflow, easy documentation and tracking student data when either positive or negative behavior needs to be documented. The workflow features are especially helpful for office referrals where other administrators are needing to get involved and having transparency for parents is important. Abre Behavior takes on a significant portion of this manual work.

  • Easy to understand graphs and plots for tracking student progress.
  • Teachers can see details in terms of specific consequences as a result of any behaviors and referrals. The bar graph represents conferences, detentions, in-school and out-of-school suspensions.
  • The behavior app links directly to the student information so everything is readily accessible which leads to a better understanding of each student and their needs.

Beyond behavior, the School Management Solution allows admins and teachers to easily create and manage individual student and teacher plans. Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers with the school, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, are easily accessible within the platform. Whether teachers need to create an IEP, a gifted education plan, behavior or Response to Intervention (RTI) plan, teachers can build exactly what they need and have it live in Abre. And Abre provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place.

Likewise, administrators can work with teachers to create professional development plans using the same solution. It makes sense to have one platform that provides all of these options. For teachers, students, parents and administrators, having access to student data and other information is vital for promoting and tracking student growth. This solution really saves a lot of paper.

Connected Community Solution

Abre sees connecting schools with the communities they serve as critical to student growth. The Connected Community solution facilitates the exchange of important information, data and communications between students and administrators and members of their community. Abre allows a school’s learning partners to register in the Abre platform, roster the students in their programs back to the school, and enable the safe exchange of student attendance and other data. This is critical for schools to evaluate all of the influences that are growing their students. And for learning partners, it is how they can better understand whether their programs are meeting the needs of the students.

As an example, looking toward the future of learning and work, it’s important that we provide options for our students to engage in real-world learning experiences. One outstanding feature coming from the Partners App is where districts can add local businesses into the platform and facilitate connections between students and members of the community. The goal is to manage, track and capture quality attendance data when students take advantage of opportunities for place-based learning, experiential learning, CTE, and service-based learning.

Abre also lets students and staff create digital portfolios based on the work they’ve done. These portfolios are a powerful way of demonstrating, beyond the test scores, what they have learned and the skills they have acquired. Schools can then choose to allow these portfolios to be shared with others such as businesses, other schools, or organizations.

Privacy

Abre is FERPA compliant. The student information is only released with parental permission.

Using Abre is quite simple and I find that it is easy to navigate, which makes it a great choice for all users, whether they are beginners or advanced when it comes to implementing technology. By using a robust tool like Abre, educators and parents have immediate access to a lot of data. Abre is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration, and much more. It provides benefits for teachers for tracking PD, administrators looking to provide a comprehensive and consolidated platform to meet the needs of their schools and students, parents looking to stay connected with student learning and be informed of important information regarding their child’s education.

Guest post by Deidre Roemer,  Director of Leadership and Learning West Allis, WI, @deidre_roemer

 

When I reflect on my skills as a teacher throughout my career, I can think of examples of what I did well and a million things I would have done differently.  I am teaching a class at a local university this semester and know confidently that I am a better teacher now than I was when I was in the classroom. The opportunity to see other teachers in action in my leadership role for the last several years is what has made me better.  I get to speak to educators and learners all the time about what is working well in their classrooms and what they would like to see grow. It includes spending time in many classrooms where we and others are getting it right and learners can articulate the process of their learning in order to create great things.

Professional development that is connected to a vision of our work with meaningful processing time to reflect is how we push teachers to move from single projects to true learner driven practice.  We take a lot of teachers and teams on site visits to schools in our area and across our country who are already doing the kind of work we are trying to do to see it in action. It is hard to find a large comprehensive system that is there yet, so we are often at small charters of specialty programs that are offshoots of schools.  The visits are always amazing as we are able to interact with teachers and learners and see learner driven practice, but often the most important part of the time is the meal after the visit or the long trip home where we can talk about what we saw, process, and plan for what parts we can implement within our system. The goal is not to replicate but to figure out how to ask the right reflective questions of ourselves and one another to tie what we saw to our personal passions and interests and figure out how to bring all of that together to shift the learner experience.

We also spend a lot of our time talking about how this is the kind of learning experience ALL learners should have.  It should not be reserved for some kids in special programs or special schools. The visits with the deep discussions are often the leverage point that takes an educator from trying a few things to a true shift of practice that is more inclusive.  It helps them to be more collaborative as they are often on these visits with other staff from across our district that they might not already know having a shared experience . The power in seeing some things we are already doing well and celebrating those helps us to not be overwhelmed when looking for ways to grow.  The key is to make the time, take the staff who are ready to take some bold steps, and then follow up with them multiple times throughout the year so they have support to keep going with the work.

On a recent site visit, I took a chance and messaged some of the teachers to join us off-site after the formal conference to continue our learning.  Fortunately, they were willing to take the opportunity to discuss their work with us over dinner. It was an impactful experience to listen to teachers that have been doing this work for some time engage in professional discourse about grading, telling their story and standards.  The teachers were open about their own growth over time and how our staff could take pieces of what they saw back to our schools to create a more equitable opportunities for all learners through empowerment. We went back to the site the next day with a new lens on what to look for in learner and teacher observations that we could do instead of being lost in the surface things like the physical set-up.  Things that may have looked idealistic the day before now looked possible. The modeling of professional discourse created space for our team to do the same and ask some great questions about how we can do this work and how it does not have to look the same across all our schools.  Encouraging staff to push boundaries and challenge one another’s thinking is how we look at someone else’s professional practice and find a way to make it our own.

A few things we discover each time we do a site visit became apparent:

  • This work is messy.  It takes deep dialogue on what is right for learners and how to give up control in a way that is not always natural for teachers.
  • Change is uncomfortable and unpredictable, but easier with the proper support.  People tend to say, “Change is hard.” There was a great article from the Harvard Business Review in January of 2008 that explained why that phrase becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that permits us not to try.  We have to be able to think bigger than that.
  • We need to get more comfortable with professional discourse and open discussion about where we are now and where we can go that may push our thinking.
  • Teachers have to connect their own passion to their work in schools.  When it is authentic to the teachers, it becomes authentic with the learners.
  • Our teachers need to see the work in action often and learn how to get and give productive feedback.
  • The standards are always embedded in innovative, learner driven work.  They just aren’t always owned solely by the teacher.
  • Many times, the teacher in a learner driven classroom finds joy in their work.

We have evolved our district wide professional development to hopefully reflect all of these.  Our teachers will have time in small groups to learn their standards well enough to empower learners to take ownership of mastery of those standards within cross-curricular projects.  Staff will then have the opportunity to sign up to see another teacher modeling classroom practice that is learner driven. They will be our own internal site visits. We will use structured protocols to get and give feedback at each site to ensure we are using the time for genuine collaboration as we know that is what drives teacher practice.  We can’t make more time than we have, so we use the protocols from The School Reform Initiative as a way to restructure the time and make sure it is used for purposeful feedback and collaboration.

Our teachers hosting visits that day have been invited to participate for the first round as they are already trying new things, having success with learner empowerment and finding joy in their work.  It is not expected that anything that is “perfect” or a “show”.  It is meant for one teacher to share their experience and encourage others to try new things with an open dialogue about how and what supports they will need. Our goal is that our teachers engage with one another to see what’s possible, work together to get there for every learner and find joy in the work.

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

One of the things that I love the most about Buncee is that it can be used in so many different ways, not only for instruction in our classrooms but also in life. I have used Buncee to create cards for family and friends, personal business cards, graphics for Twitter chats and webinars, quote graphics for my books, invitations, and more. When I decide to use digital tools in my classroom, I want students to practice the content in a more authentic and engaging way, while developing skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity that can be transferred to their future. In using digital tools like Buncee, my hope is that they will also use them in other classes, for personal use, and will share them with family too.

Each year, I continue to explore new ideas to have students create with the content, rather than doing the exact same project or using traditional worksheets or other assessment methods. For years, I assigned students to complete very rigid projects in the same format and left little up to student choice. Now, after seeing the benefits of being more flexible with my instructional methods, I’d rather open it up more to student choice and see what students come up with.

Finding time to explore new resources can be a challenge because our lives as educators becomes quite busy and we may find ourselves lacking in time to really explore a variety of options for use in our classroom. This is another one of the reasons that I choose Buncee and appreciate the team’s investment in offering more than just one way for students to create. It truly has become a go to multi-purpose platform that can do so much, that I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the possibilities really are endless when it comes to creation with Buncee.

Learning about students and pushing them to explore

At the start of each school year, I focus my efforts on student relationships, learning about my students and also providing opportunities for them to learn about one another. In the past I have done this by using activities in our classroom such as ice breakers or having students work together on different review games and other in class collaborations like that. But this year I decided to do something a little bit differently to not only engage students in learning about the Spanish language and culture but to engage more in learning about one another. I came up with a project focused on using the “About Me” template in Buncee. I wanted students to share who they were and create one slide to show this using words, animations, stickers, and other add-ins. My hope was that by looking at each student’s slide, we would understand one another better and relate to each other based on similarities and differences.

I also thought this would be a good opportunity for them to choose and learn a little about a place where Spanish is spoken and create an “About_(country)_____” to share that information with the rest of the class. But I also realize that there are many students who are visual learners like me and I wanted to encourage students to be able to quickly look at and process information and represent it in a different way. Rather than simply restating the same content, push them to apply it at a higher level or find a different way to demonstrate an understanding of a concept.

I also wanted students to choose a Spanish speaking country and I placed a limit on the number of actual words they could use because I wanted them to represent what they had learned about the place that had chosen using the Buncee features. The topics they had to include were: languages spoken, school subjects, foods, activities, and other information like that that they could display using Buncee.

How did it go?

It was a fun activity and I learned so much about them and they learned about each other and what life is like in countries where Spanish is spoken. We shared them on a Buncee board which made it easy to access and created a colorful display of students and their creativity. Students shared their slides and gave a brief description in Spanish about themselves and made connections with their classmates. We had good conversations exchanging our likes, dislikes, and learning about our backgrounds. For the second slide, students

were able to get a quick glimpse of different Spanish-speaking countries and begin to understand the culture of some of the places they would be studying. It was fun that they could only include 3D objects, animations, stickers or emojis, to represent the information for each country. So for visual learners, being able to choose the right object to use to share this information made the learning stick a little bit more. Students who enjoy creating but not drawing really enjoyed the activity.

One other feature that I thought was important to share with students was the new Immersive Reader and how it works. We enjoyed looking at all of the capabilities with it and using Buncee for learning!

 

 

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Guest Post by Kristen Koppers, @Mrs_Koppers

Educator and Author of Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession 

The movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was one movie that brought together friendship through hardships. But a single pair of pants (no matter the size of each of the girls) fit perfectly to where they would wear the pants, write on them, and send them to each other throughout the summer.

We all know that wearing a pair of pants in one size does not mean that another pair of pants will fit even with the same size. The fact that one pair of pants can fit four different girls ‘perfectly’ who all have different body types is not realistic. Although the movie focused on the jeans, it was more about the friendship of the four girls during their personal problems they went through without each other.

The same idea goes for teaching and learning. While we hope that one size pair of pants (learning styles) would fit more than one student, we know that is not the case. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, schools, and learning abilities so we cannot think that one curriculum or one “pair of pants” can fit all. This goes the same for purchasing a Halloween costume or outfit where the tag says “one size fits most.” Someone who weighs 120 pounds wearing the same costume that a person who weighs 30 pounds more won’t fit the same way. While the outfit will fit both sizes, the look will be quite different.

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL – What many forget is that teachers come from all backgrounds, cultures, educational institutions, and ethics. We cannot expect one teacher to teach the same way as other teachers. This is the same for students. It would be a perfect world if one style of teaching will reach all students. However, this is not the case. Differentiating work can be difficult as well to meet the needs of all students. In order to have that perfect pair of pants to fit all students, teachers must be willing to put their ego and pride aside and stretch the pants just a little wider so that not one size person but multiple sizes can fit.

The struggle is real. We all know how it is to try and fit into a fresh pair of washed jeans. The jeans that fit you the day before now feels tighter 24 hours later. If we think about how that one pair of jeans fit the day earlier and then the next day they don’t, this is how many students feel. One day they feel like they understood the information and then the next day nothing makes sense.

Using Differentiated Instruction is not about separating all students or creating one lesson plan for many. It’s about assessing student needs throughout the year. While one lesson plan will help several students at one point, another lesson plan may not work for the rest. Assessing students needs does not need to be cumbersome. It can be as simple as noticing non-verbal clues in the classroom to written work.

Recently, we were reading a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Students were intrigued by the reading and began to focus on the plot. It wasn’t until they were to share out what they learned to the class that everything unfolded. When I moved around the room, most groups were able to explain what they were thinking. However, between the individual group discussions and the informal presentation, something went wrong. This is where I used differentiated instruction. We discussed the lesson, the assignment, and guidelines. It was the connection from what they read to their knowledge that seemed ‘not to fit.’

As an educator of 16 years and instead of taking it as an insult to my teaching, I swallowed my pride of experience and began to learn how to fit into a pair of jeans that did not fit me. After a large group discussion, I was able to use differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all the abilities in my classroom. Students were given the choice to keep their grade or complete one of the two alternative assignments to replace the previous grade. Instead of making this decision, I let the students choose because, after all, they are the ones who truly know their own learning ability.

When one pair of pants does not fit, we shouldn’t just give them away and buy a larger or small pair, we need to stretch them a little to fit.

Follow Kristen on Twitter and Check out her book! Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession

This post is sponsored by Listenwise, all opinions are my own.

Back to School with Listenwise

The start of the new school year brings excitement for new opportunities and is often a time when educators are looking for new ideas and digital tools for enhancing student learning. For many educators, having extra time in the summer is great for reflecting on the prior school year and exploring digital tools and their benefits for students. Simply using technology because it is available without a true purpose will not benefit student learning much at all. However, when we implement versatile digital tools that provide students with innovative, more personalized and real-world learning experiences, we empower our students with amazing opportunities. Listenwise is a listening skills program that offers more than 1800 podcasts for students in grades 5 through 12 (with plans to expand further into Elementary content in 2020). The content is updated every day with new stories including daily current events from NPR.

Improve Listening Comprehension Skills With Listenwise

Listenwise is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to foster improved listening skills, reading comprehension, and create a more personalized learning experience for students. Listenwise is beneficial for increasing participation in discussions and promoting student engagement. It creates a virtual space where students can build listening and reading comprehension skills, confidence, as well as develop their own creativity and storytelling skills. Using Listenwise, teachers can better differentiate learning for students and promote more cultural and global awareness through access to more meaningful, real-world stories.

What makes Listenwise stand out?

The first thing that I noticed about Listenwise is how easy it is to navigate in the platform. There is also a robust teacher support center which offers the basics for getting started, teaching resources, hot topics, and more support to get started with Listenwise.

When making decisions about which digital tools to use, especially those that offer as many features as Listenwise, there may be a concern about the learning curve. However, a key feature of Listenwise is in its simplicity and visual design.

It is easy to locate Lessons, whether by selecting a content area, exploring all of the lessons available, or searching based on a specific word or current event. A great feature of Listenwise is that teachers can also search for lessons based on grade level, the level of language challenge, and even the type of resources (lesson plan or current event). Being able to locate resources quickly enables teachers to find something more personalized for students and their specific interests and needs.

Enhance Collaboration Through Digital Learning Spaces

Teachers can provide students with access to current and relevant resources and news, create more authentic assignments, and promote student agency through the Listenwise platform. There are a variety of teacher materials available to enhance each lesson including comprehension questions, prompts, lesson plans, graphic organizers, tiered vocabulary and more. Finding time to create class activities and provide enrichment can be a challenge, however, Listenwise helps teachers to reduce planning time and instead have extra time for interacting with students. It is a platform that can be used in multiple ways for different forms of instruction. It is a great option for using a blended learning model with station rotations in class. Whether used for individual students or an entire class, or at home as a way to promote more family engagement, Listenwise offers many options for amplifying student learning potential.

Using the different lessons and current events available, we can extend learning, reinforce the content that we are teaching and in the process spark new discussions. We will then build upon student skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and promote creativity.

It is easy to navigate the site and set students and create classes. Listenwise provides an excellent way to help students stay informed of what is happening in the world around them and to connect with content that they are interested in and to take more control in their learning.

Foster Better Class Discussions

Listenwise provides a way for students to build skills and become more confident as they explore real-world topics and interact more with the content. Students also build digital citizenship skills as they navigate in the digital world, exploring global issues and making connections with their own community.

Key Features of Listenwise

  1. Content: Listenwise offers more than 1800 podcasts from NPR and other podcast providers. Students have access to the audio as well as an interactive transcript, vocabulary resources and an opportunity to work at their own pace.
  2. Teacher resources: There are many resources available through the Teacher’s Guide. Within each lesson, there are listening comprehension questions, discussion themes, vocabulary words, Socrative integration, additional related lessons, and multiple graphic organizers. There are also external materials provided which may include resources such as interviews, drawings, maps.
  3. Interactive transcript: A great feature where students can listen to the audio while reading along with it, and if needed, pause to take notes or to process the information. While the audio plays, the text changes color and moves at the pace of the audio. Students can replay sections by clicking a word in the story, and the audio will re-start on the word they select. This is a great way to have students focus on listening more closely and also being able to make a visual connection with the text and build their reading skills.
  4. Auto-scored quizzes: Each lesson offers listening comprehension quizzes which are embedded in the lesson. Students have the option to replay the audio and listen more closely, helping them to continue to build their skills at their own pace. Students receive their results and if needed, can retake a quiz once the teacher clicks “reset” on the report.
  5. Progress monitoring: There are eight types of listening comprehension skills that are assessed such as main idea, inference, and vocabulary. Teachers have a detailed view of student results, can download the class report and see schoolwide data. Having access to this data
  6. ELL and Scaffolding: Through tiered vocabulary and the option to play audio at a slower speed, students can work at their own pace through the lesson. Students also have the texthelp toolbar which offers options such as Spanish translation, word definition through text or picture, and the ability to read aloud any text from the page.
  7. Standards-aligned: Lessons are aligned to state standards for ELA, science, and social studies. Through the Teacher’s Guide, each grade level band contains the related standards and explanations, making it easy to refer to the standards.
  8. Custom assignments: Teachers can create custom assignments for students, which works very well for a blended learning environment or for schools which are 1:1. Assignments can be customized to include listening comprehension questions, interactive transcripts, short responses, graphic organizers and more depending on the needs of each student.

Listenwise helps to promote better communication, student success, and family engagement. Implementing digital tools like Listenwise promotes learning that can take place regardless of the time and place, also helping to globally connect students with authentic, real-world resources. Providing these learning tools for students makes a big difference in student growth and engagement.

Ready to get started?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Choose one of the lessons for a new way to introduce a unit.
  • Select a theme for Project-based learning (PBL) based on one of the lessons.
  • Teach students about global issues by informing them about the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and task them with finding events related to these goals. Opportunities like this promote student inquiry and lead students to more meaningful, personalized learning journeys.
  • Search for a recent current event and use it as a conversation starter!

 

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The end of the school year is the perfect time to try the tools or explore new ideas that perhaps you did not get to throughout the year. We can also use this as a time to prep for the next school year. By trying different tools and platforms during the last few weeks, we can then take the summer break to reflect on their impact on student learning. During the spring, I notice a drop in student engagement and an increase in the number of students missing classes due to testing, sporting events, or regular absences. Finding a way to keep students connected and engaged in the lesson is critical.

To resolve these challenges, I try to find something that will benefit students, resolve any disconnect or gaps in learning that might be happening and increase engagement. A new tool that caught my attention recently is NoteAffect. It is a platform focused on enhancing and understanding student engagement and empowering teachers with a powerful tool to better understand student learning.

Why NoteAffect?

NoteAffect provides a unique platform for personalizing the learning experience for students. Using NoteAffect, teachers can deliver lessons in a more interactive way that empowers students to be more involved in the lesson and have access to all of the course materials within one platform. Whether or not students are present in class, they can log in to their account at any time and either view the lesson they missed, or review a lesson in preparation for an exam or for continued review.

NoteAffect offers the right resources and methods to better engage students in learning and helps teachers to track student progress, better understand the questions that students might have and use it as a way to reflect on their own teaching practice. Worried about having devices that are compatible with? No worries as NoteAffect can be used on a PC, Mac, Chromebooks, Android, and iOS devices, so students can interact in class or on their own schedule.
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Getting started with NoteAffect is easy!

Finding time is always a challenge with so much to do in our school days and prepping throughout the week. However, with NoteAffect, teachers can quickly set up an account, invite students to join classes and begin sharing a lecture. The dashboard is easy to navigate and it provides access to the materials that empower teachers to better understand student needs and learning trends.

Once you have created your courses in NoteAffect, it is easy to have students join in the course and participate in minutes.

To invite students, simply follow these steps:

  1. Go to your Dashboard and select “Instructor Tools” and then “Course Management.”
  2. Select the appropriate course from the menu on the left.
  3. Select “Participants” and then select “Add participant” from the top right corner.
  4. Enter the student’s email address and click “Add.”
  5. Students will receive an email with a  prompt to join the course.

Once students are participants in your course, they will be able to see any prior lectures and participate in the current lecture being delivered.

To start a lecture:

  1. Click “Start new lecture” and you will be prompted to open the Broadcaster.
  2. Once the Broadcaster window opens, use the drop-down menu to determine which application to display or if you have other files that you want to use for your lecture.
  3. Once you select the app, it starts to share your screen with your students and it will record the audio as well.
  4. When finished, simply End Lecture and it will be available to students.

Features of NoteAffect

  • Students can take notes, highlight important points, make annotations on the lecture notes and even submit an anonymous question during class. Classmates can see the questions and upvote a classmate’s question, making it more interactive.
  • It’s a great way to have everything accessible in one place as opposed to writing on pieces of paper or having to pull from different presentations. By using notes, students have access to everything within one platform, making it even easier for students to manage.
  • Teachers can deliver their lessons and add in or embed live polling, and further engage students in the lesson.
  • Using the analytics, teachers can see the level of participation and engagement with the material.
  • Analytics provide information including the views, notes taken, words per note and annotations made by students, providing a clearer picture of the level of understanding and engagement of students.

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It will be easy to get started with NoteAffect in your classroom or to recommend to colleagues and administrators for use in their classrooms and schools. To learn more, check into NoteAffect here and get started with a demo today! Be sure to follow them on Twitter 

 

For my prior post on NoteAffect, click here

 

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

When I think about trying some new tech tool, I first consider my purpose when deciding which tool to try. As educators, our goal should be to leverage technology in a way that helps to empower students, promote personalized and student-driven learning, and amplify their learning potential.

As the school year winds down, I think we have a great opportunity to provide some new, authentic learning experiences for our students. We can use these last few weeks of school to do some really cool things. If you notice that students are kind of drained or their motivation or engagement seems to be lacking, then I think it’s the perfect opportunity to try something that you’ve had on your mind but never quite found the time, or to try something new that you recently learned about. Either way, in my own experience, I have seen improvements in these areas by providing access to different digital tools for students to choose from and that meet their needs and interests. Of course, finding something that enables students to have fun while learning is never a bad thing. I recently found something that will definitely help: Socrates

Why Socrates?

Socrates provides a unique game-based learning platform that is focused on differentiating instruction for students. By using Socrates, teachers have access to a wealth of resources and ways to better engage students in learning, helping them to build their skills in content areas such as math and English through the use of games. Because the platform uses artificial intelligence, it is able to adjust to student needs by creating an individualized learning path in real-time, which makes Socrates stand out from other learning platforms. It is easy for teachers to track student progress and quickly identify where students might need some extra help or instruction. It enables students to progress at a pace that meets their individual needs and provides them with the right supplemental resources they need when they need them.

Getting started with Socrates is easy!

Finding time is always a challenge with so much to do in our school days and prepping throughout the week. However, with Socrates, teachers can quickly set up an account, add students to classes and start assigning free practice, homework, and tests in no time at all. The Teacher and School Command Center Modules in Socrates provide a powerful teacher assistant that informs teachers when and where each student needs help. Being able to act on that information quickly is key for teachers, and this is where the AI makes an impact on student learning and growth. Get started today! (link)

Worried about having devices that are compatible? Socrates can be used on a PC, Mac, Chromebooks, Android, and iOS devices. Students can complete their work in class or on their own schedule wherever they have access to a device.

How to get students started

To add new students, simply follow these steps:

1. Go to your teacher Dashboard and select “Manage.”

2. Click the student icon to add a new student.

3. Enter student first and last name.

4. Add a student ID (at least 4 digits).

5. Select the grade level for the student.

6. Click “Create a student account and add to the roster.”

Making changes to student account information is easy using the Command Center. Teachers can specify a grade level, an active area of study, learning style, and gameplay (ranging from High gameplay to No games). Assessing student progress and making changes to their learning profile is easy to do within the Command Center.

Free practice, homework, and tests

It is easy to find the right activities for students and to start a class or set up activities for students to work on at a later time.

To get started:

  1. On the dashboard, select “Assignments.”
  2. Once assignment opens, select the Area of Study (K through 5th) and the content area (Math or Language Arts)
  3. Select the topic, and continue making selections for the specific content material.
  4. On the Assignment details, change the name, the number of questions, add a start and end date if applicable.
  5. Choose to assign as Free Practice, Homework, or to Print.
  6. Once selected, the assignment is added to the student____________ and a box prompts you with “OK” to signify the assignment has been created.

First impressions

Before getting students logged in, we discussed artificial intelligence and how it was used in the Socrates platform. Students were excited to get started. I was impressed by how quickly I could create accounts for my students and get them logged in. They were able to navigate the platform without my assistance and enjoyed having so many choices in which games to try first. Being able to track their progress and make adjustments so quickly is definitely a benefit of the Socrates platform.

If you have not yet tried it, I recommend getting started here. Socrates offers a 30-day free trial. I encourage you to try it out for the rest of the school year and see what students think and reflect on how it benefits learning now and through the summer.

For more information, see the blog, be sure to share your feedback and also follow Socrates on Twitter: @learnwithsocra1

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With the summer break approaching, educators and students alike could use some fresh ideas to keep the energy high and finish the year strong. I have found that the end of the school year is a great time to try some new activities and tools and use it as an opportunity to try things that may have been on a list somewhere, but that you did not have the chance to do. Why not try some different methods and different tools to help students to review in preparation for final exams, create a project, or before moving on to the next level of a course. Also, depending on the course taught, some of these ideas can be carried into the summer, as a way to avoid the “summer slide.”

There are many options for getting students more engaged in learning, some rely on tech tools and others are simple hands-on activities that have the students deciding how to use the materials to learn. Regardless of the content area or level taught, technology can open up new possibilities that might just be the catalyst to spark curiosity in students or to help to engage them more in learning, and then their own motivation can take over.  I decided to try some different strategies, tools, student developed ideas, and more importantly, to step aside more in the classroom and let the students lead.

5 Ideas for Engaging Students

Here are five different ways that I found to bring about positive changes in the classroom, engage students more in learning, and also build relationships within our classroom. Hopefully, you will be able to try a few of these and push through strong until the end of the year!

  1. Games and Music: Earlier this year, I started to use more music and games in the classroom. The students became more involved in creating their own games and also writing some songs, to use as mnemonic devices. Why not have students create their own song using course related vocabulary, and set it to the music of a randomly selected song. It can be a really authentic way for them to create, have fun and remember the content in a more meaningful way. For my class, the most popular song was “Despacito” and students did a great job!
  2. Learning Stations: Try creating stations in your classroom by randomly dividing students into small groups, and have a different activity ready for each station. I like to mix the tech tools with traditional tools, so students can do some hands-on creating where students make flashcards or other visual which can be used as a resource, complete a worksheet or use dry erase boards and come up with a way to practice. For a few tech ideas, try setting up some iPads and giving students a game of Quizizz or Gimkit to play, or an interactive lesson using EDPuzzle or Playposit.  Using stations in class leads to more opportunities for student interaction and for the teacher to work directly with each group and each student. GImkitCreateGimkitLIbrary
  3. New Tech tools: Why not take the last couple of weeks of school as an opportunity to try out some of the newer tech tools or revisit some of the popular tech tools that may have some updates.  I try to learn as much as I can about new tools, but I am eager to have my students try them in class and to give me feedback on what they think. Here are a few of the most recent tools we have tried. Each tool makes it easy to get started either by having a library of ready-made games or by integrating with a tool like Quizlet, where study sets can be used to create a game. QuizalizeGimKit, and Flipquiz. Each of these is a game-based learning tool, and offer a new and exciting way to practice the course material, and also to help students continue to build peer relationships in the classroom. null
  4. Augmented and Virtual Reality: There is a lot of talk today about the benefit of using augmented and virtual reality tools in the classroom. There are so many different tools to choose from,  but I will recommend three tools to check out that can create more immersive learning experiences. Students can create using MetaverseAppCoSpacesEDUand also creating or joining lessons in Nearpod. Students are very creative and offering them a chance to design an augmented or virtual reality experience, in which they include the content material and also create additional learning resources for the classroom is so beneficial. Again, there are samples available in the library for each of these tools and creating with them is something that the students catch on to rather quickly. If you are looking for a different way to do a project, and to engage students more, then trying some AR/VR might be the way to go. Using Nearpod as a way to have students work through an interactive lesson, and then adding in 3D objects or Virtual Field Trips will really help students to better experience what they are studying. The next step would be to have the students create their own Nearpod lesson for class, multi-media, all in one tool. IMG_20170530_145553.jpgnull
  5. Podcast, Video Responses and More! Ever thought about having students create a podcast to discuss a topic, perhaps interview a “special guest”, maybe someone who takes on the role of a famous person being studied, or shares their thoughts about something covered in the class. It could be a good experience for students to practice interviewing someone, or even doing their own podcast, as a way to build some confidence and have fun while doing so. Maybe use Synth or Flipgrid and have students post responses to a question of the week, or have each student post a question for the classmates to respond to. It can be a different way to engage all students in a discussion, promote student voice and implement a new tech tool in the classroom.

In trying one or all of these activities, students have an opportunity to be more active in the classroom, work together, build relationships, collaborate and engage in more authentic learning experiences. If you need some ideas or would like to see some student examples, let me know. The best part of trying new things in the classroom is learning right along with the students, and sometimes, they learn before you. And this is one of the best parts!