blearning

 

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.

 

 

What Are The Benefits Of Student Blogging?

What are some ways to assess students and engage them more in conversation? How can we help students to become more confident in expressing their ideas and more comfortable in sharing their ideas in and out of class? Good question.

As I have reflected more on my practice over the past couple of years, I have realized that I needed to make some changes. One of the most important areas has been finding ways to better differentiate and personalize my instruction and to empower students to take responsibility for their learning and have an opportunity to express themselves more.

Teachers have so many options to choose from when it comes to technology, and it can be a challenge to decide where or how to start. The best advice I can share is to find one area that you feel like you can improve upon, or maybe there is something that takes a lot of your time or does not offer students enough opportunities to participate in class, just to name a few.  A couple of years ago, I started to have my students blog. I had read blogs for several years, had only recently started writing my own, and thought they offered a great opportunity to learn about a lot of different topics in short passages.

While tremendously beneficial for the reader,  it seemed like a great way for the “blogger” to share ideas and even helpful hints to anybody who wanted to learn just a little bit more about a topic. Blogs are great for those who do not have time to read a book and want to follow or learn about specific topics.  It is also a great way to express oneself. With this in mind, I started having my students write blogs in Spanish and I chose Kidblog for them.

Choosing A Blogging Platform

There are many blogging platforms available, depending on your grade level, the specific platform needs and also funding if needed.  On a personal level, I have used Blogger, Word Press and Edublogs. These are great options and there are many other ways to share a blog, and depending on what your personal needs are and how you would like to incorporate blogging into your classroom, you may decide to use any one of these. But for my students when I started, I began with Kidblog in my Spanish II, III and IV courses.

At first many of the students were quite apprehensive about writing and worried about who would be reading their work and there was the fear of writing correctly and making mistakes. These are all common concerns for anybody when confronting something that’s new and different than what has been the traditional way of doing things, especially when it comes to the classroom setting.

I had never written a blog myself until I was asked to write one for a few Edtech companies and share how I was using the tools in my classroom. I was apprehensive at first, having no experience writing a blog at that time.  I was not sure where to begin nor how I would write so many words. However, it’s true what they say, once you take that first step you can keep moving. It’s just that getting started is the most difficult part, finding the right words, learning about your writing style, it’s all part of the process.

What Are The Benefits Of Student Blogging?

The blogger has the benefit of improving writing skills whether in basic grammar structures in English or learning foreign language skills as is the case for my Spanish students, or for other courses, learning to write in a specific way whether it be persuasive text or narrative for example. And the theme can be relevant to any course or personal interest topic. An additional benefit is the ability to share ideas and experiences, enabling people to learn from each other.

Blogging enables you to write freely about your ideas and thoughts, and you can choose to share them or you can keep them private, but the end result is that you have a way to express yourself, be creative and can then use it as a means for personal growth and reflection.

All of my students in Spanish II, III and IV have accounts for blogging and sometimes I will give them a prompt and other times I leave it up to them to write about whatever they feel like writing about. I do set guidelines for the blog to be a certain length, a number of words, or specific verb tenses, but I really want it to be a way for them to express themselves, be creative and have it be more personalized.

Getting Started

Before we begin blogging and throughout the year, I continue to emphasize that it’s really important to remember a couple of things. The purpose of the blog is to work on writing skills and that means their own skills and not those enhanced by trying to use a translator. They need to put forth the effort and try to write in Spanish, in my case, while keeping in mind some of the grammar, vocabulary, and verbs that we have learned in class. And finally, they need to read the feedback from me, or if they are paired with a classmate, peer-review and not worry about any errors.  I reinforce that we’re all in this together to help each other learn and grow and that it’s okay to make a mistake.  While my experience is with students studying a foreign language, you can apply these same parameters to any course.

I use the blogs as a way to have them work with a new vocabulary unit on their own. I let them get into small groups and take turns writing and then commenting on blogs, but either way, I read them all. I can learn more about what their needs are in terms of language skills, but I also learn more about them as a person and it helps to build relationships with them as well.

Final Thoughts

Blogging can be used for many purposes and can be a regular activity or maybe it’s something that you would do occasionally, depending on your class. It could be a great way for students to write their interpretation of something they read in English or in a history course for example. I have written blogs for graduate coursework and at times, I am still apprehensive because I am putting my ideas out there for somebody else to read and I think it’s natural to feel a little bit afraid of expressing yourself openly, but that’s what the purpose is.  We need to feel free to share our thoughts, to communicate with others, and to build connections.  These are all important parts of the learning process.

So think about blogging.  Whether it means you find a blog to read, start to write your own blog once a week, once a month or try it out in one of your classes. I will tell you that it can amount to a lot of reading when you have your students do it, but it’s completely worth it for you and for them. And don’t be afraid to take a chance with it, we learn from our experiences and we reflect and continue to grow.

Among the benefits of students blogging?

  • Student autonomy and student engagement
  • Promotes student choice and builds confidence in writing and in communicating
  • The natural “cognitive load” of the writing process. Writing is hard and writing that will actually be read by someone outside the classroom is another thing altogether. Students need to share their work.
  • 21st-century skills, collaborating, thinking critically, and publishing ideas with authentic audiences.
  • Opportunities to practice digital literacy and citizenship, very important to include in our classroom.

If you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you, happy blogging!

Assessments used to track student progress are certainly not new to teachers. However, it is important to consider that if you consistently use the same tool for assessment, these materials should be curated and referred to throughout the year. This ensures a conversation can happen between teachers, students, and guardians, reviewing  progress and growth.

Kidblog offers extended options for promoting student choice, giving students ownership in learning, and facilitating communication between home and school (family engagement in learning is critical for student success).  Over the years, I have tried to encourage students to keep prior assessments or writing assignments as artifacts of their work to share with families. It wasn’t long before these papers were misplaced and the opportunities for review, reflection and growth disappeared. Using Kidblog’s built-in digital portfolios empower students to self-regulate learning and develop their metacognitive skills. It also allows a conversation between student, teacher, and families happen.

Tracking growth in a more accessible way

There are many benefits of using safe student publishing that go beyond simply blogging and improving communication skills. Through Kidblog, students gain the tools necessary to prepare for their future with the skills they need to be successful.

  • Promotes digital literacy and citizenship: Blogging engages students in building their writing skills whether it be basic English grammar, practicing foreign language skills, or learning to write in a specific format such as a persuasive text or narrative. Students can share their posts with classmates and provide feedback to one another. Peer assessment builds student collaboration skills and promotes digital citizenship and the responsible use of digital tools.
  • Track their growth: Students build their online presence and create their own space unique to their needs. They develop confidence as they become more creative in their expression and learn to self-assess with each blog post they write. Because Kidblog offers a safe learning space, students can get started by writing posts that are private, visible by the teacher, and then continue to grow their audience, sharing their work with classmates, connections, and beyond. Using Kidblog across multiple courses provides students with an even greater opportunity to track their progress across the course of a semester, school year, or even year-over-year.

 

  • Build relationships and become confident learners: Receiving feedback throughout the learning journey is critical to student growth. However, some students may be hesitant in sharing their thoughts with their peers in the classroom. Through blogging, when students create their own online space, they can comfortably begin to develop their voice, express their thoughts in a personal space, and become more confident learners. The relationships that form by sharing their work at first with their teacher and then by publishing it to a larger community have a tremendous impact on student growth. Publishing work to a wider audience benefits the student through the additional feedback that can be provided. Students know their work is having an impact on readers.
  • Goal setting: When students consistently create through blogging, they can use their history (in digital portfolios) as a guide to push forward with goals. Each student can use Kidblog as a space to set personal learning goals. By publishing their goals in the class, they are held accountable and, in turn, will be motivated to hit those goals. Preparing students for their future requires that we provide opportunities for them to learn responsibility, to work within a schedule with different tasks and timelines.

 

  • Personal expression and growth mindset: Kidblog provides a space for students to explore their passions, be creative, and reflective. Students have the opportunity to share these passions with the world, and hopefully, make a connection with another student based off of these passions.

 

Consider adopting Kidblog as your tool for promoting student growth and formative assessment. Teacher premium memberships are a great way for an individual teacher to pilot Kidblog in all their classes, with benefits like automatic digital portfolio curation for your students, a class page, moderation tools to customize your audience levels per post, and so much more.

PBL and GimKit

So the tool was Gimkit and I only heard bits of a conversation in the #4OCFPLN group (Thank you Laura Steinbrink) and I honestly thought it was something only for elementary school. I decided last weekend to look it up, create an account and give it a try. At the end of the school year, I love trying new tools and ideas to keep students engaged in learning and finish strong. A few years ago, Goose Chase was a huge success, and so I was excited for the possibilities with Gimkit.

It was so easy to create a game, referred to as a “kit.” I created several “kits” for my classes and then noticed that I needed to upgrade to make additional kits. I reached out to the game’s creator to find out if I could have a brief trial period, so that I could make more games. Since the school year was ending, and I had conferences coming up, I really wanted to try out as many features as I could.  I was quite surprised to find out that this is a tool that has been created by a high school junior, as a part of project-based learning.

“Being uncomfortable is a great way to increase your skill of learning”

Learning the story behind the creation of Gimkit

When I asked Josh asked about his background, he told me that during the last school year, a new project-based learning high school opened in his district and he decided to attend.(See an interview done by Michael Matera, #xplap, where he interviews Josh).

In May of 2017, as he was completing one of his projects , he thought back to traditional school, where he really enjoyed using other game based learning tools, and thought he could create something to improve upon them. He started by interviewing different students and teachers, and compiled a list of the most common issues expressed, which became part of his focus in creating Gimkit.

GimKitHW

As an assignment

Last summer he worked on creating the first version of Gimkit, and ran a small beta test in October and officially launched the day before Halloween. He says they have spent “little to no time and money on marketing,”  and the user base is growing, over the past few weeks he has seen around 20x the usage he did from just a month ago. As for the team, for the most part, it’s just Josh who does all of the engineering and responds to customer support messages. He started to code between freshman and sophomore years, and then developed GimKit over the following summer. Josh also has a mentor who works with the customers and provides business advice. Listening to his interview with Michael, there are three questions that he asked himself which impressed me. “Am I working to improve the product every single day? Am I improving myself every single day? Am I doing something to push the product further everyday?” He clearly has a growth mindset and is reflective in his “challenges” that he has set up for himself.

 

I was so surprised when I received a response to my email to Gimkit  within about fifteen minutes of having sent it. I can’t recall the last time that I got a response so quickly.

GImkitCreate

Giving it a try

So last week I decided to give it a try in my classes without really knowing what to expect. I got started over the weekend by creating classes, entering the students’ names to make it easier in class. I created a few “kits”, which are games. It is very easy to create. You can start from scratch, upload your own sets of terms or connect with Quizlet to export a list of words directly into your game. The goal is to make as much money as you can, or for students to reach a set goal. Students can play individually or in teams and logging in is done through a code, where students can then either find their name if part of a class, or enter their name.. You can also set a time period to play, I have been using 10 and 12 minutes, just as a start.

I was very excited to try this with my classes and actually only intended to play during my Spanish I classes. To start, I told them that I really wasn’t sure how it worked and told them to just go for it.

Playing this reminded me of that day five years ago when we play Kahoot! for the first time. The students wanted to keep on playing more games every day and said it was their favorite. They were excited and having fun but more importantly I noticed that they were learning the words and their recall of the words became faster and faster with each time played. It was fun to observe them as they played, learning how the game worked, and hearing their interactions. Some students were yelling at their teammates “to stop buying things”, as they can “shop” and level up with extra money per question, buy insurance, bonus streak or other options. Eventually they all had fun buying things,  when they saw how quickly the money was being added to their account.

After the first round of games, I think the total won was around three million which seemed like a lot until the next class came in and had 17 million. The third group to play earned 37 million and when we decided to continue this the next day we were in the billions!

GimkitLIbrary

Gathering feedback and assessing the benefits of the tool

Once the game is done, a report is available which opens as a PDF. The summary shows the class results and the individual report lists each student, money earned and lost, correct and incorrect answers, followed by a list of the terms asked and the number of correct and incorrect responses. It is a great way to see what areas that the class as a whole needs some review with, but more importantly, something that can be shared with each student and used as a tool to study. Teachers can create 5 kits for free and edit each kit once. There are also paid plans that enable you to create more.

 

For the determining the benefit for students, I value their feedback very much and I ask them what they liked about the game and how they felt it impacted their learning of the vocabulary. They liked the game setup and the repeated questions, the music and the teamwork made it fun as well. Creating the kits was so fast and made it easy to keep adding more into my library. Another nice feature is the ability to assign kits for students to play outside of class for practice.

There are different options available for play in class as well as assignments. I love that students can work at their own pace and that they are learning more and feeling more confident with the material.  I definitely recommend that you check them out and follow them on Twitter, @Gimkit. Just in the past few days, there are already new features added, one favorite is the messages sent to teammates letting them know when someone on the team buys something.

 

Updated from the Original Post on Getting Smart, January 19, 2018

Looking for new ideas to try before the end of the school year? If you have not tried some of this, now is the time!

There are so many digital tools available today that offer opportunities for promoting student creativity, student voice, and expanding where and how students learn. I had my own list of the tools that I found made a big difference in my classroom, but decided to ask students for their input.

Here is a list of tools to try in 2018, (or to try before the end of the year, let’s keep learning!)

Each of these offer multiple ways for students to create, connect and engage in more authentic learning experiences.

Promoting Connected Learners

We were able to take our learning to a whole new level this year through Project Based Learning (PBL). Using these tools enabled us to connect with students from several Spanish speaking countries, which created tremendous possibilities for more authentic learning and broadening our cultural understanding.

1) Edmodo: Virtual learning space, where teachers can set up a digital classroom to connect students with the resources they need, in a safe learning environment. Edmodo can be used for assessments and integrates with Microsoft Office and Google, making it easy to share files with students. Students relied on Edmodo to connect with students in Argentina, Mexico and Spain for their PBL. One student said “these connections enabled me to sculpt my PBL, and learn in ways that books, videos and regular classroom lessons cannot provide.”

2) Flipgrid: Video response tool, which became one of the most talked about tools this past year after launching new features, making it even easier and more fun for students to share their ideas. Students can record up to a five minute response, add emojis to their photos and access the “grid” quickly through a grid code. It is a great tool for helping students to become more comfortable and confident in sharing their ideas and sparking curiosity with their peers.

3) Padlet: Padlet, a virtual wall, is a favorite in our classroom. Students can create a digital portfolio by uploading files and links to projects, curate resources for PBL, or have discussions with classrooms around the world. Other popular ways to use Padlet are to ask questions, post homework, or as a classroom website. Newer features include being able to “like”, “grade” or “upvote” a post and directly transfer posts to another Padlet wall.

4) Recap: Recap 2.0 is a free video response tool, which integrates with Edmodo, Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom and Blackboard, making it easy to implement right away. It provides a comfortable way for teachers and students to ask questions by setting them up in a “Queue”. Students can submit questions and receive direct feedback, in a safe moderated environment.

Tools to Engage Students in Learning

5) Quizlet Live: Quizlet Live is a fun way to encourage student collaboration by playing a team game using a set of Quizlet study cards. Teachers select a set of study cards, launch a Live game by providing students with a join code, and students are divided into teams. To play, you need at least four players and a study set with at least 12 unique terms. Only one member of the team has the correct answer and answering incorrectly bounces the team score back to zero.

6) Quizizz: Quizizz has launched some new features, including integrating with Edmodo and Google Classroom, which makes sharing or assigning games and reviewing results much easier. When playing live, students can see the class accuracy reflected as it updates the leaderboard live with each response. There are thousands of games available in the library, making it easy to get started or create your own.

7) Kahoot!: Some big changes to the layout and options of the platform make it easier to navigate and review questions in class. Teachers can now assign “challenges” to students as a fun way to practice by sharing a code. The new “Nickname Generator” creates fun and unique usernames such as “Mystery Panda” or “Fantastic Bat” to students. It definitely saves time rather than waiting for students try to come up with their own “creative” names.

8) Kidblog: Blogging has many benefits for helping students to express themselves and begin to develop their online presence. Teachers can provide students with a variety of writing prompts to not only assess student learning, but promote creativity, communication, collaboration and digital citizenship skills. With Kidblog, teachers can even AppSmash (use two or more apps or tools together to complete a task) by embedding other tech tools into the platform, such as Buncee, Flipgrid or by uploading images and documents directly from Google Drive.

Creativity, Assessments, Interactive Lessons and More

9) Buncee: Buncee, a versatile presentation and assessment tool, is great for creating multimedia projects full of animations, graphics, audio, and videos. Choose from thousands of templates, backgrounds, animations and other graphics to create invitations, classroom signs, and unique “Buncees” for any purpose. Buncee enables every student to find exactly what they need to add into their project and to bring out their creativity.

10) Formative: An interactive tool for creating formative assessments, for use in class or as student-paced practice. Students enjoy using Formative because they receive feedback quickly, they are able to “show” their work and when done as practice, move at their own pace. Teachers can create Formatives with different question types, content and even the ability to upload and transform files. Try having students create their own Formatives as a way to have more personalized and authentic practice.

Immersive Learning, Coding and Problem Solving

11) Nearpod: Nearpod continues to be a game changer in our classroom. It provides so many options for presenting material as well as assessing students through diverse activities. The chance to be immersed in the virtual field trips and explore places around the world is of tremendous value for students. Educators can quickly create interactive lessons which include multiple question formats, the ability to upload content, BBC lessons, PhET simulations, and even add in GIFS! Nearpod integrates with Google Classroom and Canvas, and most recently with Remind, making it even easier to share lessons. Nearpod also added 27 “College Tours”, available in VR, a great way to have students experience different schools by immersing in the campus, without having to travel the distance.

12) CoSpacesEDU: CoSpacesEDU provides students with a way to not only create their own “spaces”, but to be able to walk in the spaces created by their peers. To explore in VR (Virtual Reality) and problem solve by figuring out how to code using Blockly, offers students a truly authentic way to learn, create and problem solve. The Gallery is full of examples to get you started with ideas for your classroom. Use CoSpaces to have students represent a scientific concept, a book report, or create a scene representing something studied in any content area. Talk about creativity, imagination, innovation and critical thinking, and more all in one tool.

In the End

These are just 12 of the many tools out there for education. The most important thing to remember is the “Why”? behind using these in the classroom. While these 12 tools made a difference in my classroom, they may not have the same impact in yours, but I do recommend giving them a try. Think about the tools you are currently using to amplify or facilitate student learning. What is making a difference in how, what and where students learn? Could one of these be used in place of another, as a way to engage students more in learning, or even better, provide opportunities for students to move from consumers to creators?

My advice is to simply choose one of these 12 tools and give it a try. See how it goes, ask your students for some feedback, and then plan your next steps.

 

Published on Getting Smart, 

 

Toward the end of the past school year, I noticed some changes in student behavior. There was a decrease in student engagement, especially while I responded to the question of a student seated close to me, students around the room became distracted or stopped listening. Trying to get the group to refocus sometimes presented a challenge and resulted in a loss of valuable instruction time. A second concern was how students had been treating one another. I overheard conversations in the hallways, witnessed unkind interactions in the classroom, or heard directly from students who sought help in dealing with different situations. There were two issues to resolve: eliminate the valuable instruction time that was being lost and help students to develop more positive, collaborative peer relationships. How could I connect students more to the content and to one another, so they could work together to foster a more positive classroom. After some brainstorming, I decided to first focus on ways to promote collaboration and to step out of my role of “leader” in the classroom by stepping aside.

The changes:

My first realization was that I needed to shift roles in my classroom. I needed to get out of the way, and students needed to do more than simply sit for the entire class. To get started, look at your own classroom. Where are you and the students spending the class period? Are you the only one speaking and moving? If so, think about how you can open up space and provide a more collaborative setting for students. Think about how you can involve the students in more “active learning” that will lead to better student engagement.

One morning, I looked at the physical space of my classroom and decided to break apart the rows of desks. By doing this, it created more flexible spaces for students to interact, to create and lead, and do more than just sit and listen. Students need opportunities to work with their peers through lessons and engage in activities where they can master the content together, and that will provide opportunities to develop their interpersonal skills, self-awareness and social awareness of others.

 

Making these changes can feel uncomfortable because it means going against what likely has been the traditional classroom structure. However, many teachers have moved toward flexible learning spaces, creating a more student-centered and student-driven classroom. A classroom which moves away from simply lecturing, reviewing homework, passing out materials, assigning new homework, and repeating this same routine the very next day. While this process may promote the acquisition and application of knowledge, it does not effectively promote collaboration, invite student input, nor foster development of vital SEL (social-emotional learning) skills.

CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), formed in 1994, is an organization which actively works toward promoting the importance of developing SEL skills in education. SEL is focused on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness,  relationship skills and responsible decision making. The development of these skills can benefit the level of student engagement as well, leading to higher academic achievement and reduce discipline issues in the classroom. To promote the development of SEL, here are some ideas and additional resources to get started.

Practical ways to promote SEL:

  • Icebreakers: I started the school year with fun icebreakers, to get to know one another and to find out what students had in common. Why? It all starts with relationships, building a connection with peers and the teacher, and using this to connect with the content area. Returning after an extended holiday break, doing even one icebreaker can be a good way to welcome students back to the classroom, to ease into the daily routine and to start the year fresh by working on relationships. Perhaps have students share what they did over break, show a picture, talk about favorite foods for holidays even, and let students make connections on their own.
  • Games and activities: Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of games and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. There are many online tools available to help you get started. For elementary and middle school, Centervention provides free online games, activities and printables for teaching students about SEL. Gaming helps students to learn to problem solve, collaborate, think critically, and develop empathy through scenarios within the game itself, or as a result of being part of a team. It creates a sense of community and belonging, which foster the social-emotional skills students need. Even by using Minecraft, educators have seen a connection between the benefits of gaming for learning and the development of SEL skills.
  • Learning Stations: Something that has really made a difference in my classroom has been using learning stations. I started the year with rows and decided one morning, that the rows had to go. I quickly set up clusters of desks or “stations” to accommodate three students each, with four extra desks grouped together in the center. At each station, students spend 10-14 minutes doing a hands-on activity like a worksheet, creating flashcards, watching a video, playing a game or simply coming up with their own ways to practice. Deciding upon the activities takes some planning, especially when trying this for the first time, but it is well worth it. Start by explaining the “stations”, involving students in the discussion and asking for feedback. When we explain our goals and share any fears we may have, we are modeling “self-awareness” and “self-management”. By using stations, we also have more time to interact with each student and group, work on relationships and foster a deeper understanding of the content as well as connecting with one another and creating a more positive classroom culture.

Challenges and solutions:

  • Groups: The first few class periods there were complaints. Students wanted to work with their friends and others wanted to work alone. It can be awkward if you are the only one who doesn’t find somebody to work with, but it can also be a challenge to work with a group when you may end up being the only one doing the work. Assigning random groups can help alleviate some of these uncomfortable feelings, even though in life and for the future, students may face the same challenges and uncomfortable moments, not having a choice in collaborative work. However, for the time being, the importance is to help students to develop interpersonal skills that will enable them to be successful in the future, to develop the social and emotional learning skills, especially in terms of relationships, decision-making and developing a self- awareness.
  • Timing: It can be a challenge at first to know how much time to provide for each station. I started by spending ten minutes reviewing material, asking questions, or doing an activity with the whole class, before starting stations. I tried giving 15 minutes for each, so students would work through two each day. Some students finished early and wanted to move on. To work through this, I would use the time to speak with each group or individual students, and then make adjustments during the next station rotation. There is always room to improve, but the important thing is remembering to be flexible and open to changes that will positively impact student learning and relationships.

Benefits:

  • Student engagement: Students have been more engaged in learning, and have come in to tell me how much they look forward to coming to class. Because of the different activities within the stations, students participate more because they are active and moving, and know that each station offers a new way to learn.
  • Student leaders: Students are offering to help one another, to explain concepts, and to cheer each other on. They keep each other on task and by working in these small groups, there are less distractions than working as a whole group. Each small group can ask questions, receive individualized feedback because I can freely move around the classroom and clear up any misunderstandings.
  • Teacher-student relationships: Students are getting timely, authentic and personal feedback. By using learning stations, more time is student-focused and those individual conversations can happen as needed, to help students to be successful and be more confident.
  • Student learning: In terms of academic achievement, the participation and results of recent assessments are the highest they have been. Students enjoy coming to class because they know they’re going to be leading and making decisions about their learning, in a way that is comfortable, flexible and fun.The learning experience is more authentic and meaningful for students. Research has shown the positive benefits of incorporating SEL into the curriculum.
  • Student behaviors: As for the class distractions and the negative interactions that existed before, both have decreased tremendously. It is not something that is going to change overnight but what matters is that we make constant progress. We are learning and becoming better together.

Published originally on Getting Smart December 15, 2017

Coding is one of the topics that has received greater attention in education over the past couple of years. With a greater emphasis on computer science and coding and the demand for knowledge in these areas, there has been an increase in the variety of resources available to encourage schools to provide opportunities for students to learn about coding. The “Hour of Code” takes place annually during “Computer Science Education Week”. The week is in recognition of the birthday of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a computing pioneer. To see some of the events and activities from this year’s “Hour of Code” week, go to the Code.org site or check out the hashtags on Twitter for #HourofCode and #CSweek.

The goal of participating in an “Hour of Code”, is to show that anyone can code and to highlight how vital computer science knowledge is for today’s students, as it helps them to develop the skills they need to be prepared for their future. Data provided on Code.Org provide statistics which support the growing need for students to have opportunities to learn about and develop skills in coding and computer science. According to the site, the majority of schools do not teach computer science, with only 40% reported as having courses available for students. For careers in STEM, 71% of the jobs available are in computing, however, only 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science. As for future employment, computing jobs are the #1 source of new wages in the United States, a number that is expected to increase. In addition to the future benefits for employment, what are the other benefits of coding for students?

Why should students learn to code?

Coding is something that each student can do and is a more engaging way for students to work on their collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Coding can help to promote SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well. For example, in working through the various modules available on Code.org or through other coding programs, students develop their self-awareness as they work through the challenges of coding and they develop a greater understanding of their strengths and being able to set goals for oneself based on this self-awareness. Students will become more confident as they problem solve and experience success along the way and by helping peers as well. Students build relationship skills through the collaboration during activities, seeking and offering help when needed and learning to cooperate with one another to solve a coding challenge.

Students can also experience more inquiry-based learning, where they are exploring on their own, problem solving and discovering how to make a program work, where the steps fit in and then being able to share the experience with one another. Personally, I enjoy trying to work through the activities on my own, to experience the challenges and be better equipped to anticipate student questions, but also to be more familiar with areas of struggle.

Getting Started

The idea of coding can be a bit overwhelming, at least that is how I felt when I first started a few years ago with the game Hopscotch. It was challenging to create a game and it took a lot of patience to push through. However, back in the early 1980s, as a 7th-grade student, I had my first experience in writing lines of code with the Apple computers. Once you learn the basic structure and the commands, it is a gradual process that does not seem to take too long to master. Even nearly 35 years later, the concept of coding really is quite the same, except that we can create more visually engaging games and programs. There are so many resources and websites available to help educators and students get started, making it less intimidating than it may initially seem.

When trying some of the resources below, be sure to engage students in discussions about their experience with coding. Encourage students to share with their peers and talk about professions which require coding skills or to brainstorm areas where knowledge of coding will prove to be beneficial. Providing this time for students to interact will help them to develop their SEL skills, by building peer relationships and supporting the classroom culture.

Working with students

Be ready for students to express some frustrations when trying to work through the activities. Even if you don’t have experience coding, it’s a great opportunity to learn right along with the students and in many cases to learn from them. How do you prepare? I recommend trying each of the activities on your own, so you are familiar with the set-up and the types of tasks that the students will be completing. As a Star Wars fan, I started with the basics and did encounter some difficulty mid-way. As it turns out, a few of my students had the exact same problem with it and asked for help. Although I did figure out how to work through it, I wanted them to work through it on their own as well. We need to give students time and space to problem solve, to ask for peer support and to experience the frustration that comes with solving problems and the joy that replaces it when the solution is reached.

Seeing the students begin to collaborate and step in to help their peers, demonstrated the benefits beyond just learning to code, it promotes their SEL skills. A lot of what is involved in coding is critical thinking, problem-solving and definitely collaboration and with all this comes an amount of frustration perhaps when the code does not work as one expects. This is when we see the students start to connect and help one another and I have also seen students become very frustrated, understandably but it is what we do with that frustration, pushing through even in the face of challenges, knowing that there is support available amongst peers and the “teacher” in the room. There is always an identifiable teacher, but as we have learned in our classes, we all have something to learn and something to teach.

Ten resources to try

  1. Code Studio: A part of the Code.org, there are full courses available for learning different types of code, for different grade levels, as well as one-hour tutorials on themes such as Minecraft and Star Wars. Teachers can also use the “App Lab” and “Game Lab” to help students learn how to create using Javascript. Also available are more than 20 million projects created by students.
  2. Scratch: Created by MIT, Scratch is a website for more than just programming. Scratch provides an online community for sharing projects and for learning from the library of resources available on the site.
  3. Code Academy:  Through Code Academy, you can enroll in courses to learn how to program, or search the catalog to find a specific language to learn, such as Java, Javascript, HTML and CSS, for example.
  4. BrainPOP: Teachers can engage students in the “Creative Coding” module, in which students create stop-motion animation movies, memes and newscasts. Students follow the instructions to write their own lines of code and see how each line changes the program. Working through the module leads students to create their own codes and publish a movie or create a meme. The Creative Coding module is free for Teachers through the end of the year.  There are also lessons available which focus on Computer Science and Coding and offer a variety of activities for students to develop their skills.
  5. Hopscotch: an iPad app in which students can learn to make their own games and apps, available for students ages 8 and older. There are tutorials which include videos and lessons plans, making it easy to get started with this in class.
  6. Swift Playground: An iPad app that enables students to get started with coding quickly, without any coding knowledge. Students can start by solving puzzles in order to learn the basics, and then continue through challenges to do more advanced coding.
  7. Pencil Code: A collaborative programming site which provides resources for teachers, student project samples, and choices of creating games, playing music, drawing art, and working with mathematical equations and graphing.
  8. TeachersFirst: There is a rather extensive list of different types of websites for coding based on theme and grade level for getting students involved.
  9. Girls Who Code: A non-profit organization which focuses on closing the gender gap in technology. Girls Who Code offers information for creating after-school clubs for girls in grades six through 12 to learn about coding, as well as two-week-long summer courses and a seven-week-long specialized summer program for 10th and 11th grade girls to learn about coding and job opportunities.
  10. Khan Academy: A non-profit organization which offers free educational resources including practice activities and videos, which enable you to learn at your own pace. Khan Academy provides lessons on Computing, with options including computer animation, hour of code, computer programming and computer science. It is easy to get started by either choosing the basics and working through a whole lesson, or selecting a specific concept.

Coding is not just about learning to write a program, it’s about connecting with the learning and building relationships in the process. Learning to problem solve, collaborate and work together to build skills for the future. Developing our interpersonal skills and fostering the development of meaningful and supportive relationships in the classroom will empower students in learning.

Originally Published on Kidblog,

Getting ready for the start of a new school year – new students, new curriculum, and new tools – means teachers have a lot of preparation ahead of them. Whether new to Kidblog or a veteran classroom blogger, these tips will help you get the most out of your class blog this year.1) There is no better way to start the year than by way of introductions. Blogging can be a great way to get your students comfortable with you as their new teacher, as well as, their new classmates. In my classroom, I also use this time to cover expectations in the classroom. This is all done in a “Welcome back to school” blog post. Choose a fun theme for the class, add some links and include helpful information. Share information about you, including some fun facts, and encourage students to then respond to your post. You can begin to develop those vital relationships for your classroom.

2) Get parents connected. Make the decision to use blogs as a way to keep parents informed about what is going on in the classroom. Set a goal to write a blog post with a weekly update and share what is going on in the classroom, give highlights of upcoming events and activities the students will be participating in. Also, use the blog as a way to share student work with parents, which will really connect the home and the classroom, and involve all members of the learning community.

3) Involve students in planning for blog posts. Encourage students to come up with their own ideas or to work with peers to brainstorm some writing prompts to use throughout the year. Gather their ideas and then draw from their prompts. Involving students in the decision making process in the classroom helps to provide more authentic and meaningful learning experiences. It promotes student voice and choice in the classroom and helps students feel more valued and empowered. By actively engaging them in classroom decisions, students will feel more connected to the content and their peers.

4) Create a bridge between content areas by doing some cross-curricular blog posts. Find time to talk with and encourage other teachers who may not be using blogs, to work with you to create some cross-curricular opportunities. The blog can be a way for students to complete some writing assignments or projects for communicating their ideas and showing their learning. Students create their own personal space to share ideas and really have an opportunity to practice their skills for multiple content areas in a comfortable manner.

5) Try adding some other tech tools to app smash with Kidblog or use Kidblog as the means to share student work! Implementing other tools will help students develop their technology skills and digital literacy. For example, have students create a Buncee and write about what they’ve created, or, they may share it with a peer to create a story. These apps can be easily embed into Kidblog for their classmates to comment.

6) Have a routine for sharing student blog posts and set aside time in class for the students to work together to share their blogs, offer feedback and learn to reflect on their work. Making time for students to work with peers will build those positive classroom relationships and help students to become more confident in their learning. Their confidence will increase through the writing process and also by communicating and collaborating in the classroom.

7) Be sure to have resources available for students so they understand how to use the blog, how to write a post and to properly cite any images or other information they add to their posts. A great way to do this is by screen-casting a tutorial available to students, as well as, creating a “guide post” that gives students pointers on how to publish a post, the required format, and other information related to your expectations. By providing all the information in a place which is accessible, the process will be much easier for students throughout the year to have the support they need when they need it.

Published on Getting Smart, November 5, 2017

What image comes to mind when you think of classrooms today? Where is the teacher and where are the students? Who is leading the discussion and doing most of the talking and moving in the classroom? For many, the image that comes to mind is that of a room of students, lined up in rows, with their attention directed to the teacher at the front of the room or involved in some activity at their desks. In this scenario, students are passively learning. Their involvement in class, in some cases, has them seated for the entire class period, while the teacher does most of the talking and moving around the room.

In the past, this may represent the typical format of classroom instruction, however today, with a greater focus on flexible learning environments, and educators looking to promote student choice and voice, this image or perception of “what classrooms look like”, has changed and continues to evolve into a more active learning space, a place where students are empowered. A space in which students take a more active role, transform students from consumers to creators and the former teacher-centered classroom into a student-centered and student-driven space.

Because students have typically spent so much of their school day seated, taking information in and do not always have time to ask questions, interact with peers, or do more than consume, they may become more passive learners. I started to notice this in my own classes. There was a decrease in student engagement, and reflecting on my methods I realized that I was spending so much time talking, that it was me making the decisions and leading all of our activities. There were not many opportunities for the students to work with peers, to move around, to really take control of their learning.

In an effort to encourage students to become more active learners as well as to be more involved in the types of activities and instruction in the classroom, I started to implement some teaching strategies involving music and games. There are many benefits to getting students more actively involved in learning and this can be done quite simply through a variety of teaching strategies. It can be a challenge to change over from the traditional classroom lecture model, however, there are some easy ways to change to a more active, engaging space.

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How to design more active learning experiences:

1. Game-Based Learning (GBL): GBL is a great way to add fun into the classroom and help build student excitement for learning. The use of gaming offers different ways for students to practice and develop their skills in more active learning environments. Games encourage students to learn and master content by problem-solving, collaborating, creating and engaging in more authentic and meaningful learning. It is a way to promote independent learning as well as by offering students choices in games to play and the means to work toward individual goals.

2. Tech: Students can create a game as a way to help themselves and their peers practice concepts and gain mastery. It can be a game created using one of the many digital tools available like KahootQuizlet or Quizizz. Students enjoy the opportunity to create a game, which leads to a more authentic learning experience when students select the specific vocabulary they need to practice, thus leading to more personalized learning opportunities. Students add to their skills by choosing how to leverage technology for the purpose of more self-directed learning.

3. No-tech: Students are very creative and offering them a chance to design a game to practice new content can lead to better retention and increase motivation. To get started, a few examples that can be used are to create a chart which includes 4 or 5 different categories or topics related to the content and grade level being taught. After deciding on categories, perhaps select 5 or 6 letters of the alphabet, or use numbers, which students must use to come up with a word, topic or date, that relates to each category. For example, in teaching Spanish, selecting categories such as classroom objects, verbs, colors, family and then deciding on the starting letter, students can brainstorm words and review in unique ways. Students can then randomly be assigned to small groups and then share the words their group came up with. An activity like this will promote communication between peers and provide an opportunity for collaboration and some fun as well. It can also be a good way to have students review, be creative and brainstorm new ideas. This creates time for teachers to assess student needs and decide the next steps in the lesson.

4. Music: Music livens up the classroom and is useful for helping students retain their learning. There are many ways to include music in learning, one just as simple as playing music when students enter the room, or while they work in small groups, to add to the culture of the classroom. As instructional materials, one idea is to have students create rhymes or a song using a vocabulary list, names of famous people, state or world capitals, monuments or anything related to the content area. Students can work in pairs or a small group and create a song which can be used as a mnemonic device, to help them retain the information in a more meaningful way. Students can then present live in class or use a tool like Flipgrid or Recap to record and share with classmates. These student creations add to the authentic classroom resources and engage students more in learning.

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. Placing students in the lead provides the teacher with an opportunity to step aside and become a facilitator and use time in class as an opportunity to not only assess student learning but to interact more and provide feedback for students.

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There are many ways to build students skills in the classroom, and these are just a few of the ideas that we have been trying and they are a work in progress. Knowing that something works takes reflection and student input. With students creating more and working in small groups, I have more time to move around and work with every student and group and provide more individualized instruction.

Students are asking more questions like, “Can we…?, What if…?, Is it okay to…?” and adding their creativity into our activities. Students suggest improvements, “Maybe we could… It might be better if we and This has helped me to remember…can we keep doing these activities?” And my answer to all of these has been “Yes, I think we should try it. If it works, then great. And if not, we will try again!”

Students need to be moving in the classroom and have opportunities to learn in different formats using a variety of instructional strategies and tools, and it’s okay if they are not in the traditional format.

Here is the first part of a series focused on some of the latest updates to four of the digital tools that we regularly use in our classroom. I admit that I may have been more excited than the students, when I came across these updates, but once we tried them in class, the students were just as excited for these new features.

First is Nearpod. Nearpod + VR College Tours and Remind! Nearpod has been a game changer in my classroom. Students have engaged more in learning when we do lessons in class and they are interested in creating their own lessons, and taking on more of a leadership role by running the lessons on their own. Nearpod continues to add new features, making it a versatile tool that provides an immense library of lessons to choose from and a wide selection of activities, content and other resources to include into each lesson. Over the past few months, Nearpod has made some updates and integrated new features into the already extensive platform. Some of the new features  launched include: having more than 50 video lessons available through the BBC, option to view in “Student Mode” on the Teacher Dashboard, PheT Sims interactive Math and Science Lessons, and  making lessons with these resources available for immediate implementation into class. It is easy to find lessons that pertain to different content areas and grade levels, and which include a variety of tools for assessment and for engaging students more in learning.

Nearpod provides a very user friendly interface, which makes it easier for teachers to start using Nearpod and to build comfort when designing their own lessons. It is also highly beneficial for keeping the students actively learning on days when teachers have to be away from the classroom, through the use of Nearpod for Subs.
Launching lessons can be done live, with a join code in class, or shared through
a link, social connections, or through Google Classroom. But there is a new
update that makes it even easier to share, and that is Nearpod’s integration of
Remind as a way to share lessons. By integrating with Remind, educators send
the link through Remind, enabling students to start the lesson whenever they can
and wherever they are.
Another recent addition to the vast Nearpod library are the College Tours,
available in VR. What a great way to have students take a look at different
schools, without having to travel the distance, and to be able to immerse in the
campus and look around. There are currently 27 different colleges represented in
the collection, which include Universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, UNAM and
Taiwan and Tokyo, to name a few. A really great addition to the Nearpod collection and I recommend checking out the tours, and you can even use these as a way to create a scavenger hunt for students.