Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

blogging

Previously posted on Getting Smart

As educators, we need to actively take part in the reflection of what we do in our classrooms and schools, our interactions, and make sure we are intentional about setting aside time to think about each day as we plan for the next. As humans, we need to reflect on who we are, our growth, our goals, and be mindful of what we are doing to make a difference in the world and how we can support others each day.  Here are five ways to reflect on our practice, push ourselves personally and professionally, and also highlight the work that we are doing. We each have special talents and need to share them with other educators so that we can continue to grow.

Blogging

One way to reflect more closely, beyond simply processing our thoughts is by starting a blog. Finding the time to sit and write a blog, can present a slight challenge, however, a blog can take whatever form that we want it to. Getting started might simply mean having a stack of post-it notes, where each day you write down one thought on the post-it notes and then at the end of the week or over the weekend, reflect on the questions or comments you made. Compile your thoughts into a document, use voice to text to save time, and share with your PLN.

Another option would be to create your own blog site and start a draft to gather your thoughts in a short or long post. Whether you just keep a draft for your own personal review and growth or choose to publish it and share it with your PLN and the larger educator community, it will still benefit your growth. Sharing our thoughts like this makes us vulnerable, which can be uncomfortable, but if we truly want to grow, we need to put ourselves out there. It is important not only for our own growth but also serves as a good model for our students and our colleagues.

Podcasting

There are a lot of podcasts available to educators today. Some choose to launch a podcast focused on a specific topic or theme, or to create a podcast for the purpose of highlighting other educators and the work being done in our schools. Podcasts can be another beneficial addition to our practice not only for reflecting, but to share the ideas of what we are doing in our classroom. One might ask, what would I talk about? What would I have to contribute? We all have our own unique ideas, skills and perspectives. Even if we reach just one person with a word of advice or a new idea, that still makes an impact. It might be exactly what that one person needed to hear. Again time can be an issue but there are many tools out there that make it easy to create a short podcast. It might be just 5 minutes sharing what happened in your classroom, or 10 to 15 minutes spent talking about a specific topic that was part of a conversation within your PLN or brought up in class. Other options include inviting other educators to be guests on your podcast to share what they are doing. Podcasting is another option for pushing ourselves to continue to grow personally and professionally. I recently started my own podcast after thinking about it for a few years, and it has been a good way for me to think about different topics and reflect on my practice.

Live Streaming

Technology has really enabled educators to do so much more and engage in learning that far extends the reach of classrooms and schools.  Being able to talk about an activity that we did in our classrooms, or describing projects that students presented, of course does not provide a clear picture of what that actually looks like in practice.  We can be as descriptive as possible, we can even share photos and talk about it, but to be able to live stream and invite other classrooms, students and educators into our learning space to see it firsthand is far more powerful. As educators, we can also use these different tools to give a quick update, to talk about topics that are important to us, to share new ideas, to ask for help, and sometimes, to escape the isolation that can happen in our profession. Selecting from options like PeriscopeInstagram, or Facebook Live, we can leverage the platform that makes the most sense for us. Each month, a group of educators hold #PassTheScopeEDU and throughout the day, educators from around the world stream using Periscope to share their experiences and thoughts based on a monthly theme. Look at the different platforms and how educators are using these tools to make connections, and give one of them a try. It can definitely stretch us beyond our comfort zone, but the personal and professional benefits that can result are worth it!

Educators at ISTE presentation. Image courtesy of Rachelle Dene Poth.

Presentations

There are many ways for teachers to share the work they are doing and make new connections. For years, professional development in schools often involved sessions that were presented by outside organizations who sent trainers into the schools for the PD days.  However, more recently, teachers are taking the lead on professional development days within their own schools, traveling to local schools to share the work that they are doing, or even planning special learning events at their own school as my friend Zee Poerio does with a “Taste of Technology”. Opportunities like these foster a more authentic learning experience for educators, just as we want for our students, and also provides the opportunity to receive peer feedback and build our knowledge base. There are many in-person and virtual learning events that seek presenters. Find a conference to submit a proposal for or create your own meet-up with educators and stretch yourself a bit. Taking advantage of these opportunities is important as it pushes us to take some risks, enables us to expand our own learning network, and fosters our professional growth.

Video Tutorials

Something else that not only benefits our own practice but helps to create a resource that we can use in our classrooms, is to create video tutorials or screencasts. For times when we may not be in our classroom and need to have lessons available to share with our students or our colleagues, having video lessons or tutorials available can make a difference. It is something that can take as little as a few minutes to create. Using tools like Screencastify, you can record your screen and navigate a website, explain a project, discuss a concept, work through a problem, teach a lesson, or anything else on your screen. Taking advantage of this technology makes this fairly easy and quick to do. You can also create screencasts and other helpful videos to share with other educators which can explain how to use a certain digital tool or showcase some examples of student projects or other work that you have done. Creating these can be more comfortable because we control the recording and can redo as often as needed. However, the benefit is that we are continuing to build our skills and share our expertise with others; creating more learning opportunities that will benefit educators and students.

Each of these ideas offer many benefits for educators and students. If our students engage in these learning activities or create presentations for our classes, we should also engage in them ourselves. Modeling this for our students, being willing to take some risks, to put ourselves out there, and stretch beyond our comfort zone, is important for our growth as well as theirs.

**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  

 

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Guest Post by Liz Janusz, Instructional Coach in SD113A in Lemont, IL. @mrs_janusz

I know the end of the school year is near, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about next year already! I have many goals for next school year: get into some coaching cycles with our amazing teachers, share more professional development books, but my number one goal for next year is to begin to build a culture of readers in our school.

Creating a reading culture in a school is essential if we want to encourage students to become engaged and motivated readers. Reading for fun should be celebrated and encouraged throughout the school day! Developing a strong culture of readers takes time and commitment from all involved, which is why I’ve already started planning for next year!

What do you need to begin to build a culture of readers?

  • Everyone should have a clear understanding of why building a culture of readers is so important. Reading for pleasure is the BEST way to develop and strengthen literacy skills and improve academic achievement.
  • A shared vision of what your school’s reading culture means in real words.
  • Full support of all staff in the building, including custodians, PE teachers, paraprofessionals, etc.
  • Books, books, and more books!

What are some things I can do to start building a culture of readers?

  • Encourage students to book talk the book they just finished reading to the rest of the class. Most of the time, they will be able to hook their peers on a book better that we could! Peer recommendations are one of the most powerful ways we can get more books into the hands of students!
  • Offer book clubs during the lunch periods. Pick a few books from an award list (Caudill, Newbery, Monarch, etc) and offer the chance for students to come in during their lunchtime to discuss the book that everyone is reading. Picking a book from an award list, will more than likely will leave them wanting to read the rest of on the list!
  • Set up an area in the school library where teachers can leave book recommendations for students.
  • As you are walking around the hallways, try simply carrying a book with you. I’m shocked at how many kids stop me in the hallway when I am carrying a book! They want to either tell me that they are reading it too or want me to tell them what they book is about.
  • Make your classroom library and sacred and inviting space. Don’t just throw random books in tubs and be done with it. Get your students involved and be thoughtful about how you arrange your library so it would be most accessible for your class.
  • Make books available all throughout the building! Put some shelves in the hallways and make displays based on what grade levels are teaching about or highlight a certain genre.

How can I get ALL staff members involved?

  • Over the summer have students and staff take pictures of themselves reading and post them with a school hashtag. When school begins in the fall create a slidedeck with all the all different pictures so we can celebrate all of the summer reading!
  • Create “What I’m Currently Reading” signs for EVERY SINGLE staff member in your building. These can hang outside their classroom, office, lunchroom, gym etc. Staff members can update these every time they read a new book. Students can see that all staff members value reading for fun and will hopefully get them excited about their own reading.
  • Set up a book swap! Have all teachers look through their classroom libraries and select books that they would put in the swap. Other teachers and students could then come look through the books and decide which “new” books they would like in their library. Everyone gets “new” books for their library, without spending money!
  • Make sure your school has a wide variety of books! For example, there are a lot of great math books out there. Buy some for your math teachers to have in the classroom that they can read aloud or reference while teaching.

 

**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 Laura McDonell@lmcdonell14

A look at What Actually Worked for Me

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Reading is one of those things that I go to the wall on.  Growing up, reading was something I struggled with. As a teacher, I see how critical it is to overall success as a student.  Today, one of the reasons my life is so incredibly rich has to do with the books I read. As a parent, I am determined to give my kids opportunities to find success with reading. As with everything in life, some days everything comes together, connects and makes a beautiful picture.  However, there are other weeks or years where the struggle is real and seems like it is never going to end.

It doesn’t matter where my kids are starting from (I can still remember checking out different copies of the Dick and Jane anthology because it worked, and my middle son needed repetition.  While all three of my kids have grown up in the same environment, they have all been unique in regards to what works best for each of them as readers.  Overall the key is persistence, and never giving up no matter how challenging it might seem. I have found success as a parent by visiting the library often, allowing them to change their minds about what they like, becoming their personal assistant, reading and talking about books in front of them, using audiobooks, hosting a book tasting and celebrating accomplishments.

  1. Visit the Library Often.

jaredd-craig-HH4WBGNyltc-unsplashLibraries might seem dated, but they are in fact one of the best-kept secrets.  We got library cards for our kids as soon as they could write their names. Today, cards can be used to check out everything from audiobooks to new release movies.   Apps like Hoopla and Overdrive are amazing. With a library card, these two sites offer thousands of books, movies, and music. Giving kids the opportunity to borrow a stack of books without any cost is ideal for many families.  Taking advantage of MEL, the state’s interlibrary loan program, allows people to request books from all over the state of Michigan and have them sent right to your local library. Showing someone how to use the library unlocks a world of possibility.  Anything can be learned by using the public library. And, using the library saves a lot of money. Surrounding kids with books is one of the best things you can do to get them reading. The library makes reading an inexpensive activity. I am not alone when it comes to using the library.  Several financial enthusiasts highly recommend it.

2.  Allow them to Change Their Mind Often. 

When my middle son was in first grade, he loved the Nate the Great series. The books were right at his reading level, and I thought I had struck gold since there were several of them in the library.  I requested every copy I could find. After reading about 10 of the books, one day he said, “I don’t really want to read Nate the Great anymore.”  At first, I was a little sad since there were still books to be read, but after thinking about it, I was excited that he was willing to be honest about what he wanted to read.  Minutes later, I realized had a new challenge. I had to help him find his next book, and do it quickly so that he did not lose momentum to continue reading. Humans are always evolving.

matthew-fournier-G971e4EFKtA-unsplashA few years ago one of my boys really got into hockey. We found all of the Matt Christopher books about hockey in the library, and he eagerly read each one cover to cover. Last summer my daughter was obsessed with learning about swimming.  We raided the library for any nonfiction book we could find on the topic. During the winter it was graphic novels, and today she loves to dive into anything related to fairy tales. Even though I have a pretty good idea about what each of my kids likes to read, I had experiences where I selected a book or two I thought might be perfect, only to have them not show an interest in what I picked out.  I do not take it personally, since there is no cost associated with it, and know that as a reader I don’t read every book I take home from the library.

3. Be their Personal Assistant.  

Kids need to be taught skills to thrive on their own. However, when they are starting out, they need someone to guide them:  like a coach, or a personal assistant.  The personal assistant does not do the work but instead sets a person up for success.

If we want to raise a reader, the more times children can be successful will improve the overall possibility of them sticking with reading early on, and then eventually becoming adults who are drawn to books.

Personally assisting a child, looks like helping him or her find books, help them find books that are just right for their level, challenging them, suggesting new authors, reading a chapter aloud, placing books in their path, and helping them organize their schedule to support reading time. As an adult, I have read a lot of books and heard hundreds of titles and authors, and because of it I am in a great position to offer guidance.  Scrolling through Bestseller Lists helps me to find current and high-interest reading material.  As my kids get older, I have started to transfer this responsibility. However, it is still important for young adults to have help in selecting books. My husband even enjoys it when I pick out a book for him tailored to his interests.

Reading aloud the first chapter of a book can help a child get into a story.  I knew my middle son would love John Grisham’s Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer books.  I was also aware that some of the terminology, setting, and background given in the first chapter could be very new, and confusing.  So I offered to read the first chapter to him. After hearing and then talking about the chapter, he was hooked and settled in for a great series of books.

4.  Read in Front of Them.  And Talk about Your Books.

dan-dumitriu-3w1XBUGj4ds-unsplash.jpgWhen I first started teaching, I would ask the parents of my really motivated readers who seemed to always be reading, “Tell me how you did it?  What do you think has made the difference in getting your child excited about reading?” Almost every time I was given the same answer, “I suppose he just sees me reading all the time, and it just seemed like the thing to do.  My nose is always in a book”.

If you expect your kids to read, you have to also be a reader.  You gain credibility when you pick up a book on a regular basis.

It is also important to be a “Real reader”, and model what it is like to struggle with something in a book, fall in love with a new series, or make the choice to abandon a book because you cannot get into it.  It is helpful for kids to know that they are not alone in how they think about books.

5.  Use Audio Books

When my kids were really little, I would get audio CDs with the corresponding picture book from the library.  It helped me to team parent with myself, as I could catch a break where my kids could listen to a story and follow along with the words.  As my kids have grown older, they continue to enjoy audiobooks. We listen to them on vacation in the car, and two of my three kids absolutely love hanging out in their room listening to a book while putting together Legos or doing chores.  We have found that they are awesome for the kids to fall asleep listening to.

Lastly, as a Spanish student, I remember being able to listen at a higher level than I could read or speak.  One of the coolest things about audiobooks is that students can comprehend at higher levels than they can speak or read.  Plus, audiobooks give kids practice listening to correctly pronounce words, perfected grammar, and give them the opportunity to work on fluency as a reader.

6. Do a Book Tasting.

hannah-busing-0BhSKStVtdM-unsplashExposure to good literature and authors is one of the best gifts we can give our readers.  I absolutely love sharing some of my favorites with kids. Just as we could taste cheese, wine, sauces, desserts, or other menu items, book tastings are a great way to try new things.  I typically put a book in front of each place setting. Each child will get a chart to list the title he or she tasted along with the author, genre, and the likelihood that he or she might read the book.  The tasting is timed to keep it moving. And so after a total of several, ninety-second tastings, kids are able to walk away with several new titles that could be considerations for future reading. This activity can be adapted to any size (I have had great success with it in the classroom).

7.  Celebrate Success as a Family.

daniel-olah-VUGAcY35Ubw-unsplashThere are times that I find my kids book hopping, and not finishing titles.  I have also seen my kids plateau as readers. It is fun when we all work together and focus on completing a challenge that encourages reading and celebrating the success of others.  It works well for us to keep a running list of books read on the refrigerator. We set a goal for a number of books to be read and immediately start brainstorming how to we will celebrate our success.  It is nice to focus on working together and cheering each other on.

Maybe some of these ideas will work for you. What works well one day to encourage reading, might not work as well the next.  Plus, reading is personal. Everyone is motivated differently. But, the important thing is as a parent or teacher, you never stop trying.  Persistence is so important. Sometimes it is really tough to find the perfect author or series for a child. But, there is always one more book, genre, author, or method to try.  It won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

Read more from Laura: Her blog site

***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

bit.ly/Pothbooks

 

Guest post by Dave Schmittou, @daveschmittou #LastingLearning

via Teachers matter more

I am all about improvement. At the end of every year, I spend some time reflecting on what my strengths and struggles are so that I can make a plan for progress. At work, I spend time evaluating programs, processes, and people. One thing I have noticed recently in schools is that far too many of us say teachers matter more,  that the people make the difference, yet we spend so much of our time focusing our improvement efforts on programs and processes. We think of ways to circumvent those who matter more instead of diving deep to develop the real difference makers. We know teachers are the drivers of learning, but we pour money and time into software, classes, textbooks, and schedules instead of into the people who make it all happen.

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As a sports fan, I often use athletics to try and illustrate my points, so I may as well do so again. Lebron James is considered by many people as one of the greatest basketball players of this era. He is dominant, he can shoot, dribble, pass, rebound, and play defense (when he chooses to). Pretend for a moment that you are a general manager of a team Lebron plays on and you have the task of making the team better. Your goal is to get wins and championships. You can do this by upgrading the concession stands at the arena. You can do this by bringing in new players to circumvent Lebron, players who will not pass him the ball or expect him to be great, or you can do this by bringing in players that complement his game and allow him to dominate. Each of these strategies has been tried on his teams. Some owners and GMs have attempted to distract the fans from what is happening on the court by upgrading the arena. Some have attempted to save Lebron by bringing in others to take the pressure off, and some have brought in players to complement him and make him even better. Only the latter has resulted in championships, however.

Often times in schools we get ourselves distracted by things that don’t matter at the expense of those that do. As a leader who has had the opportunity to help lead turn around efforts in a few schools and districts, I have learned that no program, no paint job, no software will ever impact a child like an amazing teacher. If you are a leader, all of your focus should be on making teachers better, not working around them.

If you have struggling students in your school (we all do), do not go on the hunt of the newest tech gadget to give to the kids. Look for ways to help a teacher work with those students more. If you have accelerated students in your school (we all do) do not look for activities and classes to fill a schedule. Look for ways to have teachers inspire and motivate innovation. Stop looking for ways to work around teachers and begin looking for ways to support teachers.

Support does not simply mean increasing pay. Support means, if you have the option between a new textbook or staff professional development, invest in the teachers. If you have a choice between painting a hallway or developing a teacher, choose the teacher. Always, choose the teacher/

Every research study available describes the effects that matter most for student learning point to teachers as the difference makers. Teachers matter more. Teachers provide feedback, establish the culture, set the expectations, develop the assessments, and plan for progress.  If you are a leader, spend your time building capacity in teachers and you will be amazed at the learning that results from your students.

Check out the podcast on this topic at https://anchor.fm/david-schmittou/episodes/Episode-12-Teachers-Matter-More-e2n3c4

Feel free to also check out Dave’s book:

It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make learning last a lifetime

 

Want to write a guest blog for my website? Submit an idea here!

 

Toward the end of the past school year, I noticed 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 students to refocus sometimes presented a challenge and the result was a loss of valuable instruction time. Another concern was how students had been treating one another. I  often overheard conversations in the hallways, or witnessed unkind interactions in the classroom, or had students who sought help in dealing with different situations.

There were two issues that I needed to resolve: regain 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, and reaching out to my PLN,  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 first 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? Think about how you can open up more space and create a 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 this 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 fewer 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.

Updated from an original post on DefinedSTEM.

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

I am often asked about where a teacher should start when either implementing technology for the first time or creating a blended learning environment. What I suggest is to first think about some of the learning activities that are already being used in the classroom. What has seemed to work the best and what are some that possibly either take a lot of time to create or that don’t offer students a lot in the way of choices.

Another consideration is focusing on your goals and what you are hoping to accomplish by using technology. Is it to create an access point where students can ask questions, obtain class resources or interact with their peers? Or is it to provide students with different methods to practice the content and also to apply their learning in more authentic ways?

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

Improve Communication Through Effective Technology Use

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

However,  I was recently looking at communication tools and thinking about promoting family engagement and came across ParentSquare before attending FETC in January. ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. 

 

ParentSquare provides a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement.

Enhance Collaboration Through Digital Learning Spaces

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

Foster Active Discussions

Sometimes you may want to have students brainstorm an idea, participate in a scavenger hunt, share a learning experience, or just respond to a question. While we can always use the traditional tools for this in class, sometimes we may want the discussion to go beyond the class time and space. I would recommend trying either Padlet or Synth. There are so many ways to use Padlet, that if you want students to post images, record audio, upload video, or simply respond to a question, it offers all of these options in one tool. Students have come up with some great ideas for using Padlet, such as building a digital portfolio, creating a multimedia presentation, or presenting their Project Based Learning. It is a versatile tool that many educators may already be using, but may not be aware of other innovative ways to use Padlet.

Also by using Synth, a tool for podcasting, educators can provide daily class updates, add links or resources to supplement what was done in class, and even interact with other students in classrooms around the world. It enables discussions to happen at any time and is an easy tool to use for promoting discussions and helping students to share ideas. There are many ways that these tools can also add to the organization in the classroom by providing written or verbal directions and ways to reinforce instruction.

 

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Enhance Visualizations and Presentations

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

 

 

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

 

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Originally published on Getting Smart

 

Involving families in the education of our students is crucial to their success. Beyond just involving families, schools need to strive for family engagement and the creation of partnerships between school, home, and community. These partnerships, or connections between “stakeholders”, are important for promoting student well-being and success. When there is a greater focus on fostering more meaningful and personal connections, the school, community, and families can work together to provide the support, structure and make decisions for the benefit of student achievement.

Importance of Connecting

To promote family engagement, we must be intentional in learning about the families in our schools. It is important to make an initial connection, invite families in to engage in conversations and start to develop an awareness of each family’s needs, preferences and prior experiences in terms of involvement with the educational community. We should also explore any perceived or real barriers to family engagement. Recognizing some of the biggest barriers to family engagement will help schools to develop the most effective strategies to help families feel more connected to and supported by the school.

A survey of over 18,000 parents indicated some of the biggest barriers to family engagement were: time, lack of information, availability of childcare, and inconsistent treatment of students. Using this data, schools can develop specific strategies aimed at reducing and eliminating these barriers. Understanding the diverse needs of the families and students in our school system is crucial, as we always want to create a welcoming and supportive environment, one which should also be reflective of the educational setting for our students. A strong and collaborative home to school partnership has been shown to positively impact student performance as well as empower parents.

Communication between school and home has traditionally involved sending information in letter form, an email or by making a phone call. While these methods are still useful, they are not the best choices in terms of timeliness, especially when it comes to time-sensitive matters. Being able to connect and share school news and update families on student progress, in a timely manner, is vital to classrooms and fostering this sense of “community”. The sense of “community” comes from focusing on the building of family relationships, which are critical for student success in the classroom.

In a survey done by SpeakUp in 2015 (cited in Learning Transformed), 55% of the half million K-12 parents surveyed stated that they wanted a weekly text message with updates. The same survey given five years prior yielded a result of only 5% of parents interested in this form of communication. With the digital age and many options for communicating, it is not that surprising to see such an increase. However, before starting to use a certain messaging tool, teachers should first consider what might be the best way to connect with parents and how to provide access to the classroom resources which will support student growth. Sharing an initial survey can help educators can determine how to best establish a classroom presence and open channels of communication.

Connecting with Families

There are many ways to connect with parents. With technology, tasks such as sending class updates, assignment reminders, creating a calendar, sharing photos and distributing information are much easier. Knowing that families have mobile devices, does not guarantee that WI-FI access is available, and this is something that can be determined through the use of a survey.

In a recent Trends in Community Engagement report, written in partnership with Project Tomorrow, 30,000 parents expressed expectations for frequency and forms of communication. Among the key findings of this report were that parents want timely and impactful communication. While parents want to be kept informed, they do not want to be overwhelmed with a flood of information. The CDC created strategies to help schools build frameworks to promote family engagement. The focus is to “Connect, Engage, Sustain” families’ in the educational community. Schools can refer to the many resources with tips for promoting engagement. To get started, here are five different ways to “connect, engage and sustain” family involvement.

1) Communication Tools: By using social media tools such as Twitter or Instagram, school leaders, and classrooms can transmit messages quickly and with a far reach. Tools such as Remind, or BloomzApp enable teachers and parents to communicate and also share information quickly. Both options offer translation capabilities which promote digital equity and accessibility. ParentSquare, is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. By using these tools, teachers and parents communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed throughout the year.

2) Video Tools: Sharing news about student work, or creating a lesson for students to view outside of class, can be done with tools such as EducreationsFlipgrid, or Screencastify. Teachers can record videos of weekly announcements or special events, or even teach a lesson and share the links with parents, which will create a more supportive connection between home and school. Videos can also be a great way to have students share their learning, even creating a digital portfolio, or have families record video introductions to learn about one another.

3) Blogging/Class Webpage: Maintaining a classroom space in the form of a blog or a class website, can be done easily using tools like KidblogPadletEdmodo or other web-based learning platforms. When families know they can refer to one centralized location to obtain class updates, ask questions, or read about class events, it provides a more structured framework for engaging families in the daily activities of the school and fosters a greater connection between school and home. It also aids in resolving the barriers of time and lack of information, as families can refer to these spaces when convenient.

4) School and Community: There are a lot of possibilities for amplifying student learning by connecting with and sharing news of school events within the community itself. Social media can be one way of connecting, or simply by seeking out the local library and businesses to bring in real-world experiences for learning and to inform the community of the educational events going on at school. Invite the community into events such as Back to School nights, Open Houses or STEAM showcases, or hold a learning night for families. Any of these offer a good opportunity to meet and engage families in conversations and planning to impact student learning.

5) Family Activities: Finding ways to involve parents in the learning process can be a challenge. A good opportunity to co-learn is to take part in something called “Family Playlists”. A Family Playlist, devised by PowerMyLearning, basically has the student becoming the “teacher”. In their role as “teacher”, students share their knowledge with the family, who then provides feedback to the classroom teacher, as to how the student conveyed the information and their confidence in doing so. Trying this method is a good way to further involve families in the educational experience, leading to a greater understanding of the type of learning occurring in school as well as provide beneficial insight into a child’s progress. It also promotes ongoing and supportive collaboration between home and school.

There are many strategies that schools can use to keep families informed and involved. The key is to find a way to not only make an initial connection and build the “family to school” partnership but to engage families and continue to collaborate and grow together. These connections will lead to the creation of solid and supportive relationships between school and home, which will promote student achievement and enhance their sense of belonging.

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A few of my favorites

Two conferences and time spent with the greatest friends who inspire me every day.

I have learned so much over the past two weeks by attending these conferences and every time I return I cannot wait to share my learning with my students. A large part of my learning happens by spending time with my closest educator friends. There are so many things that I want to learn, and I am fortunate to know a lot of educators who are working with different tools and technologies every day. We always have something to learn, even if we have been teaching for a long time or using a tool or implementing a strategy for years. For me, some of my best experiences have been attending sessions led by my friends and co-presenting, or from the many ideas that attendees share within sessions.

Another favorite of these conferences is time together with faraway friends.

Sometimes conferences can become so busy that we are often all pulled in different directions. Because this happens, and we know ahead of time that it will, we truly cherish the time we have together even if only for a brief moment, a quick meal or just enough time to give hugs, take a picture and then head off to where our schedule requires us to be. And even if all of us can’t be together in the same physical space, technology allows us to share our experiences by connecting through Voxer, or sharing videos or going live on Facebook.

By knowing how busy our schedules can be, it has helped us to become more proactive and intentional about setting aside that precious time to spend together, time that matters more than anything. So we, the 53s, set aside time to have dinner, have some fun taking selfies and then to go find a space to play some games. Yes, games. Trying out a new game where you have to create a pitch for a random company and then try to “sell” the idea to an investor, or playing other games that are based on spontaneity too, led to all sorts of laughter and stories to be told. Thankful for the opportunities we had to set aside a specific time to just relax during a nice dinner at Fogo de Chao or Paesano’s and know that we have a couple of hours just to spend together, in and around the other chaos that often is our schedule.

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Jennifer, Mandy, Jaime, Marialice, Stew

I love the random moments of adventure that appear as you’re walking down the street and you see a larger-than-life swing, and it occurs that it might be a fun idea to just go and take a ride on it. Not letting on that you might be a little bit afraid because after all, the swing stands at about 385 feet and spins you around somewhere between 50 and 60 miles per hour, way up at the top, flying through the air, at night. It’s not your average swing and finding people to brave it with you under normal circumstances might be a challenge. But when you find that you are left standing there staring up at the swing with big eyes and a daring spirit, you are lucky to find an unsuspecting friend, thank you Rodney, and you just decide to give it a go, buy the tickets, cross your fingers and hope for the best.

What happens? You bond over a slightly scary but super fun experience to think back upon for a long time to come. Sharing the pictures, and the video with others which leads them to ask you “what in the world would make you want to ride that?” Or “you couldn’t pay me enough to go on that ride!” And knowing that you did it, you conquered some fears and even kept your eyes open, while singing at the top of your lungs and just enjoying the experience, got you through it. And you shared the awesomeness with a good friend sitting beside you.

But when the time comes and you have to go your separate ways again to head back to your homes, often states away or even in another country, a bit of sadness is there. We get so used to being in that same space and enjoying that time together. But the more often that happens, I have started to notice that the distance may separate us but it cannot diminish the closeness that we feel, it is quite the opposite actually. I feel that it strengthens our bond each time that we get to spend together.

There were many laughs and even some tears because we laughed so hard, funny stories sometimes awkward “only could happen to us” moments, but it’s always the best part of every conference.

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Rodney Turner, Jaime Donally, Tisha  Richmond and I  presenting together  FETC

TCEA

My first time attending and presenting at TCEA, held in San Antonio this year and it is definitely one that I hope to make a part of my yearly conference plans. My only regret is not having more time to spend there learning and taking in all of the different professional development opportunities that were everywhere within and beyond that conference center. Whether in the sessions, the Keynotes, the learning stations, poster sessions, Innovator spotlights and mostly just in those times you have talking with members of your PLN and learning from each other. Fun time spent presenting together, and I’ve decided that I truly enjoy presenting with my friends like Jaime, Jennifer, Tisha, Evan, Mandy, Rodney, and Jarod. There is a dynamic between us and it just seems to really work. We have different backgrounds and roles in education and can learn a lot from each other. Presenting together was something we started at ISTE two years ago and has become part of each conference. And if not presenting together, we are there to support one another as tech support, food and drink delivery services, comedic relief or anything that might be needed. We somehow just know what we need to do and do it.

The other benefit is getting more time with people who you’ve known on Twitter or some other form of social media or even by interacting in a webinar and you just haven’t had the time to spend together in the “real world.” That is until you’re in the same space of the conference and you truly get to connect with these other people who you feel like you already know anyway.

There are a lot of words that I could use to highlight the experiences but I think at least for this post, I’d rather share some of the photos, and let the photos tell the story.

Fun  at MERGE HQ, Jaime, Joy, Jen, Marialice

The big cat pillow!

The “professional taste-tester” at Haagen Dazs

Mandy Froehich

On the Riverwalk with Jennifer Casa-Todd TCEA

Jaime, jon, Amy, Andi and Claudio – FETC

Tisha and I presenting on Infographics  FETC

Jaime and  Evan, arriving late to the presentation!

Mandy Froehlich session – thanks for the shout-outs!

Taking some risks with Rodney  Turner

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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.

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