I am a work in progress

**this is a work in progress

Things on my mind: Self-awareness, Competition,  Failure, Focus

During the last couple of weeks as the school year was winding down, the demands on my time were increasing exponentially. While this may seem a bit exaggerated,  there really is no other way to describe it. Granted, I take a lot of extra things on personally and professionally, when most people meet me, they ask if I sleep. I do, some. So why do I, or educators take on so much? For me, the reason is because I truly am a lifelong learner. I don’t want to miss opportunities, especially when that might mean I miss out on creating opportunities for others.  I don’t want to say no to someone that needs my help, because I realize that for some people, asking for help required that they be vulnerable and step out of their comfort zone. So I will always try to help someone else, even if it means delaying my own goals or veering from some path that I am on. And I am good with that, but I also realize that there is only so much that I can do. 

 

Self-awareness

Being self-aware means you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, emotions, thoughts, and have a deeper understanding of what motivates you, at least this is my way of defining it. I can somewhat identify my strengths, but it is uncomfortable to openly admit my weaknesses.  I have no problem admitting mistakes and failures in front of my students. The more that I can do this with them, will help to dispel that misconception that failure is final. Personally or among friends, for me, admitting weakness is tough, but the first step in trying to improve is acknowledging that there is a something to improve upon.  I’m well aware that I have certain areas that I need to devote some time to in order to become more effective and consistent and possibly attain some level of balance. If balance is really a thing. Maybe it is because I set demands on myself that are too high or overly ambitious, but I have reached a point in my career and my life, where I feel I need to engage in activities that I am passionate about being involved in. Even while I was in law school,  my friends would often laugh at my ability to multitask and my methods of over-preparation for class. I did then what I try to discourage my own students from doing now. I would take notes on the computer, write notes on paper, listen to the lecture and grade papers all while sending text messages throughout the class. And somehow while doing all of that I still managed to answer a question when called upon. I survived the four years of teaching full-time and four nights a week of law school. When I think back and compare schedules of then and now I feel so much more out of balance now than I did back then. It just does not make sense. 

 

While this post has started off as random thoughts,  they do have a point, which will present itself sooner or later. (perhaps not even in this post, as I am between a few projects).  These random thoughts are my reflections, and how I become more self-aware. As some of my friends know, I tend to not sit and type but rather speak my thoughts into a document and then go back and revise and reflect in the process. It simply works for me and it makes me more productive, at least I think that it does.  We don’t need to make big gains each day, it is in the small wins, ongoing progress that we achieve more. Reading this post yesterday, reminded me of this fact.  I got away from reading the posts by Thomas Oppong, and this quote helped me through some of my reflections. “It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small gains on a daily basis.” 

But lately, I have not felt as productive as I would want to be. Yes I’ve made lists, checked items off as I completed them, kept up with email only to have two or three emails pop in as soon as one is sent. I have opened Voxer to find four or five hundred messages waiting and many other notifications from other forms of social media. So how does one find balance? How does one keep focus when surrounded by and consumed by so much “connectedness.” In the pursuit of learning, how much is enough and how much is too much?

What I mean is I think as educators we need to involve ourselves in a variety of learning possibilities. We no longer need to leave our homes to go out for professional development, nor be limited to that which we have at our schools. There are so many options available that meet our needs as far as goals and time and passions. But it seems that more and more time is consumed by social media like Voxer or Twitter, just for a few examples. Don’t get me wrong, these are tremendous tools for becoming a connected educator, for breaking away from the isolation that can happen. But how do we keep up with everything and everyone?  If you know, please share.

 

Competition

It is tough “keeping up” lately. I read a lot of blogs, books and stay active through Twitter and Voxer, and have a pretty good routine for keeping up-to-date with information. Reading has never been a problem for me. The area in which I need to improve is with my own writing. Some days I feel like I just can’t keep up. I feel like I’m falling behind, that I’m not meeting the goal, not pushing myself enough to accomplish things. But today I had a moment to pause and think, and it came after reading  some of the The Path to Serendipity , by Allyson Apsey and also “What School Could Be,” by Ted Dintersmith.  After reading these, it occurred to me that I am doing the exact same thing that I try to stop my students from doing which is push myself so hard, judge myself so critically, to the point where my desire to work and to get things done becomes consumed as soon as my eyes focus on that ever-growing list of goals. I put up a wall and that inner voice tells me that I will never get things done. The inner voice convinces me that I can’t, so I don’t even try.  And then I remember the quote  “the only thing standing in your way is you,” so I need to get out of my own way. 

My list is full of things which are not part of my daily work as a teacher, but rather tasks that I have voluntarily pushed myself into becoming a part of. Maybe it’s my fear of missing out, maybe it’s my drive to keep doing better, to keep pushing myself to do one more thing, take one more step, to see how much I can handle and how much I can learn. But in recognizing this, I realize that my students do this as well. I’ve seen them push themselves and worry that they won’t finish something in time, that they won’t get into the college that their parents want them to, that they won’t get the highest grade, that they won’t be as smart, as quick or as good as somebody else in the class.  Pressure.

How many times this year I have said to them “You don’t need to worry about anybody else. You only need to worry about yourself because you aren’t in competition with anyone else but yourself.”  I came across an anonymous quote a while ago that said “I’m in competition with no one but myself.” The power of this quote really hit me. These are the reminders that I give to my students, but yet are ones that I have failed to be cognizant of within myself.

In reading “Path to Serendipity”, so much of what Allyson says resonated with me, especially when thinking back to when I first started teaching. And in reading “What School Could Be,” I am thinking about the structure of school, the “game” of school and all of the pressure that exists. Pressure which is placed on students whether by the school system itself, the testing, parents, teachers or the students themselves. How do we break this cycle? Wanting the best for someone should be more about supporting them with whatever decision they make, and being there if they find out that it was not the best decision to be made. That’s the risk we take when we step out of our comfort zone, when we go against the grain and do something that is different, that may not be the traditional way to do something but it’s the way that we want, it’s personal to us, it’s our passion.

 

And I know I have derailed a bit in this, maybe more than a bit, but sometimes it’s good for me to just sit with my computer, and thanks to the voice to text, I can close my eyes and talk through what has been going through my mind, and then edit the writing. Lately it’s been that I just can’t get enough things completed. Countless presentations, proposals, webinars you name it, I am doing and experiencing the same thing that many other educators are experiencing as well. However the difference is that my perception of others is that there are no struggles. Blogs are being published, podcasts are being recorded, books are being written, speeches are being given, and my question is where do you find the time? How can I find a time? And I am so impressed and inspired by the work of my friends and my colleagues who share their stories and seem to have a lot of balance, but then again how do I really know? My perception is not necessarily their reality.

A good friend of mine Mandy Froehlich has written a book which just came out today, called “The Fire Within”, in which she shares personal stories as well as stories of educators who talk about the different struggles that they’ve gone through. We don’t often hear of the struggles and the negative experiences that we as educators may have, but there are a few things that I’m sure of. We need to start with relationships. We need to be open and vulnerable. We have to tell our stories. It is from these stories, whether they are stories of great innovations or epic failures, where we can connect and provide the inspirational redirection that someone else may greatly need. And while telling our story makes us vulnerable, there is great power in vulnerability. Vulnerability does not mean weakness, as defined by Brene Brown in her book “Daring Greatly”. It is “uncertainty,risk and emotional exposure.” My favorite quote from Brown is that vulnerability is “the courage to  show up and be seen even when you have no control over the outcome.” This quote is one I read last summer, and I kept in the back of my mind while preparing for different events in which I felt completely out of control. I didn’t think I had the courage and was ready to back down, but this served as a reminder to me that it was better to try and fail, than to never try at all. The interesting part about this book is that she came up with the title after reading a quote by Teddy Roosevelt from 1910, where he spoke about the man who enters into battle valiantly, and at best he has success and at worst he errs while daring greatly.

 

Focus

So there is nobody pushing me to get things done but me. Nobody adding more items to the list but myself. And there is nobody that I’m in competition with. I have to accept that I will accomplish the things that I need to accomplish in my own time and in my own way. Pushing the publish button on this was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve been thinking a lot and decided to put my thoughts out there. 

comfort

12 Tools to Try…before summer break!

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.

7 Tips to Get The Most Out of Blogging This Year

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.

How Kidblog supports and meets the ISTE Standards for Students

 

  1. Empowered Learner
  2. Digital Citizen
  3. Knowledge Constructor
  4. Innovative Designer
  5. Computational Thinker
  6. Creative Communicator
  7. Global Collaborator

 

The Student Standards reflect the skills that we want the students of today to develop, so they can become more connected with their learning and prepare for their future in an increasingly digital world. The use of blogging is a good way to address the ISTE Standards for Students. The new standards, which were released in June 2016, focus more on what we want for students – The pursuit of lifelong learning and ways in which we can help to empower students in their learning. The emphasis is on providing opportunities which promote student voice and choice and help educators to implement technology in ways that will increase student growth and readiness for the future. The ISTE standards represent the skills and qualities that students need for su​​ccess in the 21st century.

Supporting the standards with technology
There are many educational tools (both digital and traditional) available to promote student voice in the classroom. Blogging is one tool that serves to support and meet the ISTE standards. Educators can refer to the standards as a guide for selecting tools to use with students that will amplify learning and promote student choice. The goal is to support students so they begin to take ownership in their learning. A move in the classroom from teacher-centered, to student-centered and optimally, student driven. Here is how Kidblog can help.

1. Empowered Learner: As empowered learners, students “leverage” technology to show their learning and demonstrate their mastery in a platform that is comfortable to them and in a personalized space. Students take more responsibility for and have choices in how to show their learning.

2. Digital Citizen: Blogging promotes digital citizenship as it helps students to develop their social presence. Through blogging, students become active in online communication, learn about proper use of internet and resources and interact in a safe learning environment. Posting online and sharing information helps students to develop the skills they will need in the future and to recognize their responsibility when it comes to digital resources. Blogging gives students the opportunity to practice appropriate and ethical online behaviors, which transfer into the classroom space as well.

3. Knowledge Constructor: Students gather information and resources to use in creating stories, conveying information in a way that is more authentic and meaningful for their learning. The use of blogs helps students to work on their writing skills and ties in nicely with gathering information to share in their digital space. Students can research and analyze the resources, to determine which is most relevant and applicable to their task.

4. Innovative Designer: Students can use the different tools and features in the Kidblog platform to express themselves in a more unique way, share ideas and create in an innovative way. Designing and creating more authentic ways to show their knowledge as well as creating new and more “imaginative” solutions to a question or problem presented.

5. Computational Thinker: Students can use blogs as a way to discuss and talk through a process of decision-making. Blogging is a great format for working through projects or solving complex problems, and to demonstrate the thought processes and analysis involved through their writing.

6. Creative Communicator: Students can use the different features of Kidblog to share their knowledge, convey information or tell a story in a more engaging and creative way, to be shared with peers and the teacher. Blogging opens up more opportunities for students to be more expressive than the traditional formats such as paper or other digital tools. Students can express themselves in a way which promotes creativity and with Kidblog, can incorporate other tools to present their information in a way that supports the learning goals and meets individual student needs and interests.

7. Global Collaborator: Students can use blogs as a way to learn about other cultures and connect with others by posting their blogs and sharing information with peers. Students narrate background experiences and connect with others in a safe learning environment that builds confidence and promotes student learning. Students share their blogs with peers and can also connect with other students from around the world. It facilitates the opportunity to local and global issues and perspectives, and to use the blog as a way to express their thoughts.

The focus of the ISTE Student Standards, helping students to become better with communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and to express themselves in more creative and innovative ways, falls in line with the features of Kidblog.

7 Tips to Get The Most Out of Blogging This Year

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.

Kidblog

Why we need to reflect: Learning from our Mistakes

Reading the words of John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience…We learn from reflecting on experience.”, I give myself constant reminders to be reflective in my practice. Reflecting led me to really evaluate some things in my classroom.

A few weeks ago, I had a challenging week. Probably the most challenging week as far as behaviors, in several years. It came in the form of disrespectful behaviors, classroom disruptions whether it was students talking out loudly, exchanging words, or other similar interruptions.  I really tried to work through these, with the students, patiently and with every possibly method I could think of. I wanted to push forward and in another post, I explain what happened, but for now, these are the lessons that I have learned. And this is how I reflected and did what I needed to do, to restore balance in my classroom.

I am not one to yell in class, in fact, over the 21 years teaching in my current school, maybe there have been 7 or 8 times that I have really yelled. Whether that is good or bad, not going to decide, but I can say these were not the best reactions  in my years of teaching. However they have led me to take time to really reflect and remember a couple of things.

1) I am the adult and my role is to provide a supportive, engaging place for students to learn, to feel welcome and to thrive.

2) I don’t always know what’s going on in the lives of the students beyond my classroom and so their behaviors may be a result of something happening throughout the day or in their home or social life.

3) I cannot know everything but if I don’t take the time to get to know something about them, that is doing them a disservice.

 

So I did yell. It felt awful.  I myself further disrupted the learning environment, and for this, I also apologized. I shared this experience with some friends and was asked several times, “why” and “to whom?”


I apologized to my class and to each of the students to whom I yelled, because I did not handle it well. I myself further disrupted the learning and had an effect or impact on not just that student, but on everyone in the classroom. So it was a trying week because I had to really take a hard look at myself and my responses to some situations that I could have handled differently. I could have handled them better. I should have. But I am very open about the fact that I am a work in progress, that I make mistakes and I will own my mistakes and grow from them.

It took a few days for me to really shake off that negative energy and that is an awful feeling. But I did that myself, it was my choice to act, how to handle it and I definitely could have handled it better. I should have handled it better. A lesson learned, a new focus and a new reminder to think before acting and speaking.

Practice patience, use kind words and show empathy.


Teaching is hard sometimes. We can have lesson plans ready, very detailed objectives on the board, every material and activity ready for the students for the day, but one slight ripple ,one small interruption, can completely change the course of even the most perfect plans.

Rita Pierson said “Every kid needs a champion” and even in her math class, when one of her students had missed 18 out of 20 questions on a test, she wrote a plus two. Why? She said because that looks better than a -18 and it tells the student “you got two right and are on your way”.  It sends a positive message. We need to be the positive for the students. We may be the only positive they have each day. 

CHAMPIONSYLVIA

So avoid the negative, focus on relationships, reflection and constant growth. It starts with us and we make an impact, and we may never know how large of an impact we make,  from the smallest interaction.

So make every moment matter, because the students matter, and we need to be their champion. Even when they push back, push back harder with kindness.

 

Thanks to Sylvia Duckworth for this amazing image.

 

Quizlet Live: A student perspective

Teacher to Teacher: Does technology in the classroom help? Ask the students.

Quizlet HQ ·

This post was written by Rachelle Dene Poth and Sean, a student in one of her Spanish classes. Rachelle teaches French, Spanish, and STEAM at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Pennsylvania. 

quizletlive

Quizlet Live: An instant hit in my classroom

The availability of technology, and especially of digital tools like Quizlet, have opened up tremendous possibilities for classrooms today. Because of the diverse tools available, teachers now have new ways to deliver content both in and out of the classroom, and students have more engaging and personalized ways to learn.

Quizlet is something I have used in my classroom for the past few years in many different ways. I have used it in class to play Quizlet Live, to give students time to use the activities to review while I work with them individually, and to play games like Gravity on the Smartboard. Toward the end of last school year, I was able to beta test Quizlet Live, their newest collaborative in-class game, with my Spanish II class. It was an instant hit. Once we figured out how to play the game (which was easy), it became a great way to practice the vocabulary and verbs. It also created more opportunities for students to work with and learn from their peers, and build those vital classroom relationships that form a positive classroom culture. (To learn more about how to play Quizlet Live, check out my previous post on this topic.)

How to know when the technology has a purpose: Ask the students

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Sean, an 11th grader in my Spanish courses, has been an advocate for the use of technology at school. He recently led a presentation for an edtech conference, TRETC (Three Rivers Education and Technology Conference) and chose to present on Quizlet Live. He explained the purpose of the game, highlighted how to play, and led a game with those present — many of whom were playing for the first time. Sean had great, first-hand information to share and, coming from a student, the benefit of using Quizlet Live in the classroom was clear to everyone.

In Sean’s own words

Quizlet has a purpose when it comes to studying or just having fun. For example, in my Spanish II class, we used Quizlet for studying outside of class or to create cards for homework, and then when we met again as a class, we would play Quizlet Live and it would be fun for everyone. It is a tool that can be used multiple ways for school and work. An example of using it outside of school is when we were coming home from the PAECT student technology showcase. We were bored during the bus ride, so Mrs. Poth asked us if we wanted to play and we said sure.

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At the time we didn’t know any topics that could be played on Quizlet Live except for school topics, but we were introduced to some of the other topics that could played. We struggled with some of the TV trivia, which dated back to the 1950s, but we worked as a team and won the game. This activity showed our group that there were a variety of things that could be done using Quizlet Live.

This school year, I have already created a Quizlet Live that my class has played and everyone loved it. I will continue to create more Quizlets to use and help out the class, and to also have a fun time at home. We will be presenting a session during our state technology conference, PETE&C, and in addition to the student showcase, we will take over a full session and teach teachers about these tools. The students will once again be the leaders and engage the attendees with Quizlet Live.

Storytelling with Kidblog

Previously Published on MARCH 9, 2017   Kidblog

hands-hand-book-readingBlogging helps develop critical skills students need. In addition to working on necessary skills for communication and mastering grammar, blogging boosts creativity, increases confidence in expressing thoughts and ideas, and encourages authenticity when students write with purpose. Blogging for increased social interaction in the classroom will also lead to a more positive learning environment and help students develop critical peer relationships and collaboration skills.

The prompts

I have focused on transforming my classroom from “teacher centered” to “student-centered” and, as a result, created a student-driven learning environment. Moving the direction of your classroom in this way can help students emerge from learners to leaders and become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses in writing. Writing prompts are often discouraged in blogging – hindering student creativity. However, there are ways to design prompts that increase student engagement, lead to more authentic and meaningful learning, and provide an opportunity for students to be in charge of their learning.

It is important to offer a varietyof prompts to reinforce student choice and voice in the classroom. Additionally, prompts that include a picture lead to a variety of creative and authentic responses, while also giving students ownership in learning. Not to mention, it is a fun way to practice their writing skills.

Something new I tried this year, in an effort to open up more options for student choice and authentic and meaningful learning, was to design a “let’s tell a story” prompt. My goal was to help students build their vocabulary and refine their writing skills by learning and applying new words outside of our textbook chapter theme. To do this, students in Spanish II read a short Spanish book and while reading, they were tasked with creating a list of unfamiliar vocabulary words in each chapter. These lists would become their personal “dictionary” of (ideally) 50 – 60 words. I wanted them to select words that they did not understand and incorporate these words within their stories. This provided an authentic method for the students to create with the language and practice their writing skills.

Co-creating a story

I decided to have students participate in writing a collaborative story. Using a theme similar to the reader, which was a story involving a student who solved a crime and helped to capture a thief, each student was to select a certain number of their words, and create a story of their own. Once a story had been created, we selected another student to continue the story using different words from their vocabulary “bank”. In the process, I would read each of the posts, provide feedback and keep my own lists of some of the most commonly selected words, so that I could later use these additional words for building vocabulary.

This was a fun way for students to collaborate with their peers and make learning more meaningful through their own choice and voice. It enabled students to work together, to provide support and to keep each other focused on the writing task. After all, collaborative skills are so important, especially for building vital classroom relationships and social interactions.

Overall, this activity was an engaging way for students to practice the language, increase opportunities to show their language skills, all while being the main driver in their learning. Giving students the chance to demonstrate what they know, in their own way, amplifies their learning and connects them with the subject content in a more personalized, meaningful way.

Kidblog

10 EdTech Tools for Encouraging Classroom Collaboration

Thank you Getting Smart for the opportunity to be a Guest Author for this post.

10 EdTech Tools for Encouraging Classroom Collaboration

By Rachelle Dene Poth

Today’s technology offers so many options for educators and students that deciding on where to begin can be overwhelming. To get started, think about one new approach that could be the catalyst for positive change in your classroom. In looking at your learning environment, what could benefit your students the most?

How do you find tools to help meet your needs? Resources are everywhere: books, blogs, social media like Twitter chats, Voxer groups, your PLN, or even conferences, EdCamps and similar professional development opportunities. But even with all of these resources available, it still comes down to taking a risk and trying something new.

Here are some helpful and versatile technology tools to easily and quickly integrate into your classroom and help meet your needs.

Discussion Tools: Get Them Talking

Teachers need to hear from students, and we know that asking questions or calling on students to discuss a topic can often make them nervous. When students, or anyone, develop that feeling of “being on the spot”, it can become more difficult to encourage students to share what they are thinking, what they are feeling and what their true opinions are. This is where digital tools can provide security and opportunities for students to express themselves. Technology has a true purpose. Students still need to develop an ability and gain confidence to speak in class, but these tools can help by providing a comfortable way for students to develop their voice and express themselves.

Depending on the type of question or discussion format you want for your classroom, there are many tools available that can help.

  1. SurveyMonkey is a good way to ask a variety of questions, find out what students are thinking, use it for a quick formative assessment, and many other possibilities. I have used it to find out how students prepared for tests, what areas they need help with, and even for voting for club officers and planning trips. You have the results quickly and can provide feedback instantly, to plan your next steps in class. It can be a different way to find out about your students and their needs.
  2. TodaysMeet is a backchannel tool that can be used in or out of class, as a way for students to contribute to a discussion or ask questions. It can also be used to provide “office hours” online, for students to ask questions beyond the school day. There are many possible uses for this tool, and setting it up is easy.
  3. GoSoapBox is a response tool that can be used to ask a variety of questions without students having to create accounts. Students simply need an “event code” provided by the teacher to access the activities available. GoSoapBox can be used for polls, discussion questions, quizzes and more, and provides a fast way to assess students or to simply learn more about them and their thoughts.
  4. Recap is a video response tool, where students can respond to a prompt and all responses are compiled into a “daily reel” for teachers to view and provide feedback. Students can respond from anywhere and feel comfortable in sharing their thoughts using this tool.

These are just four of the many options—sometimes it just takes a bit of research. Asking the students for new ways to use the tools you have already been using in class can also be helpful.

Communication Through Collaboration

There are many options which promote student collaboration and enhance writing skills and student voice.

5) Blogging: Through blogging, teachers can provide support for students and help them to gain confidence in writing and speaking. We have used Kidblog to complete many writing tasks and creative writing assignments.

6) Wikispaces: A Wiki has worked really well in our classes for having students collaborate on a topic, create a discussion page, and set it up to inform on a topic, to list just a few examples. We created a wiki on Spanish art and also created our own travel agency.

7) Padlet: Padlet is a “virtual wall” which promotes collaboration, communication, creativity and more because of its versatility. Students can write a response to a discussion question, add resources for a collaborative class project, work in small groups, use it for brainstorming or connect with other students and classrooms throughout the world.

Using digital tools in this way is great because the discussions don’t have to end when class does. These tools give ways to get students talking, share their ideas, so that we can help them grow.

Creating presentations and telling a story

A few options for having students present information in a visual way with options for multimedia include the following:

8) Buncee is a web based tool that can be used for creating presentations, interactive lessons and more, with many options for including different characters, fonts, animations, video and more.

9) Piktochart is a tool for creating infographics, social media flyers, engaging presentations and more. Students have created menus, self-descriptions, movie and tv advertisements, recipe presentations and much more.

10) Visme is a “drag and drop” tool that is easy to use for creating infographics, reports, different presentations and more. It has a library full of images, charts and more, making it easy for users to create exactly what they need.

What are the benefits of these tools?

Each of these tools promote more personalized and meaningful learning for students. These tools can be used to enhance, amplify and facilitate deeper and more authentic learning . Using technology just for the sake of using it doesn’t make sense. But using it to help students find their voice, learn what they want to do, what they can do and what they need help with, does makes sense. Purpose.

For more, see:

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High in Oakmont, PA. Follow her on Twitter at @rdene915.

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

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

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

by Rachelle Dene Poth

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

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

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

Interested in PBL support? Contact TeachThought Professional Development today! 

1. It’s not ‘doing projects.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The right technology can make all the difference.

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

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

4. Developing quality Essential Questions takes practice.

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

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

Essential questions drive the learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Project-based learning empowers students.

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

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

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

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

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

8. Patience is key.

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

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