classroom

 

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

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

Why NoteAffect?

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

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

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

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

To invite students, simply follow these steps:

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

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

To start a lecture:

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

Features of NoteAffect

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

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

 

For my prior post on NoteAffect, click here

 

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “I am a part of everything I have read.” When I read his quote, it greatly resonated with me because of my love of quotes and the impact they can have in our lives. In Other Words is a book full of inspirational and thought-provoking quotes that have pushed my thinking, inspired me and given me strength when I needed it. The book shares stories around the importance of growing ourselves as educators, knowing our why, as well as learning from and embracing failures and taking risks with learning so we can become our best selves for those we lead and learn with.

Get your signed copy here: bit.ly/Inotherwordsbook

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There are stories shared by educators with different backgrounds and different perspectives. My own experiences and interpretations and the educator vignettes shared by my PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network) will hopefully push your thinking, inspire you, and provide whatever it is that you need. My hope is that by sharing our stories, it will inspire you to share yours.

 

There were many people involved throughout this journey. I reached out to members of my PLN and friends to include as many educators and students as possible. I  wanted to share more than just my story, but rather many stories and experiences.   This book is one that can be read by anyone, not just people in education. There are many quotes, unique personal experiences, beautiful graphics and more.

About the book #Quotes4EDU

In this book, I share some of my experiences and reflections based on quotes. I have included the stories of different educators in the form of vignettes or guest chapters. One chapter was written by two of my students and my book cover was drawn by one of my 9th-grade students. The story behind the book cover is included at the beginning of the book.  The book is available on Kindle or in paperback: bit.ly/Inotherwords  A few of the stories are available for listening on Synth. gosynth.com/p/s/pyzbnm  

Chapter Authors
Dennis Griffin
Maureen Hayes
Holly King
Elizabeth Merce
Melissa Pilakowski
Laura Steinbrink
Amy Storer
Donald Sturm
Cassy DeBacco
Celaine Hornsby
Vignettes
Marialice B.F.X. Curran
Jon Craig

Kristi  Daws

Sarah Fromhold
Jeff Kubiak
Matthew Larson
Jennifer Ledford
Kristen Nan
Toutoule Ntoya
Paul O’Neill
Zee Ann Poerio
Rodney Turner
Heather Young
Graphics 
Michael Mordechai Cohen
Dene Gainey
Manuel Herrera
Shelby  Krevokuch
Amber McCormick
Dana Ladenburger
Heather Lippert
Scott Nunes
Chris Spalton
Tisha Richmond
Monica Spillman
Laura Steinbrink
Kitty Tripp
Julie Woodard
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Thank you Kristi Daws for creating these images!!

 

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

Over the last few weeks, I have been exploring ParentSquare and considering how it can be used to promote family engagement, foster better communication and facilitate collaboration between home and school.

Choosing something that will give students, teachers, parents, and administrators equal access to the vital information, resources, school news, and alerts, in addition to many of the other communications that are exchanged on a daily basis is an important task. There are multiple tools that can be used, but this often requires remembering where to find specific information or parent and teacher preferences for communication. Having one platform that provides all of this and more makes sense. With ParentSquare, all of this is possible and it brings with it the potential for using it in different ways that meet the needs of school and home, making it highly beneficial.

What it offers

There are many features of ParentSquare that facilitate more consistent and reliable information sharing and access to resources. Consider the tools and methods you are currently using and then compare with ParentSquare to see how much easier it is to engage families in the education of our students. Think about a typical day and the ways you communicate, the tasks that you do, the information that you exchange and how much time is spent in the process. ParentSquare helps to streamline all of the necessary communications.

Here are 10 of the best features that I think make ParentSquare really stand out and why I recommend that school administrators and teachers take time to explore the platform.

10 features that make ParentSquare a standout

  1. Ease of navigation within the platform: A key feature of ParentSquare is in its simplicity. Available through the web or mobile devices, getting started and finding what you need is easy, without worry about a steep learning curve.
  2. Increases families engagement: Families choose their preferred methods of communication such as email, text, web portal, app notifications, voice calls, or mobile app. ParentSquare helps to create a closer home to school learning community full of ways to connect families.
  3. Facilitates timely and relevant communication between home and school: Messages can be sent immediately, with real-time interactions and reports to show the reach and deliverability, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted. Easier to share relevant updates of all school-related activities and groups within one platform.
  4. Promotes better two-way communication with parents: Keep the conversation going with multiple options for communicating in less time. Communicate through direct messages, create polls, and post comments all in one platform.
  5. Easier to plan and RSVP for upcoming events: With ParentSquare, creating events and tracking RSVPs is much easier. ParentSquare even sends reminders for you.
  6. Involves families through photo and file sharing: Share photos and files with families quickly and with private and secure access within the platform.
  7. Creates more opportunities for family involvement: Schools can create wish lists, manage volunteer sign-ups and launch fundraising campaigns, all in one platform.
  8. Language Features: ParentSquare offers direct language translation in real-time for two-way communication. Language translation can be specific to the school or based on family preferences.

 

9. “Pushes” vital information to families when needed: Immediate access to information such as emergency alerts, grades, absences, lunch balances, upcoming events, volunteer requests, parent-teacher conferences and more. Parents do not need to search for information, everything is easy to find.

10. Analytics: With the reports, it’s easy to determine who received messages, how they obtained the information and how many people still need to be contacted. Access to the “Overall Snapshot” makes it easy to see how the information is being received and areas that need to be improved.

 

 

 

 

 

School to home communication and collaboration is at the heart of ParentSquare

Find out how ParentSquare can make a difference in your school. I recommend that you schedule a demo to learn more about the features and possibilities with ParentSquare. Personally, I like to get started by exploring the website, learning about the team and the platform as much as I can before the demo. It is helpful to consider the different methods or tools you currently use for communicating and collaborating with students and families. Perhaps even make a list to compare. You will see how ParentSquare unifies so many time-consuming tasks and streamlines the exchange of forms and correspondence, into one tool that provides it all.

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. Sign up for a demo today!

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Sign up for free here for iOS and here for Android.

Why having a way to connect is important

One of the most important tasks for educators today is to find ways to be accessible to students. We want to build and foster a community of support, share information, and be available to our students. Developing a reliable way to communicate is critical for student success. While there are many traditional options available, ranging from posts on a class website, an email or even making a phone call home, educators need to be more accessible and have a way to exchange information in a timely manner.

With so many digital options available to choose from, those traditional methods of communicating have been converted into a much faster means of sharing information. Depending on the type of communication that you want to have for your classroom and parents, there are many possibilities to choose from. It simply takes figuring out what you hope to accomplish and to do better through this new method of communicating.

Why use Class Updates?

A few years ago, I started noticing what I refer to as a “disconnect.” When students were absent from class, had forgotten assignments at school, or did not understand the homework, it negatively impacted their opportunities for learning. I did not want the opportunity for learning to be lost due to a lack of communication and availability. I held myself responsible for finding a way to remedy the disconnect and find a way to be more available for students and for students to access class resources when they needed.

Class Updates, a student and teacher communication tool, offers a lot of ways to create more of a connection between students and teachers. When I first started using a messaging app, I only used it to send reminders to students and for students to be able to ask me a question. However, with Class Updates, there are some great features that enhance the learning experience and facilitate a better connection and method of communicating.

Some of the unique features of Class Updates include:

  1. User Profiles — include a profile pic, bio, and social media links
  2. Class/Teaching Schedule — set up your daily schedule, including start and end times
  3. Class/Group Calendar for important reminders/events/meetings — easy to set up a calendar to share with students
  4. Group Chat/Communication — message the entire class and facilitate conversations beyond the class period,
  5. In-app Messaging/Chat (individual to individual),
  6. Access to help when students need it — Teachers can be emailed directly from the app.

Sign up for free here for iOS and here for Android.

Students have shared how beneficial having tools like Class Updates is for asking questions, receiving reminders, and knowing when tests, homework and other events are coming up in class. You know something is working when the students tell you how helpful something is, especially by having the ability to ask questions and receive help when they need, which is often beyond the class period.

Some ideas for using Class Updates

-Field Trips are easier with a messaging tool

– Send reminders of assignments and upcoming tests and quizzes

– Announce a change in schedule

– Engage students in a group conversation after class ends

Questions?

Feel free to contact me at rdene915@gmail.com or connect with me on Twitter @rdene915. Remember to sign up and try it, Class Updates is free for everyone. Sign up for free here for iOS and here for Android.

Updated from a prior post written after my first experience at FETC.

 

In  January of 2017 I attended the Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) for the first time in Orlando, Florida. Having attended many edtech conferences over the past few years, including ISTE, iNACOL, ShiftinEDU Summer Spark, ACTFL and several at the state level, I had a decent idea of what to expect—and I wasn’t disappointed.

The ideas shared by the panelists and speakers were fascinating, and I found myself surprised by the amount of food for thought I received from the conference.

There are a lot of things to consider when planning your schedule, thinking about what to attend, where to go after the sessions end, and what to do when you get back home. I like to reflect after each conference and these are some of my takeaways each time. My  number one takeaway is the relationships!  And this year is going to be even better because  I will be meeting with members of the #4OCFPLN for the first time.

1. Relationships matter. One of the key takeaways for me after each conference is that it’s important to develop and maintain a robust group of teacher-friends who will inspire and learn with me. Having these relationships can help me stay creative, stay engaged in my teaching and keep me from the isolation that can happen at times when our lives as educators become so busy.

Plan your time around connecting with your “edufriends” or the members of your personal learning network (PLN), some of whom you may not have ever met face-to-face. Share ideas, have fun learning from each and having the time to be in the same space to learn. There is so much excitement at FETC and all conferences because it gives you the opportunity to reconnect with friends or meet PLN face-to-face for the first time.

 

2. Think big, try new things and keep at it. Educators need to be encouraged to do things that are different, and we should be “thinking big.” I hear these words often, and usually they are followed by encouragement to take some risks, and not to be afraid of failures. It seems to be one of the recurring themes in the conversations I hear during each conference.

Find an area to focus on. What are your interests? What are some things you have wanted to try but haven’t because of lack of time or just fear of trying? Conferences are a  great way to give it a go.

3. We haven’t seen the last of EdTech innovations, and seeing new developments in person can be a great way to stretch your thinking about your own classroom. Taking time to explore the expo hall and talk with edtech representatives, see and try some of the innovative tools and ask for insight on how these tools can help to engage and empower students.

  • Stop by the booth presentations, see educators sharing their experiences, take a short workshop and gather a lot of ideas in a short period of time. My favorite is always sharing at the Buncee booth and attending presentations by other educators who demonstrate how Buncee provides many possibilities for creating multimedia presentations and creates diverse learning opportunities, regardless of content area or level taught.
  • Nearpod is always a favorite of the crowd—always a line at their booth, with many people eager to learn more about virtual reality field trips and see VR headsets in action. Perhaps this was to be expected, as bringing learning experiences to life and immersing students in their learning environment is a goal of almost every educator.
  • Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit the “Poster Session” areas to learn about topics such as Augmented and Virtual Reality, Coding, Artificial Intelligence, Project Based Learning and see some of the digital tools and apps in action (and how they could benefit students).
  • The makerspaces and 3D printing areas are always a hit, with each presenter offering samples of cool, student-created work, QR codes with resources available for attendees, and great opportunities to make new connections and bring the learning back to the classroom.
  • Stop by the author tables and “Meet the Authors” of some of the books you  may be reading. Great opportunity to connect!

4. Keep things student-focused. I really enjoy the variety of workshops offered during the conference, especially having the opportunity to attend workshops presented by friends and co-present a few on Augmented and Virtual Reality and  Creative Classrooms.  Engage in conversations with educators about some of the strategies and tools you use, share ideas, walk away with a lot of new things to try in your classroom and school.

5. Special events and meetups can be great ways to engage teachers in community-building. As educators, we know that students can’t (and shouldn’t) spend all of their time in the classroom. Similarly, teachers can’t spend all of their time in convention halls. In addition to the events held at the Convention Center, there were a number of other events I really enjoyed, such as the #coffeeedu meetups and dinner receptions hosted by different edtech companies, PLN groups and special interest groups.

These events really provided a nice environment in which attendees could continue to build their personal learning networks and keep the conversations going. So much learning goes on during the day, that the evening can be a great chance to share experiences with a group.

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My Overall Impression of FETC

Conferences like FETC are fantastic experiences that provide diverse, personalized learning opportunities. Once a conference ends and you settle back into your regular routine, you will have an opportunity to really let the things you learned sink in.

Take a look at your conference materials, review the #FETC Twitter feed, find one thing to focus on and try something new. Rely on your PLN and connect with your friends—just because a conference ends, doesn’t mean the conversation and learning have to.

It’s all about connecting and working toward personal and professional growth, taking some risks and using new knowledge and experiences to empower our students, our educators, our community and ourselves.

I would highly recommend educators make a note on their calendar to attend FETC next year! That is if you won’t be there next week! Headed to TCEA? See you there!

Originally published on Getting Smart,

Augmented (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are becoming more commonly used in our classrooms, with many new tools being added that promote more authentic and immersive learning experiences for students. As educators, we should welcome these unique tools because they can help with designing more authentic and innovative learning spaces, and are a means to transform “how” students are learning. We can take students on virtual trips and really open a world of opportunities for them to explore.

Why use AR and VR? These tools enable educators to provide powerful opportunities for students to do more than learn through videos or photos. Students can closely explore objects or places, in ways that the traditional tools of textbooks and videos cannot provide. Students have more control in how they are learning and interacting with the content. Through these augmented and virtual reality tools, we can bring never before possible learning experiences, such as travel and the use of holograms, to our students. These tools make it possible for students to travel anywhere around the world or into outer space even and explore these places more closely. Students can explore what they want and learn in a more immersive way, which helps to engage students more.

4 Tools to Try for AR/VR Explorations

1. Nearpod enables students to experience Virtual Reality through the use of 3D shapes, or go on a Virtual Field Trip powered by 360 cities. Nearpod became beneficial in my Spanish courses, because its immersive capability promotes global knowledge, helps to expand student comprehension of different perspectives and enables students to become immersed in a variety of environments. It has an extensive library of VR lessons ready for free download as well as additional ones available in the pro account. Using tools like Nearpod can help provide opportunities to really engage students in learning, be active, explore and have multiple options for assessing student learning and receiving timely feedback. Some recent additions to the VR library include College Tours, which are a great way to have students take a look at different colleges they might be interested in, without having to travel the distance to do so. Using these options, students can immerse in the campus and look around more closely, although it is not a complete replacement for being able to physically visit, it gives students the chance to explore many colleges from wherever they are. There are currently 43 different colleges represented in the collection, which include universities such as Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, Penn State, Tokyo and Vassar to name a few. A fun idea for these VR tours is to have students participate in a scavenger hunt, which will push them to really explore the sites and think through what they are seeing.

2. Google Expeditions is a free tool that teachers can use to take students on a field trip to virtually anywhere. It is an immersive app that can be downloaded using either Google Play or the App Store, that students view using their devices and a Google cardboard or other viewer. There are more than 800 virtual reality tours to choose from and 100 augmented reality tours. Some of the VR tours include famous locations, exploring career paths, and learning about global initiatives. With the recent addition of AR objects, students can now interact more with the objects by walking around and seeing it placed in their physical space. Teachers and students take on the roles of “Guide” and “Explorer” by being connected on the same network. Teachers can lead their explorers by following the script and guiding questions that are included within each tour, and can also opt to have the audio narration used with students as well.

With the augmented reality tours, teachers select the objects and tours to bring into the classroom, and students can then walk around and interact with the object as though it were in the classroom space. During the tours, pictures can point out specific locations or use some of the guiding questions to engage students more and conversation and promote curiosity and learning while they explore in this more immersive learning space.

3. Google Tour Builder is a great way for teachers and even students to be able to create their own tour for use in the classroom or connect with other classrooms globally. Through the creation of an interactive story or tour, students can better understand locations they are studying, explore a place of historical or cultural significance, or even narrate a trip that they have taken. It is easy to create and share a tour. Tours can include images and videos that you upload, as well as images selected from the Google Street View options. The tour can include descriptions and hyperlinks to extend the learning and add more resources for students. Originally Google Tour Builder was created for veterans to record the places where their military service took them and it has become a great tool to use to help people understand different locations and interact with multimedia formats. Students can even create a tour of their town to share with global penpals in order to broaden global connections and cultural awareness.

4. Skype can be a good way to connect classrooms globally and even involve students in problem-solving and critical thinking by using Mystery Skype. There are opportunities to set up a Mystery Skype as well as a Skype session with an expert, by connecting through Microsoft. Using this type of technology to bring in experts and to connect students with other classrooms can really add to the authenticity of the learning experience, and make it more meaningful for students. When students take part in a Mystery Skype, it promotes collaboration with their classmates, critical thinking as they try to uncover where the other classroom is located, problem-solving as they are working through the clues and the responses, and of course it is a fun activity to do that will likely promote social-emotional learning skills as well.

Activities to Engage Students Globally

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 tools be used in place of something you are already using that only offers one-way interaction or a static image? The use of virtual field trips and augmented reality explorations can engage students more in learning and provide opportunities for them to move from consumers to creators.

What Is Homework, Anyway?

There are so many conversations happening every day that focus on homework. The benefits, the purpose, the best way to give homework and if it should be given at all. I used to assign homework almost every night in almost every class.  For years, a big part of my practice involved assigning, grading and going over homework assignments. But then I started to think about how much time was being used in class going over the work, how many times it was not completed or only partially completed, and sometimes copied as well. So I shifted my focus to evaluate the types and the frequency of assignments I was giving.  Over the past few years, I changed my thinking and moved away from a “one size fits all” assignment and moved toward a more personalized, authentic form of practice, that students can choose and that is kept open for them.

Talking with other educators at conferences and through Twitter chats, gathering feedback from my students, and because I am a foreign language teacher, I also had to find ways to eliminate student use of translators for their assignments. A combination of these experiences and even a little frustration from homework not being completed, led me to try some new methods in this area.

I first considered the types of assessments I use in my classroom. Looking at the needs and interests of my students, the overall frequency of homework completion, the type of homework, and even more closely, a look at the individuals within each group of students that I taught.  I thought that I had to assign homework and it had to be the same. But after reflecting and trying new ideas, I now ask myself one question: Why? Why do I need to assign something, what is the purpose and what are the benefits for student learning? Will the task help the students to build their skills, in a meaningful and authentic way? Or is it just busy work.

Why I Decided To Do Something Different

I recognized a pattern when teaching a concept and I get that feeling like I just taught the exact same thing, in the same way, the day before. My “déjà vu” experience leads me to then consider the progress I am making with the curriculum in the current school year, and how I have paced my instruction based on covering the curriculum throughout the year. I emphasize the word “curriculum” because it was driving my instruction for a long time. But what I have come to realize is that I need to focus on the students, their needs and providing the best learning opportunities for them. The goal should not be to be at the same point at the same time each year, because students are not the same, and the daily class progress is not the same either.

I have had people tell me that being a teacher is easy after the first few years because the same plans are used, the lessons are taught at the same pace with the same assignments and tests each year. If that was true, then teaching would seem to be a rather easy and predictable profession. However, we all know that is not an accurate description of life as a teacher.

One of the times that I had this conversation with someone inspired me to closely examine my own teaching practice.  What kind of materials was I using in class? How was I providing instruction for each of my students and did I use the same resources each year with each class? I wondered if I truly had been doing the same thing in my classroom every year for 20 years?  Had I simply pulled out the folder and make copies of what I had used during each of the 19 years prior to that one?

Honestly and unfortunately, sometimes yes. I had. I used the same worksheet, or a similar part of a test in my classes over the years.  Not because I was too lazy to create something new.  Sometimes it was to provide a quick activity or assessment, and others it because I thought the materials were valuable for student learning.

Think About Homework In Your Classroom

Are you wondering about your own practice? If so, ask yourself the same questions and then reflect on your responses.  If you have been doing the same thing, then it is time to make a few changes.  What would work best for and help your students?  We need to do more than just look at each individual class, we need to really look closely at the needs of each individual student.  And this means that we must get to know our students and that comes from building relationships. We must understand where they’re coming from and what their individual needs are.

Do a homework experiment

I took a chance and did an experiment. We know that students often have a lot of homework.  It is the way teachers have helped students to practice and figure out what they know and what they don’t know. It is only one of the many ways that teachers can assess students, provide instruction and valuable feedback.  But do they all need homework every day?  I used to think that I had to give students the exact same homework every day.  My methods were a result of the experience I had as a student.

My experiment was to give students an opportunity to create a lesson, using their material, and become the teacher for a class period.   One example was having the students decide on a  verb tense to review and to simply come to class the next day with a way to teach the verbs.  I said it could be something tangible like a written activity, or an activity that they found on a website, a video, a game, or another resource. I believed that with choices, the students would learn more and develop collaborative learning skills in the process.

What did they think?

While the students taught their lesson or led the activity, I interacted with each group to see what they had prepared. Some were using worksheets they had found online and added more vocabulary to it, there were some worksheets that students had created, handwritten pages of notes, sets of flashcards, a few had found websites with games or videos. The next time, a few students chose to create a game of  Kahoot or Quizizz game, which was really helpful when it came to the vocabulary words and verb forms. They felt that the learning experience was personalized and they enjoyed the change.

Of course, I was nervous about doing this.  It felt uncomfortable to not specify a particular format. It was a risk, but it was well worth it. Based on their feedback, the input I received was that they enjoyed being the teachers, the learning was more personal, they felt valued, and it was a more meaningful learning experience.

I have not given nightly homework in over a year. Instead we practice in class, work in stations, and students write a blog post once per week. They choose the topic and I simply read and give feedback and try to incorporate some of their work into our class activities. When they have time outside of class, I suggest some different learning tools or activities. I would rather that they spend time doing something that meets their needs and time, rather than everyone doing the exact same thing.

Take a chance

Don’t worry about now having the whole plan thought out. Sometimes we just need to take a risk and go with it.  Giving up some control in the classroom is not always easy, but it is necessary. We need to step out of the way more and be okay with students taking the lead. It creates more opportunities for us to be the facilitators of learning, and we can provide more individualized instruction to our students. Step one is building relationships which are the foundation of education. When we have a solid foundation for learning in place, amazing things can happen.

 

What are your thoughts on homework? Please share!

One of the most important ways that we can start a new school year is by setting aside time to get to know our students. Not only should we have time to interact with them, but we need to give them time to interact with one another. Relationships are the foundation for so many positives in the classroom. Before all content and getting to the rules and classroom procedures, we have to find a way to start on day one by making this a priority. I truly believe that it needs to be a priority every day after that, because even the slightest interactions matter.

relationships

When: Some educators may disagree about holding off on the content or putting off the discussion about classroom procedures until another day. We all need to do what works best for our students and for ourselves. So you may choose to start the first day with something different, by focusing on the content and including some of the expectations or responsibilities for the classroom. Even starting with this, I’m sure that most everyone includes time to work on getting to know one another. By being at the door to greet the students as they arrive or making an effort to learn student names, and start to associate who the students are and engage in minor interactions will go a long way.

Why: I am very passionate about this now but I wish I could say that I always thought this way. I didn’t.  I don’t know how much I valued the power of relationships over the first ten years of my teaching career. Of course I cared about my students and I wanted what was best for them, but I recognize that how I was then and the way I am now are completely different.  And I really didn’t start every year the way that I’m suggesting that the year should be started by educators today. I was that teacher who welcomed students into the classroom and then started every class period on the first day, by talking about my classroom expectations and even adding in a little bit about the content material. I would even have students who were entering their second or higher level of the foreign language, write a short paragraph about topics like the summer, a movie they saw, a vacation or really anything they wanted to, so I could use it as a way to assess their skills before starting into the new material.  It’s just the way that I had been taught and I thought I needed to start like this, with no learning time lost.

Something that bothers me now about myself when I think about this, is that I remember students trying to talk to their classmates about their summers and just being excited to come back to school. I remember trying to get them to just stop and focus on the writing that I wanted them to do. The writing was more important, at least that is the message that I was sending. Thankfully I am no longer that teacher. I just wish I would have changed sooner.

No wonder I never really worried about the first day of school, even though I might not sleep too well the night before. Lack of sleep was partially because I was excited and the thought of going back after being on a break, somehow prevented me from sleeping. Why didn’t I worry? Because for me, day one was for going through some of the normal routine activities, those clerical or housekeeping tasks, that I had done every year prior. I never worried about Day One, but I always said I worried more about Day Two because that’s when I really had to start teaching.

I’ve changed my mind over the years because I’ve had some challenges, due to questioning my own methods of instruction and why something was not working for a specific class. I also questioned the ways that I handled challenges in terms of classroom management over the years, and finding ways to connect with students.  I am continuing to learn and there are days where it can feel like I’m not making any progress in building those relationships. I have to remind myself that I’m trying. That sometimes things don’t happen as fast as we want, it might take days, weeks, months or even longer to notice the impact or to see some kind of a transformation, but we just have to keep moving forward. And we may never really know what it was that made the difference, we just might feel a change one day.

How: I wish I had an answer for the question of “how.” What works for one student will often not work for another and it might take you a while to find a way to connect with some students and for them to connect with you. Have you ever tried so hard to connect with that one student, and no matter what you did it just felt like you would never get there? I have.  Many times. One time last year I tried everything that I could, and no matter what I tried, it just seemed like I could not find a way to connect. But then I saw a book, one that I had read and enjoyed, and that amazingly just so happened to be a book being read by that student. Had I not seen that book, I might still be thinking about how to bridge some type of connection.

So that’s why those slight interactions matter, why we need to be present, visible, leaning in and listening more. We need to really see our students, who they are, and show that we really care.

I could offer a few suggestions but they might not be the ones that will work the best for you, your students or even that one student that you’ve been trying to connect with. Over the years I’ve taught, there have been some days where I felt like giving up. Truly, just felt exhausted because no matter what I did, it just did not work. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way but I hope that the more that we share our stories, we can help other educators who might be experiencing this same thing.

The greatest success I’ve had in making connections, after struggling to find ways to do so, have come about because I stopped trying to think so hard about how to connect. Instead, I just sat down, made time to lean in and listen, and to really talk with a student. That’s not something that I probably would have done 10 years ago. I can only keep moving forward with what I know now.

“When we know better, we do better,” as Maya Angelou said, and I definitely know better now.

Recently published on DefinedSTEM

The start of each new school year is such an exciting time for educators and students. After the summer break, educators head back into their classrooms and schools, hopefully feeling recharged, excited for the new school year, and ready with a list of new teaching ideas. Planning for the first day and first week back to school are so important, we want to set up our classrooms but also need to focus on the environment and culture we are creating. Of course, there are classroom expectations and class details that we need to share with our students, but we need to do something first. In starting to plan instruction and methods, we first should focus on learning about our students and showing that we are invested in their success. By starting here, we begin to develop our classroom culture and set up a welcoming environment for learning.

Welcoming students in and learning together

At the start of the school year, and every day thereafter, we should be intentional about being present. We need to spend time greeting all students and welcoming them back to school. Beyond the students on our rosters, It is important to acknowledge all students as we see them in the halls and throughout the building.  The power behind creating a positive and supportive climate in the building and in each classroom starts with teachers. When we are visible and show students that we are excited about school, we will start making connections that will help in fostering a positive classroom culture.

It can be challenging to start a daily routine of school after a summer break, or any extended break during the year. We must set a good example by engaging our students in conversations, showing an interest in who they are, encouraging and providing opportunities for peer connections. These intentional strategies to get to know our students will positively impact the learning environment

There are many ways to learn about our students. There are icebreakers and other games that can be used as a way to learn about one another. As educators, this is our opportunity to take time to encourage students to share their thoughts and interests with peers, and also what and how they hope to learn in your class.

Making those connections

There are many tools available to set up methods of communication and collaboration and to help students develop these critical skills for their future. For learning, we have to determine how to make ourselves available to students when they have questions or need additional support or resources. The questions do not stop when the school day ends, or over the weekend break. Without a way to ask questions during these times, students can become frustrated and the potential for learning diminishes. In our increasingly digital world, we have access to so many resources, but we also need to know how to find the right tools. First, I recommend that educators find a tool that enables students to connect, to ask questions, and to access classroom resources. Among the digital options available today, it still can be challenging to select the right one. A few examples are setting up a classroom website, a messaging app or using an LMS.

A classroom website is great for having a centralized location for students to access resources, post questions, review content and more. Websites and using LMS platforms can easily be set up using EdmodoSchoologyGoogle ClassroomWeebly a Google Site, or even Padlet.  Communication is also easier with a messaging tool that enables the sending of reminders, links to resources, or that integrates with other digital tools for learning. A few options are Bloomz (for parent-teacher communication) and Remind. There are several other options available, depending on your needs and the level you teach. I have used Voxer with several of my classes, especially for talking about Project Based Learning and sharing ideas and reflections.  One thing to keep in mind is to find out about the kind of technology and internet access available to the students.

Learning about each student

Even the slightest interactions can provide so much information about a student. It happens through those quick conversations as students enter the room, or by including fun activities in the lesson, and creating a supportive, welcoming environment where students feel valued. Engaging in some of these practices will help to build and foster positive relationships. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start creating connections with one other.

Some quick ways to get started are by having students create a collaborative Google Slides Presentation, or use another digital tool, like Buncee or even Padlet perhaps,  for students to create one slide or add some information. Encourage each student to contribute by adding in fun facts, share how they spent the summer, or the weekend,  to help each member of the class to learn about one another. I did this with my Spanish III and IV students and it was fun to learn more about each student and their summer experiences and we had some fun in the process.

A personal goal at the start of each school year is to learn about my students and help everyone start to feel comfortable in our classroom. We used some icebreaker games, a great game of Bingo, shared stories, and it definitely helps students to learn about each other and for me to learn about them.  Our classroom culture continues to develop each and with it brings new learning opportunities.

Another great way that I have found to learn about each student is through the use of project-based learning. When students have the choice to determine what it is that they want to study and can drive their own learning, we can connect more with each student and understand who they are and what their passions are for learning.  The students can learn about their peers as well as become more globally aware of what it is like to be a student in different parts of the world and to just really explore whatever it is that they want. For us as educators, it creates a way to extend our own learning and we can continue to improve and learn and grow with and from our students,  starting from the beginning of the year.

 

 

**Slightly updated from an earlier post, but some ideas to get that energy back up

Ending  the year with 5 random ideas: Going back to basics 

The end of the school year is a great time to try some new ideas. With summer approaching,  we have time to reflect on methods used this year and to seek out new ideas and tools, to come up with creative and innovative methods and ways to welcome to students back in the fall. Hopefully these new activities will help to keep students more engaged in learning.

Here are 5 ways to have students connect, collaborate and create. These are also helpful for building peer relationships and for reviewing content or assessing skills at the end of the year. These ideas can be no-tech or using something suggested by the students.

1) Random games or icebreaker style: There are tons of ways to create icebreakers, whether by using paper and pencil or even with digital tools. For example, with Buncee, Piktochart or Canva students can come up with four statements about themselves to share with classmates. These can be in the form of three truths and a lie, as a way to help students learn about their peers and for the teacher to learn about the students. It is beneficial for making connections with one another, finding things in common, but also to appreciate the different perspectives and backgrounds students bring into the classroom. It will be a great way to enhance communication and comfort in the classroom and also, if tech is used, to start teaching students alternative ways to present information.

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2) Categories:  Create a template with 4 or 5 different categories related to the content area and grade level being taught. After deciding on categories, select 5 or 6 letters of the alphabet, or use numbers, that students must use to come up with a word, topic or date, that ties into each category. Students can randomly be assigned to small groups and can then share what their group came up with. This activity will promote communication between peers and provide an opportunity for collaboration and some fun as well. It can also be a good way to have students review, be creative and brainstorm new ideas even. It will provide time for teachers to assess student needs and decide the next steps in the lesson, as we keep moving toward the summer break.

 

3) Word art: Students need different ways to practice the content and one way that helps some learners is through visual learning. Students can use vocabulary, verbs or any content material to generate word art. Students can create a word cloud using paper and marker or try using a digital tool like WordCloud, or WordItOut, or other similar word cloud generators available. After the word clouds are created, teachers can build on the learning potential by having students post their work in the classroom, having a gallery walk where other groups can discuss the terms, brainstorm new ideas, define or translate them (if a foreign language) and increase the authentic learning materials in the classroom.

 

4) Music: Music can really liven up the classroom and be useful for helping students remember the material. One idea is to have students create rhymes or a song using a vocabulary list, names of famous people, state or world capitals, monuments or anything related to the content area. Students can work in pairs or a small group and create a song which can be used as a mnemonic device, to help them retain the information in a more meaningful way. For presentation purposes, students can then have the choice of sharing live in class or perhaps trying a tool like Flipgrid or Recap to record and share with classmates. It can even be followed up by posting the video on a Padlet and encouraging students to comment in writing, or leave a reply on Flipgrid. These student creations will add to the authentic classroom resources and engage students more in learning.

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5) Creating games: Students can create a game as a way to help themselves and their peers practice the material. It can be a game made up using paper or any materials the students decide on or created using one of the digital tools available like Kahoot, Quizlet or Quizizz. Students will have a more authentic learning experience when they select the specific vocabulary they need to practice, which will will give more personalized learning opportunities.

In trying one or all of these activities, it presents an opportunity for the students to work together, to build their relationships, to collaborate and to engage in more authentic learning experiences. And it provides the teacher with an opportunity to step aside and become a facilitator, and to use the time as an opportunity to not only assess student learning but to interact more and provide feedback for students.

 

There are many ways to practice the content material and engage students more in learning, these are just a few of the ideas that I have tried in my classroom this school year, and they are a work in progress. Knowing that something works takes reflection and student input, and one thing I have noticed in the few short weeks we have been in school, is that students are asking more questions and thinking of new ways to extend their learning. I have more time to move around and work with every student and provide more individualized instruction and really understand each student’s progress.

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