classroom

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!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

Promoting Connected Learners

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

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

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

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

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

Tools to Engage Students in Learning

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

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

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

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

Creativity, Assessments, Interactive Lessons and More

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

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

Immersive Learning, Coding and Problem Solving

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

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

In the End

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

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

Published originally on Getting Smart, January 8, 2018

 

Have you noticed more discussion recently about Artificial Intelligence or AI? When first hearing “Artificial Intelligence” is there an image that pops into your mind? Is it something that you can easily define? Perhaps your understanding/reference point is something you’ve seen in the movies. For myself, being an 80s child, my initial frame of reference is Star Wars, I immediately think of R2D2 or C3PO. My mind then wanders to thoughts of “I, Robot” starring Will Smith, in which the robots developed the capacity to think like humans, to feel and to take action on their own. And more currently, I think of the Alexa, Echo, Siri and others that have gained popularity, even more so recently. But what is the true meaning of AI and how do we see it in daily life?

The concept of “Artificial intelligence” can be hard to understand/grasp, especially when trying to think about how it can be applied to education as well as many other sectors of society. In December 2015, the Getting Smart #AskAboutAI research began and over these two years, they have identified over 100 applications of AI to life in areas such as recreation, transportation, education, healthcare and gaming to name just a few. The campaign focused on AI in regard to three objectives: employment, ethics and education. How can AI be beneficial for different industries, what are some of the uses, what are the benefits and risks associated with it, and of greater personal interest, what are the possibilities for AI in education.

According to Getting Smart’s “Ask About AI” report, the notion behind AI is that machines can exhibit human intelligence. The concept of “machine learning” started in 1956 and is when algorithms are used to interpret data and take some action or to complete a task. As a foreign language teacher, I became aware of machine learning years ago, in the form of language translators. AI, at its base, is computer code that displays some form of intelligence, learning, and problem solving in what has been referred to as a “super intelligence.” It is the development of computers that can complete tasks which normally require “human intelligence” however it learns on its own and continues to improve on past iterations. AI becomes smarter, knowledge grows, and it expands the realm of possibilities for society. Machine learning is actually a subset of artificial intelligence. It is said that all Machine Learning is AI, but not all AI is Machine Learning.

Everyday uses of Machine Learning and AI that you may not be aware of.

In my quest to learn more about AI and its implications for the future of learning, I needed to first understand how we were already using AI and perhaps, not even realizing it. I asked colleagues for their thoughts on AI and many were as unsure as I about how it is being used currently. Here are 5 common uses:

  1. Communication: Spam filters, powered by AI, streamline the amount of spam appearing in your inbox. As email senders (real or automated) become more careful with selecting words which have not been flagged previously, the filters need to adapt and continue to learn based on words that the user also flags. There is an added component of ML in this, in that through the algorithms already in place by the email provider, additional filters are then created.  Google takes it even further by continuously learning the types of email messages which are marked as “important”.
  2. Travel: If you have taken a ride using Uber or Lyft, you have experienced ML (Machine Learning), which is used to predict rider demand and to calculate ETA( Estimated Time of Arrival). The airline industry uses AI, since autopilot qualifies as AI, where it is estimated that “human steered” flight time is only seven minutes of actual flight length.
  3. Social networking: When we use Facebook to share photos, the artificial intelligence is able to detect faces in the image and suggest a name to tag the person. Facebook has continued to add new features as part of its AI Initiative, to generate a more personalized and interactive user experience. Some social media sites, such as Twitter, generate lists of accounts to follow, chats to join, and news feeds of interest based on an analysis of user input and data. Even Google with its “cards” can provide a variety of personal recommendations based on your search history.
  4. Online Shopping: One that comes to mind quickly is Amazon, and how it suggests items you may be interested in, as a result of your prior searches and order history. Systems are in place to protect consumers against fraud, with alerts being sent almost simultaneously to an attempted transaction that is not recognized as a “typical” purchase or located in a non-home base location. All of this done through AI, which is used for identifying fraudulent transactions.
  5. Education: Teachers and students have a wide range of tools available, ranging from Google Searches, in which alternate search terms are instantly suggested, citation generators, plagiarism checkers, and even Siri has become a popular tool for searches. An astounding amount of information generated instantly, far more advanced from thirty years ago and society’s reliance on card catalogs, calculators and books.

But what does AI mean for today’s classrooms?

Looking at these common uses in everyday life makes it easier to think about some ways that Artificial Intelligence can transform classrooms. Where will we see the biggest benefits? I think that it is important to take a look at your own classroom and consider: What are some of the tasks that are typically done? How are you and the students spending your class time? What are some ways that you could get some of that time back by using AI? Time to dream big!

Thinking about my own classroom, some of the most time-consuming tasks are conferencing and finding time to work with each student, creating and reviewing assessments, locating appropriate supplemental activities to differentiate for students, offering more engaging and immersive learning experiences. AI can address each of these areas, increasing the time available to spend doing more interactive lessons, having students lead, having more time to focus on relationships in the classroom and truly providing students with a world full of opportunities, personalized to their needs and instantly available.

So how can AI help?

  1. Communication:  Students and teachers will be able to communicate instantly with one another as well as to connect with other forms of AI around the world. Students instantly paired with peers, helping each student to expand their own personal learning networks, with personalized and more authentic connections that will meet the students’ interests and needs at any given moment. Think of the benefits for being able to converse with AI or a virtual peer, which has been located based on an assessment of student needs and error analyses. Build foreign language skills, talk to someone about school, family, life in a country being studied, possibilities are endless for language learning.
  2. Differentiation: With the availability of AI,  students and teachers will be able to connect with resources they need exactly when they need them. The entire internet of resources accessible within seconds, deliverable to each student saving valuable time for more interaction between teacher and student, and students and students. Through AI, students can have access to one to one tutors, creating more authentic learning experiences by pairing students with an expert or a virtual peer to learn with. Think of the benefits if each student could have instant access to a tutor wherever and whenever they needed one.
  3. Personalization: What better way to offer more personalized learning opportunities for students than to have AI be able to analyze student responses, determine areas of need and interest, and find resources or create new questions to help students to greater understanding of the content. What about the potential for informing the classroom teacher, and working together to create new learning opportunities for students, but in a faster way, that relates directly to the student needs and offers authentic and timely feedback.
  4. Exploration: With the rise of augmented and virtual reality, and the benefits of bringing these into the classroom for students to have a more immersive learning experience and to see places and explore things that otherwise they would not, AI can be a tremendous benefit for this. Through AI, resources could be found instantly based on student responses, or for the entire classroom to experience. Capabilities such as these are not something that will be limited by the time and place of the classroom setting. AI could show students want they want to explore, find ways to bring the content to life instantly.
  5. Assessments: AI could help teachers to assess students and streamline the grading process, with the added benefit of being able to quickly take the data, provide an analysis for teachers, so that time can be saved for more classroom interactions. It can help with student achievement, making sure that each student has the opportunity to learn and grow, benefitting from the faster responses through AI.

Considerations for the future.

Even though there has been concern expressed for what AI could mean for education: would AI lead to the replacement of teachers? Would the use of AI in the classroom have any negative impacts on student learning? There could not be a replacement of teachers because AI cannot help students to build SEL skills and learn from human interactions, vital components of relationships in the classroom. So in the end, what could AI do? Here are 10 roles for AI that can be used in education.

AI can quickly interpret a student’s needs and design an appropriate assessment. It can show students mastery, repeat lessons as needed and quickly design a personalized learning plan for each student. AI could provide teachers with a virtual teaching assistant, (something that was done in 2015 without students even knowing), which then frees time for the teacher to move around the room and facilitate learning. But more than just teachers and students, it can be a way to support parents by involving them in the learning environment of students and providing them with the information they need to help their students be successful when they’re not in the classroom. The future likely holds a lot of possibilities for AI and teachers can take the opportunity to be informed of the possibilities and being open to discussions with students.

Published originally on Getting Smart December 15, 2017

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

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

Why should students learn to code?

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

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

Getting Started

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

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

Working with students

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

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

Ten resources to try

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

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

Published on Getting Smart, November 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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How to design more active learning experiences:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have really enjoyed getting to know the creators of Quizizz and being able to try some of the new features and learn about how they got started with this great learning tool. I am impressed with their dedication to creating a learning tool that will engage students in learning and offer more ways for students to engage in more authentic experiences. There is more to come from them, stay tuned!

Quizizz has continued to improve and add new features over the past two years,  especially with the option to assign games for practice, which students can do wherever they are, at any time. There is so much discussion and debate about the value of homework, and the “value” in having students complete the exact same assignment. Quizizz offers a better way to engage students in more authentic practice and be able to receive feedback available instantly. It is of great benefit for students to then be able to review their responses after completing the game. Learning opportunities like this are much more authentic than having students complete a traditional worksheet.

Joining a game of Quizizz simply requires sharing a join code with students, whether it be during a live session or assigned as a practice game. Teachers can set up a practice game for students and extend the time period that the game is open, for up to 15 days, and if students start the game, they can resume at a later time by using the same login information.

In addition to these ways of sharing the game, I was absolutely thrilled to find that I can assign the games directly to my students through Edmodo which is our base for our class.  I had been sharing games by posting the join code on our class pages in Edmodo, and I had no idea that this option existed until I created the game for practice, and it showed up as an option. Let me just say that my students in the room wondered what happened because I jumped up and yelled “YES!”  I really was excited to see this available. 

How does it work? When assigning a game for practice, you now have the option for sharing to Edmodo. When this is done, it creates an assignment where you can choose which class to assign it to, and you can also provide additional instructions. Once completed,  it posts the game directly to Edmodo for students to access. This addition makes it a lot easier to share games rather than having to remember the join code or going back to search through the reports to find it. Quizizz also integrates with Google Classroom.

Earlier this fall, Quizizz also launched their app, ZipQuiz, full of games to challenge friends in different content areas. Read about it in my prior post here.

 

Stay tuned for some new things coming from Quizizz, not going to give any details yet, but let’s just say, they’ve got some really great updates and features coming out very soon. Stay tuned!!

 

These are just a few of the newer updates to some very popular digital tools. If you have not tried them, choose one and start there. See what your students think, and see how adding just one of these in can increase student engagement and provide more meaningful practice for students.

Next up, taking a lot at the AR and VR tools available! Metaverse, Merge VR, CoSpaces, ARKit

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