Focus in the new school year: Building relationships

Focus in the new school year: Building relationships

Rachelle Dene Poth

It is time for many to head back to the classrooms and prepare for a new year of learning and growing. It is an exciting time for educators and students to have new opportunities to learn and to reconnect. Hopefully educators and students are excited and recharged for the new year and the possibility of new ideas for learning.

For me, I am intentional in planning activities to get to know my students and for them to know one another. I often rely on some traditional methods like icebreakers and conversations, however, I also enjoy using some of the different digital tools as a way to gather some quick feedback but also to learn more about the students in our classroom.

By planning for some relationships building on that first day and during the first week back to school, we can focus on the environment and culture we are creating for our students. Covering course details and class expectations are important, but we should start by building a solid foundation so that we can work together. By starting here, we foster a positive classroom culture and welcoming environment for learning.

Learning Together

Starting from the very first day, we should be intentional about being present. Being at our classroom doors and in the hallways to greet our students as they arrive and welcome them to school is a great way to start. It is important to acknowledge all students as we see them in the halls and throughout the building, a positive step in creating a supportive climate in the building and in each classroom. We have the power to do this when we are visible and make connections to help foster a positive space for learning.

Starting back to the daily routine of school after a summer break, or any extended break during the year, always presents a good opportunity to try new ideas and to build relationships. Using intentional strategies, we can get to know our students by using games and activities that will connect classmates and will positively impact the learning environment

We can use low tech or no tech to do some icebreakers and other games to learn about one another and in some cases, review the content from the prior year. As educators, it is during this time that we should encourage students to share their stories, to make their own connections and to share with us what their goals are for our class. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to get started, whether or not edtech is involved, but it can be a great way to introduce some of the digital tools that will be used throughout the year.

Start connecting

In my classroom, we use a lot of tools throughout the year and many are focused on streamlining communication and collaboration within our classroom but also for connecting globally. Being available to our students when they have questions or need access to class resources is important since their questions do not stop when the school day ends, or over the weekend break. We also want our students to be able to connect globally and using these tools to help them facilitate these connections makes sense. Always focus on the why behind using an edtech tool in your classrooms.

How do we find the right tools

My first recommendation is that educators talk to PLN and colleagues about specific needs in a tool. Do we want students to be able to connect, to ask questions, to access classroom resources, and to interact online? Or do we want students to create presentations that they can share or collaborate in? Or maybe we want alternative ways for students to show their learning based on their needs and interests? All of these options exist. Here are five tools to explore and that are easy to get started with.

  1. Buncee is a “one stop tool” that educators and students need for creating a multimedia presentation full of animations, emojis, stickers, 360 images and also includes audio and video and a lot more. So many ways to create graphics, bookmarks, presentations, flipped lessons and more.
  2. Remind makes communication easier by enabling the sending of reminders, links to resources, or even photos, and it integrates with other digital tools that teachers use for learning.
  3. Padlet is thought of as a virtual wall. It helps students to collaborate, write a response to a discussion question, or even add resources for a collaborative class project, or for brainstorming,
  4. Wakelet is a great tool for curating content to share with students or for having students contribute to a Wakelet collection. As a teacher, I love using the Wakelet extension to save articles and websites that I come across while doing research.
  5. Synth is for podcasting. Students can create a podcast to discuss a topic, perhaps interview a “special guest.” It can be a different way to engage students in a discussion, promote student voice and implement a new tech tool in the classroom.

One thing to keep in mind is to make sure we are aware of any accessibility issues for our students and their families. Find out about the kind of technology and internet access available to the students when they are not in school.

Learn With Students

We learn so much from our students. Beyond the content that we teach, there are so many opportunities to extend the learning that happens in our classrooms. Whether from a quick conversation or during fun activities that we include in the lesson, we are always learning Trying some new strategies and using some of the many different digital tools to expand how, when, and where students learn can be a good example to set for students. Take some risks in the classroom and use one of these to help build and foster positive relationships. Why not have students create an About Me Buncee or Padlet, or share stories using Synth and then listen, and stay connected with Remind. As educators, it gives us a way to extend our own learning and to continue to learn and grow with our students. Sometimes we just need a new idea or tool to spark that curiosity and excitement for learning.

BIO

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Edtech Consultant, Attorney and author. Follow her on Twitter at @Rdene915

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

5 Ideas for Building Communication Skills for the Future

My prior post on Getting Smart

Looking toward the future, as we consider how to best prepare our students for jobs that may not exist yet, what are the skills that will benefit them no matter what they decide to do? If we look at the research, trends over the past five or ten years of the top skills required by employees, there are a few that have stayed in place if not shifted toward the top because they are becoming increasingly more important. Looking at the shift from 2015 to the projections for 2020 and beyond, what do students need?

We’ve been talking about 21st century skills for a long time, often referring to how we are addressing the four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration within our respective content areas and/or our roles. I have even heard mention of the “5Cs” and “7Cs,” with the addition of character, computational thinking, and citizenship included in the “C’s” of 21st century learning. With the increased use of technology in our classrooms and  daily lives, we can leverage some of these digital tools to help our students build the vital skills that will benefit them in the future, regardless of where their learning journey or careers take them.

As a Spanish teacher, I am always interested in finding ways to help students communicate their ideas, to express themselves in the language of study. Beyond language skills, I also want to help them learn how to communicate and collaborate with one another in various settings and contexts and in different media formats.

What are some tools that we can use to help our students become better communicators and to build confidence and promote student voice in learning?

Here are five different platforms or ideas that I think can be very beneficial for student learning and will help educators to implement some digital tools into the classroom without taking too much time to get started.

Written Communication

Students need to do a lot of writing to build their skills although this does not necessarily need to involve technology. However, the benefit of using digital tools for written communication can enhance student learning by creating more meaningful connections and providing different formats for students to convey their thoughts. Blogging is an effective tool to promote writing skills and literacy, to build digital citizenship skills, and to help students create a digital portfolio where they can track their own growth and build self-awareness as a result. Using tools like KidblogBlogger, or Seesaw offers students a space where they can take more ownership in learning, track their progress and growth over time, and become more comfortable and confident as they express themselves in a space where they can truly develop their ideas. It also promotes collaboration and fosters relationship building and getting to know our students.

Video Response

We also want to promote oral communication and give students opportunities to engage in speaking, especially if students tend to be shy in the classroom and prefer not to speak in front of their peers. We can leverage the video tools available to give students a comfortable space to begin building their speaking skills. In the past, I used Recap (now Synth), and students expressed how much it helped them to feel more comfortable to share their ideas, to reflect on project-based learning, and to be able to record their thoughts wherever they were and in a way that was comfortable. Flipgrid with its updated features offers more than just recording videos, it also promotes the opportunity for students to become global collaborators, and explore different ideas and perspectives from students in their classes. We can also use these tools to more easily connect our students with classrooms and experts around the world.

Podcasting

There are a lot of educational podcasts and platforms for creating them, depending on the amount of time you have, the age of your students and access to these resources. One idea is to start one podcast for the class, post a question for discussion and have students respond by creating a thread of their own to each question. Perhaps students can create their own podcasts or listen to the podcasts of their classmates, to focus on listening comprehension skills and also use it as a way to further expand conversations in and out of the classroom. We can build relationships between our students as they begin to better understand their classmates and make connections with one another. Students could work together to create a podcast to share within the class or to create for the school community, which would be a great way to facilitate that home to school connection to share the work being done by students in our classrooms.

Infographics

Having students work on conveying information, communicating ideas, even advanced or complex concepts, is sometimes more difficult if limited to writing a report or sticking to solely traditional methods. However, by using infographics, students learn to break down information and sort and share the most important facts or the data and determine how to best convey it to someone else. We meet the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Standards for Students by using activities like this because students are creative communicators, they develop computational thinking skills, problem-solving, and become empowered in their learning as they choose how to convey their information. We connect them more authentically with the content. Some digital tools to try are Adobe SparkBunceeCanva, or Piktochart. However, it does not have to involve technology.  It’s not about using tech, it’s about the activity itself and how that can benefit students. Giving students the choice to use a digital tool or simply use paper and do something like a sketchnote or other visual representation, will still develop their skills in this area.

Videos and Vlogging

If these options have been tried, educators may try out vlogging to take learning to a higher level or simply to just build upon each one of the other ideas. Even if these are simply created for use in the classroom and not shared publicly, having students create and experience the power of video for communicating and being able to create these products, will no doubt benefit them in the future. Whether students create a screencast or do a short talk about a topic of study, they are engaged in project-based learning, teaching a lesson and recording it so it can be used for other students in the class. Some digital tools to explore are WeVideo and Educreations.

There are many options out there; it just takes thinking about what we’re already doing in our classroom and making one slight change to do something a little bit differently. Or as I have done in my classroom, offer all of these possibilities for students. At times, this initially felt a little uncomfortable  because it was so open, but it had huge benefits for student learning and engagement. I want my students to build their skills with technology and connect with what we are learning in the classroom, but I also very much value the power of choice and making sure that students feel comfortable. For this, I sometimes start by offering choices and then letting students decide what will work best for them. When they do, I’m there to support and encourage them to take the next step.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Keeping the Learning Going

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been a lot of conversations about what educators will do if schools need to experience school closures or move to a hybrid model in the upcoming school year. With so many uncertainties when it comes to the pandemic, it has definitely been a challenge to figure out how to provide the best learning experiences for our students and to keep them engaged and motivated during this time. I miss being in my classroom and the interactions with my students, greeting them at the door, working with them on activities and projects in that classroom” space” although the time we had never seemed to be enough!

Finding ways to extend the “space” of learning for our students has been a popular topic of discussion for many years, and something that I have worked on, so it is not entirely something new. However, with our current global situation, educators and schools are seeking to find the right resources that can be put into action right away and that will work for transitioning back into the classrooms too. I love that I can create a message to share with students, to check in and  for them to connect with each other.

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We must look for ways to provide rich learning experiences through versatile tools that students can access and work on independently wherever they are and regardless of time. What I have suggested to many educators is finding one or two tools that enable them to do many of the same things they would do in the classroom and even more. With Buncee, we can work remotely and provide meaningful learning experiences that engage students in the digital space as well as our physical classroom spaces. As students create, they can work from school, at home, or anywhere, and be able to share their work with classmates and teachers, even globally.

Endless Possibilities with Buncee

One of the things that I love the most about Buncee is that it can be used in so many different ways, not only for instruction in our classrooms but also in life. I tell the story often that I have used Buncee personally to create cards for family and friends, personal business cards, design engaging graphics for Twitter chats and presentations for webinars, or to make quote graphics for my books. There are so many ways to use it and for me, it always comes down to the why, or the purpose for choosing a specific digital tool. What can I use it for? What are the benefits? How does it help students to learn, to be more engaged in learning and to build skills?

When I decide to use digital tools in my classroom, I want students to practice the content in a more authentic and engaging way, while also developing essential skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity that will benefit them in the future but that are necessary now too.

Having a specific platform or digital tool in place that all educators can use and making sure that all students will have access is very important. As teachers, we have so many choices for how we can use Buncee in our classrooms and we can share ideas for families to use it for activities too. It is a versatile tool that provides multiple ways for people to learn and to express themselves.We’ve tried a lot of different ways for using Buncee in the classroom, many of which have been a result of the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking of the students.

Unlock the Power of Creativity

It just takes logging into Buncee to unlock the power of creativity once you see a library of more than 31,000 graphics with new assets added every day that connect with what is happening in the world. Regardless of what you want to create, there are more than enough choices for what to add into your multimedia presentation. Students (and anyone) can quickly create a multimedia presentation full of animations, drawings, stickers, emojis, 3D objects, Buncee messages, 360 images, audio and video embedded and even student artwork!

Beyond the potential for creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication, using Buncee, students can build skills in digital media literacy, technological proficiency, and digital citizenship. Students have the opportunity to use technology as a tool for solving real-world problems or making real-world connections.

Buncee is so invested in providing a lot of options and opportunities for students and educators to enjoy learning, creating and growing together. I have been proud to be a part of this growing educator community and have learned so much from the connections that I have made and from the relationships that have formed with the Buncee team and Buncee Ambassadors.

I looked for some examples and asked for some feedback from ambassadors and Buncee educators.

Buncee has been a wonderful asset during this time of remote teaching/learning.  I used Buncee every week to create my lesson plans.  I would make a copy and adjust my template to what I needed for that week. I also used Buncee to create flyers for our school-wide virtual spirit days.  
Buncee provided templates that I was able to use both for paper packets as well as digital templates for the students who were able to connect digitally (even if that number is small).
One big way that Buncee was a help was the sense of community and support that it provided during this time.”   Jessica Chandler 

 

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“It is such a special time for my students and for me as we look back.” Barbie Monty.

Barbie worked on the Hugs4Heroes initiative with Kristina Holzweiss and Amy Storer and there was also the #WithHeartWhileApart.

Check out this Buncee Board with more than 10,000 views!

Check out Buncee’s posts on Ideas for the end of the year and Summer Fun!

10 activities for a productive summer

Here are some of the latest ideas that have been shared.

Explore virtual classrooms.The Merrills shared a template and I created several virtual classrooms for my students!

Check out Marie’s virtual classroom where she lost her Bunceemen!

Explore Summer fun for early learners

A new habit in 21 days activity

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My Spanish I virtual classroom

Art Classroom by Colette

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Kristen Regan’s Classroom!

Check out Parent Newsletters from Laurie Guyon

Barbie Monty said, “My favorite is having my students create a Buncee end of the year reflection.

Bonnie Foster created a Covid-19 Survivor certificate

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Ide Koulbanis is having students plan a trip! Bunceeman Adventure

Daily Reflective Thoughts by Don Sturm

Test Prep and Motivation: Amy Nichols

Self-care suggestions

End of the year celebrations and certificates or make a Buncee Card! 

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Virtual Camps!

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To learn more, join in the daily live webinars with Buncee at 12 and 3pm eastern. I also have webinars on Tuesdays at 4pm!

Check out the Ideas Lab!

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Fun badges and learning opportunities!

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Challenges, Connections, and Learning every day!

Recently I had a colleague ask me for some ideas for dealing with challenges when it comes to classroom management, student behaviors and just keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. I’m always happy to have time to talk with other educators, there is so much to learn by connecting. I think sometimes there is an assumption that because someone may have been teaching for 10 or more years, or worked in the same school district for a long period of time, that’s there is a higher level of knowledge and skill held by a teacher that fits into this description. While of course the more that you teach, it might seem like you would have a lot of ideas and answers to share with younger or new to the school teachers, but the longer you have taught also means, I think, that you have that much more to learn.

Having taught for about the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of different experiences, some good, some bad, some in-between and some just absolutely fantastic. I have been in the position where I needed to improve, and felt like no matter what I tried to do or could try to do, that I just would not succeed. That I would lose my job. I’ve also been at the opposite end where I felt like things were going well, I could feel more success and a change in how I had been teaching in the classroom and in my connections and relationships that I had built with the students and colleagues.

 

I think if you ask any educator, most can probably identify the best year they’ve had, and if they can’t, they just can’t yet. We always have room to grow and things take time. How do educators decide what makes it the best year? For some, is it a year without many challenges, the students are well-behaved, homework is complete, other clerical tasks and responsibilities held by the teacher are finished, observations went very well and teacher ratings are satisfactory or proficient or whatever the ranking may be? Maybe. But how do we truly define what would be the best year ever?

It takes time to build

I am fairly certain that last year was the best year I’ve had yet. I think because I changed a lot of things in my classroom, I stopped worrying so much about having every minute of every class accounted for and instead gave the students more possibilities to lead in the classroom and for me to have more opportunities to interact with them. Now it did not come without its challenges, some student behaviors that in some cases pushed me so far beyond frustration that I thought I reached my breaking point. I reacted in ways that I was not proud of, but I let the frustration get the best of me. I stopped seeing the student and only saw the behaviors. My “lens” had become clouded and it took some reflection and just not feeling very good about it for me to realize that I had to do something different.

 

The common feeling or response is when you feel like there is a lot to handle or come up with a plan for, can feel so isolating. you might feel lost or like others are judging you based on what you perceive to be your weak areas when it comes to instruction. And I’ve had a few people confide in me that they feel like they’re too different or too weird or they’re not normal enough to be teachers. Hearing those kinds of things breaks my heart because I don’t want to see teachers become disengaged or to lose their passion for doing the work that teachers do because of worrying about how others may or may not perceive them.

My response is always it’s good to be different, what does normal look like anyway? Does normal mean everybody gets and does the same thing? Does being normal mean you fit into some kind of mold, one that may or may not be who you truly are? I think the best that we can do for our students is to show them who we are because we want to know who they are.

We can’t hide behind some perceived idea or model of what a teacher should or should not look like. Nor should we compare ourselves to our colleagues or other teachers that we may have had in our own experience. When we do this we lose sight of something and I think it’s important for us to demonstrate and model for students. We need to worry about ourselves first and only compete with who we are today by judging it based on who we become tomorrow. Everyone has weaknesses, everybody struggles, everybody feels like they don’t belong at times, a friend once wrote about being in the land of misfits, I’m totally fine with that.

 

What can we do, regardless of what year we are in during our careers? New teachers have a lot to offer us veteran teachers, there are better pre-service teacher programs and more information available to current students that are seeking to get into the profession, than what is available to us veteran teachers, who may not have access to or may not even know they exist. And for the new teachers, when you are assigned to have a mentor in your school, I really don’t think you should consider it to be that you are the learner and that you must follow and adhere to all of the advice of your mentor. You have to decide who you want to be, what is your purpose, your why, your spark, your passion for doing what you’re doing?

It starts with us and it always starts with us to take that first step. We have to be okay with who we are and commit to doing whatever is best for our own personal and professional growth but being mindful of what that means and how it will impact those we lead and learn with.

So if at any time you feel down or lost or frustrated or like you’re becoming disengaged or that you don’t fit in, please send me a message. I’d love to talk to you and share some of my own experiences on my 25-year learning journey.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

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Can iPad Pro (2018) Replace Teacher Laptops?

 

Guest Post by, Jeffrey Patrick, M.Ed, Computer Science Integration Teacher, Propel Homestead  @jeffreypatrick_

The worst thing happened. My MacBook Pro fell. It slipped right off of my lap. The black screen of death has arrived. I got this MacBook Pro to get me through graduate school. It did its job, and I taught with it everyday for over 5 years. Since switching to Mac in 2004, it was my second in over a decade. The Apple tax hits you hard at first, but honestly these devices seem to last way longer than PCs that I’ve owned. I realize that there are alternatives, but I’m in the Apple ecosystem, and for me it’s a good place to be. None of that mattered now, I needed a new device, and I went on the internet to research. There it was, the iPad Pro.

The new iPad Pro (2018) has been my daily driver for about 6 months. I’m not yet running iPad OS, but its “MacBook” features are promising. More on that a little later. The main eye catching specification on the new iPad Pro is the A12X bionic chip. Apple has been making huge strides with its SOC chips. The iPad Pro, the one I’m using, has a Geekbench score of 5000 and a multi core score of 18000. It’s fast. It’s really fast. My old 2012 MacBook Pro 15 inch with and I7 processor and 16GB of Ram maxes out at 13000. Yes, this iPad is faster than many entry level MacBooks and some of the pros, and all MacBook airs. In some situations, the 11 inch model can be had for bout 700.00 dollars. That’s easily 3 hundred cheaper than the cheapest air, and it’s more powerful.

This device does everything faster. Typing, with a Bluetooth keyboard, editing Doink videos with green screens, coding applications, social media, mirroring examples for students to Promethean boards, using external displays with usb-c, and taking great photos are a few of my favorites. I’ve even had a smoother experience using Apple Classroom when controlling student iPads. The blazing fast 120hz screen refresh rate makes for nearly zero latency for the Apple Pencil too.

This machine is almost the MacBook that I’ve forgot about. Here’s where the caveats come in. It is a mobile device. That means using mobile versions and apps for almost everything. I ran into several issues when editing google docs and sheets because of the mobile platform. This was exacerbated by the limited view of document settings and tool bar menus. I imagine that Google with eventually fix some of these issues, but I’m sure they are more concerned about developing for their own devices. There is also no SD card reader. I mainly use this to print from our classroom 3D printer, but it’s annoyingly very mobile when it comes to these little tasks. My MacBook Pro could handle these simple tasks without any issues at all. Oh, and no mouse. This is really frustrating when doing word processing or trying to select specific text. It’s more like a long press with a little menu that you get on iPhones. It’s not as fast as a mouse right click, and painfully awkward when editing and moving things around.

The future is bright with iPad OS though. iPad OS is set to be announced soon, and it is the first time that iPad will have its own version of Apple’s OS. Part of the main features are the ability to use external storage, like SD cards, and a native file management system. It will also feature a full version of Safari that will display and act the same as a browser on a full Mac OS platform. It also has a very color accurate display which Apple calls the Liquid Retina display. Text, videos, apps, and the camera look great. They look really good. I’m even typing on it right now. This is not going to replace desktop hardware, and it’s not meant to. However, as a busy teacher, I use the iPad Pro everyday to teach with. It’s a good choice if considering a new device or in the case you don’t want to pay Apple 600.00 dollars for a new display in an out of warranty 2012 MacBook Pro.

If you think this is a good transition for you or you already own and/or teach with iPads, I recommend becoming an Apple Teacher. I have earned all of their badges, and they do a great job at getting you oriented as an educator. In addition to this, Apple has started an Everyone can Create and an Everyone can Code program. You can download their free CS For all Scope and Sequence as well as easy to use lesson plans. Also visit their Apple Disguised Educator forum to get great ideas from teacher leaders from around the world.

So the MacBook isn’t entirely dead, and I like to tinker. I’ve decided to take the hinge off of my old MacBook, and its’ currently hooked up to my school Promethean board with a wireless keyboard and a mouse. When I have it at home, I use it in target display mode with an iMac. It still works really well as a desktop replacement. It’s also a great teaching tool when showing students different components of hardware.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

 

Core Solutions Provided through the Abre Platform

This post is sponsored by Abre, all opinions are my own.

Abre provides a set of solutions for schools looking to manage and consolidate the different software apps and websites used for student attendance, assessments, communication, student data and much more. Abre offers a robust platform that enables you to choose specific solution areas to get started and then add to it over time, continuing to build additional features of Abre into your school.

Communication

With Abre, you can facilitate faster and better communication within the district, schools, and between home and school. Abre offers a consistent and reliable way to streamline the numerous communications happening within the school and school district. Having a consolidated and reliable platform helps to foster and build home-to-school relationships, promote better communication, and student success.

Learning Management Solution

Abre provides one space where teachers can access the resources necessary for classroom instruction and teaching responsibilities. Included within the Learning Management solution are a group of web apps such as Class. A teacher uses Class to communicate and manage all classroom activity, do grading, post homework and generally manage instruction. The Assessment App allows for easy creation, delivery, and analysis of formative and summative assessments. Schools can organize the curriculum, including pacing guides, for all their classes with the Curriculum App. For tracking progress through a lesson, the Learn App delivers on that. To make sure students are staying on task with their devices, the Focus App ensures that the browser is only being used for teacher-defined websites and documents.

Data Management & Integrations

Abre is all about consolidating data to help administrators, teachers, and students improve. Abre integrates with a large and growing number of other software providers. They even integrate with products that provide competitive solutions to theirs. The Students App is the centerpiece of this solution and provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place. It also saves paper! Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, which are easily accessible within the Abre platform. Individual student plans are also accessible in the Student app. Again, this provides a single place for staff and parents to easily find all their student’s information.

Administrators can access all student data and track growth over time, look at state and local assessments to analyze trends in academic performance. Parents can access student data which includes academic performance, behavior, forms completed, attendance, and state assessments. Access to this vital data is made simple with one platform!

Teacher Professional Learning Solution

For districts looking for better professional development options for teachers, through Abre, teachers can create their own staff and individualized professional development plan for use over an extended time. Abre offers a more flexible solution making it easier for administrators and teachers to create, deliver, and track professional development activities. Abre can integrate schools’ digital courseware and customized courses for delivering staff development.

For completing courses online or in face-to-face environments, districts can offer teachers opportunities to earn badges, micro-credentials, and engage in gamified professional development. This is great for building professional portfolios, as teachers can use these activities to receive CEU credits or hours awarded based on state requirements for continued professional development.

School Management Solution

Similar to Learning Management, Abre provides great functionality for staff to manage day-to-day school requirements. The Behavior App helps with the workflow, easy documentation and tracking student data when either positive or negative behavior needs to be documented. The workflow features are especially helpful for office referrals where other administrators are needing to get involved and having transparency for parents is important. Abre Behavior takes on a significant portion of this manual work.

  • Easy to understand graphs and plots for tracking student progress.
  • Teachers can see details in terms of specific consequences as a result of any behaviors and referrals. The bar graph represents conferences, detentions, in-school and out-of-school suspensions.
  • The behavior app links directly to the student information so everything is readily accessible which leads to a better understanding of each student and their needs.

Beyond behavior, the School Management Solution allows admins and teachers to easily create and manage individual student and teacher plans. Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers with the school, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, are easily accessible within the platform. Whether teachers need to create an IEP, a gifted education plan, behavior or Response to Intervention (RTI) plan, teachers can build exactly what they need and have it live in Abre. And Abre provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place.

Likewise, administrators can work with teachers to create professional development plans using the same solution. It makes sense to have one platform that provides all of these options. For teachers, students, parents and administrators, having access to student data and other information is vital for promoting and tracking student growth. This solution really saves a lot of paper.

Connected Community Solution

Abre sees connecting schools with the communities they serve as critical to student growth. The Connected Community solution facilitates the exchange of important information, data and communications between students and administrators and members of their community. Abre allows a school’s learning partners to register in the Abre platform, roster the students in their programs back to the school, and enable the safe exchange of student attendance and other data. This is critical for schools to evaluate all of the influences that are growing their students. And for learning partners, it is how they can better understand whether their programs are meeting the needs of the students.

As an example, looking toward the future of learning and work, it’s important that we provide options for our students to engage in real-world learning experiences. One outstanding feature coming from the Partners App is where districts can add local businesses into the platform and facilitate connections between students and members of the community. The goal is to manage, track and capture quality attendance data when students take advantage of opportunities for place-based learning, experiential learning, CTE, and service-based learning.

Abre also lets students and staff create digital portfolios based on the work they’ve done. These portfolios are a powerful way of demonstrating, beyond the test scores, what they have learned and the skills they have acquired. Schools can then choose to allow these portfolios to be shared with others such as businesses, other schools, or organizations.

Privacy

Abre is FERPA compliant. The student information is only released with parental permission.

Using Abre is quite simple and I find that it is easy to navigate, which makes it a great choice for all users, whether they are beginners or advanced when it comes to implementing technology. By using a robust tool like Abre, educators and parents have immediate access to a lot of data. Abre is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration, and much more. It provides benefits for teachers for tracking PD, administrators looking to provide a comprehensive and consolidated platform to meet the needs of their schools and students, parents looking to stay connected with student learning and be informed of important information regarding their child’s education.

Abre

This post is sponsored by Abre. Opinions expressed are my own.

The story behind Abre

Beyond knowing what a particular tool does or how a platform works and the benefit for educators, families, and schools, I enjoy getting to know the people behind the tools. Understanding their story and motivation for creating their product helps to make a more authentic connection with them. I had the chance to speak with Damon Ragusa, CEO of Abre and Don Aicklen, VP of Sales, to learn more about the platform and what it offers for education.

What is Abre?

Abre is a platform that grew out of a need to help schools provide more for educators, students and the school community at large. Chris Rose and Zach Vander Veen, co-founders of Abre, noticed that there were so many different apps and tools being used in education that it was becoming challenging to keep everyone informed consistently. The concern was that staff, students and parents were using multiple tools which led to an increase in confusion and the amount of time needed to manage them. Chris and Zach then created this platform for use within school districts.

Why Abre?

Parents, educators, administrators, and students need to be able to exchange important school information, access school data, track student progress, and facilitate communication between home and school efficiently. The challenge with multiple apps and tools being used throughout one school system is that it becomes more difficult to keep everyone connected as they need to be. Now school districts have a better way to solve the disconnect and provide more streamlined communication, school news, access to critical information like student data and software solutions to carry out the daily work. The answer is Abre.

How does Abre help?

Abre offers so much within one platform that it resolves many of those challenges initially identified by the founders and that are still faced by many schools and districts. Without having to manage multiple logins and learn a variety of single-purpose systems, Abre helps educators to save time, reduce paper, create digital workflows and offer a highly efficient way to exchange information. The value in Abre is through the connected software apps, which makes it easier for teachers to use tools that will positively benefit students and learning. In addition to the teacher, there are many other benefits for school- and district-based usage. Abre provides easy access to a wide variety of student data in one place for staff and parents to obtain information directly from school, without the need for multiple tools and extra time. It also provides students and parents with exactly what they need to feel connected to the school community via announcements and headline features. Administrators can explore how Abre promotes a better workflow and enhances collaboration within the school community for a typical school day.

Comprehensive and Consolidated

Abre provides a single hub for all school and school-home related communication for staff, students and parents. It streamlines many of the important and required tasks that need to happen in schools and helps to reduce the number of apps being pushed out and the time required to become familiar with a new system. Using Abre, parents will be more connected to the school and have access to information when they need it. With one consolidated platform, it resolves the problem of knowing where to find information or keeping up with multiple apps used in different classes and by the school.

Single Sign-On and Integrations

It is easy to sign-in to the Abre platform whether using Google or Microsoft or even Facebook for parents. Once logged in, Abre users are automatically signed into many of the apps provided to them via the Abre platform.

Privacy

When deciding on a digital tool or a platform to use in our schools, it is important to first verify that it is in compliance with COPPA and FERPA. Abre is compliant with both.

Teacher Benefits

There are many integrations available within the platform to enhance student learning. As a classroom teacher, several of these apps caught my attention and are tools that I use in my class such as Duolingo, Flipgrid, and Quizlet. Being able to use these within one platform would save time and I believe encourage other teachers to implement more digital tools in the classroom. For schools using Learning Management systems like Moodle or Schoology, Abre can connect to and enhance these tools as well as replace functionality. Teachers have access to everything they need to enhance workflow for curriculum planning and instruction as well as professional learning and much more.

Consistency is important

Personally, I have used anywhere between four and six different apps and websites to complete a variety of tasks for attendance, grading, assessments, communication, and student projects. Abre provides solutions with all of this functionality. My next post will speak to the main solutions, beyond the hub, that Abre provides.

To learn more, check into Abre and get started with a demo today!

ParentSquare for Teachers

Communication is Key

One of the things that I enjoy the most about the summer is having more time to reflect on the different tools and resources that I am using in my classroom and to explore new ones. Summer is also the perfect time to participate in professional learning, whether by attending conferences, taking classes, or meeting with other educators. This summer, I have been involved in several presentations and conversations that are focused on finding a way to enhance better communication between home and school. It is critical for classrooms today that we find a way to increase family engagement in the learning experiences of their children and make sure that everyone has access to the school information and resources, especially those that are time-sensitive.

Finding the right tools

There is no shortage of tools that we can use to form a connection between home and school, whether we want simply to send messages and class updates to students, or we want to focus more on including parents. Because teachers have so many different responsibilities, finding the time to explore tools can be a little challenging at times. This is why it’s beneficial to share what we are doing in our classrooms to help other teachers get started and to make those connections that we know are so important for student success today.

Several years ago I noticed a disconnect and I resolved that by finding a digital tool (Celly, then Remind) to connect with my students so I could share resources and class updates with them. But I soon realized that I needed to go beyond simply connecting my students with the class, I needed to include parents. That’s when I moved to using an LMS, Edmodo, which enabled students to get the materials that they needed, and also keep parents informed about our class.

The benefits of one platform

Although these tools worked just fine, the concern was that teachers were using multiple tools. This meant that parents had to keep up with multiple apps, some of which may not have been accessible on their devices. When I was using the messaging app and the LMS, I had to keep a good routine of posting on both platforms and keep reminding myself that I needed to do so for each class that I was teaching. After a short period of time, I realized that there were too many being used. Being able to effectively communicate and collaborate is easier when everyone uses the same platform. There is consistency and parents won’t have to worry about which teacher uses which app, or whether or not their device is compatible with the apps being used.

Making the shift

Thinking about the different communication tools available to teachers, moving to something that offers more than two-way communication and the sharing of photos, videos, and files, makes sense. We have many responsibilities that could require multiple apps or forms of communication. However, notifying parents about student attendance, scheduling conferences, asking for volunteer sign-ups, or coordinating class fundraisers, are a few added benefits when teachers use a platform that provides all of these options housed within one.

Enter ParentSquare

As teachers adopt free communication tools, districts are looking at alternatives. One such tool is ParentSquare. What does it have to offer for teachers and how does it compare to Remind and other teacher-adopted tools?

Teachers use ParentSquare for:

  • Communicating with families and students
  • sharing pictures
  • scheduling conferences
  • sharing class calendar
  • asking for class and project supplies/class party items and food
  • requesting chaperones and volunteers
  • collecting payments for field trips
  • Providing/Collecting forms and permission slips

In addition to the teacher uses, there are many other benefits for school- and district-based usage such as attendance and lunch balance notifications, bus delays, sharing grades and assignments, delivering progress reports securely, and emergency notifications. Having these capabilities makes ParentSquare a single hub for all school-home related communication for parents.

I have had the opportunity to explore ParentSquare over the last six months, to get feedback from other educators and to compare the ways that I used other messaging tools and apps in my own classroom. Besides the time factor, sometimes educators get pushback because there is just too much technology. Too many things to worry about, too big of a learning curve, and too much to figure out to get started, so it’s easier to stay with the tools that have been used for years and that are more comfortable.

Easy to join

When using a platform like ParentSquare, teachers have a lot less to worry about when it comes to sending messages and inviting parents to become part of the group. ParentSquare automatically integrates with the SIS, making it easy for parents to join because it’s done automatically for them, without the need for a join code like with Remind. Parents who don’t register will still receive messages because their information is pulled from within the school rostering system.

Comprehensive and consolidated

Parents will feel more connected to the school by having one consolidated platform, which resolves the problem of knowing where to find information or keeping up with multiple apps for different classes and yet more apps and tools used by the school and the PTA. ParentSquare combines all into one. With tools like Remind, the options are limited as to the types of information that can be shared.

Privacy

It is important to first guarantee that any tool or platform used is in compliance with COPPA and FERPA. Compliant with both, ParentSquare takes all precautions when it comes to the safety and security of students and their families. ParentSquare is a signatory of the Student Privacy Pledge and the company signs a contract with the district to ensure student privacy. While Remind is also compliant with COPPA and FERPA, it has not signed contracts with the district or school in most cases.

Delivery of messages

At times I also heard that some parents were not receiving my messages. When I used Remind, I could see that messages were delivered, however, the students or parents were not necessarily reading them, which presented another problem. Perhaps because of the use of multiple tools, which is why it makes more sense to have one comprehensive platform. ParentSquare automatically delivers messages using the right modality – email, text or app notification and the right language as is in the school records. Reports show reach and deliverability of messages, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted.

Consistency is important

Personally, I have used anywhere between four and six different apps and websites to complete these tasks. However, with ParentSquare, you can facilitate faster and better communication and collaboration between home and school. ParentSquare enables schools and families to engage more in conversations by providing multiple options for communicating in less time through direct messages, polls, and the option to post comments all in one platform. It offers 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.

In many schools, administrators are potentially asking teachers to use platforms that are a paid platform rather than selecting the tools that they feel most comfortable with or prefer to use based on their role or content area. Making the transition from a tool like Remind to that of ParentSquare does not require any extra time, in fact, it is very user-friendly and easy to navigate. And if there are any questions there are many resources available including online self-paced training modules, extensive knowledge base, 24*7 support for teachers and parents.

Sign up for a demo today

**********

Key features: Also check out the video here.

Key Features  
Privacy Available, updated 2018
District Level Oversight
Messaging to and between parents
Messaging between teachers and staff
Individual/Group Messaging
Notifications as text, email, app
Send/Schedule reminders
Language Translation 100+ with Real-time translation
Class/School Calendar 2-way Sync with Google and iCal
File and Photo Sharing
Conference & Volunteer Signups
Single Sign-on
Unlimited Message Length
Coordinate Events/RSVP
Permission Slips
Devices: iOs, Android, Web
Attendance Notifications
Grades and Assignments
Report Card Delivery
Attendance Delivery and Excuse Notes
Truancy Letters
Cafeteria Balance
Payments and Invoices Recurring & one time
Polls and Surveys

Buncee: More than just a presentation tool

Buncee: More than just a presentation tool!

There are a lot of great digital tools out there for educators to bring into their classrooms. When it comes to deciding on a specific tool to use, we must always think about our purpose and perhaps ask ourselves a few questions, such as: why are we looking for a digital tool, what are we hoping to accomplish by using it and how will it benefit students and learning? I’m often asked by colleagues either to recommend a new tool or direct them to something specific based on their requirements, such as video, audio, text and more. Because Buncee is such a versatile tool and offers so many options all-in-one, I find myself recommending it a lot. It is easy to get started with and full of choices for teachers and students.

Educators want to use tools that promote student choice and student voice and offer more than just one purpose. The reason I recommend Buncee is because it offers much more than simply being a way to create presentations. In addition to all of the wonderful things that can be created using Buncee, there are additional benefits for educators and students that might be overlooked or simply not thought of when getting started. For example, educators can meet the ISTE Standards for Students and Educators. By having students create with Buncee, students become empowered learners, creative communicators, innovative designers, knowledge constructors and engage in learning that meets each of the ISTE standards. With technology, we want to make sure that it is being used in a way that amplifies student voice and choice in learning.

However, Buncee does more than that. Beyond addressing the ISTE standards and providing students with more authentic and personalized learning experiences when creating with Buncee, there are other skills that are being addressed. In my own classroom, we have used Buncee for many different projects and even for project-based learning (PBL). My students created Buncees to share with their global peers in Argentina and Spain. Creating an “About Me” Buncee enabled all students to develop a more global understanding and become aware of cultural differences, as well as to develop empathy in the process.

Students enjoy creating with Buncee and even more than seeing their own creations, they really enjoy seeing what their classmates create. I have noticed that students become more comfortable with one another in class and start to build closer connections while working on their Buncees. Even the quietest students begin to ask questions, interact more and have been more engaged in creating when using Buncee than they had with other tools before. Students tell me that they enjoy teaching one another, learning about their classmates in unique ways, and feel like they are part of a classroom community.

Knowing that students are picking up on this has been a great way to foster the social-emotional skills (SEL) students need now and in the future. Buncee is so invested in providing a lot of options and opportunities for students and educators to enjoy learning, creating and growing together. Now Buncee has templates available to address SEL.

What is Social-emotional learning?

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

Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of digital tools and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. Using some of the Buncee templates and emojis, students can comfortably express how they are feeling, provide a quick check-in based on their level of understanding, share personality characteristics or likes and dislikes, or respond to questions in class, for a few options. Buncee is “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

In my own experience, I have seen students who have preferred to not speak out in class or who voiced that they were not creative or would not be able to do a presentation, design amazing Buncees and be excited to share with their classmates. Students build confidence while creating and the benefit is that they become more engaged in and excited to share their learning and interact with classmates. It helps to foster the development of skills such as problem-solving, working with different layouts, visualizing and displaying student learning.

It is always a good idea to ask students for feedback. I want to know what their thoughts are, if the tool or strategy is making a difference for them and if so, how. Here are some student thoughts about Buncee.

“It helps me to express my ideas more easily and make presentations which are much more interactive for myself and for my classmates.”

It is made in a way that allows students to make it really personal and specific to what they need. If students are enjoying their work and are able to make it their own, then they will be more willing to learn and will improve because of using Buncee.”

Hearing from students is important and making sure that all students feel comfortable expressing themselves is even more important. With Buncee, students have many choices to find what interests them and to express themselves in a way that is authentic, meaningful and personalized.

School Communication Tools Comparison

Post sponsored by ParentSquare. The opinions expressed are my own.

Why Schools and Districts Need ParentSquare

The functionality of a teacher tool with a district-adopted platform

Finding a reliable and secure way to facilitate communication between school and home is critical for helping our students to be successful. When implementing digital tools and district-wide platforms, schools and districts must be cognizant of the rights and responsibilities when it comes to student privacy and digital safety. District leaders must protect the school community by maintaining a safe learning environment while also empowering teachers and families with the right tools to build community and promote family involvement.

For many classroom teachers, the options for tools to use are becoming more limited, whether because of access or school and district policies. While there are many free digital communication tools available, more and more teachers are being asked to not use the free tools and to implement tools that are district- or school-managed. Teachers must look for and recommend alternatives that will provide the same functionality they are used to and that will not require a lot of time to make the transition.

Choosing the Right Platform

There are many digital communication tools available to schools which offer a lot of benefits. It is important to find something that provides quality resources, centralizes school information, and which gives teachers the freedom they need to create a virtual space for their students and families.

Through the right platform, teachers can complete important tasks such as sending class updates, asking for volunteers, scheduling conferences and school events, sharing files and photos, and communicating various types of information to families, for a start. Being able to connect families and the school community with what is happening inside the classrooms strengthens the connection between home and school.

At the school and district level, being able to provide everything that students and families need through a comprehensive program and in a manner that parents and families choose is important. The entire school community benefits by having a consistent and efficient program in place that meets the needs and preferences of each of its members. So why should schools choose ParentSquare?

A Centralized Space for the Community

ParentSquare is available for the district- or school-wide implementation. If you find that you or your school are using multiple different apps to exchange information and communicate, ParentSquare provides one tool that does all of this and more. ParentSquare takes multiple tasks and communicative needs (messaging, attendance and grade notifications, event planner, calendar, fundraising, lunch balances, and much more*) that schools and teachers are currently using and unifies them in one easy to use and widely accessible platform.

ParentSquare facilitates timely and relevant communication between home and school through push notifications with real-time interactions and reports to show the reach and deliverability of messages, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted. Schools can create wishlists, ask for volunteers and launch fundraising campaigns, therefore streamlining more of the common tasks for schools. ParentSquare enables schools and districts to share information from the same source, which promotes consistency and efficiency in a simplified platform.

Unique Features

With district-wide adoption of ParentSquare, school districts can provide one comprehensive tool to connect families with their child’s school and the district, in a centralized space. Schools can then provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to facilitate higher engagement and better communication between school and home.

Although ParentSquare combines multiple apps and resources into one platform, it is very easy to navigate. Everything in ParentSquare has a similar look and feel, “if you know how to do one thing, you know how to do everything.” The design encourages parents and families to interact more in the space and work together toward fostering a collaborative relationship between home and school. Communication happens through posts and direct messaging which facilitates a higher level of engagement for families and greater connectedness. Parents can opt-out of certain communications and enjoy the benefits of being connected with the school and their children’s teachers, by receiving messages based on their preferences.

Another unique feature of ParentSquare is the Smart Alert and Notices for sending emergency alerts with options to send to the entire district, individual schools, parents, or students. You can choose between sending a recorded message or one created using the text-to-speech feature provided by ParentSquare. The receipt of each message is verified and detailed analytics for reach and deliverability show the percentage of contacts reached and the number needed to achieve 100%.

ParentSquare scores on the integration aspect too, integrating with many SISs, so teachers do not have to invite parents and maintain a contact list, thus also protecting privacy. Parents need not join and create a password, they are still kept informed and in the loop, thereby including every parent.

ParentSquare helps to streamline school business and workflows by providing:

  • Attendance notifications with excuse notes
  • Grades, Assignments, Assessments, Attendance in the Portal and App
  • Social and Web Share (web widget)
  • Invoices (recurring and one-time)
  • Payments (spirit wear, tickets, etc.)
  • Fundraiser with Battery meter
  • Calendar and RSVP (adults and kids)
  • Lunch Balance Notifications and other notices with merge fields
  • Secure Document Delivery including postal mail (progress reports, report cards)
  • Advanced analytics
  • SIS integrations
  • Support

Beyond the Platform: What Does ParentSquare Offer?

One thing that I think is important is that edtech companies offer a unified space for educators, parents, and students to access information when they need it. All companies should be intentional about providing support and resources such as webinars, user stories, blogs written by members of the team or teachers currently using the platform, and make sure the information is current. It’s equally as important to actively share new features and any changes that are coming in the near future. I appreciate being able to find a lot of resources and support when I am using a digital tool or platform with my classes.

ParentSquare provides a wealth of information on their site including blog posts, Meet the team, webinars, new features, thought leadership, educator insights, best practices and more. The ParentSquare team also sends newsletters full of information to keep customers informed of events and updates to their platform. ParentSquare is fully invested in family engagement and is helping to streamline the communication between home and school. With ParentSquare, schools can provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to communicate, and promote student success and family engagement. Learn more about it here.

Key features: Also check out the video here.

Key Features
Privacy Available, updated 2018
District Level Oversight
Messaging to and between parents
Messaging between teachers and staff
Individual/Group Messaging
Notifications as text, email, app
Send/Schedule reminders
Language Translation 100+ with Real-time translation
Class/School Calendar 2-way Sync with Google and iCal
File and Photo Sharing
Conference & Volunteer Signups
Single Sign-on
Unlimited Message Length
Coordinate Events/RSVP
Permission Slips
Devices: iOs, Android, Web
Attendance
Grades and Assignments
Report Card Delivery
Attendance Delivery and Excuse Notes
Truancy Letters
Cafeteria Balance
Payments and Invoices Recurring & one time
Polls and Surveys

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