communication

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

For the past three years, I have enjoyed attending the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held in Orlando at the end of January. It has become one of my favorite conferences because of the diverse opportunities available to explore emerging technologies and to network. One of my favorite things about FETC is seeing the new tools and exploring different options for my students, as well as finding some ideas to share with members of my PLN.

In the middle of January, I started to receive flyers from edtech companies who would be at FETC. My habit is to check out their website and then make time to stop by their booth and have a conversation to learn more. This year, I also received one email, from Anupama Vaid, Founder and President of ParentSquare.

Her email invited FETC attendees to stop by a hospitality suite hosted by ParentSquare, to learn more about the platform and spend time networking. Because of my schedule, I would not be able to attend, so I emailed Anu to introduce myself and make an initial connection. We had hoped to meet while there, but of course, time flies when you are at FETC and we missed the opportunity to connect in person. With a call setup for a few weeks later, I was glad to have more time to explore ParentSquare on my own before “meeting” with Anu earlier this month.

The story behind ParentSquare

Beyond knowing what a particular tool does or how a platform works and the benefit for students, I really enjoy getting to know and connect with the people behind these tools. Understanding their story and motivation for creating their product helps to make a more authentic connection with them and to see if my goals as a teacher are in alignment with their purpose so I can provide the best options for my students.

I enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about the start of ParentSquare and the growth that it has seen over the past eight years. Anu shared the story behind ParentSquare and her passion for the work that she does is clear. As a parent, Anu often received a lot of different messages and communications from her children’s’ school. While receiving the information was not a problem, the variety and inconsistency of formats (email, paper, newsletters, even Google groups) being used in schools was a problem. Parents had to keep up with and know the practices for communicating with each teacher.

Anu thought there had to be a better, more consistent way and she made it her goal to design something that would facilitate all of these vital communications in a more accessible and simplified way, that everyone (families, teachers, and administrators) could access. By using one tool, there is consistency, reliability and it promotes more equity when everyone has the same options for staying informed and feeling connected to the school. Anu wanted to “get everyone to be on the same platform, working together toward a common goal,” to unite all stakeholders in the educational community.

Starting with four schools during the first two years, ParentSquare has grown across the United States and is now being used in more than 1500 schools in 36 states. Moving forward, Anu hopes to connect with more schools and educators, to communicate in more effective ways so that together we can provide the best learning experience for students and the most support for their families.

What does ParentSquare offer?

ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. It truly fosters a learning community.

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When I explored ParentSquare, what I noticed first is the setup of the landing page and how easy it is to locate the information you are looking for. It is a versatile tool that helps to facilitate many different interactions and increase communication between home, school and the community. Having time to explore ParentSquare closely, I thought about the tools that I use for communicating with students and families, and realized that rather than using multiple different tools, I could use ParentSquare to do all of that and more.

With ParentSquare, communicating is easy. You can quickly exchange information, share photos, engage in two-way conversations with parents, plan events, to name just a few of the options, and I was amazed at how easy it was to find what I needed. You can see right away how beneficial it is for schools and families. If you find yourself or your school using multiple different apps to keep track of correspondence, announce events, share files and photos, send messages, or even ask for volunteers, ParentSquare enables you to use just one tool that facilitates so much within the school community.

 

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There are three main areas that ParentSquare provides: Communication, Resources and Participation with many options available within each.

The landing page is easy to navigate to keep track of events, messages, upcoming activities like fundraisers or school events.

To communicate, you can send or schedule a post, create an alert, or even send a two-way message to interact with parents one-to-one.

Parents can opt to receive an email with a link to read without having to log in or they can choose to read a text message or app notification.

Parents can also choose to receive their notifications in a digest format. With a digest format, parents will receive all notifications from the day at a specified time, rather than receiving notifications that are dispersed throughout the day.

Signing up for events and sending RSVPs have never been easier.

 

 

Why choose ParentSquare?

Technology tools like ParentSquare provide so many benefits for schools and families. By using ParentSquare, schools can provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to facilitate higher engagement and better communication between school and home. Parents will appreciate having one tool with multiple functions that help to bridge the gap that can happen when using multiple apps or means of communication within the same school setting. School to home communication and collaboration is at the heart of ParentSquare.

Sign up for a demo today and stay tuned for the next post which will highlight some of the features of ParentSquare and how to get started.

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

Why having a way to connect is important

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

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

Why use Class Updates?

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

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

Some of the unique features of Class Updates include:

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

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

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

Some ideas for using Class Updates

-Field Trips are easier with a messaging tool

– Send reminders of assignments and upcoming tests and quizzes

– Announce a change in schedule

– Engage students in a group conversation after class ends

Questions?

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

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

At the end of January, I attended the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. FETC has become one of my favorite conferences to attend and each year I return to my school with a lot of new ideas and tools that I’m excited to try in my classroom and share with colleagues and educator friends. This year was no exception. After reading about the 31 start-up companies that would be participating in the “Pitch Fest” competition happening in the expo hall, I decided that I wanted to start there. These companies—the “best-of-the-best startups”—would be pitching their products and services to a panel of judges. I find this to be one of the “musts” for me each year to learn about the new ideas and products available to educators. I enjoy getting to talk with the companies to understand their tools and how it benefits educators and students.

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Before arriving, I had received a flyer from Screenleap. I took a quick look, but decided to set it aside and instead make time to meet with Tuyen Truong, the CEO and Founder of Screenleap, at the conference. We had a great conversation and I was immediately impressed with what I learned about Screenleap from Tuyen and from the reactions of other attendees who had stopped by the booth to learn more about Screenleap.

Not long after speaking with Tuyen, I presented my own poster session on designing “Creative, Personalized, and Productive Classrooms.” A common interest of the attendees was that they wanted to know options that would enable them to share lessons, to work with schedule changes that interrupted the normal class periods, and to provide access to learning opportunities for their students when their students needed them. Screenleap immediately popped into my mind and so I gave them a brief overview and pointed them in the direction of Screenleap’s booth in the EdTech Startup area.  

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Tools with Purpose: Getting Started Quickly

Common issues for teachers regarding education tools are knowing where to start and whether something will have a big learning curve. These are both important factors, but we should also consider the WHY behind adding the technology. Based on the interests of the educators that I spoke with, thinking through it and trying it out on my own, Screenleap definitely addresses these concerns by making it easy for teachers to set up and start using with students and by saving valuable time for teachers who use it.

So How Does It Work?

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Screenleap for Education allows teachers to share their screen with students and record it for later viewing. Whether the students are in the classroom or absent from class on a given day, they can watch the screen share live from wherever they are or access the lesson afterward when it is convenient for them. You can learn more about Screenleap for Education here. If you would like to try it out, you can start a free trial here!

Why Use Screenleap for Education?

When thinking about adding some new technology into the classroom, we really need to focus on the why behind choosing a specific tool or method. What difference will adding this tool make and how can it enhance the learning process and go beyond the traditional methods that are being used? What sets it apart from other tools you are currently using?

I think the benefits are clear with Screenleap for Education:

  1. Teachers can share from any device (including Chromebooks, iPads, Android, PCs, and Macs).
  2. Students don’t need to install any software to view their teacher’s screen, which makes it easily accessible to all students and saves time on IT administration.
  3. Everything is automatically recorded on the cloud for later playback. Teachers don’t need to manually upload the recording after the screen share.
  4. It saves teachers a lot of time because now they do not need to reteach lessons to students who miss a class since the recorded lessons are available for students to watch on their schedule. In addition, when it comes to re-teaching, you don’t always present the information the same way, so having a solid lesson that can quickly be shared with students to view and learn from is a real benefit for you.

Ideas for Using the Recording Feature

Depending on the content area you teach, or even if you have a different role than a classroom teacher, creating these recordings is easy and of great benefit. Having recordings available that you can share with colleagues, offer as extra instruction for students needing review, or even as a way to get feedback from colleagues about how you delivered a lesson, are just a few of the great ways to use the recording feature of Screenleap for Education. There are a lot of other possibilities for teachers, students, and administrators when the recording feature is used as part of a teacher’s daily instruction.

Getting Started

I found Screenleap for Education very intuitive and easy to get started with:

  1. After creating your account, there is an initial setup step where you can create your classes and add students to them.
  2. Once your classes are set up, it is easy to start sharing your screen with your students: all you need to do is click on the button for the class you want to share when your class starts. If it’s your first time sharing your screen, you will be walked through a one-time app installation before your screen share begins. null
  3. Once your screen share has started, your students can watch your screen share by signing into their accounts and clicking on the “View live class” button for your class.
  4. While you are sharing your screen, it is automatically recorded in the cloud.
  5. When you stop your screen share and have recording enabled, your recording will be processed and made available to you from the “Recordings” page. If you have automatic sharing configured, the recording will also be made available for your students to review.

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Additional Features That I Like

  • If you want to remove something from your class recording, you can do so and then upload the updated version.
  • You can share the same recording with multiple classes.
  • You can track student engagement in real-time by clicking on “engagement” or after the recording has been processed. You will see a snapshot of the engagement graph at the bottom of every recording.

Conclusion

Screenleap for Education offers a lot of benefits for teachers, students, and administrators: students can easily follow along in the classroom or from home, teachers do not have to reteach lessons that students miss, students can review lessons before tests, and administrators have resources available  that can help to improve test scores for their schools through better learning. In addition, being able to stay connected and keep up with class—even when not in the classroom—and having information available to share with other teachers and administrators really makes Screenleap stand out when it comes to tools that benefit student learning.

Let me know what you think of Screenleap for Education. Again, you can start a free trial here

Bringing Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality to all Classrooms

Jaime Donally’s book “Learning Transported” is the resource to go to to learn how immersive technology can be used in education. For anyone looking to get started with bringing augmented, mixed or virtual reality and different learning experiences into the classroom but not sure of where to begin, Jaime provides a well laid out format which provides the reader with the all of the information and resources they need to feel comfortable in using AR and VR in the classroom.
For some readers, knowing the differences between augmented and virtual reality or knowing the different apps available for each of these may not be clear. However, the structure of the Learning Transported book enables the reader to progress from understanding how it is used, and even more importantly “why” it should be used education, to reminders of some things to consider before getting started and then how to have a successful implementation into the classroom.

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Beyond just having students as consumers of the content, Jaime offers ways for students to become the creators and design their own stories through augmented and virtual reality experiences.
Jamie is constantly looking for more tools and new ways to bring immersive learning experiences to educators and students, and has done nothing but share her wealth of knowledge and fully invest herself in making sure that educators feel comfortable with using the technology and knowing that she is available to help them in the process.
Learning Transported is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone, as the resources and experiences that she shares within this book definitely have application to other settings besides education.

Before Jaime even dives into the content of the book, she engages the reader with her message of “why” for using AR and VR. She shares the reasons why educators need to understand the possibilities of using immersive technology and the benefits that will happen as a result. She explains how to use the book, and guides the reader on how to navigate each of the chapters, explaining the process involved when starting to implement some of these augmented virtual and mixed reality tools, and encourages the reader to join in with other educators through social media using the #ARVRinEDU chat.

Learning Transported is geared toward anyone looking to try immersive technologies in the classroom and Donally provides all of the resources and many examples, especially through the lesson plans written by Jaime and how they were facilitated in different classrooms.

Another key features of Learning Transported is in Jaime’s message about why educators should use AR, VR and MR in education. The largest benefit is for students being able to engage and explore in the content in a different and more authentic way. It also facilitates building skills of communication and collaboration as well as social-emotional learning, when students connect with their peers and learn more about places and life outside of their own community. Jaime also explains exactly how the use of these tools can meet the ISTE Standards for Students, and encourages the reader to think about how these tools can benefit the students in their own classrooms.

Each chapter provides a wealth of examples and images for reference, explanations of each tool shared and ways that it can be used, and ends with a “Learning Transported” challenge for the reader. Jaime provides clears definitions and more detailed explanations throughout each chapter, and continues to encourage educators to challenge themselves to implement some of these different tools into their classroom and to share their experiences using the #ARVRinedu hashtag.

Some of the best features of the book are the way that Jaime conveys the information, reassuring educators that it is okay to take some chances with trying these in the classroom and involve students in the process. Chapters 5 through 8 include so many different examples of augmented and virtual reality tools, including ideas for creating with the tools, brief descriptions of how the tool works and for using it, as well as including some sample lesson plans that educators can try within their own classrooms.

The last chapter focuses on preparing for the future of mixed reality and Donally reminds us to keep moving forward as these tools are constantly evolving, and having an impact on the learning environment and educational market. In the conclusion, Jaime ends by stating “Teachers will facilitate a class of explorers, developers and designers as they experience, build and present their own immersive technology resources.”
Donally reminds us that “authentic learning experiences and opportunities that have never been accessible in the classroom are now possible with virtual field trips, interactive stories, and tools that can allow students to explore the world, the solar system and beyond.”

The book concludes with an appendix listing all of the apps shared within the book as well as the websites to find the apps and a brief description of what the after does. The standards for students are also included

She encourages the reader to share whatever they create after completing some of the learning transported challenges

Learning Transported makes a topic that can be overwhelming to anyone just starting with augmented and virtual reality, become something that is digestible and helps the reader to build confidence in learning more throughout the book. Donally provides answers to the questions that educators all have to consider when starting to implement these tools, and gathered everything into one well laid out guide for learning.

Assessments used to track student progress are certainly not new to teachers. However, it is important to consider that if you consistently use the same tool for assessment, these materials should be curated and referred to throughout the year. This ensures a conversation can happen between teachers, students, and guardians, reviewing  progress and growth.

Kidblog offers extended options for promoting student choice, giving students ownership in learning, and facilitating communication between home and school (family engagement in learning is critical for student success).  Over the years, I have tried to encourage students to keep prior assessments or writing assignments as artifacts of their work to share with families. It wasn’t long before these papers were misplaced and the opportunities for review, reflection and growth disappeared. Using Kidblog’s built-in digital portfolios empower students to self-regulate learning and develop their metacognitive skills. It also allows a conversation between student, teacher, and families happen.

Tracking growth in a more accessible way

There are many benefits of using safe student publishing that go beyond simply blogging and improving communication skills. Through Kidblog, students gain the tools necessary to prepare for their future with the skills they need to be successful.

  • Promotes digital literacy and citizenship: Blogging engages students in building their writing skills whether it be basic English grammar, practicing foreign language skills, or learning to write in a specific format such as a persuasive text or narrative. Students can share their posts with classmates and provide feedback to one another. Peer assessment builds student collaboration skills and promotes digital citizenship and the responsible use of digital tools.
  • Track their growth: Students build their online presence and create their own space unique to their needs. They develop confidence as they become more creative in their expression and learn to self-assess with each blog post they write. Because Kidblog offers a safe learning space, students can get started by writing posts that are private, visible by the teacher, and then continue to grow their audience, sharing their work with classmates, connections, and beyond. Using Kidblog across multiple courses provides students with an even greater opportunity to track their progress across the course of a semester, school year, or even year-over-year.

 

  • Build relationships and become confident learners: Receiving feedback throughout the learning journey is critical to student growth. However, some students may be hesitant in sharing their thoughts with their peers in the classroom. Through blogging, when students create their own online space, they can comfortably begin to develop their voice, express their thoughts in a personal space, and become more confident learners. The relationships that form by sharing their work at first with their teacher and then by publishing it to a larger community have a tremendous impact on student growth. Publishing work to a wider audience benefits the student through the additional feedback that can be provided. Students know their work is having an impact on readers.
  • Goal setting: When students consistently create through blogging, they can use their history (in digital portfolios) as a guide to push forward with goals. Each student can use Kidblog as a space to set personal learning goals. By publishing their goals in the class, they are held accountable and, in turn, will be motivated to hit those goals. Preparing students for their future requires that we provide opportunities for them to learn responsibility, to work within a schedule with different tasks and timelines.

 

  • Personal expression and growth mindset: Kidblog provides a space for students to explore their passions, be creative, and reflective. Students have the opportunity to share these passions with the world, and hopefully, make a connection with another student based off of these passions.

 

Consider adopting Kidblog as your tool for promoting student growth and formative assessment. Teacher premium memberships are a great way for an individual teacher to pilot Kidblog in all their classes, with benefits like automatic digital portfolio curation for your students, a class page, moderation tools to customize your audience levels per post, and so much more.

 

by Rachelle Dene Poth

It is amazing today what we can accomplish through the use of technology. Past methods we relied on for communicating with friends, family, other schools, and abroad were limited to telephone calls, letters, meeting in person (if geographical location afforded this), for a few examples. When it came to learning, our opportunities for connecting students with others were limited to classrooms within the same school or a nearby school. These interactions had to be set up in advance either by making a phone call or even sending a letter in standard mail. (This goes way back to  my own elementary and high school experience, we did not have cell phones or the Internet and I am not sure about fax). Finding ways to create diverse learning experiences, took a good bit of time and collaboration for everyone. Schools needed to set up transportation, plan the schedule and other logistics, and of course the purpose had to be for a beneficial learning experience if it meant disrupting the school day.

We can provide so many more activities and learning experiences for students today, and they can be carried out with little to no real pre-planning, because of the diverse tools we have available through technology. Whether we use a form of social media or connect with a member of our PLN, and try using a tool like Voxer, or Slack, we can have a quick conversation instantly. Differences between time and place do not matter anymore, there is not even a need to move groups to different locations. We can simply talk, share images, livestream videos, use web conferencing, collaborate to add resources, (anything is possible) for us to quickly connect our classroom and our students, with another classroom and students somewhere in the world.

How we can open up these opportunities

There are many options for encouraging and supporting our students as they become globally connected. We should promote these connections so that students can develop a broader understanding of diverse world cultures, perspectives and have an appreciation of different experiences. With so many resources available, we have the ability to truly bring learning experiences to life, immerse students into different cultures and parts of the world, by simply connecting. It just takes one step.

Some examples of how easily this can be accomplished are by using some of the web-based tools available to teachers and students today. Through the use of video tools, many of which are available as free platforms, classrooms can connect with others throughout the world, regardless of differences in time and place. You can truly see what others experience in their day-to-day learning and living, and engage in conversations in real time.

Students can participate in activities like a mystery Skype or collaborate through a discussion, by using tools such as  Padlet or Flipgrid or use something like Appear.In or Zoom, for a live interaction or even Google Hangouts. These are just a few of the many options available to classrooms today. To promote conversation without video, we can use collaborative tools such as Padlet, Gecko or even a class Twitter account, (depending on grade level), as ways to have students connect through writing. In addition to learning about different cultures and establishing global connections, we can build other critical skills like communication and collaboration, digital citizenship and help to engage students more in the learning environment.  Imagine being able to have a conversation with people from 80 different countries at the same time. Regardless of geographical location or time zone, everyone can connect using one of these forms of technology and the many others that are out there.

Getting Started

Connecting globally requires that we as educators be connected. It always starts with us to set an example for our students. We have to build our own professional and globally connected network so that we can provide these learning opportunities to our students. It is worth the time, the risk, and the effort to seek out learning communities and build a community of support. We become stronger and better together, and when we collaborate to provide opportunities for our students to learn from other students, to gain new perspectives, to experience the multitude of ways of collaborating and communicating globally, we take their educational experience to a whole new level. Become a more globally connected classroom today.

 

Start by joining in on Global Maker Day!

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Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

Being a teacher is easy.

It must be nice to have your summers off.

You’re so lucky, you don’t have to work on the weekends.

You have such long holiday breaks!

If you are a teacher, you likely have heard at least one of these statements before, perhaps from friends and family, or from people you just meet, that respond with similar statements when they find out that you are a teacher. Are these statements accurate? Well, I guess to an extent, but there are some ways to counter these comments.

 

It can be easy to be a teacher, if you love what you do, it does not feel like” work.” I enjoy  working with students, learning with and from them, and having the opportunity to start fresh each day and create experiences to engage students in learning. Having the summer off is nice too, but most teachers I know either work in the summer, attend conferences, or pursue some professional development. The “summer off” is nice for providing a more flexible schedule, and a time to reflect, explore new things and prepare for the new school year.

And as for weekends, I am fairly certain that most teachers look forward to the weekend for many reasons. Of course, time with family and time to relax are important. But it is also a time to catch up on some grading, emails, or exploring new methods to bring into the classroom. So weekends without work, I don’t think they happen too much.

And the extended holiday breaks are nice as well. But again, many teachers use this time to reflect, recharge and prepare for the return to school.

So, What is the reality?

The reality of being a teacher is that teaching today can be quite challenging. Maybe in the past, the life of the teacher was perceived to be a pretty comfortable and easy profession. The typical school day of 7:00 to 3:00 or some variation, with weekends and holidays off and of course, that summer break. With those hours and that schedule who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? From the outside looking in, it might seem like each day is the same, right? Each passing year the same as the year prior. How could it be that difficult? Once you make a worksheet or a test you have them to use forever, right?  Lesson plans are the same, projects are the same, and folders full of worksheets and activities pulled from the file cabinet, simply copy it, teach it and then move on to the next day. Same. (hopefully not).

There may be some truth to this, as I’m sure there are some teachers who are teaching the same way that they were taught and/or are using the same materials each day with each class and then doing it all over again the next year. No judgments made.

To an extent, I myself was this type of teacher for a long time. Not because I was trying to take the easy way out or save time. Rather I was using some of the methods that worked for me when I was a student. I thought this was the right way to prepare. And sometimes I used some of the same materials each year because I thought there was value to them for student learning. I know that when I was a student, some of the same issues that exist today existed then (copying homework, cheating on tests), but we didn’t have the technology, which creates tremendous learning opportunities but it also takes away some opportunities as well.

Foreign Language Teacher vs. Online Translators

I thought that being a foreign language teacher meant that I was a member of a group that had a distinct battle not experienced by any other content area.  It took some time for me to notice some bothersome trends in student work. The copying of assignments, the use of online language translators, and even copying information directly from websites. So the struggle was to find a way for students to have authentic practice that would not encourage student copying or trying to take a shortcut with learning. But each year it becomes more and more challenging to stay ahead of technology in this sense. I don’t know the answer as to how to get students to stop copying homework other than to not assign homework. And this has been a very strong discussion as to the value of homework, the type of homework, and whether or not homework should even be given at all. #ditchthehomework (follow the hashtag)

 

I will not make a decision either way, other than to say that for me, I do assign some “practice” tasks for the students to do, but they typically don’t come in the form of a worksheet. And sometimes when we are working in stations in class, if students do not finish something, I do ask that they work on it until complete. But I do add, “at their pace.”  Instead, I encourage students to practice the content by playing a game of review using the Quizlet cards, sharing a Quizizz game or provide prompts for writing a blog post. And these are ongoing practice tasks that are due on a weekly basis or that I have students create to use in the class. Why? Because in doing this rather than assigning the same worksheet to each student to complete,  I know that it is more authentic, will provide students with personalized practice and it is not something that can readily be copied.

But recently I was rather surprised when I saw some students switching between screens on their computer while working in their practice workbook. (As a side note, I stopped assigning practice from the workbook for homework because of copying).

I thought that by having students work on the pages in class, during stations, that I could interact more and provide more one on one feedback and  give time for students to collaborate with their peers. I did not anticipate this “new” form of copying, until one day a few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of a student switching screens on his laptop and then writing in the workbook. The process repeated and continued for a few minutes. From across the room I had an idea of what they were doing, but I gave it some time before I walked over. Hoping that I was wrong, and that it was not the website that provides answers to so many books and workbooks. (Still cannot believe what is available).

 

It was exactly as I had thought, one of the students was using that website, to look up and copy the answers for the workbook. While I understand that there can be comfort in having a resource to look at, especially when a student may be struggling with a concept, it is helpful to learn that you were on the right track. But I do have a problem when the answers to all questions in every book are so easily accessible and available to students. I know when I was in school, often our math teachers would assign questions opposite to the answers that were available in the back of the book. It was nice to have an option to look at some answers to do practice problems and see if we were working on them correctly, and there were times when I did wish that all of the answers were available. But it forced us to push through the challenges and solve the problems. There were struggles in the learning but that’s how we improved and kept going forward.

Simple lesson learned. In these experiences, and on a personal basis, you cannot or should not assign students the exact same thing if you can avoid it. Especially when teaching a higher level course or one in which students have the possibility to create, rather than simply consume. We need to give them more authentic opportunities to practice what they are learning. They need to create, not consume, be active, not passive, and have the opportunity to set their learning path and be curious in their pursuit of knowledge. This is how we prepare them for the future.

DEWEY

 

 

**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!”

 

A Classroom’s Journey To Student-Led, Interactive Lessons

Written for the RUBICON SUMMIT

About two years ago, I found myself struggling to find ways to keep my students engaged in the lesson. I tried to get them involved more in class activities by offering more choices and providing opportunities for them to be part of the decisions made about what we were doing in the classroom. Why did I do this? Partially because I saw – and could feel – a decrease in student motivation and engagement. It was approaching the end of the school year, and the focus had shifted more to “when does summer begin?”

So I tried to do things a bit differently, think creatively, and take some risks. I wanted to keep us all moving, to finish strong at the end of the school year and begin summer vacation with a sense of accomplishment, to celebrate all that we had learned throughout the year and also what we had gained from these new experiences.

Educational Technology and Digital Tools with Purpose
Educational Technology provides so many resources that enable students to learn anywhere and at any time, and at a pace that is comfortable for each student. We can instruct from inside the traditional classroom, ​”​the brick-and-mortar​” ​as it is called, or from anywhere around the world. Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and provides opportunities for the students to move from consumers to creators. When students have choices in how to show what they have learned, they are more likely to be engaged and excited for learning. They will feel valued​,​ and the lesson and learning will be more meaningful because it has been made perso​n​al to them.

Creating Interactive Lessons
What did I change? I started by having my students create some interactive lessons using educational technology tools like Formative, Nearpod, and EDPuzzle, or even games with Kahoot! and Quizizz. It proved to be a very beneficial learning experience for all of us. By doing this, we had extra resources available that could be shared with students who might need some extra practice. I thought it went so well that I decided to take it a step further and start a “teacher for a day” activity during which the students create a lesson based on a grammar topic or vocabulary.

I stepped back and had the students lead our classroom. It was a really good way to learn a lot more about the students, to better understand what their needs were in terms of the content material, and for the students to learn about each other. Giving students the control and the opportunity to become the creators and leaders in the class has tremendous benefits and it has been something that we have enjoyed.

Giving Students the Control
At first when students created interactive lessons, I would launch the lesson and control it on the SmartBoard, but find ways to involve the student who created it during the presentation. I eventually decided to move aside, and took a seat in the back of the room, having the student lead the lesson, give explanations, answer questions, call upon students for answers, and provide feedback. Having the opportunity to sit back and experience this was tremendous. The students enjoyed the activity, supported each other, collaborated, and provided some positive feedback to each of their classmates. I was very impressed with how well they taught, led, and learned during each of the “teacher for a day” lessons.

Empowering Students in Learning
The use of these digital tools means ​that ​the “time and place for learning” is no​ longer​ confined to the ​traditional time and setting of the physical ​classroom​. It opens up the learning environment ​to​ anywhere​, at any time and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well. Learning and having timely, purposeful and authentic feedback is critical ​for growth to happen. When we shift our focus to creating opportunities, giving students the control, leaving the decision making to students to choose ​how t​o show what they have learned, or ​letting them​ design their own assessments, they are more empowered in their learning.

What are the Next Steps?
Have a conversation with your students and ask for their honest feedback. What did they like? What did they not like? Which lesson or format seemed to help the most? What did it feel like to be in control, decide how to deliver the lesson, and experience being the teacher? You can have this as a face to face conversation, students can respond on paper, or use one of the many digital tools available for communication. No matter which way you choose, look to your students for the valuable feedback to decide your next steps. Be sure to ask yourself these same questions and continue to reflect on steps taken and progress made!

For more strategies about integrating technology into instruction, read Overcome

EdTech’s Problems With Blended Learning!

 

Published on Getting Smart, 

 

Toward the end of the past school year, I noticed some changes in student behavior. There was a decrease in student engagement, especially while I responded to the question of a student seated close to me, students around the room became distracted or stopped listening. Trying to get the group to refocus sometimes presented a challenge and resulted in a loss of valuable instruction time. A second concern was how students had been treating one another. I overheard conversations in the hallways, witnessed unkind interactions in the classroom, or heard directly from students who sought help in dealing with different situations. There were two issues to resolve: eliminate the valuable instruction time that was being lost and help students to develop more positive, collaborative peer relationships. How could I connect students more to the content and to one another, so they could work together to foster a more positive classroom. After some brainstorming, I decided to first focus on ways to promote collaboration and to step out of my role of “leader” in the classroom by stepping aside.

The changes:

My first realization was that I needed to shift roles in my classroom. I needed to get out of the way, and students needed to do more than simply sit for the entire class. To get started, look at your own classroom. Where are you and the students spending the class period? Are you the only one speaking and moving? If so, think about how you can open up space and provide a more collaborative setting for students. Think about how you can involve the students in more “active learning” that will lead to better student engagement.

One morning, I looked at the physical space of my classroom and decided to break apart the rows of desks. By doing this, it created more flexible spaces for students to interact, to create and lead, and do more than just sit and listen. Students need opportunities to work with their peers through lessons and engage in activities where they can master the content together, and that will provide opportunities to develop their interpersonal skills, self-awareness and social awareness of others.

 

Making these changes can feel uncomfortable because it means going against what likely has been the traditional classroom structure. However, many teachers have moved toward flexible learning spaces, creating a more student-centered and student-driven classroom. A classroom which moves away from simply lecturing, reviewing homework, passing out materials, assigning new homework, and repeating this same routine the very next day. While this process may promote the acquisition and application of knowledge, it does not effectively promote collaboration, invite student input, nor foster development of vital SEL (social-emotional learning) skills.

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

Practical ways to promote SEL:

  • Icebreakers: I started the school year with fun icebreakers, to get to know one another and to find out what students had in common. Why? It all starts with relationships, building a connection with peers and the teacher, and using this to connect with the content area. Returning after an extended holiday break, doing even one icebreaker can be a good way to welcome students back to the classroom, to ease into the daily routine and to start the year fresh by working on relationships. Perhaps have students share what they did over break, show a picture, talk about favorite foods for holidays even, and let students make connections on their own.
  • Games and activities: Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of games and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. There are many online tools available to help you get started. For elementary and middle school, Centervention provides free online games, activities and printables for teaching students about SEL. Gaming helps students to learn to problem solve, collaborate, think critically, and develop empathy through scenarios within the game itself, or as a result of being part of a team. It creates a sense of community and belonging, which foster the social-emotional skills students need. Even by using Minecraft, educators have seen a connection between the benefits of gaming for learning and the development of SEL skills.
  • Learning Stations: Something that has really made a difference in my classroom has been using learning stations. I started the year with rows and decided one morning, that the rows had to go. I quickly set up clusters of desks or “stations” to accommodate three students each, with four extra desks grouped together in the center. At each station, students spend 10-14 minutes doing a hands-on activity like a worksheet, creating flashcards, watching a video, playing a game or simply coming up with their own ways to practice. Deciding upon the activities takes some planning, especially when trying this for the first time, but it is well worth it. Start by explaining the “stations”, involving students in the discussion and asking for feedback. When we explain our goals and share any fears we may have, we are modeling “self-awareness” and “self-management”. By using stations, we also have more time to interact with each student and group, work on relationships and foster a deeper understanding of the content as well as connecting with one another and creating a more positive classroom culture.

Challenges and solutions:

  • Groups: The first few class periods there were complaints. Students wanted to work with their friends and others wanted to work alone. It can be awkward if you are the only one who doesn’t find somebody to work with, but it can also be a challenge to work with a group when you may end up being the only one doing the work. Assigning random groups can help alleviate some of these uncomfortable feelings, even though in life and for the future, students may face the same challenges and uncomfortable moments, not having a choice in collaborative work. However, for the time being, the importance is to help students to develop interpersonal skills that will enable them to be successful in the future, to develop the social and emotional learning skills, especially in terms of relationships, decision-making and developing a self- awareness.
  • Timing: It can be a challenge at first to know how much time to provide for each station. I started by spending ten minutes reviewing material, asking questions, or doing an activity with the whole class, before starting stations. I tried giving 15 minutes for each, so students would work through two each day. Some students finished early and wanted to move on. To work through this, I would use the time to speak with each group or individual students, and then make adjustments during the next station rotation. There is always room to improve, but the important thing is remembering to be flexible and open to changes that will positively impact student learning and relationships.

Benefits:

  • Student engagement: Students have been more engaged in learning, and have come in to tell me how much they look forward to coming to class. Because of the different activities within the stations, students participate more because they are active and moving, and know that each station offers a new way to learn.
  • Student leaders: Students are offering to help one another, to explain concepts, and to cheer each other on. They keep each other on task and by working in these small groups, there are less distractions than working as a whole group. Each small group can ask questions, receive individualized feedback because I can freely move around the classroom and clear up any misunderstandings.
  • Teacher-student relationships: Students are getting timely, authentic and personal feedback. By using learning stations, more time is student-focused and those individual conversations can happen as needed, to help students to be successful and be more confident.
  • Student learning: In terms of academic achievement, the participation and results of recent assessments are the highest they have been. Students enjoy coming to class because they know they’re going to be leading and making decisions about their learning, in a way that is comfortable, flexible and fun.The learning experience is more authentic and meaningful for students. Research has shown the positive benefits of incorporating SEL into the curriculum.
  • Student behaviors: As for the class distractions and the negative interactions that existed before, both have decreased tremendously. It is not something that is going to change overnight but what matters is that we make constant progress. We are learning and becoming better together.