Educators: 10 Ways to Make Time for Self-Improvement

Originally published on Getting Smart
As educators, we need to make more time for self-care. In order to bring our best selves to our classrooms and our schools, we must make time for our needs each day. Over the holiday breaks, making time to do some normal things like catching up with family and friends, and sleep in late, are good ways to recharge over the summer break.

When we have these breaks, it is easy to get into a new daily routine, finding time for all of the things that we wanted to do but couldn’t fit into our schedules throughout the year. It may take a few days to adjust, but I find that in a short amount of time, I am well into my winter break routine of catching up on some work and enjoying the extra time with family. The days are still filled but on a more relaxed schedule. Many take advantage of the extra time and lack of a set schedule to engage in personal and professional development. Whether it is a time to travel with family and friends or something more professional like attending conferences or taking a class, we all find ways to fill all of that extra time. We get used to a new routine, and likely feel pretty good about our improvement and feel some balance until August arrives and educators return to their classrooms, hopefully, recharged and excited for the new school year.

This has been a challenging year and educators can quickly become burnt out trying to prepare everything and keep up with the changes. We can struggle with finding balance and making time to keep up our personal and professional growth during the school year . So how can we still do ‘all the things’ and stay balanced and find enough time for ourselves?

Here are ten ways to add in more time for you and to be more productive each day:

  1. Connect. We are surrounded by so many people each day in the midst of thousands of interactions. But how many of those interactions are truly meaningful and give us the needed time to pause, lean in and really listen? Are we able to connect with family, friends, students, and Professional Learning Networks (PLN)? Find a way to connect every day. Make time for family first. Share a meal together, go for ice cream, take a walk, watch TV, or play a game. Family time is critical; remember to make time for your ‘school family,’ too. Whether it’s by greeting students at the door, spending time in the hallways or the teachers’ lounge, or using social media to connect through messaging, make time for those moments. Find at least one person to connect with each day. It helps to keep us grounded and gives us access to a constant support system.
  2. Have a routine. Sometimes it comes down to just having a little bit of consistency in each day. Maybe this means setting aside a specific time to read in the morning, listen to music, respond to emails, or simply reviewing your schedule for the day. Personally, I find that having these activities during the day is one way to keep myself in balance. Knowing what my day holds or starting each day with a certain task like reading a blog keeps me accountable for taking time for myself.
  3. Choose one. There are so many choices we have for activities that are worthwhile for our mental and physical well-being. Our days become quite full, and the worst thing we can do is overwhelm ourselves by trying to do everything. Some good advice I received from a friend is to simply choose one thing. Get outside and walk, meet up with family and friends, whether once a week or as often as your schedule allows. Try to pick one activity per day that will be good for your well being.
  4. Disconnect. We all stay connected by a variety of devices. Technology is amazing because it enables us to communicate, collaborate and access information whenever we need to. However, it disconnects us from personal connections, takes away a lot of our time, and can decrease our productivity. It’s beneficial for us to make time to truly disconnect. Whether you leave your device at home during a vacation or simply mute notifications for a period of time during the day, it’s important to take a break. Pause to reflect, and be fully present with family and friends. Personally, I struggle in this area but have been more intentional about taking a break from technology.
  5. Exercise and movement. Think about the students in our classrooms and the learning experiences we create for them. Do we have them stay seated in rows each day or are there opportunities to move and be active? Finding time for exercise and movement is important to our well-being. Go for a walk, have a dance party, or use an on-demand or online exercise program. Get up and moving with your students, and take learning outside whenever you can. Exercise has so many benefits that even setting aside 10 minutes a day is a great way to boost energy and mental wellness. Invite a friend or colleague to join you and hold each other accountable.
  6. Time to rest. Just like exercise, it’s also important to get enough rest. How many times do educators stay up late grading papers or writing lesson plans, and get up extra early to prepare for the day?  We can’t bring our best selves to our classroom if we are tired. Lack of sleep and quality rest will negatively impact our mental and physical health. Our students and colleagues will notice our lack of energy and possibly even mental clarity, so we need to ensure time for sleep to receive the positive benefits!
  7. Reflection. It is important that we model lifelong learning and the development of self-awareness and metacognition for our students. This involves setting aside a period of time where we reflect on our day, the progress we made, the challenges we faced, and even epic fails that we might have experienced.  Finding a way to capture these reflections whether in a blog or journal or using an audio recording to listen to later, are all great ways to track our progress. Then we can revisit our reflections and ask ourselves, “Am I a little bit better today than I was yesterday?”
  8. Learning. Education is changing every day. There are new topics, trends, and tools that make keeping up with everything tough. There are so many ways that we can learn today that don’t take up too much time, however. While traditional professional development training and in-person sessions are useful—especially for the opportunity to connect with other people—the reality is that carving out availability to do this on a regular basis is a challenge. Instead, find something that meets your schedule. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or participating in a Twitter chat once or twice a week, watching a webinar, reading a few blog posts, or joining a group on Voxer to discuss what’s on your mind and ask questions about education. There are many ways to learn on the go!
  9. Celebrate. Make time every day to celebrate something. Whether it’s a positive event in one of your classes, something one of your students did, recognizing a colleague, validating your own efforts or just a random celebration, focusing on the positives will impact your well-being in the long run. No matter how big or small, the steps toward success and achieving goals and even some mistakes should be embraced and even celebrated. Modeling a celebration of the learning process, especially from failures, sends a positive message and is a good model for students.
  10.  The power of no. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to say no. Educators are often asked or volunteer to assume additional responsibilities like sponsoring a club, joining a committee, chaperoning an event, or participating in other school events. There are so many things that comprise our role as educators and with our passion for teaching, it can be difficult to say no, especially when it comes to education and our students. But as hard as it is, sometimes it’s the best choice. Think about what is most important to you and the limited time that you have. I focus on why and how my participation or acceptance of whatever it is can benefit my students and the school community. Saying no is tough, but it is more than reasonable to say no sometimes. We have to do what is best for ourselves, so we can do what is best for our students.

These are just a few ways I’ve tried to maintain more balance and be more effective and productive in my work. We have to start each day with a focus on self-care, because that is how we can make sure that we are bringing our best selves into our classrooms, into our schools, and home to our families each day.

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3 Ways to Unleash the Most Creative Students Ever (Part 2)

Guest post by Chris Chappotin

@Chris_Chappotin

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction

Design Solutions to Real Problems

Design solutions to real problems to develop the most creative students ever. There are enough unmet needs in our schools, communities, country, and world for our students to make a positive difference. The content you are teaching can become a connection point between neighbors’ problems and the creative solutions of our students.

Therefore, how can we mine real problems to craft opportunities to create solutions for students? First, pay attention to conversations around campus. Has a colleague uncovered a situation where a positive difference is needed? Is there a renovation need in the school building? Could we come together to beautify the playground or start a community garden? There are a myriad of ways to apply content throughout the school building and campus if we collaboratively look through the lens of problems and solutions to release creativity in our students.

Second, pay attention to local businesses and service-organizations that may be at work improving life in the community. When my son was in 4th grade, he and a few friends galvanized their teacher, classmates, and classmates’ parents to partner with a local service organization for “Neighborhood Fun Day: Kids Helping Kids Through the Power of Friendship.” The students creatively applied the state standards they were learning to plan, promote, and pull-off an amazing event at a local park that included face painting, games, a lemonade stand, food, and friends. My son and his school friends were presented with a problem. There were kids in their city who did not have the same opportunities they did, and “Neighborhood Fun Day” was how they chose to make an impact. I am thankful for his teacher’s willingness to engage students in problem-solving and empower them down whatever pathway their creativity would take them. Now, my son is two 6-weeks into his 8th grade school year, and he still talks about the positive difference he and his friends made 4 years ago.

Third, pay attention to culture, technology, politics, and other pertinent current events. When presented with an appropriate problem in any of the aforementioned areas, what possible solutions will students dream up? Will they start a podcast, YouTube channel, or blog? Will they design a video game, robot, or website? Will they write a comic book, start a business, or launch an app? Who knows? However, teaching them how to curate the world around them with appropriate analyzation, strategy, and problem-solving while also taking actionable steps to make a positive impact will be deeper learning and skill-development they will remember forever. Plus, they may not need to remember anything, because the creativity that results from the problems you present may not just result in an assignment for school; but instead, an ongoing alteration to their life right now. With problems to be solved all around, let us be quick to invite our students into solution design to develop their creativity and make our world a better place.

Coach and Resource

Coach and resource when needed to develop the most creative students ever. For the educator, this is a journey of relinquishing control. Basically, if you want to control your classroom, give control away to your students. When you design a learner experience that relies on their application of content through intrigue and the solving of real problems, students will begin to drive and even demand learning. Now, you have captive creators ready for more of what you can give: coaching and resourcing.

First, in the design phase of the learner experience, anticipate the resources that will be needed. You can accomplish this through student data analysis, asking other educators for feedback on lesson design, and, depending on what you are attempting to accomplish, utilizing resources that are already available. Furthermore, as the learning experience launches, opportunities will arise for the teacher and students to create and curate resources along the way.

Second, strategically support students through pre-planned and impromptu teacher-led and student-led workshops throughout the learning experience. Through formative assessments, academic conversations, and student feedback, you will know exactly what your students need, and if you don’t, keep asking them. Workshops can be based on standards, applications, idea-generation, critique, or just about anything. Fluidly moving in and out of these purposeful small groups will empower students to take necessary next-steps in their creativity.

Third, teach students how to resource themselves to solve micro-problems on their way to solving macro-problems. In prior times, we might have referred to this as research; however, today this has evolved into team-building, researching, and collaborating. Each of these skills are needed in today’s workplaces and schools. As a result, let’s nurture their development within our learner experiences. That way, students can grow to be confident and competent in their own creativity, because a lack in these skill areas is not holding them back. In other words, if we can teach students how to access the resources already available to them and create anything additional that they need, in the end, they will be ready to face any challenge that comes their way throughout the learning experience.

Students are wired for creativity. As educators, we must design opportunities for them to practice. By mining through the facilitation of intrigue, collaborative design of solutions to real problems, and coaching and resourcing along the way, we can craft learner experiences that consistently unleash the creativity in our students. As a result, they will run to our classes, make a meaningful difference, and have loads of fun along the way.

360 degree inclusive feedback for learning through storying

Guest post by Virna Rossi @VirnaRossi

Inclusive feedback for learning is like a flower. A flower is both fragile and resilient. To thrive it needs good conditions, such as good soil.

Who is the learner in the feedback process? It is the student. But it is also the teacher. Both students and teachers can thrive with inclusive feedback for learning.

The roots

The roots of the feedback flower are the inclusive principles and values that underpin inclusive feedback practices such as:

  • Accessible
  • Dialogic
  • Iterative
  • Respectful
  • Timely
  • Personalised
  • Developmental

The Petals

To be multidimensional, feedback should come from a variety of sources. In the flower analogy, these are the four petals which form the 360° wide-angle view.

Self

Inner feedback is very valuable to develop self-efficacy. We ‘talk to ourselves’ about our learning, during the learning experience as well as once it is completed. If we journal or blog – articulating our inner feedback – our ongoing inner narrative becomes more explicit and is more easily shareable.

Others

This is to enhance peer-learning. For students ‘others’ can be fellow students; for teachers, these can be colleagues and the students themselves.

Top-down

For students, this is feedback from teachers and other educators such as librarians. For teachers this is feedback from line-managers, principals or anyone ‘above’ them in their institution.

Research/literature

For the students, this the body of research of the discipline that they are studying: learning what the ‘experts’ in the field say – and discovering the present boundaries of the discipline – helps the students situate themselves within their field of study.

For teachers, engaging with current educational literature (generic or subject specific) provides indirect feedback on their own professional practice and expands their pedagogical horizon.

The Leaves

How, in practice, can we educators receive and give this type of inclusive feedback?

One very effective way in which the feedback flower can thrive, fed by inclusivity values, is through the use of journaling, storying and blogs (one of the leaves at the base of the flower). This applies to all disciplines.

Learning feedback activities such as these promote pausing and reflecting; they constitute a personal, safe space; they are context rich; they help learners re-focus, articulate and share their learning experience.

Journaling can effectively be integrated into the course. Teachers can plan a dedicated journaling time towards the end of every lesson: everyone is invited to blog or journal for about 15 minutes. Each student’s inner feedback written in the form of blog/journal can then be shared, discussed and used for ‘comparative’ learning. It can be used for formative and summative assessment submissions; it can also be part of an ongoing, life-long learning portfolio. And it constitutes very rich feedback for the teachers.

To build trust and truly model a learning mind-set, teachers should also journal at that same time: to articulate, record and share their inner feedback on the lesson, the cohort, their own learning, successes or missed opportunities in the learning that just took place. This enhances teachers’ feedback literacies.

The pandemic has accelerated and emphasised the need to review assessment and feedback processes. Teachers must design learning experiences that enable and enhance feedback literacies through inclusive, learner-driven processes. Feedback literacies are situated. The emphasis is now on engaging and learning from feedback – rather than simply about teachers giving ‘good’ feedback. For all these reasons, storying, journaling and blogging are powerful, effective ways to encourage 360° inclusive feedback for learning.

Find out more

Watch my 5 minute video below about the why/what/when/who/how of inclusive feedback: What best practice in feedback can I embed in e-learning?https://player.vimeo.com/video/408054242?dnt=1&app_id=122963

References

Baughan, P., (2020) On Your Marks: Learner-Focused Feedback Practices and Feedback Literacy. [ebook] AdvanceHE. Available at: click here [Accessed 17 September 2020]

Nicol, D. (2019). Reconceptualising feedback as an internal not an external process. Italian Journal of Educational research, 71-84. Available at: click here [Accessed 17 September 2020]

Winstone, N. and Careless, D. (2019) Designing effective feedback processes in Higher Education, London: Routledge

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“Do you care about your students?”

Guest post Chris Stuchko @chrisstuchko

I have been a teacher for 15 years. I have been in 100s of meetings over that time span. It probably is closer to 1,000 really. I have been asked many off-the-wall questions and have had conversations that only Special Education teachers, like myself, could appreciate. But never have I been so flustered by a question from a parent during a meeting.

“Do you care about your students?”

In the middle of a Zoom meeting that filled all the required Brady Bunch squares – a supervisor, an assistant principal, a school counselor, regular education teachers, special education teachers, a parent and a student – I stammered and was taken back by the question.

I repeated her query out loud, using a classic stall technique, while quickly trying to process if this was indeed a trick question.

Had I not done something to help this student? Did I misrepresent myself as I was speaking about the student and the start of the school year?

After several stammers and some real thought, I gave an “eloquent” answer.

“Of course I care about my students.”

What teacher doesn’t care about their students, I quickly rationalized.

There really can’t be any other answer, right? That has to be the automatic response. Like the answer that follows the question, “How do I look in this dress?”

As every single one of us in our profession today struggles with our teaching reality, hybrid reality, or virtual reality, I know the one common thread amongst educators everywhere is the high level of care we have for all of our students. We are all trying to do the best we can given what we are up against.

But after my amazing, ground-breaking answer, I quickly learned that the parent wasn’t negatively questioning my care for her student.

Rather, she was trying to make a point about the student’s ability to understand and evaluate if his teachers really cared about him. Her point in that question was to reinforce a simple, yet oft overlooked advice for life: people will do things for those that have their back.

My co-teacher and I in that particular class don’t have a magic formula for how to reach kids. If you really want a listicle that will give the 10 most groundbreaking, 100-percent guaranteed tips on how to show students you care, feel free to click off of this story and go somewhere else. But if you have chosen to keep reading, just know that anything you do to reach out to students can make an impact.

Remaining positive with a student who hears only negative can make an impact.

Noticing that a student drinks tea every day at 7:31 AM during class can make an impact.

Complimenting a student on a newly painted ceiling after seeing it day after day can make an impact.

Making silly jokes to a room of teenagers with their microphones dutifully silenced following virtual meeting etiquette can make an impact.

Letting everyone in a classroom, including yourself, know that it is OK to not be OK can make an impact.

After finishing with that meeting, and realizing that my co-teacher and I were doing our best to pass the care test with that particular student, I returned back to our virtual class session and made it a point to talk with everyone about that thought-provoking question

“Do you care about your students?”

It was the end of our sixth week with students. My co-teacher and I had only seen them in person one time for less than an hour before our school went virtual. We are scheduled to come back together in a few weeks, but like many things since March of last year, the only certainty is uncertainty.

We had to let them know and remind them that yes, we do care. We wanted them to know that even though all of us got to know each other as small boxes on a computer monitor for weeks, we are attempting to build relationships. We are all learning together how to show others we care when all we can do is show it through the computer.

It is a challenge and we are all struggling. But as educators, we know it is all about making those connections. That is what ultimately matters in the end.

When was the last time you thought about the teacher who taught the amazing lesson on parts of a plant? But the teacher who reached out to you in a time of need or saw something special in you? For many of us, the person who made the connection is the reason we are in this profession today.

“Do you care about your students?”

Now, more than ever, we need to show and reinforce the answer to that question with our students, and not just reflexively say “Of course!”

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Game based learning

Guest post post by Brigid Duncan, Educator, Creator, & Blogger

Shaking up learning by bringing retro games to class lessons!

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If you have been teaching for a couple years now, you would be asked by many students to play Kahoot! Or just mention the word Kahoot! and kids await eagerly to hear the elevator music playing in the background as they enter the game code to join your game. So, our students love to play games. Who doesn’t? There is an old Finnish saying that goes like this:

“Those things you learn with JOY

You will not forget easily!”

So why use game-based learning? Many reasons come to mind, however the most significant one is that students work harder when they are given a choice, autonomy, and they are in an audience being observed by their peers. In other words, they like a challenge and want to win. So, knowing this and building games into your instruction accomplishes that and so much more. Many of our students are Gen Z’s, and research has proven that this generation loves challenges, they love independence and relish having a voice in their learning outcomes. Theory behind game- based learning is that we are taking the motivational aspects of a game and applying it our lessons for assessment, while kids are having fun. 

As we move into the start of this ever-pivoting school year, our instruction has to keep up with modifications as our classroom changes, whether we are online,  face to face instruction or hybrid. The problem teachers face with this type of instruction, lies in with our assessments and the integrity of them. Are my students truly understanding the essential questions as outlined at the start of the lesson? Are they using Professor Google (my favorite word for searching google for answers) to my assessments? Should I even have assessments and just go strictly to project based assessments. Well I am here to say you can have online assessments using game-based learning. 

Who wouldn’t want to play an old-fashioned Trivial Pursuit board game? A favorite for many and can be used to assess for key terms or conceptual thinking on a unit lesson. Have them play in teams, assign points and give them badges that they can proudly display. Have a “Battle Royale” with review or test bank questions. Want to take it a step back in our time capsule, do you remember Four Corners a game still played in and out the classroom. Well you can simulate the same idea but on a board game and in, an online classroom. Let’s say you are teaching themes in a novel read that the class just wrapped up. You can ask students to identify themes on opposite side of the four corners. Example, revenge in one corner and opposite side “compassion” You can give them a blank card with 4 squares and play Pictionary, another retro board game. You can pose the same questions but this time you say to your students use icons to represent the themes and place in opposing squares. Sites like The Noun Project or AutoDraw are all free. And of course, I couldn’t write a blog post on game-based learning and not mention Monopoly. I have seen many teachers get creative by incorporating unit lessons using a Monopoly style board, guiding students through asynchronous lessons from START to FINISH. 

I hope this post on game based learning will encourage you to Level Up, on your lesson plans and incorporate games in your classroom learning assessments. Many teachers will be starting a new year with students you have never met in person. I have read many of your comments on social media asking how to build classroom community when we have never met and will continue online. Then this is one of the best solutions available now, to ease your concerns. By having games included in your lesson plans, you will begin building online classroom student relationships. Have fun this school year and remember that Old Finnish saying when developing and designing your lesson plans: “Kids remember best when they are having fun!” 

Brigid Duncan, Educator, Creator, & Blogger

Brigid Duncan is an AP Econ/Business instructor teaching high school in Hollywood, Florida. Originally from the Caribbean, she pursued a career in advertising and Marketing before transitioning to teaching. She is Mom to three wonderful and energetic teenagers and enjoys being creative, especially in graphic design. Favorite quote: “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not’?” – George Bernard Shaw.

Follow her educational journey at @MsBDuncan

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Versatile Tools for Blended Learning

Posted originally on DefinedSTEM: Ideas for some AR/VR for Blended Learning

Years ago when I started to use more technology in the classroom, I thought that by having students watch videos at home, rather than in class, I would be “flipping” the classroom. Fortunately, I learned quickly that I was not, and made some changes to implement blended learning instead. As part of my ongoing reflection, I continue to think about the many changes that I have made and the tools that have helped me to create a more authentic and engaging learning experience for my students. There are so many tools available, and we always want to first consider the “why” behind using them and also think about the purpose and how versatile the tools can be. Learning opportunities for students are everywhere and the best part of having so many choices is that it promotes student agency. Students can find something that meets their interests and needs, and that offer more meaningful ways to engage with the content. Choices will lead to purposeful learning experiences for students.

Sometimes it is fun and beneficial to try unconventional tools or methods, to immerse students more in learning and do things differently than what they have become accustomed to. Making a change to thttps://www.definedstem.com/blog/versatile-tools-for-blended-learning/he traditional style and structure of the classroom can feel uncomfortable at first, but giving students more control in designing their learning is worth it. The flexibility of these tools enables learning to happen anywhere and at any time, based on the student’s or school schedule, which help to foster a blended learning environment. Here are a few ideas to immerse students in learning.

Augmented/Virtual Reality

One of the biggest areas of growth in education has been the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality in the classroom. In  my own classroom we have used a variety of tools and students have enjoyed the time exploring new tools and definitely different ways to learn. The idea of teaching by using tools for AR or VR can  seem challenging, but it really can be quite simple to add it into the course and there are tons of resources available. I recommend exploring the resources shared by Jaime Donally on all things related to Augmented and Virtual Reality in education.

These tools can offer more powerful ways to immerse students in learning, to “travel” and “explore” places and things more closely. Students can create, problem solve, become more curious and experience something unique through the use of these tools, which enable learning to happen beyond the classroom walls and involve students in more collaborative experiences.

Tools to try:

  1. 3DBear: A newer platform that enables students to add objects into their space and then narrate a story in augmented reality. Teachers are able to create a class account and can choose from the lessons available for grades 1-6 and up, in content areas including ELA, Math, Social Studies, Science, and also STEAM-related topics. Each lesson includes links to reading materials, timelines, and also worksheets. Teachers can sign up for a free trial.
  2. CoSpaces:  A tool for creating “spaces” where students can tell a story, create a game to represent their learning in a more authentic and meaningful way. Students can work together on projects and design a more immersive story together. Working together helps students to develop their  digital citizenship skills as well as promote social emotional learning skills. An engaging way to reinforce content by having students design spaces they can then “walk” through in virtual reality.
  3. Metaverse: An augmented reality tool that teachers can use to create assessments with or have students design an interactive “experience” full of choices in characters, GIFS, 360 images, themed objects and more. There are “experiences” available and it is easy to get started by  watching the tutorial videos from Metaverse. Students can create their own experiences and share them with classmates and teachers can create more engaging review activities for students.
  4. Shapes 3D Geometry:  An app that gives students and teachers a more interactive way to explore core concepts of geometry and that can help students discover 2D and 3D shapes in an augmented reality experience. Using a Merge cube, students can examine 3D shapes by holding the solids in their hands, manipulating them and being able to more closely understand the core concepts of geometry.

Learning beyond  the classroom: Virtual Field Trips

It is important for students to experience learning and explore the world, beyond the limits of the classroom time and space. While we can’t easily take students to  faraway places,there are different tools that make these “trips” possible. The right tools bring in a world of learning for our students, enabling them to closely look at a location rather than by simply watching videos or looking at pictures in a book. We can even connect students with  other classrooms and experts around the world by using one of these options in our classes. Many of these tools are easy to get started with and some even have lessons available, which makes the lack of time factor, not an issue.

Tools to Try:

  1. Google Expeditions: By using Google Expeditions, teachers can “guide” students in faraway lands or have them closely view an object in Augmented reality. All that is required is the App, and then students need to be on the same wifi as teachers in order to “explore” in the classroom. Teachers can choose from more than 100 objects in augmented reality and 800 virtual tours to travel around the world. Each tour includes a script with guiding questions and enrichment activities, all easily accessible by downloading them to a device.
  2. Skype: Years ago, connecting with other classrooms took a lot of time to plan, working with different schedules and access to the right technology. Now through tools like Skype, students andteachers can connect with anyone in the world. By joining the Microsoft community, teachers can connect with other classrooms and create connections for students to communicate by using Skype or for more fun and pushing the critical thinking, collaboration and problem-solving skills, try using Mystery Skype.

Tools for anywhere learning

With blended learning, students have the online component as well as the traditional in-class instruction. One type of blended learning involves the use of stations. By using some of these tools, especially if access to devices is an issue, students can participate in station rotations and learn in multiple ways. The best part is that these tools are accessible when convenient for students as well.

  1. Nearpod: A favorite because it is such a versatile tool that offers a lot of options for how to have students interact with the content, and even go on virtual reality tours and explore 3D shapes. Some of the activities you can include are polls, open-ended responses, matching pairs, for a few and also including content such as BBC videos, PhET simulations and more recently, a Desmos graphing calculator. A tool to enhance instruction whether in or out of the classroom, and one which students can use to create their own lessons to share.
  2. Buncee: Students can create multimedia presentations that include a variety of items such as animations, emojis, 360 images, and web content including videos that can be embedded into the presentation. Teachers can create a lesson using Buncee by adding videos, audio, including hyperlinks and sharing one link with students, that leads to multiple other activities.
  3. Quizizz: A game based learning tool that can be used for instruction, both in and out of class, or for students to create their own games as more authentic practice. Quizizz has thousands of games available in the library and recently added a student log-in that enables students to track their progress and gives them access to prior games played so they can always go back and review. Having this available to students makes it more personalized because students can get extra practice whenever they need it.
  4. Kahoot!: Challenges with Kahoot have become quite popular. Teachers can “challenge” students to participate in a game as a way to practice the content or review for an assessment. Students can even challenge each other by sharing games and codes, which makes it good for peer collaboration and building the social emotional learning skills.
  5. Synth: A podcasting  tool that can be used to have students respond to questions, participate in a conversation by responding to a prompt or a “thread.” A thread is a string of responses in a conversation. Creating with Synth is easy and simply by recording a prompt that can also include a video, teachers can promote communication and student discussion beyond the school day. Teachers can then listen to all student responses as a podcast.

Finding new tools to explore is  always fun, especially when we have students create with them and share their work with classmates. We learn more about their interests and needs and they have a more personalized experience.

These tools have made  an impact on my students this year and I have seen a lot of benefits by offering students a variety of tools to choose from. Creating a more interactive classroom experience and expanding the where, when and how students learn, leads to more of a blended learning  approach. It is important to show students that learning can happen anywhere and give them the tools to make that possible.

 

**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  

If it ain’t broke, then break it

 

Guest post by Cory Radisch, Follow Cory on Twitter @cradisch_wc

Wait, that’s not how the saying goes! However, even though data still demonstrates consistent opportunity and achievement gaps in schools, there are many who think things are not broken. It doesn’t matter that the data tells a different story. In many places, if adults are satisfied and comfortable, many believe the system “ain’t broke”! My longtime mentor, Marc Natanagara, used the title of this blogpost with former staff, not only to inspire them to challenge the status quo, but also to let them know it’s perfectly acceptable to break the system! It was appropriate long ago and it’s even more appropriate today. If we are going to truly transform education, then we just may need to break it. 

  • We need to break the system that marginalizes students!
  • We need to break the system that perpetuates learning and opportunity gaps!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately disciplines students of color!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately has fewer students of color in AP and advanced classes!
  • We need to break the system where your zip code usually determines what level of education you receive!
  • We need to break the system that fails to recruit and retain teachers of color!   
  • We need to break the system that teaches a unilateral perspective of history!

 

Breaking the system is not blowing up the system. Breaking the system is about addressing and interrupting implicit and explicit bias in our policies, curricula, and procedures. It will undoubtedly cause discomfort. Then again, when has breaking something not created discomfort? We can either be comfortable or we can grow, but we can’t do both!  I would love to know what you will break in order to ensure equity in your district, school, or classroom.

This post is dedicated to my longtime mentor and friend, educator Marc Natanagara, who recently retired after 33 years of breaking things that weren’t broken!

 

**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  

Your Story Matters, Here’s Mine

LEAN ON ME, WHEN YOU’RE NOT STRONG

From the time I became very aware of what my parents did for a living, I firmly decided that I did not want to follow in their educational footsteps. They worked too hard for too little compensation for all the time and effort they spent on their work, students, and school. They were outstanding educators (my dad retired as an elementary principal, and my mom retired as a psychological examiner for an educational cooperative). In college, as I considered my major area of study and degree options, Dad pointed out that careers define where we live. At the time, I wanted to write for a magazine, so I was considering a Bachelor of Arts in English. However, Dad suggested that if I completed a Bachelor of Science in Education with an English major, then magazine companies would still view it as an English degree, but I would have the flexibility to become a teacher as well, allowing me to live anywhere.

AND I’LL BE YOUR FRIEND

I took over my first classroom a few years later in October, becoming the third Spanish teacher that year for McDonald County High School after working for Missouri State University for 3 years. I nearly hyperventilated the night before my first day as I pondered all of the responsibility I had just agreed to shoulder, but the next morning, as I stood in front of my first class of thirty high school students, I realized that I was finally home. Education was where I belonged.

I’LL HELP YOU CARRY ON

Thoughts of my greatest accomplishments in education over the years always have me looking outward, not inward for impact. Have I made a difference in anyone’s life? Many have made a difference in mine. Am I transmitting inspiration and motivation? Many have inspired and motivated me. Have I equipped students to be able to walk through any door they want in life to fulfill their dreams? Am I walking through my own doors? These questions are why I am never satisfied with my own knowledge and skill. I must know better so that I can do better. Toward that end, I relentlessly pursue professional development, typically completing 150 or more hours each year (and I’m blessed to have a passion be what I do for a living, though I also get time away from PD, so don’t judge your own learning based on mine. Nothing normal here.) As I learn, I share what I know with other educators everywhere. Since the summer of 2016 (I had Twitter before that, but I had no idea what to do with it), I have become a connected educator on social media and have discovered my voice, my audience, and shifted my focus to being a conduit of empowerment for all learners, adults and students alike.

FOR IT WON’T BE LONG

I tell my students that while in my classroom, they will learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Together we will push ourselves to take risks and go beyond the boundaries of what we think we can do (Thanks, Dave & George!). In my classes and professional development sessions, we leverage technology to flatten the walls of our classroom so that the world awaits. I have connected my students with experts and companies (Thanks, Buncee!) from all over the world during global DigCit Summit 2019 (Thanks, Marialice!). We connect with students from as close as Jackson, Missouri (Thanks Lance!) and as far away as Argentina (Thanks, Rachelle!) to learn other cultures, spread kindness (Thanks, Heather!), practice digital citizenship, and to develop authentic audiences for our work (Thanks, JessicaJamie, and Heather!). My passion for technology helps me guide students in a world where they no longer have to wait “grow up” to make an impact (thanks for reminding me, Kevin!).

‘TIL I’M GONNA NEED

Besides leveraging technology to empower students, I also cultivate their voice. Communication is another big skill that employers look for when hiring. Google, at the time this post was written, ranks it second in their top 7 desired employee skills, so I want my students to be able to articulate ideas then see them come to fruition. Students guide my teaching by giving me after action reports when I try a new activity or lesson. They give me as much feedback as I give them. Students have input on what activities we do, how we do them, and in choice of tool for completing the activities. Their voice matters (Thanks for reminding me, Rick & RebeccaLet Them Speak: How Student Voice Can Transform Your School).

SOMEBODY TO LEAN ON

But I don’t stop there. While I flatten the classroom walls for my students, I also do that for myself. An educator in North Carolina, my friend Holly King, pointed out that one of my talents is in connecting the dots, whether that be in combining learning sciences with supported research based teaching strategies, social emotional skills with academics, using tools in new and unique ways to help students learn, or just in the realm of ideas and theories, I make connections. By doing so, I connect people. Whether it is high school students or adults, I connect people, which connects ideas, and that elevates us all and empowers us with a platform, with a sounding board, with a brainstorming opportunity to be better, to elevate the field for us all. (Speechless, Holly.) This is what a lot of us in education do, whether we realize it or not. It’s why left our own islands and continue to grow our professional learning network. Teaching is a life changing business (Right, Dave?), and not just for students. It changes us all.

HEADING TITLES ARE PARTIAL LYRICS FROM BILL WITHERS’ SONG, LEAN ON ME, © UNIVERSAL MUSIC PUBLISHING GROUP

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**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  

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  

Exploring the World From Our Classroom

As we prepare our students for their future once they leave our classrooms, I believe that one of the most important skills that they need to develop is that of collaboration. We cannot be certain of the type of work that they will do nor the type of jobs that will exist, but being able to collaborate and to provide and receive support will be beneficial to any line of work. However, we need to go beyond the collaboration that occurs whether in person in the classroom, working in small groups or collaborating virtually through the use of digital tools. We have so many possibilities for extending their collaboration to a global scale and to best prepare for the future, this is what we must do in our classrooms. The benefit of setting up virtual collaborative learning experiences for students is that it shows the powerful capability of technology. Through different digital tools and organizations available, we can now offer faster and more reliable access to resources than we ever had before. But probably more important than this, it fosters a greater understanding of life in the real world and promotes cultural awareness for our students.

As a Spanish teacher, for years I have wanted to create global connections for my students but only until the past few years did I become more intentional about finding ways to do so. Drawing upon my experiences as a student and during the first years of my teaching career, finding opportunities or knowing where to look were areas that I struggled with. However, after doing some research and becoming more connected, there are a lot of digital tools and resources available for making these global collaborations happen and which do not take much time at all to get started.

In my practice, to connect globally, I use project-based learning is the first way that I connected my students with other classrooms and that has made a positive impact on their learning as well as on their personal growth. It simply took connecting with teachers using Edmodo as our platform and then building the different tools in to open up those conversations and create that space for students to collaborate within. Tools like Flipgrid, Synth, Padlet or Wakelet can be used for students to post messages whether written or audio or video and to work together to better understand a concept or potentially work together to solve a problem.

Resources for global collaboration and learning

Scavenger hunts: I’m sure most of us have participated in a scavenger hunt. A few years ago I found the platform Goose Chase which made it a lot easier and quicker to create a scavenger hunt for use in my classroom. What I realized is that by using digital tools like Goose Chase for example, is that those who can participate are not limited to students in the same class nor students in the same school community. Find a partner teacher to collaborate with and design a scavenger hunt that can be a way to exchange information about each respective culture, post images of the school, the town or what life is like beyond your own school community. The results would be amazing when students in both classrooms learn about another culture, become curious for learning, collaborate and problem-solve together while being in a completely different geographical location. This idea had not occurred to me until I participated in a scavenger hunt for a conference in California, from my home in Pittsburgh, and I actually won a prize. And if not Goose Chase, I can use things like Fliphunt or even Wakelet as a good friend of mine Laura Steinbrink had created. There are many tools to get started with this, but the idea is that we push beyond our own classrooms and involve other students so that we can learn and grow together.

There is no shortage of tools for use in our classrooms, whether digital or traditional format. What makes any one of them stand out is the purpose and knowing the why behind our decision to use them in our practice. When it comes to preparing our students for the future, the best that we can do is open as many doors as possible for them to look out into the world, explore, and find something that is interesting and leads them down a road of discovery. In addition to digital tools for promoting global collaboration, there are some organizations that have invested in building global awareness and digital citizenship.

Here are a few resources to start with:

Belouga: An educational platform that provides resources for educators and students to connect with classrooms around the world and engage in more authentic learning. Belouga focuses on promoting intercultural communication and offers resources such as projects for students to participate in to develop a greater global understanding. Belouga offers a deep dive series as well as a new feature that focuses on Mission 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Empatico: A free platform for use with their students ages six through 11. Educators can connect their classroom with a partner classroom and design activities to engage students in more meaningful learning as they develop greater global awareness. Through the connections made within the platform, students can build their vital 21st-century skills and take a more active role in learning.

Teach SDGs:  The “Sustainable Development Goals” are something that we have been learning more about as we’ve done project-based learning in my classroom. Exploring the website and learning more about the needs and challenges around the world has made an impact on my students as well as myself for learning. Going to the Teach SDGs site, students can learn about the 17 goals set forth by the United Nations. Together we can look at global issues, learn how places around the world are solving these problems, and use this to set up connections with classrooms globally. Again it just takes finding the right tool to communicate through. It could be with Microsoft Skype, to set up a call to talk with someone who teaches in one of those places or to connect with an expert I can talk about a specific topic, but that opens up the potential to connect our students’ work together.

Write the World: Students ages 13 through 18 can write and share their work with writers from over 120 countries around the world. Through the global platform, students have opportunities to build their writing skills and become more comfortable expressing themselves. Write the World is a good way to get feedback from students, educators, and authors and to work to build a writing portfolio. With access to writing from around the world and the ability to share their work on a global scale, students and build cultural awareness and become more connected as they design their learning journey.

Global Book!: Or how about Michael Drezek, an educator from New York who came up with the idea to create a global book! Using Buncee, he started the story by sharing it with classrooms around the world and having students add to the book. In the first year, the book traveled over 23,208 miles! This is the second year that Michael is doing this project and the focus is on the global sustainability goals. Imagine having your students come up with part of a global story and in the end to see how they’ve connected with students from around the world without leaving your classroom or possibly even their seat.

As educators, we must continue to push ourselves to learn more about resources available as well as the different ways we can become more connected. There are many online events to build our skills, including virtual learning summits, webinars, and Twitter chats our own professional development. It is through these formats that we can reach out to connect ourselves and serve as a model for our students about the importance of and the power in global collaboration. Check out some of the resources that were available for global collaboration week, there are a lot of ideas and links to excellent resources.

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