elearning

Updated from an original post on DefinedSTEM.

Technology creates many opportunities for teachers to provide innovative learning experiences for students. An even greater benefit is that these learning experiences can take place regardless of the time and place, and offer students more personalized opportunities for interacting with their peers and the content. With so many choices now available, sometimes deciding on a specific digital tool or a type of tool can present a challenge.

I am often asked about where a teacher should start when either implementing technology for the first time or creating a blended learning environment. What I suggest is to first think about some of the learning activities that are already being used in the classroom. What has seemed to work the best and what are some that possibly either take a lot of time to create or that don’t offer students a lot in the way of choices.

Another consideration is focusing on your goals and what you are hoping to accomplish by using technology. Is it to create an access point where students can ask questions, obtain class resources or interact with their peers? Or is it to provide students with different methods to practice the content and also to apply their learning in more authentic ways?

Here are four strategies for helping students to communicate, collaborate and create in the traditional learning space as well as beyond the classroom setting. By trying some of these ideas, you will see some positive changes that promote student voice, create more time for you to interact with and support students in learning, and it will help students to build digital citizenship skills as they learn to leverage the technology and navigate in the digital world.

Improve Communication Through Effective Technology Use

One way that I have used technology that has had a big impact in my classroom is by using a messaging tool. A few years ago I noticed a disconnect with students and the class, either they were absent and could not get materials or they had questions after the school day had ended. By using messaging apps, I can send reminders, answer student questions and provide feedback when students need it. You can also use some of these apps to connect with families as an alternative to email. There are a lot of options available and your choices will depend on the level and area you teach and whether your goal is to set up communication between students and you or with parents. I use Remind with students and parents, and BloomzApp is another option for creating a space to interact with parents. Either of these is good for providing students and parents with live feedback. It is easy to sign up for either of these using any device, and privacy and security are provided.

However,  I was recently looking at communication tools and thinking about promoting family engagement and came across ParentSquare before attending FETC in January. 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. 

 

ParentSquare provides a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement.

Enhance Collaboration Through Digital Learning Spaces

By establishing a specific location for students to access class resources, find out about assignments, and to ask questions, we can provide the support that students need to be successful. Some of the ways that I have used Edmodo and Google Classroom are to curate and provide resources, post daily assignments or reminders, announce upcoming class events, and to be accessible for student questions. Depending on the platform you use, it is easy to update the site and it is also a good way to help parents stay informed of what is going on in the classroom. It can be a collaborative learning space for students to interact with their peers or to connect globally using additional digital tools that are all housed within one learning space.  Tools like Edmodo, a blogging site, Google Classroom or creating a standalone website will help to create a connection between you, the students, and their learning.

Foster Active Discussions

Sometimes you may want to have students brainstorm an idea, participate in a scavenger hunt, share a learning experience, or just respond to a question. While we can always use the traditional tools for this in class, sometimes we may want the discussion to go beyond the class time and space. I would recommend trying either Padlet or Synth. There are so many ways to use Padlet, that if you want students to post images, record audio, upload video, or simply respond to a question, it offers all of these options in one tool. Students have come up with some great ideas for using Padlet, such as building a digital portfolio, creating a multimedia presentation, or presenting their Project Based Learning. It is a versatile tool that many educators may already be using, but may not be aware of other innovative ways to use Padlet.

Also by using Synth, a tool for podcasting, educators can provide daily class updates, add links or resources to supplement what was done in class, and even interact with other students in classrooms around the world. It enables discussions to happen at any time and is an easy tool to use for promoting discussions and helping students to share ideas. There are many ways that these tools can also add to the organization in the classroom by providing written or verbal directions and ways to reinforce instruction.

 

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Enhance Visualizations and Presentations

Some students are visual learners and having tools which enable them to display different types of information and content, they will be able to retain the content in a more authentic and meaningful way as they create. Infographics are useful for so many class assignments and projects that are student created, but they are beneficial for teachers to create a course syllabus, make visuals for the classroom, or to create a flipped lesson and display all of the learning materials in one graphic. Beyond creating representations of learning, they are useful for sharing information and offering ways for students or parents to contact you or access class materials. Some of the options available are BunceeCanva, Piktochart, Smore, and Visme. It is always good practice to learn with and from the students, so try creating some new materials for your classroom as well. Perhaps create a class newsletter, or make some signs that will be useful for your learning space.

 

 

There are many ideas for how to expand the learning space and to set up different learning opportunities for students. These are just a few of the ideas that we have used and that have worked well in our classroom. Sometimes we just need to brainstorm a little or, if you want to find new ways to use some digital tools in your classroom, try asking your students. Students come up with really creative ideas and by involving them in some of the classroom decisions, they will feel more valued and have a more meaningful learning experience.

 

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

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

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

What it offers

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

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

10 features that make ParentSquare a standout

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

ParentSquare provides a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement. Sign up for a demo today!

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

 

In my previous post, I shared the background of ParentSquare, where the inspiration came from and provided a basic overview of what the platform offers. To learn more, I scheduled a demo with Anupama Vaid, Founder and President of ParentSquare, and was able to “experience” the platform from the perspective of a parent, teacher, and administrator. I also had an opportunity to explore the platform on my own, delve more into each of the features, and compare it to the tools that I use in my own classroom as well as those used within my school.

ParentSquare offers unique features that make it stand out when compared with other similar home-to-school communication platforms currently used in schools. While other platforms offer similar benefits, one of the things I appreciate most about ParentSquare is understanding the vision that Anu has for the platform. She has a genuine passion for connecting families in the school community.

The Power of Technology

When I spoke with Anu, we first talked about technology and its benefits. When asked about the purpose of ParentSquare and what makes it different from similar tools, Anu said her goal is to provide teachers with “a system that takes care of everything, one that is automatic.” Because of the way ParentSquare is designed, teachers will find that there is not much of a learning curve at all and that it is very easy to navigate. She added, “The purpose is to simplify the technology enough so that everyone can use it because that’s the power in technology.”

Everything in ParentSquare has a similar look and feel, “if you know how to do one thing, you know how to do everything.” For students, parents, teachers, and administrators, this ease of use and accessibility are key.

When it comes to ParentSquare, Anu has a unique perspective. She can evaluate the benefits by using it as a parent, which gives her a more authentic experience with the platform. And she is in a position to make changes based on the feedback she receives and through her own experience in communicating with her children’s teachers.

What makes ParentSquare stand out?

The first thing that I noticed about ParentSquare is how easy it is to navigate in the platform. When looking at digital tools, especially those that offer as many features as ParentSquare, a common question is if there will there be a big learning curve. A key feature of ParentSquare is in its simplicity. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators, whether tech-savvy or new to technology, will be comfortable using ParentSquare.

With ParentSquare, you can streamline many of the tasks and communications that are a regular part of school, but that typically come in multiple formats. ParentSquare takes everything that schools and teachers are currently using and unifies them in one platform that is easy to use and widely accessible. Schools can establish consistency in communication which will increase family engagement and provide all of the necessary resources in a safe digital environment.

Features that make a difference

  1. Smart Alerts and Notices: Send alerts for school closings, urgent notices, or quick reminders to parents. Alerts can be sent to the entire district, individual schools, parents, or students. Sending a recorded message or using the text-to-speech feature provided by ParentSquare is easy to do. Through the reports, you can verify the number of messages that have been received, even getting a prompt that provides the percentage of contacts being reached and the number needed to reach 100%.
  2. Classroom Communication: Posting a message takes little time and messages can be sent to parents, privately exchanged with teachers, or as part of a group chat. Parents choose their preferred method of contact and you simply create one message that is delivered to parents in the format and language they choose.
  3. School Business and Workflows: ParentSquare offers many resources such as:
  • Parent Conference Signups
  • Class “wish lists”
  • Volunteer requests
  • RSVPs for events
  • Permission forms
  • Calendar of events (can be synced with personal Google calendar)
  • File and photo sharing
  • Quick polls
  • Absence excuses

Exploring the features of ParentSquare

While exploring the demo site, I decided to look at features related to two areas:

  • Clerical tasks: taking attendance, creating permission forms, and contacting parents.
  • Daily classroom procedures: sending class announcements, posting reminders, and sharing class materials.

Personally, I have been using between four and six different apps and websites to complete these tasks. However, with ParentSquare, you can facilitate faster and better communication and collaboration between home and school. And more importantly, it will help to foster the relationships that are the foundation of learning.

Here are just five of the many benefits of using ParentSquare in schools:

  1. Parent-Teacher Communication – With ParentSquare, it is easier to:
  • Provide updates on student progress
  • Be accessible for parent concerns
  • Arrange parent-teacher conferences
  • Verify when messages have been received and who you need to reach

2) Directory – Parental contact information is more accessible, taking less time to find and exchange emails or messages. You can search by student or parent name, email address or phone number.

3) Paper-free – Easier to keep track of permission forms, absence excuses, and volunteer sign-ups. Exchange information faster and access the “paperwork” when you need to without having to print extra copies or keep folders full of documents.

4) Grade reporting – ParentSquare integrates with your grade book and notifications can be sent to keep parents informed about student grades.

5) Attendance Tasks – Keeping attendance records and gathering excuses for absences is much simpler using ParentSquare. Parents receive notices of absences and can respond with an excuse instantly within the app or on the web.

These are the first five areas that I thought of which likely take up a good portion of time for most educators each day. Using ParentSquare to facilitate these five tasks alone would make a big difference. In addition to being beneficial for time management, it would foster the creation of a supportive and engaged community of students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Sign up for your demo today!

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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

Shapes 3D: AR Drawing App

An area of focus at FETC, TCEA, and PETE&C: Bringing Augmented Reality to Every Classroom

Rachelle Dene Poth

February 22, 2019

This is post is sponsored by Shapes 3D. All opinions expressed are my own.

Over the past few weeks, I have been fortunate to attend and present at several educational technology conferences. First was FETC (Future of Education Technology Conference) in Orlando, then TCEA (Texas Computer Education Association) in San Antonio, and the most recent, PETE&C (Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference) held in Hershey, PA. A large part of my experience at each of these conferences involved presenting on and attending sessions about Augmented and Virtual Reality. There has been more discussion and a lot of excitement recently surrounding the AR/VR tools and exploring how these tools can be used for education. In my own classroom experiences with students, I have seen tremendous benefits for students by implementing some tools for augmented and virtual reality as part of their learning experience. The tools we have used give students an opportunity to engage in a completely different kind of learning which gives them more control in the classroom, and an immersive and authentic experience.

Learning Potential with Shapes 3D Augmented Reality

The terms “augmented and virtual reality,” might seem to be complex concepts that require a big investment of time or come with a steep learning curve. However, with tools like Shapes 3D, this is not the case at all. Shapes 3D provides the perfect opportunity for students and teachers to explore core concepts of geometry and help students to discover 2D and 3D shapes by engaging with these shapes in an augmented reality experience. Using a Merge cube, students can now examine 3D shapes in Augmented Reality. Imagine learning geometry by holding the solids in your hands, manipulating them and being able to more closely understand the core concepts of geometry. In personal experience, having this app available during my ninth grade year would have made a huge difference in how I was learning and the way that I could build on my knowledge! Preview it here!

Getting Started

Whether you have experimented with AR/VR or not, getting started with Shapes 3D is quite easy to do. If you prefer to have a tutorial, Shapes 3D has videos to help you get started. Often the number one answer given when educators are asked why they are not using technology or even a specific tool in the classroom is due to a lack of time. There are so many components to teaching today that can make it a challenge to find extra time to try new tools or implement new methods. Fortunately, Shapes 3D makes it easy to get started with the availability of bundles to use for instruction, access to lesson plans and tutorial videos that can help any educator get started quickly. You can gather a lot of ideas by searching through Twitter looking at tweets related to Shapes 3D, especially when it comes to edtech conferences, which can provide new ideas and new connections. There are also publications and other helpful resources shared and updated on the Shapes 3D site. You will love Shapes 3D applications, get started by grabbing a bundle at the price of $ 5.99, Shapes 3D Bundle!

If you are like me and prefer to just get started without tutorials, start by exploring the tool and the options available, and then dive right in! Use Shapes 3D as a way to introduce a concept or shapes to students, to act as a “hook” for the lesson. Once students begin engaging with Shapes 3D, give them the opportunity to create and explore on their own and run with it. They will likely exceed your own knowledge of the possibilities that exist with Shapes 3D and that is okay. You will notice that students catch on rather quickly and will become immersed in more authentic and meaningful learning, right in their hands. It is a lot of fun to use the Merge cube and really look closely at the shapes!

Merge and Shapes 3D

Students can easily explore the object by using their device or a classroom iPad for example, if accessibility is an issue consider using stations in your classroom, where students can work in small groups. But if you want to take it to another level and really put the learning in the students’ hands, why not get a few Merge cubes to use with shapes 3D. What is so unique about this possibility is that students will be able to interact with the object and even draw lines and manipulate the shapes in their own ways, which will provide a more personalized learning experience for them.

Learning from others

Shapes 3D is great for teachers to use as a way to engage students, but also to provide opportunities for students to become the teachers in the classroom. Like presenting at conferences, getting to share what you are doing in the classroom, to brainstorm ideas with classmates, and maybe more importantly, have the opportunity to learn from one another builds more confidence in learning. The great thing about tools like Shapes 3D is that educators will not have to spend a lot of time trying to figure it out on their own or come up with ways to use it in the classroom. Leave it to our students. We need to push for more opportunities for our students to do more than consume, but instead, to create, to explore and to become curious for learning. Using technology in classes today should be focused more on creation rather than consumption.

So why use Shapes 3D?

As educators, our purpose is to help our students to develop a wide range of skills that will not only engage them in learning which is authentic and meaningful but also provide skills that will We want to put tools that can engage them and more authentic and meaningful learning in their hands. Students learn more by doing and having opportunities to engage in hands-on activities, where they control the direction their learning takes. We need for students to design their own problems, to ask more questions, and even at times to experience some struggles in learning. Preparing them for the future means giving time for them to problem solve, collaborate, communicate and even create on their own as they are preparing for the future and life in general.

Before adding technology into the classroom, be sure to focus on the “why” behind using a specific tool or method. What is it going to do differently for students, that will enhance learning and go beyond the traditional methods t being used in the classroom? What sets it apart from other options? I think the answer is clear. Tools like Shapes 3D will enable teachers to move students to a more active role in the classroom, become the creators and immerse themselves in a new learning environment. Students can do so much with Shapes 3D to really understand geometry concepts that might otherwise be difficult to understand, in a 1D format. Draw lines, rotate solids, check the properties of the solids and more. Hands-on learning takes math to a new level.

Options and getting started

By having a Shapes 3D bundle, students in grades K through 12 have access to a wide variety of ways to interact with different structures and to really understand math concepts at a deeper level. When we can place tools like this in the hands of our students, we amplify their potential for learning, because of the accessibility to explore on their own and build their skills as they manipulate the objects in the 3D space. It pushes student curiosity even more and leads them to ask questions and to develop their understanding at a deeper and more meaningful level.

As teachers, there are so many things that we are responsible for and need to keep up with, that it can be difficult to stay current and relevant with all of the emerging trends when it comes to technology. Fortunately, there are tools like Shapes 3D that make it easier to get started and that provide innovative ways for students to learn. It just takes a few minutes to get started and then encouraging the students to explore on their own and with peers. Join in the Geometry learning fun with Shapes 3D Geometry Drawing on iOs today! Enjoy the app (for free) on Google Play, there is a beta version of Shapes 3D Geometry Drawing, and it works with Merge cube!

Don’t wait, sign up today! Get started with Shapes 3D applications by grabbing a bundle at the promotional price of $ 5.99, bit.ly/Shapes3Dbundle !

 

Sponsored Content, All opinions are my own

Sign up for your free one month trial! https://3dbear.io/freetrial

Exploring the world in AR: 3DBear brings your environment to life

Ever since learning about 3DBear a few months ago, I have continued to be impressed with the platform and the company’s focus on meeting the needs and interests of educators and students. At both FETC and TCEA, I had the opportunity to spend time speaking with the 3DBear team and was able to get a better understanding of their vision for 3DBear and learn more about the newer features and ways to use it in the classroom. Even when I first started creating with 3DBear, I immediately saw a lot of benefits for classroom use regardless of content area or grade level, or even one’s role in education. With a library full of icons to choose from, animations, music, options for changing colors and sizes, moving object positions, and other functions like adding audio and student voice, it is possible to engage students in truly unique ways to learn. It did not take long to see the potential for using 3DBear not only as a tool for students as the creators but also as an instructional tool for teachers as a way to engage students more in learning by “hooking” them in with the use of augmented reality. 3DBear can be a game changer for students, acting as a catalyst to draw students in and let them go on a creative adventure. Get started today with a free teacher trial here!

Why use Augmented Reality?

A popular topic at both FETC and TCEA was Augmented and Virtual Reality. Often questions are asked whether the use of AR and VR has sustainability in education and I believe that there is. Each day I receive numerous email alerts sharing news from around the world about how teachers are using augmented and virtual reality to amplify student learning. Tools like 3DBear have tremendous potential to immerse students in a meaningful learning adventure, giving them more control of how, when and where they learn. Besides being fun to use, it offers students time to build their skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and fosters creativity. It lets students make decisions and leads to a more student-driven classroom. This is what we want for our students, choices, agency, and engagement.

(photo credit to Mitch Weisburgh)

Walking among or narrowly escaping the dinosaurs

While presenting several sessions at both of these conferences this month, I noticed a lot of people starting to use 3DBear in unique ways. During sessions, attendees chose to be more active, and rather than simply listening in to how these augmented reality tools can be used, instead began quickly creating with them and even sharing them out socially. Completely unaware of the danger that I was in until seeing the tweet, I was surprised and thankful that I escaped the dinosaur lurking behind me as I presented at FETC! But I was concerned about the attendees when I saw the dinosaur that was lurking in the front of the room near Jaime. The excitement behind using these tools is evident when people begin creating and sharing them during your session, just minutes after you’ve introduced and only minimally demonstrated the tool. The learning curve of 3DBear? Not much at all! It’s very easy to navigate and dive right in to create your own world in your physical environment. Get started today!

(photo credit Mitch Weisburgh)

Why 3DBear

Students can use it to create 3D objects in different spaces and can then record a story to go along with it. The potential and power of storytelling in AR is awesome. What better way to have students represent their learning than to design their own world, decide what 3D objects to place in their environment and then create a narration to go along with it. Students can even upload items from their device or from Thingiverse. Student-driven learning and possible for students in grades K and up. More than just listening to teachers and how it benefits students, ask students for feedback. (See a video from a school in Medford and how students responded to 3DBear). Also seek feedback from educators, whether on social media or in my experience from attendees in the different sessions presented at FETC and TCEA.

Potential for Storytelling and Adventure

As educators, we want our students to have a learning “experience,” more than the traditional methods of learning and classroom instruction can offer. We need to empower students to become more than consumers of content, and instead help them to embrace the opportunity to become the creators and driving their own learning. By doing this, we start them on a learning journey that will serve to attach more meaning to the content, in a personalized and exciting way to learn, and above all, a more authentic experience.

There are many possibilities for using 3DBear and because time can be a deciding factor when it comes to exploring new tools and methods for classroom use, this is where 3DBear offers a lot for educators. Teachers have access to a teacher dashboard where they can see student work, track progress and explore the worlds that students are creating. There are lesson plans for Coding, Design Thinking, ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies, STEM, and STEAM-related themes available for different grade levels which include pacing guidelines. While the lessons are drafted for certain grade levels or range of grades, slight adjustments in the content enables teachers to implement these lessons into their classroom.

One of the best things about 3DBear is that teachers won’t have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get started using it in the classroom. We can learn just enough and then put it in the hands of our students and let them run with it. Many students learn more by doing, and when they have opportunities to engage in hands-on activities, it leads to more personalized experiences and student-driven learning. A world of learning that they create is right in their hands.

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. Ask ourselves what makes it different and what can it do differently for students that can enhance the learning process and go beyond the traditional methods that are already being used in the classroom. What sets it apart from other options or methods you have been using? I think the answer is clear. Students are the designers.

A Few Ideas to Try

  1. My town: Sharing where we live, describing a location or any lesson where students need to narrate a story, they can create an environment using 3DBear and add characters and more into their project. Once created, students can tell a story about the scene or even narrate in a foreign language. Why not have students create a “welcome to our town” project, adding in 3D objects and telling a story that can be shared with the community? A good way to share student work and give more meaning to the work they are doing.

(Alamo photo credit Jaime Donally)

  1. A book summary: One idea is to have students review a book, summarize something they read in class by bringing it to life with 3DBear. If the number of devices is an issue, use stations and have students work in pairs or small groups, each adding to the story.
  2. Let me teach you: Give students an opportunity to be the teacher. Choose a theme or have students select a topic and then come up with a way to use 3DBear to explain it to classmates. There are many options available for students to choose from, and it will reinforce their problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration skills, as well as boost creativity as they decide how to best visualize their lesson for others.
  3. Actors in a scene: Give students the chance to interact with a 3D character and maybe even sing together or dance together (who doesn’t love doing the floss with a 3D character?).
  4. Random objects: To really push their thinking, why not create a scene with a variety of characters, objects and more, and then ask students to write a story about it. A task like this can be applied to so many content areas, and grade levels and will definitely be a more authentic way to practice and learn. For students in Spanish classes, it is fun to add random objects into the classroom and have students write a story to describe it. Or, another possibility is to provide students with a narration in the target language and have them create a scene to represent the story.

So many ways for students to leverage technology for learning. They need our guidance to find a starting point sometimes, but then we need to just let them go with it and explore and create on their own. Besides building technology skills and learning about emerging trends, they will engage in powerful learning that not only reinforces the content area but also promotes the development of social emotional learning skills in the process. Augmented Reality has many benefits, the key is staying focused on your “why” for wanting to use it, and then finding the right task to get started. And remember, let the students take charge and learn from and teach one another, including you. Sign up for your teacher trial at 3DBear!

And share how you are using 3DBear in your classroom! @Rdene915

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Overall Impression of FETC

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

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

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

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

Part one of a series I will be writing about Artificial Intelligence.

About a year ago I started to notice more news coming out about artificial intelligence and machine learning and their uses for education. I understood the concepts of AI and ML, I could provide pretty decent definitions but beyond that, I really had to invest some time in learning more and being able to identify what it looks like in the world and what it could look like in today’s classrooms. Years ago while working on my Spanish translation coursework, we looked at machine learning for translation and that goes back well over 20 years, so it’s not something new, although it may seem like it because it has been coming more into light recently.

What I think of when I hear “Artificial Intelligence”

When first hearing the words “Artificial Intelligence,” is there an image that pops into your mind? Is AI something that you find easy to define or give examples of? For some, the understanding or a reference point might be something seen in the movies. For me, being an 80s child, my first thought goes to Star Wars, and I picture R2D2 or C3PO. Beyond those two references, my mind wanders to the movie “I, Robot” which starred Will Smith, where the robots developed the capacity to think like humans, to feel and were able to take action on their own. Today, one of the most common thoughts goes to Alexa, Echo, Siri and the other virtual assistants that have continued to gain popularity. All good examples to think of in order to get a better idea of AI, but what is the true meaning of AI and where might we see it in action in daily life?

What is AI

It is a complex concept to understand at first because it is an amazing technological advancement. When I wanted to find out more, I started to look at some of the research done by Getting Smart started in December of 2015. The team at Getting Smart launched a research study referred to as #AskAboutAI and over a two year period, they identified over 100 applications of AI to life in areas such as education, healthcare, recreation, transportation, military uses and gaming to name a few. There were three objectives in the campaign: education, employment, and ethics. The research centered on finding how AI can be beneficial for different industries, some of the main uses, whether there are any risks associated with it, the benefits and of great personal interest, the possibilities for using AI in education.

According to their report following the research, the notion behind AI is that machines become capable of exhibiting human intelligence. “Machine learning” a concept started in 1956, refers to when algorithms are used to interpret data and take an action or complete a task. At its base, artificial intelligence is a computer code that displays some form of intelligence, learning, and problem solving in what has been referred to as a kind of “super intelligence.” It is basically the development of computers that are capable of completing tasks that normally require “human intelligence” however the AI learns on its own and continues to improve upon its past iterations. AI becomes smarter, its knowledge base grows, and it creates new possibilities for society. Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence, and it can be said that all Machine Learning is AI, but not all AI is Machine Learning.

Common uses of Machine Learning and AI: Did you know?

In my exploration to learn more about AI and what its potential is for the future of learning, I researched how we might already be using AI in our daily lives without even realizing it perhaps. Here are 5 common uses that I was kind of surprised at finding out work by AI.

  1. Communication: So much email, fortunately there are spam filters. Spam filters are powered by AI and help to streamline the amount of spam that appears in your inbox. We know that computers can generate email, and so as email senders, whether real or automated, become more careful with choosing words that were not previously flagged, the filters must learn to adapt and do so by learning based on words that the email user flags. Google takes it even further by continuously learning the types of email messages which are marked as “important”.
  2. Travel: Whether you have taken a ride using Uber or Lyft, you have experienced ML (Machine Learning), which is used to predict rider demand and to calculate ETA ( Estimated Time of Arrival). Even the airline industry uses AI, which fascinated me in finding out this fact. Autopilot qualifies as AI, and it has been estimated that actual “human steered” flight time is approximately only seven minutes of the actual flight length. That is amazing!
  3. Social networks: Ever notice how quickly faces are detected in images and names are suggested for tagging friends in photos on Facebook? The artificial intelligence can detect faces and suggest a name to tag the person. Facebook has added new features as part of its own AI Initiative, because the goal is to offer a more personalized and interactive experience for Facebook users. Other social media sites like Twitter, generate lists of accounts to follow, recommend chats to join based on an analysis of user input and data.
  4. Online Shopping: Have you started searching on Amazon, and it quickly suggests other items you “may be interested in,” as a result of prior searches and order history. There are systems are in place to help protect consumers against fraud, with alerts capable of being sent almost simultaneously in response to a transaction that does not seem to be “typical” purchase or is located in a non-home base location. All done through AI.
  5. Education: There are a wide range of tools available for educators and students whether in the form of Google Searches, where alternate search terms are instantly suggested, the use of citation, plagiarism checkers(a favorite) and even Siri is a popular tool for searches. Simply ask Siri a question, have a conversation.

What does AI mean for our classrooms?

Artificial Intelligence can transform classrooms, there are so many possibilities, and of course, we want it to be something with purpose that enhances the learning experience. I think that it is important to think about your classroom and consider: What are some of the tasks that are typically done? How is class time being spent? How could you save some time by using AI? What would you want for your classroom? Dream big!

There are some time-consuming tasks that take away valuable time for providing the best learning experiences for students. It takes time to locate appropriate supplemental activities to differentiate and to find more engaging and immersive learning experiences.

How could AI help?

  1. Communication: Students and teachers would communicate instantly with one another as well as to connect with other forms of AI around the world. Students could be paired with peers instantly, which would help each student to expand their own personal learning networks, with personalized and more authentic connections that will meet the students’ interests and needs at any given moment. Think of the benefits of being able to converse with AI or a virtual peer, which has been located based on an assessment of student needs and error analyses.
  2. Differentiation: With the use of AI, students and teachers could connect with the resources they need right when they need them. An entire internet of resources accessible and deliverable to each student within seconds. Through AI, students could have access to one to one tutors or a virtual peer to learn with.
  3. Personalization: Offer more personalized learning opportunities for students with AI that can analyze student responses, determine areas of need and interest, and access resources to help students better understand the content.
  4. Exploration: Augmented and virtual reality are being used even more in classrooms, and through AI, resources could be found instantly based on student responses, or for the entire classroom to experience. We would not be limited by the time and place of the classroom setting. AI could find ways to bring the content to life instantly.
  5. Assessments: AI could help teachers to assess students and streamline the grading process, with the added benefit of being able to quickly take the data, provide an analysis for teachers, so that time can be saved for more classroom interactions. It can help with student achievement, making sure that each student has the opportunity to learn and grow, benefitting from the faster responses through AI.

Considerations for the future.

There is always a concern when it comes to the use of technology. Especially with AI, we need to determine the true purpose, value and impact on student learning. We don’t want to use it just because it is the newest thing or the latest trend. When it comes to AI, the biggest concern has been whether AI would lead to the replacement of teachers? Would the use of AI in the classroom have negative impacts on student learning? As for replacing teachers, AI cannot help students to build SEL skills and learn from human interactions, all vital components of relationships in the classroom.

So in the end, what could AI do? Here are 10 roles for AI that can be used in education.

A few:

AI can quickly interpret a student’s needs and design an appropriate assessment.

It can show students mastery, repeat lessons as needed and quickly design a personalized learning plan for each student.

AI could provide teachers with a virtual teaching assistant, (something that was done in 2015 without students even knowing), which then frees time for the teacher to move around the room and facilitate learning.

But more than just teachers and students, it can be a way to support parents by involving them in the learning environment of students and providing them with the information they need to help their students be successful when they’re not in the classroom. The future likely holds a lot of possibilities for AI and teachers can take the opportunity to be informed of the possibilities and being open to discussions with students.

Stay tuned for part two of the AI series coming up next week! Check out the ISTE U course on Artificial Intelligence. And look at Montour School District in Pittsburgh, I will be sharing more about that school after I visit it to see the AI Space and Showcase event on January 22nd.

Image from Thinkstock

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There is so much discussion going on today about Augmented and Virtual Reality and how it can be used for education. I have signed up for a lot of alerts to keep me informed when new AR/VR tools come out or there is news about schools around the world and how they are using augmented and virtual reality to amplify student learning. Alerts arrive throughout the day and one thing is clear, these tools have tremendous potential to really engage students in a completely different kind of learning, giving them more control in the classroom.

Learning Curve

Because the concept of augmented and virtual reality seems so detailed and can be hard to grasp if you’ve not had experience with either of these, people tend to think that using these with students might be difficult or the learning curve might be too steep. Time is a huge factor when it comes to deciding what tools and methods to use in the classroom and I’m sure that there is not a single teacher who hasn’t occasionally said, if not on a daily basis, “I wish I had enough time to…” There’s always something they want to learn, something different to try that might have been on their to-do list for a really long time but they just have not been able to devote any time to it.

The great thing about tools like 3D Bear is that teachers don’t really have to spend a lot of time trying it out on their own or figuring out how to get started using it. This is what we want our students to do. We want to put tools that can engage them and more authentic and meaningful learning in their hands. Students learn more by doing and having opportunities to engage in hands-on activities, where they control the direction their learning takes. We cannot give students the answers or always show them how to do something, they have to experience some struggles. They will need to know how to problem solve, collaborate, communicate and to even create on their own as they are preparing for the future and life in general.

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 makes it different and what can it do differently for students, that can enhance the learning process and go beyond the traditional methods that are already being used in the classroom. What sets it apart from other options or methods you have been using? I think the answer is clear. We should select tools that help us move students to a more active role in the classroom rather than passively learning. By having students become the creators and immerse in a new learning environment, we will provide them with voice and choice in learning and lead them to explore through emerging trends in education.

Why 3D Bear

When I finally decided to get my new iPad this summer, I couldn’t wait to try out the different augmented reality apps. Actually, the whole reason that I bought the iPad was for this purpose. The first app that I tried was 3D Bear. I did not look for any tutorials, simply started clicking the options and found that it was very easy to use and a lot of fun. I was able to quickly figure out how to add items and manipulate them in the space I chose. Seeing the group of bears dancing around the middle of my table was fun. I could immediately see the potential for student learning regardless of the content area or grade level taught. Students can use it to create 3D objects in different spaces and have the opportunity to record a story to go along with it. The potential and power of storytelling in AR is awesome. What better way to have students represent their learning than to design their own story and deciding what to place in their environment and then creating a narration to go along with it.

Ideas for the Classroom and Getting Started

With so many new technologies entering the educational setting, it can be challenging to figure out which might be the best for your students. So we always want to focus on the “why” and determine what purpose will it serve that will amplify student learning. Being able to interact with and create a new learning environment through 3D Bear, will help students develop so many of the skills they need to be successful in the future. There are a lot of options for having students learn through 3D Bear. A nice feature is having access to ready-made lesson plans that can be used in any level which focus on content such as Social Studies, Math, Science, ELA and STEM, and STEAM-related topics. The lesson plans include different resources, worksheets, and links to other helpful reading materials. We can give students the opportunities to create, design and re-enact events in a more engaging way.

Features The best part of 3D Bear is the number of choices available for students and teachers to select from. There are a diverse group of objects that can be added in to create a story, making it easy to integrate this tool into any content area. Some of the object types are People, Garden, School, Animals, Holidays, Household, Emotions and even a category of funny items. There are a lot of possibilities for students to really create something authentic and meaningful when they can choose the objects to use and how to set up their scene for storytelling.

Once you log in, getting started is easy. Simply follow the tutorial that guides you through the creation process, showing you how to use the different tools to add objects and to manipulate them as you create. Or if you want to skip the tutorial, you can get started on your own. It is user-friendly and you can create something in a short period of time. There are also short video tutorials available on the 3D Bear website to help with designing, setting up classes, and exploring the lesson plans and teacher dashboard. Teachers can quickly create a class, add students, and edit class rosters directly from the app.

5 Ideas to try

  1. About Me: Getting to know our students is fundamental to our work in the classroom. Why not have students use 3D Bear to tell a story about themselves. With so many things to choose from, students can design something to reflect who they are, share their interests and even record a narration to explain. It will be fun learning about the students using AR to tell their story.
  2. Recreate an event: Depending on the content area you teach, why not have students recreate an event that they learned about, but tell it using different characters or themes so that they can attach more meaning to it and retain the content better. It can be fun to have students work together to come up with a twist using the augmented reality features. Learning about a famous historical period? Have students use the holiday theme or funny characters to explain key events or topics and then add narration to clarify if needed.
  3. Design a new space: Give students an opportunity to create a “dream house”, a new school, a new building for their town or even somewhere they would like to explore. With so many options available to choose from, students will be tasked with problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaborating to brainstorm ideas with their peers. It will promote creativity and give students the opportunity to dream big and use their imagination to come up with innovative ideas.
  4. Explain an idea or concept: Students can take a concept learned, maybe something in science class or in a math class and use the objects to create something like a biome or a diorama, or simply to visually represent something that is easier to understand by looking at it in 3D.
  5. Special events: Something fun might be to use 3D Bear to advertise an upcoming school event or a class activity instead of the traditional flyer or newsletter format. imagine what members of the school community would think if they were able to learn about a school event by exploring it through augmented reality. There are so many choices available that it just takes a little imagination to come up with a new way to use the tool.

As teachers, there are so many things that we are responsible for and have to keep up with, that it can be difficult to stay current and relevant with all of the emerging trends when it comes to technology. Fortunately, there are tools like 3D Bear that make it easier to get started with and that provide innovative ways for students to learn. It just takes a few minutes to get started and then give the students time to explore on their own and with peers. Sign up for the teacher trial at 3D Bear! Let me know how you use it in your classroom!

What Is Homework, Anyway?

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

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

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

Why I Decided To Do Something Different

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

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

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

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

Think About Homework In Your Classroom

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

Do a homework experiment

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

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

What did they think?

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

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

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

Take a chance

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

 

What are your thoughts on homework? Please share!