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Don’t Let the Learning Stop: How to keep students engaged over extended breaks

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The “Slide”

Throughout the school year, extended breaks provide both teachers and students the opportunity to give their mind a chance to reboot. However, learning opportunities do not have to stop while we take a break from the classroom to devote time to family, friends, and relaxation. Without opportunities for active learning during these extended breaks, some loss of knowledge is inevitable.  Similar to what has been termed the “summer slide”, this phenomenon also occurs during shorter breaks throughout the course of the school year.

There are many opportunities available to avoid this “slide”; teachers can help students engage in learning in fun ways that do not feel like “learning” at all. For my students, this means  blogging. Thanks to the availability of technology and platforms like Kidblog, students can stay connected, while still working on building skills over the break.

From “assignment” to “activity”

So, what turns a blog post from “an assignment by the teacher” over break to a fun student activity? It’s all about the content. For example, students may be asked to write a blog surrounding their time over break. Perhaps they describe what activities they participated in; writing a review of a book or movie they experienced, sharing how they spent time with friends or family, or even posting a new recipe they learned over break. These open-ended prompts enable students to work on their writing and literacy skills in a low-key and fun way. Additionally, it gives teachers the chance to stay connected with their students and provide any necessary feedback.

For more reflection, students may be given prompts which ask them to take a look back at some of the work that they have done prior to the break. They can focus on a few specific skills they have gained as well as their strengths or weaknesses throughout the year. Using blogging as a journal, they may then write a personal blog to themselves addressing these areas.  The blog can be shared with the teacher as a reflection, to explain how they perceive their progress in class and offer some ideas for personal goals or describe areas where improvement can be made. This prompt can be a great way for students to prepare for the year ahead of them.

It’s about staying connected

Blogging enables the students and teachers to communicate through a comfortable medium. It gives students an opportunity to write, read, and practice any critical skills they have learned leading up to the break as well as some reflective writing.  Students are encouraged to be creative while they are engaged in the practice of reflection, setting them up for future growth and helping you as the teacher develop a better understanding of student needs.

Encouraging Creativity and Innovative Designs

Students Share Their Stories

By Rachelle Dene Poth

 

Thank you Storyboard That for the opportunity to share our story!
Find this and other great teacher resources in our Education Blog!

Storyboard That is a tool which offers many opportunities, not only for education, but for anyone looking to share information, tell a story, or produce a product in a more visually engaging way. It is a very authentic tool that promotes critical thinking, communication, and creativity. It fosters innovation in designing and empowers students in the learning process. Students take control of how they show what they have learned and can now do with the material, in their own personal way. Each of these opportunities help to promote the integration of the new ISTE Student Standards.

By using Storyboard That, students are able to select from so many templates with diverse options for themes, backgrounds, characters, text, props, and more. The tool applies to any level and any content area quite easily. It offers so much, that providing students with opportunities to express themselves and apply their learning in a unique way that is more meaningful, is easily done.

Some Options for Classroom Use of Storyboard That

There are so many possibilities for having students complete a project with Storyboard That. Teachers can use one of the many lesson plans available to implement with their classes. Whether you teach History, English, Foreign Languages and more, Storyboard That is a great option to provide to students, it will appeal to students because of the variety of options available to express creativity and promote student choice and voice.

Deciding how to best use digital tools can be challenging at times, but a good place to start is to hear directly from the students. Involving the students in the classroom decisions and then asking for reflections on their experience with using the tool helps educators to understand if and how technology is enhancing their learning process. Asking students to share the ease of creating with it, how it enhances or amplifies their learning and in general, what their perspective is about this particular tool, are important to include in teaching practice.

Students as Advocates

Several of my students have used and become advocates for the use of Storyboard That and share the impact it has had on providing more meaningful learning for them and their classmates. Celaine and Emma have created with it and produced visually engaging projects that have enhanced their learning.

Celaine has used this tool for many projects as well as for conference presentations over the past few years. She has become an advocate for its use, for teaching others how to use it at conferences and at school, and serving as a role model for other students with a positive message of the benefits of technology for learning. Here are her thoughts on why you should try Storyboard That and what you can expect from its for learning in your classroom:

Before I started using Storyboard That, my school assignments were rather dull. I tried to put my own personal touches into every slideshow presentation that I made, but after a while it got boring just typing text onto a slide, adding photos and animations etc. When I found Storyboard That, my educational mindset flipped 180 degrees. Now I could finally have some say in my assignments and showcase my personality by creating something that showed exactly what I pictured in my mind. Plus, I actually enjoyed doing my school work again because there were so many ways that I could personalize my assignment. I could choose characters and make them look any way I wanted them to. I could even choose from a variety of backgrounds that date from medieval times to mythical times to the present. That is what I love about Storyboard That: it allows anyone to create a visually appealing presentation in a unique format that will engage students in their learning and allow teachers to learn about/from their students.

In Spanish 3, students were to create a project using chapter vocabulary related to the medical field and had the task of telling a story, using any tool for their project creation. Emma has also participated in several technology showcases and is an advocate for having choices in project tools and how beneficial these tools can be for learning. Emma decided to use Storyboard That to create her medical story, selecting from the diverse backgrounds to really bring her story to life. Emma shares her thoughts on Storyboard That:

Storyboard That has given me the opportunity to truly personalize and create projects exactly the way I would like. It has endless possibilities for creativity and imagination. I really enjoyed using Storyboard That because it enabled me to put so many different things into the medical project. I was able to type anything into the search box and get back some great options, that were exactly what I was looking for. For example, I searched the word “pumpkin” and I got back multiple pictures of pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns so I was able to have choices and find the perfect picture. I found Storyboard That to be the perfect choice for the medical project because, as with most of our projects, this one did not require too many specifics. The requirements were mostly just to be creative and have fun as long as we use the proper vocabulary and verb conjugations.

I have noticed that other web tools do not offer the same amount of options that Storyboard That does for project and presentation making. Some other web tools seem to be limited in the offerings for backgrounds and templates that you can use. Also, I have noticed that it can be a little confusing and difficult to understand some of these other tools. With Storyboard That, it is very easy and simple to figure out how to put in your own backgrounds, characters, images, animations, etc. Storyboard That has made project making a lot more fun.

How to Use Blogging with Project Based Learning

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Over the past few years, I have looked for more ways—especially creative ways—to use blogging in my classroom. What initially started as a way to have my students practice their writing skills in a digital format (rather than the traditional “Daily Journal” writing), has taken different forms over the past year.

Blogging brings students’ work into a digital learning space, where they can feel free to share their ideas, to express themselves without so much worry on grammatical accuracy, and build their confidence in the process. It enabled me as the teacher to not only focus on what they were sharing, and assess them as needed, but also to learn about them in the process. It provided me with a way to further personalize my instruction and to be able to give the needed feedback in a more direct way.

I also use student blogs, in addition to my own, as a means to reflect on what I have been doing the classroom. Giving this information to the students affords them an opportunity for that critical reflection as well. So through blogging, many skills are enhanced and many things are possible besides the initial use of writing in response to a prompt.

Blogging with #PBL

Approaching this school year, I had many new ideas in mind, one of which was the implementation of PBL (Project-based learning) in my upper-level Spanish courses. A big part of the undertaking of PBL is for students to have an “essential question,” to think about what they wish to explore further in their studies.  We discuss how it will work, plan to have progress checks throughout, and once they have completed their cycle of research, they prepare to share their information. An important part of PBL is the reflection element.

I chose to use Kidblog as a way for students to take time to reflect on what they have uncovered in their research and to give others an opportunity to learn from them. I can give feedback, and we both have access to that information and refer back to it as often as needed. We can also continue to comment on it moving forward. I can write comments to offer suggestions and provide support. More importantly, a private digital learning space gives students a way to be more independent in their learning. For our PBL, students use their blog as a way to create a guide for themselves during the process. After posting of their initial “Essential Question,” students are reminded of where they started and how far they have come.

All of this valuable information can then be used during the next phase of PBL. It is a great way to track growth, increase communication skills, and collaborate. The use of blogging aids in the building of relationships. It is rewarding to read what students have written, to understand how they worked through their project-based learning experience, and to have that element of reflection as a result of their blogging. For me, it is great to hear directly from students as they share what they have learned, but better to hear them acknowledge how much they have grown.  Being able to review and reflect aids students in planning new goals and continuing their path toward lifelong learning.

 

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As an addition to this, it is helpful as a teacher to reflect on our practices, in what ways can we improve, how is PBL working in our classroom, what are the thoughts of the students.  Using this information can be quite helpful, as well as referring to the many resources available through BIE, and recent books including Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie, and Pure Genius by Don Wettrick.  The #pblchat is also a great place to learn on Twitter.

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Making Global Connections: How and why it matters

A post written as part of the EdChange Global Classrooms event coming up on February 28th. Sign up today.

by Rachelle Dene Poth

It is amazing today what we can accomplish through the use of technology. In the past, the methods we relied on for communicating with friends, family, other schools, and abroad were limited to telephone calls, letters, meeting in person (if geographical location afforded this), for a few examples. And for providing opportunities for students to connect with other students or classrooms, these connections were limited to classrooms located within the same school or at the furthest point a nearby school. These interactions had to be set up in advance by means of a telephone call or through letters in standard mail. (I am referring back to my own elementary and high school experience, a time in which cell phones and the Internet did not exist). Providing diverse learning experiences, took a good deal of time and collaboration for everyone, between setting up required transportation, schedule planning and logistics, and the actual interaction time needed for the result to be a beneficial learning experience. Another factor was the cost involved, if transportation to another location was necessary.

Today, these types of activities and learning experiences for students can be set up instantly, even without any pre-planning, because of the diverse tools offered with technology. By simply using a form of social media or by connecting with a member of your PLN, and perhaps using a tool like Voxer, we enable a quick conversation instantly. And time and place do not matter, there is no need to move either group or anyone who is going to be connected.  We are able to simply talk, share an image, livestream videos, collaborate to add resources, (anything is possible) and connect our classroom and students, with another classroom and students somewhere in the world. Amazing.

How we can open up these opportunities

We have so many options for helping our students to become globally connected with other students and experiences. We need to promote these connections so that students develop a broader understanding of diverse world cultures, experiences and have an appreciation of different perspectives. With so many resources available, we can bring learning experiences to life, immerse students into different cultures and parts of the world, by simply connecting. It just takes one step forward. 

A few examples of how easily this can be accomplished are through some of the web based tools available to teachers and students today. Through the use of video tools, many of which are available as free platforms, we now enable classrooms to connect with others throughout the world, regardless of differences in time and place. You can truly see what others experience in their day-to-day learning and living, and have conversations in real time, at a moment’s notice. Students can participate in activities like a mystery Skype or collaborate through a discussion, by using tools such as  Padlet or Wikispaces or use something like Appear.In or Zoom, for a live interaction or even Google Hangouts. These are just a few of the many options available to classrooms today. To promote conversation without video, we can use collaborative tools such as Padlet, TodaysMeet or perhaps use Wikispaces or even a class Twitter account, (depending on grade level), as ways to have students connect through writing. In addition to learning about different cultures and establishing global connections, we work on other critical skills like communication and collaboration, digital citizenship and help to engage students more in the learning environment.  Imagine being able to have a conversation with people from 80 different countries at the same time. Regardless of geographical location or time zone, everyone can connect using one of these forms of technology and the many others that are out there.

 

Getting Started

Connecting globally requires that we as educators be connected. It starts with us. We have to build our own professional and globally connected network so that we can provide these learning opportunities to our students. It is worth the time, the risk,and the effort to seek out learning communities and build a community of support. We become stronger and better together, and when we collaborate to provide opportunities for our students to learn from other students, to gain new perspectives, to experience the multitude of ways of collaborating and communicating globally, we take their educational experience to a whole new level. Become a more globally connected classroom today. #ECGC17    EdChange Global Classrooms

 

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This is a post by Jacqueline Jensen, following our Blab interview talking edtech in the classroom.  Thanks for this post and the opportunity Jacqueline and Piktochart!

Talking EdTech with Teachers

As Piktochart’s Community Evangelist, fostering community among our 5-million-strong user base is one of my primary goals. As I wrote after first joining, my role here on the Piktochart team focuses on interacting with our users at every level — from live events around the world and conference talks to jumping onto the latest up and coming social platform to chat with Piktochart users.

So far, we’ve tried a number of new initiatives. We think it’s important to share valuable content with not only our user community, but with startups, designers, educators, and marketers all across the globe. When we tried out Blab, we picked an awesome guest and gathered community questions to chat about.

Back in June, we went looking for educators to join us to discuss more about how to bring technology into the classroom. Education technology, also known simply as EdTech, refers to the creation and use of software and hardware intended to bring technology to education.

This segment of the technology world has heated up thanks to investment from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States government, and even tech venture capital investment firms like Andreessen Horowitz. In fact, in just the first half of 2015, private investors alone poured $2.5 billion into EdTech companies — leading to the creation of countless technologies for classrooms around the world.

Here at Piktochart, our team was thrilled to hear we were recently honored in the American Association of School Librarian’s 2016 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning. Educators have been using Piktochart in their classrooms since we launched in 2012, and we couldn’t be more pleased to know we are making a difference in the minds of students around the world.

To get the skinny on what’s going on in classrooms when it comes to EdTech — from best practices and challenges to favorite tools and privacy policies — we brought in two Piktochart users who are making a big impact by bringing technology into their school. For the first time, we had two guests on our Blab,Rachelle Poth and Mary Ottenwess.

Rachelle is a foreign language teacher at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She enjoys using technology in the classroom and finding ways for students to have more choices in their learning. She has presented at several technology conferences in Pennsylvania and at ISTE in Denver this past June.

Mary has been in education for 25 years. She started out in a public high school library and is now the Instructional Technology Specialist at Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, MI. She was the one that didn’t step back when they asked for volunteers to run the computer lab and thus her adventures in EdTech began!


What is your biggest pain point with your school’s current EdTech setup?

Rachelle said her biggest complaint when it comes to EdTech tools, which is shared by other teachers she talks to, is the fact that things sometimes don’t go as planned with technology.

“Best case scenario doesn’t always happen when it comes to technology,” she said. “You have to be prepared for the little bumps that come along the way.”

Mary echoed Rachelle’s thoughts about technology being unpredictable. She also added that limited professional development time for teachers is another hurdle when it comes to her school’s EdTech setup.

“An hour once a month just isn’t enough time,” said Mary. “Students come in an hour late and we have a meeting with all teachers at the school. Teachers will go around and talk about what they are using in their classrooms, discuss a particular tool, or discuss a method. Because we are trying to cover so much in a single hour, hitting everyone’s skill and comfort level as well as giving them time to try the tool often means a lot of 1:1 follow-up.”

“As a workaround for time, we have teachers create tutorials to view prior to the professional development sessions,” noted K-12 EdTech coordinatorCourtney Kofeldt in the chat.

What opportunities are given to kids through EdTech and how can teachers learn to embrace them?

Mary said EdTech really expands a student’s world. They can collaborate and share with not only each other, but with experts in the field. Students can use project-based learning and inquiry-learning, and they can use and develop real-world skills for college or a career. For teachers, Mary thinks technology makes things simpler.

Rachelle agreed. She believes the opportunities provided by technology are tremendous.

“Technology provides opportunities to students to allow them to show what they have learned and to use a tool that is meaningful to them. Without the technology, they wouldn’t have been as engaged,” she said. “I don’t use technology for the sake of using it, but rather as a way to increase opportunities.”

When given a choice of tools to utilize on their projects, Rachelle finds students talk to their friends about the learning curve of each software. Students work together, collaborate, and learn from each other about how to use technology.

What’s the best thing technology has allowed you to do in your school that you couldn’t have done otherwise?

Mary shared an example from her school, Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, MI. Using technology, a French teacher was able to bring in a video feed from a classroom in Canada. The American students communicate in French to sharpen their skills, and they’re also able to learn more about the other students culturally.

“Students are not only collaborating with the students in another country, but those next to them in their classroom too,” explained Mary. “It’s fun to watch the collaboration.”

Rachelle says that technology has allowed her to continue the conversation with students after class time ends. She found more and more that her students had questions once they got home and started working on their homework or projects, and technology allowed her to be available to them during those key moments.

“It really bothered me that when class ended, that would stop their learning process in a sense,” she said. “I use technology to bridge that disconnect. I use messaging to help.”

Do you as the teacher (or your school) assess the privacy and security of a tool before letting students try it?

Rachelle said she pays close attention to privacy and security settings before bringing a tool into the classroom. She does this by creating an account on her own and reviewing the settings herself. Rachelle also sends home a notice to parents at the beginning of the year informing them of the tools that will be used in the classroom.

She also relies on the thoughts of other teachers, and she noted these sites and communities as her go-to sources:

  • Common Sense Graphite, a community of educators who take the guesswork out of finding innovative ways to use technology in the classroom;
  • EdShelf, a socially-curated discovery engine of websites, mobile apps, desktop programs, and electronic products for teaching and learning;
  • EdCamp, an organic, participant-driven professional learning experience led by a community created by educators, for educators.

Mary added that her school has a tech team on staff who will verify security before launching a new tool in the classroom. First, they start with a pilot program and monitor progress while the new EdTech tool is being tested in the classroom. During that pilot, they will be on the lookout for glitches or security holes.

Which tool/platform/methodology has been the biggest hit in your classroom and why?

Rachelle, Mary, and participants in the chat were excited to share their favorite EdTech tools! Check out the list below:

What are 3 most important skills kids have gained in your classroom thanks to technology?

Everyone agreed that more collaboration and creativity is taking place in the classroom thanks to technology.

“I have noticed students really develop the 6C’s — Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Character, and Citizenship — when tech is integrated,” said Courtney Kofeldt in the chat.

Rachelle added she often notices that projects from her students go above and beyond her expectations. “Technology gives them that voice to speak out and be part of something when otherwise they wouldn’t have been,” she said.

Mary says teachers have benefitted from technology as a way to improve their skills, too. She notices more collaboration happening between teachers and growth of their professional networks thanks to technology making it easier to work together.

Thanks to technology, both students and teachers alike are building up their confidence. “It’s ok to have something not work,” explained Mary. “Technology allows students to take the lead. Teachers aren’t always the one with all the knowledge.”

Mary also touched on her school’s Digital Citizenship Course, which is an ever-changing movement to educate students on the proper use of technology — when to use it (or leave it behind) and best practices.

“I teach motion graphics at UCLA, and it is wonderful to see what the students create once they understand the tools,” added Eric Rosner in the chat.

How can teachers improve their tech skills in order to make classes more interactive and multimedia oriented?

Rachelle’s advice is simple:

“Just pick something and start it!” she said. “Really. You don’t know if it’ll work for you until you try it. Pick something small and give it a try.”

She suggested teachers consider learning new tools alongside students. Rather than a teacher-driven project, why not try a student-driven project? She found her students enjoy it, and as a teacher, it keeps her fresh. Use the challenge of a new tool as a learning lesson for both the students and the educator.

“Not everything is going to work, and that’s ok,” added Mary. “We teach our kids to learn from failure, and we need to do the same.”

Mary advised teachers to expand their professional network to get to know other educators. Social channels are a great way to do this — and Mary specifically suggested getting involved in Twitter chats. For a comprehensive list of Twitter chats all about education, check out this list Mary shared with us on the Blab!

What are your recommendations for someone who is just starting to use technology in the classroom, and may be a bit hesitant?

Rachelle suggested focusing on one area in your classroom you can try to improve using technology. Give a new EdTech tool a shot, use it minimally, and be patient with getting comfortable with it.

Mary suggested finding another educator who is using technology you’d like to try and simply watching them use the tool in their classroom. Finding a tech mentor is key to getting comfortable!

How can tech help all students to be engaged, to reach each student?

If students are on different levels, Mary said EdTech tools can help bridge that gap. She particularly likes Khan Academy for this purpose. She also suggested putting up a rubric for an assignment, but allowing students to choose their technology tool to complete the project.

“Students are not all the same,” added Rachelle. “By giving them choice with technology tools, you’ll see they can create anything they desire, and you learn more about them as individuals. When the choices are given and nothing is set in stone, it pays off.”


The team at Piktochart had a blast during our Blab with Rachelle Poth and Mary Ottenwess! Thanks to both of them for stopping by! If you’re interested in learning more about how Piktochart can help out in your classroom, check out a few more of our EdTech posts!

This post originally appeared on Piktochart’s blog here.

TeachThought: Thanks to Terry Heick for publishing part two of this post.

Technology Can Make The Learning Process More Transparentby Rachelle Dene Poth

In my last post, Finding Out What Students Are Thinking: 10 Tools To Get Them Talking, I shared tools that can help promote student communication.

The additional benefit for using tools like these is that you can take what you hear and learn and the next day in class anonymously share some ideas to get the discussion going.

Even if you try to keep things anonymous, you will have the students who immediately fess up and say “yeah that’s mine,” because that’s just what the students do, which is okay because they are willingly sharing what they said.

And if it does come down to a right or wrong kind of question and that student is in fact incorrect, that’s an even better lesson–a better example for the other students in the classroom to show that it’s okay to answer something and to be wrong.

These are the experiences that build character and growth mindset and help students become more involved in their own learning path.

A Few More Tools: Communication Through Collaboration

If you’re looking for a way to have students speak more regularly about different topics, share their ideas, or be more involved in class discussions, you may want to consider some other format for “talking.”

Having students write in their own blog, where they can keep their responses private and you can respond directly, is a great way to learn about the students and what they are thinking. Having this communication format is also helpful with relationship building.

Through blogging, you can give feedback which helps to provide support for students and can help them to gain confidence. By building confidence in this way, they have a chance to become more open to and comfortable with sharing their ideas in class.

As teachers, any opportunity to share our own experiences, especially when we share experiences that reflect our fears of making mistakes and taking risks, is helpful to our students.  Showing that we are sometimes wrong is okay, because we are all are constantly growing.

Writing Spaces

So what about some tools?

Wikispaces is a social writing platform for creating an online space for collaboration. Creating a wiki might be a great way to have students collaborate together on a topic if they are working in small groups. Some options for collaboration are creating a page for a discussion, set up a pro/con debate, or a even class website. Students can build confidence and comfort by collaborating in this way.

Padlet is a virtual wall for posting thoughts, discussion, and more. It could also be another way for students to work together and build some of these skills for collaborating any time and anywhere.

Tools For Reflection & Feedback

Choosing the right tool comes down to what type of conversation you looking to involve students in.

Is it open-ended?

Do you want the students to speak out in class or do you want them to think about something, have time to process it and answer after class?

That’s the benefit of offering blended or flipped learning experiences. The conversations don’t have to end when class ends. The questions don’t have to be asked during class because teachers can set up questions after class using tools like these I’ve shared, or Let’s Recap.

Let’s Recap is a way to record a prompt, ask questions, and then have students respond through video. Teachers can then view the response or see the daily reel, and provide feedback to each student.

A tool such as TodaysMeet can be useful for a “backchannel” chat in class, or to open up discussion after the school day ends. Either way, it is another quick option to get the conversation going or to use as a way for students to ask questions.

The goal of all of these tools is to get them talking–to know what their thoughts are–so that we can help them grow.

Why Does Student Feedback Matter?

Teachers need student feedback to help guide our next steps and provide learning experiences which are meaningful.  We want our students to feel comfortable. Depending on the age group being taught, the content being covered, and whether the technology is available and accessible to the students, you can determine which of these tools might facilitate learning the best.

Using technology just to use it doesn’t make sense. But using it to help students find their voice, learn more about what they want to do, what they can do, and what they are having trouble understanding does.

These tools and others like them, can help to connect those ends. And since learning feedback is critical to student growth, sometimes we need other methods for connecting with the students; this is when technology has a purpose.

Technology can expedite the feedback process and gives us real live results. We can give feedback to the students, the information is saved, and we can use it as a way to give a voice to those who would not necessarily be willing to use their voice in the classroom.

For now, maybe keep it simple. Start with the question, “What do I need to know about my students?”

Then look at these tools and others like them and start experimenting.

Thank you Terry Heick and TeachThought for this opportunity to share ideas for some tech tools to engage students. Published Monday, September 26, 2016.

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students        
by Rachelle Dene Poth
 

Fall is an exciting time of the year.

Summer provides an opportunity to relax, but is also a time to explore new ideas and reflect on the previous year. We have to ask ourselves what worked and what did not. With the start of each school year, teachers begin by establishing classroom procedures, getting to know the students, and then starting their instruction.

Even with the best plans thought out in advance, things can come up that limit our time to try something new. There is nothing wrong with sticking to some of the same instructional strategies and using some of the same tools that were used last year. We all have methods and tools we use that are beneficial to our students. But summer does offer an opportunity to think about some new things to bring to our classroom and our students at the start of the new school year.

Because time is a factor, it can seem overwhelming to try too many new things at once. It is helpful to think about maybe just slightly altering how we used a certain tool or presented a topic in the prior year. Start by focusing on one thing at a time and see how it goes. The most important part is to remember that we want to implement something that will positively benefit our students. It should be something that has a true purpose and will amplify the learning experiences and potential for our students.

Below are a few ideas that I have used in my classroom which have been fun for the students and had positive effects on their learning.

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students

Idea: Use infographics to create an engaging syllabus

Instead of creating your course syllabus on paper and handing it out to your students, try creating an infographic to post online through your class website or LMS if you have one. It will be easier to read, model a sense of enthusiasm for your own craft, and separate your classroom from others in the eyes of students/parents/admin.

With a graphic, you can also print and laminate the infographic to keep it accessible in your classroom. There are many tools to choose from for creating one and many options for implementing them into your course. In order to create one you simply take the information from your document and paste it into the infographic.

There are many choices available for templates, icons, fonts and much more. As an alternative to having your students complete assignments or projects which traditionally are done on paper or using a Word document, have them create something creative and visual using one of the infographic tools available. It will be a more engaging, visual way to share information, have a more authentic learning experience, and they can be created rather quickly.

Some recommendations of tools to create infographics are Canva, Piktochart, Smore and Visme.

Idea: Create interactive lessons

Students need to be actively involved in the classroom and in learning.  A good way to do this is through interactive video lessons. There are many digital tools available which enable a teacher to choose a video from YouTube or other video source, and use it to create a quick interactive lesson with questions or other activities for the students to complete. The nice thing about the tools available for interactive video lessons is that there are some lessons available for public use allowing you to try them out with your class first before creating your own.

Trying one of these out first is a good way to see what the students think, and use their feedback to help guide the next steps, whether to create one and which tool to use. Offering lessons like this is great for having students complete assignments outside of the traditional “brick and mortar” classroom as part of an asynchronous lesson or in a blended or flipped learning environment. You can quickly assess students, track their progress, and hold them accountable for having watched the videos.

A few suggestions of some of the tools available are EDpuzzle, Playposit, Vizia, and even a Google document could be used with questions added in for students to complete. My suggestion is that you choose one of these options, see what is available, and then be very clear how you can use it to benefit your class. There are tutorials available on the websites which offer guidance to help you to create your first video.

Simply select a video that you would typically show in class or assign for students to watch outside of class and think about the questions you could or would ask to check their understanding. It is easy to add your video into the lesson editor, add in different question styles including true and false, multiple choice or short answer, in addition to other formats. There are also options for quizzes to be self-graded, making the data available right away.

Each tool offers different features which add extra benefits to learning. For example, you can also see how long it took the student to view the video and if they tried to skip through it, depending on which tool you choose.

Idea: Student Created Lessons

Instead of the teacher creating the lessons, you could also have the students create lessons to share with the class. When I did this with my students, they sent their completed video lessons to me and I completed the lesson. It gave them an opportunity to see what teachers see and an opportunity to provide feedback to their “student.” By doing this, the students learned in a more authentic way because they decided which video to use, created the questions and as a result, it reinforced the material; it was more personal for them.

Teachers learn by seeing the type of content the students choose and can use this information to guide the next steps in the lesson. The class as a whole learns and benefits by having more resources available for practice and students can become more proficient in the content. One other great thing besides improved learning is that it can be fun for students to create these videos as well.

And fun is good, yes?

Idea: Use engaging digital quizzes & tools

There are a variety of tools to use for creating quizzes and lessons for students to complete in and outside of class.

In many cases, you can upload your own documents or PowerPoint presentations into the lesson, and keep everything organized in one place. Using some formative assessment tools like Formative, Kahoot, Nearpod, Quizizz, and Quizlet to name a few, are ways to have some fun with the students and add to the learning resources available for your classes.

Students enjoy creating their own quizzes and lessons, having a choice in the tool and types of questions included, and being able to further develop their technology skills in the process. These activities are all highly beneficial to student growth. By giving students more choices, we empower them in the classroom.

Conclusion

When used with a purpose, there a lot of ways that technology helps teachers and students. Using technology saves time, makes feedback available immediately, and gives students the chance to be creators and have a choice. It also promotes learning outside of the traditional classroom setting, which reserves the time in class to do other activities, to clear up any misunderstandings and to spend time getting to know the students and giving individual feedback.

Once you decide on one of these ideas, give it some time, see how it goes, and then think about taking the next step. Be sure to involve the students in the conversation because their input is vital and it matters. When students feel valued, learning is more meaningful and this leads to many positive results. Teachers and students working together, creating lessons, providing feedback, will add to a positive classroom culture.

Perhaps one of these areas is the next step that you could take, try and see how your students respond. It was a nice change in my classroom, my students were creative, engaged, and really enjoyed the chance to lead. The learning that occurred was more meaningful and they recalled the content information much more when they created their own product or recalled the work of one of their classmates.

Either way, it was a much more meaningful experience, and something that I will continue to do this school year to grow my classroom.

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad

How I Solved My Classroom Management Problems

Achievement unlocked: Making assignments and resources available to everyone, anytime.

Common Sense Education, posted on September 15, 2016

Rachelle Dene Poth

Classroom teacher, Technology Presenter

Students often have organizational problems. It’s an ongoing struggle, so I’ve always done the best I could to help them stay organized. Years ago, that often came in the form of a planner students were supposed to fill out with assignments, and I’d sign off on it.

There was one particular student with a planner whom I remember. The system worked well when she remembered the planner, but sometimes she didn’t.

On the whiteboard at the back of my room, I have a space where I write down the assignments for students. I keep my door open most days, so if they want to stop in and peek at the board, they can. I’m available anytime; the only thing I ask is that they kind of discreetly come in.

So, this particular student would appear in the morning during homeroom or at the beginning of class to check the whiteboard. Sometimes she got the assignment. But sometimes, what I wrote was erased. Anything can happen: Other students might erase it and write over it, for example.

Then her mom would send an email to clarify things — and I’m really good about checking email, but sometimes email doesn’t go through. And if you call me — well, we work with voicemail extensions so it’s not like there’s a direct line to me. You have to filter through the office, and I’m always available to talk, but obviously if I’m teaching class, I’m not reachable.

Other students would pop in to check on an assignment, or they’d want to stop by and pick up a worksheet. I have everything in my room set out, but students would put papers down, and things would get covered up. So it might not be easy to find.

Or, the students would come in and leave notes saying, “I stopped by to find out … ” or “I wasn’t sure … ,” and they’d leave me a note on the board or on my desk. But if I were going to be late or had a long meeting, I might not see those notes until the next day. And if my board was cleaned that night, I might not see them at all.

So again, the students came in to get help, and I wasn’t there.

That’s when I really started to ask, “What can I do?”

I thought the board was great because students could come in anytime, but that’s not accessible in the evening when they sit down to do homework. Planners are great, too, but what if you forget them or they’re lost? I was looking for something to fix a lot of these things I saw impeding the learning process. The lack of access to resources was really bothering me because I wanted to do more.

I first decided to use the messaging tool Celly to message my students. I used it to send reminders and answer questions. I could quickly respond to messages about homework or what was missed during an absence, and I didn’t have to use class time to help students catch up.

I use it with my Spanish club, too, and now there are other groups in the school that use it for field trips and other things. It’s really quite nice, because if you’re on the bus and you’re missing students, now you can reach them instead of waiting and wondering.

But students were still asking for help finding class materials and keeping them organized. I wanted some kind of assurance that everything was centralized and easy to find. And I hadn’t found an easy way to keep parents in the loop. I decided to give another tool a try: Edmodo.

It’s a web-based app, so students can use their phones to log in, or a computer at home if they don’t have a phone, or a phone with data. Students get a join code so they can join a class when I’ve created one, and parents get a parent code so they can sign up and see what I post to the class and see their kids’ work, the grade they got, and the comments I’ve made. They know everything we’re doing in class.

Usually students log in once a day. I post homework reminders and share links. One of the nice things about Edmodo is students can reply to a post I’ve made and ask a general question, and anyone in the class can answer. For example, if they forget something — a textbook or a worksheet — they can ask, “Can somebody please share an image of the homework?” They help each other out.

It helps me, too, because if a student has been absent for a day or more, they can easily go back and see what you did in class. It’s part of my routine now, and I have five courses. Generally if a student says, “I was absent three days ago. What did I miss?” I have some idea but I’m not exactly sure. So it’s nice to have that reference.

It’s more than just communication — it’s collaboration. And I keep thinking of new ideas I can use it for.

The first two assignments I gave my Spanish 1 and 2 classes this year were discussions on Edmodo. The first was on how they study and learn, with personal kinds of questions so I could get to know them and give them ideas. The second was to come up with five personal learning goals. I gave them a reply, and in a week or two we’re going to reevaluate: “You said you were going to study every day for 30 minutes. What happened?”

You can use it as a reflection tool or as a digital portfolio. If the students do a project with technology, they can put it on Edmodo, and we can go back to it to share learning.

These tools have made a tremendous difference in my ability to provide the best possible learning experience for my students — and that’s what I wanted. And bonus: They’ve made my life easier, too.

Digital Tools to Build Communication Skills

Use reflective practice to encourage student relationships!

Posted on Common Sense Education on September 12, 2016

Rachelle Dene Poth

Classroom teacher
Riverview High School
Oakmont, PA
CATEGORIESIn the Classroom

Reflection is part of our practice — it has to be for us to grow as professionals and for our students to be successful. Reflection is an ongoing process; it happens after each class period, at the end of the day, and even in the evening. Reflecting on instructional practices and our interactions with students is important, and we must use this reflection time to plan for the future.

Oftentimes, reflection starts and ends with relationships. How does what we say and do help our students become confident learners and sharers? While the first few weeks of school are normally busy and chaotic, it’s important to take time to build relationships, and the best way to do this is to foster your students’ communication skills.

Talking and technology

There are lots of ways to get students talking to build relationships. Depending on the level you teach, some options might be easier or more feasible than others — but if you want to learn about your students, it might be as easy as creating a Google form and asking some general questions to get an idea of their interests. Immediately, this can lead to more discussion, some laughs, and a lot of learning about each other.

Another idea is to have students participate in a scavenger hunt. There are many digital tools available, such as Klikalu Playerand Social Scavenger. Whether you use a new digital tool or stick with tried-and-true paper activities, creating something that gets all your students involved, connected, and working together will build the engagement and respect needed to sustain positive peer relationships and a positive classroom all year long.

Set up a way to communicate

Teachers want to hear from students. We want students to feel comfortable coming to us for help, asking questions in class, and getting involved in classroom conversations. Unfortunately, many students struggle with speaking out; they become too nervous to answer or feel embarrassed asking a question. To create a feeling of support in the classroom, fostering communication is key. Luckily, many digital tools are available to help build students’ communication skills.

If this sounds like something that could benefit your classroom, try one of the many great messaging tools available: Bloomz,Celly, Voxer, Remind, or any of the dozens of similar apps. Once you feel comfortable with your choice, start thinking about another way you can add to the learning experience in your classroom.

A helpful way to implement these tools is to think about connections — who am I connecting to whom or what, and why? When students have opportunities to work with technology, having a choice in how they learn, are included in the conversation, and are asked for feedback engages and empowers them within the classroom. Start the conversations and keep them going, and soon your classroom will be filled with confident students.

Posted by on September 7, 2016 .

Piktochart is the perfect example of a tool that can be used by anyone for almost anything. You can create flyers, brochures, presentations, and reports. It doesn’t matter what line of work you are in because any of the templates can be used by anybody.

For example, as a teacher, I can create posters for my classroom or presentations for my lessons. I can have my students use Piktochart to create projects for our class. Piktochart can be used for conveying information for professional development, to show evidence of learning, and so much more. I’ve even used it to create a birthday card for a friend. You can download the image, share it, or print it, and they always look amazing.

books-school-field-pencilIn addition, students have a tremendous amount of choice when it comes to creating with Piktochart. Even students who say they are not creative find that their creativity comes out once they get started.

I have some quotations that I plan to incorporate into a poster for my classroom, and by having so many design options within Piktochart, I know I can create something personal, vibrant, and visually engaging for my students. I feel confident that even though I’m not a designer, I can still create something that will stand out and make my students curious about how they might be able to create something similar.

You might think that these ideas won’t work for you because you don’t work in education, marketing, or design. But step back and think about all of the digital tools and resources out there.

While it’s helpful to know what their “intended” purpose is, that doesn’t mean it can’t also fit your specific needs. Sometimes all it takes is some creative thinking (and some trial and error), and you’ll find a way to make it work for you. Once you get started, the ideas keep coming.


Getting Started

It’s all about taking a step back and looking at the picture from a different angle. When I started using Piktochart two years ago, it was my first experience with infographics. I had only recently learned what an “infographic” was.

I really wasn’t sure what to create, so I decided to start with my course syllabus. I copied the content from a Word document, pasted it into the template, and added some different visually engaging images around the text. It was a great way to add some technology to my classroom and to introduce students to the concept and benefit of using infographics for presentations.

Then I realized I could have my students use Piktochart to create projects to tell me about themselves, to talk about their family, and for many other uses where I would have normally just used paper. From there, the ideas just kept coming.

brainstorm-idea-thoughtNot that they were always my own. Often the new ideas were brought on by seeing the work of my students, or I’d be inspired by a conversation with other educators at conferences. My ideas for using infographics in the classroom kept growing.

One of my best ideas came to me recently while I was attending ISTE in Denver. My presentation was about using Piktochart to create infographics and presentations. Our discussion focused on how engaging and interactive these creations can be, and it occurred to me that there’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t use Piktochart to run a flipped classroom lesson or to lead someone through a process.

Simply choose a template and add your information, and you will have created a lesson for students in which you lead them step-by-step through a lesson in a visually engaging way. You can include your links to websites, embed video in it, add your images, and so much more.


My Classroom Lesson

While I was at ISTE, I began thinking about using Piktochart as a means to provide a flipped or blended learning experience through the use of an infographic.

In order to test the idea of what would be or could be a lesson, I created a lesson with activities in a document as I normally would. Then, I transferred the lesson into one of my favorite Piktochart templates.

I numbered the steps, and I included some of the links and all of the necessary information. I added some icons, changed the backgrounds, and altered the sizes of images and the colors of the backgrounds.

I’m going to test it out with my students and get their thoughts. I plan to have some students use the paper format and others use the infographic in order to gauge their responses to my flipped classroom experiment.

As a teacher, my purpose for creating something like this is to engage my students and provide more for them. I want to give them something visually appealing that adds to their learning experience. The impact that digital tools have on my students is very important to me, and I carefully select tools that will provide the most choices for them and that prove to be more meaningful and beneficial.

globes-school-lantern-learnTaking this concept a step further, I could also flip it again and have the students create their own lesson in the same way that I did. By doing this, students develop leadership skills and are empowered. They gain new perspective as the “teacher”. They get to be creative, and they drive their own learning.

The teacher then becomes the student, and he or she has the opportunity to learn and gain another perspective that will be beneficial to their role in the classroom. There are many options for using infographics like this. You just have to find what works best for you.


Limitless Technology

From a teacher’s perspective, I think that if you are looking for ways to flip your classroom or to make it more interesting and engaging, infographics (particularly ones you can create with Piktochart) are the way to go.

Even if you are not in the educational field, think of the documents that you have to create in your line of work. You can easily paste the information into one of the templates. You can add your own photography or logos, search for new images, add icons, change the font colors or the backgrounds, and so much more. It is very easy to do, and it just takes that first step to get started.

When it comes to technology, I’m starting to think that there really are no limits. There is something out there for everyone to use. And while it may not be apparent at first, give it a little bit of time. If you are not sure where to start, make a birthday card for a friend.

https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/15072511-spainlesson