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The end of the school year is the perfect time to try the tools or explore new ideas that perhaps you did not get to throughout the year. We can also use this as a time to prep for the next school year. By trying different tools and platforms during the last few weeks, we can then take the summer break to reflect on their impact on student learning. During the spring, I notice a drop in student engagement and an increase in the number of students missing classes due to testing, sporting events, or regular absences. Finding a way to keep students connected and engaged in the lesson is critical.

To resolve these challenges, I try to find something that will benefit students, resolve any disconnect or gaps in learning that might be happening and increase engagement. A new tool that caught my attention recently is NoteAffect. It is a platform focused on enhancing and understanding student engagement and empowering teachers with a powerful tool to better understand student learning.

Why NoteAffect?

NoteAffect provides a unique platform for personalizing the learning experience for students. Using NoteAffect, teachers can deliver lessons in a more interactive way that empowers students to be more involved in the lesson and have access to all of the course materials within one platform. Whether or not students are present in class, they can log in to their account at any time and either view the lesson they missed, or review a lesson in preparation for an exam or for continued review.

NoteAffect offers the right resources and methods to better engage students in learning and helps teachers to track student progress, better understand the questions that students might have and use it as a way to reflect on their own teaching practice. Worried about having devices that are compatible with? No worries as NoteAffect can be used on a PC, Mac, Chromebooks, Android, and iOS devices, so students can interact in class or on their own schedule.
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Getting started with NoteAffect is easy!

Finding time is always a challenge with so much to do in our school days and prepping throughout the week. However, with NoteAffect, teachers can quickly set up an account, invite students to join classes and begin sharing a lecture. The dashboard is easy to navigate and it provides access to the materials that empower teachers to better understand student needs and learning trends.

Once you have created your courses in NoteAffect, it is easy to have students join in the course and participate in minutes.

To invite students, simply follow these steps:

  1. Go to your Dashboard and select “Instructor Tools” and then “Course Management.”
  2. Select the appropriate course from the menu on the left.
  3. Select “Participants” and then select “Add participant” from the top right corner.
  4. Enter the student’s email address and click “Add.”
  5. Students will receive an email with a  prompt to join the course.

Once students are participants in your course, they will be able to see any prior lectures and participate in the current lecture being delivered.

To start a lecture:

  1. Click “Start new lecture” and you will be prompted to open the Broadcaster.
  2. Once the Broadcaster window opens, use the drop-down menu to determine which application to display or if you have other files that you want to use for your lecture.
  3. Once you select the app, it starts to share your screen with your students and it will record the audio as well.
  4. When finished, simply End Lecture and it will be available to students.

Features of NoteAffect

  • Students can take notes, highlight important points, make annotations on the lecture notes and even submit an anonymous question during class. Classmates can see the questions and upvote a classmate’s question, making it more interactive.
  • It’s a great way to have everything accessible in one place as opposed to writing on pieces of paper or having to pull from different presentations. By using notes, students have access to everything within one platform, making it even easier for students to manage.
  • Teachers can deliver their lessons and add in or embed live polling, and further engage students in the lesson.
  • Using the analytics, teachers can see the level of participation and engagement with the material.
  • Analytics provide information including the views, notes taken, words per note and annotations made by students, providing a clearer picture of the level of understanding and engagement of students.

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It will be easy to get started with NoteAffect in your classroom or to recommend to colleagues and administrators for use in their classrooms and schools. To learn more, check into NoteAffect here and get started with a demo today! Be sure to follow them on Twitter 

 

For my prior post on NoteAffect, click here

 

Learning at the Speed of You

In the spring, I like to explore new tools and ideas for use in my own classroom and for colleagues who want to try something new before the school year ends. Spring is the perfect time to try out teaching methods or tools that you perhaps did not have time for yet, or to find something that will keep students engaged through the end of the school year and maybe even to use to avoid the “summer slide.”

A few weeks ago, I came across Socrates, a learning platform also referred to as a “learning engine.” Socrates offers many valuable features for students and teachers, that make it a standout and I am looking forward to sharing its features, ideas to get started and tips over the next few weeks.

The story behind Socrates

I’m always interested in the people behind the product and learning about their motivation for designing something for educators and students. To learn more, I contacted Brian Rosenberg, the Co-Founder, and Chief Executive Officer, to gather some background information on the platform, to find out how it uses Artificial Intelligence, which is a key area of interest for me, and the types of resources available for students, teachers, parents and for homeschooling. The platform, created by Education Revolution, LLC has already received recognition several times this year. Socrates offers such distinct features, which makes it clear why it was endorsed by and received a grant from the National Science Foundation. Less than 5% of the companies are chosen, and Socrates, selected for its unique innovation and having a clear benefit to society was the first winner in Nevada in six years. More recently at the Magnet Schools Conference in Baltimore, Brian had a chance to share the vision of Socrates. He shared that the platform “was created to help provide equal access to students regardless of their socio-economic background.”

Impressive features

I scheduled a demo with Brian and was able to “experience” the platform from the perspective of a teacher and student. As Brian showed me the different components in the Teacher Dashboard, the analytics, and a variety of information available for teachers to use to guide instruction was impressive. One of the first things I consider is ease of navigating through the platform and whether the layout is visually engaging and rich in terms of content.

One aspect of Socrates that makes it unique is that it functions through the use of Artificial Intelligence and cloud computing, there is no IT setup and it can be used on any device. Socrates is fully automated and using the AI, it can quickly assess individual student or whole class needs, and then make adjustments in the learning path. While it the artificial intelligence allows it to automatically adjust for each student, it provides extensive tool for teachers to take over the learning experience and is designed to be a teacher assistant, not a teacher replacement According to Brian, there are 1300 categories of information with millions of questions, and it can adjust to particular topics as students progress, and goes question by question to make changes and create a unique learning path for each student.

Currently available content is Math and ELA (K-5) with Science about to release. During our recent conversation, Brian highlighted a “roadmap” for some updates and new features coming up in the platform over the next few months and at the beginning of 2020. There are plans to roll out activities for K-8 Science, grades 6-8 Math and Language Arts throughout the summer and early fall. Later this year and into early 2020, plans are in the works for Social Studies, ESL, high school Math, and even Test Prep. The number of resources currently available within Socrates is impressive, but with the additional features being added, it will provide an even more robust learning platform.

Socrates recently launched in Mexico, and therefore the teacher and student application is available in English or Spanish.

I will have the opportunity to explore the Socrates platform on my own and will take a closer look at each of the features, comparing it to other tools that have the same end goal as Socrates: providing students with a unique, individualized, learning path.

Experiencing the Power of Socrates

A few of the features that I will be looking at:

  • Dynamic Assessment: How the platform assesses students to find out the specific student needs.
  • Teacher Dashboard: Explore how to move students between classes, look at options available for each student, sorting of data
  • Weekly Reports: Look at the information available, ease of obtaining a snapshot of student progress
  • Command Center: Closer look at features and tools available.
  • Navigation of platform: Evaluate the learning curve for teachers and students, watch tutorial videos
  • Categories of Games: Explore the different categories, rewards, and badges available for students
  • Shop: Look at “cards” available to students, some examples are Greek Mythology, Presidents and more.

If you have been using Socrates, I would love to hear from you. If you have not yet tried it, I recommend getting started here. Socrates offers a 30-day free trial, and Brian encouraged teachers to try it out for the rest of the school year and said that their students can use it over the summer at no charge if they sign up before the end of the school year.

The classroom version: http://withsocrates.com/classroom/

***Coupon code is THRIVEinEDU2019. It can be used for the classroom edition or for the summer edition ($39.99 for the summer for teachers with summer school classes)

Connect with them on Social Media to keep informed of the great new features coming. Twitter is learnwithsocra1Facebook is learnwithsocrates

In Other Words, my new book is now available! Click here for more information on how to get a signed copy.

 

Originally published on Getting Smart

 

Involving families in the education of our students is crucial to their success. Beyond just involving families, schools need to strive for family engagement and the creation of partnerships between school, home, and community. These partnerships, or connections between “stakeholders”, are important for promoting student well-being and success. When there is a greater focus on fostering more meaningful and personal connections, the school, community, and families can work together to provide the support, structure and make decisions for the benefit of student achievement.

Importance of Connecting

To promote family engagement, we must be intentional in learning about the families in our schools. It is important to make an initial connection, invite families in to engage in conversations and start to develop an awareness of each family’s needs, preferences and prior experiences in terms of involvement with the educational community. We should also explore any perceived or real barriers to family engagement. Recognizing some of the biggest barriers to family engagement will help schools to develop the most effective strategies to help families feel more connected to and supported by the school.

A survey of over 18,000 parents indicated some of the biggest barriers to family engagement were: time, lack of information, availability of childcare, and inconsistent treatment of students. Using this data, schools can develop specific strategies aimed at reducing and eliminating these barriers. Understanding the diverse needs of the families and students in our school system is crucial, as we always want to create a welcoming and supportive environment, one which should also be reflective of the educational setting for our students. A strong and collaborative home to school partnership has been shown to positively impact student performance as well as empower parents.

Communication between school and home has traditionally involved sending information in letter form, an email or by making a phone call. While these methods are still useful, they are not the best choices in terms of timeliness, especially when it comes to time-sensitive matters. Being able to connect and share school news and update families on student progress, in a timely manner, is vital to classrooms and fostering this sense of “community”. The sense of “community” comes from focusing on the building of family relationships, which are critical for student success in the classroom.

In a survey done by SpeakUp in 2015 (cited in Learning Transformed), 55% of the half million K-12 parents surveyed stated that they wanted a weekly text message with updates. The same survey given five years prior yielded a result of only 5% of parents interested in this form of communication. With the digital age and many options for communicating, it is not that surprising to see such an increase. However, before starting to use a certain messaging tool, teachers should first consider what might be the best way to connect with parents and how to provide access to the classroom resources which will support student growth. Sharing an initial survey can help educators can determine how to best establish a classroom presence and open channels of communication.

Connecting with Families

There are many ways to connect with parents. With technology, tasks such as sending class updates, assignment reminders, creating a calendar, sharing photos and distributing information are much easier. Knowing that families have mobile devices, does not guarantee that WI-FI access is available, and this is something that can be determined through the use of a survey.

In a recent Trends in Community Engagement report, written in partnership with Project Tomorrow, 30,000 parents expressed expectations for frequency and forms of communication. Among the key findings of this report were that parents want timely and impactful communication. While parents want to be kept informed, they do not want to be overwhelmed with a flood of information. The CDC created strategies to help schools build frameworks to promote family engagement. The focus is to “Connect, Engage, Sustain” families’ in the educational community. Schools can refer to the many resources with tips for promoting engagement. To get started, here are five different ways to “connect, engage and sustain” family involvement.

1) Communication Tools: By using social media tools such as Twitter or Instagram, school leaders, and classrooms can transmit messages quickly and with a far reach. Tools such as Remind, or BloomzApp enable teachers and parents to communicate and also share information quickly. Both options offer translation capabilities which promote digital equity and accessibility. ParentSquare, 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. By using these tools, teachers and parents communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed throughout the year.

2) Video Tools: Sharing news about student work, or creating a lesson for students to view outside of class, can be done with tools such as EducreationsFlipgrid, or Screencastify. Teachers can record videos of weekly announcements or special events, or even teach a lesson and share the links with parents, which will create a more supportive connection between home and school. Videos can also be a great way to have students share their learning, even creating a digital portfolio, or have families record video introductions to learn about one another.

3) Blogging/Class Webpage: Maintaining a classroom space in the form of a blog or a class website, can be done easily using tools like KidblogPadletEdmodo or other web-based learning platforms. When families know they can refer to one centralized location to obtain class updates, ask questions, or read about class events, it provides a more structured framework for engaging families in the daily activities of the school and fosters a greater connection between school and home. It also aids in resolving the barriers of time and lack of information, as families can refer to these spaces when convenient.

4) School and Community: There are a lot of possibilities for amplifying student learning by connecting with and sharing news of school events within the community itself. Social media can be one way of connecting, or simply by seeking out the local library and businesses to bring in real-world experiences for learning and to inform the community of the educational events going on at school. Invite the community into events such as Back to School nights, Open Houses or STEAM showcases, or hold a learning night for families. Any of these offer a good opportunity to meet and engage families in conversations and planning to impact student learning.

5) Family Activities: Finding ways to involve parents in the learning process can be a challenge. A good opportunity to co-learn is to take part in something called “Family Playlists”. A Family Playlist, devised by PowerMyLearning, basically has the student becoming the “teacher”. In their role as “teacher”, students share their knowledge with the family, who then provides feedback to the classroom teacher, as to how the student conveyed the information and their confidence in doing so. Trying this method is a good way to further involve families in the educational experience, leading to a greater understanding of the type of learning occurring in school as well as provide beneficial insight into a child’s progress. It also promotes ongoing and supportive collaboration between home and school.

There are many strategies that schools can use to keep families informed and involved. The key is to find a way to not only make an initial connection and build the “family to school” partnership but to engage families and continue to collaborate and grow together. These connections will lead to the creation of solid and supportive relationships between school and home, which will promote student achievement and enhance their sense of belonging.

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What Are The Benefits Of Student Blogging?

What are some ways to assess students and engage them more in conversation? How can we help students to become more confident in expressing their ideas and more comfortable in sharing their ideas in and out of class? Good question.

As I have reflected more on my practice over the past couple of years, I have realized that I needed to make some changes. One of the most important areas has been finding ways to better differentiate and personalize my instruction and to empower students to take responsibility for their learning and have an opportunity to express themselves more.

Teachers have so many options to choose from when it comes to technology, and it can be a challenge to decide where or how to start. The best advice I can share is to find one area that you feel like you can improve upon, or maybe there is something that takes a lot of your time or does not offer students enough opportunities to participate in class, just to name a few.  A couple of years ago, I started to have my students blog. I had read blogs for several years, had only recently started writing my own, and thought they offered a great opportunity to learn about a lot of different topics in short passages.

While tremendously beneficial for the reader,  it seemed like a great way for the “blogger” to share ideas and even helpful hints to anybody who wanted to learn just a little bit more about a topic. Blogs are great for those who do not have time to read a book and want to follow or learn about specific topics.  It is also a great way to express oneself. With this in mind, I started having my students write blogs in Spanish and I chose Kidblog for them.

Choosing A Blogging Platform

There are many blogging platforms available, depending on your grade level, the specific platform needs and also funding if needed.  On a personal level, I have used Blogger, Word Press and Edublogs. These are great options and there are many other ways to share a blog, and depending on what your personal needs are and how you would like to incorporate blogging into your classroom, you may decide to use any one of these. But for my students when I started, I began with Kidblog in my Spanish II, III and IV courses.

At first many of the students were quite apprehensive about writing and worried about who would be reading their work and there was the fear of writing correctly and making mistakes. These are all common concerns for anybody when confronting something that’s new and different than what has been the traditional way of doing things, especially when it comes to the classroom setting.

I had never written a blog myself until I was asked to write one for a few Edtech companies and share how I was using the tools in my classroom. I was apprehensive at first, having no experience writing a blog at that time.  I was not sure where to begin nor how I would write so many words. However, it’s true what they say, once you take that first step you can keep moving. It’s just that getting started is the most difficult part, finding the right words, learning about your writing style, it’s all part of the process.

What Are The Benefits Of Student Blogging?

The blogger has the benefit of improving writing skills whether in basic grammar structures in English or learning foreign language skills as is the case for my Spanish students, or for other courses, learning to write in a specific way whether it be persuasive text or narrative for example. And the theme can be relevant to any course or personal interest topic. An additional benefit is the ability to share ideas and experiences, enabling people to learn from each other.

Blogging enables you to write freely about your ideas and thoughts, and you can choose to share them or you can keep them private, but the end result is that you have a way to express yourself, be creative and can then use it as a means for personal growth and reflection.

All of my students in Spanish II, III and IV have accounts for blogging and sometimes I will give them a prompt and other times I leave it up to them to write about whatever they feel like writing about. I do set guidelines for the blog to be a certain length, a number of words, or specific verb tenses, but I really want it to be a way for them to express themselves, be creative and have it be more personalized.

Getting Started

Before we begin blogging and throughout the year, I continue to emphasize that it’s really important to remember a couple of things. The purpose of the blog is to work on writing skills and that means their own skills and not those enhanced by trying to use a translator. They need to put forth the effort and try to write in Spanish, in my case, while keeping in mind some of the grammar, vocabulary, and verbs that we have learned in class. And finally, they need to read the feedback from me, or if they are paired with a classmate, peer-review and not worry about any errors.  I reinforce that we’re all in this together to help each other learn and grow and that it’s okay to make a mistake.  While my experience is with students studying a foreign language, you can apply these same parameters to any course.

I use the blogs as a way to have them work with a new vocabulary unit on their own. I let them get into small groups and take turns writing and then commenting on blogs, but either way, I read them all. I can learn more about what their needs are in terms of language skills, but I also learn more about them as a person and it helps to build relationships with them as well.

Final Thoughts

Blogging can be used for many purposes and can be a regular activity or maybe it’s something that you would do occasionally, depending on your class. It could be a great way for students to write their interpretation of something they read in English or in a history course for example. I have written blogs for graduate coursework and at times, I am still apprehensive because I am putting my ideas out there for somebody else to read and I think it’s natural to feel a little bit afraid of expressing yourself openly, but that’s what the purpose is.  We need to feel free to share our thoughts, to communicate with others, and to build connections.  These are all important parts of the learning process.

So think about blogging.  Whether it means you find a blog to read, start to write your own blog once a week, once a month or try it out in one of your classes. I will tell you that it can amount to a lot of reading when you have your students do it, but it’s completely worth it for you and for them. And don’t be afraid to take a chance with it, we learn from our experiences and we reflect and continue to grow.

Among the benefits of students blogging?

  • Student autonomy and student engagement
  • Promotes student choice and builds confidence in writing and in communicating
  • The natural “cognitive load” of the writing process. Writing is hard and writing that will actually be read by someone outside the classroom is another thing altogether. Students need to share their work.
  • 21st-century skills, collaborating, thinking critically, and publishing ideas with authentic audiences.
  • Opportunities to practice digital literacy and citizenship, very important to include in our classroom.

If you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you, happy blogging!

Updated from the Original Post on Getting Smart, January 19, 2018

Looking for new ideas to try before the end of the school year? If you have not tried some of this, now is the time!

There are so many digital tools available today that offer opportunities for promoting student creativity, student voice, and expanding where and how students learn. I had my own list of the tools that I found made a big difference in my classroom, but decided to ask students for their input.

Here is a list of tools to try in 2018, (or to try before the end of the year, let’s keep learning!)

Each of these offer multiple ways for students to create, connect and engage in more authentic learning experiences.

Promoting Connected Learners

We were able to take our learning to a whole new level this year through Project Based Learning (PBL). Using these tools enabled us to connect with students from several Spanish speaking countries, which created tremendous possibilities for more authentic learning and broadening our cultural understanding.

1) Edmodo: Virtual learning space, where teachers can set up a digital classroom to connect students with the resources they need, in a safe learning environment. Edmodo can be used for assessments and integrates with Microsoft Office and Google, making it easy to share files with students. Students relied on Edmodo to connect with students in Argentina, Mexico and Spain for their PBL. One student said “these connections enabled me to sculpt my PBL, and learn in ways that books, videos and regular classroom lessons cannot provide.”

2) Flipgrid: Video response tool, which became one of the most talked about tools this past year after launching new features, making it even easier and more fun for students to share their ideas. Students can record up to a five minute response, add emojis to their photos and access the “grid” quickly through a grid code. It is a great tool for helping students to become more comfortable and confident in sharing their ideas and sparking curiosity with their peers.

3) Padlet: Padlet, a virtual wall, is a favorite in our classroom. Students can create a digital portfolio by uploading files and links to projects, curate resources for PBL, or have discussions with classrooms around the world. Other popular ways to use Padlet are to ask questions, post homework, or as a classroom website. Newer features include being able to “like”, “grade” or “upvote” a post and directly transfer posts to another Padlet wall.

4) Recap: Recap 2.0 is a free video response tool, which integrates with Edmodo, Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom and Blackboard, making it easy to implement right away. It provides a comfortable way for teachers and students to ask questions by setting them up in a “Queue”. Students can submit questions and receive direct feedback, in a safe moderated environment.

Tools to Engage Students in Learning

5) Quizlet Live: Quizlet Live is a fun way to encourage student collaboration by playing a team game using a set of Quizlet study cards. Teachers select a set of study cards, launch a Live game by providing students with a join code, and students are divided into teams. To play, you need at least four players and a study set with at least 12 unique terms. Only one member of the team has the correct answer and answering incorrectly bounces the team score back to zero.

6) Quizizz: Quizizz has launched some new features, including integrating with Edmodo and Google Classroom, which makes sharing or assigning games and reviewing results much easier. When playing live, students can see the class accuracy reflected as it updates the leaderboard live with each response. There are thousands of games available in the library, making it easy to get started or create your own.

7) Kahoot!: Some big changes to the layout and options of the platform make it easier to navigate and review questions in class. Teachers can now assign “challenges” to students as a fun way to practice by sharing a code. The new “Nickname Generator” creates fun and unique usernames such as “Mystery Panda” or “Fantastic Bat” to students. It definitely saves time rather than waiting for students try to come up with their own “creative” names.

8) Kidblog: Blogging has many benefits for helping students to express themselves and begin to develop their online presence. Teachers can provide students with a variety of writing prompts to not only assess student learning, but promote creativity, communication, collaboration and digital citizenship skills. With Kidblog, teachers can even AppSmash (use two or more apps or tools together to complete a task) by embedding other tech tools into the platform, such as Buncee, Flipgrid or by uploading images and documents directly from Google Drive.

Creativity, Assessments, Interactive Lessons and More

9) Buncee: Buncee, a versatile presentation and assessment tool, is great for creating multimedia projects full of animations, graphics, audio, and videos. Choose from thousands of templates, backgrounds, animations and other graphics to create invitations, classroom signs, and unique “Buncees” for any purpose. Buncee enables every student to find exactly what they need to add into their project and to bring out their creativity.

10) Formative: An interactive tool for creating formative assessments, for use in class or as student-paced practice. Students enjoy using Formative because they receive feedback quickly, they are able to “show” their work and when done as practice, move at their own pace. Teachers can create Formatives with different question types, content and even the ability to upload and transform files. Try having students create their own Formatives as a way to have more personalized and authentic practice.

Immersive Learning, Coding and Problem Solving

11) Nearpod: Nearpod continues to be a game changer in our classroom. It provides so many options for presenting material as well as assessing students through diverse activities. The chance to be immersed in the virtual field trips and explore places around the world is of tremendous value for students. Educators can quickly create interactive lessons which include multiple question formats, the ability to upload content, BBC lessons, PhET simulations, and even add in GIFS! Nearpod integrates with Google Classroom and Canvas, and most recently with Remind, making it even easier to share lessons. Nearpod also added 27 “College Tours”, available in VR, a great way to have students experience different schools by immersing in the campus, without having to travel the distance.

12) CoSpacesEDU: CoSpacesEDU provides students with a way to not only create their own “spaces”, but to be able to walk in the spaces created by their peers. To explore in VR (Virtual Reality) and problem solve by figuring out how to code using Blockly, offers students a truly authentic way to learn, create and problem solve. The Gallery is full of examples to get you started with ideas for your classroom. Use CoSpaces to have students represent a scientific concept, a book report, or create a scene representing something studied in any content area. Talk about creativity, imagination, innovation and critical thinking, and more all in one tool.

In the End

These are just 12 of the many tools out there for education. The most important thing to remember is the “Why”? behind using these in the classroom. While these 12 tools made a difference in my classroom, they may not have the same impact in yours, but I do recommend giving them a try. Think about the tools you are currently using to amplify or facilitate student learning. What is making a difference in how, what and where students learn? Could one of these be used in place of another, as a way to engage students more in learning, or even better, provide opportunities for students to move from consumers to creators?

My advice is to simply choose one of these 12 tools and give it a try. See how it goes, ask your students for some feedback, and then plan your next steps.

 

Published on Getting Smart, 

 

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

The changes:

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

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

 

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

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

Practical ways to promote SEL:

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

Challenges and solutions:

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

Benefits:

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

Published on Getting Smart, November 5, 2017

What image comes to mind when you think of classrooms today? Where is the teacher and where are the students? Who is leading the discussion and doing most of the talking and moving in the classroom? For many, the image that comes to mind is that of a room of students, lined up in rows, with their attention directed to the teacher at the front of the room or involved in some activity at their desks. In this scenario, students are passively learning. Their involvement in class, in some cases, has them seated for the entire class period, while the teacher does most of the talking and moving around the room.

In the past, this may represent the typical format of classroom instruction, however today, with a greater focus on flexible learning environments, and educators looking to promote student choice and voice, this image or perception of “what classrooms look like”, has changed and continues to evolve into a more active learning space, a place where students are empowered. A space in which students take a more active role, transform students from consumers to creators and the former teacher-centered classroom into a student-centered and student-driven space.

Because students have typically spent so much of their school day seated, taking information in and do not always have time to ask questions, interact with peers, or do more than consume, they may become more passive learners. I started to notice this in my own classes. There was a decrease in student engagement, and reflecting on my methods I realized that I was spending so much time talking, that it was me making the decisions and leading all of our activities. There were not many opportunities for the students to work with peers, to move around, to really take control of their learning.

In an effort to encourage students to become more active learners as well as to be more involved in the types of activities and instruction in the classroom, I started to implement some teaching strategies involving music and games. There are many benefits to getting students more actively involved in learning and this can be done quite simply through a variety of teaching strategies. It can be a challenge to change over from the traditional classroom lecture model, however, there are some easy ways to change to a more active, engaging space.

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How to design more active learning experiences:

1. Game-Based Learning (GBL): GBL is a great way to add fun into the classroom and help build student excitement for learning. The use of gaming offers different ways for students to practice and develop their skills in more active learning environments. Games encourage students to learn and master content by problem-solving, collaborating, creating and engaging in more authentic and meaningful learning. It is a way to promote independent learning as well as by offering students choices in games to play and the means to work toward individual goals.

2. Tech: Students can create a game as a way to help themselves and their peers practice concepts and gain mastery. It can be a game created using one of the many digital tools available like KahootQuizlet or Quizizz. Students enjoy the opportunity to create a game, which leads to a more authentic learning experience when students select the specific vocabulary they need to practice, thus leading to more personalized learning opportunities. Students add to their skills by choosing how to leverage technology for the purpose of more self-directed learning.

3. No-tech: Students are very creative and offering them a chance to design a game to practice new content can lead to better retention and increase motivation. To get started, a few examples that can be used are to create a chart which includes 4 or 5 different categories or topics related to the content and grade level being taught. After deciding on categories, perhaps select 5 or 6 letters of the alphabet, or use numbers, which students must use to come up with a word, topic or date, that relates to each category. For example, in teaching Spanish, selecting categories such as classroom objects, verbs, colors, family and then deciding on the starting letter, students can brainstorm words and review in unique ways. Students can then randomly be assigned to small groups and then share the words their group came up with. An activity like this will promote communication between peers and provide an opportunity for collaboration and some fun as well. It can also be a good way to have students review, be creative and brainstorm new ideas. This creates time for teachers to assess student needs and decide the next steps in the lesson.

4. Music: Music livens up the classroom and is useful for helping students retain their learning. There are many ways to include music in learning, one just as simple as playing music when students enter the room, or while they work in small groups, to add to the culture of the classroom. As instructional materials, one idea is to have students create rhymes or a song using a vocabulary list, names of famous people, state or world capitals, monuments or anything related to the content area. Students can work in pairs or a small group and create a song which can be used as a mnemonic device, to help them retain the information in a more meaningful way. Students can then present live in class or use a tool like Flipgrid or Recap to record and share with classmates. These student creations add to the authentic classroom resources and engage students more in learning.

In trying one or all of these activities, students have an opportunity to be more active in the classroom, work together, build relationships, collaborate and engage in more authentic learning experiences. Placing students in the lead provides the teacher with an opportunity to step aside and become a facilitator and use time in class as an opportunity to not only assess student learning but to interact more and provide feedback for students.

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There are many ways to build students skills in the classroom, and these are just a few of the ideas that we have been trying and they are a work in progress. Knowing that something works takes reflection and student input. With students creating more and working in small groups, I have more time to move around and work with every student and group and provide more individualized instruction.

Students are asking more questions like, “Can we…?, What if…?, Is it okay to…?” and adding their creativity into our activities. Students suggest improvements, “Maybe we could… It might be better if we and This has helped me to remember…can we keep doing these activities?” And my answer to all of these has been “Yes, I think we should try it. If it works, then great. And if not, we will try again!”

Students need to be moving in the classroom and have opportunities to learn in different formats using a variety of instructional strategies and tools, and it’s okay if they are not in the traditional format.

Honored and Amazed: EdmodoCon 2017

 

I have been a huge fan of Edmodo the last four years and it has really brought about tremendous, positive changes in my classroom, for my students and opened up a lot of new opportunities for me as well  Edmodocon, an online conference, takes place in August and is held at Edmodo headquarters in San Mateo, California. Each spring, Edmodo accepts proposals from educators to be selected as one of the featured speakers during this event. The last two years I had submitted a proposal to speak at EdmodoCon, not fully understanding the magnitude of it even though I had watched it each year, and definitely not expecting that I would be one of those selected to present.  I took a chance again this past year and submitted a proposal and definitely put some extra time into what I wanted to say and decided to just go for it. Honestly, I did not think that I would be selected.

​Finding out I was one of the educators selected to speak at ​EdmodoCon was really an emotional moment where I felt a little bit overwhelmed, very surprised, tremendously honored, and definitely scared. There was also ongoing disbelief that I had been chosen.

I had watched ​EdmodoCon the last two years and knew how it was set up​,​ where the people were speaking from​,​ and also that many thousands of people were watching from around the world while the event was ​streaming live. All of these images passed through my mind a​t​ a glimpse when I found out I was selected but the excitement ​was sometimes exchanged for nerves. I​ just could not believe that I was chosen and could not wait to attend.
I have been using Edmodo ​since 2015 and it truly has made a huge impact in my classroom. I found it almost accidentally, looking to find a way to open up more access for my students and to help solve some problems in communication, and availability. Over the years, the way​s​ that we have used Edmodo has changed and many new features have been added, making it even better than it already was. Having the opportunity to see the people working behind the scenes at Edmodo and to talk with ​each person was phenomenal.

How does one prepare for ​EdmodoCon?

Unlike any other presentation you have prepared for! While I have given many presentations in the form of Professional Development sessions, speaking at conferences and online learning ​events, preparing for something like this was a much greater feat. My session would be a ​2​​0 to ​30 minute presentation, speaking ​live from​ Edmodo. I needed to craft a message that would inform the participants or “Edmodians”, who were​ ​already familiar with Edmodo and knew so much about it. My goal was to convey my message of why and how it has made such an impact ​in​ my classroom.
Countless hours spent crafting the presentation​,​ re​-​working the images​,​ thinking through what I would say on August 1st, and lots of communication between myself and N​iccolina and ​Claire. The support I received was fantastic. The team was always readily available to give guidance and feedback, to do practice run​s​ ​or​ whatever was needed. They were there to support me and all of the speakers and definitely made the whole experience phenomenal, and always found ways to calm those nerves with reassurances and positive encouragement.

 

Prepping for EdmodoCon

I think I lucked out because I had the benefit of a little preparation when I was asked to speak about Edmodo during the Microsoft Hack the Classroom in San Antonio​ while at ISTE​ this summer. I prepared a​ ​5 minute “Ignite” talk on the integration of Microsoft Office with Edmodo and this experience definitely help​ed​ me to better prepare for EdmodoCon, but then again it was unlike any other experience I have had. It gave me some practice speaking in a studio setting with a live audience, microphone and cameras, but it didn’t quite prepare me for the full experience since it was only a five minute talk. But nevertheless, I am grateful for having had that opportunity to connect and to get a little bit of practice in before heading to the main event. Being able to step out of my comfort zone, and do something like this for the first time, was a challenge and I was very nervous about it, but having this experience definitely helped.

Heading to EdmodoCon

Going ​to San Francisco, arriving at Edmodo Headquarters, and meeting the other educators was tremendous. I was very excited about the day, getting to spend time at Edmodo, practicing a little and just being in the same space with educators from around the world, and having time to sit down with them and share how we use Edmodo was awesome. Being there and having the support and generosity of the whole Edmodo team, becoming connected with these other educators, really added so much more to what I already love about Edmodo. The whole team of Edmodo is people focus​ed,​ they work ​​for the students, they are a family and they are there to be a constant source of  support and encouragement to one another.

The way that we were all welcomed by the team was unlike anything I have ever experienced. We were greeted at check-in with welcome bags full of Edmodo gear, picked up by members of the team and driven to Edmodo headquarters where we had time to tour the office and also to ask questions of all of the team members working hard to make Edmodo what it is. We had catered meals, access to anything we could possibly want to make our time there more comfortable and most of all, we experienced a true sense of belonging and being part of the Edmodo family. Being able to meet for the first time people who have done nothing but work to make Edmodo a better platform for students and for education and who truly value the input from educators and the connections made, was an honor. Edmodo is how I made changes to my classroom that enabled me to open up more access to the resources the students need and also access to a world full of learning opportunities. Being selected to speak there and to share my experience with so many educators around the world was very humbling.

It is probably the most nervous I have ever been before a presentation and waiting for it to be my turn to speak was definitely a challenge for me to stay calm and focused.  But hearing Jennifer’s presentation before mine helped and once I entered into the room and put the headset on, my nerves pushed aside and I was ready to go. Of course I was still nervous but I felt like I could get through it, I was ready to share our story.  And I think the one thing that really helped to break the ice for me was when my slide deck would not load correctly and I just had to go on and start talking with fingers crossed that it would actually work. It’s really not much of a surprise that I would have some kind of a technical difficulty because I often joke that the technology cloud of darkness follows me at times. But the show must go on and if my slides did not work well then I was just going to have to talk my way through it as best as I could. Fortunately it only took a few minutes for everything to reload and so I was able to carry on through the presentation.

How did it go? I think for the most part I am pleased with how it went and I caught myself getting a little emotional at the start because it really hit me that I was speaking there and I have been so thankful for what Edmodo has provided for me to make things available for my students in my classroom. But standing there and having that chance to speak and share our experience with my own personal learning revelations about my teaching methods and why I needed to change was bittersweet.

Because I’m a reflective person and I did want to evaluate my speaking and be mindful of words or mannerisms that catch my attention, I watch the replay of the video. I first noticed the look on my face when told that my slides weren’t loading and then I should just start, it was a look of wait what? And as for my overall presentation, of course I did come up with a few things  that I would change. But that’s how we learn and grow and move forward. We have to reflect, we will make mistakes, we will face challenges and while it is important to acknowledge these, the most important thing is that we share our message and that we also share our learning and reflections in the process.

 

Edmodocon was amazing and it gave me a lot of new ideas for this school year and ways we can use Edmodo to knock down those classroom walls and to bring in opportunities for students to learn more about the world and to provide a safe space for them to connect with other students in the world. We can empower our connected learners.

Celebrating together after EdmodoCon 2017

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  1. Empowered Learner
  2. Digital Citizen
  3. Knowledge Constructor
  4. Innovative Designer
  5. Computational Thinker
  6. Creative Communicator
  7. Global Collaborator

 

The Student Standards reflect the skills that we want the students of today to develop, so they can become more connected with their learning and prepare for their future in an increasingly digital world. The use of blogging is a good way to address the ISTE Standards for Students. The new standards, which were released in June 2016, focus more on what we want for students – The pursuit of lifelong learning and ways in which we can help to empower students in their learning. The emphasis is on providing opportunities which promote student voice and choice and help educators to implement technology in ways that will increase student growth and readiness for the future. The ISTE standards represent the skills and qualities that students need for su​​ccess in the 21st century.

Supporting the standards with technology
There are many educational tools (both digital and traditional) available to promote student voice in the classroom. Blogging is one tool that serves to support and meet the ISTE standards. Educators can refer to the standards as a guide for selecting tools to use with students that will amplify learning and promote student choice. The goal is to support students so they begin to take ownership in their learning. A move in the classroom from teacher-centered, to student-centered and optimally, student driven. Here is how Kidblog can help.

1. Empowered Learner: As empowered learners, students “leverage” technology to show their learning and demonstrate their mastery in a platform that is comfortable to them and in a personalized space. Students take more responsibility for and have choices in how to show their learning.

2. Digital Citizen: Blogging promotes digital citizenship as it helps students to develop their social presence. Through blogging, students become active in online communication, learn about proper use of internet and resources and interact in a safe learning environment. Posting online and sharing information helps students to develop the skills they will need in the future and to recognize their responsibility when it comes to digital resources. Blogging gives students the opportunity to practice appropriate and ethical online behaviors, which transfer into the classroom space as well.

3. Knowledge Constructor: Students gather information and resources to use in creating stories, conveying information in a way that is more authentic and meaningful for their learning. The use of blogs helps students to work on their writing skills and ties in nicely with gathering information to share in their digital space. Students can research and analyze the resources, to determine which is most relevant and applicable to their task.

4. Innovative Designer: Students can use the different tools and features in the Kidblog platform to express themselves in a more unique way, share ideas and create in an innovative way. Designing and creating more authentic ways to show their knowledge as well as creating new and more “imaginative” solutions to a question or problem presented.

5. Computational Thinker: Students can use blogs as a way to discuss and talk through a process of decision-making. Blogging is a great format for working through projects or solving complex problems, and to demonstrate the thought processes and analysis involved through their writing.

6. Creative Communicator: Students can use the different features of Kidblog to share their knowledge, convey information or tell a story in a more engaging and creative way, to be shared with peers and the teacher. Blogging opens up more opportunities for students to be more expressive than the traditional formats such as paper or other digital tools. Students can express themselves in a way which promotes creativity and with Kidblog, can incorporate other tools to present their information in a way that supports the learning goals and meets individual student needs and interests.

7. Global Collaborator: Students can use blogs as a way to learn about other cultures and connect with others by posting their blogs and sharing information with peers. Students narrate background experiences and connect with others in a safe learning environment that builds confidence and promotes student learning. Students share their blogs with peers and can also connect with other students from around the world. It facilitates the opportunity to local and global issues and perspectives, and to use the blog as a way to express their thoughts.

The focus of the ISTE Student Standards, helping students to become better with communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and to express themselves in more creative and innovative ways, falls in line with the features of Kidblog.

Getting ready for the start of a new school year – new students, new curriculum, and new tools – means teachers have a lot of preparation ahead of them. Whether new to Kidblog or a veteran classroom blogger, these tips will help you get the most out of your class blog this year.

1) There is no better way to start the year than by way of introductions. Blogging can be a great way to get your students comfortable with you as their new teacher, as well as, their new classmates. In my classroom, I also use this time to cover expectations in the classroom. This is all done in a “Welcome back to school” blog post. Choose a fun theme for the class, add some links and include helpful information. Share information about you, including some fun facts, and encourage students to then respond to your post. You can begin to develop those vital relationships for your classroom.

2) Get parents connected. Make the decision to use blogs as a way to keep parents informed about what is going on in the classroom. Set a goal to write a blog post with a weekly update and share what is going on in the classroom, give highlights of upcoming events and activities the students will be participating in. Also, use the blog as a way to share student work with parents, which will really connect the home and the classroom, and involve all members of the learning community.

3) Involve students in planning for blog posts. Encourage students to come up with their own ideas or to work with peers to brainstorm some writing prompts to use throughout the year. Gather their ideas and then draw from their prompts. Involving students in the decision making process in the classroom helps to provide more authentic and meaningful learning experiences. It promotes student voice and choice in the classroom and helps students feel more valued and empowered. By actively engaging them in classroom decisions, students will feel more connected to the content and their peers.

4) Create a bridge between content areas by doing some cross-curricular blog posts. Find time to talk with and encourage other teachers who may not be using blogs, to work with you to create some cross-curricular opportunities. The blog can be a way for students to complete some writing assignments or projects for communicating their ideas and showing their learning. Students create their own personal space to share ideas and really have an opportunity to practice their skills for multiple content areas in a comfortable manner.

5) Try adding some other tech tools to app smash with Kidblog or use Kidblog as the means to share student work! Implementing other tools will help students develop their technology skills and digital literacy. For example, have students create a Buncee and write about what they’ve created, or, they may share it with a peer to create a story. These apps can be easily embed into Kidblog for their classmates to comment.

6) Have a routine for sharing student blog posts and set aside time in class for the students to work together to share their blogs, offer feedback and learn to reflect on their work. Making time for students to work with peers will build those positive classroom relationships and help students to become more confident in their learning. Their confidence will increase through the writing process and also by communicating and collaborating in the classroom.

7) Be sure to have resources available for students so they understand how to use the blog, how to write a post and to properly cite any images or other information they add to their posts. A great way to do this is by screen-casting a tutorial available to students, as well as, creating a “guide post” that gives students pointers on how to publish a post, the required format, and other information related to your expectations. By providing all the information in a place which is accessible, the process will be much easier for students throughout the year to have the support they need when they need it.

Kidblog