Preparing for the Future: Career and College Ready

Previously posted on Getting Smart

Over the past couple of months we have had to make many adjustments to our personal and professional lives. During this unprecedented time, educators and families have been trying to find balance in their days, to work together to keep learning going, and perhaps more importantly, to provide the academic, emotional, and mental support that our students need.

For many educators, finding the right resources that can be used to teach and mentor remotely, and which will also engage students in learning activities, can be difficult. The challenge is not so much in finding tools, but rather in knowing whether our students can access them, determining which will benefit them the most, and making sure that we can provide the support that students and families need. At this time of the year in particular, guidance counselors and educators who work with mentoring programs are quite busy as they help seniors prepare to graduate from high school or other students as they transition to a new grade level or school. In many school districts across the United States, students are required to complete a job shadow, explore careers, and develop a digital portfolio that will become part of their application for college or work. Integral to these requirements are school guidance counselors.

After speaking with a guidance counselor from my school and following conversations in different learning communities and on social media, I’ve noticed that guidance counselors are seeking resources that can help them to provide this same support for students during remote learning. Even when we are in school with access to guidance counselors and resources, it can be difficult for students as they prepare to transition to their next grade or the next phase of their educational or work journey after graduation. Trying to plan their next steps, whether entering the workforce or pursuing a college education, has not been easy during this time. Students have questions about jobs, college applications, and skills needed for the future and without being in the same space, providing that information can be a challenge. However, there are many resources available to educators, students, and parents that can help now while we are experiencing school closures and that will be beneficial throughout the year in addition to the programs already in place.

Here are seven options for guidance counselors to support students during their transitions between grades, schools, and education and career. These options provide ways for students to explore careers, find job shadow opportunities, create digital portfolios, and even visit college campuses.

Career Readiness. In Pennsylvania, the Lincoln Intermediate Unit has a website that provides many links related to career awareness and readiness that will be helpful to elementary, middle and high school educators and students everywhere. It also offers resources for secondary transitions for special educators, direct links to the PA Department of Education, opportunities for virtual college and job visits, and many other relevant materials for educators that are helping students to determine their career pathways.

Couragion. Provides work-based learning experiences for students. Some options include career shadowing for students in grades 4 through 8 and micro badging for career exploration for middle and high school students. There are four curricular models to explore including technology, engineering, manufacturing, and business. There is also information provided for doing remote externships during the summer months and students can also build career portfolios.

Ecampus Tours. Educators and students can choose from more than 1,300 tours to explore college campuses in 360-degree virtual tours. The website also offers additional resources for college planning as well as materials for guidance counselors such as documents and other handouts for students and parents to plan for college.

MyPlan. Through the Career Exploration section of their site, there are videos, salary calculators, and other resources that enable students to explore different careers at their own pace. Students can learn about different industries, find out about the top 10 careers, and even ask questions in the community to learn more about specific careers and skills needed.

Nepris. This site offers educators the opportunity to connect students with professionals working in many different careers and industries. Through their Career Explorer program, educators can request a speaker to join in a virtual discussion with students, provide students with an authentic audience as they present project-based learning, or even arrange a panel discussion. There are live virtual chats and more than 9,000 recordings available for students to explore different careers on their own time. The virtual industry chats and video library are available to everyone during this time.

Smart Futures. This Pittsburgh-based company has created SmartFutures.org, an online career planning platform for students, whether kids or young adults. Using Smart Futures, students take surveys and complete activities to learn more about their skills and interests, and are able to explore careers and create their digital portfolio. E-Mentors are also available through Smart Futures.

Xello. This resource provides a variety of options for students to learn more about careers and build future-ready skills as they transition through each level of school. Using Xello, students take an assessment and then can explore hundreds of career and college options that match their results. As they work through the activities, reading biographies and engaging with the resources provided, a portfolio of their work and explorations is created. Xello’s software also assists students with gathering documents needed as they prepare college applications.

Regardless of whether in the physical or virtual space, we need to support students and provide them with opportunities to explore their interests and prepare for the future, whether for careers or college. Using any one of these resources, students have opportunities to build self-awareness of their skills and interests and can engage in different learning experiences that prepare them for the future.

 

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What skills will students need

 

I’ve been thinking about the world of education and work right now. We are experiencing so many changes, uncertainties and yet have to determine how to plan for the upcoming school year and what types of learning experiences to design for our students. For myself, something that keeps coming to mind is providing ways for students to have more choices, to become flexible with learning and new ideas, and to consider strategies or tools that enable us to transition between our physical and virtual learning spaces.  I thought back to some research that I started a few years ago and how that can help us now as we consider options in the new school year.

About two years ago, I read about something called the “gig economy.” Not knowing what that meant, I turned to Google to do a search and within .30 seconds, I had over 35 million results. After a more advanced search and filter, I learned that the term refers to jobs or work assignments that are the equivalent to a “gig.” Short-termed, specific types of tasks. Common applications of this are jobs that employ freelancers or independent contractors. When searching for the top “gig economy” jobs, a few common themes of the top 10 list include Deep Learning (think AI and machine learning), Bitcoin, Blockchain and Social Media Marketing.

Employment in a gig economy is on the rise, which means that our students need to develop a variety of skills that will prepare them to adapt to the changing landscape of work since we cannot predict what jobs will exist in the future. With statistics such as:

  • In 2015, 54 million people worked as freelancers and on average earned an estimate of 17% more per hour than full-time employees.
  • A projected 60% of companies plan to hire more freelancers rather than full-time employees. In 2016, 35% of workers were freelancers and it leads me to wonder what the number will rise to in another 10 years?

We need to prepare students for their future by offering innovative and challenging learning experiences. Experiences that will push their problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration skills and that involve real-world experiences.

As a Spanish and STEAM teacher, I am commonly asked why students need to learn a foreign language, or why I have them create different projects using emerging technologies rather than traditional document or powerpoint style presentations. My response is always that students need to develop a variety of skills that will enable them to adapt and be marketable to multiple job possibilities in the future. The ability to communicate in another language can benefit students in many ways and it is always a marketable skill to have.

Students also need the opportunity to explore their interests, whether in the arts, music, technology, through entrepreneurial courses, as a few examples. Learning how to establish oneself as an independent contractor, to be self-employed and to understand the traditional components of working in business, but yet preparing for non-traditional forms of business and work.

What experiences will help?

Entrepreneurial Courses: How can educators best prepare students for a gig economy workforce or to possibly become entrepreneurs? By designing learning experiences where students have an opportunity to explore, create, and innovate and have choices in the how, what and where they learn, we will offer more possibilities for inquiry-based learning and foster a growth mindset. Some schools offer programs and courses which lend themselves to these types of possibilities for students.

In my own school, we have a course on entrepreneurship, sports and entertainment management, and a variety of STEAM courses where students design problems to solve and explore emerging technologies. Patsy Kvortek, one of our business teachers, recognized a need for more relevant courses that provide students with opportunities to learn in more authentic ways. She believed that these courses “would prepare students for future success.” She created a course in “Entrepreneurship” and “Sports and Entertainment Management”  a few years ago and has continued to build more real-world experiences and project-based learning into the curriculum. In her classes, students learn about project management, business management, social media, finances and how to plan large events. In courses like this and others like it offered across the country, students are not only developing skills that will prepare them for many career options, they are also building critical skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving and as an added benefit, SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well.

Project-based learning: Alan November, international keynote speaker, and author, said we have to “teach students ​how to learn.​”​ During his keynote, November stated: “I think we should begin to move more and more toward the skill side, because if we teach you to memorize and regurgitate content and your job is wiped out by technology, you’re not well prepared to reinvent yourself if you didn’t learn how to learn.”

November’s message reinforces the importance for students to learn to communicate, collaborate, problem-solve, and think critically. These are key skills that will benefit students whether they choose to enroll in college, get a job, pursue specialized training, or possibly take a gap year to explore the world and different learning experiences before deciding.

Project-based learning (PBL) helps students to create their own learning path by looking for an answer to a question they come up with and not having a specific direction to go, nor one right answer to find. With PBL, students ​engage in sustained inquiry and the skills of critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving become part of the learning process. Students need more real-world experiences, especially those like in place-based learning where they can assess needs that exist in their own community or look globally, and then brainstorm possible solutions. Learning beyond the classroom walls with a more authentic purpose will benefit all students.

STEM and Emerging Technologies: Artificial Intelligence is a growing area in education and in the world. It is estimated that 40% of the jobs will be replaced by AI, so how can we prepare students to be competitive? We create opportunities for students to become the creators of AI, to learn how to code, to design new technologies that will make an impact on not only their learning experience but for the future. Even using AI for learning, students have access to virtual tutors and can enroll in online courses that are taught by AI, which expand the how, when and where they can learn. Knowing how to code becomes a skill that is marketable to many areas. Students can become app designers, create new innovations, and develop the critical “21st-century” skills that they need to be successful in whatever their goals may be.

Educators can facilitate greater, more personalized learning experiences for students by fostering a “STEM mindset” in students. As Dr. Jacie Maslyk states, “The way we engage with our students can build confidence and fuel curiosity.” In a world where the future of learning and work are uncertain, the best way we can provide for our students is to push their curiosity, promote risk-taking and challenge them to explore emerging technologies and different STEM concepts and be there to support them along the way.

 

 

 

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5 Ideas for Learning About Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship is a topic that educators must continue to be mindful of within their classrooms and our schools. Because so many tasks involve the use of technology, it is our responsibility to embed digital citizenship into our lessons so our students are prepared and knowledgeable about the responsibilities that exist and also expectations of them when it comes to digital learning. There is an increase in technology being used in our classrooms, students have more access to digital resources and global connections than ever before, so regardless of our roles in education, we must stay current with issues, trends, and resources related to this topic. Digital citizenship skills have to be a part of what we teach and model for students, especially because we ask our students to do research, to collaborate online and perhaps even use social media as part of our coursework.

There are many resources available to learn more about digital citizenship, ranging from participation in virtual or in-person learning events held throughout the year to websites, books, blogs, and more that bring attention to and inform about this important topic. When I first started teaching about digital citizenship, I recall myself telling students the things that they should not do rather than focusing on how to use the tools safely and responsibly and showing how they could enhance learning. I recognize this now as I’ve researched more and become more aware of the different resources available for use in education today and following the conversations happening in different educational networks. And along with what’s being done out there, I believe that we need to convey the message to our students of how to use digital tools, to interact responsibly, and also share the importance of knowing how to use these tools for good.

Building these skills is critical because they will transfer to the real world space as well. For some students, they build confidence and comfort by interacting with peers and become better collaborators in an online space first, then apply these to the physical classroom setting and the real-world.

Here are five resources to explore and which offer activities for students to explore on their own and construct their own knowledge and apply it.

1. Events Educators can participate in Digital Citizenship Week, happening from October 14th through the 18th online. During this week-long event, educators can participate by connecting with other classrooms globally, joining in a panel discussion organized through the DigCit Institute and EduMatch Tweet and Talk, or listening to a DigcitIMPACT talk. Sign up on the website and stay connected by following the #digcitsummit hashtag on Twitter.

 

2. Online resources There are many interactive ways for students to explore DigCit topics. Common Sense Education’s Digital Compass provides interactive lessons, tutorials, and fun activities for students to engage in to learn about digital citizenship. One of the many benefits is that students choose how to proceed through the interactive lessons, and can see the positive or negative effects of these choices. Digital Compass addresses topics such as cyberbullying, fake news, social media, and more that are in alignment with today’s trends. Be Internet Awesome by Google has students explore four lands and complete activities and games to build their digital citizenship skills. This is another good way to let students drive their learning, to become curious and develop their own understanding in a space that is safe and that we can support. 21 things for students offers 21 different lessons on topics related to digital citizenship, technology skills, cyberbullying and more. Nearpod offers interactive lessons on Social Media use and topics related to Digital Citizenship in addition to many other content areas and levels.

3. Books Three books that I recommend are Digital Citizenship in Action by Dr. Kristen Mattson, Digital Citizenship in Schools by Mike Ribble, and Digcit Kids: Lessons Learned Side by Side to Empower Others from Around the World by Marialice Curran and Curran Dee. Each of these books offer a wealth of resources for getting started with lessons on digital citizenship and they provide activities for use in our classrooms. Dr. Mattson’s book is also used for the ISTE U Course on Digital Citizenship.

4. Social Media Students are using more social media, especially Instagram and Snapchat, and need to develop an understanding of how to post, the type of information that is okay to share, and how to interact responsibly and respectfully in these spaces. Depending on student grade level, it can be helpful to have students participate in a simulated Twitter chat, create a Padlet wall, or use post-it notes and a space in the room to have students create posts and write responses. It is important to help students understand how social media works and how to properly post. We want to emphasize the safety of our students and knowing how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources.

5. Organizations ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education) offers a Professional Learning Network (PLN) focused on Digital Citizenship for members. In PLNs such as this one, educators can find many resources for teaching about digital citizenship that match the grade level, content area, and specific needs of their students. Individuals can sign up to be a part of the #digcitcommit movement. DigCitCommit is a coalition with the mission of providing educators with the right resources for teaching students about digital citizenship. Educators can sign the pledge and become more involved in promoting digital citizenship around the world.

To provide the best possible opportunities for our students to learn their roles and responsibilities when it comes to digital citizenship, we simply need to start with one of these resources and include it in our daily activities. The idea is not that it’s something extra added onto the curriculum but rather becomes woven into our classrooms each day throughout the year.

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Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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What if Students Designed Their Education?

In education today, there have been a lot of discussions in regard to what skills students may need for the future. Many times we hear conversations about “21st-century skills” and how to best prepare students for life and work in the 21st century. Often these 21st-century references are followed by reminders that we are well into the 21st century. We are not only thinking of the future, but these are also the skills that our students need today.

According to Alan November, keynote speaker and international leader in educational technology, there are certain skills that students need and that teachers need to promote within the classroom. Students need to be taught “how” to learn and prepare for more than knowing the content, by developing skills that are transferable to multiple areas of life and work. During a keynote presentation, November stated: “I think we should begin to move more and more toward the skill side, because if we teach you to memorize and regurgitate content and your job is wiped out by technology, you’re not well prepared to reinvent yourself if you didn’t learn how to learn.”

November’s message reinforces the importance of students developing skills such as being able to communicate, collaborate, problem-solve, think critically, to name a few. These are some of the key skills that will enable students to be adaptable to whatever type of work they ultimately find or whatever the next steps are once they leave high school. They are skills they will need whether they enroll in college, seek employment, pursue specialized training, or even take a gap year to decide. With changes in technology and in the capabilities when it comes to learning and the future of work, we can’t truly know what employers will look for five years down the road. The best we can do is to give students access to the right tools to equip themselves with not only the content that we are teaching, but infuse the curriculum with choice through independent learning and exploration of interests that students have. An important goal in schools today should be for students to drive their own learning and develop skills that are authentic and meaningful for learning but at the same time are unique to them.

Changing the Look of Schools and Learning

We’ve heard about the “gig economy” and how students need to have the capability of working in different industries and with different types of work. In a gig economy, each job or work assignment is comparable to an individual “gig” or temporary employment. The generation do-it-yourself (DIY) ties into that same thinking. We need for students to do more than simply consume content, we need for them to create and beyond just creating with the content we have given them, they need to come up with their own questions and problems to be solved. Students need to be the designers of their learning journeys.

So what can we do to help our students become part of Generation DIY?

We need to give students the space to design their own learning path and to take charge of their education. There are a lot of instructional strategies that lend themselves to this “generation do-it-yourself” such as a genius hour, project-based learning, service-learning, experiential learning, and makerspaces, among others. As educators, what can we do to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to explore and have access to whatever it is that they might need? How can we truly know what they will need in the future to enable us to help them? We can best prepare by giving and being open to options that diverge from the traditional look of schools and learning.

Schools around the country have started to offer more courses based on emerging trends and what the “predictions” are for future-ready skills. Some courses or components of courses available in schools, including my own, are entrepreneurship, web design, sports and entertainment management, and other courses with content and opportunities to help students develop the skills necessary to design their own learning journeys. Students need more real-world opportunities to engage in that connect them with their community and develop the skills to assess needs in the community and globally, and brainstorm ways to offer services that will be beneficial for others. It happens that educators often assume that students have certain skills, for example, they know how to use and leverage technology effectively because they have grown up in a technology-infused era. However, the reality is quite different. We need to make sure that students have time to learn basic skills and then can push themselves to go beyond. Students need time to learn to adapt and be flexible and move beyond the traditional format of school and move into more learning that does not necessarily have clear-cut specifications.

Options for Generation DIY

You might wonder what options exist for students in the Generation DIY. Here are a few ways for students to explore different choices after high school that would promote some of the skills they will need as they prepare for the uncertainty of the future of work and learning.

  1. Schools can consider creating more opportunities for students through Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. Through these programs, students can explore careers and work on building skills that are transferable to diverse types of work. When students have access to  CTE programs, they get to look into emerging trends in the workforce, explore different careers and walk away with certifications that can increase their marketability in the workforce. For students who may be unsure of the next steps after graduation, CTE programs can offer them time to be curious by exploring possible career options, while developing their skills in high school.
  2. Place-based education gives students the opportunity to explore their communities, learn about the geography and immerse more in authentic learning by stepping out into the “real-world” for more meaningful ways to develop skills in math, social studies, science, language arts, and other content areas. There are six design principles in PBE, which are not required as part of the place-based education, however, when they are included, lead to more authentic and higher quality experiences. The Place Network is a collaborative of rural K-12 schools which provides a wealth of resources for learning more about PBE and becoming a PBE school.
  3. Service learning programs give students an opportunity to learn by exploring real-world issues, even investigating on a global scale and then taking action in their own community. Educators can implement methods such as project-based learning or inquiry-based learning to engage students more by addressing problems or challenges identified in their local environment. Involving students in service learning programs gives them the chance to build skills for the future and learn about their own interests in the process.
  4. The Generation DIY Campaign is aimed at giving students the chance to “chart” their own course through high school and college by exploring different careers and developing diverse skills that are transferable to multiple areas of work. The Generation DIY toolkit provides information and resources for educators and students to get started and also includes personal stories about the process and impact of Generation DIY.
  5. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a growing area in which students can design their own technologies to address issues they identify in the world. AI use is increasing and students can become the creators of AI that can possibly change the way students learn, by creating things like chatbots, or learn how to code and create a virtual assistant. There are many tools available for students to explore how AI is used in everyday life and design their own project based on  AI. These technologies help students to build skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, to name a few, which are essential skills for whatever the future holds for them.

In the end, it comes down to the different choices that we make available for students in schools today. While we certainly cannot predict the jobs that will exist in 10 years, when the current kindergarten students will be entering their high school years, the best way to prepare is by having options in place and connecting school and community.

Challenges, Connections, and Learning every day!

Recently I had a colleague ask me for some ideas for dealing with challenges when it comes to classroom management, student behaviors and just keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. I’m always happy to have time to talk with other educators, there is so much to learn by connecting. I think sometimes there is an assumption that because someone may have been teaching for 10 or more years, or worked in the same school district for a long period of time, that’s there is a higher level of knowledge and skill held by a teacher that fits into this description. While of course the more that you teach, it might seem like you would have a lot of ideas and answers to share with younger or new to the school teachers, but the longer you have taught also means, I think, that you have that much more to learn.

Having taught for about the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of different experiences, some good, some bad, some in-between and some just absolutely fantastic. I have been in the position where I needed to improve, and felt like no matter what I tried to do or could try to do, that I just would not succeed. That I would lose my job. I’ve also been at the opposite end where I felt like things were going well, I could feel more success and a change in how I had been teaching in the classroom and in my connections and relationships that I had built with the students and colleagues.

 

I think if you ask any educator, most can probably identify the best year they’ve had, and if they can’t, they just can’t yet. We always have room to grow and things take time. How do educators decide what makes it the best year? For some, is it a year without many challenges, the students are well-behaved, homework is complete, other clerical tasks and responsibilities held by the teacher are finished, observations went very well and teacher ratings are satisfactory or proficient or whatever the ranking may be? Maybe. But how do we truly define what would be the best year ever?

It takes time to build

I am fairly certain that last year was the best year I’ve had yet. I think because I changed a lot of things in my classroom, I stopped worrying so much about having every minute of every class accounted for and instead gave the students more possibilities to lead in the classroom and for me to have more opportunities to interact with them. Now it did not come without its challenges, some student behaviors that in some cases pushed me so far beyond frustration that I thought I reached my breaking point. I reacted in ways that I was not proud of, but I let the frustration get the best of me. I stopped seeing the student and only saw the behaviors. My “lens” had become clouded and it took some reflection and just not feeling very good about it for me to realize that I had to do something different.

 

The common feeling or response is when you feel like there is a lot to handle or come up with a plan for, can feel so isolating. you might feel lost or like others are judging you based on what you perceive to be your weak areas when it comes to instruction. And I’ve had a few people confide in me that they feel like they’re too different or too weird or they’re not normal enough to be teachers. Hearing those kinds of things breaks my heart because I don’t want to see teachers become disengaged or to lose their passion for doing the work that teachers do because of worrying about how others may or may not perceive them.

My response is always it’s good to be different, what does normal look like anyway? Does normal mean everybody gets and does the same thing? Does being normal mean you fit into some kind of mold, one that may or may not be who you truly are? I think the best that we can do for our students is to show them who we are because we want to know who they are.

We can’t hide behind some perceived idea or model of what a teacher should or should not look like. Nor should we compare ourselves to our colleagues or other teachers that we may have had in our own experience. When we do this we lose sight of something and I think it’s important for us to demonstrate and model for students. We need to worry about ourselves first and only compete with who we are today by judging it based on who we become tomorrow. Everyone has weaknesses, everybody struggles, everybody feels like they don’t belong at times, a friend once wrote about being in the land of misfits, I’m totally fine with that.

 

What can we do, regardless of what year we are in during our careers? New teachers have a lot to offer us veteran teachers, there are better pre-service teacher programs and more information available to current students that are seeking to get into the profession, than what is available to us veteran teachers, who may not have access to or may not even know they exist. And for the new teachers, when you are assigned to have a mentor in your school, I really don’t think you should consider it to be that you are the learner and that you must follow and adhere to all of the advice of your mentor. You have to decide who you want to be, what is your purpose, your why, your spark, your passion for doing what you’re doing?

It starts with us and it always starts with us to take that first step. We have to be okay with who we are and commit to doing whatever is best for our own personal and professional growth but being mindful of what that means and how it will impact those we lead and learn with.

So if at any time you feel down or lost or frustrated or like you’re becoming disengaged or that you don’t fit in, please send me a message. I’d love to talk to you and share some of my own experiences on my 25-year learning journey.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

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How Teachers Can Develop Computational Thinkers

Guest Post by 

By Jorge Valenzuela

Get students computer science ready by teaching them how to think with computational thinking.

How Teachers Can Develop Computational Thinkers by Jorge Valenzuela

The demand for computer science (CS) in schools has many teachers wondering which components of CS they should implement first.

A couple of years ago, I asked myself the very same question, and I had to remind myself that creating a computer scientist could take up to 25 years! I was relieved that I wasn’t responsible for developing middle school computer scientists in only one semester.

I realized that what I needed to do was build the capacity of my students for deeper learning of the right skills — so they could experience success, which would inspire them to continue studying CS after leaving my class.

Advanced expertise in computer science requires knowledge in mathematics (namely discrete math and linear algebra) and problem-solving, and there are plenty of CS fundamentals to choose from.

In my previous position with Richmond Public Schools, we chose to dive in with computational thinking, programming and coding (yes, in that order). Because computational thinking (CT) is the highest order of problem-solving, is a cross-curricular skill, and is understandable to both machines and humans, I recommend building student CT competency by developing their versatility for recognizing and applying the four elements of CT to familiar problems/situations.

Video by JULES discussing the 4 elements of ‘Computational Thinking’

The Difference Between Computer Science and Computational Thinking

CS is part of computing education and it’s the foundation for ALL computing. So, in essence, CS is the study of computers and the algorithmic design processes in both hardware and software — their application and overall impact on society.

On the other hand, CT is a problem-solving skill(s) that involves decomposition, abstraction, pattern recognition and algorithm design.

Element 1: Decomposition

Facing large, complex problems will often discourage and disengage the students who aren’t fully equipped to begin the deconstructing process. Decomposition (like factorization) develops the skill of breaking down complex problems into smaller and more manageable parts, thus making even the most complicated task or problem easier to understand and solve.

To introduce your students to decomposition, begin by having them break down a simple task they do all the time, like brushing their teeth, baking a cake, making a sandwich or tying shoelaces. This will help them focus more on their ability to analyze and synthesize familiar information.

Next, introduce them to more complex problems/scenarios that are both unfamiliar and engaging enough to compel them to decompose them, such as investigating a crime scene, coping with the aftermath of natural disasters or planting a school garden.

Teachers who aren’t teaching traditional CS classes can help learners build their decomposition skills in their own subject areas by having them apply the concept to improving their writingcreating timelinesfactoring quadratics or understanding living organisms. CS teachers can start building student capacity for decomposition with this CT lesson by Code.org. In this lesson, students assume the role of imaginary players and figure out how to play a game with no given instructions.

Element 2: Pattern recognition

Pattern recognition is a skill that involves mapping similarities and differences or patterns among small (decomposed) problems, and is essential for helping solve complex problems. Students who are able to recognize patterns can make predictions, work more efficiently and establish a strong foundation for designing algorithms.

You can introduce pattern recognition by presenting a slide with pictures of similar types of animals or foods, such as pizza or desserts.

Next, have learners map and explain the similarities/differences or patterns. The beauty of this technique is that once students can describe one category (animal or dessert), they will be able to explain the others by following patterns.

For example, the general characteristics of desserts are that they are all sweet; they can be fruit, custard, puddings or frozen; and usually are served at the end of a meal. One or more dessert may be pink, have fruit and served cold, while another type may be yellow, have sprinkles and not use fruit.

Then task students with either drawing or making a collage of their favorite desserts using the patterns they identified (like in the examples above) to help them. Also, have them reflect on how they’d have to start from scratch with either creating or finding each instance of a dessert if they hadn’t first identified essential patterns (classification, color, texture, ingredients).

The primary goal here is to get them to understand that finding patterns helps simplify tasks because the same problem-solving techniques can be applied when the problems share patterns (pattern recognition is also used in mathmusic and literaturehuman intelligencehistoryweather, etc.).

Class projects can be more authentic by focusing application of pattern recognition in forensics, medical sciences, photo identification or behavioral patterns like web browsing and credit card spending.

Once students know what to do, have them map the patterns in some of the decomposed problems described above in Element 1. CS teachers will need to help students comprehend how computers use pattern recognition by numbers, text and pictures. Students using visual programming languages should also learn how the use of pattern recognition helps to find the commonalities of repetition in code for avoiding redundancy, and they can begin doing so with this Code.org lesson.

Element 3: Abstraction

Abstraction involves filtering out — or ignoring — unimportant details, which essentially makes a problem easier to understand and solve. This enables students to develop their models, equations, an image and/or simulations to represent only the important variables.

As the values of variables often change and can be dependent upon another, it’s important for students to be introduced to abstraction in relation to patterns. In the previous element, we noted common characteristics of desserts. Have students make a simple drawing of a dessert focusing on the important/common features (like classifications) and abstracting the rest (texture, fruit, sprinkles). The abstraction process will help them create a general idea of what a problem is and how to solve it by removing all irrelevant details and patterns (abstraction is also used in math and when creating models — the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the rock cycle, etc.).

CS teachers will need to help students focus on the layers (or levels) of abstraction they will want in the models they develop, along with correlations between abstraction and pattern generalization to figure out the right relationships between abstracted variables to accurately represent a problem. They also need to understand how abstractions are built with purpose and can represent an entire class of similar objects. CS students can become excellent coders using abstraction. Use this lesson to help them get started.

Element 4: Algorithm design

Algorithm design is determining appropriate steps to take and organizing them into a series of instructions (a plan) for solving a problem or completing a task correctly. Algorithms are important because they take the knowledge derived from the previous three elements for execution.

Keep it simple when teaching algorithms to students and have them create small plans using their newly learned CT skills, again using simple functions like brushing teeth, baking a cake, making a sandwich, tying shoelaces. Each algorithm must have a starting point, a finishing point and a set of well-defined instructions in between.

CS teachers will also need to help students understand that algorithm design builds upon the previous three elements — which moves a problem from the modeling phase to the operation stage. Students will also need to learn to design algorithms that are both efficient and allow for automation through the use of computers.

Also, by learning discrete math and how to create flowcharts, students can practice and build expertise in algorithmic thinking and design over time. Here is a great compilation of lessons for helping students bridge the gap between understanding basic algorithms to actual programming.

Resources to get started

Here are a number of resources to turn to for help:

Remember, learning has no finish line!

Take a moment to reflect on the words of Dr. Stephen R. Covey, “Though you may find some of it to be simple common sense, remember, common sense is not common practice, and I guarantee that if you will focus your efforts in these areas, you will find that great peace and power will come into your life.”

I believe these words can be applied to learning CT (and any new concepts or practices) as we help our students use what they already know to develop their CS superpowers!

Coding is a superpower video by Code.org

This article is adapted from an original post on this link.

If you like this work, please give it some claps, follow our publication and share this with your friends and colleagues.

Jorge Valenzuela is a teacher at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. Additionally, he is a national faculty of PBLWorks and a lead educator for littleBits. His work is aimed at helping educators understand and implement computational thinking, computer science, STEM, and project-based learning.

You can connect with Jorge @JorgeDoesPBL via Twitter and Instagram to continue the conversation.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

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Changing the Classroom

Image Credit Pixabay

Guest Post: Jenn Breisacher, Founder of Student-Centered World (www.studentcenteredworld.com)  

Twitter: @StuCentWorld, Instagram: @studentcenteredworld

 

Somewhere along the way, teachers got scared.

I don’t mean scared in the traditional sense. Yes, sometimes there are heart-stopping moments for one reason or another, but teachers aren’t scared of their climate.

Teachers became scared of today.

As long as we can remember, teaching has been about this technique or that in the classroom. We are sent to learn about different methods and spend hours of professional development learning about different ways to help our students be successful. Some teachers take this in stride while others sit back and roll their eyes, knowing that when they go back to the classroom, they’ll just stick to “what works”.

It always has, right?

But what happens when an entire generational shift occurs? What happens when an entire generation doesn’t know what life was like before September 11th? That landlines used to be the only way to call somebody? That “likes” and “follows” used to be a phenomenon that was done in person?

Folks, that generation is here…and “what works” doesn’t work for them.

Generation Z has entered our classrooms and they are different than any other group that has been taught in traditional education before. They are hands-on, tech-savvy, and need to know that what they are learning will help them make a difference. Simply put, traditional methods of instruction will not allow them to perform at their best. 

Let me say it again, “Traditional methods of instruction will not allow Generation Z to perform at their best.”

I’m not saying they can’t learn with traditional instruction. Sure, by osmosis they may learn by sitting and listening to a lecture or taking notes from a PowerPoint…but this is not how they will learn best. As educators, we don’t want to simply go through the motions. We don’t want to know our students learned the bare minimum to pass and move along. We want them to have a thirst for knowledge, to want to know more, learn more, do more. Yes, they may “learn” in a traditional classroom, but there will be multiple layers of potential that simply does not get tapped.

 

The world our students are entering is so competitive, but not in the ways we remember. Jobs used to be industrial, but now they’re turning entrepreneurial. We need to give our students the power to head into that world with confidence. We need to help give them an edge so when the going gets tough, they know what to do. We are preparing our students for jobs that don’t yet exist, which is a scary thought. (Don’t believe me? How many of you recall friends who wanted to be social media managers while you were in school? That’s just one example). The only way we can ensure their success is if we train them now to think outside of the box and to be willing (sometimes quite literally) to get their hands dirty and think like no one else.

This is the scary part for teachers.

Yes, throughout the years, life has changed. Every generation of students who have come to school has had different needs and interests than the ones before them. However, the birth of the information age and the worldwide connections that are now made in an instant are things that have never been seen before. We can debate for days whether or not this is good for society…whether or not “these kids” are being helped or harmed because they know how to function a Smart Phone by the time they’re 2. While those debates are fine, they’re not changing anything regarding what clientele we have in our classrooms right now. These changes to society aren’t going anywhere…at least not for a long time…and it’s our job…our duty…to make sure we are adapting in the classroom so these kids are learning in a proactive way for the world that awaits them, not the way it’s always been done in a world that no longer exists.

 

Change is scary for everyone. It takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us dabble in ideas that may be foreign to us…but remember, those ideas are not foreign to our students. If we want them to be as successful as possible in life, we need to help prepare them for the world that awaits them, not the world that awaited us.

 

 

 

Future Ready with IT Security

Guest post from Rachael Mann

As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “…but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”, to which I would like to now respectfully add, “and technology.”

The dreaded circle of death can take many forms. My love-hate relationship with technology is relatable with everyone it seems. We’ve all been there- the projector isn’t working, the internet is stalling, or in my most recent scenario, repeated laptop failure. While working on the final chapters for my new book earlier this Spring, a message popped up saying that my power was low and to reconnect to a charger before my laptop went to sleep. I quickly went to plug in my laptop only to realize it was already plugged in. I tried a different outlet, but the message persisted. After trying different outlets in another room, I realized I was going to have to make a quick run to the Apple store to purchase a new charger.

The person assisting me at Apple suggested that I set up an appointment for later in the day to troubleshoot the problem and see if there was another underlying issue. The technician assured me that it was a routine check and that there was nothing to worry about after I expressed my fear that I would lose the data that wasn’t backed up. The “routine check-up” escalated to three technicians working to solve the problem as now the login screen wouldn’t take me back to my home screen. Five anxiety-ridden hours later, I was finally able to leave the store with my MacBook working like a brand new computer again.

The following Monday, due to a teacher shortage, I received a request to do a presentation on one of our campuses. Since most of my work is with teachers, I jumped at the opportunity to spend the afternoon in a high school classroom working directly with students. I rushed over and arrived at the same time that the students were piling in. I quickly set up my laptop and connected the projector, only to see that the dreaded message that had popped up at the Apple store only a few days earlier was once again on my screen.

Fortunately, the students had assignments to do for their IT class and were able to work independently. The IT specialist for the campus came to my assistance, but when he saw the message and realized that it was a personal computer, not one of the school’s devices, he could not offer his services after all.

With the students still working on their own, I took the window of time as an opportunity to call the Apple hotline. After 30 minutes of troubleshooting and still no progress, I resolved myself to the fate of spending another full evening at the Apple store. As I walked away from the laptop to see if any of thee students needed assistance, but a student who had been observing my challenge piped up and said, “Miss, I am a certified technician, can I look at your computer?”.

Several students protested, saying don’t let Peter work on it, he breaks everything! At this point, iI figured it couldn’t get any worse, and I was intrigued by this student’s curiosity and confidence, so I agreed to let Peter help me.

After a few clicks, other students began to gather around. What started as a failed attempt on my part had spontaneously turned into a class project. Some of Peter’s classmates began looking up solutions while others were yelling out commands. At one point, multiple kids were saying, “No, not the Kernel!. I thought this was a new slang word from this younger generation and told them to keep it down, later learning that “the Kernel” was actually a term for a code that he was using. They were speaking a foreign language to me!

As Peter continued to troubleshoot, another screen showed that it wasn’t bootable. From the other student’s expressions, I knew this was a bad thing.

At this point, I began mentally preparing myself for purchasing a new laptop and hoping that I had saved my presentation for Pennsylvania, where I was traveling to the next day, in iCloud. After a short time, Peter asked me to log in. He had finally fixed what the tech specialist at his own school, Apple phone support, and several Apple techs in the store, could not accomplish. My evening was once again free and my trip to Pennsylvania would not incur the price of a new computer to deliver my presentation.

This is what Career and Technical Education is all about. Giving students real-world experiences and skills that will serve them as they decide to move forward on their career path.

I asked Peter about his plans after graduation and he shared that he may get another certification, join the military, or pursue a career in cybersecurity. I have since learned that he was offered a job by one an advisory council member from the program and is now employed locally by Code Ninjas.

Regardless of the paths that his classmates choose, at its’ very core, nearly every career imaginable is a technology career. While it may seem that I am overstating, as Peter Diamandis said in Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, “Right now, there is another asteroid striking our world, already extinguishing the large and lumbering, already clearing a giant path for the quick and nimble. Our name for this asteroid is “exponential technology,” and even if this name is unfamiliar, its impact is not.”

To be successful in any field now requires having a strong technology skill set. This program will equip students with that critical tool.

Early on when the internet was just beginning to explode, it was common to hear professionals typing away on their trusty typewriter and stating, “this internet thing is just a fad”. Fast forward to a mere two decades later and “this internet thing” has not only proven that it is here to stay, it has now become a way of life. Technology will advance, whether we agree to join or not. Those who decide to keep pace will own the future.

Now, the greatest challenges facing the world can also be viewed as the greatest opportunities for our students in classrooms in every corner of the world. As educators, it is our privilege, as well as our responsibility, to give students the opportunity to start tackling big problems now, problems that could lead to initial failure, but ultimately lead them to their own success – which in this case, became my success as well.

 

Ideas for the end of the school year

With the summer break approaching, educators and students alike could use some fresh ideas to keep the energy high and finish the year strong. I have found that the end of the school year is a great time to try some new activities and tools and use it as an opportunity to try things that may have been on a list somewhere, but that you did not have the chance to do. Why not try some different methods and different tools to help students to review in preparation for final exams, create a project, or before moving on to the next level of a course. Also, depending on the course taught, some of these ideas can be carried into the summer, as a way to avoid the “summer slide.”

There are many options for getting students more engaged in learning, some rely on tech tools and others are simple hands-on activities that have the students deciding how to use the materials to learn. Regardless of the content area or level taught, technology can open up new possibilities that might just be the catalyst to spark curiosity in students or to help to engage them more in learning, and then their own motivation can take over.  I decided to try some different strategies, tools, student developed ideas, and more importantly, to step aside more in the classroom and let the students lead.

5 Ideas for Engaging Students

Here are five different ways that I found to bring about positive changes in the classroom, engage students more in learning, and also build relationships within our classroom. Hopefully, you will be able to try a few of these and push through strong until the end of the year!

  1. Games and Music: Earlier this year, I started to use more music and games in the classroom. The students became more involved in creating their own games and also writing some songs, to use as mnemonic devices. Why not have students create their own song using course related vocabulary, and set it to the music of a randomly selected song. It can be a really authentic way for them to create, have fun and remember the content in a more meaningful way. For my class, the most popular song was “Despacito” and students did a great job!
  2. Learning Stations: Try creating stations in your classroom by randomly dividing students into small groups, and have a different activity ready for each station. I like to mix the tech tools with traditional tools, so students can do some hands-on creating where students make flashcards or other visual which can be used as a resource, complete a worksheet or use dry erase boards and come up with a way to practice. For a few tech ideas, try setting up some iPads and giving students a game of Quizizz or Gimkit to play, or an interactive lesson using EDPuzzle or Playposit.  Using stations in class leads to more opportunities for student interaction and for the teacher to work directly with each group and each student. GImkitCreateGimkitLIbrary
  3. New Tech tools: Why not take the last couple of weeks of school as an opportunity to try out some of the newer tech tools or revisit some of the popular tech tools that may have some updates.  I try to learn as much as I can about new tools, but I am eager to have my students try them in class and to give me feedback on what they think. Here are a few of the most recent tools we have tried. Each tool makes it easy to get started either by having a library of ready-made games or by integrating with a tool like Quizlet, where study sets can be used to create a game. QuizalizeGimKit, and Flipquiz. Each of these is a game-based learning tool, and offer a new and exciting way to practice the course material, and also to help students continue to build peer relationships in the classroom. null
  4. Augmented and Virtual Reality: There is a lot of talk today about the benefit of using augmented and virtual reality tools in the classroom. There are so many different tools to choose from,  but I will recommend three tools to check out that can create more immersive learning experiences. Students can create using MetaverseAppCoSpacesEDUand also creating or joining lessons in Nearpod. Students are very creative and offering them a chance to design an augmented or virtual reality experience, in which they include the content material and also create additional learning resources for the classroom is so beneficial. Again, there are samples available in the library for each of these tools and creating with them is something that the students catch on to rather quickly. If you are looking for a different way to do a project, and to engage students more, then trying some AR/VR might be the way to go. Using Nearpod as a way to have students work through an interactive lesson, and then adding in 3D objects or Virtual Field Trips will really help students to better experience what they are studying. The next step would be to have the students create their own Nearpod lesson for class, multi-media, all in one tool. IMG_20170530_145553.jpgnull
  5. Podcast, Video Responses and More! Ever thought about having students create a podcast to discuss a topic, perhaps interview a “special guest”, maybe someone who takes on the role of a famous person being studied, or shares their thoughts about something covered in the class. It could be a good experience for students to practice interviewing someone, or even doing their own podcast, as a way to build some confidence and have fun while doing so. Maybe use Synth or Flipgrid and have students post responses to a question of the week, or have each student post a question for the classmates to respond to. It can be a different way to engage all students in a discussion, promote student voice and implement a new tech tool in the classroom.

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. If you need some ideas or would like to see some student examples, let me know. The best part of trying new things in the classroom is learning right along with the students, and sometimes, they learn before you. And this is one of the best parts!

Artificial Intelligence in Education

Part Two of my posts on AI, recently published in Getting Smart.  (image from CC)

Teaching Students About AI

One of my professional goals this year was to learn more about artificial intelligence (AI). Over the course of the past year, there have been a lot of stories coming out about how schools are adding the concept of artificial intelligence into their curriculum or trying to weave it into different courses offered. The purpose is to help students better understand its capabilities and how it might impact the future of learning and the future of work. When I did some research earlier this year, I was amazed at some of the different uses of artificial intelligence that we interact with each day, and may not realize.

A quick Google search of the term “artificial intelligence” turns up 518 million results in .17 seconds. Compare this with the methods for conducting research years ago, where we had to brainstorm topics as we searched the card catalog, and then had to understand the Dewey Decimal system, in order to find the books on the shelf.  Advancements in technology led to the creation of online databases which made it easier to find articles and journals electronically, however it still required us to think of what terms to use in the search and may still have required you to locate the resource from a shelf or borrow it from another library. Today, the capability of technology for finding answers to the questions we have is tremendous. Now through tools like artificial intelligence and virtual assistants we have access to millions of resources in our hands instantly.

What are some everyday uses of AI?

Some common uses of artificial intelligence that many people likely use every day and may not know it are:

  • Smartphones:  The use of artificial intelligence is used with the photo editor on smartphones. When you want to take a picture, artificial intelligence helps by selecting the appropriate settings and suggesting different modes to you.
  • Music and Media: Whether you use something like Spotify or enjoy watching Netflix or even YouTube, artificial intelligence is helping you find the music and media that you want. Over time, it learns based on your selections and then provides recommendations for you to add to your playlist.
  • Smart Home Devices: Artificial intelligence is used in smart home devices to adjust the temperature and even lighting based on our preferences.
  • Online services: From travel to banking, shopping, and entertainment, these industries rely heavily on artificial intelligence for using chatbots or through algorithms that enable it to track spending, suggest purchases, prevent fraud and complete other transactions much faster.

Because artificial intelligence is used so much in our everyday lives, we need to make sure that our students understand its impact and potential for the future of work and learning.

How can we teach students about artificial intelligence?

One of the best ways we could teach our students is by making sure we keep challenging ourselves. I recently enrolled in the course offered by ISTE U, Artificial Intelligence Explorations and Their Practical Use in the School Environment.  The course was made available through a collaboration with ISTE and General Motors Corporate Giving and focused on K-12 STEM education. My interest in the course is to learn more so I am able to share with my 8th grade STEAM course and in my foreign language classes. Having taught about artificial intelligence last year, it is a high area of interest that I want to grow in professionally.

Throughout the course, participants work through ten different modules focused on topics related to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Each module contains activities that enable you to interact with different forms of artificial intelligence, engage in discussions, view videos and to even create things such as chatbots and virtual facilitators. Part of the course includes an IBM Developer course on “Chatbots for Good,” in which you work through activities and learn about design thinking and empathy, and other activities related to the IBM Watson program. The culmination of the course has participants design a Capstone project, which will ideally be used with students through PBL or as a student-directed exploration of AI.

There are many uses of AI for education and one school in Pittsburgh is offering the nation’s first AI course to prepare students. Pittsburgh is where AI began and developed starting back in the 1950s which makes this an exciting event. Students enrolled in the Montour School District, a district known for its innovation and “student-centered, future-focused” mission, are learning about AI through a program that launched this fall. Students will have access to resources from Carnegie Mellon University, which became the first university to offer an undergraduate degree in AI. The goal of the program is to help students learn about AI by exploring the uses of virtual assistants, engage in inquiry-based learning and build their skills in STEM-related fields.

How can we provide the opportunity for all students to learn more about AI?

Simply explaining the concept of artificial intelligence and identifying some examples of what it might look like, does not really enable you to understand it at a deeper level. The best way that I have found to understand it better myself has been by first learning how it functions by trying some of the different tools and interacting with the AI. By trying some the AI experiments and creating chatbots, you and your students can think about how the tasks are being completed, which leads to a better understanding of artificial intelligence.

While schools may not be able to offer a full course to students, there are enough resources available online that teachers can implement in the classroom.

To learn more about AI and Virtual Assistants, have students explore these:

  1. Google AI Experiments: Through Google experiments, there are hundreds of different experiments available to explore based on AI, Augmented and Virtual Reality. Students can select experiments to try and decide what makes it “artificial intelligence.”  The favorites are Quick Draw and Semantris.
  2. Botsify: Teachers can teach students online by using artificial intelligence through Botsify. By creating chatbots, teachers provide an innovative learning experience for students, where they can interact with the chatbot, ask and answer questions and even submit quizzes through the chatbot.
  3. Avatars: It can be fun to have students create their own talking avatars, and use them even as evidence of learning or to create a lesson or instruct on a topic to share with peers or even younger students. Some tools to check out are VokiTellagami and My talking avatar.
  4. Akinator: A “web genius” that tries to guess the famous real or fictional character you are thinking about. It is fun to see the questions that it asks based on your responses and see how many tries it takes for it to guess.  It is also available on Google Play and iOS
  5. Learning tools: There are different apps available that through artificial intelligence, provide students with opportunities to have additional practice and amplify their learning potential. Elementary students can learn about geography through Oddizzi, or math through Splashmath. All students can practice vocabulary by trying Knowji, which uses characters to “bring vocabulary to life” in flashcards. If students have questions, they can try Brainly, which is a tool for students to ask and answer homework questions in a collaborative, community type platform.

Looking to the future with AI

The use of artificial intelligence in the world and specifically in education will continue to grow as more people explore the topic and develop new ways to incorporate it into daily life. The potential for learning through artificial intelligence means that students have access to virtual tutors, can enroll in an online course taught by AI, and have access to the resources they need at the exact moment they need them.

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