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Reading the words of John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience…We learn from reflecting on experience.”, I give myself constant reminders to be reflective in my practice. Reflecting led me to really evaluate some things in my classroom.

A few weeks ago, I had a challenging week. Probably the most challenging week as far as behaviors, in several years. It came in the form of disrespectful behaviors, classroom disruptions whether it was students talking out loudly, exchanging words, or other similar interruptions.  I really tried to work through these, with the students, patiently and with every possibly method I could think of. I wanted to push forward and in another post, I explain what happened, but for now, these are the lessons that I have learned. And this is how I reflected and did what I needed to do, to restore balance in my classroom.

I am not one to yell in class, in fact, over the 21 years teaching in my current school, maybe there have been 7 or 8 times that I have really yelled. Whether that is good or bad, not going to decide, but I can say these were not the best reactions  in my years of teaching. However they have led me to take time to really reflect and remember a couple of things.

1) I am the adult and my role is to provide a supportive, engaging place for students to learn, to feel welcome and to thrive.

2) I don’t always know what’s going on in the lives of the students beyond my classroom and so their behaviors may be a result of something happening throughout the day or in their home or social life.

3) I cannot know everything but if I don’t take the time to get to know something about them, that is doing them a disservice.

 

So I did yell. It felt awful.  I myself further disrupted the learning environment, and for this, I also apologized. I shared this experience with some friends and was asked several times, “why” and “to whom?”


I apologized to my class and to each of the students to whom I yelled, because I did not handle it well. I myself further disrupted the learning and had an effect or impact on not just that student, but on everyone in the classroom. So it was a trying week because I had to really take a hard look at myself and my responses to some situations that I could have handled differently. I could have handled them better. I should have. But I am very open about the fact that I am a work in progress, that I make mistakes and I will own my mistakes and grow from them.

It took a few days for me to really shake off that negative energy and that is an awful feeling. But I did that myself, it was my choice to act, how to handle it and I definitely could have handled it better. I should have handled it better. A lesson learned, a new focus and a new reminder to think before acting and speaking.

Practice patience, use kind words and show empathy.


Teaching is hard sometimes. We can have lesson plans ready, very detailed objectives on the board, every material and activity ready for the students for the day, but one slight ripple ,one small interruption, can completely change the course of even the most perfect plans.

Rita Pierson said “Every kid needs a champion” and even in her math class, when one of her students had missed 18 out of 20 questions on a test, she wrote a plus two. Why? She said because that looks better than a -18 and it tells the student “you got two right and are on your way”.  It sends a positive message. We need to be the positive for the students. We may be the only positive they have each day. 

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So avoid the negative, focus on relationships, reflection and constant growth. It starts with us and we make an impact, and we may never know how large of an impact we make,  from the smallest interaction.

So make every moment matter, because the students matter, and we need to be their champion. Even when they push back, push back harder with kindness.

 

Thanks to Sylvia Duckworth for this amazing image.

 

This is the second part of my posts sharing how I was wrong about the value of Social Media for professional learning

So enter Twitter, the “twitterverse”. I was really wrong about this one and as a very reflective person, if I am mistaken, I will readily admit when I am wrong. And I will also take a step back and think about why I was wrong. For Twitter, I had no idea what was out there in the Twitterverse. I really knew nothing about anything related to Twitter.

I have had a Twitter account for probably 10 years, an account that was created only because a family member sent me a link, which required a Twitter account in order to see the post. I used my regular email address (original AOL by the way) and joined Twitter. I think I looked at it a few times for a week and then 5 years went by, never again looking at Twitter.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2014, when I was leading a session at a technology Summit, when someone tweeted about my session, to what they thought was my Twitter account. So I decided to create an account in that username and I have been actively involved in Twitter more or less ever since.

I had the misconception that it was only for celebrities. But I decided to look into it a bit more. I really didn’t know how it worked but I came across a Twitter chat one night and I started to connect with a few people from North Carolina and Tennessee. That was my start toward becoming a more connected educator and seeing the true value in Twitter. I added additional Twitter chats to my weekly activities and looked forward to the interactions with the new friends that I had made.

Shortly before ISTE 2015, I learned about “tweetdeck”. I had no idea what that meant, and I did not ask because I figured that it was something that I should know if I was using Twitter. I think I googled it. Before Tweetdeck, I used one window, with 1 chat and flipped back and forth between each chat window. To say it was a bit difficult at times is an understatement. I decided to try Tweetdeck, during my train ride to ISTE, multitasking by reading my Teach like a Pirate, involved in a Saturday chat with Tweetdeck and amazed at what was happening. It hit me. The power of communication and technology. In and of itself the fact of sitting on a train, reading a book with Wi-Fi access to enable me to use my computer, engage in multiple tasks, communicating with people around the country and world, at any point in the day during the travels. When you stop and think about it, it’s so amazing what we are capable of today. And with these two social media platforms alone, (ones which I adamantly avoided), the possibilities for learning, connecting, and so much more happen instantly anytime and anywhere. But that’s just my view of it and people may not see the value in having accounts with these or may prefer to stay away from social media. And it may not be for everyone, but I’ve learned that you can’t really say that you don’t like something or that you hate something, until you at least give it a try. And you certainly can’t go based on what somebody else says. While I greatly value the opinion of others, and can and have in the past been swayed because of someone else’s opinion, I really try to think about what is best for me. As an educator, I think about what is best for my students. I might love a certain digital tool but if it’s not going to benefit my students,  I won’t just throw it out there and say have fun with it. And that’s what I’m saying about Facebook and Twitter. As a start, either of these would be something that might surprise you in terms of the benefits personally and/or professionally. And again, I admit that I was wrong.  Lessons learned about Facebook and Twitter: Educational value is huge and learning to write concisely is an acquired skill.

Posted on December 7, 2016

Posted in Guest Post, User Stories, Why Recap

Excited for the upcoming school year, I decided to start with some new ideas, teaching methods and digital tools. I wanted to continue using some digital tools from last year, but hoped to find different and more creative ways to implement them into the classroom. My motivation for this developed as a combination of time spent over the summer reflecting on the previous year, learning new things at summer conferences and through webinars, and engaging with groups on Voxer. But possibly the most impactful for me, was by obtaining feedback directly from my students. I used Recap over the summer to ask them what they enjoyed in class, what helped or didn’t help, and what they were looking forward to in the new school year. Student voice matters.

A New Experience

The biggest change for my classes this year, was starting PBL (Project Based Learning) with my Spanish 3 and 4 students. When taking on PBL, educators need to have some guidelines set as to how to begin and what the process entails. Students will be taking on a challenging new experience, one which provides opportunities for choices, independent and inquiry based learning. It is a different experience, because the students are in charge of their learning. They are studying something of a personal interest, or a passion to themselves. It is quite liberating and can lead to tremendous, authentic, meaningful learning opportunities, which will be highly beneficial for the students. It can also be a bit scary, because of the amount of independence involved in this method. So there are guidelines and resources available to educators that can help with implementing PBL in the classroom, and guiding students to develop their “Essential Questions.”

Getting Started

There are many great resources available for educators to learn more about and implement PBL (Project based learning) in the classroom. To begin this with my students, I first did some research to prepare myself for this new learning experience. I started with the Bucks Institute for Education (BIE, http://www.bie.org) for guidance before implementing it in my classes. I wanted to be prepared so that I could help to guide the students, even though I knew that I would also need some support along the way.

I carefully read over and took notes from the “8 Essentials for PBL” from BIE and also referred to several publications from ISTE for PBL. Other helpful resources were the weekly blog posts by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, offering advice focused on #HackingPBL, to be included in their upcoming publication, “Hacking Project Based Learning”, which will be published this month.

Another helpful book was “Dive Into Inquiry” by Trevor MacKenzie, through which I enjoyed hearing his experience and sharing the helpful images of rubrics with my students. During this process, I was also fortunate to have conversations with these educators, and early on, Don Wettrick, author of “Pure Genius”  spoke to my students about PBL and how to get started, giving them great information and asking thought-provoking questions to challenge them. We had a Skype call with Ross Cooper, who listened to and offered advice to several of my students on crafting their Essential Questions. The students even later got to meet Ross and Erin and talk about the Hacking PBL book.

Next Steps

Taking all of this information in, I guided my students through each step in the process, with focus on the beginning stages of PBL. The first step is to decide upon the Essential Question. What is an Essential Question? From my research, I have learned that it is not something that can easily be answered by conducting a quick Google search or with a Yes or a No. An essential question requires more. It leads students to research and critical thinking, problem solving, independent learning, progress checks and reflection along the way. When focusing on the Essential Question, it is not readily apparent what the end result of the student learning experience will be. My students initially struggled with not knowing where their research would lead. An essential question requires more, leads to more student inquiry and should be something that will sustain student interest along the way.

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Using Recap to focus on the Essential Question and PBL

Rather than have students write their Essential Questions, I asked them to think about what they wanted to study and to share their responses through Recap. I found this was beneficial because they could think through and explain their thoughts, and I could provide feedback directly to them. Having the opportunity to see and listen to the students as they shared their interests enabled me to understand the motivation behind their Essential Question. This method was very beneficial for me.

When we started our PBL, we decided to set aside Fridays as their “PBL” day, and they worked on it independently for the first 9 weeks. We had regular check-ins for updates and at the end, each student shared the product of their PBL experience, which could have taken any form, depending on where their research led them.

One very unique way that one of my students decided to share the information was by using Recap. Recap is a great tool for having students respond or reflect and gives them a comfortable method for sharing information with their teacher and also peers if they choose. One particular student suggesting using Recap to record separate videos of the results of her PBL study on Argentina and the tango. Using Recap for this purpose was a really great way for her to not only share her information and the reasoning of how she crafted her Essential Question, but also her thoughts and steps taken along the way.  Using Recap made  it very obvious to the audience how excited and engaged she was as a result of having the choice to pursue learning  about an area of interest and passion. Even without the video component, the audio itself was enough to inform and engage the listeners in her topic. I could tell that she had chosen an Essential Question which led her through a tremendous learning experience,with sustained inquiry and engagement, and had truly gone through the Project Based Learning process. Selecting this as the “public product” was a great idea, and it also provided her with something to reflect upon as well.

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Using Recap to share the results of PBL

Marina: For my recent Spanish PBL project I decided to use Recap! PBL stands for Project Based Learning which means we come up with a topic that we are interested in learning more about. The first step is to state our essential question, the focus of our research and then being to explore and expand our knowledge. Along the way we might have more questions come up that we may not know how to answer, so we keep searching, learning and expanding our knowledge to find answers  to them. At the end of the PBL project we are basically an “expert” and we can share our findings with our class, in any way that we choose.

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For my presentation, I decided to use Recap. Recap is like no other tool we have ever used in our classroom and it is by far one of my favorites. Recap is a tool that allows you to record a two minute long video, to answer a prompt, share information, or anything you want. It allows you, as the student, to answer questions that your teacher or professor sends you and you can record yourself, with as many tries as you want and then send it right to your teacher. As a teacher you can create questions and send them through Recap to your students, allowing them to respond in the comfort of their home or anywhere to answer your questions and have a continuous chat with feedback. Or like I did with my PBL, you can just make videos by yourself,  you don’t even need a question to be sent to you to be able to make one.

I love using Recap because I feel comfortable at my house recording my thoughts and then having them on my account to show and share with my whole class.

For my Spanish PBL product, I used Recap and recorded myself at home. I spent the time studying the Argentine tango and I was able to research my topic and prepare to make a couple of two minute videos to talk about and share what I had learned during our PBL. I didn’t have to worry about having to talk in front of the whole class and forget what I was going to say. With Recap it was stress free to present in front of my class because I pre-recorded it.

My class absolutely loved it because it was so different than just using Powerpoint or some other web tool that they had seen before. So not only did they learn about the Argentine Tango, they saw they could use Recap in a different way.

Recap is an amazing tool that can bring a whole new element to classrooms everywhere, at any time, because it is so simple and easy and not to mention a lot of fun! I really suggest it to students and teachers because trust me, they will love it!


Check out Rachelle’s Pioneer Page

How to Use Blogging with Project Based Learning

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

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

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

Blogging with #PBL

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

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

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

 

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

How I Solved My Classroom Management Problems

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

Common Sense Education, posted on September 15, 2016

Rachelle Dene Poth

Classroom teacher, Technology Presenter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Sarah Thomas @sarahdateechur and @EduMatch #edumatch for the opportunity for this post on August 1, 2016. Logo from Edumatch.com

A couple of reasons why I love summer

Rachelle Dene Poth

I am a teacher and when people find this out, one of the first things they say is “it must be nice to have your summers off.”  Yes, thank you, it is nice to have a more relaxed schedule over the course of the summer break. But in all honesty, I would be fine if I taught year round. And there are a lot of teachers who don’t really have the whole summer “off” because their school operates on a different type of school calendar. And like I said, I love summer, not because it means that I don’t have to go to work. I enjoy being in the classroom and working with students.  I look forward to each day and what it brings. I love the routine, the new challenges each day, and more than anything, working with the students and learning from them. However, the main reason I look forward to the summer is because it is an opportunity to seek out new learning experiences that will enable me to return to my classroom refreshed, with new ideas and hopefully improved skills that will help me to provide the best learning experiences for my students.

Connections

Another great thing about summer is that it is a time to connect with other educators. And I have been fortunate to meet a lot of educators over the past few years, but even more so this summer because I had the opportunity to be involved in several tremendous conferences and learning experiences including Summer Spark, ISTE 2016, and EdCampUSA.  So yes, it is nice to be a teacher and to have those breaks throughout the year and especially during summer, but I bet if you ask some of your friends who are teachers or even if you meet someone new who is a teacher, if they really have their summers “off”, I bet almost all of them will tell you no, and maybe even follow up with a laugh. And here is why.

Summer for educators

Summer is a time for a lot of things. One of the nice things about being in education, in my role as a classroom teacher is that I do have the summers off. But we all know the reality of it is that we don’t really have the time off.  Teachers have time of course for some of the normal summer things like sleeping in late, catching up with friends and family, going on vacations and not worrying about setting the alarm.  But it is also valuable time for teachers to do even more, on a personal and professional basis. Time to think about their practice and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there for professional development and growth. 

Teachers devote most of their time during the school year, focusing on students’ skills and needs, their interests and providing a supportive, positive, meaningful,  engaging learning environment for their students. For some of our students, school is the safe place to be.  Each teacher’s classroom is unique and offers an opportunity for the teacher to create a whole new world, for lack of a better phrase, to immerse their students in learning, to draw them into new experiences and help each student develop their skills, to become reflective, to have choice and voice in their learning. In addition to striving to provide this for our students, we work to be a constant source of support and guidance for each student each day.

And contrary to the “school day schedule”, when the school day ends, these tasks, jobs, responsibilities do not end with the ringing of the bell. We may leave our work on our desk in our classroom, but these other parts of our work continue 24 hours a day every day. The impression that we make on our students and the atmosphere that we create for them, the guidance we provide have an impact that does not end when they leave our classroom nor when they leave the school for the day.  Each student takes something unique away from the classroom when they leave us. Whatever our connection is with each student, the relationships that we build and that continue to grow throughout the year, in some way help each student. There is something created unique to each teacher-student relationship, that forms the foundation for the learning to occur.  We are their teachers, but also their mentors, providing more than just a lesson in the classroom. We don’t just teach. We give ourselves and our support to our students.

And it is exhausting, in a good way. And if you leave your classroom at the end of the day, and you are not exhausted when you get home, then something is wrong.  There is more work to be done.

Our schedules

Teachers put a lot of time in outside of the classroom and that time is not evident to the rest of the world. The hours at night at home or on the weekend grading papers, making parent phone calls, preparing lessons, attending conferences, are not factored into how people view the time and place of the job of the teacher. And I do not see this as negative, it’s just the reality that because school is perceived as an 8 hour day experience, that is where the work ends. And maybe in the past it would be viewed in that way because technology did not exist to enable emails or other collaboration to occur beyond the school day.  But the work involved and the personal investment was and still is the same.

So back to why I love summer

Getting back to some of the reasons I love summer. Each summer gets better and better, and it’s not because I traveled and spent hours on beaches, or to the contrary, kept idle. It is because I have used the time to learn more, to read, to connect, to reflect and to prepare for the next year.  My summer goal is to work so I can start stronger and be better than I was the year before. This summer has been an unbelievable period of growth for me and I knew at the end of the school year that it would be exhausting but a well worth it kind of exhausting.

I have been fortunate to travel to different conferences throughout the country, to confront some fears such as flying and speaking in front of many people, to challenge myself more each day. And no worries, I am enjoying some time sleeping in and also sitting outside on the deck with my cup of coffee, but the computer, a book or a magazine are always there. The Voxer groups I join are part of each day, listening and learning. I use the time I have because I want to learn, to connect, to develop skills so I can be the best teacher and mentor that I can be for my students. I will do whatever it takes to make that happen. And this summer I have met a lot of inspirational role models, leaders in education, Eduheroes, people I have known through Twitter chats,Voxer groups or Google communities. These are things which two years ago I would not have even thought possible. But learning from these different groups and developing a new awareness and new perspectives and facing new challenges, has really given me pause.   To be among some of the great educators and benefit from truly amazing professional development experiences, has served to make me want to use every moment of this summer “break” to take in and learn as much as I can.  Does this sound like you?

My summer recommendations

Some things that I think are important to do in the summer. I think you have to give yourself some freedom and flexibility with your schedule. So that means if you want to go to bed early and get out of bed late, that’s fine. If it means that you then spend the majority of your day working and reading, or doing nothing at all, that’s okay too. You have to make time for friends and family, connect with people that are important and that matter and that maybe throughout the school year you don’t have as many opportunities to spend time with. Once the school year starts, schedules become very hectic. That is the nice thing about being a teacher in some sense, is that your availability is more open in the summer but then again people with year-round jobs aren’t as available as you. You should find conferences or webinars, join in book studies or Voxer groups, or try connecting with some different learning communities. Get involved in a Twitter chat, whatever it is during the school year that just doesn’t seem to fit as part of your routine, make it part of your summer routine.

There are lots of opportunities out there and while there is not time for everything, there can be time for a little bit of everything. So decide what is best for you.  Do you want to be in one Voxer group or join one book study ? Then make that your focus. Or maybe you want to participate in writing tips for a blog or website. It’s up to you, because it is your time to decide how to spend your summer break.

Personally I stay in good practice during the summer because I keep my schedule as chaotic as possible because it’s better prepares me for the school year. The first day or two of summer break I feel a bit out of it because of that absence of routine, the lack of students waiting to hear from me, but I soon develop my summer plan and get started right away.  On Monday.

 

I tried Recap at the end of the year and really enjoyed what it offered.   I appreciate the opportunity to have my experience shared on Recap.

Posted on July 20, 2016Posted in Guest Post

Student voice is very important in education today. Teachers benefit greatly by understanding what the students’ needs and interests are, their backgrounds and other experiences they bring with them to the classroom. Students participate in so many diverse learning experiences aimed at providing the best practice through multi-modal instructional methods, to personalize instruction, drive student learning and to provide the resources and support necessary for student success. And while the teacher may believe that each learning experience they provide is valuable and will benefit the students’ growth in the class, it is critical to seek input from the students themselves to really understand the impact these methods have on their learning.

Involving students in conversations can happen in many mediums. With all of the digital tools available today, there are endless possibilities available for substituting the traditional face-to-face conversations or having students write some type of a response such as a self-reflection in class. Having students reflect on a particular learning experience or participate in a discussion after class, are valuable opportunities for teachers as well to learn more about the students and to continue building those vital relationships. Including students in the planning and gathering input from them benefits the learning environment tremendously and there are many ways to do this. I found a new method of encouraging students to share their thoughts this year, through Recap.

Deciding to Try Recap

Toward the end of the school year, I wanted to try some new tools in the classroom, to keep students engaged and motivated through the end of the year. I thought that trying out some new ideas would work well at this time, because I could use the information to reflect and plan over the summer. I came across Recap and was very interested in trying it out with my students.
I was initially unsure of whether it would be easy to implement into my classroom, or even how I would use it, but as with all things, sometimes you have to just take a chance and see how it works out. So I did just that and created a class for my students using Recap. The first time I logged in and created a video in which I asked the students to share their thoughts about some of the projects we had done, some of the tools that we had used, and any other insight that they wanted to provide to me. I explained how Recap would work and set up my recording for them. It was very easy to use and to set up. More important, students were excited about this new experience and felt comfortable in sharing their ideas.

Ideas for Using Recap

There are many uses for Recap in and outside of the classroom to have students respond to a prompt, have a debate on a topic, use it for a speaking assessment, and many more possibilities depending on content and grade level taught. But one of the biggest benefits I think it provides is a comfortable way for students to connect with their teachers and to honestly share their ideas, thoughts or reflections. Students are often afraid to speak up, we all are, and having a tool which enables the assessment or reflection to be done in the comfort of one’s own home or place, is very beneficial.
After the first time my students completed the assignment, watching their responses compiled into a daily reel, several things were clear. I could see that they were comfortable, which was very important to me, especially when trying something new like Recap. I also appreciated the fact that they took the risk to share their ideas and provided honest evaluations of my teaching and their classroom experiences. And I really like that I was able to give them feedback as well following their video responses.

The Foreign Language Classroom

As a foreign language teacher, I can use this in my classroom to have students complete speaking assessments, discuss topics we are working on in class, whether it be a work of art or particular reading, and they can give their honest opinions in a more comfortable, safer environment for expressing themselves. It is also quite useful for students to do a reflection of my instruction or of their own skills, interests and needs in the classroom. The nice thing is that either way, teachers and students can learn about each other, and grow from the feedback given.

I was very excited after this initial experience with Recap and so I tried it with several of my other classes. The response was all positive and I know that I will use it a lot more in the upcoming school year to have students complete speaking assessments, have discussions and more activities like these. But more than these uses, it is a way for me to better understand their needs and to learn more about them in the process. A way to continue building the vital relationships that help to build a positive, supportive classroom environment.

There are many ways to use Recap in the classroom but also as part of professional development, conference presentations and much more.

About Rachelle Dene Poth

She is a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an attorney and earned her Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and recently received the Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. She enjoys presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. She is the Communications Chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, a Member at Large for Games & Sims, the Innovation Resources Co-Chair for the Teacher Education Network and the PAECT Historian. Additionally, She is proud to be involved in several communities including being a Common Sense Media Educator, Amazon Inspire Educator, WeVideo Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer, Nearpod Certified Educator and also participate in several other networks. She enjoys blogging and writing for Kidblog and is always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. You can connect with her on Twitter @rdene915.

IMG_20160629_103429847 (2) (1)

After recent technology showcases, finishing up an independent study focused on Student engagement, motivation and social presence, I wanted to learn more about what students want and what they need to do well.  Taking the digital tools we had used, with me leading the lesson, I put it in their hands to create and lead.  It was an exciting opportunity, as the year was winding down, to keep motivated and try new things, but to give choices for all.  Here is the second part of a series of stories, with student reflections.

 

Interactive Video Lessons:  EDpuzzle

Rachelle Dene Poth: I am a Spanish and French Teacher and I look for ways to include student voice, choice, and leadership when finding the right materials for every student. With the help of some students, we worked with EDpuzzle as part of a new learning adventure, I wanted to empower students to become more than learners in the classroom. I wanted them to lead the class and develop these critical skills and have choices.

Choosing EDpuzzle

EDpuzzle is a tool that I have been increasingly interested in using with my students, to add to our video experiences and find new ways to engage them more in and out of class.  As the school year started to wind down, I found myself wanting to try some new methods of instruction with my students.  We have used a variety of digital tools to complete assessments, have discussions, create projects, collaborate on class wikis and more.  The benefits have been tremendous.  Students have improved their Spanish language skills by creating a more authentic and meaningful representation of what they know and can do with the material by having a choice in tools. This personalization  meets their interests and needs and helps to motivate them.  

Motivation for trying new things in the classroom

One of my main goals is to work to find creative and innovative ways to introduce content in my classroom and above all, to make sure that students have choices and feel valued and supported in the classroom.  Giving choices for how to show their learning, leads to a more beneficial and personalized experience for all students and even myself.  If each student chooses something different, this promotes more meaningful and unique learning experiences, and builds vital technology skills in the process. Opportunities like this lead to many benefits.   

So who benefits from these new, interactive and flipped experiences?

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We all do. Teachers and students benefit because not only have we all reinforced our knowledge of the content material, (Spanish language and culture in our case), we are learning about new tools, and maybe even more importantly, about each other.  

Giving choices is a risk.  With so many options available, it is not possible to know everything about each tool and its benefits.  So as teachers, we have to learn as much as we can, and then relinquish some control to our students.  They need to have the chance to explore, create, and share.  Give them the opportunity to do more than simply produce the same product as the other students, because they are not the same.  Let them become the “creators” and the leaders in the classroom.  Let them take on a more active role and see how this promotes engagement, curiosity and motivation within them.

Putting the plan into action

With these new reflective thoughts, I began a new venture into having students select from diverse tools, which are typically used by teachers for delivering content, and had them create and teach a lesson.  I thought this could be a bit risky, but would also be beneficial for many reasons.  It seemed like an interesting twist to try, especially at the end of the year, and I wanted to see if and how it was of benefit.

Why make the change to student created lessons

Accountability.  In education, there is a lot of accountability.   Both teachers and students are accountable for learning and classroom involvement, as well as many other responsibilities.  In my classroom, I use a variety of learning activities and offer choices of tools to help the students to learn.  I often tell the students that it is like having a room full of toys, find one and try it, if you like it, keep it.  If you don’t then select something else, because the idea is for it to be something that is beneficial and meaningful to you. No matter what you do, use each as a learning opportunity and a chance to reflect and grow.

Videos for learning

One area I rely on for helping students is the use of videos. In the past, I would assign the videos to be viewed outside of class, flipping the learning environment, and hope the students watched the videos as instructed, but without any real way to know.  Sometimes we would discuss the video or I would have them complete an in class activity, ways to hold students accountable for watching the video.  But students could skip through the video, gathering only the highlights, and get by with just enough information to complete the activity, or without watching the video, could learn the information elsewhere.  So the problem remained student accountability.

 

That is before tools like EDpuzzle which enable the creation of interactive video lessons with analytics to show who watched, analyzing their responses to questions and much more. Without having tools like EDpuzzle, assigning students to watch a video alone does not promote accountability and is not quite as engaging, nor is it interactive.  Students are less likely to really focus on the material.  

How else can videos be used?

We use a variety of videos to enhance our learning in the classroom and I have spent time this year, creating more interactive lessons, to hold the students accountable.  I also started wondering how the students would like being the creators, more active and interactive, rather than passive in their learning, and using these traditionally considered “teacher” resources to produce an assessment or a project and let them lead in the classroom.  

I am thrilled with how this new approach has gone. While I may think that it went well and was very helpful, what matters more to me is what do the students think?  I make it clear that I do not want to waste their time and would not assign something that I did not truly believe was beneficial. This is my hope, but I rely on the honest feedback of students, to reflect and move forward.

 

So what do the students have to say?   

Three of my 10th grade, Spanish III students reflect on their experience with EDpuzzle.

Adam: I had been struggling to find a good web source to meet my needs for entertainment as well as my education in the classroom and EDpuzzle is a great way to meet both of these needs.  When I faced the challenge of preparing a lesson to teach to my Spanish 3 class, I honestly didn’t know where to start.  I first tried some other resources that we had used but they really weren’t getting the message across like I wanted. Then Mrs. Poth recommended a new tool by the name of EDpuzzle to me and my reaction was

“Edpuzzle? Mrs. Poth this is a Spanish project, not a puzzle!”
“Just try it out!” She said.
So I went home that night, and after thinking it through, I again began my Spanish project.  I started with another source and was still disappointed in my product.  Finally I decided to give EDPuzzle a chance. By the time the loading bar hit 100 percent and that page loaded up I knew I found the perfect tool for not only this project but many more to come!

EDpuzzle was a fantastic way for me to use my sports video and transform it into something completely unique with a few easy changes. And for future projects, I will never have the issue of handing out papers with the questions. I can simply tell my “class” to pull out their mobile devices and answer the questions that I have integrated into my video. There are so many options for a user to enjoy and learn from the features that EDpuzzle has to offer! Thank you for providing the tool to not only teach my Spanish 3 class but to have them enjoy  as well.

BEN: I used EDpuzzle for a class project. The first time I saw EDpuzzle was in class and I thought it had a pretty interesting concept. So, when we were assigned a project for the camping unit, I decided to try EDpuzzle.

I created a lesson for my classmates by adding comments and questions to a camping video I found online. I found that EDpuzzle was easy to use and that it was a new fun way to make a class project that could be used as an interactive lesson. I especially enjoyed the many features EDpuzzle offers such as the being able to crop the video, make an audio recording over the video, and being able to make different types of questions. I felt that EDpuzzle impacted me in that it gave me a new way to present a topic and a more fun way to create projects and relay information. EDpuzzle is a fun and different digital tool to use that can be a great tool for learning.

EDpuzzle

 

A student who participated in the lessons of Adam and Ben said: “ By having all of the different choices of tools to use for our project made it easier to find something that I was interested in and comfortable with.  The activities included in their video lessons were educational and fun,  and made learning more enjoyable for the students. It provides more than just watching a video and not really being held accountable for paying attention. You had to pay attention in order to answer the questions.   I would recommend EDpuzzle to anyone looking for a new way to present information, in any setting.”

 

In the end

It is all about giving the students choices and allowing them the opportunity to try new things, lead the class and develop their content area skills, as well as many other critical 21st century skills.  EDpuzzle and the other tools,  provided an opportunity for students to take on a new role, to build their comfort level, and to learn new ways of integrating technology and having fun in the process.  They were the teachers and we all were the learners. 

Showing how to use EDpuzzle in class.  IMG_20160601_105253829

Thanks Adam Schoenbart  and The EduCal for the opportunity to share what a great event this was for everyone.

summerspark2016

The Summer Spark Experience

By Rachelle Dene Poth

What is the Summer Spark? In the words of lead organizer, Chuck Taft, it’s a conference with the goal to “set the the stage for all participants to innovate, collaborate, and connectate (Chuck’s word) and set the stage for exciting summer PD, renewed enthusiasm in the profession of teaching, and get fired up for their best ever year of teaching.” I can tell you that the Summer Spark delivered all of this and much more.

The Summer Spark was held at the University School of Milwaukee on June 13-14, 2016. I discovered the event through Twitter, and I am excited to share my Summer Spark experience from this year’s event.

A Great Start to Summer

If you are looking for a great way to kick off your summer learning, I highly recommend joining Summer Spark next year! Mark the dates on your calendar now: June 12th – 13th, 2017. Learn more about the event here and start planning your trip. No matter where you live, traveling to USM is well worth it!

It was two days full of learning opportunities which included keynotes, networking time, tracked sessions, workshops, unconferences, fabulous food and a ton of fun. The days included presentations led by authors including George Couros, Jason Bretzmann, Kenny Bosch, Shelley Burgess, Don Wettrick, Julie Smith, Michael Matera, Matt Miller, and Quinn Rollins. Each day kicked off with a fabulous keynote speech, inspiring all of those present to seek more opportunities for themselves and for their students and calling on all education professionals to take action and expand their learning possibilities. #USMSpark was trending, and Twitter was full of inspiring posts and pics to share the experience with those in attendance and people everywhere. Check out the Twitter feed for quotes, pics, and inspiration.

Summer Spark 2016 Begins!

It started with a welcome breakfast, which was fantastic, and time to meet and greet. For me, it was the opportunity to finally meet a friend in person and learn together in the same place, rather than learning virtually, as we had for the past few years. For many, it was an opportunity to reconnect with friends from last year’s conference, to meet “tweeps” face to face, and to make new friends as well. For everyone, it was the start of what would be an inspiring and invigorating two days of learning and growth. No matter where you looked, people were engaged in conversations, smiling, laughing, taking photos, posting tweets and having a lot of fun together.

The Summer Spark conference had sessions organized into strands for learning which would help attendees to select a particular learning topic and find sessions most relevant in their area of interest. There were so many opportunities for networking and personalized learning with the great offering of presentations, so many in fact it made it hard to narrow down to just one choice for each time slot. However, with so many opportunities to sit down and talk with one another, plus the availability of presentations and collaborative notes through the conference site, there were alternate methods of gaining new knowledge and ideas, even if you couldn’t attend all the sessions you wanted at the same time.

And at the end of Day 1, there were 25 teams racing against the clock in a Spark Treasure hunt, frantically trying to solve various puzzles and tasks, engage in “tomfoolery” to unlock the box. Congratulations to Team Typewriter! A thrilling end to the first day, fueled by innovation, collaboration, and “connectating.”

Day 2 was no different, kicking it off with another motivating keynote by Don Wettrick, with the message to “accept the challenge: I don’t care if you teach 20 years, just don’t teach the same year 20 times.” The keynote was followed by “unconferences” in the traditional EdCamp style, and attendees were called on to come to the front and pitch a session (which also gave you some extra tickets for those great raffle prizes). There were a lot of great topics ranging from alternate assessments to Google Classroom, infographics and interactive lessons, gamification, elementary apps, creating an innovative genius hour, getting started with Twitter, and so much more.

There were additional presentations before and after another tremendous lunch buffet, some trivia games and the day was rounded out with 90 minute workshops allowing for a deeper dive into the morning’s topics. It was a fantastic two day learning experience that drew to a close on Tuesday afternoon with the raffle and announcement of the dates for next year’s Summer Spark.

My Takeaways

It was such a phenomenal event, led by the host Chuck Taft and his team who provided everything and more that you could possibly want. The welcome, the students helping the attendees, the tech support, the staff and everyone at the school made this a truly outstanding experience for everyone. There were lots of highlights throughout the two days, new connections made, friends meeting face to face finally, and lots of fun and excitement.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend Summer Spark and be able to share some of my knowledge, but more importantly, to meet and learn from so many others. The trip from Pittsburgh was well worth it and I look forward to attending again next year. Conferences like this connect people, enable Twitter friends to meet face-to-face, or to make new friends and to walk away at the start of summer with some new ideas and new directions to go. I’m thankful to have left energized and excited for the future.

Thanks Chuck Taft and all of the Summer Spark conference planners for a truly amazing opportunity and I am honored to have been able to be a part of this experience.

Thoughts from Attendees

Here are some thoughts from other participants about their Summer Spark experience:

  • “The atmosphere was electric” (Nick Davis)
  • My brain won’t stop thinking about all of the amazing ideas I got from #USMSpark. I dreamt about it last night! (Neelie Barthenheier)
  • “Already going through withdrawals after a 7 hour drive home, missing the magic, excitement, and connectedness of the conference. I know the magic of being around so many teacher authors/ entrepreneurs was empowering“ (Dean Meyer)
  • “I was blown away by @USMSpark! Thank you so much for an amazing 2 days of learning and growing!” (Rebecca Gauthier)
  • “You knocked it out of the park! #USMSpark was a fabulous conference!” (Tisha Richmond)
  • “Truly humbling experience to be surrounded by so many passionate, visionary educators. I wouldn’t miss #USMSpark” (Brian Durst)
  • “Can’t say enough about the hard work, dedication, positive, encouraging, energizing nature of the the heart & soul of #USMSpark “ (Jason Bretzmann)
  • “A big thank you to a terrific host @Chucktaft at #USMSpark. So many new friends, ideas, and passion as a result” (Mike Jaber)
  • “So much learning and working together…this is what it’s about. Getting better so WE can make education better!” (Brit Francis)
  • “Wanted to make sure I told you how awesome #USMSpark was & loved meeting you in person! I’m excited about coming back next year :)” (Mandy Froehlich)
  • “Thank you for your passion, commitment, enthusiasm, & humor. Thanks for igniting the spark” (Yau-Jau Ku)
Learning Together Finally!
Thanks #usmspark!

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an attorney and earned her Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. Rachelle enjoys presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. She serves as the Communications Chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, a Member at Large for Games & Sims, and is the PAECT Historian. Additionally, Rachelle is a Common Sense Media Educator, Amazon Educator, WeVideo Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer and also participates in several other networks. She enjoys blogging and writing for Kidblog and is always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. Connect with Rachelle on Twitter @rdene915.