inquiry

Recently published on DefinedSTEM

The start of each new school year is such an exciting time for educators and students. After the summer break, educators head back into their classrooms and schools, hopefully feeling recharged, excited for the new school year, and ready with a list of new teaching ideas. Planning for the first day and first week back to school are so important, we want to set up our classrooms but also need to focus on the environment and culture we are creating. Of course, there are classroom expectations and class details that we need to share with our students, but we need to do something first. In starting to plan instruction and methods, we first should focus on learning about our students and showing that we are invested in their success. By starting here, we begin to develop our classroom culture and set up a welcoming environment for learning.

Welcoming students in and learning together

At the start of the school year, and every day thereafter, we should be intentional about being present. We need to spend time greeting all students and welcoming them back to school. Beyond the students on our rosters, It is important to acknowledge all students as we see them in the halls and throughout the building.  The power behind creating a positive and supportive climate in the building and in each classroom starts with teachers. When we are visible and show students that we are excited about school, we will start making connections that will help in fostering a positive classroom culture.

It can be challenging to start a daily routine of school after a summer break, or any extended break during the year. We must set a good example by engaging our students in conversations, showing an interest in who they are, encouraging and providing opportunities for peer connections. These intentional strategies to get to know our students will positively impact the learning environment

There are many ways to learn about our students. There are icebreakers and other games that can be used as a way to learn about one another. As educators, this is our opportunity to take time to encourage students to share their thoughts and interests with peers, and also what and how they hope to learn in your class.

Making those connections

There are many tools available to set up methods of communication and collaboration and to help students develop these critical skills for their future. For learning, we have to determine how to make ourselves available to students when they have questions or need additional support or resources. The questions do not stop when the school day ends, or over the weekend break. Without a way to ask questions during these times, students can become frustrated and the potential for learning diminishes. In our increasingly digital world, we have access to so many resources, but we also need to know how to find the right tools. First, I recommend that educators find a tool that enables students to connect, to ask questions, and to access classroom resources. Among the digital options available today, it still can be challenging to select the right one. A few examples are setting up a classroom website, a messaging app or using an LMS.

A classroom website is great for having a centralized location for students to access resources, post questions, review content and more. Websites and using LMS platforms can easily be set up using EdmodoSchoologyGoogle ClassroomWeebly a Google Site, or even Padlet.  Communication is also easier with a messaging tool that enables the sending of reminders, links to resources, or that integrates with other digital tools for learning. A few options are Bloomz (for parent-teacher communication) and Remind. There are several other options available, depending on your needs and the level you teach. I have used Voxer with several of my classes, especially for talking about Project Based Learning and sharing ideas and reflections.  One thing to keep in mind is to find out about the kind of technology and internet access available to the students.

Learning about each student

Even the slightest interactions can provide so much information about a student. It happens through those quick conversations as students enter the room, or by including fun activities in the lesson, and creating a supportive, welcoming environment where students feel valued. Engaging in some of these practices will help to build and foster positive relationships. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start creating connections with one other.

Some quick ways to get started are by having students create a collaborative Google Slides Presentation, or use another digital tool, like Buncee or even Padlet perhaps,  for students to create one slide or add some information. Encourage each student to contribute by adding in fun facts, share how they spent the summer, or the weekend,  to help each member of the class to learn about one another. I did this with my Spanish III and IV students and it was fun to learn more about each student and their summer experiences and we had some fun in the process.

A personal goal at the start of each school year is to learn about my students and help everyone start to feel comfortable in our classroom. We used some icebreaker games, a great game of Bingo, shared stories, and it definitely helps students to learn about each other and for me to learn about them.  Our classroom culture continues to develop each and with it brings new learning opportunities.

Another great way that I have found to learn about each student is through the use of project-based learning. When students have the choice to determine what it is that they want to study and can drive their own learning, we can connect more with each student and understand who they are and what their passions are for learning.  The students can learn about their peers as well as become more globally aware of what it is like to be a student in different parts of the world and to just really explore whatever it is that they want. For us as educators, it creates a way to extend our own learning and we can continue to improve and learn and grow with and from our students,  starting from the beginning of the year.

 

Published on Getting Smart, November 15, 2017

In honor of International Education Week, we’re bringing you a series of blogs that celebrate the benefits of global competencies, international education and cultural exchanges. Stay tuned for more like this throughout the week!

Project-Based​ Learning​ (PBL)​ offers tremendous benefits for students to become engaged in more authentic and purposeful learning. Providing opportunities in which students have choices in what to explore, where to seek information, and ultimately how to share their learning, will lead to higher student engagement and more meaningful learning experiences. By giving students the chance to be curious in exploring a concept which is of personal interest, or working together to tackle a problem or engage in some challenge-based learning, we foster more student-driven classrooms and promote curiosity in learning.

As educators, we need to strive to open up opportunities for students to broaden their perspectives, to engage in collaboration with their peers, and more importantly, to become globally connected learners. PBL is a way to connect our students globally and it also addresses the 4 C’s: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Opportunities like this, in which students can become more independent and have choices for where their search leads them will amplify the learning potential of all students in the classroom as well as for the new connections made.

Entering my second year of project-based learning I wanted to take it to another level with my Spanish classes, after attending and presenting at EdmodoCon. I was  amazed at the power of technology to unite educators from around the world and I wanted to do more in my classroom. Learning from such diverse perspectives, and fascinated by the ability to communicate with my new colleagues, at any time from around the world further solidified my belief that this was something that must be done in my classroom. I wanted my students to have as many diverse, authentic opportunities to explore the world as they could.

Setting up a process to connect students with the world can take some time to plan as you must decide what is the best method and structure to use, but getting the connections started is really quite simple. There are many different learning communities available depending on what is used for a classroom website. I use Edmodo, but there are also professional learning communities available through ISTE or Google+. Getting started simply takes posting a message in the community and awaiting responses from other educators interested in making new connections.

Here is the process I followed to get started with my class:

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 9.48.24 PM.png1. Shared the idea: I told students the idea for making global connections and the “why” behind this newexperience. While doing PBL, it is essential to have the students connect with real-world experiences in authentic ways. Once I explained to my students how I had planned to do this, I then posted a message in a few of the Edmodo communities. In my message, I explained what my students would be doing, the types of topics they would be learning about and how we could collaborate.

2. Collected responses: I received several responses to my message and replied to each to gather more details about the age group of the students, the location of the classroom and options for connecting our classes.

3. Created groups on Edmodo: Once several educators were interested, I created a separate group on Edmodo and shared the join code with my students as well as the students from the other classrooms. Edmodo provides a safe place to interact to not only help students become globally connected and share their perspective, but is also an opportunity to learn and connect with other educators.

4. Got started: We started by simply making introductions and then the students started to ask questions related to their project-based learning and essential questions. The students were amazed and excited about how quickly responses were received and how willing the other students were to share information, provide resources and interact with one another. It has been tremendous to see how much the students have learned in such a short amount of time. This type of learning could not occur without technology, it provides authentic and personalized learning because the students are connecting globally and broadening their perspectives in a more engaging and personalized way.

5. Expanded the project: In order to take it even further, once the conversations and connections had been established, we wanted to interact through audio and video. Due to the difference in time zones and schedules, we needed to find a more convenient way to interact. Flipgrid presented the perfect solution for setting up an online space for students to introduce themselves, show their schools, and have some fun interacting in a moderated and safe environment. It was very exciting to receive the notifications that a new Flipgrid response had been posted, and watching it immediately in class was fantastic for the students. Students can learn by looking at pictures, reading books and watching videos but to be able to interact in this way and this quickly is truly an amazing experience. The best part was when the students were finally able to see the students they had been interacting with. We also used Padlet as another virtual space to interact through photos and conversations.

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Being an educator does not mean that you are an expert. We are constantly learning and should be seeking new ways to bring knowledge and different learning experiences into our classrooms. In just a few short weeks of working with these global connections and setting aside the time to open up and increase the learning potential for my students, I have learned so much. For the four teachers in our group, this is the first time that any of us are doing anything like this and we are learning and growing together. We are enjoying the experience with our students and the best part for me, is learning more about my own students through their interactions online and I believe that the students are learning more about themselves as well.

Originally Published on Kidblog,

Getting ready for the start of a new school year – new students, new curriculum, and new tools – means teachers have a lot of preparation ahead of them. Whether new to Kidblog or a veteran classroom blogger, these tips will help you get the most out of your class blog this year.1) There is no better way to start the year than by way of introductions. Blogging can be a great way to get your students comfortable with you as their new teacher, as well as, their new classmates. In my classroom, I also use this time to cover expectations in the classroom. This is all done in a “Welcome back to school” blog post. Choose a fun theme for the class, add some links and include helpful information. Share information about you, including some fun facts, and encourage students to then respond to your post. You can begin to develop those vital relationships for your classroom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

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8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

by Rachelle Dene Poth

My first year of teaching with project-based learning provided as much learning for me as it did my students.

Each year when I head back to my classroom in the fall, I have many ideas of new methods, new tools, and some changes that I want to make in my classes. These changes and ideas are the result of attending summer conferences, reading new books, and maybe the most helpful, student feedback that I review over the summer.

The biggest change I wanted to make this year was to have my students really engage in Project-Based Learning.

Interested in PBL support? Contact TeachThought Professional Development today! 

1. It’s not ‘doing projects.”

My students have completed many projects over the years, and I honestly thought they were doing “PBL”, but after the summer I finally realized that it was not authentic PBL. I was simply having students learn by completing projects. Coming to this realization allowed me to find resources to learn how to implement authentic PBL into my classroom.

If you are feeling the same as I did, don’t worry. There are the resources, tools, and shifts in thinking that can help you on your way.

See also: The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning

2. Students–and parents–need to understand the process.

To get started, I sought out resources that I had learned about over the summer.

I learned that there are several different methods of doing PBL. The theme can be something created by the teacher, independently chosen by the students, or a combination of something in between. Because I had decided to implement PBL with my Spanish 3 and 4, I decided to follow an independent method, enabling students to pursue something of personal interest. The opportunity for students to have choices through more independent learning, leads to a more meaningful experience, a few of the great benefits of PBL.

The opportunity for students to have choices through more independent learning, leads to a more meaningful experience,  a few of the great benefits of PBL. This is difficult without students–and parents!–understanding how PBL works so they can buy-in, support, and believe in this ‘long-tail’ approach to learning.

3. The right technology can make all the difference.

I started by explaining the purpose of doing PBL, what I hoped would be the benefits of doing this in Spanish 3 and 4, and using the resources I found, shared the PBL elements with the students. I wanted to make sure they understood the process, as much as possible, from the start. I knew it would be a learning experience for all of us, requiring ongoing reflection and feedback.

In our classes, we use a few digital tools which help open up opportunities for communication and collaboration. We use Edmodo for our classroom website, messaging apps (Celly and Voxer), and have also used tools such as Kidblog for blogging and writing reflections, and Recap and Flipgrid for video responses.

4. Developing quality Essential Questions takes practice.

I did my best to explain how to create an Essential Question (what TeachThought Professional Development calls ‘Driving Questions’), referring to resources I had found, as well as some books and educators for advice. I had struggled with crafting my own “Essential questions” in the past during curriculum writing and I knew this was an area that I also needed to work on.

What I learned is that Essential Questions are not answered with a yes or no, and answers are not easily found through a Google search. Essential questions will help students to become more curious, to seek more information, and in the process, develop their skills for problem-solving and critical thinking.

Essential questions drive the learning.

Last summer, I had read the book Pure Genius, by Don Wettrick, and had the opportunity to meet him during the Summer Spark Conference in Milwaukee. I also read a few other PBL books including  Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide, by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss, and Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie.

Once we started, the students had many questions, and I answered as best as I could. However, because this was a new experience for me as well, I sought additional help.  Don Wettrick spoke to my students through a Skype call and later in the fall, Ross Cooper spoke with my students about crafting their Essential questions. Another great resource I consulted over was  Hacking Project-Based Learning book by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy.

See also: Using The QFT To Drive Inquiry In Project-Based Learning

5. Project-based learning is a team-effort.

We have gone through this twice so far this year, and are now focused on one final PBL theme. It has been a tremendous learning experience for my students and I have learned so much from them. We have covered many new topics related to culture, language, sports, family and traditions.

The students enjoy having the chance to be in the lead, to drive their own learning, and have become more reflective on their work and on this PBL process. I did make mistakes and continue to work on improving each time we do this. The availability of these PBL resources to guide teachers and students and other educators who offer support along the way has made all of the difference.

The most powerful part of this has been the feedback from my students. I asked for the positives, the negatives, what could be different, how could I help more, and they were honest and offered such great information.

6. Project-based learning empowers students.

What I have learned is that it really does benefit students and the teachers to offer these project-based learning experiences for students, to find out about their passions and interests. We learn more about them and from them through their PBL. Having students take over the classroom and present their information opened up so many new learning opportunities for everyone. This is truly a great way to see students empowered in their learning.

Overall, the students are pleased about the work they have done, the progress they have taken and are excited about this next phase. We reviewed the feedback, did a little bit more research, and had some planning conversations.

7. Project-based learning forces students to see learning differently.

We need to create opportunities for students to pursue their interests when they learn. In order to prepare them for the real world, we should provide learning opportunities which connect them with other people, perspectives, and experiences.

The most difficult part for my students at the start of this was thinking about how they were going to present their information, and I kept telling them to work through the research part, gather their information first. I reminded them often to focus on the “what and why” part, and that the final product form would become more apparent as they progressed.

8. Patience is key.

I am pleased with having started PBL this year and I encourage other educators to consider implementing PBL in their classrooms. Yes, there can implementation dip. And without communication with students and parents and even our own colleagues, progress can be slow.

PBL is, however, a different approach to learning. It acknowledges that the school year is a marathon, not a series of sprints. It allows students to design and create and publish and reflect on and revise ideas, and this all takes time. Patience, then, is a critical characteristic of any successful–and sane!–project-based learning teacher! Given time, you’ll eventually help the students see the impact it has had on their learning.

 

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.

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

Talking EdTech with Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachelle’s advice is simple:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

This post originally appeared on Piktochart’s blog here.