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Posted in Edutopia Community Discussion, the second part of my thoughts on Homework Alternatives.

As a student in elementary and high school, I recall having homework assignments in most, if not all of my classes each night. I remember carrying home a lot of worksheets, lugging home several textbooks, and at times transporting poster board and binders back and forth to school.  We had a lot of tests, pop quizzes, and projects.  Most of the time, I remember the homework was the same for each student, in each class, and I cannot recall now nor do I even know if I was aware back then, of students doing different assignments. I understand why teachers assign homework which is the same, the purpose is to assess students on a particular skill, and maybe it just really works for that learning target. And some benefits for students are having a peer, to work through an assignment with or ask for clarification, can be helpful.  But it can also be detrimental, for a few reasons.  Students are not getting the practice they need by having the same assignment, and the possibility of students copying assignments is also something to consider.  Copying assignments leads to a loss of learning, and students will have to re-learn the material twice. There is a lot of discussion about the real value of and purpose for homework, and these are just a few of the pros and cons to consider.

 

Over the past few years, with the rise of technology and so many options available for learning experiences through it, solely using a worksheet or assigning the same homework does not have to persist. I have noticed variations in my students, both during our interactions in the classroom but also while grading assignments and projects, or even just reading the responses to their reflections or blogs.  For homework, some students can finish the worksheet in two minutes, possibly before the end of the class period, if time remains.  And there are others, who may struggle to complete the work and as a result, end up spending 20 or 30 minutes on the exact same assignment. So, I asked myself, how can I reach both types of learners, and provide opportunities that will be beneficial, meaningful, but more importantly more personal to their needs. How can I give each student the practice that they need?

Making some changes

So how did I decide to change the “everybody has the same homework” practice?  After a holiday break and taking some time to reflect over the first part of the year and talking with students, I decided to seek ways to give students options for the type of homework they wanted to complete.  I came up with two or three choices of how I could do this, and will admit, that I was a bit anxious, since changing the traditional homework assignments would involve taking a risk.  But I truly believed that it was worth it, to see what, if any difference it would make for my students.

The three options I started with were:

1.    Quizlet: I had sets of cards and as an alternate assignment, I asked the students to select and complete activities which they felt would help them the most.  Because we have a class account, I can monitor their progress and they have many options for practicing the vocabulary, playing games and other activities to build their skills.

2.    Kahoot!: We have played games of Kahoot! in class for the past few years, and initially I was using it as a class game, using games which I created. But I soon realized that making up so many quizzes was really time consuming.  While there are lots of public quizzes available, I wanted to have the questions be more specific to their needs.  So for a different type of homework assignment, I asked students to create their own Kahoot! game using a specific number of terms or verbs and share it with our class. This led to more authentic practice and a lot more resources for all students to learn from.

3.    Blendspace: I have an account with Blendspace, and I can create and share lessons that I have created which include videos, games, tutorials and much more.  As homework practice, I can decide to assign a particular lesson for students to work through or I can simply share the URL and provide resources and give students the choice to use the resources within the lesson.

4.    Other options: Some other ideas for changing the type of homework assignments used are to create a list of different assignments or tasks and give students some choices in how to practice the content material. They may decide to work through all of them, or simply use some, but the important thing is that the choice is theirs and the practice will be more meaningful. Assigning homework in this way encourages students to have a choice on where to begin, not all students have to do the same thing, and it helps to focus on their individual needs.

 

What did the students think?

The students appreciated having more of a choice in assignments.  Using these options gave them the chance to try some new ways of learning, which they were not used to, but it was a way to provide differentiation.  I know that having a lot of games available to play in class with Kahoot and the extra Quizlet study cards, benefitted all students. The one tricky part is being able to monitor their work, but this comes with developing the relationships and having clear expectations. Including students in the conversation and making sure we focus on the accountability and responsibility aspects will help. The students are more engaged, become more empowered by having a choice in their learning path.

We can use methods like this to focus on the areas where students need help the most. Personalizing the homework assignments in these ways can prove to be time consuming, as far as tracking their work, but it is completely worth it because of how beneficial it is to their learning. And that is what matters most.

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

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

Fall is an exciting time of the year.

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

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

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

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

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students

Idea: Use infographics to create an engaging syllabus

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

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

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

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

Idea: Create interactive lessons

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

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

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

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

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

Idea: Student Created Lessons

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

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

And fun is good, yes?

Idea: Use engaging digital quizzes & tools

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

How I Solved My Classroom Management Problems

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

Common Sense Education, posted on September 15, 2016

Rachelle Dene Poth

Classroom teacher, Technology Presenter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Tools to Build Communication Skills

Use reflective practice to encourage student relationships!

Posted on Common Sense Education on September 12, 2016

Rachelle Dene Poth

Classroom teacher
Riverview High School
Oakmont, PA
CATEGORIESIn the Classroom

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

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

Talking and technology

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

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

Set up a way to communicate

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

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

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

#ISTE16 Part 2: Highlights & Takeaways

By Rachelle Dene Poth

This post is part two of #ISTE16 reflections from Rachelle. Click here to read part 1: Let’s Talk About Relationships.

Where does one start to describe the highlights from a conference experience like ISTE? The tremendous number and types of events offered during this experience make it a real challenge to focus on only a few here. There are so many wonderful things that you could highlight about the conference. With numerous concurrent events, pulling you in so many directions and with all of the choices, how can you possibly decide on a schedule? It definitely is not an easy task, but it does not have to be difficult either. You just need a little focus.

So how do you focus? Talk to people about some of the “must” events, but also think about what your personal focus might be. What are you hoping to gain from attending ISTE? So many choices. I believe that no matter which option you choose, you can’t be wrong because of the endless opportunities available at a conference of this magnitude.

Planning with #ISTE15 in Mind

Even though I had attended ISTE last year, and had a pretty good idea of what to expect, I don’t know that I was any more prepared. It seems to me, that each day had one event people considered to be a “must attend.” Aside from having this one focal point, the rest of the days were filled quickly with a combination of time spent at the poster sessions, playgrounds, Keynotes, Ignites, and 1 in 3 sessions. Every day was also filled with networking and connecting everywhere: stopping in the Expo hall to grab some swag; hanging out in the Bloggers Cafe and the PLN Lounge; enjoying ice cream and shopping for ISTE wear and books at ISTE Central; and so much more.

With so much to do, I think sometimes it’s better off to not put too much thought into having the “master plan/schedule” because you don’t know who you might meet, what you might find or where you will end up once you enter the convention center. It is so easy to be pulled in so many different directions, so it is always a good idea to have a flexible “plan” of where to start but keep your options open because there’s a whole lot going on out there in the world of ISTE

My #ISTE Highlights

A lot of people come in for the pre-conference events starting on Saturday with Hack Education’s ISTE Unplugged and the Mobile Learning Network’s Mobile Megashare. Both of these offered opportunities for people to meet up with their Twitter friends or “tweeps”, make new connections and do a lot of learning and networking. The great thing about these two events on Saturday is that there are so many diverse topics for discussion and so many people to share and brainstorm ideas with. And nobody says you have to stay at either one for the whole time. Just like the EdCamp “law of two feet”, you can go back and forth whenever you want, because you are in charge of your learning. This is your personalized PD. Enjoy the time to CHOOSE what you what to learn about.

For the Mobile Megashare, there were 24 tables each with a presenter or presenters facilitating a discussion about a topic. Attendees were able to choose a table to join in and could come and go as they wanted, or just move about the room and listen in and participate in a bunch of different conversations, moving around from table to table and idea to idea. .

There were two unconference events attached to ISTE, #HackEd and Teachmeet. #HackEd was much like a traditional Edcamp, and with TeachMeet, you can submit an idea to present on a topic for either a 2, 7 or 20-minute time period. It’s another place to connect and make new friends, and really build up the excitement for the rest of the conference.

Sunday night kicked off officially with the Keynote speech by Dr. Michio Kaku, who questioned whether we are “equipping students for the 1950’s or cultivating future ready learners.” The Balco Theater was packed, and more people gathered in the Bloggers Cafe to spend some time collaborating and to listen in to the Keynote. In the first two days alone there were many opportunities for personalized professional development and learning.

More Highlights

New #ISTE Student Standard: One of the highlights this year was the launch of the newISTE Standards for Students. The updated version was released and includes 7 standards of student statements, with focus on empowering student learners and giving students a voice through technology. There was a lot of excitement and discussion of these new standards and the focus toward student-centered learning.

Keynotes:
The two other inspirational and motivating keynotes were given by Dr. Ruha Benjamin and Michelle Cordy. Both shared experiences and messages that called upon educators to take action to provide opportunities and digital equity for all learners.

#CoffeeEDU: If you’re not an early riser, then get up early and go to #CoffeeEdu. Join in the conversations, get a great start to the day, talk with Alice Keeler and make some new connections.

Parties!: If you don’t normally stay out late, then make sure you get to the Gaggle party or EdTech Karaoke. The Gaggle Party was held at the Denver Athletic Club, multiple levels of nothing but fun and ETK was at the City Hall Events Center. Both of these events are a lot of fun and well attended, so you need to at least make some time to stop in for a bit to find out what the buzz is all about and why so many people are so quick to get those badges and passes to attend.

Hanging at Gaggle: Sean Farnum, Melanie Broder, Bryan Miller, Edward Sun, Katrina Keene & Michael Jaber
Sean Gaillard, Fran Siracusa, Mandy Froehlich and Kahoot!

At #ISTE16, the opportunities for learning came from all directions. Everything and everyone is always moving. Doors opening to sessions, lines crowding the hall, students excitedly sharing their work, drawing you into their poster sessions, and all of the different tables and topics that each of the playgrounds offered. It is hard to pass any one of these opportunities up. And it’s even harder to decide when to stop and when to keep going. It’s variety and connecting that made this learning special.

Planning Ahead: #ISTE17

Now is the time to plan your schedule for #ISTE2017. The location for next year is San Antonio, TX from June 25-28, and now is the time to start planning ahead. Not deciding on where or how you want to spend your time while there, but planning to be there to experience the awesomeness of ISTE and the Connected World. See you in San Antonio!

What are your takways and highlights from #ISTE16? Share in the comments or on Twitter with #TheEduCal!

Posted by on September 7, 2016 .

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

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

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

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

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

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


Getting Started

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

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

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

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

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

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


My Classroom Lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Limitless Technology

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

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

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

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

#ISTE16 Takeaways Part 1: Let’s Talk About Relationships

By Rachelle Dene Poth

ISTE Takeaways

Let’s talk about the relationships (part 1 of a series)

Rachelle Dene Poth

ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) is a conference that draws in people from all over the world and all levels of education and technology. With an estimate of close to 20,000 people from 70 countries in attendance, this year’s conference was tremendous. An event so large but yet at times seems so small, when you find yourself running into the same people in different areas of such a large event space. It has so much to offer, that it is hard to do it justice by summarizing or simply writing about one aspect of it.  So I thought I would highlight a few of the biggest takeaways that I had, and ones which I gathered from others.

 

Going to ISTE? What can you expect?
There are a lot of discussions and questions leading up to the conference. For people attending for the first time, the most common questions are: What sessions should I choose? What type of clothing is appropriate? What items should I carry in my bag? What should I expect? What are the “must do” events? and many more questions like this.  Simply put, where do I begin?

I myself was a first-time attendee last year and had absolutely no idea what to expect.  I had been to many different conferences, but none as large as ISTE. I was nervous about not really knowing a lot of people there.  I was fortunate to have just gotten involved with PAECT (Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology) and two of the ISTE networks (MLN and Games & Sims).  Being involved with these organizations helped because I knew some people and had some events lined up, but I figured the chances of seeing them with all of our different schedules, were not too likely.

PAECT Friends

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I tried doing some research, asking questions on social media, reading through and studying the ISTE website to learn as much as I could. I think I studied the program multiple times every day, each week leading up to my travels to Philadelphia. I had a nice schedule planned out, my favorites marked and areas that I wanted to focus on, so it seemed like I was ready to go.  But as I quickly learned last year, and definitely felt the same this year, is that it really doesn’t matter what you decide to do, what schedule you set up to follow, whether or not you know anyone, because no matter what decision you make you can’t go wrong. Honestly. There are no “wrong” or “bad” choices because there are opportunities everywhere. Even if you have a schedule, it is really tough to stick to it. And if you are traveling alone for the first time, don’t worry about being alone. It is a place for building relationships and making connections above anything else. So if you want to learn what ISTE is about let me start by telling you about the relationships and why they matter.

(Photos from #iste2016 Twitter)

(Photo from TechieTeacherTalk @GUAMlovesAT)

 

It starts with relationships: The value of connections

I had to conquer a big fear this year: my fear of flying. Last year, I traveled by Amtrak to Philly, and it was no problem. I don’t mind traveling alone, I use the time to read, participate in Twitter chats, catch up on work, and enjoy the trip.  But this year, preparing to travel to Denver, with my fear of flying, something I have not done in 21 years, was a bit difficult.  I have avoided air travel, preferring to drive or take a train any distance. However with Colorado being a bit far of a drive, bus ride or travel by train, I was not left with much in the way of options. So that meant flying. Fortunately, I had a good friend providing me with the support to help me get to the airport, get on the plane and get to Denver without worry. At least not too much. I just kept thinking about the week ahead.

My support for the travels started with another conference.  Karyn and I met at a Keystone Technology Innovator Summit in Pennsylvania a few years ago. I was also fortunate that at Karyn had another friend traveling with us, Chris, so I had two amazing companions to ease my nerves and it really made a huge difference during the flight and throughout the conference.

Chris Stengel and Karyn Dobda

 

Relationships started through Social Media.  Now aside from the travel, another tremendous part of this experience was a group that originated on Facebook, educators connecting in an ISTE2016 group.  The group then transferred into a Voxer group created and led by Rodney Turner. We communicated in the weeks leading up to ISTE. Lots of conversation, lots of questions and more than anything a ton of inspiration and excitement fueled by the chatter, the shared experiences, the anticipation and even more so, motivation provided by the guidance of our named “Concierge Rodney.”

He started each day with a Vox, a countdown to ISTE, an inspiration and a story.  He brought a bunch of people together, a group of connected educators, who became friends, excited to meet F2F after developing these relationships. Becoming friends through technology. I could hardly wait to meet the members of this group, officially, because we had already learned so much about each other. And we even had t-shirts and stickers made for our group, thanks Mike Jaber.   

(Meeting in Bloggers Cafe, VoxUp)

And at conferences like ISTE, meeting your “Tweeps” and #eduheroes finally F2F is a possibility.  Even though we all feel like we already know each other, after many Twitter chats and social media interactions, it is nice to be together and talk (about technology) without the technology.

Sean Gaillard and Natalie Krayenvenger     (Photo from Katrina Keene)

 

First steps for ISTE

Having these core groups to connect with is something I highly recommend.  All it takes is one or two people and you can build your entire group, so at no point do you feel alone during the conference. One of Rodney’s messages was to be on the lookout for people you notice sitting alone. If you see someone sitting alone, go over and start a conversation, invite people to join you, be welcoming, and it worked. We had our “VoxUp” in the Bloggers Cafe on Sunday before the Keynote, and what a great experience that was.  There were lots of hugs, laughs, smiles and excitement.   This was truly a defining moment.  In looking around, people joined in this group, new connections were made, the excitement and power of this PLN was contagious.  All it took was joining in a group, taking that step and becoming part of something, and having a support system already in place.  Looking around the Bloggers Cafe, there were a lot of small groups of people, gathered to listen to the Keynote, take pictures, make new connections, network and just to absorb everything that was going on. No matter where you looked, you could see the energy and excitement. The energy was so high and it was just the starting point for what would be a phenomenal 3 day event.

 

So, what should your plan be?

Well, maybe the best plan is to not have a plan.  Maybe just have an idea. A focus.  Time goes by so quickly and the choices are so numerous that it can be overwhelming, especially for a first time attendee.  Not everybody can make the same decision about what would be the best session or event to attend. You have to make your own decision and even though there is comfort in going to a session with somebody you know, it is equally if not more beneficial to go your own way, interact with other educators and create new relationships.  You can then come back to that core group with new ideas and new friends, and you never know, it’s such a small world sometimes that you might all know the same people.  And by going to different sessions and different events, there are more stories and experiences to be shared. So the learning possibilities are even greater.  And friends made along the way become part of different groups but connected into one.
Having these different groups really added to the experience.  We shared ideas, attended events together, grabbed early coffees at Coffee Edu, and so much more. Even if you weren’t at ISTE, you could join in virtually and be a part of the ISTE community as well.  The idea behind attending conferences like ISTE is to make new connections, gain new knowledge, to grow professionally, and to explore.  I can’t think of a better way to start doing this than by focusing on relationships. It is where I start each school year and it is where I focus for conferences like ISTE.

(#coffeeEdu, Thanks Craig Yen for Periscoping for #notatiste)

(Mobile Megashare)

 

Share your thoughts and experiences and photos, we would love to hear from you! Next up, focus on some of the ISTE events and takeaways.

Thank you @Kidblog for publishing my recent post on how to start blogging with your students.  Great way to start off the new school year.

Getting Started: Tips for launching a successful class blog

Enthusiastic Students Showcase Kidblog

Summer is full of opportunities for reflecting, learning, and planning. Teachers and students have the ability to review the past year and develop goals for both the summer and the upcoming school year.  While summer gives teachers a chance to unwind and relax, it is often used as a time for exploration and preparation for the new year.

During their time off, many teachers participate in professional development events, become involved in learning communities, and look for new ways to engage their students in the classroom.  I am no different. This summer I had many opportunities to connect with other educators and discuss ideas for increasing engagement in students’ learning and blogging became a common topic. I welcomed these conversations as I have seen first hand the positive results blogging has had on my students.  These discussions revolved around questions about getting students started, privacy, the best use of blogs in the classroom, and how to create new ideas and keep students motivated to blog in and out of the classroom. I was always happy to offer my advice. I created this post in hopes of sharing what I learned from these discussions with a wider audience.

The benefits to student blogging are endless. If you are looking for something new to try with your students, to get them talking, and to learn about your students, I highly recommend blogging as a way to start this new school year.

If you are not familiar with classroom blogging, I suggest setting up your “class URL” first – select a theme, familiarize yourself with the settings, features and how students will create their accounts and log-in.  Additionally, by setting up an account as a student in your class you can better understand the student experience and be prepared to answer any questions. Once everything is ready for real students, creating a handout to explain the use of blogging for your class, listing your expectations and some guidelines, and encouraging creativity in the process, is a great way to start the blogging conversation.

I have tried various methods to getting students started in our class blog. Regardless of the method you choose, it is always worth while to start with a conversation regarding your class blog. Talk about what students will write, when they will use the blog, who will be reading their posts, etc. Getting students excited about the options for post styles, fonts, and the wide audience they can reach in the process is helpful in driving motivation to write.

One option to get students started writing in class is through the use of prompt responses. I started small by instructing students how to join the class and having them begin responding to my posts with meaningful discussion points. If you have time in class to do this, facilitate as the students create their account, personalize their page and begin writing. Eventually students will feel comfortable and excited about creating their own ideas for writing.

Another successful way to get students blogging is to start with what they know – pen and paper. Try providing a prompt and having students write a response on paper, as they had done in the past. This is a great way to ensure students learn to evaluate their work and self-correct. It also reinforces that the true value in blogging is to feel comfortable and confident in expressing one’s ideas and using it as a means for personal growth. Once the students have written their responses, you can ask them create their Kidblog student account and use their writing as the first entry.  By having the first draft, and then entering it as a blog post, students have the opportunity to think, reflect and work on their skills.

Either option provides a great starting point. I recommend that you base your decisions for your class blogging on your students and what will be the most beneficial to your classroom.

Getting students excited about blogging only takes that first step. It is a continuous work in progress.  We are all involved in ongoing learning, and by being learners ourselves, we can help our students to take risks, accept challenges, reflect, and grow. And, through the process, we learn about each other, reinforcing the value of relationship building and support in the classroom.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. I am also an attorney and earned my Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and recently received the Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. I enjoy presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. I am 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, I am 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. I enjoy blogging and writing for Kidblog and I am always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. You can connect with me on Twitter @rdene915.

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.

 

Posted in the Edutopia Community Discussion

If you are looking for new ways to share information, or create a new sign for your classroom, or have students work on a project, then perhaps infographics is what you need.

Infographics are one of many options for presenting information in a vibrant, engaging way. There are many digital tools out there that can be used to create an infographic, and you may know of a few of these tools. If you have not heard of an infographic or you have not yet created one, then I hope I can provide some new information or ideas. And if you have been looking for a way to integrate technology into your classroom, or a quick and easy way to make a slight change in your classroom, then perhaps using one of the great web tools for creating an infographic is just what you need.

An infographic is something that I learned about two summers ago while participating in a weeklong technology conference. I had seen infographics before, but did not know the term and had no knowledge of any of the tools available for creating one. I was anxious to create my own and decided to start the new school year, by creating infographics for each class in place of printing a course syllabus. I used three different tools to create an infographic for each course and then posted them on our class website.

Creating an infographic is quite easy and there are so many templates and options available to include in your work. Making the change from a paper syllabus to an infographic is easy. Simply take the file that you already have and copy and paste your content into one of the many templates that are available, and then have some fun with it. Depending on which web tool you use,  I have used Piktochart, Canva and Smore, you have a variety of choices for the additional icons, images, and more that you can add into your infographic. The possibilities are endless for creating a diverse, vibrant, multi-media, engaging presentation for any kind of use.

So changing from my paper formatted syllabus over into an infographic was the first step that I took. I then decided to take it a few steps further and have my Spanish I students create an infographic to describe themselves. This was something I had them do each year, to practice the beginning vocabulary and to learn about them,  but it was a project usually done on paper. I gave them the choice of a few different tools, and provided my infographics as a model. But I left it up to the students to decide and to explore the options within each of these choices. There were no limits on what they could add into the presentation, nor requirements about which tool they should use. Some students even added some audio and video into their projects, something that cannot be done using the traditional paper format. The best part was how their individuality, interests, and creativity were expressed using infographics.

On a personal level, I enjoy using infographics for creating presentations for graduate course work, book studies, moderating Twitter chats, and even birthday cards and more. It’s a lot of fun to work with these tools and to see what you can create, and even better, what the students create.

** I always give my students choices as to which tool to use, they all have benefits and unique features.  It depends on what works best for our needs.

Suggestions: Piktochart, Visme, Canva, Smore    @piktochart @canva @smorepages

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