leadership

I wrote this about a month ago…time flies when you’re spending it with your PLN! #iste18 #RealEDU #USMSpark #ST4T #tlap #FETC Connecting is everything!

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ISTE

 

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Live tweeting for #tlap at Summer Spark

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Women in EDTech Ignites

Why you need a PLN

One of the many benefits of being part of a PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network) is having a constant system of support. Because of my PLN, I have access to new ideas, tools, methods at any time. Being “connected” means having a personal and professional support system, whenever you need it and wherever you are. We can connect in person with colleagues at our schools or during conferences, but at times this can be difficult because of the availability of time or based on location. The solution? Technology. We can connect virtually through the numerous forms of social media and web tools that promote anytime collaborating, communicating and conferencing. We become “connected” by connecting.

Gone are the days where educators have to scour the Internet for resources, search through books, or even travel for professional learning. We don’t even have to leave our homes to participate in professional development.  (Although it is nice to get out and meet our PLN F2F). And when it comes to our teaching practice, we don’t necessarily need to create all of our own materials or wait in line at the copier. (if we are in the habit of making packets, but that is another conversation entirely #paperless).

 

We have access to support and thousands of resources instantly, simply by connecting through our devices and reaching out into our “network.” The power of connecting and collaborating. Sharing our own ideas and gathering new ones, building on our strengths and honing in on areas in which we need to grow. Through our PLN, we have these opportunities and whatever we need, available to us at any time. It just takes one tweet, one post, one Vox, and the connecting begins and the support is available.

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Unexpected PLN

Sometimes we just happen to become part of a PLN, or a PLF (Personal or Professional Learning Family). The same can be said for mentoring. Sometimes we make these connections, develop relationships that grow into something powerful and life-changing, without even realizing it as it is happening. When I first heard about the “power of a PLN”, I really didn’t get it. I thought it was the same as being a “colleague” or having “work friends” as they are often called. But I have learned that I was way off about this, and I am glad to know that I was wrong (again). I have become “connected” through several PLNs, that have also somehow interconnected with one another.  It has become a super PLN, or mega PLN. And it evolved through Social Media, which I was so wrong about the value for education.

 

My first true PLN is referred to as the “53s”. A group that grew from a Facebook group of ISTE goers, created by Rodney Turner, that then evolved into a Voxer group. Rodney’s message was to make connections, see someone sitting alone, ask them to join in. As a group, we met face to face at ISTE 2016 in Denver. There are also a few members of this group that I met through Twitter chats and then met in person at other conferences, and had time to spend with them learning in the same physical space. We welcomed our friends into the group and continued to build a core PLN. We have come together to be the 53s, a name significant to us. A name which evolved after our initial core group grew. A group based on trust, transparency, empathy, kindness, pushback, fun and passion for education and the power of learning. And most importantly, true friendship.

These people, my friends, are my source of inspiration and the ones that I rely on heavily each day. We are a unique group that spans the United States and Canada.  I am so fortunate to be a part of a core PLN that I know will be there for me no matter what. The only thing I wish I could change is our geographical locations. We are from different states and a different country, and so time together does not happen that often. But when it does, it truly is the best time ever. #singoff #booksnaps #carpoolkaraoke.  LOVE our times at FETC, Summer Spark, ShiftinEDU and ISTE and more to come!

I am not sure where I would be without my 53s. The times we have shared are so special, and I am so thankful for this group and wish for everyone to have a core PLN like this: Evan Abramson, Jarod Bormann, Jennifer Casa-Todd, Jaime Donally, Mandy Froehlich, Tisha Richmond and Rodney Turner. Add to that our awesome Snapchat singing group which also includes Tara Martin, Andrew Easton and Mandy Taylor. They are an amazing group of educators, who would drop everything to be there to support you. I am proud and honored to call them my friends.

Another PLN: adding to the PLF

I am also fortunate to be connected with two other tremendous groups (my PLF) and cannot wait to meet more of them in person.  The #4OCFPLN and Edugladiators! Loved the adventures trying to meet up in Chicago!

 I had read the book “Four O’Clock Faculty” by Rich Czyz  and was part of a Voxer group doing a book study. Once the book study ended, many members of the group stayed connected and kept the conversation going. A group that stayed together and continued to connect and grow long after the book study had ended. We have become a real PLF and I enjoy learning new things from this group every day and knowing that they are there when I need them. “We” have had our picture taken with many authors and we have stickers and our own hashtag even #4OCFPLN. And stickers too! Shirts on the way.

4OCFPLN

There are so many great conversations, a lot of laughs and fun that happens within this group every day.  I love knowing that I can reach out to this group at any time. It is a very supportive and fun group with a lot of diverse perspectives and a bond that continues to grow and get better. Laughs, inside jokes, challenges, pushback, inspiration and amazing connections. REAL connections. We know more about each other and learn and push boundaries of learning every day.

Everybody needs to be part of a PLN. Depending on your time and what you’re looking for, there are lots of options available for making these connections fit with your schedule and based on your interests. It might be formed through Twitter and it might be through a book study or other focus group using Voxer,  or one of the other social media tools out there. It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as you make connections that will help you to continue to grow and have the support you need when you need it. Whether it is a group you join, a chat you follow, or a mix, get out there and connect. The best is when we get to spend time together, learn from each other, share the same nervousness before giving an ignite, and knowing that there is always someone there to help you whenever you need. (ST4T Tech Fail, thank you David Lockhart and Nik!)

We are better together!

Love meeting up with my #4OCFPLN, Fellow #Edugladiators Core Warriors, Edumatch PLF, Buncee Family, Future Ready PLN, the Women in EdTech and of course, the 53s.

And a tremendous surprise having one of my students be in Chicago during ISTE. That may have been the best part! Sharing some of the awesomeness of ISTE and the people there.

 

 

**this is a work in progress

Things on my mind: Self-awareness, Competition,  Failure, Focus

During the last couple of weeks as the school year was winding down, the demands on my time were increasing exponentially. While this may seem a bit exaggerated,  there really is no other way to describe it. Granted, I take a lot of extra things on personally and professionally, when most people meet me, they ask if I sleep. I do, some. So why do I, or educators take on so much? For me, the reason is because I truly am a lifelong learner. I don’t want to miss opportunities, especially when that might mean I miss out on creating opportunities for others.  I don’t want to say no to someone that needs my help, because I realize that for some people, asking for help required that they be vulnerable and step out of their comfort zone. So I will always try to help someone else, even if it means delaying my own goals or veering from some path that I am on. And I am good with that, but I also realize that there is only so much that I can do. 

 

Self-awareness

Being self-aware means you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, emotions, thoughts, and have a deeper understanding of what motivates you, at least this is my way of defining it. I can somewhat identify my strengths, but it is uncomfortable to openly admit my weaknesses.  I have no problem admitting mistakes and failures in front of my students. The more that I can do this with them, will help to dispel that misconception that failure is final. Personally or among friends, for me, admitting weakness is tough, but the first step in trying to improve is acknowledging that there is a something to improve upon.  I’m well aware that I have certain areas that I need to devote some time to in order to become more effective and consistent and possibly attain some level of balance. If balance is really a thing. Maybe it is because I set demands on myself that are too high or overly ambitious, but I have reached a point in my career and my life, where I feel I need to engage in activities that I am passionate about being involved in. Even while I was in law school,  my friends would often laugh at my ability to multitask and my methods of over-preparation for class. I did then what I try to discourage my own students from doing now. I would take notes on the computer, write notes on paper, listen to the lecture and grade papers all while sending text messages throughout the class. And somehow while doing all of that I still managed to answer a question when called upon. I survived the four years of teaching full-time and four nights a week of law school. When I think back and compare schedules of then and now I feel so much more out of balance now than I did back then. It just does not make sense. 

 

While this post has started off as random thoughts,  they do have a point, which will present itself sooner or later. (perhaps not even in this post, as I am between a few projects).  These random thoughts are my reflections, and how I become more self-aware. As some of my friends know, I tend to not sit and type but rather speak my thoughts into a document and then go back and revise and reflect in the process. It simply works for me and it makes me more productive, at least I think that it does.  We don’t need to make big gains each day, it is in the small wins, ongoing progress that we achieve more. Reading this post yesterday, reminded me of this fact.  I got away from reading the posts by Thomas Oppong, and this quote helped me through some of my reflections. “It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small gains on a daily basis.” 

But lately, I have not felt as productive as I would want to be. Yes I’ve made lists, checked items off as I completed them, kept up with email only to have two or three emails pop in as soon as one is sent. I have opened Voxer to find four or five hundred messages waiting and many other notifications from other forms of social media. So how does one find balance? How does one keep focus when surrounded by and consumed by so much “connectedness.” In the pursuit of learning, how much is enough and how much is too much?

What I mean is I think as educators we need to involve ourselves in a variety of learning possibilities. We no longer need to leave our homes to go out for professional development, nor be limited to that which we have at our schools. There are so many options available that meet our needs as far as goals and time and passions. But it seems that more and more time is consumed by social media like Voxer or Twitter, just for a few examples. Don’t get me wrong, these are tremendous tools for becoming a connected educator, for breaking away from the isolation that can happen. But how do we keep up with everything and everyone?  If you know, please share.

 

Competition

It is tough “keeping up” lately. I read a lot of blogs, books and stay active through Twitter and Voxer, and have a pretty good routine for keeping up-to-date with information. Reading has never been a problem for me. The area in which I need to improve is with my own writing. Some days I feel like I just can’t keep up. I feel like I’m falling behind, that I’m not meeting the goal, not pushing myself enough to accomplish things. But today I had a moment to pause and think, and it came after reading  some of the The Path to Serendipity , by Allyson Apsey and also “What School Could Be,” by Ted Dintersmith.  After reading these, it occurred to me that I am doing the exact same thing that I try to stop my students from doing which is push myself so hard, judge myself so critically, to the point where my desire to work and to get things done becomes consumed as soon as my eyes focus on that ever-growing list of goals. I put up a wall and that inner voice tells me that I will never get things done. The inner voice convinces me that I can’t, so I don’t even try.  And then I remember the quote  “the only thing standing in your way is you,” so I need to get out of my own way. 

My list is full of things which are not part of my daily work as a teacher, but rather tasks that I have voluntarily pushed myself into becoming a part of. Maybe it’s my fear of missing out, maybe it’s my drive to keep doing better, to keep pushing myself to do one more thing, take one more step, to see how much I can handle and how much I can learn. But in recognizing this, I realize that my students do this as well. I’ve seen them push themselves and worry that they won’t finish something in time, that they won’t get into the college that their parents want them to, that they won’t get the highest grade, that they won’t be as smart, as quick or as good as somebody else in the class.  Pressure.

How many times this year I have said to them “You don’t need to worry about anybody else. You only need to worry about yourself because you aren’t in competition with anyone else but yourself.”  I came across an anonymous quote a while ago that said “I’m in competition with no one but myself.” The power of this quote really hit me. These are the reminders that I give to my students, but yet are ones that I have failed to be cognizant of within myself.

In reading “Path to Serendipity”, so much of what Allyson says resonated with me, especially when thinking back to when I first started teaching. And in reading “What School Could Be,” I am thinking about the structure of school, the “game” of school and all of the pressure that exists. Pressure which is placed on students whether by the school system itself, the testing, parents, teachers or the students themselves. How do we break this cycle? Wanting the best for someone should be more about supporting them with whatever decision they make, and being there if they find out that it was not the best decision to be made. That’s the risk we take when we step out of our comfort zone, when we go against the grain and do something that is different, that may not be the traditional way to do something but it’s the way that we want, it’s personal to us, it’s our passion.

 

And I know I have derailed a bit in this, maybe more than a bit, but sometimes it’s good for me to just sit with my computer, and thanks to the voice to text, I can close my eyes and talk through what has been going through my mind, and then edit the writing. Lately it’s been that I just can’t get enough things completed. Countless presentations, proposals, webinars you name it, I am doing and experiencing the same thing that many other educators are experiencing as well. However the difference is that my perception of others is that there are no struggles. Blogs are being published, podcasts are being recorded, books are being written, speeches are being given, and my question is where do you find the time? How can I find a time? And I am so impressed and inspired by the work of my friends and my colleagues who share their stories and seem to have a lot of balance, but then again how do I really know? My perception is not necessarily their reality.

A good friend of mine Mandy Froehlich has written a book which just came out today, called “The Fire Within”, in which she shares personal stories as well as stories of educators who talk about the different struggles that they’ve gone through. We don’t often hear of the struggles and the negative experiences that we as educators may have, but there are a few things that I’m sure of. We need to start with relationships. We need to be open and vulnerable. We have to tell our stories. It is from these stories, whether they are stories of great innovations or epic failures, where we can connect and provide the inspirational redirection that someone else may greatly need. And while telling our story makes us vulnerable, there is great power in vulnerability. Vulnerability does not mean weakness, as defined by Brene Brown in her book “Daring Greatly”. It is “uncertainty,risk and emotional exposure.” My favorite quote from Brown is that vulnerability is “the courage to  show up and be seen even when you have no control over the outcome.” This quote is one I read last summer, and I kept in the back of my mind while preparing for different events in which I felt completely out of control. I didn’t think I had the courage and was ready to back down, but this served as a reminder to me that it was better to try and fail, than to never try at all. The interesting part about this book is that she came up with the title after reading a quote by Teddy Roosevelt from 1910, where he spoke about the man who enters into battle valiantly, and at best he has success and at worst he errs while daring greatly.

 

Focus

So there is nobody pushing me to get things done but me. Nobody adding more items to the list but myself. And there is nobody that I’m in competition with. I have to accept that I will accomplish the things that I need to accomplish in my own time and in my own way. Pushing the publish button on this was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve been thinking a lot and decided to put my thoughts out there. 

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Being a teacher is easy.

It must be nice to have your summers off.

You’re so lucky, you don’t have to work on the weekends.

You have such long holiday breaks!

If you are a teacher, you likely have heard at least one of these statements before, perhaps from friends and family, or from people you just meet, that respond with similar statements when they find out that you are a teacher. Are these statements accurate? Well, I guess to an extent, but there are some ways to counter these comments.

 

It can be easy to be a teacher, if you love what you do, it does not feel like” work.” I enjoy  working with students, learning with and from them, and having the opportunity to start fresh each day and create experiences to engage students in learning. Having the summer off is nice too, but most teachers I know either work in the summer, attend conferences, or pursue some professional development. The “summer off” is nice for providing a more flexible schedule, and a time to reflect, explore new things and prepare for the new school year.

And as for weekends, I am fairly certain that most teachers look forward to the weekend for many reasons. Of course, time with family and time to relax are important. But it is also a time to catch up on some grading, emails, or exploring new methods to bring into the classroom. So weekends without work, I don’t think they happen too much.

And the extended holiday breaks are nice as well. But again, many teachers use this time to reflect, recharge and prepare for the return to school.

So, What is the reality?

The reality of being a teacher is that teaching today can be quite challenging. Maybe in the past, the life of the teacher was perceived to be a pretty comfortable and easy profession. The typical school day of 7:00 to 3:00 or some variation, with weekends and holidays off and of course, that summer break. With those hours and that schedule who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? From the outside looking in, it might seem like each day is the same, right? Each passing year the same as the year prior. How could it be that difficult? Once you make a worksheet or a test you have them to use forever, right?  Lesson plans are the same, projects are the same, and folders full of worksheets and activities pulled from the file cabinet, simply copy it, teach it and then move on to the next day. Same. (hopefully not).

There may be some truth to this, as I’m sure there are some teachers who are teaching the same way that they were taught and/or are using the same materials each day with each class and then doing it all over again the next year. No judgments made.

To an extent, I myself was this type of teacher for a long time. Not because I was trying to take the easy way out or save time. Rather I was using some of the methods that worked for me when I was a student. I thought this was the right way to prepare. And sometimes I used some of the same materials each year because I thought there was value to them for student learning. I know that when I was a student, some of the same issues that exist today existed then (copying homework, cheating on tests), but we didn’t have the technology, which creates tremendous learning opportunities but it also takes away some opportunities as well.

Foreign Language Teacher vs. Online Translators

I thought that being a foreign language teacher meant that I was a member of a group that had a distinct battle not experienced by any other content area.  It took some time for me to notice some bothersome trends in student work. The copying of assignments, the use of online language translators, and even copying information directly from websites. So the struggle was to find a way for students to have authentic practice that would not encourage student copying or trying to take a shortcut with learning. But each year it becomes more and more challenging to stay ahead of technology in this sense. I don’t know the answer as to how to get students to stop copying homework other than to not assign homework. And this has been a very strong discussion as to the value of homework, the type of homework, and whether or not homework should even be given at all. #ditchthehomework (follow the hashtag)

 

I will not make a decision either way, other than to say that for me, I do assign some “practice” tasks for the students to do, but they typically don’t come in the form of a worksheet. And sometimes when we are working in stations in class, if students do not finish something, I do ask that they work on it until complete. But I do add, “at their pace.”  Instead, I encourage students to practice the content by playing a game of review using the Quizlet cards, sharing a Quizizz game or provide prompts for writing a blog post. And these are ongoing practice tasks that are due on a weekly basis or that I have students create to use in the class. Why? Because in doing this rather than assigning the same worksheet to each student to complete,  I know that it is more authentic, will provide students with personalized practice and it is not something that can readily be copied.

But recently I was rather surprised when I saw some students switching between screens on their computer while working in their practice workbook. (As a side note, I stopped assigning practice from the workbook for homework because of copying).

I thought that by having students work on the pages in class, during stations, that I could interact more and provide more one on one feedback and  give time for students to collaborate with their peers. I did not anticipate this “new” form of copying, until one day a few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of a student switching screens on his laptop and then writing in the workbook. The process repeated and continued for a few minutes. From across the room I had an idea of what they were doing, but I gave it some time before I walked over. Hoping that I was wrong, and that it was not the website that provides answers to so many books and workbooks. (Still cannot believe what is available).

 

It was exactly as I had thought, one of the students was using that website, to look up and copy the answers for the workbook. While I understand that there can be comfort in having a resource to look at, especially when a student may be struggling with a concept, it is helpful to learn that you were on the right track. But I do have a problem when the answers to all questions in every book are so easily accessible and available to students. I know when I was in school, often our math teachers would assign questions opposite to the answers that were available in the back of the book. It was nice to have an option to look at some answers to do practice problems and see if we were working on them correctly, and there were times when I did wish that all of the answers were available. But it forced us to push through the challenges and solve the problems. There were struggles in the learning but that’s how we improved and kept going forward.

Simple lesson learned. In these experiences, and on a personal basis, you cannot or should not assign students the exact same thing if you can avoid it. Especially when teaching a higher level course or one in which students have the possibility to create, rather than simply consume. We need to give them more authentic opportunities to practice what they are learning. They need to create, not consume, be active, not passive, and have the opportunity to set their learning path and be curious in their pursuit of knowledge. This is how we prepare them for the future.

DEWEY

 

 

Published on Getting Smart, 

 

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

The changes:

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

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

 

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

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

Practical ways to promote SEL:

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

Challenges and solutions:

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

Benefits:

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

Published on Getting Smart, November 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.

Published on Getting Smart, February 3, 2018

The “gig economy” is fairly new to me, I was unaware of the terminology until recently. When I first heard “gig economy”, I could not figure out what it referred to, at least in the sense of both words used together. Separately, I can easily define “gig” and “economy.” The gig economy gets its name because each job or work assignment is similar to an individual “gig”. The gig economy was formerly known as the ‘sharing economy’, with one of the most popular examples being Airbnb. I recall first hearing “Airbnb” two years ago and not having a clue about what it meant then. I only knew that I had several friends who arranged travel as part of Airbnb.

So how does the gig economy work?

It is employment that is a temporary task, for example, delivery couriers, Uber (another term I did not understand when I first heard it three years ago), or Lyft, to name a few. A prior post in Getting Smart included some statistics related to the average income from providing these types of services. The numbers are fascinating. In 2015, 54 million people worked as freelancers earning an estimate of 17% more per hour than full-time employees. It is projected that 60% of companies plan to hire more freelancers rather than full-time employees in the future. In 2016, 35% of workers were freelancers and estimates are that by 2020, this number will increase to 43% in the United States. So it leads me to wonder: What will the number rise to in another 10 years, by the year 2030? In a quick estimate, perhaps it will rise to approximately 63% if following the previous increase as a trend.

Looking ahead, the students currently in kindergarten will be the graduating class of 2030. It seems a long way off, but we need to prepare them for their future, and if the future does involve less traditional educational paths and more “gig” jobs and freelancing, how do we start preparing them now? It is important to consider these statistics and trends when preparing your lessons each day, and it has led me to think about how I am instructing students in my class.

As a foreign language teacher, students often ask why they should learn a foreign language, or say that they won’t need a foreign language in their future. There are many benefits in learning a foreign language, but I think the gig economy presents a perfect example of how it could be of even greater benefit to students in the future. Having foreign language knowledge is a skill that can come in handy and benefit students later on in life. Some common examples that come to mind are sellers on sites like Etsy or even someone who works as an online tutor or an editor. These do not have to be full-time positions, but can be in addition to a more permanent job, and done as extra work on the side. It’s about having options available. And to best prepare students for the future of work in a gig economy, we need to give them options.

Prepping for the future

How do we prepare students for a future of freelance work or to become entrepreneurs? By offering more opportunities for them to explore and create, through opportunities to not only explore the types of jobs available but also job shadow to learn firsthand, the qualifications and skills that may be necessary.

So if this is the trend that will be coming in the future, then will schools continue to encourage students to seek a college degree, or an extended learning program or formal training? Or do students need to simply master a skill or have time to explore an interest they have, to become more marketable? Do schools have the responsibility to create different courses through which students can learn about a variety of professional options and afford time for students to explore on their own or by connecting with professionals in their community?

Many schools have started to offer more courses based on emerging trends, such as entrepreneurship, webpage design, sports and entertainment management, and other similar courses to help students develop skills necessary to create their own job opportunities. At my school, Patsy Kvortek, one of our business teachers, recognized a need for courses which would help students to develop some of these skills. She thought “we should provide students with opportunities to learn in more authentic ways that would prepare them for future success.” To do this, a few years ago she created a course in “Entrepreneurship” and  “Sports and Entertainment Management” in which students develop a wide variety of skills focused on project management, event planning and learning everything there is to know about being an entrepreneur. In her classes, students take on different roles, learn to collaborate and be part of a team that is entirely responsible for planning, organizing and executing large-scale school and community events. Some of the roles include: Project Manager, Committee Chairs, Social Media and Advertising. Students rotate through these roles so they develop the skills necessary to be successful in any of these areas in the future.

Through this course, students have developed skills to prepare them for many career options as well as better understand how to start a small business or plan major events. They also develop critical skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving and as an added benefit, SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well. Observing the students involved in these courses has always impressed me, and seeing them come up with new products and start their own business, has shown the value behind providing these opportunities. These electives grew in popularity over the years because of the truly authentic and relevant learning experiences they provided.

Degree or no degree?

What difference does having a degree make? There are a lot of statistics that point to alternate forms of furthering one’s education, which do not involve the traditional undergraduate degree. There is more of an emphasis on building skills in diverse areas, to be flexible and explore alternate training options. There is a growing trend of students “crafting their own career” and not being dependent on an employer to do this, but rather create a professional path based more on personal interest. Several former students, ones whom I thought would pursue a college degree, instead opted to venture into unique areas of business. They have been successful and it is even more rewarding knowing they are doing what they love and control their schedules. Some of these entrepreneurial ventures include: a dog daycare, photo booth rentals, personal shopping service, resume writing, jewelry making, party planning and photography. These students chose these paths because they were able to pursue personal interests through electives, and develop skills and knowledge to get their business started. There will continue to be a demand for these services and these entrepreneurs will be in control of when, where and how often they provide these services in a gig economy.

The preparation that all students need

What are the skills that all students should develop regardless of what the future holds in terms of education? We need to help students learn how to communicate, to collaborate, to problem-solve and to find out what they are passionate about. There should be opportunities for students to engage in more real-world experiences, where they can assess needs in their community and brainstorm ways to offer services that will be beneficial for others. Project-based learning is a great way to help prepare students for working with others and to have more of an authentic and meaningful learning experience.

The Buck Institute of Education is working to develop a High-Quality Project Based Learning framework (to be published in March), with six criteria that students should experience through PBL. One of these six is “project management”. The focus of this is more on how to support students with goal setting, time management and self-assessment. These skills will prove beneficial regardless of what the future “job” may be for students.

When we support students in setting goals, learning to self-assess, engaging in more independent work and developing time management skills, we help them to develop the skills that they will need to be successful in the future regardless of what they ultimately decide to do. Whether they pursue full-time employment or explore options in a “gig economy”, they will be ready to face any challenges that arise in a constantly changing workplace.

Published originally on Getting Smart December 15, 2017

Coding is one of the topics that has received greater attention in education over the past couple of years. With a greater emphasis on computer science and coding and the demand for knowledge in these areas, there has been an increase in the variety of resources available to encourage schools to provide opportunities for students to learn about coding. The “Hour of Code” takes place annually during “Computer Science Education Week”. The week is in recognition of the birthday of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a computing pioneer. To see some of the events and activities from this year’s “Hour of Code” week, go to the Code.org site or check out the hashtags on Twitter for #HourofCode and #CSweek.

The goal of participating in an “Hour of Code”, is to show that anyone can code and to highlight how vital computer science knowledge is for today’s students, as it helps them to develop the skills they need to be prepared for their future. Data provided on Code.Org provide statistics which support the growing need for students to have opportunities to learn about and develop skills in coding and computer science. According to the site, the majority of schools do not teach computer science, with only 40% reported as having courses available for students. For careers in STEM, 71% of the jobs available are in computing, however, only 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science. As for future employment, computing jobs are the #1 source of new wages in the United States, a number that is expected to increase. In addition to the future benefits for employment, what are the other benefits of coding for students?

Why should students learn to code?

Coding is something that each student can do and is a more engaging way for students to work on their collaboration, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Coding can help to promote SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well. For example, in working through the various modules available on Code.org or through other coding programs, students develop their self-awareness as they work through the challenges of coding and they develop a greater understanding of their strengths and being able to set goals for oneself based on this self-awareness. Students will become more confident as they problem solve and experience success along the way and by helping peers as well. Students build relationship skills through the collaboration during activities, seeking and offering help when needed and learning to cooperate with one another to solve a coding challenge.

Students can also experience more inquiry-based learning, where they are exploring on their own, problem solving and discovering how to make a program work, where the steps fit in and then being able to share the experience with one another. Personally, I enjoy trying to work through the activities on my own, to experience the challenges and be better equipped to anticipate student questions, but also to be more familiar with areas of struggle.

Getting Started

The idea of coding can be a bit overwhelming, at least that is how I felt when I first started a few years ago with the game Hopscotch. It was challenging to create a game and it took a lot of patience to push through. However, back in the early 1980s, as a 7th-grade student, I had my first experience in writing lines of code with the Apple computers. Once you learn the basic structure and the commands, it is a gradual process that does not seem to take too long to master. Even nearly 35 years later, the concept of coding really is quite the same, except that we can create more visually engaging games and programs. There are so many resources and websites available to help educators and students get started, making it less intimidating than it may initially seem.

When trying some of the resources below, be sure to engage students in discussions about their experience with coding. Encourage students to share with their peers and talk about professions which require coding skills or to brainstorm areas where knowledge of coding will prove to be beneficial. Providing this time for students to interact will help them to develop their SEL skills, by building peer relationships and supporting the classroom culture.

Working with students

Be ready for students to express some frustrations when trying to work through the activities. Even if you don’t have experience coding, it’s a great opportunity to learn right along with the students and in many cases to learn from them. How do you prepare? I recommend trying each of the activities on your own, so you are familiar with the set-up and the types of tasks that the students will be completing. As a Star Wars fan, I started with the basics and did encounter some difficulty mid-way. As it turns out, a few of my students had the exact same problem with it and asked for help. Although I did figure out how to work through it, I wanted them to work through it on their own as well. We need to give students time and space to problem solve, to ask for peer support and to experience the frustration that comes with solving problems and the joy that replaces it when the solution is reached.

Seeing the students begin to collaborate and step in to help their peers, demonstrated the benefits beyond just learning to code, it promotes their SEL skills. A lot of what is involved in coding is critical thinking, problem-solving and definitely collaboration and with all this comes an amount of frustration perhaps when the code does not work as one expects. This is when we see the students start to connect and help one another and I have also seen students become very frustrated, understandably but it is what we do with that frustration, pushing through even in the face of challenges, knowing that there is support available amongst peers and the “teacher” in the room. There is always an identifiable teacher, but as we have learned in our classes, we all have something to learn and something to teach.

Ten resources to try

  1. Code Studio: A part of the Code.org, there are full courses available for learning different types of code, for different grade levels, as well as one-hour tutorials on themes such as Minecraft and Star Wars. Teachers can also use the “App Lab” and “Game Lab” to help students learn how to create using Javascript. Also available are more than 20 million projects created by students.
  2. Scratch: Created by MIT, Scratch is a website for more than just programming. Scratch provides an online community for sharing projects and for learning from the library of resources available on the site.
  3. Code Academy:  Through Code Academy, you can enroll in courses to learn how to program, or search the catalog to find a specific language to learn, such as Java, Javascript, HTML and CSS, for example.
  4. BrainPOP: Teachers can engage students in the “Creative Coding” module, in which students create stop-motion animation movies, memes and newscasts. Students follow the instructions to write their own lines of code and see how each line changes the program. Working through the module leads students to create their own codes and publish a movie or create a meme. The Creative Coding module is free for Teachers through the end of the year.  There are also lessons available which focus on Computer Science and Coding and offer a variety of activities for students to develop their skills.
  5. Hopscotch: an iPad app in which students can learn to make their own games and apps, available for students ages 8 and older. There are tutorials which include videos and lessons plans, making it easy to get started with this in class.
  6. Swift Playground: An iPad app that enables students to get started with coding quickly, without any coding knowledge. Students can start by solving puzzles in order to learn the basics, and then continue through challenges to do more advanced coding.
  7. Pencil Code: A collaborative programming site which provides resources for teachers, student project samples, and choices of creating games, playing music, drawing art, and working with mathematical equations and graphing.
  8. TeachersFirst: There is a rather extensive list of different types of websites for coding based on theme and grade level for getting students involved.
  9. Girls Who Code: A non-profit organization which focuses on closing the gender gap in technology. Girls Who Code offers information for creating after-school clubs for girls in grades six through 12 to learn about coding, as well as two-week-long summer courses and a seven-week-long specialized summer program for 10th and 11th grade girls to learn about coding and job opportunities.
  10. Khan Academy: A non-profit organization which offers free educational resources including practice activities and videos, which enable you to learn at your own pace. Khan Academy provides lessons on Computing, with options including computer animation, hour of code, computer programming and computer science. It is easy to get started by either choosing the basics and working through a whole lesson, or selecting a specific concept.

Coding is not just about learning to write a program, it’s about connecting with the learning and building relationships in the process. Learning to problem solve, collaborate and work together to build skills for the future. Developing our interpersonal skills and fostering the development of meaningful and supportive relationships in the classroom will empower students in learning.

This is the next post in my series about Social Media and the different tools available for learning and connecting. I was wrong about Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn….and now Voxer. WOW!

I think that this might be one of my favorites, even though it is difficult for me to make any kind of decision when given more than 1 option. But the thing about Voxer is that it enables live communication between anyone and anywhere. It absolutely fascinates me and I am wowed each day by the many ways it can be used.

Why am I such a fan? Well honestly, maybe a part of this is because I had a real set of walkie talkies and was amazed that you could talk into it and somebody, somewhere else could hear and answer you right back.  When I was 13, I remember trying out the set in my parents’ car and talking to someone that ended up living a few streets away.  Michele and I became great friends and it amazes me to this day that I met someone by using the Walkie-Talkie,way back then in 1984. Who knew what the possibilities would be for today, using Voxer, is amazing.

I remember having a set of them sometime in the late 1990’s and using them at the mall, thinking it was the coolest thing ever. (I know, there were probably cell phones, I did not have one yet, they were still in the big bags or attached in cars).

Learning about Voxer

But my first experience with Voxer was becoming involved in a group preparing for ISTE in Denver last summer. How did I find out about this? Ironic moment. You might laugh but it was through a Facebook group. An interesting series of events. Sometimes we question what if? What if I had made a different choice? What if I didn’t go in that direction  and in this case what if I had never created a Facebook account? Still can’t believe that I am asking myself that question.

There are still many things between then and now that would be so different. I would have found less classmates for high school reunions, I wouldn’t know about friends who’ve moved away from or back into the area. Connecting with family and friends, seeing pictures and sharing news would happen a lot less often. So the crazy thing is that the one account I was so hesitant to get, led me to become involved with all of these different social media platforms and build my connections even more. So very wrong I was. 

Adding on Voxer: There was a Facebook group for people attending ISTE 2016, and someone (Rodney Turner, @techyturner) started a Voxer group. I had no clue what it was but I joined it and at the time I was on a basic account, but upgraded to the PRO account, which is nice because if you send a message and you want to recall it, you can. How many times do you wish you could say something over?  Once again, it did not take too long to see the tremendous value in this form of communication as well. Being able to ask a question and have someone answer you immediately, a person who may be on the other side of the world and talking to you live is tremendous. Seeing the green light up that indicates they are talking live is amazing.

Now people might think “well it’s not that much different than talking to somebody on the phone.”  And that is partially true, you are having a conversation or could have a conversation just as you would on the phone, however the difference is if you have a question and you make that phone call, that person may not answer right away, if at all. Being part of a Voxer group, there are many people available to answer instantly while we pose the question. Unlike a phone call, it goes out to many people, leading to many responses and perspectives immediately. 

Some uses

Voxer has been a great platform for leading and participating in a book study, which might sound a little bit different when you think about how traditional book studies occur. It is a great way to connect with others for a book talk. I have been able to connect with so many more educators through Voxer which  has led to more connecting on those other social media platforms, yes Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn. The ability to listen and learn anywhere at anytime is unbelievable.

With my students, it has been a tremendous way to listen to their PBL ideas and help them brainstorm, for them to ask questions when needed and for them to form their own groups.  They love the capabilities of using Voxer for education and fun!

If you don’t yet have Voxer, try it out. There are so many groups full of conversation, inspiration and motivation and definitely fun! If you want some ideas, let me know.  There are groups for connecting Educators, learning about Snapchat!, Breakouts, LeadupChat and so many more.  Connect with me on Voxer, I am @rdene915

 

Thanks for reading!voxer