Change Your Bat Angle

Guest post by Brian Kulak

K-5 Principal at Tatem Elementary School in NJ

@Bkulak11

Brian’s Book: Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame

Read this blog long enough and you’ll realize how obsessed I am with baseball. Inevitably there will be posts devoted to baseball, anecdotes will center around baseball, and metaphors will be drawn from baseball.

Barguments often focus on which sport is the most difficult to play, the most demanding physically and mentally, the most failure heavy. As a lover of all sports, I can appreciate that an argument can be made for each of the four major sports: baseball, basketball, football, and hockey but, to me, there’s really only one answer.

Baseball.

Because of the physics (round ball, round bat), the variables (pitcher, weather), and the psychology (streaks, slumps), there is nothing more difficult than hitting a baseball consistently. A monster game at the plate can just as easily be followed by a soul-crushing slump of weeks, or months, the time in between at-bats seeming equal parts interminable and immediate as you perseverate on what went wrong.

As a 41-year-old weekend warrior, I only get a chance to play games on Sunday mornings. While my preparation for each game often dictates some midweek tee work or live batting practice, I’m still only playing once a week. Admittedly, I take baseball too seriously, but part of me doesn’t apologize for that because I don’t understand why folks would set out to do anything poorly, so I want to play as well as I can each week.

A few years ago I suffered through my worst season ever, and I’m including my high school playing days, during which I hit a paltry .179. During that summer, getting on base was such an anomaly that I could recall when I did reach base because it was only a handful of times. That ain’t good.

Deflated but undaunted, I continued to work that offseason because I was not going to return to my team the same player. At one point, I sent a video of myself taking swings off the tee to a friend of mine who is a hitting tactician. In seconds, he responded with a diagnosis and, ultimately, saved my swing.

“Dude, look at how far you’re wrapping the bat around your head. Change the bat angle to 1 o’clock before you load, and you’ll be quicker to the ball.”

Change. Your. Bat. Angle.

No amount of work on my own would have led me to that conclusion because, though I would have been working hard, I would have been working incorrectly. There was no way for me to self-diagnose my own flaw, so I had to ask for help.

Now, I “change my bat angle” all the time.

When I’m struggling with a certain colleague, I change my bat angle.

When I’m trying to convince my five-year-old that he can, in fact, put on his own socks, I change my bat angle.

When my early morning writing process stalls, I change my bat angle.

As you approach the upcoming school year, I challenge you to change your bat angle. Reflect intentionally on that which you have done the same way each year and change it.

  • Experiment with flexible seating and let the kids help you design the classroom’s layout
  • Revolutionize your “Back to School Night” by asking parents to leave their kids a video via Flipgrid
  • Reframe your instructional walkthroughs to focus on the kids, even a specific kid, in each room, and then write those kids a note of appreciation
  • Flip and hang old posters and allow kids to recreate them using their own words and images
  • Print, laminate, and hang Tweets or blog post excerpts about which you want your staff and students to think
  • Use a mobile desk so you’re in the hallways more and in your office less
  • Take time for yourself each day, even if it’s five minutes of nothing but sitting and breathing

Baseball is a game of failure, and in many ways, so is education. In each, the best players make adjustments all the time in order to best help their team. In each, those who refuse to make adjustments all the time don’t often have teams for long.

Change your bat angle.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

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Reflective Teaching and Powerful Professional Learning with LessonLoop

Reflective Teaching and Powerful Professional Learning with LessonLoop

Educators are always looking for new ideas to boost student engagement in the classroom. To do so, they need to understand student interests and needs and also be intentional about reflecting on their teaching practice. While teachers want to understand the impact of their instructional methods and tools on students’ learning, they often don’t have time to solicit feedback from individual students, and students are afraid to provide honest feedback when they feel saying the wrong thing could impact their grade. Yet students need to be part of the conversation, because not only is student voice a powerful tool that can be used to engage students in their learning, but student feedback surveys are better predictors of academic growth than principal observation and teacher self-ratings (Hanover Research 2013). 

As Alex Isaacs, an 8th-grade math teacher notes, “LessonLoop allows me to quickly conduct a survey with great questions built-in where I can quickly push this out to my students to better inform my practice.” 

LessonLoop instantly shows you how engaged your students are with a class lesson so you can gain immediate insights and adjust your instruction in real-time to help them learn better. As shown below, LessonLoop works through the four simple steps of:

1. Anonymously survey students, 

2. Review instant actionable lesson engagement reports, 

3. Receive personalized instructional recommendations, 

4. Discuss results with students so learners feel seen and heard. 

How LessonLoop Works

How do the surveys guide teachers about their practice?

LessonLoop measures student engagement in nine actionable categories (see below) that provide you with insight on how to calibrate your instruction to support active learning at each student’s just-right instructional level. With these categories, teachers have better ways to focus on the specific needs and interests of their students. Especially for social-emotional learning (SEL) and determining student progress in class, the categories and questions provide tremendous insight for teachers with information not easily accessible in any other way. 

With the information the surveys provide, teachers have many ways to evaluate, analyze and then act upon authentic student feedback to improve their practice. Working with LessonLoop’s instructional coaches/Tip Masters, they can explore new methods and tools to help address some of the areas indicated in the survey.

Sample Lesson Engagement Report

What can we learn about student engagement from using LessonLoop?

Through lesson embedded feedback, teachers better understand the impact of their instructional strategies and how students experience the learning environment. By reviewing the responses, especially the free responses, teachers receive feedback that promotes reflective practice. Using the survey results, Tip Masters work with each teacher to find strategies and tools that will increase active student learning.

Sample LessonLoop Student Free Responses

How does LessonLoop facilitate getting to know students? 

LessonLoop provides opportunities for every student to share their perspective on their immediate environment and how they are experiencing a lesson. Incorporating student voice allows students to experience a sense of respect and empowerment from their teacher. With LessonLoop, students can provide valuable feedback to their teacher and all feedback is provided through an anonymous survey, which promotes more honest feedback. Students feel comfortable responding to the survey, and because their opinions are heard, they feel more connected to and comfortable in their classroom community. When teachers circle back and discuss how to improve a lesson with students, students feel their voice is impactful and are empowered to take ownership of their learning. Students that feel seen and heard have greater motivation for and engagement in learning because they feel like an impactful member of the classroom community. 

How does the gamification aspect of LessonLoop lead to better and more authentic, honest feedback from students?  

LessonLoop incorporates gamification elements through our fun, animated surveys (see pictures below). According to Dr. Shawn Clybor, “These gamification elements keep students more alert, more active in engagement, and therefore more likely to read the questions and think about their answers.”  LessonLoop is designed to be a robust platform that informs instruction and involves students in their learning experiences. It is also meant to “encourage joyfulness, to be fun, to be funny,” says Clybor.  Using it becomes its own experience, building bonds between teachers and students.

LessonLoop Gamified Surveys

In addition to the gamified surveys, LessonLoop provides educators the ability to ask custom questions and generate two new games (humorous poll and secret word) with one click. These games focus on student engagement at the beginning of class, serve as a pick-me-up if attention is flagging mid-class, or are a fun way to end a student engagement survey.

What professional learning comes with LessonLoop?

LessonLoop provides personalized data-driven professional learning for teachers.  While all teachers have access to a knowledge base of free tips, with a paid tips subscription, every teacher is assigned an experienced Tip Master to help with reviewing their surveys and finding strategies and tools to try. The real-time lesson-embedded feedback helps educators better connect their instruction to students and be more reflective in their practice. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) also benefit as all teachers receive instructional recommendations from subject-area specialists and coaches! PLCs can be organized around student-centered data for engagement and professional learning. Within the PLCs, teachers can share ideas and provide support to one another which then enhances the learning experience for all students. In addition, educators accumulate continuing education units (CEUs) based on minutes of use of the platform aligned with Learning Forward and/or Charlotte Danielson standards.

What to expect with LessonLoop

So many benefits!

Student Engagement Surveys: 

  • Amplify student voice through anonymous surveys
  • Strong predictor of academic outcomes 
  • Provide missing actionable data on why students aren’t learning 
  • Provide daily feedback on the delivery of the curriculum with a clear focus on social-emotional learning (SEL),  critical thinking and collaboration, and culturally responsive instruction.

We are offering free trials of LessonLoop to educators who provide feedback on our new gamified student surveys. Click here for a free trial!  And if you missed our webinar, here is the link!

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Turning Towards Focus in Schools

Guest post in collaboration with Focusable @getfocusable

Engagement is a concept that really has a hold on us, and it’s not just educators. Social media and game designers obsess about maximizing it. Enterprise software companies espouse the value of it towards team performance. Heck, our banking app tracks our session duration and tries to increase it. 

It’s likely accurate to say that the majority of educators have chosen engagement as the goal of their work. Overall, this is a good thing. It has helped move teaching methods beyond compliance and remain relevant. Engaged students are an unequivocally good thing. 

But recently we started to ask ourselves some questions about engagement. What does it really mean to be engaged? Both from the teacher’s perspective, and from the students’. Further, does it matter how engagement gets created? Or is all engagement the same? And if every experience you have across society is also aiming to maximize engagement, is it the right thing for educators to be doing? Or should educators be taking a left-hand turn…

We dug into the education literature on the topic. There are countless informative and thoughtful sources. What was most interesting to us was what our research didn’t reveal – a clear definition. Frankly, the more we dug, the more confused we got. There is a huge range of definitions. And not all of them agree. Here’s just a sampling. Engagement is paying attention. It is purposeful learning. It’s curiosity. It’s interaction (or action). It’s immersion in a task. It’s flow. It’s exhibiting a passion for learning. It’s excitement. It’s just compliance but with another name. There are scaffolds trying to integrate and make sense of all the disparate definitions. 

How does a teacher even know what engagement is and how to create it with this lack of definitional clarity? 

As we stated in our first post, our goal is to figure out how to set the conditions for an optimal learning experience, or flow, in education. We know this has the greatest potential for both academic performance and enjoyment of the experience for students. Our research into engagement was fueled by trying to understand how we can leverage the concept better towards this goal. But if we’ve learned anything about flow so far, the details matter in how you approach it. Deplete dopamine too much or avoid the struggle of balancing brain chemistry, and you simply never get there. 

The more we thought about it, the lack of clarity around engagement started to feel more like a hurdle than a concept for educators to leverage.

One early realization that we had was that engagement is an exhibited trait or behavior. This stands in contrast with flow, which speaks to inner experience. This introduces the potential for at least some disconnect. 

For example, do you look engaged when you are in flow? This must be true sometimes, but is it always true? And do the actions that set the conditions for flow look like engagement, too? Or do they look different? How do you know the difference between the two? And worse, what if what looks like engagement actually represents an internal state that interferes with flow (ie, overstimulation)? 

Our sense is that to strive for optimal, we need to work with terms that have more precise definitions, clearer look-fors, and less potential dualities. 

In our last post, we attempted to build a scaffold to help us seek this clarity. We already have some tweaks and improvements in mind based on the feedback we got that we’ll publish soon. 

In the meantime, we’ll turn our attention to the term focus. 

If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it.MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI, AUTHOR OF FLOW, THE PSYCHOLOGY OF OPTIMAL EXPERIENCE

Focus is a term that we all know, or at least think we know. And it’s surely something that almost anyone would agree is essential to learning if you asked. But as we found in our last Twitter chat, it is not a hot topic with many educators (likely due to the emphasis of engagement). 

Focus is often equated with the words attention and concentration. In scientific circles, attention is the most clearly defined of this group. The neuroscientific definition of attention is a cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one thing while ignoring other things. Attention comes from a rather complicated interaction between several brain networks (the default mode and task-directed networks). Interestingly, ADHD and other attentional conditions are differences in how these two brain networks interact.

The definition of focus is more varied and less scientific. It is often described as the center of attention. But for educators, this definition isn’t as enabling as it could be. A more useful definition is to think of it as the control of attention. 

Why is control of attention a useful definition to educators? Most scientific findings support the idea that attention isn’t fixed. It varies. It varies between individuals and contexts. And importantly, it can change. You can improve it. Even those with ADHD can show progress with time, behavioral changes and yes, medication. It is both accurate and useful to think of it as a skill. Control of attention is a definition that captures this important fact. 

This means that not only is focus practically helpful towards things like managing classrooms, it is also a skill that you are developing through the learning experiences you create.

So what is the relationship between focus and flow? Flow can be defined succinctly as ordered consciousness. This is in contrast to normal consciousness which is usually disordered (distracted, out of our control, etc).  So it follows somewhat logically that control of attention is the very foundation. Some definitions for flow even use the words intense focus. But the two shouldn’t be directly conflated. Focus itself is not flow. Focus requires effort to get started. There is no loss of self, as there is with flow. Finding focus can provoke all sorts of reactions, often negative. Frankly, it’s a struggle. Flow is none of those things. Flow is what happens when your neurochemistry finds balance while struggling to focus and starts to feed further action more naturally. 

It is worth stating that you will never experience flow if you cannot control your attention.

It is also worth noting that focus is a useful skill beyond the purposes of finding flow. Most of the predictions about the future of jobs, and the skills educators should be aiming for in response, are misguided at this point. We can say this with confidence, because frankly, we have a horrible track record as a society of seeing the capabilities of technology in advance. 

But there is one aspect we are 100% confident in, and it is this: there will be more, and more sophisticated, experiences to control your attention with each passing year. It’s already a huge problem, as we all know. And it’s only going to get worse. Controlling your attention is just about the only ‘skill of the future’ we’d bet our life savings on. 

Control means you can direct, or redirect your attention at will. You can stop doing one thing, and start doing another. You are aware of where your attention is and where it isn’t. It is often a struggle, but in this case, visible struggle might be a positive sign. A sign that the skill of focus is being worked on. 

A lack of control, then, is distractibility. It is the inability to switch from one task to another. It is a lack of awareness of what you are doing. It could be a lack of struggle, or even just over-excitability. 

If you were to try to observe whether a student is focused, or not, these would be some of the things you would look for. 

While we recognize, again, that some definitions of engagement might match up – it’s really the ones that don’t that have us most concerned. They incent teachers to skip over the development of the skill of focus in the interest of more obvious interaction. And to us, this is a short-term gain for the long-term loss of the potential for flow, as well as interfering with the development of an essential skill. 

Perhaps moving away from engagement is the left-hand turn educators should consider.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here. Looking for a new book to read? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Mondays and Fridays at 6pm or 6:30 pm ET THRIVEinEDU on Facebook. Join the group here

Adult SEL and Why it Matters

In Collaboration with Peekapak

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is an area that we need to intentionally focus on in our classrooms. As we reflect on the challenges experienced this past year, we must closely focus on our own well-being and make sure we can provide the right support for our students. For many educators, SEL has become a new addition to planning for each day. We need to be intentional in facilitating opportunities for our students to build their SEL skills each day and to do so, we need access to the right resources and support.

In our classrooms, it is crucial that we model SEL skills for our students. For example, the importance of building and maintaining positive relationships, developing self-awareness and social awareness are essential for everyone. And as we have experienced this year, being able to manage stress, making decisions and focusing on self-care practices are vital for us as educators and in our daily lives. Educators need access to the right professional development to know how to bring SEL curriculum into every classroom. With Peekapak, schools have access to structured and easy to use curriculum for students and SEL workshop resources for educators.

Research shows that teacher well-being has a substantial effect on school climate. If educators are experiencing burnout and elevated levels of stress and do not have the right strategies to push through, it will negatively impact students. To prevent this, we need to establish routines, work with colleagues and with students, and build trust with each other.

Building Our SEL competencies

To learn more about SEL, there are many resources and professional learning opportunities available. Peekapak offers the SEL Summit which has been providing informative webinars each month full of valuable ideas and resources for getting started. These webinars have been a great opportunity to not only learn about how to build holistic and school-wide strategies, but also ways that educators can practice SEL skills and feel more confident to bring it to life in our classrooms. During these live sessions, it is also a great opportunity to ask questions and connect with other educators.

During the most recent June 15th “SEL Starts with Adults” SEL Summit, the panelists discussed the latest research and shared some best practices and tips for supporting educator SEL. You can access the recording here to learn how the panelists have been supporting SEL in their schools and what their plans are for the coming school year.

Here are a few of my favorite tips from the event, given the importance of starting the year with a focus on SEL. There was a “Turn off the Noise” suggestion from Dr. Salvatore, encouraging us to limit distractions and give yourself mind breaks when possible. Additionally, I found Dr. Grant’s “Caller #10” activity to be an intriguing way to not only show appreciation for staff, but to get the students excited for their teachers to call and possibly win a well-deserved prize. Some other strategies included icebreakers during meetings, creating activities during PD days, trying out “half smiles,” and providing opportunities for staff collaboration. This emphasis on self-care and mental health is essential for teacher wellbeing, and more schools need to provide such resources for educators that promote SEL, and in doing so, help design meaningful experiences for students.

You can access the June 15th recording here to learn in greater detail the different ways the panelists have been supporting SEL in their schools and what their plans are for the coming school year. I think that if we all recognize and work toward improving SEL for all of us it is going to benefit us as educators and we can nurture all students through the upcoming recovery in the years ahead.

Sign up for your free trial with Peekpak today!

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Designing Authentic Project Based Learning

Guest Post by Stephanie Rothstein, @Steph_EdTech

I hear it often, “Oh yeah, I do projects.” But doing a project is very different from Project Based Learning. Chairing a Design Thinking PBL pathway has changed me as an educator. I now look at all situations through a project application lens. A few years ago at a leadership conference, I went to a session on Project Design. The speaker explained that there are three ways to approach project design. 

When designing projects, you can be inspired by your content, you can be inspired by a real need in your own community, you can be inspired by an issue that impacts the world. 

I have thought back to this approach often as I approach project design. I find when I work with educators, that most approach projects trying to figure out how to apply their content to a project that helps students showcase their learning. But Project Based Learning means revamping this idea and essentially inverting it. So instead of a project at the end after doing the learning, it is through the project that students learn the concepts. It might not be in the order we would have planned for them, but they will learn it and in my experience will go deeper because they developed questions and created meaningful connections. 

So, what does this actually look like in the classroom? How does it actually work? I will take you through one of my English 9 projects to walk you through.

I have done Service Learning for 18 years but it was only about 8 years ago that I finally felt like this really became Project Based Learning. Based on a general interest survey on service topics, I split the class and bring them to 6 different locations. We learn about that service organization and volunteer. These students then come back and present to the class about the organization. Students in the class are able to ask questions to the student experts. After, students then pick their topic to focus on for the unit. 

Students are then organized into shared topic groups and together these students pick a non-fiction book. I have a suggested book list that has been made by local and global non-profit groups, teachers, and students. Groups are also encouraged to propose a new book. While reading their book, students hold their own book chats, record them and use them to create their own podcasts to submit to the NPR student podcast challenge. This is not “the project” and is just one part of the project design. Students also select their own individual research topic and use articles, the interview of an expert at their non-profit, and reflection on their time volunteering to help inform their research paper. 

The last part of this unit came because students asked me a question. They said, “I’m glad we volunteered 20 hours, interviewed someone, read, researched, wrote a paper, but shouldn’t we be doing something more? Shouldn’t we apply our learning and give back in some way?” After that, the real Project Based Learning opportunity was born. Students create a Give Back Opportunity that helps spread awareness, collects items to donate, or fundraises and must be based on the needs of that organization. These projects have brought about real impact. This year, being virtual has broadened my perspective on how to make an impact with this project and we will use Solve In Time Cards to Design Think their Give Back Opportunity and The Global Goals for Sustainable Development to help students think both locally and globally. This unit takes 14 weeks and closes with group presentations to the class and an invited group of non-profit panelists. 

This project approaches from all three focus areas: content, local, and global. I always knew for this project that I wanted to connect with local non-profits and that I wanted students to better understand non-fiction resources. The other layer to consider when building the unit plan is which tech skills will students build upon during this project. 

Project Based Learning is complex and is rooted in questions. It must begin with an entry experience. My “workshops” are based on student needs that they create at the start of the unit. These workshops may be for small groups or the entire class. Students still have deadlines, they still have goals, but project based learning means that groups may be at different stages of the project. I use a shared SCRUM board to help students track project progress so that I know where they are and the team understands where they are in the process. Topics for this project vary based on year and interests. And this is real life. I have had students who focus on Foster Care, Women’s Rights, LGBTQI, the Environment, Black Lives Matter, Food Insecurity, Animal Rights, Homelessness and more. It is the variety of topics that helps me know that my students are connecting individually and are able to teach something to their classmates and to me. They are all learning the skill of researching using articles, non-fiction books, interviews, and personal experiences. 

It keeps me on my toes and no year is ever the same but I am proud of the learning experiences created through deep Project Based Learning.

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

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

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Providing the Right Learning Spaces for Students to Explore and Create

 

When looking at the design and structure of classrooms today, they may look quite similar to the classroom setting that you experienced when you were a student. Structurally, students in most schools follow a set schedule each day and spend time in different classrooms throughout the building. Unlike years ago when I was a student and even as recently as five or 10 years ago, learning was still confined to the physical classroom space. However, through the capabilities we now have with technology, the opportunities to connect students with learning that takes them out of the classroom space are incredible.

For most students, learning took place in the classroom and on-the-job or real-world learning experience had to wait until the end of the school day or in some cases, after high school graduation. Of course, there were students enrolled in vo-tech or career and technical education programs outside of the school building, taking them to a new learning environment to interact and collaborate with students from other schools, learn from different teachers, explore ideas and strategies, and even different types of careers. These types of learning spaces helped students to better understand the skills they might need in the future. However, not all students had access. But today, we have the power to offer these opportunities to all students. With the resources that we now have, we owe it to our students to offer them learning experiences in as many different learning spaces as possible so that they have time to explore and build the skills that they will need when they leave our schools.

So where or how do we provide these different learning spaces for students? We start by making sure that we are connected in the right spaces ourselves. As educators, this means being connected in a space that goes beyond our school community. It means leveraging social media and different networks, attending conferences, reading blogs, listening to podcasts for ideas or picking up educational books on topics that we wish to learn more about. We must make sure that we have the right knowledge to stay current and relevant so that we can design the best learning experiences for our students. Not that we need to create everything for them; we just need to get them started so that they can take the initiative to design their learning path in the space they decide best fits their interests and needs.

How to Provide Space for Students to Explore

1. Project-based learning (PBL): By implementing PBL, we empower students to look for problems or challenges in their community and globally, try to find solutions, and focus more on learning as a process. Beyond just doing PBL in a class, there are schools opening which are PBL schools, like Gibson EK, a public high school located in Washington. The motto at Gibson EK is “Real World, Real Learning, Real Life.’” Students do not enroll in traditional courses, instead they “earn academic competencies through projects” and work with a mentor through internships two days per week. The school is designed on principles such as “Stop learning for school, start learning for life.” I truly believe that students need opportunities to explore their passions, design their own problems or challenges, and have the time to work through the learning process. To best prepare students for the future, whether college or career ready, they need to decide on their learning space, experience productive struggle, reflect, revise and continue on their path of learning.

 

2. Student Organizations: Schools that have student organizations like the Model United Nations empower students to build skills of advocacy, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and self-confidence. In my school, I have seen remarkable growth in the students who have become involved in the Model UN under the leadership of Mr. Ken Kubistek, a history teacher, who has led this group through conferences and competitions for many years. Through work with the Model UN, students engage in authentic learning experiences that take them out of the classroom and connect them with real-world learning and global issues. Students develop their voice and build many vital skills for the future by exploring new learning spaces through organizations like the Model UN.

 

3. Media Creation. Students need opportunities to create their own space to show learning. Whether students create a YouTube channel and develop their own show, explore an emerging technology trend or prepare a solution to current event issues, there are many ways that students can create a different type of learning space for themselves and for others. Perhaps a student-created podcast using tools like Anchor or Synth, where they invite guests to discuss current issues, focus on themes for education or anything that interests them. A podcast designed with the goal to help educate not only classmates and members of their school community but the public at large. Opportunities like these promote more meaningful learning while also building digital literacy skills and empower students to find space that meets their interests.

 

4. School Community Connections: I recently gave a keynote about the future of education and how the look of school is changing.  I received a lot of great questions and comments and one suggestion that led me to think about the power of creating more community connections. The idea was to have students go to local senior care facilities where they can share some of the things they are learning in school, and engage in discussions with older adults to learn about each other’s experience in education, work, and life. I think this would have a great impact because of the connections that would form between students and members of the community. The learning space can be anywhere and it would be an authentic way to engage students with learning about the world around them. Build connections and greater understanding about what things used to be like, what things are like now, and make predictions for the future.

 

5. Brainstorming ideas: Push student thinking by asking them to brainstorm ideas for the top five or 10 challenges in a certain area of the world, maybe based on geography, a certain industry, or perhaps ask students to come up with a list of complaints or things they notice about the world around them. Give students space to develop plans for how to solve these challenges or how they could have solved them better. Another idea is to have students be part of project event management for planning. In my school, students can take an entrepreneurship course in which they design products, make sales pitches and plan large scale events. The course also takes students out into the Pittsburgh area to tour businesses and learn about different industries, where they can get that close view, ask questions and make connections. They begin in the classroom and then find the space to pursue new knowledge and explore.

 

There are many ways to expand where and how our students can learn. We have access to the world as our classroom and the more we can increase the learning space we provide the better prepared our students will be for the future.

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

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

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18 Resources to Get Students Coding This Year

Each year during December, there’s a focus on coding and computational thinking. Computer Science Education Week is happening December 7th-13th this year and there are a lot of great ways to get involved. A few years ago I first learned about the Hour of Code, and immediately referred to the Code.org website to find activities for my eighth grade STEAM class. Just getting started, I didn’t know much about the resources available and thought this was the best way to provide some activities for my students to join in during the week. It was fun to sign up to participate in the events of the day and see from where around the world other classrooms were joining in from. But beyond that one day, and actually, that one hour, we didn’t really do much more in my class. I asked colleagues and members of my PLN about their activities for the Hour of Code and coding throughout the year, and many stated that they didn’t know how to implement more in their classrooms. It was then that I recognized the need to provide more ways for students to learn about coding and computational thinking, and that as educators, we must actively look for opportunities for our students. We need to push past an Hour of Code and do more in our classrooms.

Preparing Ourselves

For some educators, topics like coding and computational thinking can seem challenging to bring into the classroom and for them to know enough to feel confident in teaching students about these topics. I was one of those educators. My comfort level changed when I had to create a game using Hopscotch for a master’s course and I struggled a lot. It was uncomfortable to not be able to fully understand the coding process, but it pushed me to keep learning and to start using Hopscotch with my eighth graders. I learned a lot from my students and it was a great opportunity to put myself in their place as they learn something new. Realizing that it is okay to not know all of the answers is a valuable lesson.

Another hurdle was to learn more about computational thinking, a topic that I had avoided because of a fear of not understanding it enough and thinking it did not apply to my role as a Spanish teacher. It was an area that intimidated me because I believed it to be so complex.

However, I recently took a Computational Thinking (CT) course provided by ISTE U, which definitely stretched me professionally and provided a solid foundation full of resources for doing more with these topics in my classroom. We need to find ways to give our students and ourselves an opportunity to learn about topics like coding and computational thinking and how they apply in our daily lives and how it could possibly benefit us in the future.

Where to Begin

There are so many resources out there that sometimes knowing exactly where to start presents the challenge. It is easy to get started by referring to the Code.org site or checking out CS First from Google and resources for educators. There are some apps and websites to get started with coding and computational thinking. Some of these can be used specifically with elementary students in grade bands pre-reader through two, three through five, and six plus, and others that are specific to middle school or high school. Several of these options offer ways to search based on topic, level or type of activity. What I like the most is that they are fun ways for educators to get started with coding and CT, with the ability to decide how to apply them to our own work.

Start with Code.org or CS First from Google, and then explore these 18 resources to check out what specifically to use during the Hour of Code and Computer Science Week, or take the time and try each of these out over the course of a couple of weeks. Have your students explore and continue learning right along with your students.

18 Sites to Explore

Artist. Use this as a way to have students begin coding with blocks to complete tasks to build their coding skills.

Code.org. Explore this link to find a list of resources and different activities and to sign up to participate in the Hour of Code. There are more than 500 one hour tutorials that are available in more than 45 languages.

Code Combat is a game based computer program for older students who want to learn about Javascript or Python. In Code Combat, students type in their code and see their characters respond in real-time.

Code Monster is an easy way to get younger students to learn more about code. Two boxes on the screen show the code and what the code does, with explanations popping up to show students what happens with each command.

CoSpacesEDU Robot Rattle. Students learn to operate a robot and the activity includes a tutorial video. Using blocks and drag and drops, students can write the instructions for the robot and then if devices are available, the robot can be seen performing the tasks as written in the code in virtual reality (VR).

Hopscotch is for use with iPads and has specific activities available for the Hour of Code but offers many options for students to create their own games or to remix games that are available.

Turtle Art. Students use block coding like Scratch but through the use of one turtle and mathematics to do the programming.  Students can create their own work of art or remix someone else’s painting.

Science

Explore Mars with Scratch. Students in grades three through eight can create a Mars exploration game using Scratch. Through this lesson, students work through activities and build their math, computational thinking, and problem-solving skills. There is also the option for an extension activity for students in grades K-12 to do an independent project.

Multi-topics

Code-it studio is for use with grades two and up and offers students the chance to program art and designs.

CodeSpark. Students up to grade five can design and code a video game using the self-paced activity available through this site.

Code an Unusual Discovery. Using Scratch and CS First from Google, students can work through on their own and create a story using code.

Khan Academy Code. For grades six and up students can watch an interactive talk-through, work through challenges or decide to do their own project. Everything that students need for coding is available directly through the website. Students can also learn to code by making a website in HTML tags and CSS.

Kodable. Activities for students in grades two through five, offering Javascript for students in upper elementary grades. There are activities for social studies, science, ELA, math and more with levels from beginning to advanced. Students can even choose their own adventure.

Minecraft Hour of Code. A free Hour of Code lesson was developed by Microsoft’s AI for Earth team. In the lesson, students in grades two and up use code to prevent forest fires. There is also a free online course for educators to learn how to run an Hour of Code lesson in their school.

Robo-Restaurant Decorator. Students in grade two and up can program a robot to paint a restaurant and the algorithms must be done correctly

Star Wars. The first activity we tried was working through the activities provided using the Star Wars theme. Activities are available for students in grades two and up. Learn to code with Blocks and Javascript.

Tynker offers a lot of activities for students to participate and learn about coding, specially curated for the Hour of Code. Activities are grouped for students in the ranges of K-two, three-five and six plus. Options available include text coding, STEM activities, and the new UN+ which is focused on ecological issues such as life on land, responsible consumption and affordable and clean energy.

VidCode is an online platform that offers opportunities for teachers to explore computer science curriculum or individual lessons related to coding. For the Hour of Code, explore the Climate Science coding activity.

Another option is to have students learn about the Hour of Code, its origin and different terms related to coding and then use some of the game-based learning tools out there like Kahoot! To help students develop a better understanding of the basics of coding. Try one of these ideas out for some fun ways to get students involved with coding and use the game as a starting point for class discussion.

3 Ways to Unleash the Most Creative Students Ever (Part 2)

Guest post by Chris Chappotin

@Chris_Chappotin

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction

Design Solutions to Real Problems

Design solutions to real problems to develop the most creative students ever. There are enough unmet needs in our schools, communities, country, and world for our students to make a positive difference. The content you are teaching can become a connection point between neighbors’ problems and the creative solutions of our students.

Therefore, how can we mine real problems to craft opportunities to create solutions for students? First, pay attention to conversations around campus. Has a colleague uncovered a situation where a positive difference is needed? Is there a renovation need in the school building? Could we come together to beautify the playground or start a community garden? There are a myriad of ways to apply content throughout the school building and campus if we collaboratively look through the lens of problems and solutions to release creativity in our students.

Second, pay attention to local businesses and service-organizations that may be at work improving life in the community. When my son was in 4th grade, he and a few friends galvanized their teacher, classmates, and classmates’ parents to partner with a local service organization for “Neighborhood Fun Day: Kids Helping Kids Through the Power of Friendship.” The students creatively applied the state standards they were learning to plan, promote, and pull-off an amazing event at a local park that included face painting, games, a lemonade stand, food, and friends. My son and his school friends were presented with a problem. There were kids in their city who did not have the same opportunities they did, and “Neighborhood Fun Day” was how they chose to make an impact. I am thankful for his teacher’s willingness to engage students in problem-solving and empower them down whatever pathway their creativity would take them. Now, my son is two 6-weeks into his 8th grade school year, and he still talks about the positive difference he and his friends made 4 years ago.

Third, pay attention to culture, technology, politics, and other pertinent current events. When presented with an appropriate problem in any of the aforementioned areas, what possible solutions will students dream up? Will they start a podcast, YouTube channel, or blog? Will they design a video game, robot, or website? Will they write a comic book, start a business, or launch an app? Who knows? However, teaching them how to curate the world around them with appropriate analyzation, strategy, and problem-solving while also taking actionable steps to make a positive impact will be deeper learning and skill-development they will remember forever. Plus, they may not need to remember anything, because the creativity that results from the problems you present may not just result in an assignment for school; but instead, an ongoing alteration to their life right now. With problems to be solved all around, let us be quick to invite our students into solution design to develop their creativity and make our world a better place.

Coach and Resource

Coach and resource when needed to develop the most creative students ever. For the educator, this is a journey of relinquishing control. Basically, if you want to control your classroom, give control away to your students. When you design a learner experience that relies on their application of content through intrigue and the solving of real problems, students will begin to drive and even demand learning. Now, you have captive creators ready for more of what you can give: coaching and resourcing.

First, in the design phase of the learner experience, anticipate the resources that will be needed. You can accomplish this through student data analysis, asking other educators for feedback on lesson design, and, depending on what you are attempting to accomplish, utilizing resources that are already available. Furthermore, as the learning experience launches, opportunities will arise for the teacher and students to create and curate resources along the way.

Second, strategically support students through pre-planned and impromptu teacher-led and student-led workshops throughout the learning experience. Through formative assessments, academic conversations, and student feedback, you will know exactly what your students need, and if you don’t, keep asking them. Workshops can be based on standards, applications, idea-generation, critique, or just about anything. Fluidly moving in and out of these purposeful small groups will empower students to take necessary next-steps in their creativity.

Third, teach students how to resource themselves to solve micro-problems on their way to solving macro-problems. In prior times, we might have referred to this as research; however, today this has evolved into team-building, researching, and collaborating. Each of these skills are needed in today’s workplaces and schools. As a result, let’s nurture their development within our learner experiences. That way, students can grow to be confident and competent in their own creativity, because a lack in these skill areas is not holding them back. In other words, if we can teach students how to access the resources already available to them and create anything additional that they need, in the end, they will be ready to face any challenge that comes their way throughout the learning experience.

Students are wired for creativity. As educators, we must design opportunities for them to practice. By mining through the facilitation of intrigue, collaborative design of solutions to real problems, and coaching and resourcing along the way, we can craft learner experiences that consistently unleash the creativity in our students. As a result, they will run to our classes, make a meaningful difference, and have loads of fun along the way.

3 Ways to Unleash the Most Creative Students Ever (Part I)

Guest post by @Chris_Chappotin

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction

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I am certain to be way late to the party, but consider me asking for a friend:

What is the point of Minecraft?

Through a first-person view, the player mines resources to craft a whole new world. That’s it.

No score.

No clock.

No competitors.

No levels to beat. No game to win. No way to throw the game controller across the room while flossing as confetti explodes all around and ESPN Jock Jams push unhealthy decibel levels, because you have just become the ultimate Minecraft champion.

Instead, you mine and you craft. You mine, and you craft. You gather resources and apply those resources with no clear victory to be achieved.

Except, if you have ever watched kids mine and craft, you know that the experience unlocks creativities that you never knew were there. Swimming pools. Gardens. Dining rooms. Roller coasters. Towers. And more and more and more.

So much so, that it causes me to ask follow-up questions: Could it be that creativity was present all along? Could it be that Minecraft contains the code to release the creativity that kids naturally possess? In short, are kids wired with creativity? If so, what learner experiences can we mine and craft in order to unleash the most creative students ever?

Facilitate Intrigue

Facilitate intrigue to develop the most creative students ever. I believe that most students come to school each day saying, “Fascinate me. Captivate me. Show me why it is good for me to devote most of my day to this.” For educators, if this is the case, we should eagerly anticipate and embrace such opportunities every day. How? By intentionally designing learner experiences that tap into the natural curiosity tendencies of our students. Teachers that embrace this challenge…that respond with: “Just wait until you experience the learning planned for today. I’ll show you!” These are the teachers, classes, and experiences students run toward.

Therefore, how can we mine intrigue to craft irresistible learner experiences for students? First, ensure that students walk into an experience that is already occurring. Intrigue levels are typically high when we feel as if what we are about to participate in is already happening. This could be as extravagant as transforming a classroom into a hospital or restaurant or courtroom. It could also be as simple as playing music, appealing to the sense of smell, or having a design challenge ready for students as they enter the learning environment. I imagine students running into your learner experience in order to determine just what in the world the teacher is going to do today!

Second, launch learner experiences with questions that force students to take a side or argue a point. In other words, “Here’s the scenario. What side are you on and why? What are you going to do about this? What do you think about the way this person or people-group handled the situation?” By inviting students into a situation, intrigue develops as they forget they are participating in a class; but instead, take on the character roles of the people in the scenarios. Educators can deepen this reality by reorienting learners with questions such as: “Why do you think we are investigating this scenario? Why do you think I forced you to choose a side and defend your choice? How do you feel about the lesson so far, and where do you think we are headed?” Maybe, at this point, you offer students voice and choice as to where to proceed next. Regardless, they should be charged up with intrigue and buy-in while eagerly anticipating whatever is coming next.

Third, in order to facilitate intrigue in a learner experience, change the meeting location for class. If the class comes together in a location that is unusual, intrigue is a natural result. Why? Because you are going to get a myriad of questions that all begin with: “Why are we having class here?” Whether you are outside, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, in the gym, or in an online learning environment, if the location is atypical, intrigue will result. Intentionally leverage that to your advantage, and take students on a learning journey they will never forget. Consistent intrigue builds anticipation that becomes excitement, and excitement is fuel for learning.

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360 degree inclusive feedback for learning through storying

Guest post by Virna Rossi @VirnaRossi

Inclusive feedback for learning is like a flower. A flower is both fragile and resilient. To thrive it needs good conditions, such as good soil.

Who is the learner in the feedback process? It is the student. But it is also the teacher. Both students and teachers can thrive with inclusive feedback for learning.

The roots

The roots of the feedback flower are the inclusive principles and values that underpin inclusive feedback practices such as:

  • Accessible
  • Dialogic
  • Iterative
  • Respectful
  • Timely
  • Personalised
  • Developmental

The Petals

To be multidimensional, feedback should come from a variety of sources. In the flower analogy, these are the four petals which form the 360° wide-angle view.

Self

Inner feedback is very valuable to develop self-efficacy. We ‘talk to ourselves’ about our learning, during the learning experience as well as once it is completed. If we journal or blog – articulating our inner feedback – our ongoing inner narrative becomes more explicit and is more easily shareable.

Others

This is to enhance peer-learning. For students ‘others’ can be fellow students; for teachers, these can be colleagues and the students themselves.

Top-down

For students, this is feedback from teachers and other educators such as librarians. For teachers this is feedback from line-managers, principals or anyone ‘above’ them in their institution.

Research/literature

For the students, this the body of research of the discipline that they are studying: learning what the ‘experts’ in the field say – and discovering the present boundaries of the discipline – helps the students situate themselves within their field of study.

For teachers, engaging with current educational literature (generic or subject specific) provides indirect feedback on their own professional practice and expands their pedagogical horizon.

The Leaves

How, in practice, can we educators receive and give this type of inclusive feedback?

One very effective way in which the feedback flower can thrive, fed by inclusivity values, is through the use of journaling, storying and blogs (one of the leaves at the base of the flower). This applies to all disciplines.

Learning feedback activities such as these promote pausing and reflecting; they constitute a personal, safe space; they are context rich; they help learners re-focus, articulate and share their learning experience.

Journaling can effectively be integrated into the course. Teachers can plan a dedicated journaling time towards the end of every lesson: everyone is invited to blog or journal for about 15 minutes. Each student’s inner feedback written in the form of blog/journal can then be shared, discussed and used for ‘comparative’ learning. It can be used for formative and summative assessment submissions; it can also be part of an ongoing, life-long learning portfolio. And it constitutes very rich feedback for the teachers.

To build trust and truly model a learning mind-set, teachers should also journal at that same time: to articulate, record and share their inner feedback on the lesson, the cohort, their own learning, successes or missed opportunities in the learning that just took place. This enhances teachers’ feedback literacies.

The pandemic has accelerated and emphasised the need to review assessment and feedback processes. Teachers must design learning experiences that enable and enhance feedback literacies through inclusive, learner-driven processes. Feedback literacies are situated. The emphasis is now on engaging and learning from feedback – rather than simply about teachers giving ‘good’ feedback. For all these reasons, storying, journaling and blogging are powerful, effective ways to encourage 360° inclusive feedback for learning.

Find out more

Watch my 5 minute video below about the why/what/when/who/how of inclusive feedback: What best practice in feedback can I embed in e-learning?https://player.vimeo.com/video/408054242?dnt=1&app_id=122963

References

Baughan, P., (2020) On Your Marks: Learner-Focused Feedback Practices and Feedback Literacy. [ebook] AdvanceHE. Available at: click here [Accessed 17 September 2020]

Nicol, D. (2019). Reconceptualising feedback as an internal not an external process. Italian Journal of Educational research, 71-84. Available at: click here [Accessed 17 September 2020]

Winstone, N. and Careless, D. (2019) Designing effective feedback processes in Higher Education, London: Routledge

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

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