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.

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

Guest post by @Chris_Chappotin

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction

————————-

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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Providing for Different Learning Styles

As educators, it is important that we find ways to provide more personalized learning experiences to meet the individual needs of our students. What this means is that beyond simply offering more choices in the types of assessments we offer students, we must do more by learning to understand the specific learning styles and interests of each of our students. We must differentiate our instruction and to do so requires that we develop a clear picture and gain a deeper understanding of the various learning styles of the students in our classrooms. When we do this, we can then design lessons that are focused on the specific student learning styles and offer more individualized choices for students. Whether that offers more options to work independently or in groups based on a specific topic, an area of interest or even based on the level of understanding of the content, we serve them best by having the right resources available for them.

Each of our students have specific needs and preferences for how they learn and we do the best for them when we help them to identify these preferences and then offer a variety of materials and resources for them to explore. It is not about always using a digital tool or shifting away from traditional methods, but rather being able to determine which of these options will work best for each of our students. It also means helping students to become more self-aware of their own interests. One change that has helped me to better identify these styles and guide students in my classroom is by using the station rotation model.

Through the use of stations, I am able to provide multiple activities that enable students to interact with the content in a variety of ways. There are tech and no-tech options, student and teacher-created materials, hands-on activities to choose from, and times where students decide on a focus for their group. By providing a variety of learning options for each student, giving them all the opportunity to explore, we empower students with more meaningful and personalized learning that will lead to more student engagement and content retention.

Learning Styles: The VARK Model

In 1987, Neil Fleming designed what has become known as the VARK model. Fleming developed this model as a way to help students learn more about their individual learning preferences. The VARK learning styles include: visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic.

Personally, I have always been more of a visual and somewhat kinesthetic or “hands-on” learner. At varying points throughout my life, I can recall taking a test and being able to see specific notes that I had written in my notebook, but still being unable to respond to questions. I tended to create graphic organizers and had my system for making more visual connections with the content. Many of my students are visual learners and over the past two years, have often noticed that they have specific ways of processing the information in class as well as how they prepare and respond during assessments. We must be able to provide different options for our students where they can choose a format that will best suit their interests and needs in more authentic and personalized ways.

Visual Learners

Visual learners are more likely to use charts, icons, images and are able to more easily visualize information and as a result, can retain it longer. An estimate is that visual learners make up approximately 65% of the population, and remember 75% of what they read or see. Visuals learners prefer to do projects and presentations that involve creating visualizations of their learning. For visual learners, some good options include creating infographics, using Augmented and Virtual reality for creating immersive experiences, designing 3D objects, sketchnoting, or using digital tools such as Padlet or Wakelet to curate content in ways that promote better visualization of content. Visual learners would also benefit by creating a mindmap or making flashcards, which can also be done using a digital tool like Quizlet.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners listen carefully and often focus on the tone or the rate of speech, and may also benefit more by having supplemental resources made available to them such as videos or audio recordings. Learners of this type can recall information such as song lyrics and conversations, and can often recreate a story more easily because of that auditory connection they have. There are many options to engage auditory learners more by selecting options that promote listening and speaking skills. Some ideas include using video response or podcasting tools to have students explain concepts or brainstorm ideas. Another option is by creating a more interactive presentation using a tool such as Voice Thread, students will connect with the sounds, dialogue, and tone used in a presentation such as this, where they can listen and respond.  Another idea is to use Flipgrid to post a question and have students also respond to classmates to further the discussion and promote higher-order thinking. Try using Synth to create a podcast for students to have the active listening component addressed, and invite students to listen and respond to the prompts by adding a thread to the podcast.

Read/Write Learners

Read/write learners prefer to have the text available to them in some written/tangible format. Whether students first take notes and then decide to rewrite their notes for additional practice, or read over their notes each day for review and class preparation, these learners benefit from sustained interactions with the text. The more they interact with written formats, the better equipped they are to understand the content. Beyond writing in pen or pencil, or creating a document, using some tools such as Kidblog, for writing a story and getting started with blogging is a good way to promote reading and writing opportunities. Another idea is to have students create a multimedia presentation with a tool like Buncee to tell a story, adding text and icons to make the content more meaningful. These options make the activities more authentic and aligned with the needs of learners of this type.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners learn best through hands-on learning opportunities. Students spend a lot of time sitting in classrooms and perhaps more passively learning. We need to design ways for students to be more active in the classroom. Some choices would be through a STEAM curriculum, the use of makerspaces, place-based learning, game-based learning and creation, designing projects and having students engage in project-based learning (PBL).

Multimodal Learners

For some students, providing options that foster a multimodal learning style is most beneficial. A multi-modal learning style means that you benefit through multiple ways of processing the information which can be through images, sounds, movement, speech, audio, visuals and more.  When I have used stations in my classroom, providing the different options at each station was helpful for students who are multimodal learners, to be able to interact with the content in different ways. Some of the tools that I have used include NearpodKahootQuizlet, in addition to giving students options to create something based on their own choice, which lends itself to more hands-on learning. The use of infographics, hyperdocs, choice boards, and even digital breakouts can give students a variety of ways to engage with the content and provide activities that will meet each learning style.

All students benefit from multimodal learning options that support a Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Providing something for each student and offering a mix of learning tools will help students to master the content in more authentic and personalized ways.

Interested in learning more about your own learning style preferences? You can take the VARK questionnaire and find out what type of learner you are.

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Game based learning

Guest post post by Brigid Duncan, Educator, Creator, & Blogger

Shaking up learning by bringing retro games to class lessons!

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If you have been teaching for a couple years now, you would be asked by many students to play Kahoot! Or just mention the word Kahoot! and kids await eagerly to hear the elevator music playing in the background as they enter the game code to join your game. So, our students love to play games. Who doesn’t? There is an old Finnish saying that goes like this:

“Those things you learn with JOY

You will not forget easily!”

So why use game-based learning? Many reasons come to mind, however the most significant one is that students work harder when they are given a choice, autonomy, and they are in an audience being observed by their peers. In other words, they like a challenge and want to win. So, knowing this and building games into your instruction accomplishes that and so much more. Many of our students are Gen Z’s, and research has proven that this generation loves challenges, they love independence and relish having a voice in their learning outcomes. Theory behind game- based learning is that we are taking the motivational aspects of a game and applying it our lessons for assessment, while kids are having fun. 

As we move into the start of this ever-pivoting school year, our instruction has to keep up with modifications as our classroom changes, whether we are online,  face to face instruction or hybrid. The problem teachers face with this type of instruction, lies in with our assessments and the integrity of them. Are my students truly understanding the essential questions as outlined at the start of the lesson? Are they using Professor Google (my favorite word for searching google for answers) to my assessments? Should I even have assessments and just go strictly to project based assessments. Well I am here to say you can have online assessments using game-based learning. 

Who wouldn’t want to play an old-fashioned Trivial Pursuit board game? A favorite for many and can be used to assess for key terms or conceptual thinking on a unit lesson. Have them play in teams, assign points and give them badges that they can proudly display. Have a “Battle Royale” with review or test bank questions. Want to take it a step back in our time capsule, do you remember Four Corners a game still played in and out the classroom. Well you can simulate the same idea but on a board game and in, an online classroom. Let’s say you are teaching themes in a novel read that the class just wrapped up. You can ask students to identify themes on opposite side of the four corners. Example, revenge in one corner and opposite side “compassion” You can give them a blank card with 4 squares and play Pictionary, another retro board game. You can pose the same questions but this time you say to your students use icons to represent the themes and place in opposing squares. Sites like The Noun Project or AutoDraw are all free. And of course, I couldn’t write a blog post on game-based learning and not mention Monopoly. I have seen many teachers get creative by incorporating unit lessons using a Monopoly style board, guiding students through asynchronous lessons from START to FINISH. 

I hope this post on game based learning will encourage you to Level Up, on your lesson plans and incorporate games in your classroom learning assessments. Many teachers will be starting a new year with students you have never met in person. I have read many of your comments on social media asking how to build classroom community when we have never met and will continue online. Then this is one of the best solutions available now, to ease your concerns. By having games included in your lesson plans, you will begin building online classroom student relationships. Have fun this school year and remember that Old Finnish saying when developing and designing your lesson plans: “Kids remember best when they are having fun!” 

Brigid Duncan, Educator, Creator, & Blogger

Brigid Duncan is an AP Econ/Business instructor teaching high school in Hollywood, Florida. Originally from the Caribbean, she pursued a career in advertising and Marketing before transitioning to teaching. She is Mom to three wonderful and energetic teenagers and enjoys being creative, especially in graphic design. Favorite quote: “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not’?” – George Bernard Shaw.

Follow her educational journey at @MsBDuncan

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5 Ways to Prioritize Social & Emotional Learning for the 2020 School Year

Guest post by Peter Davis, @kapwingapp 

Opinions expressed are those of the guest blogger.

 

The 2020-2021 school year has just kicked off in some areas, and it is already proving to be a year like no other. Heightened anxiety among students, teachers, and parents is a certainty this year, across all of the various educational methods administrators are using. Some students will be stuck in precarious, distracting, or harmful home environments, some will be forced to walk halls that could threaten the health of them and their families, and others face an uncertain fall in districts that have yet to finalize their back-to-school methods.

In total, all these changes mean that social and emotional learning will be front and center in the 2020 school year. I talked to Denver-area elementary school teacher Adin Becker about his learnings from spring 2020, his uncertainties in approaching the fall term, and his plans to prioritize SEL in the virtual learning environment. Here are the 5 main things to strive for in the fall semester:

  1. Make sure students have opportunities to interact with each other
  2. Schedule socially distanced visits when possible
  3. Make your materials more inclusive than ever
  4. Advocate for remote health services
  5. Make space for trauma
  1. Give your students opportunities to interact with each other

If you’re conducting some or all of your school through remote e-learning, it won’t be possible to replicate the social environment that your students would experience under normal class conditions. Students’ social interactions with each other are vital to their engagement in school work and their growth as individuals. Becker puts it this way:

The biggest difference this year is classroom community. Young students need social interaction to grow, and there is no question that the online learning environment is not the same as seeing your friends in-person. My school has already experienced the difficulties of limited engagement in e-learning from the last semester. I plan to introduce more in-class discussion between students, make use of online academic games, and show interest in my students’ wellbeing.

There’s no perfect way to transfer the social benefits of in-person school to the remote classroom, but there are lots of things you can do to make up for students’ loss of social engagement. Especially with younger students, their social experiences are as important as your lessons, so it’s vital to dedicate a similar amount of your time and attention to both. Something as simple as using Zoom breakout rooms for free discussion during remote class periods can help to make up for students’ lack of social interaction in school.

  1. Schedule socially distanced visits when possible

Students’ social relationships with each other are indispensable to their SEL experience, but so is their relationship with their teacher. And the same way remote classrooms can’t replicate the social experience of in-person school, Zoom meetings with your students can’t provide quite the same student-teacher relationship. Here’s what Becker has to say:

Unfortunately, it’s simply not possible to provide the same access and inclusion to students through e-learning. Districts can do their best to provide all families with laptops and internet, but there’s only so much they can accomplish – there are nearly 100,000 students in my district, for example. To bolster student interest, I am hoping that I can organize a few socially-distanced home visits with each of my students so that they can get to know me and hopefully feel more comfortable with me online.

Luckily, it’s easier to stay safe while meeting with just one student at a time. If your school’s administration allows it, try to set up socially distanced home visits with your students at least once a semester. This allows students to feel individually heard and acknowledged, so they can feel even more comfortable and engaged in remote learning sessions.

  1. Make your materials more inclusive than ever

Inclusivity and accessibility are crucial in the social & emotional learning of all students under “normal” conditions, and the remote environment of 2020’s classroom means you have to be more intentional than ever in serving all of your students equitably. Record your lesson videos at a pace that all of your students can follow, and add subtitles so every student can absorb the lesson the way they learn best. And if you’re trying to make your e-learning materials fun & distinctive, keep an eye on the readability of your resources for students with visual difficulties.

Unfortunately, even if you include helpful subtitles, visual aids, and voiceovers in your videos, kinesthetic learners won’t find the same tailored learning support that they could in the classroom. Becker explains:

In-class I like to use manipulatives to supplement student learning. Because I’m a general education teacher, I cover every subject including math. Online, I can’t provide extra physical materials to help students understand concepts like fractions. Instead, I will make use of online academic games, and interactive learning models that can engage young students outside the classroom. Because it will be exceedingly easy for students to tune out during online learning, class will need to be hyper-interactive.

Inclusivity extends to every corner of your teaching: use gender-appropriate or gender-neutral pronouns in your materials, and be wary of your students’ personal needs. When planning recorded lessons and producing e-learning videos, be efficient and make use of your students’ limited attention spans. In the classroom, you’re able to monitor your students’ engagement, but teaching remotely means that you can’t always keep an eye on their focus.

  1. Advocate for remote health services

Another important aspect of the in-person school experience that’s missing in remote learning is the accessibility of health services for students. While in-person medical care can’t be provided to students using typical school resources, it’s especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide adequate mental health resources for students of all ages.

You likely don’t have much direct control over your administrators’ use of health resources. But if you’re able, do what you can to advocate for mental health resources to be made available for your students. This might involve bringing several educators together in order to work for what you believe is best for your students, speaking with parents in order to focus the school’s entire community on students’ well-being, or doing your own research on accessible mental health resources online. This terrific list of accessible remote mental health resources is a great place to start.

  1. Make space for trauma

It would be great for your remote teaching to be just as effective as in-person school, but most likely that’s not possible in 2020. And what’s more, it shouldn’t be your primary objective. Many students are experiencing an especially traumatic year, and their health and wellness has to be prioritized over the diligence of their schoolwork. Becker elaborates:

Many students are traumatized after losing family to COVID or getting sick themselves. For that reason, social-emotional learning will be front and center this semester to address trauma. Education through this catastrophe needs a dose of realism: pushing your students harder than usual will do more harm than good.

The main takeaway here is that educators need to be especially responsive to all their students this year and rethink the teacher/student relationship. More than ever before, the parent/teacher relationship may occupy a lot of your attention, as students’ whole lives become central to the success of their education.

 

 

**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.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

CONUNDRUM SCHOOLING: PART DEUX

Guest blog post by Jillian DuBois  @JillDuBois22

When COVID chose to collide with our lives in March, teachers and educational leaders defied time and space by achieving more than we could ever dream of doing in our profession.

FOR our STUDENTS.

We gave up Spring Break. We sacrificed family time. We had sleepless nights. We KNEW what needed to be done, followed through, and gave it our all.

Some described it as distance learning. Homeschooling. Virtual school. These types of schooling require months, even years of preparation before taking on that challenge.

In the simplest of terms – it was far more than that. It was what I called CONUNDRUM schooling (conundrum – An unstable time or period, usually marked by intense difficulty or danger. Thank you to wordhippo.com for the explanatory definition.). Traumatic schooling that was disruptive, stressful, and anxiety-inducing, leaving little time for research + planning. Teachers sent up an SOS.

We grieved over what was lost. In just one critical moment, we somehow surrendered our community, fellowship, daily routines, and a predictable schedule that gave us satisfaction + security in our profession.

But we persevered. It was muddled, unpredictable, and often frustrating. We came out of it still breathing and somehow able to exhale, knowing that during our physical time away from our students we had gained meaningful pedagogy in our learning strategies and skills.

Thankfully, the #edtech platforms we chose provided excellent facilitation and reinforcement for the majority of our instruction and learning. In turn, that opened up a new path as to how to process + present our instruction differently and more efficiently. Teachers met via teleconferencing and innovatively collaborated together. We shared lesson plans, ideas, and exceeded what we assumed we could do – like superheroes.

So as I begin to conceptualize the next few weeks in preparation for the new school year…I am drawing a BIG, FAT…blank, that leads to…

CONUNDRUM SCHOOLING: PART DEUX.

The current space available in my head is not prepared for academics + curriculum planning AT ALL. I don’t even have the words to properly and politically respond to friends and family who ask how I feel about returning.

BLANK. NADA. NOTHING. (and if you know me at all, I don’t blank on anything, that’s NOT what teachers do. We are masters at improvisation.)

Moment of truth? I believe I’m a darn good teacher. The last semester drained every ounce of imagination + creative skill that I estimated I had. I’m slowly rebounding. What I DO know is that I WILL be brave + undaunted. I will NOT let fear worm its way into my tenacious spirit. I refuse to give in and give up.

WILL consider + celebrate the progression that I made as a teacher last year.

I have cultivated new ways of being FLEXIBLE + RESILIENT. I was able to give up control and allow my students unique opportunities to drive their own learning. They participated in the decision-making process by expressing their choices when given the chance. There was extended time for inquiry + building out their curiosities with enthusiasm.

They had questions that I did not have the answers for…and that was truly amazing. There was project-based learning alternatives that sparked many in-depth conversations, ‘a-HA’ moments, and periods of self-reflection. JUST this alone was worth the efforts. We honored the process of learning + accountability as a class…together.

There MAY not have been any stellar discoveries of new content during this time of conundrum schooling, BUT there was incredible facilitation of educational experiences that they will never forget. Neither will I.

What will I carry into this new year? These things I just mentioned. I will join tens of thousands of other teachers who will be using their newly-gained expertise to keep some semblance of normalcy + security for our students.

Unlearn the conundrum. Relearn confidence with conviction.

I will teach them honesty, kindness, empathy, justice, and inclusivity. THAT is where I will begin. I know I will get to the planning + academics, don’t you worry. But FIRST things FIRST. I love them already.

We need time to heal together.

We will get there. There’s still a steep learning curve ahead with no signs of caution. Education will now be in stark contrast to what was before comfortable + traditional. As we launch with students, we will crawl along slowly. Next, steadily we will learn to walk together as weeks go by. Possibly, we may even start to run again. GRACE + PATIENCE will be generously granted each day as we encounter new circumstances and ways of life.

We are in it for the beautiful mess that it is. It will be SUCH a monumentally great year if we allow ourselves to take one day at a time, appreciate our vision + mission, and lean into our passion for our students.

Oh, and don’t forget the #impartEDjoy.

Best wishes for an amazing conundrum of a journey.

Jillian

 

**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.

Here are my books available. Find them at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Focus in the new school year: Building relationships

Focus in the new school year: Building relationships

Rachelle Dene Poth

It is time for many to head back to the classrooms and prepare for a new year of learning and growing. It is an exciting time for educators and students to have new opportunities to learn and to reconnect. Hopefully educators and students are excited and recharged for the new year and the possibility of new ideas for learning.

For me, I am intentional in planning activities to get to know my students and for them to know one another. I often rely on some traditional methods like icebreakers and conversations, however, I also enjoy using some of the different digital tools as a way to gather some quick feedback but also to learn more about the students in our classroom.

By planning for some relationships building on that first day and during the first week back to school, we can focus on the environment and culture we are creating for our students. Covering course details and class expectations are important, but we should start by building a solid foundation so that we can work together. By starting here, we foster a positive classroom culture and welcoming environment for learning.

Learning Together

Starting from the very first day, we should be intentional about being present. Being at our classroom doors and in the hallways to greet our students as they arrive and welcome them to school is a great way to start. It is important to acknowledge all students as we see them in the halls and throughout the building, a positive step in creating a supportive climate in the building and in each classroom. We have the power to do this when we are visible and make connections to help foster a positive space for learning.

Starting back to the daily routine of school after a summer break, or any extended break during the year, always presents a good opportunity to try new ideas and to build relationships. Using intentional strategies, we can get to know our students by using games and activities that will connect classmates and will positively impact the learning environment

We can use low tech or no tech to do some icebreakers and other games to learn about one another and in some cases, review the content from the prior year. As educators, it is during this time that we should encourage students to share their stories, to make their own connections and to share with us what their goals are for our class. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to get started, whether or not edtech is involved, but it can be a great way to introduce some of the digital tools that will be used throughout the year.

Start connecting

In my classroom, we use a lot of tools throughout the year and many are focused on streamlining communication and collaboration within our classroom but also for connecting globally. Being available to our students when they have questions or need access to class resources is important since their questions do not stop when the school day ends, or over the weekend break. We also want our students to be able to connect globally and using these tools to help them facilitate these connections makes sense. Always focus on the why behind using an edtech tool in your classrooms.

How do we find the right tools

My first recommendation is that educators talk to PLN and colleagues about specific needs in a tool. Do we want students to be able to connect, to ask questions, to access classroom resources, and to interact online? Or do we want students to create presentations that they can share or collaborate in? Or maybe we want alternative ways for students to show their learning based on their needs and interests? All of these options exist. Here are five tools to explore and that are easy to get started with.

  1. Buncee is a “one stop tool” that educators and students need for creating a multimedia presentation full of animations, emojis, stickers, 360 images and also includes audio and video and a lot more. So many ways to create graphics, bookmarks, presentations, flipped lessons and more.
  2. Remind makes communication easier by enabling the sending of reminders, links to resources, or even photos, and it integrates with other digital tools that teachers use for learning.
  3. Padlet is thought of as a virtual wall. It helps students to collaborate, write a response to a discussion question, or even add resources for a collaborative class project, or for brainstorming,
  4. Wakelet is a great tool for curating content to share with students or for having students contribute to a Wakelet collection. As a teacher, I love using the Wakelet extension to save articles and websites that I come across while doing research.
  5. Synth is for podcasting. Students can create a podcast to discuss a topic, perhaps interview a “special guest.” It can be a different way to engage students in a discussion, promote student voice and implement a new tech tool in the classroom.

One thing to keep in mind is to make sure we are aware of any accessibility issues for our students and their families. Find out about the kind of technology and internet access available to the students when they are not in school.

Learn With Students

We learn so much from our students. Beyond the content that we teach, there are so many opportunities to extend the learning that happens in our classrooms. Whether from a quick conversation or during fun activities that we include in the lesson, we are always learning Trying some new strategies and using some of the many different digital tools to expand how, when, and where students learn can be a good example to set for students. Take some risks in the classroom and use one of these to help build and foster positive relationships. Why not have students create an About Me Buncee or Padlet, or share stories using Synth and then listen, and stay connected with Remind. As educators, it gives us a way to extend our own learning and to continue to learn and grow with our students. Sometimes we just need a new idea or tool to spark that curiosity and excitement for learning.

BIO

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Edtech Consultant, Attorney and author. Follow her on Twitter at @Rdene915

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 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.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Exploring the World From Our Classroom

As we prepare our students for their future once they leave our classrooms, I believe that one of the most important skills that they need to develop is that of collaboration. We cannot be certain of the type of work that they will do nor the type of jobs that will exist, but being able to collaborate and to provide and receive support will be beneficial to any line of work. However, we need to go beyond the collaboration that occurs whether in person in the classroom, working in small groups or collaborating virtually through the use of digital tools. We have so many possibilities for extending their collaboration to a global scale and to best prepare for the future, this is what we must do in our classrooms. The benefit of setting up virtual collaborative learning experiences for students is that it shows the powerful capability of technology. Through different digital tools and organizations available, we can now offer faster and more reliable access to resources than we ever had before. But probably more important than this, it fosters a greater understanding of life in the real world and promotes cultural awareness for our students.

As a Spanish teacher, for years I have wanted to create global connections for my students but only until the past few years did I become more intentional about finding ways to do so. Drawing upon my experiences as a student and during the first years of my teaching career, finding opportunities or knowing where to look were areas that I struggled with. However, after doing some research and becoming more connected, there are a lot of digital tools and resources available for making these global collaborations happen and which do not take much time at all to get started.

In my practice, to connect globally, I use project-based learning is the first way that I connected my students with other classrooms and that has made a positive impact on their learning as well as on their personal growth. It simply took connecting with teachers using Edmodo as our platform and then building the different tools in to open up those conversations and create that space for students to collaborate within. Tools like Flipgrid, Synth, Padlet or Wakelet can be used for students to post messages whether written or audio or video and to work together to better understand a concept or potentially work together to solve a problem.

Resources for global collaboration and learning

Scavenger hunts: I’m sure most of us have participated in a scavenger hunt. A few years ago I found the platform Goose Chase which made it a lot easier and quicker to create a scavenger hunt for use in my classroom. What I realized is that by using digital tools like Goose Chase for example, is that those who can participate are not limited to students in the same class nor students in the same school community. Find a partner teacher to collaborate with and design a scavenger hunt that can be a way to exchange information about each respective culture, post images of the school, the town or what life is like beyond your own school community. The results would be amazing when students in both classrooms learn about another culture, become curious for learning, collaborate and problem-solve together while being in a completely different geographical location. This idea had not occurred to me until I participated in a scavenger hunt for a conference in California, from my home in Pittsburgh, and I actually won a prize. And if not Goose Chase, I can use things like Fliphunt or even Wakelet as a good friend of mine Laura Steinbrink had created. There are many tools to get started with this, but the idea is that we push beyond our own classrooms and involve other students so that we can learn and grow together.

There is no shortage of tools for use in our classrooms, whether digital or traditional format. What makes any one of them stand out is the purpose and knowing the why behind our decision to use them in our practice. When it comes to preparing our students for the future, the best that we can do is open as many doors as possible for them to look out into the world, explore, and find something that is interesting and leads them down a road of discovery. In addition to digital tools for promoting global collaboration, there are some organizations that have invested in building global awareness and digital citizenship.

Here are a few resources to start with:

Belouga: An educational platform that provides resources for educators and students to connect with classrooms around the world and engage in more authentic learning. Belouga focuses on promoting intercultural communication and offers resources such as projects for students to participate in to develop a greater global understanding. Belouga offers a deep dive series as well as a new feature that focuses on Mission 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Empatico: A free platform for use with their students ages six through 11. Educators can connect their classroom with a partner classroom and design activities to engage students in more meaningful learning as they develop greater global awareness. Through the connections made within the platform, students can build their vital 21st-century skills and take a more active role in learning.

Teach SDGs:  The “Sustainable Development Goals” are something that we have been learning more about as we’ve done project-based learning in my classroom. Exploring the website and learning more about the needs and challenges around the world has made an impact on my students as well as myself for learning. Going to the Teach SDGs site, students can learn about the 17 goals set forth by the United Nations. Together we can look at global issues, learn how places around the world are solving these problems, and use this to set up connections with classrooms globally. Again it just takes finding the right tool to communicate through. It could be with Microsoft Skype, to set up a call to talk with someone who teaches in one of those places or to connect with an expert I can talk about a specific topic, but that opens up the potential to connect our students’ work together.

Write the World: Students ages 13 through 18 can write and share their work with writers from over 120 countries around the world. Through the global platform, students have opportunities to build their writing skills and become more comfortable expressing themselves. Write the World is a good way to get feedback from students, educators, and authors and to work to build a writing portfolio. With access to writing from around the world and the ability to share their work on a global scale, students and build cultural awareness and become more connected as they design their learning journey.

Global Book!: Or how about Michael Drezek, an educator from New York who came up with the idea to create a global book! Using Buncee, he started the story by sharing it with classrooms around the world and having students add to the book. In the first year, the book traveled over 23,208 miles! This is the second year that Michael is doing this project and the focus is on the global sustainability goals. Imagine having your students come up with part of a global story and in the end to see how they’ve connected with students from around the world without leaving your classroom or possibly even their seat.

As educators, we must continue to push ourselves to learn more about resources available as well as the different ways we can become more connected. There are many online events to build our skills, including virtual learning summits, webinars, and Twitter chats our own professional development. It is through these formats that we can reach out to connect ourselves and serve as a model for our students about the importance of and the power in global collaboration. Check out some of the resources that were available for global collaboration week, there are a lot of ideas and links to excellent resources.

#singlevoicesglobalchoices

Guest post by Barbara Zielonka  @bar_zie

 

Dear educators,

We would like to invite you to the global and collaborative project for middle and high school students and teachers #singlevoicesglobalchoices. We are reaching out to educators who want to bring the real world into their classrooms and who want to engage their students without the coursebook.

We are going to do that by focusing every month on one or more international event/ events created by the United Nations and other organizations and by analyzing current events. International days are occasions to educate our students on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources, to address global problems and to celebrate and reinforce the achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations but is also a powerful advocacy tool that may help us empower our students and create global citizens who are aware of the wider world, have a sense of their role as world citizens, respect and value diversity, want to tackle social justice, and believe that all children and young people have a right to an education.

Each international day offers the opportunity to organize activities related to the theme of the day at our schools. The themes of international days we have selected will always link to:

  • the maintenance of international peace and security;
  • the promotion of sustainable development and global mindedness;
  • the protection of human rights, and the guarantee of international law and humanitarian action

The main aims of this global and collaborative project are to:

  • infuse curriculums with more project-based learning and exposure to real-world examples;
  • empower students by giving them the opportunity to co-create knowledge and learn through mistakes in a safe environment;
  • support students in becoming familiar with the professional environment and behaviours such as clear and timely communication, thinking critically, problem-solving and time management;
  • help students to see how their achievements are based upon more than just the grades they earn in class, but also the experiences they develop during their lessons

Upon completion of this project, students will:

  • define real world problems and find solutions;
  • meet international students and become a part of a global community;
  • participate in thought-provoking conversations and self–reflection activities that challenge students to investigate global problems;
  • gain factual knowledge of human rights and environmental issues;
  • learn and expand their digital citizenship skills;
  • be challenged to share the information they learn;
  • develop their global competency.

More than ever before rapidly changing working conditions and social structures require students to actively shape their role in society. Schools form future leaders for positions in society that require a high degree of social emotional skills and global mindedness. In response to that, our project provides specific collaborative assignments and strategic threads to realise related education goals. Democracy and citizenship, health and life skills, sustainable development are three interdisciplinary themes the project aims to address.

After having registered, we will verify your identity and invite you to our Microsoft Team where all the collaboration will take place.

Find more information about out project here:

https://singlevoicesglobalchoices.wordpress.com/

Registration: https://singlevoicesglobalchoices.wordpress.com/join-us/

We hope to see you soon! Join us in this collaborative and global adventure!

Kind regards,

Lesley Fearn, Lynn Thomas and Barbara Anna Zielonka

Project logo- created by Barbara Anna Zielonka

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 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.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Tools for anywhere learning

Each year I like to take time and think back to the digital tools that we used in our classroom, what the benefits were, and how I might find new ways to use them. When I look to use technology in my classroom, I always start with the purpose behind it. What do I think it will help me to do better as a teacher? How can it help students to learn in more personalized or authentic ways? And what are the skills that students will build as a result that traditional non-technology methods might not afford?

There are tools that I continue to use each year because they have added new features or they have integrated with other tools that we are using in our classroom. Here are twelve tools that made a difference for my students and some even helped me to stretch professionally this year.

  1. Gimkit, a game-based learning tool has continued to be a favorite with my students because of the potential for increased content retention through repetitive questions, and because of the different ways it can be played in the classroom. It enables students to develop strategies and have fun while learning. Some of the updated features in Gimkit 4.0, include being able to search and use pre-made kits, multiple ways to look at the student data, and now you can even make flashcards.
  2. Buncee is a versatile tool for creating multimedia and interactive presentations. It provides multiple ways for students to learn and to express themselves, promoting student choice and voice, offering many choices for creation in an all-in-one tool. Buncee has an Ideas lab, where teachers can explore lesson ideas and templates to use in the classroom. Two months ago, Immersive Reader was added, which increases accessibility for students and offers more robust ways to learn, especially for language learners.
  3. Synth provides an easy option for recording a podcast and building communication skills. It can be a great tool for speaking assessments and extending the time and space of classroom discussions. We use Synth with our project-based learning and students were able to ask questions, respond to discussion threads and communicate with students from Argentina and Spain. Synth includes options to record audio or video. It is a great way to encourage students to share their ideas and build some in speaking.
  4. Anchor, another tool for podcasting, is one that has helped me to finally create my own podcast to share my ideas with other educators. But it’s also a popular tool that can easily be used with students to create their own podcast, adding in transitions and even creating a hook to advertise a podcast they create. Using a tool like Anchor would be good for launching a school podcast to share what’s happening in the school with the greater school community.
  5. Wakelet is a content curation tool and so much more. It has gone from simply being a space where I would curate blogs, videos and other resources that I wanted to have access to quickly, to being a powerful tool for student learning.  With Wakelet, teachers can provide blended learning experiences, use it for station rotations, have students create a digital portfolio, post-class projects, create a scavenger hunt and many other possibilities. It even offers the capability to record a Flipgrid short video right within the Wakelet collection. Educators and students can collaborate in a Wakelet collection.
  6. Nearpod is a multimedia, interactive presentation tool that enables teachers to create engaging lessons which can include virtual trips and 3D objects. It offers lessons on topics such as digital citizenship, social-emotional learning, career exploration, English learner lessons, and professional development resources for teachers. Educators can create lessons with many options including quizzes, polls, drawings, matching pairs, audio, video, and content from PhET Simulations, Desmos, BBC, YouTube and more. Nearpod lessons can be done live in class or student-paced and there is also the option for use as sub plans.
  7. Adobe Spark is a presentation tool that can be used to create an infographic, a website or a video. Using the apps, it is easy to create with Spark Post, Spark Page, and Spark Video. This year my students chose Adobe Spark for a project about their family and narrating their childhood. It was not only a more authentic way to create with the content and build other vital skills for the future, but it led to the creation of something more meaningful, the students could share with family and friends.
  8. Voxer is a walkie-talkie app that can be used for educators to collaborate and avoid the isolation that can happen at times. It is a tool that I have used for four years, in many ways including connecting with educators to discuss a book, focused on specific topics, or for small groups as part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC). We have also used it for project-based learning as a way for students to share their ideas and reflect. Because time is something that teachers never have enough of, Voxer is a great tool for learning and finding professional support on any schedule.
  9. Flipgrid is a social learning platform where students and educators can record a video response and include additional content. It has helped with global collaboration by creating a way for students to connect with classrooms and experts around the world. With the summer updates, the addition of augmented reality with Flipgrid AR would be a fun way to have students record their thoughts or do a short presentation and then have a QR Code for others to scan and see their video pop up in AR! With Flipgrid, my students shared videos with students in Argentina and learned more about life and school, which took their learning to a whole new level.
  10. Remind is a messaging app that enables students and parents to stay connected with access to information and resources. Being able to send a quick reminder, to answer students’ questions, to inform parents of upcoming events, and to have a space where students can get the help they need when they need it, has made a difference in my classroom. It also helps with building digital citizenship skills as students learn to interact in a virtual space. Remind can also be used to share a lesson from Nearpod, or a game through tools like Quizizz or Quizlet.
  11. Quizlet is a learning tool that offers students many different ways to practice content. There are thousands of flashcard sets available for educators and students and with each set the activities include flashcards, learn, write, spell, test, match, gravity and Quizlet Live! When playing Quizlet Live, students are placed in teams and can collaborate as they play. Only one member of the team has the right answer. It is a good tool to get students moving in the classroom and building those peer relationships.
  12. CoSpaces EDU is a virtual reality platform that became a favorite for some of my eighth-grade students this year. Whether creating a space in 360, designing a game, an interactive story, or an experiment, students will enjoy creating in VR and developing coding skills too. Another benefit is the Merge Cube add-on, which enables students to hold the space they have created in their hands! Students can even collaborate by working on teams to create a space together. With MergeEDU, educators can use the cube as an interactive tool to further engage students in learning about the earth, dissecting a frog, exploring a volcano and more.

While this is how my students and I have used these tools in our classroom, there are definitely a lot more ways that these tools can be utilized. Think about some of the tasks that might be taking up a lot of your time, or consider some issues or challenges you might be having. A few years ago I noticed a decrease in student engagement and I was looking for opportunities to open up more choices for students to share their learning. Any of these tools can be good for addressing those concerns. My Advice? Start thinking about your own personal goals and start with one thing. Try it and see how it goes, ask students or colleagues for feedback, and then make adjustments as needed.

 

 

**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.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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