learningenvironment

Guest Post by Laura McDonell@lmcdonell14

A look at What Actually Worked for Me

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Reading is one of those things that I go to the wall on.  Growing up, reading was something I struggled with. As a teacher, I see how critical it is to overall success as a student.  Today, one of the reasons my life is so incredibly rich has to do with the books I read. As a parent, I am determined to give my kids opportunities to find success with reading. As with everything in life, some days everything comes together, connects and makes a beautiful picture.  However, there are other weeks or years where the struggle is real and seems like it is never going to end.

It doesn’t matter where my kids are starting from (I can still remember checking out different copies of the Dick and Jane anthology because it worked, and my middle son needed repetition.  While all three of my kids have grown up in the same environment, they have all been unique in regards to what works best for each of them as readers.  Overall the key is persistence, and never giving up no matter how challenging it might seem. I have found success as a parent by visiting the library often, allowing them to change their minds about what they like, becoming their personal assistant, reading and talking about books in front of them, using audiobooks, hosting a book tasting and celebrating accomplishments.

  1. Visit the Library Often.

jaredd-craig-HH4WBGNyltc-unsplashLibraries might seem dated, but they are in fact one of the best-kept secrets.  We got library cards for our kids as soon as they could write their names. Today, cards can be used to check out everything from audiobooks to new release movies.   Apps like Hoopla and Overdrive are amazing. With a library card, these two sites offer thousands of books, movies, and music. Giving kids the opportunity to borrow a stack of books without any cost is ideal for many families.  Taking advantage of MEL, the state’s interlibrary loan program, allows people to request books from all over the state of Michigan and have them sent right to your local library. Showing someone how to use the library unlocks a world of possibility.  Anything can be learned by using the public library. And, using the library saves a lot of money. Surrounding kids with books is one of the best things you can do to get them reading. The library makes reading an inexpensive activity. I am not alone when it comes to using the library.  Several financial enthusiasts highly recommend it.

2.  Allow them to Change Their Mind Often. 

When my middle son was in first grade, he loved the Nate the Great series. The books were right at his reading level, and I thought I had struck gold since there were several of them in the library.  I requested every copy I could find. After reading about 10 of the books, one day he said, “I don’t really want to read Nate the Great anymore.”  At first, I was a little sad since there were still books to be read, but after thinking about it, I was excited that he was willing to be honest about what he wanted to read.  Minutes later, I realized had a new challenge. I had to help him find his next book, and do it quickly so that he did not lose momentum to continue reading. Humans are always evolving.

matthew-fournier-G971e4EFKtA-unsplashA few years ago one of my boys really got into hockey. We found all of the Matt Christopher books about hockey in the library, and he eagerly read each one cover to cover. Last summer my daughter was obsessed with learning about swimming.  We raided the library for any nonfiction book we could find on the topic. During the winter it was graphic novels, and today she loves to dive into anything related to fairy tales. Even though I have a pretty good idea about what each of my kids likes to read, I had experiences where I selected a book or two I thought might be perfect, only to have them not show an interest in what I picked out.  I do not take it personally, since there is no cost associated with it, and know that as a reader I don’t read every book I take home from the library.

3. Be their Personal Assistant.  

Kids need to be taught skills to thrive on their own. However, when they are starting out, they need someone to guide them:  like a coach, or a personal assistant.  The personal assistant does not do the work but instead sets a person up for success.

If we want to raise a reader, the more times children can be successful will improve the overall possibility of them sticking with reading early on, and then eventually becoming adults who are drawn to books.

Personally assisting a child, looks like helping him or her find books, help them find books that are just right for their level, challenging them, suggesting new authors, reading a chapter aloud, placing books in their path, and helping them organize their schedule to support reading time. As an adult, I have read a lot of books and heard hundreds of titles and authors, and because of it I am in a great position to offer guidance.  Scrolling through Bestseller Lists helps me to find current and high-interest reading material.  As my kids get older, I have started to transfer this responsibility. However, it is still important for young adults to have help in selecting books. My husband even enjoys it when I pick out a book for him tailored to his interests.

Reading aloud the first chapter of a book can help a child get into a story.  I knew my middle son would love John Grisham’s Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer books.  I was also aware that some of the terminology, setting, and background given in the first chapter could be very new, and confusing.  So I offered to read the first chapter to him. After hearing and then talking about the chapter, he was hooked and settled in for a great series of books.

4.  Read in Front of Them.  And Talk about Your Books.

dan-dumitriu-3w1XBUGj4ds-unsplash.jpgWhen I first started teaching, I would ask the parents of my really motivated readers who seemed to always be reading, “Tell me how you did it?  What do you think has made the difference in getting your child excited about reading?” Almost every time I was given the same answer, “I suppose he just sees me reading all the time, and it just seemed like the thing to do.  My nose is always in a book”.

If you expect your kids to read, you have to also be a reader.  You gain credibility when you pick up a book on a regular basis.

It is also important to be a “Real reader”, and model what it is like to struggle with something in a book, fall in love with a new series, or make the choice to abandon a book because you cannot get into it.  It is helpful for kids to know that they are not alone in how they think about books.

5.  Use Audio Books

When my kids were really little, I would get audio CDs with the corresponding picture book from the library.  It helped me to team parent with myself, as I could catch a break where my kids could listen to a story and follow along with the words.  As my kids have grown older, they continue to enjoy audiobooks. We listen to them on vacation in the car, and two of my three kids absolutely love hanging out in their room listening to a book while putting together Legos or doing chores.  We have found that they are awesome for the kids to fall asleep listening to.

Lastly, as a Spanish student, I remember being able to listen at a higher level than I could read or speak.  One of the coolest things about audiobooks is that students can comprehend at higher levels than they can speak or read.  Plus, audiobooks give kids practice listening to correctly pronounce words, perfected grammar, and give them the opportunity to work on fluency as a reader.

6. Do a Book Tasting.

hannah-busing-0BhSKStVtdM-unsplashExposure to good literature and authors is one of the best gifts we can give our readers.  I absolutely love sharing some of my favorites with kids. Just as we could taste cheese, wine, sauces, desserts, or other menu items, book tastings are a great way to try new things.  I typically put a book in front of each place setting. Each child will get a chart to list the title he or she tasted along with the author, genre, and the likelihood that he or she might read the book.  The tasting is timed to keep it moving. And so after a total of several, ninety-second tastings, kids are able to walk away with several new titles that could be considerations for future reading. This activity can be adapted to any size (I have had great success with it in the classroom).

7.  Celebrate Success as a Family.

daniel-olah-VUGAcY35Ubw-unsplashThere are times that I find my kids book hopping, and not finishing titles.  I have also seen my kids plateau as readers. It is fun when we all work together and focus on completing a challenge that encourages reading and celebrating the success of others.  It works well for us to keep a running list of books read on the refrigerator. We set a goal for a number of books to be read and immediately start brainstorming how to we will celebrate our success.  It is nice to focus on working together and cheering each other on.

Maybe some of these ideas will work for you. What works well one day to encourage reading, might not work as well the next.  Plus, reading is personal. Everyone is motivated differently. But, the important thing is as a parent or teacher, you never stop trying.  Persistence is so important. Sometimes it is really tough to find the perfect author or series for a child. But, there is always one more book, genre, author, or method to try.  It won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

Read more from Laura: Her blog site

***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  

 

Books available

bit.ly/Pothbooks

 

Image Credit Pixabay

Guest Post: Jenn Breisacher, Founder of Student-Centered World (www.studentcenteredworld.com)  

Twitter: @StuCentWorld, Instagram: @studentcenteredworld

 

Somewhere along the way, teachers got scared.

I don’t mean scared in the traditional sense. Yes, sometimes there are heart-stopping moments for one reason or another, but teachers aren’t scared of their climate.

Teachers became scared of today.

As long as we can remember, teaching has been about this technique or that in the classroom. We are sent to learn about different methods and spend hours of professional development learning about different ways to help our students be successful. Some teachers take this in stride while others sit back and roll their eyes, knowing that when they go back to the classroom, they’ll just stick to “what works”.

It always has, right?

But what happens when an entire generational shift occurs? What happens when an entire generation doesn’t know what life was like before September 11th? That landlines used to be the only way to call somebody? That “likes” and “follows” used to be a phenomenon that was done in person?

Folks, that generation is here…and “what works” doesn’t work for them.

Generation Z has entered our classrooms and they are different than any other group that has been taught in traditional education before. They are hands-on, tech-savvy, and need to know that what they are learning will help them make a difference. Simply put, traditional methods of instruction will not allow them to perform at their best. 

Let me say it again, “Traditional methods of instruction will not allow Generation Z to perform at their best.”

I’m not saying they can’t learn with traditional instruction. Sure, by osmosis they may learn by sitting and listening to a lecture or taking notes from a PowerPoint…but this is not how they will learn best. As educators, we don’t want to simply go through the motions. We don’t want to know our students learned the bare minimum to pass and move along. We want them to have a thirst for knowledge, to want to know more, learn more, do more. Yes, they may “learn” in a traditional classroom, but there will be multiple layers of potential that simply does not get tapped.

 

The world our students are entering is so competitive, but not in the ways we remember. Jobs used to be industrial, but now they’re turning entrepreneurial. We need to give our students the power to head into that world with confidence. We need to help give them an edge so when the going gets tough, they know what to do. We are preparing our students for jobs that don’t yet exist, which is a scary thought. (Don’t believe me? How many of you recall friends who wanted to be social media managers while you were in school? That’s just one example). The only way we can ensure their success is if we train them now to think outside of the box and to be willing (sometimes quite literally) to get their hands dirty and think like no one else.

This is the scary part for teachers.

Yes, throughout the years, life has changed. Every generation of students who have come to school has had different needs and interests than the ones before them. However, the birth of the information age and the worldwide connections that are now made in an instant are things that have never been seen before. We can debate for days whether or not this is good for society…whether or not “these kids” are being helped or harmed because they know how to function a Smart Phone by the time they’re 2. While those debates are fine, they’re not changing anything regarding what clientele we have in our classrooms right now. These changes to society aren’t going anywhere…at least not for a long time…and it’s our job…our duty…to make sure we are adapting in the classroom so these kids are learning in a proactive way for the world that awaits them, not the way it’s always been done in a world that no longer exists.

 

Change is scary for everyone. It takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us dabble in ideas that may be foreign to us…but remember, those ideas are not foreign to our students. If we want them to be as successful as possible in life, we need to help prepare them for the world that awaits them, not the world that awaited us.

 

 

 

Guest Post 

Katy Garvey, @Katy_Garvey, Social Learning Manager, The Source for Learning Inc., Former MS Principal, Reston, VA

Promoting Healthy Self-Esteem in Schools

Adolescent mental health and the social-emotional well-being of our students is something educators face daily. More frequently (thank goodness!), this topic is being brought to the forefront of many school districts. In my near 15 years in the public school system, I witnessed a transition to more mental health awareness practices as well as preventative and proactive care. The “middle years” can often be the most challenging, as our children are trying to figure out who they are, establish independence, all the while amidst changes in their bodies and minds. Oh, and we still expect them to demonstrate academic and social competencies in school! That is A LOT!

 

As educators, we know that when students feel good about themselves; in turn, they are much more likely to be more successful in the classroom. But, how do we set up our teen students for success? It takes a continuously committed focus on daily routines and practices that help build self-esteem. I will share some basic ideas and teaching strategies to consider when working to promote a healthy sense of worth and belonging in our students.

 

  1. Ask a “question of the day.”

We know that building and maintaining relationships are key and creating connections with students can go a long way in promoting their self-confidence. Try starting each class period with an open-ended question. Students can use an e-journal or blog (see some ideas HERE for blogs or e-journals) to record their thoughts. You could even move toward “circling up” and having students share their responses. Remember if you do this, always give the “pass” option. Read more about circle practice in the classroom HERE. In my time as a high school classroom teacher, I had the unique opportunity to teach a section of a class called Peer Helping, where the focus was to create meaningful relationships and mentorships between secondary and elementary school students. The first quarter of the year, the students were with me in the classroom, and we began each day in this way. As the year progressed, it was amazing to see how the students opened up, sharing beliefs and feelings. Additionally, an uncanny sense of community was established in my classroom as a result- it was something I’ll never forget! 

  1. Have students set goals, monitor progress toward them, and celebrate successes.

These could be behavioral goals, academic goals, extracurricular goals, or all of these. Ensure that the goals are attainable and always find something to celebrate…no matter how big or small. Also, make sure to work with students to create opportunities for them to succeed based on their strengths and interests. Lastly, remember, this will also vary student to student- we are striving for equity, not equality.

  1. Provide ongoing, genuine praise and feedback.

Talk to students frequently and provide consistent, specific feedback on learning and goals. It is important for students to know not only that you care, but that you are an active participant in their academic and social success. Written feedback is also impactful, but strive to be specific—instead of saying (or writing) “great job,” how about something like “I love the way you analyzed that text with such specific details”! This way, students know what the desired outcomes are and also when they meet expectations for success.

Well, that’s certainly a whole lot, but hopefully, it gets you started on the road to shaping our students’ self-esteem and creating those classroom routines and practices that foster a positive learning environment. I would love to know what you do in your daily practice to promote teen self-esteem. Drop a comment and let us all know!

 

Communication is Key

One of the things that I enjoy the most about the summer is having more time to reflect on the different tools and resources that I am using in my classroom and to explore new ones. Summer is also the perfect time to participate in professional learning, whether by attending conferences, taking classes, or meeting with other educators. This summer, I have been involved in several presentations and conversations that are focused on finding a way to enhance better communication between home and school. It is critical for classrooms today that we find a way to increase family engagement in the learning experiences of their children and make sure that everyone has access to the school information and resources, especially those that are time-sensitive.

Finding the right tools

There is no shortage of tools that we can use to form a connection between home and school, whether we want simply to send messages and class updates to students, or we want to focus more on including parents. Because teachers have so many different responsibilities, finding the time to explore tools can be a little challenging at times. This is why it’s beneficial to share what we are doing in our classrooms to help other teachers get started and to make those connections that we know are so important for student success today.

Several years ago I noticed a disconnect and I resolved that by finding a digital tool (Celly, then Remind) to connect with my students so I could share resources and class updates with them. But I soon realized that I needed to go beyond simply connecting my students with the class, I needed to include parents. That’s when I moved to using an LMS, Edmodo, which enabled students to get the materials that they needed, and also keep parents informed about our class.

The benefits of one platform

Although these tools worked just fine, the concern was that teachers were using multiple tools. This meant that parents had to keep up with multiple apps, some of which may not have been accessible on their devices. When I was using the messaging app and the LMS, I had to keep a good routine of posting on both platforms and keep reminding myself that I needed to do so for each class that I was teaching. After a short period of time, I realized that there were too many being used. Being able to effectively communicate and collaborate is easier when everyone uses the same platform. There is consistency and parents won’t have to worry about which teacher uses which app, or whether or not their device is compatible with the apps being used.

Making the shift

Thinking about the different communication tools available to teachers, moving to something that offers more than two-way communication and the sharing of photos, videos, and files, makes sense. We have many responsibilities that could require multiple apps or forms of communication. However, notifying parents about student attendance, scheduling conferences, asking for volunteer sign-ups, or coordinating class fundraisers, are a few added benefits when teachers use a platform that provides all of these options housed within one.

Enter ParentSquare

As teachers adopt free communication tools, districts are looking at alternatives. One such tool is ParentSquare. What does it have to offer for teachers and how does it compare to Remind and other teacher-adopted tools?

Teachers use ParentSquare for:

  • Communicating with families and students
  • sharing pictures
  • scheduling conferences
  • sharing class calendar
  • asking for class and project supplies/class party items and food
  • requesting chaperones and volunteers
  • collecting payments for field trips
  • Providing/Collecting forms and permission slips

In addition to the teacher uses, there are many other benefits for school- and district-based usage such as attendance and lunch balance notifications, bus delays, sharing grades and assignments, delivering progress reports securely, and emergency notifications. Having these capabilities makes ParentSquare a single hub for all school-home related communication for parents.

I have had the opportunity to explore ParentSquare over the last six months, to get feedback from other educators and to compare the ways that I used other messaging tools and apps in my own classroom. Besides the time factor, sometimes educators get pushback because there is just too much technology. Too many things to worry about, too big of a learning curve, and too much to figure out to get started, so it’s easier to stay with the tools that have been used for years and that are more comfortable.

Easy to join

When using a platform like ParentSquare, teachers have a lot less to worry about when it comes to sending messages and inviting parents to become part of the group. ParentSquare automatically integrates with the SIS, making it easy for parents to join because it’s done automatically for them, without the need for a join code like with Remind. Parents who don’t register will still receive messages because their information is pulled from within the school rostering system.

Comprehensive and consolidated

Parents will feel more connected to the school by having one consolidated platform, which resolves the problem of knowing where to find information or keeping up with multiple apps for different classes and yet more apps and tools used by the school and the PTA. ParentSquare combines all into one. With tools like Remind, the options are limited as to the types of information that can be shared.

Privacy

It is important to first guarantee that any tool or platform used is in compliance with COPPA and FERPA. Compliant with both, ParentSquare takes all precautions when it comes to the safety and security of students and their families. ParentSquare is a signatory of the Student Privacy Pledge and the company signs a contract with the district to ensure student privacy. While Remind is also compliant with COPPA and FERPA, it has not signed contracts with the district or school in most cases.

Delivery of messages

At times I also heard that some parents were not receiving my messages. When I used Remind, I could see that messages were delivered, however, the students or parents were not necessarily reading them, which presented another problem. Perhaps because of the use of multiple tools, which is why it makes more sense to have one comprehensive platform. ParentSquare automatically delivers messages using the right modality – email, text or app notification and the right language as is in the school records. Reports show reach and deliverability of messages, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted.

Consistency is important

Personally, I have used anywhere between four and six different apps and websites to complete these tasks. However, with ParentSquare, you can facilitate faster and better communication and collaboration between home and school. ParentSquare enables schools and families to engage more in conversations by providing multiple options for communicating in less time through direct messages, polls, and the option to post comments all in one platform. It offers a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement.

In many schools, administrators are potentially asking teachers to use platforms that are a paid platform rather than selecting the tools that they feel most comfortable with or prefer to use based on their role or content area. Making the transition from a tool like Remind to that of ParentSquare does not require any extra time, in fact, it is very user-friendly and easy to navigate. And if there are any questions there are many resources available including online self-paced training modules, extensive knowledge base, 24*7 support for teachers and parents.

Sign up for a demo today

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Key features: Also check out the video here.

Key Features  
Privacy Available, updated 2018
District Level Oversight
Messaging to and between parents
Messaging between teachers and staff
Individual/Group Messaging
Notifications as text, email, app
Send/Schedule reminders
Language Translation 100+ with Real-time translation
Class/School Calendar 2-way Sync with Google and iCal
File and Photo Sharing
Conference & Volunteer Signups
Single Sign-on
Unlimited Message Length
Coordinate Events/RSVP
Permission Slips
Devices: iOs, Android, Web
Attendance Notifications
Grades and Assignments
Report Card Delivery
Attendance Delivery and Excuse Notes
Truancy Letters
Cafeteria Balance
Payments and Invoices Recurring & one time
Polls and Surveys

Buncee: More than just a presentation tool!

There are a lot of great digital tools out there for educators to bring into their classrooms. When it comes to deciding on a specific tool to use, we must always think about our purpose and perhaps ask ourselves a few questions, such as: why are we looking for a digital tool, what are we hoping to accomplish by using it and how will it benefit students and learning? I’m often asked by colleagues either to recommend a new tool or direct them to something specific based on their requirements, such as video, audio, text and more. Because Buncee is such a versatile tool and offers so many options all-in-one, I find myself recommending it a lot. It is easy to get started with and full of choices for teachers and students.

Educators want to use tools that promote student choice and student voice and offer more than just one purpose. The reason I recommend Buncee is because it offers much more than simply being a way to create presentations. In addition to all of the wonderful things that can be created using Buncee, there are additional benefits for educators and students that might be overlooked or simply not thought of when getting started. For example, educators can meet the ISTE Standards for Students and Educators. By having students create with Buncee, students become empowered learners, creative communicators, innovative designers, knowledge constructors and engage in learning that meets each of the ISTE standards. With technology, we want to make sure that it is being used in a way that amplifies student voice and choice in learning.

However, Buncee does more than that. Beyond addressing the ISTE standards and providing students with more authentic and personalized learning experiences when creating with Buncee, there are other skills that are being addressed. In my own classroom, we have used Buncee for many different projects and even for project-based learning (PBL). My students created Buncees to share with their global peers in Argentina and Spain. Creating an “About Me” Buncee enabled all students to develop a more global understanding and become aware of cultural differences, as well as to develop empathy in the process.

Students enjoy creating with Buncee and even more than seeing their own creations, they really enjoy seeing what their classmates create. I have noticed that students become more comfortable with one another in class and start to build closer connections while working on their Buncees. Even the quietest students begin to ask questions, interact more and have been more engaged in creating when using Buncee than they had with other tools before. Students tell me that they enjoy teaching one another, learning about their classmates in unique ways, and feel like they are part of a classroom community.

Knowing that students are picking up on this has been a great way to foster the social-emotional skills (SEL) students need now and in the future. Buncee is so invested in providing a lot of options and opportunities for students and educators to enjoy learning, creating and growing together. Now Buncee has templates available to address SEL.

What is Social-emotional learning?

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

Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of digital tools and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. Using some of the Buncee templates and emojis, students can comfortably express how they are feeling, provide a quick check-in based on their level of understanding, share personality characteristics or likes and dislikes, or respond to questions in class, for a few options. Buncee is “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

In my own experience, I have seen students who have preferred to not speak out in class or who voiced that they were not creative or would not be able to do a presentation, design amazing Buncees and be excited to share with their classmates. Students build confidence while creating and the benefit is that they become more engaged in and excited to share their learning and interact with classmates. It helps to foster the development of skills such as problem-solving, working with different layouts, visualizing and displaying student learning.

It is always a good idea to ask students for feedback. I want to know what their thoughts are, if the tool or strategy is making a difference for them and if so, how. Here are some student thoughts about Buncee.

“It helps me to express my ideas more easily and make presentations which are much more interactive for myself and for my classmates.”

It is made in a way that allows students to make it really personal and specific to what they need. If students are enjoying their work and are able to make it their own, then they will be more willing to learn and will improve because of using Buncee.”

Hearing from students is important and making sure that all students feel comfortable expressing themselves is even more important. With Buncee, students have many choices to find what interests them and to express themselves in a way that is authentic, meaningful and personalized.

 

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When people find out that I am a teacher, one of the first things they say is “it must be nice to have your summers off.”  Yes, it is, but in all honesty, I would be fine if my school switched to year-round schooling. I enjoy being in the classroom and look forward to each day and what it brings, even the challenges that might pop up. More than anything, I love working with students and learning from them. My reason for loving the summer is not because I don’t have to go to work; it’s because it is an opportunity to have more time with family and friends and to take part in professional development and reflection.

Time for Reconnecting

Life gets so busy sometimes that before you know it, weeks and months pass by and you might find that you haven’t had a lot of time to spend with family and friends.  Of course, technology helps us to stay connected more than we could before. Whether we use text messaging, different apps, FaceTime or even a hangout to see our family and friends, it’s not the same as time together in person. More days at home means more time for family and friends.

I’m also excited for conference season to be here and to have time to spend with some of my closest friends learning together and relaxing. It was an amazing week at ISTE 2019 in Philadelphia and it is hard to believe that it has already passed! Time to start prepping for ISTE 2020!

I presented several sessions while at ISTE, which is such a fantastic conference that brings so many educators from around the world together every year.  We had so much fun and some of these pictures totally capture that well. It is great to spend time with my 53s and the 4OCFPLN and meet some PLN for the first time in person.  I loved getting to finally meet (in person) Elisabeth Bostwick, Rich Czyz, Tamara Letter, Scott Nunes, David Lockett,  Annick Rauch, Stacey Roshan, the Gimkit team of Josh and Jeff, and a few members of the 4OCFPLN that I only knew through Voxer!

Now I am prepping for the next learning adventure which is coming up in 2 weeks. I’m fortunate to be part of the EdWriteNow Volume 3 group of authors who will meet in Boston to write the book together. An added bonus is that I will get to spend extra time with my good friend Jennifer Casa-Todd while there. After Boston, a few of us are going on a writing retreat to Nashville. While each of us will be working on our respective books, it will be nice to spend time together!

Knowing that I will spend time with my core groups, the 53s and the #4OCFPLN, plus meet other members of my PLN for the first time, in real life, is one of my favorite things about the summer.   

 

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Time for Recharging

Summer is a time for a lot of things, one of the most important is self-care and recharging. So doing some normal summer things like sleeping in late, catching up with friends and family, going on vacations, ditching our devices and not worrying about setting the alarm are important for our self-care. Summer is also a valuable time for teachers to do even more on a personal and professional basis like think about their practice and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there for personal and professional development and growth. Attending conferences like ISTE give me a renewed excitement for the work that I do. My energy rarely dips when I am at these events, surrounded by friends and learning.

Time for Learning

A more flexible schedule for the summer means more time for attending conferences or webinars, joining in book studies or Voxer groups, or connecting within different learning communities. It might be easier to get involved in a Twitter chat, whatever it is during the school year that just doesn’t seem to fit as part of your routine, make it part of your summer routine.

 

There are lots of opportunities out there and my advice is to decide what is best for you. Do you want to be in one Voxer group or join one book study? Then make that your focus. Or maybe you want to start a blog or create a  new website. It’s up to you because it is your time to decide how to spend your summer break. I’m thrilled to be part of the summer BookcampPD book study with my book In Other Words. Looking forward to discussing the six books included in the study and of course, the two weeks in July (July 15-28), when we get to talk about my book and share ideas and takeaways from it.

 

Enjoy yourself

Each summer gets better and better, and it’s not because I traveled and spent hours on beaches, or to the contrary, kept idle. It is because I have used the time to learn more, to read, to connect, to reflect and to prepare for the next year.  My summer goal is to work so I can start stronger and be better than I was the year before. Whatever you do this summer, make time to recharge, connect and learn. And don’t set the alarm 🙂

 

 

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This post is sponsored by Socrates. All opinions are my own.

When I think about trying some new tech tool, I first consider my purpose when deciding which tool to try. As educators, our goal should be to leverage technology in a way that helps to empower students, promote personalized and student-driven learning, and amplify their learning potential.

As the school year winds down, I think we have a great opportunity to provide some new, authentic learning experiences for our students. We can use these last few weeks of school to do some really cool things. If you notice that students are kind of drained or their motivation or engagement seems to be lacking, then I think it’s the perfect opportunity to try something that you’ve had on your mind but never quite found the time, or to try something new that you recently learned about. Either way, in my own experience, I have seen improvements in these areas by providing access to different digital tools for students to choose from and that meet their needs and interests. Of course, finding something that enables students to have fun while learning is never a bad thing. I recently found something that will definitely help: Socrates

Why Socrates?

Socrates provides a unique game-based learning platform that is focused on differentiating instruction for students. By using Socrates, teachers have access to a wealth of resources and ways to better engage students in learning, helping them to build their skills in content areas such as math and English through the use of games. Because the platform uses artificial intelligence, it is able to adjust to student needs by creating an individualized learning path in real-time, which makes Socrates stand out from other learning platforms. It is easy for teachers to track student progress and quickly identify where students might need some extra help or instruction. It enables students to progress at a pace that meets their individual needs and provides them with the right supplemental resources they need when they need them.

Getting started with Socrates is easy!

Finding time is always a challenge with so much to do in our school days and prepping throughout the week. However, with Socrates, teachers can quickly set up an account, add students to classes and start assigning free practice, homework, and tests in no time at all. The Teacher and School Command Center Modules in Socrates provide a powerful teacher assistant that informs teachers when and where each student needs help. Being able to act on that information quickly is key for teachers, and this is where the AI makes an impact on student learning and growth. Get started today! (link)

Worried about having devices that are compatible? Socrates can be used on a PC, Mac, Chromebooks, Android, and iOS devices. Students can complete their work in class or on their own schedule wherever they have access to a device.

How to get students started

To add new students, simply follow these steps:

1. Go to your teacher Dashboard and select “Manage.”

2. Click the student icon to add a new student.

3. Enter student first and last name.

4. Add a student ID (at least 4 digits).

5. Select the grade level for the student.

6. Click “Create a student account and add to the roster.”

Making changes to student account information is easy using the Command Center. Teachers can specify a grade level, an active area of study, learning style, and gameplay (ranging from High gameplay to No games). Assessing student progress and making changes to their learning profile is easy to do within the Command Center.

Free practice, homework, and tests

It is easy to find the right activities for students and to start a class or set up activities for students to work on at a later time.

To get started:

  1. On the dashboard, select “Assignments.”
  2. Once assignment opens, select the Area of Study (K through 5th) and the content area (Math or Language Arts)
  3. Select the topic, and continue making selections for the specific content material.
  4. On the Assignment details, change the name, the number of questions, add a start and end date if applicable.
  5. Choose to assign as Free Practice, Homework, or to Print.
  6. Once selected, the assignment is added to the student____________ and a box prompts you with “OK” to signify the assignment has been created.

First impressions

Before getting students logged in, we discussed artificial intelligence and how it was used in the Socrates platform. Students were excited to get started. I was impressed by how quickly I could create accounts for my students and get them logged in. They were able to navigate the platform without my assistance and enjoyed having so many choices in which games to try first. Being able to track their progress and make adjustments so quickly is definitely a benefit of the Socrates platform.

If you have not yet tried it, I recommend getting started here. Socrates offers a 30-day free trial. I encourage you to try it out for the rest of the school year and see what students think and reflect on how it benefits learning now and through the summer.

For more information, see the blog, be sure to share your feedback and also follow Socrates on Twitter: @learnwithsocra1

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NoteAffect: A better way to engage

This post is sponsored by NoteAffect. All opinions are my own.

The Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) held at the end of January has become one of my favorite conferences because of the diverse opportunities available to explore emerging technologies and to network. One of my favorite things about FETC is exploring the edtech startups to find out what new tools and trends are out there and to learn some of the stories behind the creation of these tools. It is a great opportunity to see the different start-ups in the Pitch Fest competition and hear their passions for education.

One that caught my attention this year was NoteAffect, an interactive learning platform aimed at promoting and understanding student engagement. The platform empowers educators by providing many options for delivering a lecture and includes live polling, questions, analytics and more, to enhance the learner experience. With time so limited at the conference, I explored the platform on my own and then contacted Jay Tokosch,Founder and CEO of NoteAffect, to set up a demo.

The story behind NoteAffect

When I spoke with Jay, I learned that he got started in this business by founding Core-apps, one of the leading event management systems in 2009. Core-apps was the first company to create a mobile app used for event management. So if you’ve been to conferences or trade shows, and used a conference app to build your schedule, you may have using Core-apps. Having ten years of experience with a highly engaging event management app, Jay has designed an equally powerful learning tool for education. When I asked Jay about how he came up with the idea for NoteAffect, he told me that he got the idea after observing his son preparing for an exam. Jay noticed his son pulling out a spiral notebook, some printed Powerpoint presentations and other documents to study for his college engineering exam. As he studied, his son was going back and forth between all of those materials, trying to match everything up to study. Jay decided to “fix that problem” by designing something that could store all of the information in one place and make it easier for students to study.

The design of NoteAffect is quite simple and easy to navigate, which makes it a great choice for all teachers, whether they are beginners or advanced users when it comes to implementing technology in the classroom. By using a robust tool like NoteAffect, teachers have immediate access to real-time data that enables them to provide the right instructional supports and make adjustments on the fly as the lecture continues. The goal of NoteAffect is to empower teachers to provide the best learning experience and options for students and to close the gap that happens when students are absent from class. While students can easily get the notes or look over a presentation, without the additional resources added in and the interactive piece that NoteAffect provides, students will be missing out and cannot reach their fullest potential.

What does NoteAffect offer?

NoteAffect is more than simply a way to deliver a lecture. It offers digital interactive learning that is available to students whether live in class or for later viewing at a time that meets their schedule. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase student engagement in learning. NoteAffect creates a virtual space for students to fully engage in the lesson, whether participating in class or viewing it at a later time.

When I first explored NoteAffect, what I immediately noticed was how easy it was to set up my courses, add students, locate my lectures, and navigate through the platform. Having time to explore NoteAffect closely, I thought about my own college experience years ago and how beneficial a tool like this would have been for some of the more challenging courses that I had. Although we had access to lecture notes made available after class, being able to interact with the content during class would have increased my understanding and helped with content retention.

Another benefit of Noteaffect is for increasing student engagement. For a long time, I struggled with student engagement and reached out to colleagues and tried different resources to see if I could engage students more. While the methods definitely improved student engagement, I needed more data to work from. Using NoteAffect enables you to focus more closely on student engagement by exploring the analytics available for each lecture and each student.

With NoteAffect, tracking student engagement is easier and it is also a great way to reflect on the teaching practices being used in the classroom.

I will continue exploring NoteAffect and gather some feedback from my students. Check into NoteAffect here and get started with a demo. My next post will highlight some of the features and offer some tips for getting started.

Learning at the Speed of You

In the spring, I like to explore new tools and ideas for use in my own classroom and for colleagues who want to try something new before the school year ends. Spring is the perfect time to try out teaching methods or tools that you perhaps did not have time for yet, or to find something that will keep students engaged through the end of the school year and maybe even to use to avoid the “summer slide.”

A few weeks ago, I came across Socrates, a learning platform also referred to as a “learning engine.” Socrates offers many valuable features for students and teachers, that make it a standout and I am looking forward to sharing its features, ideas to get started and tips over the next few weeks.

The story behind Socrates

I’m always interested in the people behind the product and learning about their motivation for designing something for educators and students. To learn more, I contacted Brian Rosenberg, the Co-Founder, and Chief Executive Officer, to gather some background information on the platform, to find out how it uses Artificial Intelligence, which is a key area of interest for me, and the types of resources available for students, teachers, parents and for homeschooling. The platform, created by Education Revolution, LLC has already received recognition several times this year. Socrates offers such distinct features, which makes it clear why it was endorsed by and received a grant from the National Science Foundation. Less than 5% of the companies are chosen, and Socrates, selected for its unique innovation and having a clear benefit to society was the first winner in Nevada in six years. More recently at the Magnet Schools Conference in Baltimore, Brian had a chance to share the vision of Socrates. He shared that the platform “was created to help provide equal access to students regardless of their socio-economic background.”

Impressive features

I scheduled a demo with Brian and was able to “experience” the platform from the perspective of a teacher and student. As Brian showed me the different components in the Teacher Dashboard, the analytics, and a variety of information available for teachers to use to guide instruction was impressive. One of the first things I consider is ease of navigating through the platform and whether the layout is visually engaging and rich in terms of content.

One aspect of Socrates that makes it unique is that it functions through the use of Artificial Intelligence and cloud computing, there is no IT setup and it can be used on any device. Socrates is fully automated and using the AI, it can quickly assess individual student or whole class needs, and then make adjustments in the learning path. While it the artificial intelligence allows it to automatically adjust for each student, it provides extensive tool for teachers to take over the learning experience and is designed to be a teacher assistant, not a teacher replacement According to Brian, there are 1300 categories of information with millions of questions, and it can adjust to particular topics as students progress, and goes question by question to make changes and create a unique learning path for each student.

Currently available content is Math and ELA (K-5) with Science about to release. During our recent conversation, Brian highlighted a “roadmap” for some updates and new features coming up in the platform over the next few months and at the beginning of 2020. There are plans to roll out activities for K-8 Science, grades 6-8 Math and Language Arts throughout the summer and early fall. Later this year and into early 2020, plans are in the works for Social Studies, ESL, high school Math, and even Test Prep. The number of resources currently available within Socrates is impressive, but with the additional features being added, it will provide an even more robust learning platform.

Socrates recently launched in Mexico, and therefore the teacher and student application is available in English or Spanish.

I will have the opportunity to explore the Socrates platform on my own and will take a closer look at each of the features, comparing it to other tools that have the same end goal as Socrates: providing students with a unique, individualized, learning path.

Experiencing the Power of Socrates

A few of the features that I will be looking at:

  • Dynamic Assessment: How the platform assesses students to find out the specific student needs.
  • Teacher Dashboard: Explore how to move students between classes, look at options available for each student, sorting of data
  • Weekly Reports: Look at the information available, ease of obtaining a snapshot of student progress
  • Command Center: Closer look at features and tools available.
  • Navigation of platform: Evaluate the learning curve for teachers and students, watch tutorial videos
  • Categories of Games: Explore the different categories, rewards, and badges available for students
  • Shop: Look at “cards” available to students, some examples are Greek Mythology, Presidents and more.

If you have been using Socrates, I would love to hear from you. If you have not yet tried it, I recommend getting started here. Socrates offers a 30-day free trial, and Brian encouraged teachers to try it out for the rest of the school year and said that their students can use it over the summer at no charge if they sign up before the end of the school year.

The classroom version: http://withsocrates.com/classroom/

***Coupon code is THRIVEinEDU2019. It can be used for the classroom edition or for the summer edition ($39.99 for the summer for teachers with summer school classes)

Connect with them on Social Media to keep informed of the great new features coming. Twitter is learnwithsocra1Facebook is learnwithsocrates

In Other Words, my new book is now available! Click here for more information on how to get a signed copy.

 

 

Toward the end of the past school year, I noticed a decrease in student engagement, especially while I responded to the question of a student seated close to me, students around the room became distracted or stopped listening. Trying to get the students to refocus sometimes presented a challenge and the result was a loss of valuable instruction time. Another concern was how students had been treating one another. I  often overheard conversations in the hallways, or witnessed unkind interactions in the classroom, or had students who sought help in dealing with different situations.

There were two issues that I needed to resolve: regain the valuable instruction time that was being lost and help students to develop more positive, collaborative peer relationships. How could I connect students more to the content and to one another, so they could work together to foster a more positive classroom? After some brainstorming, and reaching out to my PLN,  I decided to first focus on ways to promote collaboration and to step out of my role of “leader” in the classroom by stepping aside.

The first changes:

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

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

 

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

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

Practical ways to promote SEL:

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

Challenges and solutions:

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

Benefits:

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