The “A” Word

  @deidre_roemer 

The first time I heard the word Autism I was teaching Early Childhood Special Education at an elementary school in Kapolei, Hawaii. It was very early in my teaching career, and I moved from teaching students with significant Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities in a self-contained setting at a middle school to teaching three and four year olds with various special needs in an inclusive setting with a Head Start class. Some of you may be thinking, why in the world would anyone move from Hawaii back to Wisconsin? That is an excellent question that I have asked myself regularly from November through February each year since, but my family is in the midwest. Family is more important that constant sunshine and living a few blocks from Waikiki Beach (at least that is what I tell myself :)).

As I reviewed the records of the students I would serve that year, I read about a young girl who was diagnosed with Autism. This was 1996, so it was long before Autism was as well known as it is now. It was also my first encounter with a learner who had the diagnosis. On our first day of school, her mom explained that she had echolalia (a new term to me at the time) and was a runner (another new term to me at the time). I quickly learned that echolalia meant that she repeated everything that was said all day long. Now, if you can get a picture of how much talking you do to a room of three and four-year-olds, you can see where someone following you around all day and repeating every word that you say is problematic. I also quickly learned that being a runner meant she takes off without warning and runs to anywhere and everywhere in the school and even out into the street. I had done all of my student teaching and my first couple of years of teaching working with older children who had a lot of mental health issues and behavior challenges, so this experience was certainly going to be a challenge.

I went home the first day beyond exhausted and started doing my research. This was at the time of dial-up internet, so getting access to information was not as easy and quick as it is now. I read lots of books and went to conferences. I used everything I had learned about shaping and helping learners control and change their own behavior to apply whatever strategies I could. I did not realize what I was doing at the time as there was not as much research available then about the science of the brain, but since I have learned about brain mapping and how you can create new neural pathways that make sense with where we found challenges and successes that year.

After the first few weeks of school, I realized that one of us was not going to make it through the school year if something did not change, and the four-year-old was winning. I started working closely with her parents, her doctor, other staff, and anyone else I could ask about strategies to help. We made visuals for everything and eventually trained her to follow cues to tell us what she needed instead of running away. The key to success was being more consistent in my practice than I had ever been before and making sure as a team we all used the same language and the same cues whenever we worked with her.

We ended up having a great year. She learned how to respond to real questions instead of repeating others, she told her mom she loved her for the first time (That was a great day!), she was able to play with others at recess with laughter, and she taught me a ton. I learned new ways to problem solve and how to see behavior as communication in a different way. I always understood that behavior was communication, but I was used to a lot of angry, acting out behavior. This was new stuff for me and helped me to see learners from an asset-based lens. This little girl, who happened to have Autism, had so many incredible gifts to offer the world; she just needed us to look for them in really unexpected ways. Although I went back to the mainland at the end of that year and back to working with older students, I have never forgotten all that she taught me that year and still talk about it almost twenty- five years later in sessions about how to work with children with unexpected behaviors in the classroom.

Since then, I have worked with many students who are on the Autism spectrum and their families. I know even more now about the communication, academic, and behavioral needs of these learners and have continued to learn so that I can help our teachers and leaders have the best skills to include them in every setting. I’ve learned about the entire spectrum and how varying the needs are across it. I know that if you know one learner with Autism, you know one learner with Autism and that what works for one rarely works for all. When I served as the Coordinator of Special Education for our school district, we started one of the first Autism specific programs for high school students in our area. We worked with grants and research organizations to get additional training for all teachers in understanding how to connect to and include students on the spectrum in meaningful ways. I have been able to support amazing teams of teachers and speech pathologists to develop a high school course based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner in Social Thinking. Since then, our speech pathologists have expanded the work to running groups at most of our schools for students with special needs. Over the last two years, they have also trained many regular education teachers and school counselors to work with ALL learners on lessons in Social Thinking combined with the Zones of Regulation strategies from a very early age. Our goal is always that ALL of our learners can see their own place in a group, learn how to identify their needs, and learn strategies to feel empowered. When they understand their own social interactions and emotions, they are more likely to find a sense of belonging within a group and therefore want to contribute and create.

With all that I know now, you might be surprised to find out that it took me almost three years to use the word Autism in reference to our son, Nick. Our Nick has Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, which has turned out to be an opportunity to learn everything that is important in the world. Although professionally I knew a lot when we realized he was on the spectrum, you forget everything you know as a mom. It took me a long time to accept his diagnosis and talk about it with others. In a class for pre-service teachers at a local university, one of my students recently shared that one of her learners has “no support from home. His mom didn’t even come to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.” I have been really open about Nick, his diagnosis, and why school getting it right is so essential in our class. My response that it took me three years to say the “A” word when it came to my son shocked her, and it made me realized I should talk about that more.

I have been open about sharing many of our success stories and what we have learned in the last several years both at work and with my family and friends. I don’t always talk about the time when we lived in a world of grief for what he might not become or denial that others just didn’t know him well enough. If that is how I felt with years and years of professional experience, how does someone feel who is trying to navigate an impossible system of medical care with no background or connections to resources to find the right support within the system? If I find IEP meetings ridiculously intimidating when I ran them for many years, how does it feel to be a parent without that background knowledge in a room full of experts talking about what is wrong with their child and our plan to help? I have the support of family and friends who stick by me even when I am not in a place to receive that help. I have access to resources through my professional networks and the privilege of being able to get him to multiple therapies and services each week with the support of my husband and extended family that not everyone has. We recognize that and are thankful for it every day. We certainly don’t have it all figured out by any means, but we have found some alternative therapies that are game-changers and were able to move him to a school that we thought was a better fit for him where he is thriving.

When I think about why I was so afraid of the “A” word, it comes down to not wanting him to be seen as his disability before someone gets to know him as a person. I had accepted that he has special needs for years, but I was really fearful of the “A” word because many people want you to know everything they know about Autism before they ask you or him one question about Nick as a person. He has this amazing, gentle spirit and sees the world in a really beautiful way. He just doesn’t show that side of himself to many people, which also took me a long time to realize as I have always been one of “his people” and made some assumptions that others were having a similar relationship with him to the one that I have.

My fear that his relationships would be defined by his label impacted me and kept me from teaching him to own who he is and express how he thinks differently about the world, why, and what he needs from others for a long time. I feared that others who have sympathy for him instead of empathy and therefore not hold him to the highest standard or simply ignore him if they didn’t understand the disability and that he is more than his label. He has made me a better educator and leader, as I am much quicker to try to see everyone and every situation from an empathetic lens. I don’t always need to be able to understand why someone feels a particular way to recognize that those feelings are real and take that into consideration with a response or some support. In the role I get to serve in now, our experience in supporting him helps me to know why every classroom needs to be a place where every learner feels embraced as part of the community, appreciated for the gifts they bring, and given opportunities to create in ways that connect to who they are even if who they are is different than what we would typically expect.

At the end of the day, we all have to remember that we are each doing the best we can. We each have different levels of education and life experience that contribute to who we are and how we respond to the next challenge life throws at us. People expected my acceptance to be different based on my experience, but it was not. I love my children as much as my parents loved me and as much as the parents we serve love their children. Those without the skills to navigate the system or the background to know what to do to support their child who learns differently in school love them just as much and really do want the best. They may just have a harder time showing it and being vulnerable enough to share their story with us. Given how long it took me to share mine, I get it.

Providing Different Learning Tools

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.

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

 

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

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Buncee: Learning Anywhere

Providing Ways to Keep the Learning Going

Over the past week, there has been a lot of conversation about what educators can do if schools need to close for a period of time, especially due to recent events related to the Coronavirus. Finding ways to extend the “space” of learning for our students has been a topic of discussion for many years, so it is not entirely something new. However, with the current situation, educators and schools are seeking to find the right resources that can be put into action right away.

Over the past few years, many schools have started to offer flexible learning days to deal with school closures due to weather conditions, environmental issues or something else entirely. Being able to keep learning going and have ways to collaborate without being in the same physical space is important. Having a specific platform or digital tool in place that all educators can use and making sure that all students will have access is very important. With so many choices out there, it can be tough to figure out exactly where to begin, especially when time is a factor.

As I’ve been talking with some friends this week, a large part of our conversation has focused on what to do if our schools were to close and even in the general sense, how can we also provide more for our students for times when we need to be out of the classroom? For times when I have not been able to be in class, whether due to illness or a pre-planned conference, I rely heavily on technology to be able to connect with my students so that they can ask questions and have the support they need. However, I also rely on it to provide them with rich learning experiences through versatile tools that they can work on independently wherever they are. With Buncee, we can work remotely and provide meaningful learning experiences that engage students in the digital space.

Buncee = Learning Anywhere

As I have been thinking about some of our recent Buncee projects, my 8th grade STEAM course has been working on a few activities. They have created an About Me Buncee, a few for gratitude and most recently, “Tech Over Time.” In the Tech Over Time project, students have been exploring the transformation of some digital tools or electronic devices over the past 10, 20, 30+ years and also making predictions for the future.

As students create, they can work from school, at home, or anywhere, and be able to share their work with me wherever I am. Teachers can assign fun projects for students or choose from the many ideas in the Buncee Ideas Lab.

We have used Buncee for years in all of my classes and through it I have been able to provide opportunities for my students to engage in more authentic and meaningful learning, to be creative and to drive their learning experience. Whether students use it to design a Buncee to share their experiences, engage in project-based learning, summarize a book they have read, explain a concept in math or science, for a few examples, the possibilities are endless for what students can create.

As teachers, we have so many choices for how we can use Buncee in our classrooms. It can be used to have students work through a Hyperdoc, or used as a model template for students to then create their own Buncee, make a timeline, solve word problems, and more. The idea is that we can leverage the tool to provide something that will connect with each student and it can be done from anywhere.

Ideas for your Classroom

1.Make an interactive book

2. Create a timeline

3. Design a digital business card

4. Explain steps in a process

5. Teach a lesson, add audio and video

6. Book summary

7. Design classroom signs

8. Create study aids

9. Create an ebook

10. Recreate a moment from history, personal experience, or make a future prediction

Math Mentoring: The Struggle is Real AND it’s an Asset!

Struggling in math has been my greatest asset as a math teacher.  Remembering the pain of negative self-talk while feeling like giving up was my only option…well, math trauma is not easily forgotten. It’s why so many adults, decades after high school graduation, will still tell you they are bad at math. For me, the silver lining to that trauma has always been the ability to relate to my students, and even my own children, when they have math struggles.  One of the greatest compliments students and former students have shared with me is that math finally made sense to them when they were in my class.

One thing I’ve never said, and will never say, to my children is that I was bad at math.  Even as a new teacher, I asked parents not to say that to their children. Telling your children or students you are bad at math is like encouraging them to quit before they even begin.

Now, I have always told my students and children that I struggled in math.  We all understand what struggle means, and the good news is that there is always the possibility of winning in a struggle!  Every year, I tell them how I had to stay in at recess in first grade because I could not understand the concept of subtraction.  Crazily enough, my teacher had no idea how to teach it in a new way that made sense to me. She tried to explain it repeatedly in the same way…and it didn’t make sense to me for the longest time.  I also tell them about how in first grade I received a C in math and it made me feel terrible. I never wanted another C on my report card and made sure I never did again. That desire to make the Honor Roll (I was a middle child and wanted to stand out in some way, and academically was my route) kept me from quitting.  Math was a struggle, but I found a way to understand. As early as seven years old, I realized that quitting was not an option. Finding math success was never easy for me, but through my school years, I found what worked for me. This is what I share with my students hoping it will help them, too.

Addressing the Struggle at the Beginning of the Year

First week of school when I say the word “math”I look around to see who dreads the very word itself. It’s not just about reading expressions, but I look for patterns of misbehavior and any kind of drama that might commence when that dreaded word is spoken.  I always begin the year assuring my students that if they stick with me and trust me, as their math teacher, I will not leave them behind. I have promised that to my students for years, and I mean it with every fiber of my being. I explain that when they don’t quit, math can be fun like a puzzle.

What does it take to help children dig into math when they want to check out? It takes patience and time to do it to do it to do it to do it right, child, I got my mind set on math, I got my mind, set on math…

All singing aside (remember He gave me a melody *wink wink*), in a whole group lesson, the ones who get the concept easily, I normally allow them to begin the assignment and do it at their pace.  The students who have questions stick with me and the ones who are lost become a small group.

Helping my own child, a fifth grader review geometry!

What does helping kids through math struggle look like?

Sitting next to a child who struggles is important.  That nearness factor makes a difference. They know I won’t ignore them or allow them to pretend to work when really they are just doodling or trying to look busy.  See, by the time they reach fifth grade, they’ve pretty much given up. They don’t want the attention! One of my students, who was desperately struggling, knew how to look busy, so sitting next to me kept him from trying to con me that he was actually trying to solve problems.  He definitely tried to trick me, but I called him out. A few more times like this, and he knew I meant business. He stopped trying to look busy and started attempting the problems before him. Just attempting…finding a starting place to solve is huge when you struggle in math.  I remember this from my own childhood.

When students have progressed to where they begin solving problems more easily, I still encourage them to ask for help, but I do not let them come to me unless they have attempted the problem.  I can ask them, “What do you think you are going to do here?” or “Where do you think you should start?” They are so used to struggling and the teacher just giving them an answer that they often ask before even thinking about how/where they should begin.  Getting them to dig in and try to understand the problem is foundational in developing grit and sticking with the problem. When solving math equations or word problems, it’s truly important to have a place to stick information to, so beginning the problem and attempting to solve it gives them something to add or learn from. If they don’t think through this first part, a teacher’s lesson is like throwing darts into the dark without any specific target that will reach their students.

I also coach my students while giving notes. At some point, they may stop understanding. I coach them to keep taking the notes I give them, but make a note to themselves that this is where they have stopped understanding.  Again, I learned this from my own struggles. In fact, in my Algebra one course when the teacher was finished with the lesson and asked for questions, I was able to ask my questions clearly. To do this well, I had to turn off my negative self-talk.  If I allowed my negative self-talk to take over, the only thing I heard from that point on was me telling me how stupid I was and how I was the only person not understanding. In place of negative self-talk, I encouraged myself to take a deep breath and remind myself that even though I didn’t understand the concept just then, I knew I would eventually if I didn’t shut down.  That allowed me to keep paying attention and sometimes even cleared my confusion. When I shut down, this wasn’t possible.

Something else that helps students is allowing them to talk about patterns they notice.  Whether they struggle or not, when they notice a math pattern, letting them talk it out with the rest of the class will help everyone!! Worst case, it’s also a way a  teacher can help clear up misconceptions early on. The best math teachers for me were my peers. Sometimes students identify specific items that make a world of difference for their peers. My son is in third grade and has a more natural way of understanding math than his older sister.  Whenever he notices a pattern, he stops and we have an entire conversation about it. He truly amazes me. We can, and should, help our students learn the patterns because often times when they figure it out for themselves, they feel more confident and the knowledge isn’t dumped after an assessment. My son talking about the patterns he sees also helps his older sister and younger sister think through that math pattern, too.  That’s a win!!

It’s a Journey

For students who struggle in math, it is an emotional journey.  When teachers stop and say, “I know you are struggling, and I’m here to help, and I won’t go on until you understand,” it’s a balm for our students’ insecure nerves. When they are fifth graders coming to me, they usually have three to four years of feeling left behind.  Hoping to help my struggling students, my mindset is firm that their struggles stop with me and I do all in my power to get them to grow and decrease any learning gaps.

Over time, I have developed the wisdom necessary to see when students quit before even trying or when they are totally overwhelmed.  It’s important to know the difference because both situations require different responses. The quit-before-trying-learner needs a firm reminder of not giving up and figuring out a place to start, while the overwhelmed learner needs to know they can take a break or use another method to help them.

Helping students dig into math struggles is such a beautiful way to help them learn perseverance and purpose.  When they decide to lean into the struggle, they form a mental confidence that can’t be stolen from them. Can you see how facing their insecurity in math can help them in other areas of life, too? Having a teacher who will go the whole distance means everything for these students, and many times, changes a negative academic course into a new path of learning and goal setting!  I have seen the glory! I have seen the joy of confidence from the same student who broke down and cried with me at one point. So yeah…when my students have told me that my fifth grade class was the first time math made sense to them, I feel like I’ve earned an Oscar!

Resources 

Have you heard of the book written by Alice Aspinall called Everyone Can Learn Math? Recently, I read it with my five children and it sparked great discussion.  My oldest, who is currently in fifth grade, found the main character, Amy, very “relatable.” Amy feels the math struggle deeply and so does her mom! I would recommend this book for every parent and educator to keep in their home or classroom library.  I know we will be pulling it out to reread a lot. It’s also a good way to combine your academics. Author, Alice Aspinall also recommends Adding Parents to the Equation by Hilary Kreisburg and Matthew Bayranevand.

Also, have you heard of Nearpod and Flocabulary? When I went back into teaching public school a few years ago, they were the first technologies that I implemented in my lessons.  My students and children love it. They can be personalized or differentiated for the different level of learning going on in your classroom. These resources are engaging and will definitely make a difference in small group learning.  The coolest part is now they are together!!!

Before Christmas, I went to the Anchorage Barnes & Noble and bought some new books by Jo Boaler in hopes of helping me grow in teaching and understanding the math struggle: What’s Math Got To Do With ItMathematical Mindsets, and Limitless Mind.  There is another book calledMath Recess: Playful Learning in an Age of Disruptionby Sunil Singh that I hope to purchase and read. All of these books, and both of these authors, are mentioned frequently when the topic of math struggles come up–and they do frequently! We can also Google their videos!

What are resources that have helped you? Let’s work together to help our students learn through the math struggle!

**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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Authentic Writing You Can Do … with your Students!

Guest post by Sarah Kiefer, @kiefersj

 

I’ve shared several times that as a Technology Integration Specialist, I do not have my own classroom of students. Nor do I have any kind of regular teaching schedule. This allows me to work with any teacher and any group of students! My goal is that anything/everything I do supports classroom instruction and I love when teachers come to me and ask me to work with students. Sometimes, what we set out to do morphs into something else … and it’s always a good thing!

At the beginning of March, Mrs. Laura Counts approached me to help a group of her students. These 5 students had read several books by Sandra Markle (@Sandra_Markle) and had decided they wanted to write their own book, in her style. Laura asked if I would help. Wow! They wanted to do the research, writing, AND the designing of the book!

The overall task was → the students were inspired after reading a non-fiction book to write their own book. As a group, they decided to research bird feet and each selected a bird that interested them. They would use their research to write in the style of Sandra Markle. Meanwhile, I would work with them to take their writings and make it into a book.

We set to work. I met with the students a couple times a week to work on the actual book design and on the other days, they would do their research. I had such fun talking through the design process … we had a LOT of decisions to make! Which tool do we use? Book Creator? Google Slides? Something else? We settled on Slides. Then we poured over every detail … the dimensions of the book (we literally pulled out a ruler to measure!); making the wooden sign; which font(s) to use – this was a BIG conversation … do we all use the same? does each author use a different one?; whose page goes first? last? order?; gathering the credits for the images we used; and many more! I have to hand it to these 5 kiddos. They did an AMAZING job! They put forth their very best. It really shows!

A very interesting conversation we had very early on was whether or not Ms. Markle would be “mad” they were writing this. One of the boys was worried she would be angry. I asked him why, and basically he was worried she would think we were copying her. I assured him we weren’t going to profit off of this and we would be giving her the credit. Mrs. Counts added that she thought Ms. Markle would be thrilled we were doing this. I offered to reach out to her. I did so, via Twitter – our world really isn’t as big as one would think! – and she responded very quickly! It was awesome to be able to show them that the author was proud of them.

We used several digital tools to help us create our book. One of our favorites is a website “Build Your Wild Self” from the Bronx Zoo (unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be available anymore). Then we also used a couple of “digital scissors” — https://online.photoscissors.com/ (to be able to take the “wild self” and attach their specific bird legs) and https://www.remove.bg/ (for our author pages – not shown in the preview below because of the age of the students). Showing the students the power of a Google Slide was incredible! I don’t know who enjoyed it more, them or me!

I am happy to share the final version of their book! The attention to detail and the excitement of these students showed through this whole project is heartwarming. I’m not sharing their author pages due to their age, but several of them have commented on wanting to be authors! ……. I believe they already are!

*** Link to a published Slides that shares the majority of the book the students created.

 

 

**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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Buncee + BETT = What a week!

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What an amazing week it was spending time with Buncee at BETT, the biggest edtech conference in the world held in London. I am so thankful to be a part of the Buncee family and to have had the opportunity to travel to London and share in this experience with Marie Arturi, Francesca Arturi, Eda Gimenez, and Bryan Gorman. It truly was an honor to be there. I love having an opportunity to share Buncee with educators from around  the world and to be able to talk about the impact it has made for students in my classroom and for me as an educator.

 

BETT was unlike any other conference that I have attended. It was definitely a unique experience to be in a space with around 34,000 people,  many educators who traveled from around the world to learn about trends in education, emerging technologies, best practices and to exchange perspectives with one another. There were so many exhibits and learning sessions happening, but for me, my favorite part of conferences are the connections that are made and the learning from the conversations that happen with those connections. 

 

Promoting Awareness

For me, being able to spend time learning about what the educational system is like in so many different countries and to better understand the challenges that are faced by educators around the world was eye opening. During my time at the conference, we had so many groups of educators come to the Buncee booth, eager to learn more about how to amplify student choice in learning, promote creativity, nurture a love of learning and support all students. We had conversations with educators from countries like Nigeria, India, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Belgium, France, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, and many others, almost all of whom had never heard of Buncee before coming by the booth and being drawn in by the “Unlock the Power of Creativity” and the beautiful booth display and many Buncee examples showing on the monitor. Educators and students were curious about what Buncee was and how it could be used.

ImageMarie, Eda, Bryan and Francesca

The booth set up was beautiful and everybody who passed by stopped as soon as they saw it and wanted to capture a picture of Unlock the power of creativity. It might have been the most photographed area of the conference if I were to guess, because there were so many pictures taken during those four days!

 

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Francesca had a whole team come together to learn about the power of Buncee

Working Together

There was so much activity in the Microsoft Education space, which highlighted themes focused on personalized learning, student voice and choice, accessibility and learning tools, unlocking the power of creativity, and collaboration, for a few. Educators moved throughout the Microsoft and partner spaces to learn about each of these topics and find out how to provide more for students using the tools available. It was interesting to see the collaboration of colleagues and teams from the same district or even government organizations showing up to learn about what Buncee has to offer students and educators.

Sharing the Power of Buncee

Every time that I have the opportunity to introduce someone to Buncee, I love seeing their response as they observe all of the possibilities for creation that are available. During presentations, I always ask attendees about their familiarity with Buncee, whether they have heard of it or used it before, and I’m always very excited when a lot of hands  go up to say that it is new to them. Being able to share and show all of the options and ways that it can be used at any level, with any content, is always a good experience for everyone. And I always learn more from those attending because of the specific needs they have for their classroom or the ideas that they are looking for.

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Francesca and Bryan

Powerful learning

Something that I find to be so beneficial in conferences like BETT whether from presenting in the booth, doing demos, or even through poster sessions, is that you get to have those one-on-one conversations to find out exactly what educators are looking for and hoping to learn. You can really connect and work together to explore the tools and strategies out there and personalize it to exactly what each educator needs for their students and themselves. 

When you can make that direct contact and work with closely with them, they walk away with new ideas that they can put into practice right away, and with the reassurance that is sometimes necessary when it comes to technology, that it can be easy to get started, especially with tools like Buncee.

Sharing a love of learning and love of Buncee

nullI was honored to present a session with with Eda Gimenez, about using creativity to nurture a love of learning and the power of immersive reader for accessibility for all learners. We worked on the presentation for a while and I was excited and nervous of course, to present. But what always makes a difference is talking about something  that you are passionate about and believe in and also making a connection with the attendance.

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Ready for our presentation

What made this session special is that those in attendance had not experienced the wonder of creating with Buncee and were there to learn about it for the first time. Being able to share all of the potential it has for empowering our students with choices and creating opportunities for all students. I admire Eda and the work that she does, the message she shares about the power of Buncee and Immersive Reader for language  learners and for nurturing “a sense of participation, inclusivity, fun and creativity.”  

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We checked out our presentation room early.

An added bonus is that we were also able to try out the live captioning during our presentation. For attendees in our session, they could join with a code and then select their language of choice for captions during the presentation. Being able to communicate your message, tell a story, share learning between students and families is vital for educators and for student learning. With the power of technology, through tools like Buncee and Immersive Reader, we can make sure that families are involved and information is accessible for every student and their families. 

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Eda shared Christine Schlitt’s story during our presentation

There are some common questions when it comes to using technology: 

 

What are the ways you can use it? 

How much time does it take to get started? 

Is there a big learning curve? 

How does it benefit students?

I always anticipate these questions and appreciate the pushback that comes sometimes because that’s how we know we are truly looking at the tools and methods we want to bring into our classroom with the right lens. I enjoyed seeing attendees from our session head to the booth to learn more!  It was fun interacting with everyone, seeing their reactions to the Buncees on the screen, and many wondering how to unlock the power Several times there were requests to make sure that somebody would be available to explain Buncee, to do a demo, to answer questions later when they brought back the rest of their team.

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Image from Buncee

Highlights

One of my biggest takeaways from experiences like this is that regardless of if we are a teacher in the classroom or the one doing the presentation, we learn so much more from those who are participating in our session or the learners in our classroom. Without a doubt, I walked away with so many new ideas for my students and a greater understanding of how different educational systems are and the challenge that educators have when it comes to a lack of resources. 

It is definitely a joint effort where they want to have everybody involved and learning together with a theme of global collaboration, it surely was that. We made new connections, shared and learning experiences together and continue to learn and grow together.

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We got to meet Maria in person!

Meeting Buncee Ambassadors

Something else that made it wonderful experience was being able to connect with Buncee ambassadors from around the world. Meeting Maria in person for the first time was exciting and she even brought gifts for us from Argentina. She is a beautiful person and I’m so thankful to be connected with her! 

 

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Thank you Maria for the thoughtful gift from Argentina!

I am so thankful to be part of the Buncee team and Buncee family, who truly does join together to do what’s best for all students, and build a nurturing learning community fueled by a love of learning.

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Thank you Buncee for making a difference.

THOSE KIDS: A Connection Makes A Difference, but Does it Make THE Difference?

Guest post by 

Opinions expressed are those of the author.

I recently followed a chat that started from the claim that all a student needs to be is liked. That all they need is a connection or relationship or positive interaction with an adult. Initially I thought of course I agree, but after some time of that idea rattling around in my head I changed my mind. I don’t think I agree. I would still agree that connections can and do make a huge difference. I just don’t think they make THE difference.

20190517_123745702418090265244780.jpgI work in alternative education. I work with really challenging kids. THOSE KIDS. The ones who didn’t make it in other schools. The ones who know incarceration and the system. The ones who know trauma and abuse and pain and abandonment. The ones who know failure. These kids don’t like me when they enter my classroom. They don’t like anyone. They don’t care if I like them. They are quite used to no one liking them. They don’t care about grades and learning and futures. They don’t plan. They don’t have goals. They don’t dream. They don’t have hope.

So I have to connect with them and I have to do it fast. I have found that I relate to these kids. I get them. Maybe it’s my own quirkiness or off-beat sense of humor or stubborn streak or willingness to do about anything to make that connection – smile, laugh, sing, dance, tell jokes, laugh at bad jokes, pat backs, give hugs, and just never stop trying. They push me away, but I come back. Again. And again. And again. Until finally they push back a little less, and if I’m lucky, they stop pushing back at all. That is connection and it is the absolute first step. No question. It will be the foundation for everything that comes next.

Next. That is the thing that I think has gotten lost. It’s not the connection that’s the most important thing. It’s the next. Jump into any education chat or conversation and you will hear the word connection and relationships, but it’s becoming this idea that if I make a connection with my student then that is all they need. If I care enough or like them enough or love them enough or if we talk enough or have enough in common then that will make a difference to my students. And it will. It will make A difference, but I don’t think it’s enough to make THE difference.

We need the next. They need the next. Think about the process of building a house. When carpenters build a house they build the foundation first. It is what supports everything. But once they have a foundation, they keep going. They build the walls and 20191218_180417-16324819778329009069.jpgthe roof and they put in duct work and plumbing and electrical. It’s finished off with paint and flooring and appliances and décor. There are so many steps that come after the foundation. There are so many steps to building a completed house. If they stopped after the foundation, then they don’t have a house. They just have a piece of concrete.

We, as educators, we need to build the house for our students. Let’s build a foundation. Let’s work hard and quickly to make connections and build relationships, but then let’s not stop there. Let’s do something with that foundation. Let’s give them walls and a roof – a framework to support them. We can teach social skills and coping skills. How to enter a classroom and take turns and ask for help. How to approach tasks independently and with their peers. How to adjust to different procedures and expectations. How to make mistakes. How to celebrate successes. How to work through problems. How to find an answer. How to ask for help. How to be a successful student but also a successful member of society. Let’s give them all the systems inside that house – let’s bring that house to life. We can teach them academics. We can fill in the gaps while giving opportunities for new growth. It may look different than how other students learn and they may need to express what they know differently, but they will learn. They will learn mistakes aren’t failures. They will learn to try again. They will experience success. Knowledge is a powerful thing. So is confidence. Let’s decorate their house. Personalize it. Make it belong to each individual student. Let them be creative. Think outside the box. Celebrate individuality. Find their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Let’s make that house their own.

20191218_1806315978855054264078087.jpgLet’s do something with the connections we work so hard to make. Let’s use those foundations we’ve built. Let’s push our students out of their comfort zone. Let’s move past easy and complacent and good enough. Let’s set high expectations. Let’s push them to struggle and even fail. But then let’s teach them to persevere and to adapt and to overcome. It will be hard for them and us. We will all get tired and experience frustrations, but it’s what they need. And they will be okay because we will there. We will support them and guide them and believe in them and teach them. We use that connection that we created in the beginning to be our foundation to support everything we do next.

 

**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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What if Students Designed Their Education?

In education today, there have been a lot of discussions in regard to what skills students may need for the future. Many times we hear conversations about “21st-century skills” and how to best prepare students for life and work in the 21st century. Often these 21st-century references are followed by reminders that we are well into the 21st century. We are not only thinking of the future, but these are also the skills that our students need today.

According to Alan November, keynote speaker and international leader in educational technology, there are certain skills that students need and that teachers need to promote within the classroom. Students need to be taught “how” to learn and prepare for more than knowing the content, by developing skills that are transferable to multiple areas of life and work. During a keynote presentation, November stated: “I think we should begin to move more and more toward the skill side, because if we teach you to memorize and regurgitate content and your job is wiped out by technology, you’re not well prepared to reinvent yourself if you didn’t learn how to learn.”

November’s message reinforces the importance of students developing skills such as being able to communicate, collaborate, problem-solve, think critically, to name a few. These are some of the key skills that will enable students to be adaptable to whatever type of work they ultimately find or whatever the next steps are once they leave high school. They are skills they will need whether they enroll in college, seek employment, pursue specialized training, or even take a gap year to decide. With changes in technology and in the capabilities when it comes to learning and the future of work, we can’t truly know what employers will look for five years down the road. The best we can do is to give students access to the right tools to equip themselves with not only the content that we are teaching, but infuse the curriculum with choice through independent learning and exploration of interests that students have. An important goal in schools today should be for students to drive their own learning and develop skills that are authentic and meaningful for learning but at the same time are unique to them.

Changing the Look of Schools and Learning

We’ve heard about the “gig economy” and how students need to have the capability of working in different industries and with different types of work. In a gig economy, each job or work assignment is comparable to an individual “gig” or temporary employment. The generation do-it-yourself (DIY) ties into that same thinking. We need for students to do more than simply consume content, we need for them to create and beyond just creating with the content we have given them, they need to come up with their own questions and problems to be solved. Students need to be the designers of their learning journeys.

So what can we do to help our students become part of Generation DIY?

We need to give students the space to design their own learning path and to take charge of their education. There are a lot of instructional strategies that lend themselves to this “generation do-it-yourself” such as a genius hour, project-based learning, service-learning, experiential learning, and makerspaces, among others. As educators, what can we do to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to explore and have access to whatever it is that they might need? How can we truly know what they will need in the future to enable us to help them? We can best prepare by giving and being open to options that diverge from the traditional look of schools and learning.

Schools around the country have started to offer more courses based on emerging trends and what the “predictions” are for future-ready skills. Some courses or components of courses available in schools, including my own, are entrepreneurship, web design, sports and entertainment management, and other courses with content and opportunities to help students develop the skills necessary to design their own learning journeys. Students need more real-world opportunities to engage in that connect them with their community and develop the skills to assess needs in the community and globally, and brainstorm ways to offer services that will be beneficial for others. It happens that educators often assume that students have certain skills, for example, they know how to use and leverage technology effectively because they have grown up in a technology-infused era. However, the reality is quite different. We need to make sure that students have time to learn basic skills and then can push themselves to go beyond. Students need time to learn to adapt and be flexible and move beyond the traditional format of school and move into more learning that does not necessarily have clear-cut specifications.

Options for Generation DIY

You might wonder what options exist for students in the Generation DIY. Here are a few ways for students to explore different choices after high school that would promote some of the skills they will need as they prepare for the uncertainty of the future of work and learning.

  1. Schools can consider creating more opportunities for students through Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. Through these programs, students can explore careers and work on building skills that are transferable to diverse types of work. When students have access to  CTE programs, they get to look into emerging trends in the workforce, explore different careers and walk away with certifications that can increase their marketability in the workforce. For students who may be unsure of the next steps after graduation, CTE programs can offer them time to be curious by exploring possible career options, while developing their skills in high school.
  2. Place-based education gives students the opportunity to explore their communities, learn about the geography and immerse more in authentic learning by stepping out into the “real-world” for more meaningful ways to develop skills in math, social studies, science, language arts, and other content areas. There are six design principles in PBE, which are not required as part of the place-based education, however, when they are included, lead to more authentic and higher quality experiences. The Place Network is a collaborative of rural K-12 schools which provides a wealth of resources for learning more about PBE and becoming a PBE school.
  3. Service learning programs give students an opportunity to learn by exploring real-world issues, even investigating on a global scale and then taking action in their own community. Educators can implement methods such as project-based learning or inquiry-based learning to engage students more by addressing problems or challenges identified in their local environment. Involving students in service learning programs gives them the chance to build skills for the future and learn about their own interests in the process.
  4. The Generation DIY Campaign is aimed at giving students the chance to “chart” their own course through high school and college by exploring different careers and developing diverse skills that are transferable to multiple areas of work. The Generation DIY toolkit provides information and resources for educators and students to get started and also includes personal stories about the process and impact of Generation DIY.
  5. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a growing area in which students can design their own technologies to address issues they identify in the world. AI use is increasing and students can become the creators of AI that can possibly change the way students learn, by creating things like chatbots, or learn how to code and create a virtual assistant. There are many tools available for students to explore how AI is used in everyday life and design their own project based on  AI. These technologies help students to build skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, to name a few, which are essential skills for whatever the future holds for them.

In the end, it comes down to the different choices that we make available for students in schools today. While we certainly cannot predict the jobs that will exist in 10 years, when the current kindergarten students will be entering their high school years, the best way to prepare is by having options in place and connecting school and community.

Challenges, Connections, and Learning every day!

Recently I had a colleague ask me for some ideas for dealing with challenges when it comes to classroom management, student behaviors and just keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. I’m always happy to have time to talk with other educators, there is so much to learn by connecting. I think sometimes there is an assumption that because someone may have been teaching for 10 or more years, or worked in the same school district for a long period of time, that’s there is a higher level of knowledge and skill held by a teacher that fits into this description. While of course the more that you teach, it might seem like you would have a lot of ideas and answers to share with younger or new to the school teachers, but the longer you have taught also means, I think, that you have that much more to learn.

Having taught for about the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of different experiences, some good, some bad, some in-between and some just absolutely fantastic. I have been in the position where I needed to improve, and felt like no matter what I tried to do or could try to do, that I just would not succeed. That I would lose my job. I’ve also been at the opposite end where I felt like things were going well, I could feel more success and a change in how I had been teaching in the classroom and in my connections and relationships that I had built with the students and colleagues.

 

I think if you ask any educator, most can probably identify the best year they’ve had, and if they can’t, they just can’t yet. We always have room to grow and things take time. How do educators decide what makes it the best year? For some, is it a year without many challenges, the students are well-behaved, homework is complete, other clerical tasks and responsibilities held by the teacher are finished, observations went very well and teacher ratings are satisfactory or proficient or whatever the ranking may be? Maybe. But how do we truly define what would be the best year ever?

It takes time to build

I am fairly certain that last year was the best year I’ve had yet. I think because I changed a lot of things in my classroom, I stopped worrying so much about having every minute of every class accounted for and instead gave the students more possibilities to lead in the classroom and for me to have more opportunities to interact with them. Now it did not come without its challenges, some student behaviors that in some cases pushed me so far beyond frustration that I thought I reached my breaking point. I reacted in ways that I was not proud of, but I let the frustration get the best of me. I stopped seeing the student and only saw the behaviors. My “lens” had become clouded and it took some reflection and just not feeling very good about it for me to realize that I had to do something different.

 

The common feeling or response is when you feel like there is a lot to handle or come up with a plan for, can feel so isolating. you might feel lost or like others are judging you based on what you perceive to be your weak areas when it comes to instruction. And I’ve had a few people confide in me that they feel like they’re too different or too weird or they’re not normal enough to be teachers. Hearing those kinds of things breaks my heart because I don’t want to see teachers become disengaged or to lose their passion for doing the work that teachers do because of worrying about how others may or may not perceive them.

My response is always it’s good to be different, what does normal look like anyway? Does normal mean everybody gets and does the same thing? Does being normal mean you fit into some kind of mold, one that may or may not be who you truly are? I think the best that we can do for our students is to show them who we are because we want to know who they are.

We can’t hide behind some perceived idea or model of what a teacher should or should not look like. Nor should we compare ourselves to our colleagues or other teachers that we may have had in our own experience. When we do this we lose sight of something and I think it’s important for us to demonstrate and model for students. We need to worry about ourselves first and only compete with who we are today by judging it based on who we become tomorrow. Everyone has weaknesses, everybody struggles, everybody feels like they don’t belong at times, a friend once wrote about being in the land of misfits, I’m totally fine with that.

 

What can we do, regardless of what year we are in during our careers? New teachers have a lot to offer us veteran teachers, there are better pre-service teacher programs and more information available to current students that are seeking to get into the profession, than what is available to us veteran teachers, who may not have access to or may not even know they exist. And for the new teachers, when you are assigned to have a mentor in your school, I really don’t think you should consider it to be that you are the learner and that you must follow and adhere to all of the advice of your mentor. You have to decide who you want to be, what is your purpose, your why, your spark, your passion for doing what you’re doing?

It starts with us and it always starts with us to take that first step. We have to be okay with who we are and commit to doing whatever is best for our own personal and professional growth but being mindful of what that means and how it will impact those we lead and learn with.

So if at any time you feel down or lost or frustrated or like you’re becoming disengaged or that you don’t fit in, please send me a message. I’d love to talk to you and share some of my own experiences on my 25-year learning journey.

 

**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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Connecting the Cool

Guest  Post by Kim Murphree, Educational Technology Trainer, Mansfield, Texas @murphree_kim

With the increase in accessible, affordable and abundant Augmented and Virtual Reality apps and programs, education can now provide these types of learning experiences for students. We see it with the popularity of the Merge Cube and Merge Goggles, and with free programs like Google Expeditions and Tour Creator. Teachers, and more importantly their students, have the opportunity to participate in these types of learning experiences with little monetary investment and not a super high level of technical knowledge.

And that’s what augmented and virtual reality provides in education- an experience. Learning through AR/VR raises a learning activity from a passive task to an immersive experience- connecting the user to the content in a way that has not been reasonably possible in the classroom before. Implementing Augmented or Virtual Reality raises your level of engagement through a multi-sensory experience. The experience itself is as close as you can get to having “special effects” in the classroom- and here is where teachers can take advantage of this magic. Teachers don’t have to work quite so hard for the “wow”. Countless PD sessions and books expound on how to “hook” students in or ways to increase engagement with the content- with AR/VR the cool is already there. Kids are already hooked and engaged. This leaves the content connection. Teachers can now concentrate on what they are the experts in- the content. However, It is important to connect the cool with the content in order to ensure that integrating AR/VR is meaningful and purposeful.

Below are some tips for “connecting the cool”:

  • Extend and Enhance your Curriculum– make sure your AR/VR integration doesn’t turn into a “movie day” situation. It should not be used as a filler but as a value-added addition.
  • Ensure Active Learning– Augmented and Virtual reality in the classroom has an inherent physicality to it, make sure you adapt your room and lesson to guarantee student interaction with the materials and with each other
  • Significance– As the content area expert, and with the built-in wow factor, use your lesson planning time to bring the content purpose to the forefront. The AR/VR experience should solidify the significance of the content you are covering.
  • Reflective Summary– AR/VR activities, while special, still require follow-up and feedback. Build opportunities for reflection in your lesson, just like you would for any good learning activity.

Augmented and Virtual Reality bring learning to a personal level and engages learning styles and modalities in such an easy way. This type of technology has far-reaching and limitless potential for use and has come so far that students and teachers are now able to move from simply being consumers of this type of technology to the creators. There are so many applications and programs that can bring your content to life- engagement and interaction are built into these applications. Students who are using a Merge Cube to look at the Solar System can immediately see its “cool”, therefore teachers can concentrate on the content and curriculum connection. Immersive technologies create genuine and unique learning opportunities that meet the needs of diverse learners of today.

 

 

**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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