Globally Connecting Learners through Project Based Learning

Published on Getting Smart, November 15, 2017

In honor of International Education Week, we’re bringing you a series of blogs that celebrate the benefits of global competencies, international education and cultural exchanges. Stay tuned for more like this throughout the week!

Project-Based​ Learning​ (PBL)​ offers tremendous benefits for students to become engaged in more authentic and purposeful learning. Providing opportunities in which students have choices in what to explore, where to seek information, and ultimately how to share their learning, will lead to higher student engagement and more meaningful learning experiences. By giving students the chance to be curious in exploring a concept which is of personal interest, or working together to tackle a problem or engage in some challenge-based learning, we foster more student-driven classrooms and promote curiosity in learning.

As educators, we need to strive to open up opportunities for students to broaden their perspectives, to engage in collaboration with their peers, and more importantly, to become globally connected learners. PBL is a way to connect our students globally and it also addresses the 4 C’s: critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Opportunities like this, in which students can become more independent and have choices for where their search leads them will amplify the learning potential of all students in the classroom as well as for the new connections made.

Entering my second year of project-based learning I wanted to take it to another level with my Spanish classes, after attending and presenting at EdmodoCon. I was  amazed at the power of technology to unite educators from around the world and I wanted to do more in my classroom. Learning from such diverse perspectives, and fascinated by the ability to communicate with my new colleagues, at any time from around the world further solidified my belief that this was something that must be done in my classroom. I wanted my students to have as many diverse, authentic opportunities to explore the world as they could.

Setting up a process to connect students with the world can take some time to plan as you must decide what is the best method and structure to use, but getting the connections started is really quite simple. There are many different learning communities available depending on what is used for a classroom website. I use Edmodo, but there are also professional learning communities available through ISTE or Google+. Getting started simply takes posting a message in the community and awaiting responses from other educators interested in making new connections.

Here is the process I followed to get started with my class:

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 9.48.24 PM.png1. Shared the idea: I told students the idea for making global connections and the “why” behind this newexperience. While doing PBL, it is essential to have the students connect with real-world experiences in authentic ways. Once I explained to my students how I had planned to do this, I then posted a message in a few of the Edmodo communities. In my message, I explained what my students would be doing, the types of topics they would be learning about and how we could collaborate.

2. Collected responses: I received several responses to my message and replied to each to gather more details about the age group of the students, the location of the classroom and options for connecting our classes.

3. Created groups on Edmodo: Once several educators were interested, I created a separate group on Edmodo and shared the join code with my students as well as the students from the other classrooms. Edmodo provides a safe place to interact to not only help students become globally connected and share their perspective, but is also an opportunity to learn and connect with other educators.

4. Got started: We started by simply making introductions and then the students started to ask questions related to their project-based learning and essential questions. The students were amazed and excited about how quickly responses were received and how willing the other students were to share information, provide resources and interact with one another. It has been tremendous to see how much the students have learned in such a short amount of time. This type of learning could not occur without technology, it provides authentic and personalized learning because the students are connecting globally and broadening their perspectives in a more engaging and personalized way.

5. Expanded the project: In order to take it even further, once the conversations and connections had been established, we wanted to interact through audio and video. Due to the difference in time zones and schedules, we needed to find a more convenient way to interact. Flipgrid presented the perfect solution for setting up an online space for students to introduce themselves, show their schools, and have some fun interacting in a moderated and safe environment. It was very exciting to receive the notifications that a new Flipgrid response had been posted, and watching it immediately in class was fantastic for the students. Students can learn by looking at pictures, reading books and watching videos but to be able to interact in this way and this quickly is truly an amazing experience. The best part was when the students were finally able to see the students they had been interacting with. We also used Padlet as another virtual space to interact through photos and conversations.

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Being an educator does not mean that you are an expert. We are constantly learning and should be seeking new ways to bring knowledge and different learning experiences into our classrooms. In just a few short weeks of working with these global connections and setting aside the time to open up and increase the learning potential for my students, I have learned so much. For the four teachers in our group, this is the first time that any of us are doing anything like this and we are learning and growing together. We are enjoying the experience with our students and the best part for me, is learning more about my own students through their interactions online and I believe that the students are learning more about themselves as well.

Why Students should learn to code and how to get started

Published originally on Getting Smart December 15, 2017

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

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

Why should students learn to code?

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

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

Getting Started

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

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

Working with students

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

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

Ten resources to try

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

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

EdmodoCon 2017

Honored and Amazed: EdmodoCon 2017

 

I have been a huge fan of Edmodo the last four years and it has really brought about tremendous, positive changes in my classroom, for my students and opened up a lot of new opportunities for me as well  Edmodocon, an online conference, takes place in August and is held at Edmodo headquarters in San Mateo, California. Each spring, Edmodo accepts proposals from educators to be selected as one of the featured speakers during this event. The last two years I had submitted a proposal to speak at EdmodoCon, not fully understanding the magnitude of it even though I had watched it each year, and definitely not expecting that I would be one of those selected to present.  I took a chance again this past year and submitted a proposal and definitely put some extra time into what I wanted to say and decided to just go for it. Honestly, I did not think that I would be selected.

​Finding out I was one of the educators selected to speak at ​EdmodoCon was really an emotional moment where I felt a little bit overwhelmed, very surprised, tremendously honored, and definitely scared. There was also ongoing disbelief that I had been chosen.

I had watched ​EdmodoCon the last two years and knew how it was set up​,​ where the people were speaking from​,​ and also that many thousands of people were watching from around the world while the event was ​streaming live. All of these images passed through my mind a​t​ a glimpse when I found out I was selected but the excitement ​was sometimes exchanged for nerves. I​ just could not believe that I was chosen and could not wait to attend.
I have been using Edmodo ​since 2015 and it truly has made a huge impact in my classroom. I found it almost accidentally, looking to find a way to open up more access for my students and to help solve some problems in communication, and availability. Over the years, the way​s​ that we have used Edmodo has changed and many new features have been added, making it even better than it already was. Having the opportunity to see the people working behind the scenes at Edmodo and to talk with ​each person was phenomenal.

How does one prepare for ​EdmodoCon?

Unlike any other presentation you have prepared for! While I have given many presentations in the form of Professional Development sessions, speaking at conferences and online learning ​events, preparing for something like this was a much greater feat. My session would be a ​2​​0 to ​30 minute presentation, speaking ​live from​ Edmodo. I needed to craft a message that would inform the participants or “Edmodians”, who were​ ​already familiar with Edmodo and knew so much about it. My goal was to convey my message of why and how it has made such an impact ​in​ my classroom.
Countless hours spent crafting the presentation​,​ re​-​working the images​,​ thinking through what I would say on August 1st, and lots of communication between myself and N​iccolina and ​Claire. The support I received was fantastic. The team was always readily available to give guidance and feedback, to do practice run​s​ ​or​ whatever was needed. They were there to support me and all of the speakers and definitely made the whole experience phenomenal, and always found ways to calm those nerves with reassurances and positive encouragement.

 

Prepping for EdmodoCon

I think I lucked out because I had the benefit of a little preparation when I was asked to speak about Edmodo during the Microsoft Hack the Classroom in San Antonio​ while at ISTE​ this summer. I prepared a​ ​5 minute “Ignite” talk on the integration of Microsoft Office with Edmodo and this experience definitely help​ed​ me to better prepare for EdmodoCon, but then again it was unlike any other experience I have had. It gave me some practice speaking in a studio setting with a live audience, microphone and cameras, but it didn’t quite prepare me for the full experience since it was only a five minute talk. But nevertheless, I am grateful for having had that opportunity to connect and to get a little bit of practice in before heading to the main event. Being able to step out of my comfort zone, and do something like this for the first time, was a challenge and I was very nervous about it, but having this experience definitely helped.

Heading to EdmodoCon

Going ​to San Francisco, arriving at Edmodo Headquarters, and meeting the other educators was tremendous. I was very excited about the day, getting to spend time at Edmodo, practicing a little and just being in the same space with educators from around the world, and having time to sit down with them and share how we use Edmodo was awesome. Being there and having the support and generosity of the whole Edmodo team, becoming connected with these other educators, really added so much more to what I already love about Edmodo. The whole team of Edmodo is people focus​ed,​ they work ​​for the students, they are a family and they are there to be a constant source of  support and encouragement to one another.

The way that we were all welcomed by the team was unlike anything I have ever experienced. We were greeted at check-in with welcome bags full of Edmodo gear, picked up by members of the team and driven to Edmodo headquarters where we had time to tour the office and also to ask questions of all of the team members working hard to make Edmodo what it is. We had catered meals, access to anything we could possibly want to make our time there more comfortable and most of all, we experienced a true sense of belonging and being part of the Edmodo family. Being able to meet for the first time people who have done nothing but work to make Edmodo a better platform for students and for education and who truly value the input from educators and the connections made, was an honor. Edmodo is how I made changes to my classroom that enabled me to open up more access to the resources the students need and also access to a world full of learning opportunities. Being selected to speak there and to share my experience with so many educators around the world was very humbling.

It is probably the most nervous I have ever been before a presentation and waiting for it to be my turn to speak was definitely a challenge for me to stay calm and focused.  But hearing Jennifer’s presentation before mine helped and once I entered into the room and put the headset on, my nerves pushed aside and I was ready to go. Of course I was still nervous but I felt like I could get through it, I was ready to share our story.  And I think the one thing that really helped to break the ice for me was when my slide deck would not load correctly and I just had to go on and start talking with fingers crossed that it would actually work. It’s really not much of a surprise that I would have some kind of a technical difficulty because I often joke that the technology cloud of darkness follows me at times. But the show must go on and if my slides did not work well then I was just going to have to talk my way through it as best as I could. Fortunately it only took a few minutes for everything to reload and so I was able to carry on through the presentation.

How did it go? I think for the most part I am pleased with how it went and I caught myself getting a little emotional at the start because it really hit me that I was speaking there and I have been so thankful for what Edmodo has provided for me to make things available for my students in my classroom. But standing there and having that chance to speak and share our experience with my own personal learning revelations about my teaching methods and why I needed to change was bittersweet.

Because I’m a reflective person and I did want to evaluate my speaking and be mindful of words or mannerisms that catch my attention, I watch the replay of the video. I first noticed the look on my face when told that my slides weren’t loading and then I should just start, it was a look of wait what? And as for my overall presentation, of course I did come up with a few things  that I would change. But that’s how we learn and grow and move forward. We have to reflect, we will make mistakes, we will face challenges and while it is important to acknowledge these, the most important thing is that we share our message and that we also share our learning and reflections in the process.

 

Edmodocon was amazing and it gave me a lot of new ideas for this school year and ways we can use Edmodo to knock down those classroom walls and to bring in opportunities for students to learn more about the world and to provide a safe space for them to connect with other students in the world. We can empower our connected learners.

Celebrating together after EdmodoCon 2017

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How I Connect Students Through Project-Based Learning

Posted on Teach ThoughtPBLTT.jpg

One area that I’ve tried to focus on more in my teaching recently is collaboration, specifically how students collaborate with one another, and finding more ways to do this in class so that I can facilitate their learning.

I enjoy having students work together within the same class because I believe in the value of building relationships and establishing a positive classroom culture. I also know how effective it is to take advantage of the time in class for students to become more familiar with each other and to work together towards a common goal.

Understanding that not everything can be accomplished in a classroom is a big reason for this shift in my teaching–and this is where I believe that technology can be extraordinarily useful with a real sense of purpose.

The Tools Of Collaboration

I have been using various tools over the past few years which have really opened up the possibilities of how, when, and where students communicate and collaborate.

Our interactions are ​​no longer confined to being in the same classroom, let alone the same school. Collaboration can occur between students across the globe and does not have to be done synchronously. The nature of tools such as Padlet or Wikispaces for example allows students to collaborate on their own terms. Time and place don’t matter as much as purpose and connectivity.

Thinking Bigger

I recall driving home one day and trying to come up with innovative ways to have students create with the language.

I liked the idea of projects, but wanted something more than simply having every student completing an individual project on the same topic. Each of my Spanish courses were at a place where I thought it would be great for them to do a project and work through learning in their own authentic way, so I decided to go big and involve the students from levels 1 through 4 as part of a team project.

I didn’t have a clue how this would work, but it seemed worth figuring out. I hoped that something like this would bring students together and show them the power of technology for collaborating and putting a project like this together, so I gave it some thought and this is what I came up with: A cross-level, cross class team project.

Executing The Project In The Classroom

Here’s how it worked: Spanish IV students had been studying careers and planning for the future. Spanish III was focused on travel and preparing for a trip. Spanish II was learning vocabulary related to a community and and types of activities that one can do in a neighborhood. Spanish I was learning vocabulary for houses, chores and describing living arrangements.

Taking all of these themes into consideration, I decided that one student from Spanish IV would be the ‘Team leader,’ and their ‘mission’ would be finding a job to apply for in a Spanish speaking country with the idea of going to work abroad.

Their task was to create a collaborative space, whether that be by creating a Padlet or Google Slides or something else altogether, and share it with the other members of their ‘team.’

Team leaders also had to write a brief note to their Travel Agent, Community Specialist and Realtor (students from Spanish I, II, and III) to let them know their travel interests and needs they have for moving abroad. The team members would then take this information when creating their part of the project. Spanish III would then plan how their team leader was getting there.

To make it more fun, I included a requirement that each Team Leader wanted a chance to sightsee before starting work, so the Travel Agent’s task was to plan a two-day tour that would meet the interests of their client.

Spanish II would research the neighborhoods where the client would be living and let them know what types of services and businesses were available for their new community. Spanish I, with two members assigned to each team, had to prepare to real estate ads for the clients. Each group would take the information from the notes and try to cater to the needs of their client.

There was a tricky part to this which was that I had to be out of school for a period of time. I was not there to oversee the work, however I use messaging tools like Celly, Voxer, and edmodo to communicate. The biggest tool I used, though, was the concept of collaboration among students.

While I didn’t plan this wrinkle in the beginning, I started to see that I relied on them as much as they relied on me and one another.

Stepping Aside & Letting Students Work: The Outcome

I distributed list of teams to each student. I put the team list on the board and left a space for the team leaders to put their link and their notes or however they saw fit to share this information.

There were problems at first. Students said they did not have the link, or had the link but did not have access and a few other issues, all of which I had expected and told the students to send messages or leave a note on the board. Always plan for failure, and have a backup for your backup.

 

Ultimately, I wanted the students to practice the vocabulary in their respective Spanish classes, but I also wanted them to learn how to work towards a common goal and without having to be in the same physical space or during the same time. I wanted them to see what great resources are available through technology and how they can work as a team without being in the same place.

The team leaders had the opportunity to say whether or not they really liked what the group members had put together for them, and for me it gave me another opportunity to let the students be creative, independent, to decide whatever they wanted to in terms of this project and that’s very important.

Giving the students a choice in how they show what they know and can do with the material and being open to their ideas was crucial to the success of the project. When planning, keep in mind that even if things don’t turn out the way you had planned, if the critical objectives of the project are met (whether academic standard-based, soft-skill, or something else), then the project has to be considered successful.

While planning is important and leadership essential, the tighter you hold to your vision of things as a teacher, the less ownership students can take over their learning.

I was wrong (really): How I became more involved through Social Media

 

***This is the first in a series of posts about the benefits of social media tools for education, and how I learned the value of them for becoming more connected.

I was not always into social media and cannot say that I truly saw the value of what each platform might have to offer. Part of this is my fault because I did not take time to learn about Twitter or Facebook and the others, and I had some misconceptions about what each social media platform was being used for. The other part is that I relied on the comments and experiences of others to judge the value and the benefit of trying any of these for my own use.

I love technology.  Ever since I was a child, I have been interested in trying new things, spending time learning and working with all things tech. I was fine with communicating through email, text messaging, and the occasional phone call.  I held off on creating a Facebook account because I thought that it was just a way to tell people what you were doing on a daily basis, “status updates”. I had the perception it was just about updating everyone on the  basic chores and daily life habits that we all take part in. I also did not consider using Twitter because I thought it was simply a way to keep up with what celebrities were doing and I had other ways to do that. Being an avid reader of publications like People magazine or US for many years, I kept up with what was going on in the celebrity world. Enough anyway.

So for me, I didn’t really think about or see any benefit personally, nor professionally, for having either of these social media accounts. So what led to the change? Class reunion planning. I had the task of locating classmates for an upcoming high school class reunion. I graduated with nearly six hundred people, and knew it would be a very tedious task. My options were to spend time looking online or flipping through the pages of a telephone book,  assuming that people still lived in the area or that I could easily locate their information using these methods. The possibility of Facebook had not entered my mind until a friend suggested it. So I gave in, created my Facebook account and little by little, sure enough, I began finding some of my classmates, friends from childhood and college and even making new connections.

Once I started using Facebook more,  I realized that I had been mostly wrong. I found out that not everyone used Facebook as I had thought. It really was a way to locate classmates, reconnect with friends and I started seeing that Facebook could be valuable and not at all what I had thought.

I found different learning communities and groups to join through Facebook. It became a great platform for sharing information, adding resources and amazingly, not that I thought this years ago, has the capability of being a tremendous tool for learning and professional growth. It is a way for people to connect instantly with anyone throughout the world, at any time and can be used as a system of support. You can keep up with friends, family, colleagues, and see how people live in other places of the world by sharing photos or going “live”.

So I discovered that I was wrong. I had this idea of Facebook and its uses in my mind and actively stayed away from it for years. So what is the lesson I learned? I learned that in order to really understand the benefit and use of something, you have to investigate it yourself. You have to take that chance, take a step, take a risk and look into something before making a judgment about its value. (A lesson for life as well). But the flip side is that you can’t just start using something because everybody else is, or you “heard” that it was the best way or best method of doing something. Everybody is different and everything affects people in different ways. I’ve always said that we can all read the same book but get a different story. And that’s the case with Facebook.

Thank you Facebook for being the means through which I have been able to reconnect with friends, join new learning communities and keep up with family and members of my PLN who I do not get to see very often.  It is a means to share good news and bad, but the main point is that it is a way to become connected and we all need to be connected to someone and something.

So I was wrong about the power of social media….and that’s okay, because I know the possibilities now and learned the lesson of keeping an open mind, judging for myself, and then reflecting.

 

Next up….Twitter!

12 Tools That Made The Biggest Difference In My Teaching

Posted on TeachThought, January 5, 2017

12 Tools That Made The Biggest Difference In My Teaching This YearRachelle Dene Poth

There are so many digital tools available today to promote student learning in the classroom. The task is in figuring out what you need for your classroom. What could benefit your students the most?

Over the past year, I took as many opportunities to learn as I could, spending time gathering information from reading books and blogs, staying active through social media in Twitter chats, Voxer groups, and by attending many conferences, both physically and virtually. I created long lists of new ideas, new tools, and created new accounts for many digital tools and tried as many as I could.

12 Tools That Made The Biggest Difference In My Teaching This Year

Communication, Collaboration

Technology can help give students a voice, where otherwise they may not be willing to or want to respond, especially within the traditional classroom space.  Here are the tools that changed our classroom this year and why.

1. Recap recap pioneer badge 2017 (1)

A video response tool that can be used for many purposes including formative assessments, student reflections and for sharing student work with parents. One of the biggest benefits of using Recap is that it provides a comfortable way for students to connect with their teachers, to share their ideas, thoughts or reflections, in a way which promotes student voice.

After using Recap with students for assessments, for providing their feedback to me about what they liked and did not like about class, and more, I could see that they were comfortable being able to speak freely, in their own space. I like being able to ask questions, provide different prompts, give feedback, and receive the daily reel that Recap compiles, to make reviewing it an easy process.

2. Voxervoxer

I found out about Voxer after being invited into a group created for ISTE Denver 2016. It started with a group on Facebook, and led to the implementation of Voxer as a means to connect everyone, build excitement for the conference and much more. I was amazed with the diverse uses of Voxer, ranging from individual conversations, a specific topic focused chat focused, a book study and much more.

Becoming more familiar with the different uses  got me to thinking how I could use it as a way to be accessible to students when they needed help with assignments. I had already been using various platforms including a messaging app and an LMS, but thought I would try Voxer out with a small group of students. The students loved it and used it for a few Spanish projects and even on a personal communication basis. After some time reflecting, I thought it could probably be a good tool to use for speaking assessments and to get the students involved in having conversations in Spanish with each other.

There are many uses for Voxer in general, but as an educator, it can be a good way to become more connected, receive and provide support for colleagues and students.

3. PadletPadletBlended

Padlet, which is equated to being a virtual wall, kind of like writing on a bunch of post it notes, has emerged as quite the multi-purpose tool in my classroom. What initially began as a way to have back-channel discussions, emerged as a means to communicate with other classrooms on Digital Learning Day, to have students quickly research and post pictures for a fun class activity, to curate student projects for easy display in the classroom, and even for students to use to create a project which included activities and multimedia links.

The uses keep emerging and I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to turn to the students for some extra ideas of how you can use some of these tools in your classroom.

4. PiktochartPIKTODash

A tool for creating infographics, social media flyers, presentations and more, Piktochart has become one of the tools that my students enjoy because they find that it is easy to use and enjoy the options which enable them to really personalize and make their project authentic. I have used it to create visuals such as birthday cards, classroom signs, Twitter chat graphics, and also for creating presentations for conferences. Regardless of what your needs may be, if you want to give students an option to create something visually engaging, personal to their interests and which enhances their creativity, according to my students this is something that you should try.

5. Vismevisual-storytelling-in-the-classroom-1024x590

Several of my students who have been very hesitant to use anything other than traditional presentation tools through Google or Microsoft Office, have found Visme to be a tool which encouraged them to take some risks and try new things this year. Students had to create a timeline about their summer, or basically anything they wanted, as a back to school project. At first, several asked to use something different, but they quickly found how easy it was to create something and have fun in the process.

Several students enjoyed it so much that they contributed to two blogs about the use of audio and the benefits of it for education as well as other areas. (hearing from the student’s perspective, and seeing them featured for their work was a great experience). So if you want to try something more engaging that promotes creativity, helps to build those vital technology skills and also lets students have fun in the process, then this could be a tool to try in the new year.

You can create infographics, reports, presentations, social media flyers and more. It is an easy drag and drop tool, that encouraged those “hesitant” students to take some risks and try new things. Check out Visme’s video series for “how-to” information!

6. Nearpodnearpod4

This is one of the game changers in my classroom this year. After many years of using the same Spanish reader in Spanish III, I wanted to add to the learning experience of students by enabling them to see some of the locations described in the book. I had found many videos and magazines, but I found Nearpod to be a much better way to really engage students in the lesson. Not only did students enjoy the lessons because of the interactive nature of it, they were overwhelmed by the ability to become immersed in the virtual field trips and feel like they were in the places they read about in the book.

I knew it was working when those students who were constantly watching the clock move were the last to leave the classroom. The only thing that made this better was when students created their own lessons and took over the classroom, becoming the teachers and giving me the opportunity to become the student and experience it from their perspective. There are many uses for this in the classroom: interactive lessons, multiple question formats, ability to upload content, assigning a lesson for practice and more.

It is definitely worth taking some time to try out, even looking over some of the lessons available in the Nearpod library, and asking your students what they think. And the Nearpod for Subs is AMAZING!

7. FormativeGoForm

A tool that can be used for having students complete formative assessments either live in class or as practice outside of the classroom, and a great way for teachers to get students more involved and be able to provide real-time feedback so that they can continue their learning process. Formative is a tool that has gone through many tremendous changes and improvements throughout the course of this year which make it a great tool for teachers to use for assessing students.

Formative is another tool that my students enjoy using because of the individual benefits of having feedback sent instantly and directly to them, being able to “show” their work or have their answers corrected immediately. It has been a way to create a more interactive classroom and also another tool which I have used to flip roles with students so that I could also learn from their perspective. It is something which students ask to use and which they are excited to tell others about, which is why I know that it is having a positive effect in my classroom.

Join #formativechat on Monday nights

8. QuizizzQuizizz1

A way to involve students in game-based learning in the classroom and also to provide more personalized instruction, based on the feedback you receive when students participate in a live lesson, or when you assign it as a homework practice assignment. I have enjoyed seeing students create their own Quizizz games, which I have found provides more focused practice for the students because they choose the material they need to practice.

Another benefit is that it also enables me to share these resources with the class and with individual students who may need some extra practice There are many features offered by Quizizz, and if time is lacking for creating your own Quizizz, you can gather questions and edit from all the public ones available. Try the game with your students and see what they think, and use their input to help plan the next game!

9. Buncee

The first time I created my own Buncee, I was amazed by the number of choices available for adding elements into my creation. I found myself thinking about how much the students would enjoy creating using it and having so many choices available. I have some students who like to “dab” every time they get an answer correct and so I quickly realized they would really love the fact that they could add a dabbing dancer into their presentation.

I created a Buncee for our annual Open House and was able to record my voice and add extra elements in from the diverse library of choices.  Being able to create a Buncee like this, is a great way to share the information with parents who may not be able to attend. I had students create projects with themes ranging fr9. om a medical chapter to a lesson on teaching verbs and more. Students love the choices and the ideas for how we can use this tool keep growing. But the best part of it is that it enables every student to find something to add into their project and to bring out their creativity. And it definitely builds confidence with a lot of fun in the process.

10. Blendspace TES Teach

A few years ago I found “Blendspace” and it was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted an easier, more reliable way to share some websites with students to use for practice during and outside of the classroom. I had been doing this, by typing the links on paper, but the problem was that deciphering the link (between i’s, l’s, for example) sometimes made it a bit challenging. So when I started using Blendspace, now “TES Teach,”  it was simply as a way to put activities and resources into a lesson and share one link which would open an entire page full of possibilities for enhanced learning.

But over this past year I have found many more uses for it, ranging from providing an asynchronous lesson, curating professional resources, storing student projects for easy presentation in class, and mostly for the simplicity of building a digital lesson full of multimedia resources, from scratch to share with students and colleagues. Creating a lesson is easy to do and can be done quickly when using the TES resources or when adding your own content.

Students can also use it to create their own presentations and this is a great way for them to incorporate a variety of media and to have everything available in one “lesson” using one tool. Accounts are free and you can have students join your class through a “pin” or Google Classroom or through a link. Teachers can also look at the lessons available through TES Teach and try some in the classroom.

11. Storyboard ThatSToryboardCH

Storyboard That is an online tool that is used to create storyboard and provide a way for students or anyone to tell a story in a comic strip presentation Style. You can create by choosing from so many different characters props background scenes comma speak Bubbles and so much more. It is easy for students to create as this work as a drag and drop tool. It is a lot of fun for students to be able to really personalize the characters and create a very authentic and meaningful representation of the story they are trying to tell.

There are many characters and backgrounds related to specific times in history, you can change the color of the characters, their clothing, adjust their movement and more. It’s really nice for the students because they can customize so much according to their personal needs which really enables them to be creative and have fun and be more engaged in their learning.

Another benefit is that by having an account with school, there are lesson plans and examples available that can really help to see how to integrate StoryboardThat into your classroom, or really into any type of setting, to communicate information in a more visual, creative and innovative way. Another nice feature is that students can use it to present in class and have it presented similar to a power point.

12. BloomzApp bloomz1

Bloomz is a tool which I began using at the end of the past school year, to see how it could enhance my classroom and open up more communication with parents. Bloomz offers a lot of great features, integrates the features of a messaging app, LMS, an event planner and more. It even provides translation capabilities with translation into 84 languages. Teachers can quickly create an event, share permission slips, create a sign-up sheet, track RSVPs, send reminders, and share photos and videos with parents.

Bloomz also enables teachers and parents to communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed each day throughout the year. It recently added the features of a student timeline for building a digital portfolio to share with parents, as well as a behavior tracking program, for communicating about student behavior and providing positive reinforcement.

Conclusion

Even with all of the great digital tools available, we have to make some decision about what will work the best for our classrooms. What is the purpose for the implementation of technology? In looking over this list, are there any that you think might help to enhance, amplify or facilitate student learning in a more beneficial way than what you are currently doing in your classroom? Determining the answer is the first step, as we know that using technology just to use it doesn’t make sense. However, when we use technology in a way that enables us to help students find their voice, discover more about what they want to do, what they can do and what they need help with, makes sense. These are some of the tools which helped my students and had a positive impact on our classroom and learning experiences this year. To get started with the new year and some of these tools, my advice is to simply choose one of these tools and try it out.  See how it goes and be sure to ask your students for their feedback as well.

Kidblog: Don’t Let the Learning Stop: How to keep students engaged over extended breaks

Don’t Let the Learning Stop: How to keep students engaged over extended breaks

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The “Slide”

Throughout the school year, extended breaks provide both teachers and students the opportunity to give their mind a chance to reboot. However, learning opportunities do not have to stop while we take a break from the classroom to devote time to family, friends, and relaxation. Without opportunities for active learning during these extended breaks, some loss of knowledge is inevitable.  Similar to what has been termed the “summer slide”, this phenomenon also occurs during shorter breaks throughout the course of the school year.

There are many opportunities available to avoid this “slide”; teachers can help students engage in learning in fun ways that do not feel like “learning” at all. For my students, this means  blogging. Thanks to the availability of technology and platforms like Kidblog, students can stay connected, while still working on building skills over the break.

From “assignment” to “activity”

So, what turns a blog post from “an assignment by the teacher” over break to a fun student activity? It’s all about the content. For example, students may be asked to write a blog surrounding their time over break. Perhaps they describe what activities they participated in; writing a review of a book or movie they experienced, sharing how they spent time with friends or family, or even posting a new recipe they learned over break. These open-ended prompts enable students to work on their writing and literacy skills in a low-key and fun way. Additionally, it gives teachers the chance to stay connected with their students and provide any necessary feedback.

For more reflection, students may be given prompts which ask them to take a look back at some of the work that they have done prior to the break. They can focus on a few specific skills they have gained as well as their strengths or weaknesses throughout the year. Using blogging as a journal, they may then write a personal blog to themselves addressing these areas.  The blog can be shared with the teacher as a reflection, to explain how they perceive their progress in class and offer some ideas for personal goals or describe areas where improvement can be made. This prompt can be a great way for students to prepare for the year ahead of them.

It’s about staying connected

Blogging enables the students and teachers to communicate through a comfortable medium. It gives students an opportunity to write, read, and practice any critical skills they have learned leading up to the break as well as some reflective writing.  Students are encouraged to be creative while they are engaged in the practice of reflection, setting them up for future growth and helping you as the teacher develop a better understanding of student needs.

Kidblog Post:How to Use Blogging with Project Based Learning

How to Use Blogging with Project Based Learning

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Over the past few years, I have looked for more ways—especially creative ways—to use blogging in my classroom. What initially started as a way to have my students practice their writing skills in a digital format (rather than the traditional “Daily Journal” writing), has taken different forms over the past year.

Blogging brings students’ work into a digital learning space, where they can feel free to share their ideas, to express themselves without so much worry on grammatical accuracy, and build their confidence in the process. It enabled me as the teacher to not only focus on what they were sharing, and assess them as needed, but also to learn about them in the process. It provided me with a way to further personalize my instruction and to be able to give the needed feedback in a more direct way.

I also use student blogs, in addition to my own, as a means to reflect on what I have been doing the classroom. Giving this information to the students affords them an opportunity for that critical reflection as well. So through blogging, many skills are enhanced and many things are possible besides the initial use of writing in response to a prompt.

Blogging with #PBL

Approaching this school year, I had many new ideas in mind, one of which was the implementation of PBL (Project-based learning) in my upper-level Spanish courses. A big part of the undertaking of PBL is for students to have an “essential question,” to think about what they wish to explore further in their studies.  We discuss how it will work, plan to have progress checks throughout, and once they have completed their cycle of research, they prepare to share their information. An important part of PBL is the reflection element.

I chose to use Kidblog as a way for students to take time to reflect on what they have uncovered in their research and to give others an opportunity to learn from them. I can give feedback, and we both have access to that information and refer back to it as often as needed. We can also continue to comment on it moving forward. I can write comments to offer suggestions and provide support. More importantly, a private digital learning space gives students a way to be more independent in their learning. For our PBL, students use their blog as a way to create a guide for themselves during the process. After posting of their initial “Essential Question,” students are reminded of where they started and how far they have come.

All of this valuable information can then be used during the next phase of PBL. It is a great way to track growth, increase communication skills, and collaborate. The use of blogging aids in the building of relationships. It is rewarding to read what students have written, to understand how they worked through their project-based learning experience, and to have that element of reflection as a result of their blogging. For me, it is great to hear directly from students as they share what they have learned, but better to hear them acknowledge how much they have grown.  Being able to review and reflect aids students in planning new goals and continuing their path toward lifelong learning.

 

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As an addition to this, it is helpful as a teacher to reflect on our practices, in what ways can we improve, how is PBL working in our classroom, what are the thoughts of the students.  Using this information can be quite helpful, as well as referring to the many resources available through BIE, and recent books including Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie, and Pure Genius by Don Wettrick.  The #pblchat is also a great place to learn on Twitter.

Technology Can Make The Learning Process More Transparent

TeachThought: Thanks to Terry Heick for publishing part two of this post.

Technology Can Make The Learning Process More Transparentby Rachelle Dene Poth

In my last post, Finding Out What Students Are Thinking: 10 Tools To Get Them Talking, I shared tools that can help promote student communication.

The additional benefit for using tools like these is that you can take what you hear and learn and the next day in class anonymously share some ideas to get the discussion going.

Even if you try to keep things anonymous, you will have the students who immediately fess up and say “yeah that’s mine,” because that’s just what the students do, which is okay because they are willingly sharing what they said.

And if it does come down to a right or wrong kind of question and that student is in fact incorrect, that’s an even better lesson–a better example for the other students in the classroom to show that it’s okay to answer something and to be wrong.

These are the experiences that build character and growth mindset and help students become more involved in their own learning path.

A Few More Tools: Communication Through Collaboration

If you’re looking for a way to have students speak more regularly about different topics, share their ideas, or be more involved in class discussions, you may want to consider some other format for “talking.”

Having students write in their own blog, where they can keep their responses private and you can respond directly, is a great way to learn about the students and what they are thinking. Having this communication format is also helpful with relationship building.

Through blogging, you can give feedback which helps to provide support for students and can help them to gain confidence. By building confidence in this way, they have a chance to become more open to and comfortable with sharing their ideas in class.

As teachers, any opportunity to share our own experiences, especially when we share experiences that reflect our fears of making mistakes and taking risks, is helpful to our students.  Showing that we are sometimes wrong is okay, because we are all are constantly growing.

Writing Spaces

So what about some tools?

Wikispaces is a social writing platform for creating an online space for collaboration. Creating a wiki might be a great way to have students collaborate together on a topic if they are working in small groups. Some options for collaboration are creating a page for a discussion, set up a pro/con debate, or a even class website. Students can build confidence and comfort by collaborating in this way.

Padlet is a virtual wall for posting thoughts, discussion, and more. It could also be another way for students to work together and build some of these skills for collaborating any time and anywhere.

Tools For Reflection & Feedback

Choosing the right tool comes down to what type of conversation you looking to involve students in.

Is it open-ended?

Do you want the students to speak out in class or do you want them to think about something, have time to process it and answer after class?

That’s the benefit of offering blended or flipped learning experiences. The conversations don’t have to end when class ends. The questions don’t have to be asked during class because teachers can set up questions after class using tools like these I’ve shared, or Let’s Recap.

Let’s Recap is a way to record a prompt, ask questions, and then have students respond through video. Teachers can then view the response or see the daily reel, and provide feedback to each student.

A tool such as TodaysMeet can be useful for a “backchannel” chat in class, or to open up discussion after the school day ends. Either way, it is another quick option to get the conversation going or to use as a way for students to ask questions.

The goal of all of these tools is to get them talking–to know what their thoughts are–so that we can help them grow.

Why Does Student Feedback Matter?

Teachers need student feedback to help guide our next steps and provide learning experiences which are meaningful.  We want our students to feel comfortable. Depending on the age group being taught, the content being covered, and whether the technology is available and accessible to the students, you can determine which of these tools might facilitate learning the best.

Using technology just to use it doesn’t make sense. But using it to help students find their voice, learn more about what they want to do, what they can do, and what they are having trouble understanding does.

These tools and others like them, can help to connect those ends. And since learning feedback is critical to student growth, sometimes we need other methods for connecting with the students; this is when technology has a purpose.

Technology can expedite the feedback process and gives us real live results. We can give feedback to the students, the information is saved, and we can use it as a way to give a voice to those who would not necessarily be willing to use their voice in the classroom.

For now, maybe keep it simple. Start with the question, “What do I need to know about my students?”

Then look at these tools and others like them and start experimenting.

Guest Post via @Rdene915: “Summers: The life of educators”

Thank you Sarah Thomas @sarahdateechur and @EduMatch #edumatch for the opportunity for this post on August 1, 2016. Logo from Edumatch.com

A couple of reasons why I love summer

Rachelle Dene Poth

I am a teacher and when people find this out, one of the first things they say is “it must be nice to have your summers off.”  Yes, thank you, it is nice to have a more relaxed schedule over the course of the summer break. But in all honesty, I would be fine if I taught year round. And there are a lot of teachers who don’t really have the whole summer “off” because their school operates on a different type of school calendar. And like I said, I love summer, not because it means that I don’t have to go to work. I enjoy being in the classroom and working with students.  I look forward to each day and what it brings. I love the routine, the new challenges each day, and more than anything, working with the students and learning from them. However, the main reason I look forward to the summer is because it is an opportunity to seek out new learning experiences that will enable me to return to my classroom refreshed, with new ideas and hopefully improved skills that will help me to provide the best learning experiences for my students.

Connections

Another great thing about summer is that it is a time to connect with other educators. And I have been fortunate to meet a lot of educators over the past few years, but even more so this summer because I had the opportunity to be involved in several tremendous conferences and learning experiences including Summer Spark, ISTE 2016, and EdCampUSA.  So yes, it is nice to be a teacher and to have those breaks throughout the year and especially during summer, but I bet if you ask some of your friends who are teachers or even if you meet someone new who is a teacher, if they really have their summers “off”, I bet almost all of them will tell you no, and maybe even follow up with a laugh. And here is why.

Summer for educators

Summer is a time for a lot of things. One of the nice things about being in education, in my role as a classroom teacher is that I do have the summers off. But we all know the reality of it is that we don’t really have the time off.  Teachers have time of course for some of the normal summer things like sleeping in late, catching up with friends and family, going on vacations and not worrying about setting the alarm.  But it is also valuable time for teachers to do even more, on a personal and professional basis. Time to think about their practice and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there for professional development and growth. 

Teachers devote most of their time during the school year, focusing on students’ skills and needs, their interests and providing a supportive, positive, meaningful,  engaging learning environment for their students. For some of our students, school is the safe place to be.  Each teacher’s classroom is unique and offers an opportunity for the teacher to create a whole new world, for lack of a better phrase, to immerse their students in learning, to draw them into new experiences and help each student develop their skills, to become reflective, to have choice and voice in their learning. In addition to striving to provide this for our students, we work to be a constant source of support and guidance for each student each day.

And contrary to the “school day schedule”, when the school day ends, these tasks, jobs, responsibilities do not end with the ringing of the bell. We may leave our work on our desk in our classroom, but these other parts of our work continue 24 hours a day every day. The impression that we make on our students and the atmosphere that we create for them, the guidance we provide have an impact that does not end when they leave our classroom nor when they leave the school for the day.  Each student takes something unique away from the classroom when they leave us. Whatever our connection is with each student, the relationships that we build and that continue to grow throughout the year, in some way help each student. There is something created unique to each teacher-student relationship, that forms the foundation for the learning to occur.  We are their teachers, but also their mentors, providing more than just a lesson in the classroom. We don’t just teach. We give ourselves and our support to our students.

And it is exhausting, in a good way. And if you leave your classroom at the end of the day, and you are not exhausted when you get home, then something is wrong.  There is more work to be done.

Our schedules

Teachers put a lot of time in outside of the classroom and that time is not evident to the rest of the world. The hours at night at home or on the weekend grading papers, making parent phone calls, preparing lessons, attending conferences, are not factored into how people view the time and place of the job of the teacher. And I do not see this as negative, it’s just the reality that because school is perceived as an 8 hour day experience, that is where the work ends. And maybe in the past it would be viewed in that way because technology did not exist to enable emails or other collaboration to occur beyond the school day.  But the work involved and the personal investment was and still is the same.

So back to why I love summer

Getting back to some of the reasons I love summer. 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. This summer has been an unbelievable period of growth for me and I knew at the end of the school year that it would be exhausting but a well worth it kind of exhausting.

I have been fortunate to travel to different conferences throughout the country, to confront some fears such as flying and speaking in front of many people, to challenge myself more each day. And no worries, I am enjoying some time sleeping in and also sitting outside on the deck with my cup of coffee, but the computer, a book or a magazine are always there. The Voxer groups I join are part of each day, listening and learning. I use the time I have because I want to learn, to connect, to develop skills so I can be the best teacher and mentor that I can be for my students. I will do whatever it takes to make that happen. And this summer I have met a lot of inspirational role models, leaders in education, Eduheroes, people I have known through Twitter chats,Voxer groups or Google communities. These are things which two years ago I would not have even thought possible. But learning from these different groups and developing a new awareness and new perspectives and facing new challenges, has really given me pause.   To be among some of the great educators and benefit from truly amazing professional development experiences, has served to make me want to use every moment of this summer “break” to take in and learn as much as I can.  Does this sound like you?

My summer recommendations

Some things that I think are important to do in the summer. I think you have to give yourself some freedom and flexibility with your schedule. So that means if you want to go to bed early and get out of bed late, that’s fine. If it means that you then spend the majority of your day working and reading, or doing nothing at all, that’s okay too. You have to make time for friends and family, connect with people that are important and that matter and that maybe throughout the school year you don’t have as many opportunities to spend time with. Once the school year starts, schedules become very hectic. That is the nice thing about being a teacher in some sense, is that your availability is more open in the summer but then again people with year-round jobs aren’t as available as you. You should find conferences or webinars, join in book studies or Voxer groups, or try connecting with some different learning communities. 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 while there is not time for everything, there can be time for a little bit of everything. So 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 participate in writing tips for a blog or website. It’s up to you, because it is your time to decide how to spend your summer break.

Personally I stay in good practice during the summer because I keep my schedule as chaotic as possible because it’s better prepares me for the school year. The first day or two of summer break I feel a bit out of it because of that absence of routine, the lack of students waiting to hear from me, but I soon develop my summer plan and get started right away.  On Monday.