meaningfullearning

Guest Post by:

 Peg Grafwallner, Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist, Ronald Reagan IB High School, Erica Breitbarth, Music Teacher, Ronald Reagan IB High School

One of my favorite ways to spend the first block is to observe a music class. I am an
Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist at a large, urban high school. I collaborate with dozens of teachers by supporting them in embedding literacy into their classroom teaching with disrupting their learning objectives. This particular morning I observed Ms. B’s Beginning Chorus class. As students practiced their scales, Ms. B played the piano and offered instructions. She encouraged students to use Curwen hand signals to align to the notes. These hand signals offer a kinesthetic connection to the notes giving students the chance to, according to Ms. B, “visually and spatially represent the sound they are producing.”

As students were practicing their scales, I noticed explicit similarities between reading and music; and most notably, reading in music. Ms. B. prefaced the lesson’s song by offering background on the composer and the arranger. Frequently, the background of an artist can be directly related to the piece they create. Therefore, that background is often analyzed to make meaning from the piece. Likewise, when I introduce a short story, I always share with students the background of the author. Often, the author’s interesting life experiences is a hook to get students interested. As an example, the life of Edgar Allan Poe is as emotionally complex as his poem, “Annabelle Lee.” Therefore, it is beneficial to spend time on the connections between author and text and in this case, between the composer and the music.

6E56F311-72C8-4FAC-83B5-79D1E9CCAF0ANext, Ms. B asked her students to listen to the introduction of the song and try to predict
what it was about. What mood did the piece evoke? How did it make them feel? These questions encouraged students to imagine what the composer or musician is saying within the music. What do they want us to know, to feel, to understand? In addition, students were encouraged to apply music terminology to their explanations. Utilizing that terminology supports their practice of music language and inspires them to communicate as a musician. In a similar way, when I teach a new piece of text, I often “tease” students with the first couple of lines from the story (“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” A Tale of Two Cities) or the name of the main character (“Bigger Thomas,” Native Son) or the location of the setting (“Starkfield,” Ethan Frome). I ask them to predict what they think the story is about, or to anticipate the attitude of the character or to foresee the importance of the place. That conversation helps students to imagine the theme, the characters and the setting.

Next, Ms. B distributed the sheet music and asked students to take a few minutes to
“read” it over. She asked them to sing the rhythms on counts and encouraged them to keep reading the music even if they mixed up a rhythm, but to continue working on it both visually and aurally. As a reading specialist, I encourage students to keep reading if they get stuck on a word. I remind them of various “fix it” strategies to make meaning. As an example, can the student determine meaning from the prefix, the root word or the suffix? Is the student able to understand the gist of the reading without the word?
When students finished reading, Ms. B asked them to highlight their individual line so
that it would “stick out of the musical texture as you read.” This type of close reading, or
“musical annotation” is a valuable skill in all content areas. When students begin a new piece of text, even a brief close reading supports their annotation skills. By doing a close reading, students are asking questions, making comments and deciphering unknown vocabulary. This engagement with the text helps students for the challenge of reading and making meaning of what could be an unfamiliar topic.

2F7ECCC0-891D-4DF0-AE40-86521386832BAs students read and highlighted, Ms. B prepared a video of the song being performed by
an authentic ensemble, so students could “feel” the style and the spirit of the piece. This visual is critical in making an auditory connection. By listening to the music and watching the singers’ body language, the student is hearing and seeing the relationship between the singers and the music. Similarly, I often show a video or play a recording of an author reading a portion of their short story, poem or novel. I want students to see the author’s demeanor when reading and hear the tone and inflection of the author’s voice.
Finally, after a visual and spatial warm-up, an introduction of the artist, a prediction of
the piece, a detailed close-reading with annotation, and lastly, a visual and auditory opportunity to hear the music, Ms. B’s students were ready to practice the piece themselves.

In closing, it is essential to create scaffolded reading opportunities in all classes, not just
the four “core” where one would most expect them. To support students in reading, explicit and useful strategies are necessary to make meaningful reading connections, which in turn, highlights the value of reading in every single subject. Applying those specific reading strategies in music and all classes demonstrates the value of that discipline and the ability to transfer those strategies from one content area to the next.

References
Dickens, C. (1859). A tale of two cities. London: Chapman Hall.
Wharton, E. (1860). Ethan Frome. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Wright, R. (1911). Native son. New York, Harper.

Peg Grafwallner is the author of Ready to Learn: The FRAME Model for Optimizing Student Success, available now through Solution Tree.

EB9E4BE1-B0CE-4383-9A1D-316C6DF1DB91  Ready to Learn

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

One of the things that I love the most about Buncee is that it can be used in so many different ways, not only for instruction in our classrooms but also in life. I have used Buncee to create cards for family and friends, personal business cards, graphics for Twitter chats and webinars, quote graphics for my books, invitations, and more. When I decide to use digital tools in my classroom, I want students to practice the content in a more authentic and engaging way, while developing skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity that can be transferred to their future. In using digital tools like Buncee, my hope is that they will also use them in other classes, for personal use, and will share them with family too.

Each year, I continue to explore new ideas to have students create with the content, rather than doing the exact same project or using traditional worksheets or other assessment methods. For years, I assigned students to complete very rigid projects in the same format and left little up to student choice. Now, after seeing the benefits of being more flexible with my instructional methods, I’d rather open it up more to student choice and see what students come up with.

Finding time to explore new resources can be a challenge because our lives as educators becomes quite busy and we may find ourselves lacking in time to really explore a variety of options for use in our classroom. This is another one of the reasons that I choose Buncee and appreciate the team’s investment in offering more than just one way for students to create. It truly has become a go to multi-purpose platform that can do so much, that I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the possibilities really are endless when it comes to creation with Buncee.

Learning about students and pushing them to explore

At the start of each school year, I focus my efforts on student relationships, learning about my students and also providing opportunities for them to learn about one another. In the past I have done this by using activities in our classroom such as ice breakers or having students work together on different review games and other in class collaborations like that. But this year I decided to do something a little bit differently to not only engage students in learning about the Spanish language and culture but to engage more in learning about one another. I came up with a project focused on using the “About Me” template in Buncee. I wanted students to share who they were and create one slide to show this using words, animations, stickers, and other add-ins. My hope was that by looking at each student’s slide, we would understand one another better and relate to each other based on similarities and differences.

I also thought this would be a good opportunity for them to choose and learn a little about a place where Spanish is spoken and create an “About_(country)_____” to share that information with the rest of the class. But I also realize that there are many students who are visual learners like me and I wanted to encourage students to be able to quickly look at and process information and represent it in a different way. Rather than simply restating the same content, push them to apply it at a higher level or find a different way to demonstrate an understanding of a concept.

I also wanted students to choose a Spanish speaking country and I placed a limit on the number of actual words they could use because I wanted them to represent what they had learned about the place that had chosen using the Buncee features. The topics they had to include were: languages spoken, school subjects, foods, activities, and other information like that that they could display using Buncee.

How did it go?

It was a fun activity and I learned so much about them and they learned about each other and what life is like in countries where Spanish is spoken. We shared them on a Buncee board which made it easy to access and created a colorful display of students and their creativity. Students shared their slides and gave a brief description in Spanish about themselves and made connections with their classmates. We had good conversations exchanging our likes, dislikes, and learning about our backgrounds. For the second slide, students

were able to get a quick glimpse of different Spanish-speaking countries and begin to understand the culture of some of the places they would be studying. It was fun that they could only include 3D objects, animations, stickers or emojis, to represent the information for each country. So for visual learners, being able to choose the right object to use to share this information made the learning stick a little bit more. Students who enjoy creating but not drawing really enjoyed the activity.

One other feature that I thought was important to share with students was the new Immersive Reader and how it works. We enjoyed looking at all of the capabilities with it and using Buncee for learning!

 

 

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

With the summer break approaching, educators and students alike could use some fresh ideas to keep the energy high and finish the year strong. I have found that the end of the school year is a great time to try some new activities and tools and use it as an opportunity to try things that may have been on a list somewhere, but that you did not have the chance to do. Why not try some different methods and different tools to help students to review in preparation for final exams, create a project, or before moving on to the next level of a course. Also, depending on the course taught, some of these ideas can be carried into the summer, as a way to avoid the “summer slide.”

There are many options for getting students more engaged in learning, some rely on tech tools and others are simple hands-on activities that have the students deciding how to use the materials to learn. Regardless of the content area or level taught, technology can open up new possibilities that might just be the catalyst to spark curiosity in students or to help to engage them more in learning, and then their own motivation can take over.  I decided to try some different strategies, tools, student developed ideas, and more importantly, to step aside more in the classroom and let the students lead.

5 Ideas for Engaging Students

Here are five different ways that I found to bring about positive changes in the classroom, engage students more in learning, and also build relationships within our classroom. Hopefully, you will be able to try a few of these and push through strong until the end of the year!

  1. Games and Music: Earlier this year, I started to use more music and games in the classroom. The students became more involved in creating their own games and also writing some songs, to use as mnemonic devices. Why not have students create their own song using course related vocabulary, and set it to the music of a randomly selected song. It can be a really authentic way for them to create, have fun and remember the content in a more meaningful way. For my class, the most popular song was “Despacito” and students did a great job!
  2. Learning Stations: Try creating stations in your classroom by randomly dividing students into small groups, and have a different activity ready for each station. I like to mix the tech tools with traditional tools, so students can do some hands-on creating where students make flashcards or other visual which can be used as a resource, complete a worksheet or use dry erase boards and come up with a way to practice. For a few tech ideas, try setting up some iPads and giving students a game of Quizizz or Gimkit to play, or an interactive lesson using EDPuzzle or Playposit.  Using stations in class leads to more opportunities for student interaction and for the teacher to work directly with each group and each student. GImkitCreateGimkitLIbrary
  3. New Tech tools: Why not take the last couple of weeks of school as an opportunity to try out some of the newer tech tools or revisit some of the popular tech tools that may have some updates.  I try to learn as much as I can about new tools, but I am eager to have my students try them in class and to give me feedback on what they think. Here are a few of the most recent tools we have tried. Each tool makes it easy to get started either by having a library of ready-made games or by integrating with a tool like Quizlet, where study sets can be used to create a game. QuizalizeGimKit, and Flipquiz. Each of these is a game-based learning tool, and offer a new and exciting way to practice the course material, and also to help students continue to build peer relationships in the classroom. null
  4. Augmented and Virtual Reality: There is a lot of talk today about the benefit of using augmented and virtual reality tools in the classroom. There are so many different tools to choose from,  but I will recommend three tools to check out that can create more immersive learning experiences. Students can create using MetaverseAppCoSpacesEDUand also creating or joining lessons in Nearpod. Students are very creative and offering them a chance to design an augmented or virtual reality experience, in which they include the content material and also create additional learning resources for the classroom is so beneficial. Again, there are samples available in the library for each of these tools and creating with them is something that the students catch on to rather quickly. If you are looking for a different way to do a project, and to engage students more, then trying some AR/VR might be the way to go. Using Nearpod as a way to have students work through an interactive lesson, and then adding in 3D objects or Virtual Field Trips will really help students to better experience what they are studying. The next step would be to have the students create their own Nearpod lesson for class, multi-media, all in one tool. IMG_20170530_145553.jpgnull
  5. Podcast, Video Responses and More! Ever thought about having students create a podcast to discuss a topic, perhaps interview a “special guest”, maybe someone who takes on the role of a famous person being studied, or shares their thoughts about something covered in the class. It could be a good experience for students to practice interviewing someone, or even doing their own podcast, as a way to build some confidence and have fun while doing so. Maybe use Synth or Flipgrid and have students post responses to a question of the week, or have each student post a question for the classmates to respond to. It can be a different way to engage all students in a discussion, promote student voice and implement a new tech tool in the classroom.

In trying one or all of these activities, students have an opportunity to be more active in the classroom, work together, build relationships, collaborate and engage in more authentic learning experiences. If you need some ideas or would like to see some student examples, let me know. The best part of trying new things in the classroom is learning right along with the students, and sometimes, they learn before you. And this is one of the best parts!

​​Storybird in the Foreign Language Classroom

 


I found Storybird a few years ago while completing graduate coursework, and was searching for a different way to present the information, that would be informative, engaging and memorable. I found Storybird and after creating my own book, have relied on it as a top choice for student projects in my classroom.

As a foreign language teacher, I have my students engage in diverse activities to help them learn the material and want the experiences to be meaningful, personal and fun. Because of technology today, I now have the opportunity to offer my students a variety of choices for completing projects and other assessments for class. With the increase in digital tools for classroom integration, there are options available to meet diverse student interests and needs. I want to know what they have learned and can do with the material and being able to provide choices for them, which enhance their ability to be creative, to enjoy the work and watch the learning that occurs because it is more meaningful. Giving students a choice in how to show what they have learned offers a lot of options today.

Storybird is very helpful in my Spanish class. It makes it easy to create colorful and informative projects. I like using Storybird because it is easy and straight-forward to use. It was also great to see my story come to life, and to have a book with my name on it. — Ricky, high school student

One of the favorites for my students is to create an illustrated book using Storybird. It really does not matter what the topic of our unit is, there are so many options available for students to find something that fits right in with the theme of what we are studying. For this reason, I love offering it as one of their choices because they can find something fun to work with while building their language skills. They can choose from so many templates to create an engaging, vibrant book, write their story in Spanish and see it come to life with the variety of images available to them. Storybird helps the students to build their skills and to create something that they can share with others and have made into a beautiful book as evidence of their learning.

Storybird is one of my go to tools when creating a project. It is fun and easy to use, with beautiful artwork that aids in the story writing process. I have used Storybird for several school projects and for fun. It is a well designed application that allows the author to choose exactly what they want.
— Dana, high school student

An added benefit is that in addition to displaying these on the Smartboard in the classroom for all students to see and learn from, we can have their books printed and displayed in the classroom. What could be better than seeing the books written by your students in Spanish on display in your classroom? The books can be used as learning materials for future classes and exemplify what personalized learning and having a choice can do to engage students and increase their learning potential. The students can be creative and have fun learning in the process.

Storybird is really fun. I love the groups of pictures you can choose from for creating your book. The website is really easy to use, and different from other programs I’ve used in the past. Being able to purchase a paper copy of your book is a really great feature. — Maddi, high school student

Some fun examples we have used in Spanish are projects to describe one’s family and create a family album and also to describe preparing for a special event and one’s daily routine. Students have fun selecting their pictures to represent the members of the family or activities in their daily routine, and as the teacher, I enjoy seeing their finished work and knowing that not only did they build their language skills, they had fun in the process and created something that they can share with others and author their own book.

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There is so much discussion going on today about Augmented and Virtual Reality and how it can be used for education. I have signed up for a lot of alerts to keep me informed when new AR/VR tools come out or there is news about schools around the world and how they are using augmented and virtual reality to amplify student learning. Alerts arrive throughout the day and one thing is clear, these tools have tremendous potential to really engage students in a completely different kind of learning, giving them more control in the classroom.

Learning Curve

Because the concept of augmented and virtual reality seems so detailed and can be hard to grasp if you’ve not had experience with either of these, people tend to think that using these with students might be difficult or the learning curve might be too steep. Time is a huge factor when it comes to deciding what tools and methods to use in the classroom and I’m sure that there is not a single teacher who hasn’t occasionally said, if not on a daily basis, “I wish I had enough time to…” There’s always something they want to learn, something different to try that might have been on their to-do list for a really long time but they just have not been able to devote any time to it.

The great thing about tools like 3D Bear is that teachers don’t really have to spend a lot of time trying it out on their own or figuring out how to get started using it. This is what we want our students to do. We want to put tools that can engage them and more authentic and meaningful learning in their hands. Students learn more by doing and having opportunities to engage in hands-on activities, where they control the direction their learning takes. We cannot give students the answers or always show them how to do something, they have to experience some struggles. They will need to know how to problem solve, collaborate, communicate and to even create on their own as they are preparing for the future and life in general.

When thinking about adding some new technology into the classroom, we really need to focus on the why behind choosing a specific tool or method. What makes it different and what can it do differently for students, that can enhance the learning process and go beyond the traditional methods that are already being used in the classroom. What sets it apart from other options or methods you have been using? I think the answer is clear. We should select tools that help us move students to a more active role in the classroom rather than passively learning. By having students become the creators and immerse in a new learning environment, we will provide them with voice and choice in learning and lead them to explore through emerging trends in education.

Why 3D Bear

When I finally decided to get my new iPad this summer, I couldn’t wait to try out the different augmented reality apps. Actually, the whole reason that I bought the iPad was for this purpose. The first app that I tried was 3D Bear. I did not look for any tutorials, simply started clicking the options and found that it was very easy to use and a lot of fun. I was able to quickly figure out how to add items and manipulate them in the space I chose. Seeing the group of bears dancing around the middle of my table was fun. I could immediately see the potential for student learning regardless of the content area or grade level taught. Students can use it to create 3D objects in different spaces and have the opportunity to record a story to go along with it. The potential and power of storytelling in AR is awesome. What better way to have students represent their learning than to design their own story and deciding what to place in their environment and then creating a narration to go along with it.

Ideas for the Classroom and Getting Started

With so many new technologies entering the educational setting, it can be challenging to figure out which might be the best for your students. So we always want to focus on the “why” and determine what purpose will it serve that will amplify student learning. Being able to interact with and create a new learning environment through 3D Bear, will help students develop so many of the skills they need to be successful in the future. There are a lot of options for having students learn through 3D Bear. A nice feature is having access to ready-made lesson plans that can be used in any level which focus on content such as Social Studies, Math, Science, ELA and STEM, and STEAM-related topics. The lesson plans include different resources, worksheets, and links to other helpful reading materials. We can give students the opportunities to create, design and re-enact events in a more engaging way.

Features The best part of 3D Bear is the number of choices available for students and teachers to select from. There are a diverse group of objects that can be added in to create a story, making it easy to integrate this tool into any content area. Some of the object types are People, Garden, School, Animals, Holidays, Household, Emotions and even a category of funny items. There are a lot of possibilities for students to really create something authentic and meaningful when they can choose the objects to use and how to set up their scene for storytelling.

Once you log in, getting started is easy. Simply follow the tutorial that guides you through the creation process, showing you how to use the different tools to add objects and to manipulate them as you create. Or if you want to skip the tutorial, you can get started on your own. It is user-friendly and you can create something in a short period of time. There are also short video tutorials available on the 3D Bear website to help with designing, setting up classes, and exploring the lesson plans and teacher dashboard. Teachers can quickly create a class, add students, and edit class rosters directly from the app.

5 Ideas to try

  1. About Me: Getting to know our students is fundamental to our work in the classroom. Why not have students use 3D Bear to tell a story about themselves. With so many things to choose from, students can design something to reflect who they are, share their interests and even record a narration to explain. It will be fun learning about the students using AR to tell their story.
  2. Recreate an event: Depending on the content area you teach, why not have students recreate an event that they learned about, but tell it using different characters or themes so that they can attach more meaning to it and retain the content better. It can be fun to have students work together to come up with a twist using the augmented reality features. Learning about a famous historical period? Have students use the holiday theme or funny characters to explain key events or topics and then add narration to clarify if needed.
  3. Design a new space: Give students an opportunity to create a “dream house”, a new school, a new building for their town or even somewhere they would like to explore. With so many options available to choose from, students will be tasked with problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaborating to brainstorm ideas with their peers. It will promote creativity and give students the opportunity to dream big and use their imagination to come up with innovative ideas.
  4. Explain an idea or concept: Students can take a concept learned, maybe something in science class or in a math class and use the objects to create something like a biome or a diorama, or simply to visually represent something that is easier to understand by looking at it in 3D.
  5. Special events: Something fun might be to use 3D Bear to advertise an upcoming school event or a class activity instead of the traditional flyer or newsletter format. imagine what members of the school community would think if they were able to learn about a school event by exploring it through augmented reality. There are so many choices available that it just takes a little imagination to come up with a new way to use the tool.

As teachers, there are so many things that we are responsible for and have to keep up with, that it can be difficult to stay current and relevant with all of the emerging trends when it comes to technology. Fortunately, there are tools like 3D Bear that make it easier to get started with and that provide innovative ways for students to learn. It just takes a few minutes to get started and then give the students time to explore on their own and with peers. Sign up for the teacher trial at 3D Bear! Let me know how you use it in your classroom!

Assessments used to track student progress are certainly not new to teachers. However, it is important to consider that if you consistently use the same tool for assessment, these materials should be curated and referred to throughout the year. This ensures a conversation can happen between teachers, students, and guardians, reviewing  progress and growth.

Kidblog offers extended options for promoting student choice, giving students ownership in learning, and facilitating communication between home and school (family engagement in learning is critical for student success).  Over the years, I have tried to encourage students to keep prior assessments or writing assignments as artifacts of their work to share with families. It wasn’t long before these papers were misplaced and the opportunities for review, reflection and growth disappeared. Using Kidblog’s built-in digital portfolios empower students to self-regulate learning and develop their metacognitive skills. It also allows a conversation between student, teacher, and families happen.

Tracking growth in a more accessible way

There are many benefits of using safe student publishing that go beyond simply blogging and improving communication skills. Through Kidblog, students gain the tools necessary to prepare for their future with the skills they need to be successful.

  • Promotes digital literacy and citizenship: Blogging engages students in building their writing skills whether it be basic English grammar, practicing foreign language skills, or learning to write in a specific format such as a persuasive text or narrative. Students can share their posts with classmates and provide feedback to one another. Peer assessment builds student collaboration skills and promotes digital citizenship and the responsible use of digital tools.
  • Track their growth: Students build their online presence and create their own space unique to their needs. They develop confidence as they become more creative in their expression and learn to self-assess with each blog post they write. Because Kidblog offers a safe learning space, students can get started by writing posts that are private, visible by the teacher, and then continue to grow their audience, sharing their work with classmates, connections, and beyond. Using Kidblog across multiple courses provides students with an even greater opportunity to track their progress across the course of a semester, school year, or even year-over-year.

 

  • Build relationships and become confident learners: Receiving feedback throughout the learning journey is critical to student growth. However, some students may be hesitant in sharing their thoughts with their peers in the classroom. Through blogging, when students create their own online space, they can comfortably begin to develop their voice, express their thoughts in a personal space, and become more confident learners. The relationships that form by sharing their work at first with their teacher and then by publishing it to a larger community have a tremendous impact on student growth. Publishing work to a wider audience benefits the student through the additional feedback that can be provided. Students know their work is having an impact on readers.
  • Goal setting: When students consistently create through blogging, they can use their history (in digital portfolios) as a guide to push forward with goals. Each student can use Kidblog as a space to set personal learning goals. By publishing their goals in the class, they are held accountable and, in turn, will be motivated to hit those goals. Preparing students for their future requires that we provide opportunities for them to learn responsibility, to work within a schedule with different tasks and timelines.

 

  • Personal expression and growth mindset: Kidblog provides a space for students to explore their passions, be creative, and reflective. Students have the opportunity to share these passions with the world, and hopefully, make a connection with another student based off of these passions.

 

Consider adopting Kidblog as your tool for promoting student growth and formative assessment. Teacher premium memberships are a great way for an individual teacher to pilot Kidblog in all their classes, with benefits like automatic digital portfolio curation for your students, a class page, moderation tools to customize your audience levels per post, and so much more.

ocean under blue sky

Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

Being a teacher is easy.

It must be nice to have your summers off.

You’re so lucky, you don’t have to work on the weekends.

You have such long holiday breaks!

If you are a teacher, you likely have heard at least one of these statements before, perhaps from friends and family, or from people you just meet, that respond with similar statements when they find out that you are a teacher. Are these statements accurate? Well, I guess to an extent, but there are some ways to counter these comments.

 

It can be easy to be a teacher, if you love what you do, it does not feel like” work.” I enjoy  working with students, learning with and from them, and having the opportunity to start fresh each day and create experiences to engage students in learning. Having the summer off is nice too, but most teachers I know either work in the summer, attend conferences, or pursue some professional development. The “summer off” is nice for providing a more flexible schedule, and a time to reflect, explore new things and prepare for the new school year.

And as for weekends, I am fairly certain that most teachers look forward to the weekend for many reasons. Of course, time with family and time to relax are important. But it is also a time to catch up on some grading, emails, or exploring new methods to bring into the classroom. So weekends without work, I don’t think they happen too much.

And the extended holiday breaks are nice as well. But again, many teachers use this time to reflect, recharge and prepare for the return to school.

So, What is the reality?

The reality of being a teacher is that teaching today can be quite challenging. Maybe in the past, the life of the teacher was perceived to be a pretty comfortable and easy profession. The typical school day of 7:00 to 3:00 or some variation, with weekends and holidays off and of course, that summer break. With those hours and that schedule who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? From the outside looking in, it might seem like each day is the same, right? Each passing year the same as the year prior. How could it be that difficult? Once you make a worksheet or a test you have them to use forever, right?  Lesson plans are the same, projects are the same, and folders full of worksheets and activities pulled from the file cabinet, simply copy it, teach it and then move on to the next day. Same. (hopefully not).

There may be some truth to this, as I’m sure there are some teachers who are teaching the same way that they were taught and/or are using the same materials each day with each class and then doing it all over again the next year. No judgments made.

To an extent, I myself was this type of teacher for a long time. Not because I was trying to take the easy way out or save time. Rather I was using some of the methods that worked for me when I was a student. I thought this was the right way to prepare. And sometimes I used some of the same materials each year because I thought there was value to them for student learning. I know that when I was a student, some of the same issues that exist today existed then (copying homework, cheating on tests), but we didn’t have the technology, which creates tremendous learning opportunities but it also takes away some opportunities as well.

Foreign Language Teacher vs. Online Translators

I thought that being a foreign language teacher meant that I was a member of a group that had a distinct battle not experienced by any other content area.  It took some time for me to notice some bothersome trends in student work. The copying of assignments, the use of online language translators, and even copying information directly from websites. So the struggle was to find a way for students to have authentic practice that would not encourage student copying or trying to take a shortcut with learning. But each year it becomes more and more challenging to stay ahead of technology in this sense. I don’t know the answer as to how to get students to stop copying homework other than to not assign homework. And this has been a very strong discussion as to the value of homework, the type of homework, and whether or not homework should even be given at all. #ditchthehomework (follow the hashtag)

 

I will not make a decision either way, other than to say that for me, I do assign some “practice” tasks for the students to do, but they typically don’t come in the form of a worksheet. And sometimes when we are working in stations in class, if students do not finish something, I do ask that they work on it until complete. But I do add, “at their pace.”  Instead, I encourage students to practice the content by playing a game of review using the Quizlet cards, sharing a Quizizz game or provide prompts for writing a blog post. And these are ongoing practice tasks that are due on a weekly basis or that I have students create to use in the class. Why? Because in doing this rather than assigning the same worksheet to each student to complete,  I know that it is more authentic, will provide students with personalized practice and it is not something that can readily be copied.

But recently I was rather surprised when I saw some students switching between screens on their computer while working in their practice workbook. (As a side note, I stopped assigning practice from the workbook for homework because of copying).

I thought that by having students work on the pages in class, during stations, that I could interact more and provide more one on one feedback and  give time for students to collaborate with their peers. I did not anticipate this “new” form of copying, until one day a few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of a student switching screens on his laptop and then writing in the workbook. The process repeated and continued for a few minutes. From across the room I had an idea of what they were doing, but I gave it some time before I walked over. Hoping that I was wrong, and that it was not the website that provides answers to so many books and workbooks. (Still cannot believe what is available).

 

It was exactly as I had thought, one of the students was using that website, to look up and copy the answers for the workbook. While I understand that there can be comfort in having a resource to look at, especially when a student may be struggling with a concept, it is helpful to learn that you were on the right track. But I do have a problem when the answers to all questions in every book are so easily accessible and available to students. I know when I was in school, often our math teachers would assign questions opposite to the answers that were available in the back of the book. It was nice to have an option to look at some answers to do practice problems and see if we were working on them correctly, and there were times when I did wish that all of the answers were available. But it forced us to push through the challenges and solve the problems. There were struggles in the learning but that’s how we improved and kept going forward.

Simple lesson learned. In these experiences, and on a personal basis, you cannot or should not assign students the exact same thing if you can avoid it. Especially when teaching a higher level course or one in which students have the possibility to create, rather than simply consume. We need to give them more authentic opportunities to practice what they are learning. They need to create, not consume, be active, not passive, and have the opportunity to set their learning path and be curious in their pursuit of knowledge. This is how we prepare them for the future.

DEWEY

 

PBL and GimKit

So the tool was Gimkit and I only heard bits of a conversation in the #4OCFPLN group (Thank you Laura Steinbrink) and I honestly thought it was something only for elementary school. I decided last weekend to look it up, create an account and give it a try. At the end of the school year, I love trying new tools and ideas to keep students engaged in learning and finish strong. A few years ago, Goose Chase was a huge success, and so I was excited for the possibilities with Gimkit.

It was so easy to create a game, referred to as a “kit.” I created several “kits” for my classes and then noticed that I needed to upgrade to make additional kits. I reached out to the game’s creator to find out if I could have a brief trial period, so that I could make more games. Since the school year was ending, and I had conferences coming up, I really wanted to try out as many features as I could.  I was quite surprised to find out that this is a tool that has been created by a high school junior, as a part of project-based learning.

“Being uncomfortable is a great way to increase your skill of learning”

Learning the story behind the creation of Gimkit

When I asked Josh asked about his background, he told me that during the last school year, a new project-based learning high school opened in his district and he decided to attend.(See an interview done by Michael Matera, #xplap, where he interviews Josh).

In May of 2017, as he was completing one of his projects , he thought back to traditional school, where he really enjoyed using other game based learning tools, and thought he could create something to improve upon them. He started by interviewing different students and teachers, and compiled a list of the most common issues expressed, which became part of his focus in creating Gimkit.

GimKitHW

As an assignment

Last summer he worked on creating the first version of Gimkit, and ran a small beta test in October and officially launched the day before Halloween. He says they have spent “little to no time and money on marketing,”  and the user base is growing, over the past few weeks he has seen around 20x the usage he did from just a month ago. As for the team, for the most part, it’s just Josh who does all of the engineering and responds to customer support messages. He started to code between freshman and sophomore years, and then developed GimKit over the following summer. Josh also has a mentor who works with the customers and provides business advice. Listening to his interview with Michael, there are three questions that he asked himself which impressed me. “Am I working to improve the product every single day? Am I improving myself every single day? Am I doing something to push the product further everyday?” He clearly has a growth mindset and is reflective in his “challenges” that he has set up for himself.

 

I was so surprised when I received a response to my email to Gimkit  within about fifteen minutes of having sent it. I can’t recall the last time that I got a response so quickly.

GImkitCreate

Giving it a try

So last week I decided to give it a try in my classes without really knowing what to expect. I got started over the weekend by creating classes, entering the students’ names to make it easier in class. I created a few “kits”, which are games. It is very easy to create. You can start from scratch, upload your own sets of terms or connect with Quizlet to export a list of words directly into your game. The goal is to make as much money as you can, or for students to reach a set goal. Students can play individually or in teams and logging in is done through a code, where students can then either find their name if part of a class, or enter their name.. You can also set a time period to play, I have been using 10 and 12 minutes, just as a start.

I was very excited to try this with my classes and actually only intended to play during my Spanish I classes. To start, I told them that I really wasn’t sure how it worked and told them to just go for it.

Playing this reminded me of that day five years ago when we play Kahoot! for the first time. The students wanted to keep on playing more games every day and said it was their favorite. They were excited and having fun but more importantly I noticed that they were learning the words and their recall of the words became faster and faster with each time played. It was fun to observe them as they played, learning how the game worked, and hearing their interactions. Some students were yelling at their teammates “to stop buying things”, as they can “shop” and level up with extra money per question, buy insurance, bonus streak or other options. Eventually they all had fun buying things,  when they saw how quickly the money was being added to their account.

After the first round of games, I think the total won was around three million which seemed like a lot until the next class came in and had 17 million. The third group to play earned 37 million and when we decided to continue this the next day we were in the billions!

GimkitLIbrary

Gathering feedback and assessing the benefits of the tool

Once the game is done, a report is available which opens as a PDF. The summary shows the class results and the individual report lists each student, money earned and lost, correct and incorrect answers, followed by a list of the terms asked and the number of correct and incorrect responses. It is a great way to see what areas that the class as a whole needs some review with, but more importantly, something that can be shared with each student and used as a tool to study. Teachers can create 5 kits for free and edit each kit once. There are also paid plans that enable you to create more.

 

For the determining the benefit for students, I value their feedback very much and I ask them what they liked about the game and how they felt it impacted their learning of the vocabulary. They liked the game setup and the repeated questions, the music and the teamwork made it fun as well. Creating the kits was so fast and made it easy to keep adding more into my library. Another nice feature is the ability to assign kits for students to play outside of class for practice.

There are different options available for play in class as well as assignments. I love that students can work at their own pace and that they are learning more and feeling more confident with the material.  I definitely recommend that you check them out and follow them on Twitter, @Gimkit. Just in the past few days, there are already new features added, one favorite is the messages sent to teammates letting them know when someone on the team buys something.

 

A Classroom’s Journey To Student-Led, Interactive Lessons

Written for the RUBICON SUMMIT

About two years ago, I found myself struggling to find ways to keep my students engaged in the lesson. I tried to get them involved more in class activities by offering more choices and providing opportunities for them to be part of the decisions made about what we were doing in the classroom. Why did I do this? Partially because I saw – and could feel – a decrease in student motivation and engagement. It was approaching the end of the school year, and the focus had shifted more to “when does summer begin?”

So I tried to do things a bit differently, think creatively, and take some risks. I wanted to keep us all moving, to finish strong at the end of the school year and begin summer vacation with a sense of accomplishment, to celebrate all that we had learned throughout the year and also what we had gained from these new experiences.

Educational Technology and Digital Tools with Purpose
Educational Technology provides so many resources that enable students to learn anywhere and at any time, and at a pace that is comfortable for each student. We can instruct from inside the traditional classroom, ​”​the brick-and-mortar​” ​as it is called, or from anywhere around the world. Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and provides opportunities for the students to move from consumers to creators. When students have choices in how to show what they have learned, they are more likely to be engaged and excited for learning. They will feel valued​,​ and the lesson and learning will be more meaningful because it has been made perso​n​al to them.

Creating Interactive Lessons
What did I change? I started by having my students create some interactive lessons using educational technology tools like Formative, Nearpod, and EDPuzzle, or even games with Kahoot! and Quizizz. It proved to be a very beneficial learning experience for all of us. By doing this, we had extra resources available that could be shared with students who might need some extra practice. I thought it went so well that I decided to take it a step further and start a “teacher for a day” activity during which the students create a lesson based on a grammar topic or vocabulary.

I stepped back and had the students lead our classroom. It was a really good way to learn a lot more about the students, to better understand what their needs were in terms of the content material, and for the students to learn about each other. Giving students the control and the opportunity to become the creators and leaders in the class has tremendous benefits and it has been something that we have enjoyed.

Giving Students the Control
At first when students created interactive lessons, I would launch the lesson and control it on the SmartBoard, but find ways to involve the student who created it during the presentation. I eventually decided to move aside, and took a seat in the back of the room, having the student lead the lesson, give explanations, answer questions, call upon students for answers, and provide feedback. Having the opportunity to sit back and experience this was tremendous. The students enjoyed the activity, supported each other, collaborated, and provided some positive feedback to each of their classmates. I was very impressed with how well they taught, led, and learned during each of the “teacher for a day” lessons.

Empowering Students in Learning
The use of these digital tools means ​that ​the “time and place for learning” is no​ longer​ confined to the ​traditional time and setting of the physical ​classroom​. It opens up the learning environment ​to​ anywhere​, at any time and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well. Learning and having timely, purposeful and authentic feedback is critical ​for growth to happen. When we shift our focus to creating opportunities, giving students the control, leaving the decision making to students to choose ​how t​o show what they have learned, or ​letting them​ design their own assessments, they are more empowered in their learning.

What are the Next Steps?
Have a conversation with your students and ask for their honest feedback. What did they like? What did they not like? Which lesson or format seemed to help the most? What did it feel like to be in control, decide how to deliver the lesson, and experience being the teacher? You can have this as a face to face conversation, students can respond on paper, or use one of the many digital tools available for communication. No matter which way you choose, look to your students for the valuable feedback to decide your next steps. Be sure to ask yourself these same questions and continue to reflect on steps taken and progress made!

For more strategies about integrating technology into instruction, read Overcome

EdTech’s Problems With Blended 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.

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 9.45.12 PM.png

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.