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.

For This Lesson, I Stepped Aside To Become A Facilitator Of Learning

 

Posted on TeachThought, August 29th, 2017  (Thank you Terry Heick)

It started with a cross-class collaboration idea.

I was not sure the idea would work, but was willing to give it a try and it had captured the interest of students. I connected four levels of Spanish and created a team project using Google and Padlet so students could collaborate and share their work.

The experience went so well that it led me to think about other ways to engage students more in a collaborative online learning space. Students need to be connected with authentic learning experiences and develop digital citizenship skills, and to be given choices in learning. Trying to build on the prior project collaboration, I wanted to explore possibilities of using Google slides to have students work simultaneously on a whole-class project.

I asked the students if they had done any type of collaboration online like this before, and I was surprised that they had not. Knowing this pushed me more to decide that I should definitely create this learning experience with them.

Connecting students

I decided to try something more collaborative by using Google Slides. We are a Microsoft Office school, but many students use Google Drive on their own. I also use Edmodo in my classes and like the students to have experience with different kinds of tools. I like that students can work on a document or a presentation at the same time, as this substantively changes the methods and frequency with with students share ideas.

By having students create a class presentation simultaneously, the teacher can then take that extra time to facilitate their learning and interact with students to do something more specific, like assessing their content knowledge. Giving students the opportunity to work as a team toward one whole class project rather than completing individual projects opens up new and more engaging ways for the students to learn not only content or technology skills, or even ‘soft skills’ like collaboration, but also get to know one another more as well.

Connecting students with their peers promotes a friendlier and more cohesive class culture, and I think makes learning more authentic and meaningful for students. To be able to see what they are each working on and to be part of the whole class presentation in real-time requires constant interfacing of different personalities and skill levels.

The divergent interests, backgrounds, and experiences of the students in each class are emphasized in whole-class projects like this, which both strengthens the learning experience while also being more demanding of the technology.

When doing individual projects, it’s not always the case that each student has the opportunity to see the work of the other students. Doing this can be quite time-consuming and feel ‘wasteful,’ but the long-term momentum of successful projects that are as highly-visible as a whole-class collaboration are worth the time taken, and hiccups along the way, especially early in the year.

Our Presentation

To have the students practice the new chapter material on clothing and shopping preferences, I created a Google Slides template for a Fashion Show.

I set up a presentation for each class and shared it with the students. I provided instructions for what was expected for their slide, and reminded them to only work on their slide and respect the work of the other students.

For the fashion show, they were to choose a celebrity, find a picture and write a description in Spanish of the clothing that the person was wearing. They also had to write a few statements about where the clothing could be purchased as well as the cost for the items.

In doing this I thought it would be a great reference because the students could refer back to each slide, read the descriptions, and reinforce and review their content knowledge. Plus, depending on the types of clothing pictures the students chose, it could be a lot more fun–definitely more engaging and an interesting experience for all students than individual study.

This ‘real-world topic meets real-world technology meets whole-class collaboration’ ended up being a more authentic way to practice the content than even I had hoped, increasing the language and content retention for the students as well as teaching them new technology skills.

The students really liked seeing the Fashion Show displayed on the Smartboard, which was another opportunity to reinforce the vocabulary by asking students questions about each slide, reviewing the verb forms, and more.

For the most part, they did respect the work of their classmates. A few students enjoyed adding pictures of some celebrities onto the slides of their peers, which resulted in peers responding instantly and removing them–I didn’t even have to say anything!

A risk in giving open access to the editing of the presentation ended up being worth the risk taken, and was a way to teach lessons about digital citizenship as well.

Next Time

Always thinking of the next thing, I decided that perhaps another opportunity to work collaboratively would be to create a class review presentation for final exams. This might take more planning, but I think the long-term effect will be worth it.

This approach is a great way for the students to prepare for final exams and have a reference to review the material covered in the level 1 Spanish course. The idea is that each student will be assigned a slide and given a verb or grammar topic as well as some vocabulary to include.

For their slide, the goal is to teach a mini-lesson, provide references, include a video or link to a game and some sample sentences. Though I’m taking this approach to teach a foreign language, it could be used to teach, learn, or review almost anything, from math definitions and historical trends to literacy devices, phonics, word parts, and more.

I also hope that it will end up being a good way for students to have some personal instruction as well as a choice in what they are creating–and another opportunity for students to collaborate with their peers as the teacher shifts roles from leader to facilitator of learning.

PBLTT

Building Skills with App Smashing: Buncee, Padlet and now new Buncee Boards!!

Buncee

There are a lot of great digital tools that promote student creativity and choice and give students an opportunity to learn about each other in the process. Two tools that have worked well together for this purpose are Buncee and Padlet. Using these together promotes student creativity, provides more authentic and meaningful ways for students to share backgrounds and introduce themselves to classmates. It builds digital citizenship and technology skills by teaching students how to interact in a virtual space. It promotes communication and collaboration through the sharing of projects and opens the ability to engage in conversation through the commenting feature on Padlet.

 

When students start the school year, learning about classroom procedures and becoming familiar with their peers are important activities. Teachers go about these procedures in different ways, some even choosing to dive right into the content material and to open up opportunities for these typical procedures on a daily basis. The past few years I have tried to get students to interact more at the start of the year, share who they are, their experiences, their interests and have them set some goals as well. I try to do so with variety of icebreakers or other activities like surveys or classroom games to get the conversations started. However, this year I plan to have students share their information by creating a visual representation. Students will be able to choose from the library of thousands of images, props, icons, animations and more in Buncee to tell their story. The requirement will be that they use very little in terms of text and rather choose the images, animations and even videos to tell their story. I also hope that it creates a way for students to share some learning goals they may have or things they wish their teacher knew.

BunceeJenna

Before the advancements in technology and the increase in types and number of tools available, sharing these creations required either printing or sending through email or storing on a flash drive. But with collaborative tools such as Padlet, it has been very simple to not only share the information quickly but to embed a Buncee project right onto the Padlet so it is fully visible to everyone instantly. By doing this, students have gained new knowledge of technology, developed peer relationships, teachers learn about the students, the students will learn about each other, and it will start the conversations going. By using imagery rather than so many words, students will be able to see some commonalities in the classroom which will help to drive the development of a classroom culture.

Besides the learning potential in this, I think it is a lot of fun and highly engaging for students to create and to see what their classmates have created. I would not be setting a good example if I myself did not create a Buncee and add it into the group. Students need to learn about their teachers as much as the teachers need to learn about the students. I’ve heard the quote and read the quote of Teddy Roosevelt many times “Children do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  This couldn’t be truer, so we need to learn about our students and show that we care about them and their success.

BunceeSpain

Combining Buncee and Padlet

Throughout this app smashing (when two tools are used in conjunction to create and present a product), students enhance their skills in many areas. In terms of the ISTE Student Standards, all seven are addressed in completing these activities. The main one addressed is 6, Creative Communicator. Students have a choice and their voice is represented in creating their Buncee. But in the process of creating, they become Global Collaborators because by posting it on Padlet, others can view their work and comment. They are Empowered Learners because they have choice and voice in their learning experiences. Computational Thinkers because they are deciding how to present the information in the Buncee, Innovative designers choosing from the thousands of features available in the library to put into their own creation. Digital Citizens because they are learning to respect others’ work and to publish and post responsibly. For some students, this will be the first time they are really interacting with digital tools and so it will be perhaps a big learning curve. However, everyone will be doing the same thing and there will be comfort in this which will help student confidence to increase. I promote student empowerment and it will be a good way to set up the classroom culture and to help students gain some new skills moving forward.

FETCpresentation

New Buncee Boards! Announced today!

Today is an exciting day for Buncee and the many users of Buncee. The newest feature, Buncee boards, provide a great way to gather resources in one place, open up communication and collaboration, and share ideas with others in and out of the classroom. There are a lot of great ideas for using #BunceeBoards in the classroom, so be sure to check out this post: 10 ways to use Buncee Boards to see some of the ways Buncee Boards can be used in the classroom. There are a lof of great ways to use these in the classroom, and even better, students can have fun sharing, commenting and posting reactions to the boards.

There are many possibilities for using Buncee in the classroom and the nice thing about it, the best thing about it, is that it promotes choice and authentic creations for students and teachers and anyone. It is a skill that students can learn and can share with their families which will open up more learning opportunities beyond the school setting and move it into the community and beyond.

 

3 Ways to Implement Blended Learning In The Classroom

 

3 Quick Ways to Implement Blended Learning In The Classroom

Best practices for blending or flipping your classroom continue to be topics of discussion in education today. Much of the discussion focuses on finding clear definitions of what these terms mean and the benefit to classrooms.

There are many resources and ways to educate yourself on this topic available including a diverse selection of books and blogs (such as the book Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker, and of course the Getting Smart blog) related to the topic, reaching out to colleagues or members of your PLN or attending conferences such as FETC, ISTE, state edtech conferences, edcamps and other professional development experiences.

All of these are great for finding examples, vignettes, templates, suggested tools and ideas. But even with all of these options, sometimes it is more valuable to take a risk and try something out on your own. The outcomes will not always be the same for each teacher, classroom or student, but it’s at least worth a try.

There are different models for implementing blended learning, and the method used will vary depending on your classroom. I recommend starting with one method–if you see positive effects, that you have more time to collaborate in class and your students are more engaged then continue. If not, then use this opportunity as a way to learn more about your students and their needs. As teachers, we need to constantly reflect on our methods and encourage self-assessment with our students, all part of learning and growing together. Getting started can take some risk and exploration, and definitely time.

Here are some different ways to use technology to “blend” or “flip” learning that in my experience have worked well. These tools can offer innovative or creative learning methods in your classroom, opening up the time and space for where and when the learning occurs.

1. Flipping and Blending with Videos

In the past when I heard “flipped classroom” I thought that meant simply assigning a video for students to watch. It can be, as it was originally considered the traditional way of flipping the classroom, but there has to be follow-up, accountability and more than just simply assigning a video. How will we know what the students gained from the experience?

The benefit of having students watch a video outside of class is that it reserves the class time for discussion and peer collaboration, and moves the teacher to more of a facilitator in the classroom. There are video tools such as EDpuzzle and PlayPosit, through which students interact with the video.

By responding to questions throughout, they are held accountable for the material and can show what they are learning. The teacher has instant feedback and can better understand how the students are learning and provide more personalized instruction. Either of these tools are great for the teacher to create lessons, but also provide the opportunity for students to create lessons that can be shared with other students.

In my experience, these tools have both provided a lot of authentic learning, problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration. More importantly, they create an opportunity for students to move from learners to leaders, and from consumers to creators in the classroom. This is one of our main goals as teachers–to provide opportunities which empower students to take more control and drive their own learning. These leadership opportunities also help the students to feel valued because of the work that they are doing. There are sample lessons or “bulbs” available, so try one of from the library, and see how it works in your classroom.

2. Game Based Learning and “Practice” as Homework Alternatives

Perhaps you want students to simply play a game or have some practice beyond the school day. There are lots of options available, some of which enable students to create and share their games as well.

A few of these that you are probably familiar with are Kahoot, Quizizz and Quizlet. Creating a game with any of these three apps is simple. There are many public games and Quizlet flashcards available to choose from, and it is simple to create your own or for students to create something to share with the class. You can use these to differentiate homework and have students create something more personalized and beneficial for their own learning, and then share these new resources with other students and classes.

It’s another great opportunity to understand student needs because of the types of questions they design and the vocabulary they choose to include. Another bonus is that using something like Quizizz means students can complete it anywhere. Have you tried these  three? Give Gimkit a go. Created by a high school student, this is a game that students enjoy, especially because they can level up, use multipliers and really practice the content with the repetitive questions that help them to build their skills.

3. Discussion Beyond the School Day and Space

There are tools available for having students brainstorm, discuss topics or write reflections which can be accessed at any time and from any place.  For example, Padlet is a “virtual wall” where teachers can post discussion questions, ask students to brainstorm, post project links and more. It is a quick and easy way to connect students and expand where and when learning occurs. Take the posts and use them as discussion starters in the next class.

Synth is great for having students create or respond to a podcast. The idea is that students can do some of these activities outside of the classroom period, and teachers can create prompts which provide opportunities to engage students with their peers in a more comfortable way.

Even though all of these involve technology at some level, they are interactive tools to engage students, to expand and “flatten the walls” of the classroom and offer students an opportunity to do more than just sit and learn; to become more actively involved, giving them a voice and choice, through more authentic learning.

By giving the students a chance to do more than absorb information, but instead to create, design and think critically, we not only give them the knowledge to be successful, we encourage them to create their own path to success. And hopefully, in the process, they learn to better self-assess and reflect, both of which are critical skills they’ll need for success in school and in their careers.

 

10 EdTech Tools for Encouraging Classroom Collaboration

Thank you Getting Smart for the opportunity to be a Guest Author for this post.

10 EdTech Tools for Encouraging Classroom Collaboration

By Rachelle Dene Poth

Today’s technology offers so many options for educators and students that deciding on where to begin can be overwhelming. To get started, think about one new approach that could be the catalyst for positive change in your classroom. In looking at your learning environment, what could benefit your students the most?

How do you find tools to help meet your needs? Resources are everywhere: books, blogs, social media like Twitter chats, Voxer groups, your PLN, or even conferences, EdCamps and similar professional development opportunities. But even with all of these resources available, it still comes down to taking a risk and trying something new.

Here are some helpful and versatile technology tools to easily and quickly integrate into your classroom and help meet your needs.

Discussion Tools: Get Them Talking

Teachers need to hear from students, and we know that asking questions or calling on students to discuss a topic can often make them nervous. When students, or anyone, develop that feeling of “being on the spot”, it can become more difficult to encourage students to share what they are thinking, what they are feeling and what their true opinions are. This is where digital tools can provide security and opportunities for students to express themselves. Technology has a true purpose. Students still need to develop an ability and gain confidence to speak in class, but these tools can help by providing a comfortable way for students to develop their voice and express themselves.

Depending on the type of question or discussion format you want for your classroom, there are many tools available that can help.

  1. SurveyMonkey is a good way to ask a variety of questions, find out what students are thinking, use it for a quick formative assessment, and many other possibilities. I have used it to find out how students prepared for tests, what areas they need help with, and even for voting for club officers and planning trips. You have the results quickly and can provide feedback instantly, to plan your next steps in class. It can be a different way to find out about your students and their needs.
  2. TodaysMeet is a backchannel tool that can be used in or out of class, as a way for students to contribute to a discussion or ask questions. It can also be used to provide “office hours” online, for students to ask questions beyond the school day. There are many possible uses for this tool, and setting it up is easy.
  3. GoSoapBox is a response tool that can be used to ask a variety of questions without students having to create accounts. Students simply need an “event code” provided by the teacher to access the activities available. GoSoapBox can be used for polls, discussion questions, quizzes and more, and provides a fast way to assess students or to simply learn more about them and their thoughts.
  4. Recap is a video response tool, where students can respond to a prompt and all responses are compiled into a “daily reel” for teachers to view and provide feedback. Students can respond from anywhere and feel comfortable in sharing their thoughts using this tool.

These are just four of the many options—sometimes it just takes a bit of research. Asking the students for new ways to use the tools you have already been using in class can also be helpful.

Communication Through Collaboration

There are many options which promote student collaboration and enhance writing skills and student voice.

5) Blogging: Through blogging, teachers can provide support for students and help them to gain confidence in writing and speaking. We have used Kidblog to complete many writing tasks and creative writing assignments.

6) Wikispaces: A Wiki has worked really well in our classes for having students collaborate on a topic, create a discussion page, and set it up to inform on a topic, to list just a few examples. We created a wiki on Spanish art and also created our own travel agency.

7) Padlet: Padlet is a “virtual wall” which promotes collaboration, communication, creativity and more because of its versatility. Students can write a response to a discussion question, add resources for a collaborative class project, work in small groups, use it for brainstorming or connect with other students and classrooms throughout the world.

Using digital tools in this way is great because the discussions don’t have to end when class does. These tools give ways to get students talking, share their ideas, so that we can help them grow.

Creating presentations and telling a story

A few options for having students present information in a visual way with options for multimedia include the following:

8) Buncee is a web based tool that can be used for creating presentations, interactive lessons and more, with many options for including different characters, fonts, animations, video and more.

9) Piktochart is a tool for creating infographics, social media flyers, engaging presentations and more. Students have created menus, self-descriptions, movie and tv advertisements, recipe presentations and much more.

10) Visme is a “drag and drop” tool that is easy to use for creating infographics, reports, different presentations and more. It has a library full of images, charts and more, making it easy for users to create exactly what they need.

What are the benefits of these tools?

Each of these tools promote more personalized and meaningful learning for students. These tools can be used to enhance, amplify and facilitate deeper and more authentic learning . Using technology just for the sake of using it doesn’t make sense. But using it to help students find their voice, learn what they want to do, what they can do and what they need help with, does makes sense. Purpose.

For more, see:

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High in Oakmont, PA. Follow her on Twitter at @rdene915.

My takeaways from ISTE 2017 part I: Relationships and Networking

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hard to believe that I have been back home almost two weeks since ISTE. The conference seemed to fly by this year and I am still trying to process my thoughts and reflect on what my takeaways are for this experience. I initially get stuck on thinking how do I begin to describe the awesome learning experience of ISTE? The anticipation of such a tremendous event and what it involves can be overwhelming. There are so many benefits of attending ISTE: the opportunity to spend time in the same space with Twitterverse/Twittersphere and Voxer friends, meet up with one’s PLN, to have so many choices for learning opportunities, networking, social events, are just a few of the possibilities. But where to begin and how to find balance? That is always the question.

 

I’ll admit that as my departure for San Antonio approached, I was full of anticipation and excitement, but also a bit anxious and nervous all mixed up in one.  Without even realizing, I had created quite a busy schedule for myself this year, even though I had planned to set out to have a lot of time to explore.  I simply kept adding things to my schedule, trying to make sure to have time to see everyone and figured I would get a better look at everything, a few days before leaving.  For my personalized professional development, I had not looked at the schedule too much, but I knew of some areas that I really wanted to grow in, and I was excited to connect with my friend Jaime Donally, who I consider to be an expert in AR/VR and many other areas, and definitely wanted to learn from her.

 IMG_20170628_111914745.jpg

I was very excited to connect with the Edumatch family, to finally connect with people I have come to know well over the past year through the Tweet and Talks, Edusnap books and Voxer discussions. We met at a luncheon on Sunday afternoon, celebrated the launch of the Edumatch cookbook and even did some carpool karaoke while heading back in the Uber to catch the Ignite talks. It was great to see Jaime’s and Kerry Gallagher’s Ignites on Sunday afternoon, and hear from so many educators and students about what they were doing in and out of the classroom.

It was an opportunity to reconnect with friends from FETC and meet others face to face, for the first time. For me, as the conference approached, it seemed more about finding time to connect with my friends and making sure to have time for those conversations in person that we don’t often have time for, rather than focusing on sessions and planning my schedule. 

IMG_20170625_133148212.jpg

One part of the ISTE experience that I was thrilled about was the opportunity to present with two of my good friends, Rodney Turner and Mandy Froehlich during the conference. Knowing that we would be sharing our work together and interacting with others was a high point for me. The bonus of having that definite period of time set aside to spend with them, especially after we had such a great time in Orlando at FETC (also with Jaime!). Rodney and I presented at the Mobile Learning Network Megashare on Saturday (which I almost missed because of late flights), and the three of us presented at the Monday poster session and during the ISTE  Teacher Education Network Playground on Wednesday.  It was a really great experience to share with them and I enjoyed learning from them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fun on the Riverwalk

I am very appreciative of the opportunities I have through being involved with several of the ISTE communities, PAECT, Edumatch, and the chance to meet up with friends and other “PioNears” and “Ambassadors” from some of the different edtech companies that I am involved in. Being able to run into so many friends on the Riverwalk, take some selfies, was phenomenal. The social events and time for networking were the highlights of this year. Starting with Saturday night at the Participate event, there was a lot of time to connect with friends and meet some for the first time F2F. And I am thankful to my PAECT friends for inviting me to have dinner with them, and for their willingness to put up with my shenanigans at times. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The experience this year was quite the change from two years ago when I attended my first ISTE conference in Philadelphia. I knew a few people but the experience then does not compare to the way it was this year. Having made more connections over the past two years, especially through these different ISTE and PAECT learning communities and the group of educators I have met through Edumatch.  Being able to walk and run into friends along the way and be pulled in an entirely different direction was so much fun.  We even ran into some of our friends from Peekapak along the Riverwalk! 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Three very different ISTE experiences and I can’t say that I prefer or recommend one over the other, because just like preparing for ISTE, what works best for me will not necessarily work best for somebody else. We each come in with our own expectations and leave with different, unique experiences. I think the common factor is looking back on the relationships and the people that we interacted with. Whether through the connections made in a Voxer group, a Twitter chat or through email, having even a quick moment to interact with those people (and take a selfie) is tremendous. Thank you ISTE!

Next post: Learning opportunities and things to consider

IMG_20170626_205417708.jpg

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Implementing an App in the Classroom in 3 Steps

Thank you to Meghan and EdTech: Focus on K-12:  Glad to be a part of this discussion.

Two education experts offer up best practices for utilizing mobile technology.

With more and more K–12 students owning mobile devices, and with Pearson Education reporting that 72 percent of elementary students and 66 percent of middle school students want use mobile devices more in classroom, now might be the best time to add an app as a regular part of school work.

However, as EdTech reported, a survey done by Kent State University’s Research Center for Educational Technology (RCET) found that 30 percent of general education had received training on apps, and 87 percent wished to receive some sort of training on mobile apps.

We’ve consulted with a researcher and an educator who have expertise in adding mobile technology — particularly apps — into the classroom.

Step One: Identify What Kind of App You’d Like to Use

For Rachelle Poth, a Spanish teacher at Pennsylvania’s Riverview Junior/Senior High School, using mobile technology in her classroom came out of a desire to provide easier and more accessible communication with her students. For Poth, the messaging app Celly was the perfect fit to remind students of assignments and provide a place to put class resources.

“[Using an app] can seem overwhelming for a teacher who isn’t necessarily using technology at all or not using it much,” Poth says. “The key is to look at your classroom and ask, ‘What is one thing that is bothering me or taking up too much time?’”

Poth, who is also an education technology mentor with Common Sense Education, says that finding an app that will work with your class is dependent on what category you might need. She recommends the following:

  • For messaging: Celly and Remind for communicating with students, and Bloomz for parent-teacher communication
  • For assessment: Quiz creation tools like Quizlet and Kahoot!
  • For classroom organization: Learning management tools like Edmodo and Google Classroom

Another way to figure out where an app might be helpful is by asking students, Poth says.

“Pose the question to students, like, ‘If you could change one thing about homework, what would it be?’” she says. “You might hear no more homework at first, but if you dig deeper, you’ll find issues.”

Step Two: Find a Quality App and Test It

Once educators have decided what they want in an app, they might get overwhelmed by the sheer number of options.

Poth recommends reading teacher reviews and sample uses on a site like Common Sense Education or EdShelf. She also says you can chat with the communities on those sites or on Twitter to get feedback from other educators.

At Kent State’s RCET, Karl Kosko, an assistant professor, and others are evaluating apps specifically for special education teachers as part of the SpedApps project. Their database can be accessed by all educators.

Once a teacher has found the right app, he or she will need to do one more thing before introducing it to students: Test it.

“It seems like a very simple thing, but it is the first and foremost,” Kosko says. “Educators should play through the app and think about how their students will use it and misuse it.”

Step Three: Make Sure the App Connects with Your Lesson

Perhaps the most important step of all for educators is choosing technology that supports their teaching and their curricula.

Kosko suggests that teachers really think about how they are going to teach their students to use the app, and then use it for a purpose that will work in the classroom.

“Don’t just use it randomly,” he says. “The apps should be related to something students are currently learning.”

Also, if using anything that needs technology at home, Poth says teachers need to be aware of what students have access to.

“At the beginning of each school year, I give my students a paper and ask them what kind of device they have, if they access at home and what kind of tools they know how to use,” she says.

WAVEBREAKMEDIA/THINKSTOCK

Piktochart: An edtech interview

This is a post by Jacqueline Jensen, following our Blab interview talking edtech in the classroom.  Thanks for this post and the opportunity Jacqueline and Piktochart!

Talking EdTech with Teachers

As Piktochart’s Community Evangelist, fostering community among our 5-million-strong user base is one of my primary goals. As I wrote after first joining, my role here on the Piktochart team focuses on interacting with our users at every level — from live events around the world and conference talks to jumping onto the latest up and coming social platform to chat with Piktochart users.

So far, we’ve tried a number of new initiatives. We think it’s important to share valuable content with not only our user community, but with startups, designers, educators, and marketers all across the globe. When we tried out Blab, we picked an awesome guest and gathered community questions to chat about.

Back in June, we went looking for educators to join us to discuss more about how to bring technology into the classroom. Education technology, also known simply as EdTech, refers to the creation and use of software and hardware intended to bring technology to education.

This segment of the technology world has heated up thanks to investment from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States government, and even tech venture capital investment firms like Andreessen Horowitz. In fact, in just the first half of 2015, private investors alone poured $2.5 billion into EdTech companies — leading to the creation of countless technologies for classrooms around the world.

Here at Piktochart, our team was thrilled to hear we were recently honored in the American Association of School Librarian’s 2016 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning. Educators have been using Piktochart in their classrooms since we launched in 2012, and we couldn’t be more pleased to know we are making a difference in the minds of students around the world.

To get the skinny on what’s going on in classrooms when it comes to EdTech — from best practices and challenges to favorite tools and privacy policies — we brought in two Piktochart users who are making a big impact by bringing technology into their school. For the first time, we had two guests on our Blab,Rachelle Poth and Mary Ottenwess.

Rachelle is a foreign language teacher at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She enjoys using technology in the classroom and finding ways for students to have more choices in their learning. She has presented at several technology conferences in Pennsylvania and at ISTE in Denver this past June.

Mary has been in education for 25 years. She started out in a public high school library and is now the Instructional Technology Specialist at Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, MI. She was the one that didn’t step back when they asked for volunteers to run the computer lab and thus her adventures in EdTech began!


What is your biggest pain point with your school’s current EdTech setup?

Rachelle said her biggest complaint when it comes to EdTech tools, which is shared by other teachers she talks to, is the fact that things sometimes don’t go as planned with technology.

“Best case scenario doesn’t always happen when it comes to technology,” she said. “You have to be prepared for the little bumps that come along the way.”

Mary echoed Rachelle’s thoughts about technology being unpredictable. She also added that limited professional development time for teachers is another hurdle when it comes to her school’s EdTech setup.

“An hour once a month just isn’t enough time,” said Mary. “Students come in an hour late and we have a meeting with all teachers at the school. Teachers will go around and talk about what they are using in their classrooms, discuss a particular tool, or discuss a method. Because we are trying to cover so much in a single hour, hitting everyone’s skill and comfort level as well as giving them time to try the tool often means a lot of 1:1 follow-up.”

“As a workaround for time, we have teachers create tutorials to view prior to the professional development sessions,” noted K-12 EdTech coordinatorCourtney Kofeldt in the chat.

What opportunities are given to kids through EdTech and how can teachers learn to embrace them?

Mary said EdTech really expands a student’s world. They can collaborate and share with not only each other, but with experts in the field. Students can use project-based learning and inquiry-learning, and they can use and develop real-world skills for college or a career. For teachers, Mary thinks technology makes things simpler.

Rachelle agreed. She believes the opportunities provided by technology are tremendous.

“Technology provides opportunities to students to allow them to show what they have learned and to use a tool that is meaningful to them. Without the technology, they wouldn’t have been as engaged,” she said. “I don’t use technology for the sake of using it, but rather as a way to increase opportunities.”

When given a choice of tools to utilize on their projects, Rachelle finds students talk to their friends about the learning curve of each software. Students work together, collaborate, and learn from each other about how to use technology.

What’s the best thing technology has allowed you to do in your school that you couldn’t have done otherwise?

Mary shared an example from her school, Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, MI. Using technology, a French teacher was able to bring in a video feed from a classroom in Canada. The American students communicate in French to sharpen their skills, and they’re also able to learn more about the other students culturally.

“Students are not only collaborating with the students in another country, but those next to them in their classroom too,” explained Mary. “It’s fun to watch the collaboration.”

Rachelle says that technology has allowed her to continue the conversation with students after class time ends. She found more and more that her students had questions once they got home and started working on their homework or projects, and technology allowed her to be available to them during those key moments.

“It really bothered me that when class ended, that would stop their learning process in a sense,” she said. “I use technology to bridge that disconnect. I use messaging to help.”

Do you as the teacher (or your school) assess the privacy and security of a tool before letting students try it?

Rachelle said she pays close attention to privacy and security settings before bringing a tool into the classroom. She does this by creating an account on her own and reviewing the settings herself. Rachelle also sends home a notice to parents at the beginning of the year informing them of the tools that will be used in the classroom.

She also relies on the thoughts of other teachers, and she noted these sites and communities as her go-to sources:

  • Common Sense Graphite, a community of educators who take the guesswork out of finding innovative ways to use technology in the classroom;
  • EdShelf, a socially-curated discovery engine of websites, mobile apps, desktop programs, and electronic products for teaching and learning;
  • EdCamp, an organic, participant-driven professional learning experience led by a community created by educators, for educators.

Mary added that her school has a tech team on staff who will verify security before launching a new tool in the classroom. First, they start with a pilot program and monitor progress while the new EdTech tool is being tested in the classroom. During that pilot, they will be on the lookout for glitches or security holes.

Which tool/platform/methodology has been the biggest hit in your classroom and why?

Rachelle, Mary, and participants in the chat were excited to share their favorite EdTech tools! Check out the list below:

What are 3 most important skills kids have gained in your classroom thanks to technology?

Everyone agreed that more collaboration and creativity is taking place in the classroom thanks to technology.

“I have noticed students really develop the 6C’s — Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Character, and Citizenship — when tech is integrated,” said Courtney Kofeldt in the chat.

Rachelle added she often notices that projects from her students go above and beyond her expectations. “Technology gives them that voice to speak out and be part of something when otherwise they wouldn’t have been,” she said.

Mary says teachers have benefitted from technology as a way to improve their skills, too. She notices more collaboration happening between teachers and growth of their professional networks thanks to technology making it easier to work together.

Thanks to technology, both students and teachers alike are building up their confidence. “It’s ok to have something not work,” explained Mary. “Technology allows students to take the lead. Teachers aren’t always the one with all the knowledge.”

Mary also touched on her school’s Digital Citizenship Course, which is an ever-changing movement to educate students on the proper use of technology — when to use it (or leave it behind) and best practices.

“I teach motion graphics at UCLA, and it is wonderful to see what the students create once they understand the tools,” added Eric Rosner in the chat.

How can teachers improve their tech skills in order to make classes more interactive and multimedia oriented?

Rachelle’s advice is simple:

“Just pick something and start it!” she said. “Really. You don’t know if it’ll work for you until you try it. Pick something small and give it a try.”

She suggested teachers consider learning new tools alongside students. Rather than a teacher-driven project, why not try a student-driven project? She found her students enjoy it, and as a teacher, it keeps her fresh. Use the challenge of a new tool as a learning lesson for both the students and the educator.

“Not everything is going to work, and that’s ok,” added Mary. “We teach our kids to learn from failure, and we need to do the same.”

Mary advised teachers to expand their professional network to get to know other educators. Social channels are a great way to do this — and Mary specifically suggested getting involved in Twitter chats. For a comprehensive list of Twitter chats all about education, check out this list Mary shared with us on the Blab!

What are your recommendations for someone who is just starting to use technology in the classroom, and may be a bit hesitant?

Rachelle suggested focusing on one area in your classroom you can try to improve using technology. Give a new EdTech tool a shot, use it minimally, and be patient with getting comfortable with it.

Mary suggested finding another educator who is using technology you’d like to try and simply watching them use the tool in their classroom. Finding a tech mentor is key to getting comfortable!

How can tech help all students to be engaged, to reach each student?

If students are on different levels, Mary said EdTech tools can help bridge that gap. She particularly likes Khan Academy for this purpose. She also suggested putting up a rubric for an assignment, but allowing students to choose their technology tool to complete the project.

“Students are not all the same,” added Rachelle. “By giving them choice with technology tools, you’ll see they can create anything they desire, and you learn more about them as individuals. When the choices are given and nothing is set in stone, it pays off.”


The team at Piktochart had a blast during our Blab with Rachelle Poth and Mary Ottenwess! Thanks to both of them for stopping by! If you’re interested in learning more about how Piktochart can help out in your classroom, check out a few more of our EdTech posts!

This post originally appeared on Piktochart’s blog here.

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students

Thank you Terry Heick and TeachThought for this opportunity to share ideas for some tech tools to engage students. Published Monday, September 26, 2016.

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students        
by Rachelle Dene Poth
 

Fall is an exciting time of the year.

Summer provides an opportunity to relax, but is also a time to explore new ideas and reflect on the previous year. We have to ask ourselves what worked and what did not. With the start of each school year, teachers begin by establishing classroom procedures, getting to know the students, and then starting their instruction.

Even with the best plans thought out in advance, things can come up that limit our time to try something new. There is nothing wrong with sticking to some of the same instructional strategies and using some of the same tools that were used last year. We all have methods and tools we use that are beneficial to our students. But summer does offer an opportunity to think about some new things to bring to our classroom and our students at the start of the new school year.

Because time is a factor, it can seem overwhelming to try too many new things at once. It is helpful to think about maybe just slightly altering how we used a certain tool or presented a topic in the prior year. Start by focusing on one thing at a time and see how it goes. The most important part is to remember that we want to implement something that will positively benefit our students. It should be something that has a true purpose and will amplify the learning experiences and potential for our students.

Below are a few ideas that I have used in my classroom which have been fun for the students and had positive effects on their learning.

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students

Idea: Use infographics to create an engaging syllabus

Instead of creating your course syllabus on paper and handing it out to your students, try creating an infographic to post online through your class website or LMS if you have one. It will be easier to read, model a sense of enthusiasm for your own craft, and separate your classroom from others in the eyes of students/parents/admin.

With a graphic, you can also print and laminate the infographic to keep it accessible in your classroom. There are many tools to choose from for creating one and many options for implementing them into your course. In order to create one you simply take the information from your document and paste it into the infographic.

There are many choices available for templates, icons, fonts and much more. As an alternative to having your students complete assignments or projects which traditionally are done on paper or using a Word document, have them create something creative and visual using one of the infographic tools available. It will be a more engaging, visual way to share information, have a more authentic learning experience, and they can be created rather quickly.

Some recommendations of tools to create infographics are Canva, Piktochart, Smore and Visme.

Idea: Create interactive lessons

Students need to be actively involved in the classroom and in learning.  A good way to do this is through interactive video lessons. There are many digital tools available which enable a teacher to choose a video from YouTube or other video source, and use it to create a quick interactive lesson with questions or other activities for the students to complete. The nice thing about the tools available for interactive video lessons is that there are some lessons available for public use allowing you to try them out with your class first before creating your own.

Trying one of these out first is a good way to see what the students think, and use their feedback to help guide the next steps, whether to create one and which tool to use. Offering lessons like this is great for having students complete assignments outside of the traditional “brick and mortar” classroom as part of an asynchronous lesson or in a blended or flipped learning environment. You can quickly assess students, track their progress, and hold them accountable for having watched the videos.

A few suggestions of some of the tools available are EDpuzzle, Playposit, Vizia, and even a Google document could be used with questions added in for students to complete. My suggestion is that you choose one of these options, see what is available, and then be very clear how you can use it to benefit your class. There are tutorials available on the websites which offer guidance to help you to create your first video.

Simply select a video that you would typically show in class or assign for students to watch outside of class and think about the questions you could or would ask to check their understanding. It is easy to add your video into the lesson editor, add in different question styles including true and false, multiple choice or short answer, in addition to other formats. There are also options for quizzes to be self-graded, making the data available right away.

Each tool offers different features which add extra benefits to learning. For example, you can also see how long it took the student to view the video and if they tried to skip through it, depending on which tool you choose.

Idea: Student Created Lessons

Instead of the teacher creating the lessons, you could also have the students create lessons to share with the class. When I did this with my students, they sent their completed video lessons to me and I completed the lesson. It gave them an opportunity to see what teachers see and an opportunity to provide feedback to their “student.” By doing this, the students learned in a more authentic way because they decided which video to use, created the questions and as a result, it reinforced the material; it was more personal for them.

Teachers learn by seeing the type of content the students choose and can use this information to guide the next steps in the lesson. The class as a whole learns and benefits by having more resources available for practice and students can become more proficient in the content. One other great thing besides improved learning is that it can be fun for students to create these videos as well.

And fun is good, yes?

Idea: Use engaging digital quizzes & tools

There are a variety of tools to use for creating quizzes and lessons for students to complete in and outside of class.

In many cases, you can upload your own documents or PowerPoint presentations into the lesson, and keep everything organized in one place. Using some formative assessment tools like Formative, Kahoot, Nearpod, Quizizz, and Quizlet to name a few, are ways to have some fun with the students and add to the learning resources available for your classes.

Students enjoy creating their own quizzes and lessons, having a choice in the tool and types of questions included, and being able to further develop their technology skills in the process. These activities are all highly beneficial to student growth. By giving students more choices, we empower them in the classroom.

Conclusion

When used with a purpose, there a lot of ways that technology helps teachers and students. Using technology saves time, makes feedback available immediately, and gives students the chance to be creators and have a choice. It also promotes learning outside of the traditional classroom setting, which reserves the time in class to do other activities, to clear up any misunderstandings and to spend time getting to know the students and giving individual feedback.

Once you decide on one of these ideas, give it some time, see how it goes, and then think about taking the next step. Be sure to involve the students in the conversation because their input is vital and it matters. When students feel valued, learning is more meaningful and this leads to many positive results. Teachers and students working together, creating lessons, providing feedback, will add to a positive classroom culture.

Perhaps one of these areas is the next step that you could take, try and see how your students respond. It was a nice change in my classroom, my students were creative, engaged, and really enjoyed the chance to lead. The learning that occurred was more meaningful and they recalled the content information much more when they created their own product or recalled the work of one of their classmates.

Either way, it was a much more meaningful experience, and something that I will continue to do this school year to grow my classroom.

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad

How I Solved My Classroom Management Problems

How I Solved My Classroom Management Problems

Achievement unlocked: Making assignments and resources available to everyone, anytime.

Common Sense Education, posted on September 15, 2016

Rachelle Dene Poth

Classroom teacher, Technology Presenter

Students often have organizational problems. It’s an ongoing struggle, so I’ve always done the best I could to help them stay organized. Years ago, that often came in the form of a planner students were supposed to fill out with assignments, and I’d sign off on it.

There was one particular student with a planner whom I remember. The system worked well when she remembered the planner, but sometimes she didn’t.

On the whiteboard at the back of my room, I have a space where I write down the assignments for students. I keep my door open most days, so if they want to stop in and peek at the board, they can. I’m available anytime; the only thing I ask is that they kind of discreetly come in.

So, this particular student would appear in the morning during homeroom or at the beginning of class to check the whiteboard. Sometimes she got the assignment. But sometimes, what I wrote was erased. Anything can happen: Other students might erase it and write over it, for example.

Then her mom would send an email to clarify things — and I’m really good about checking email, but sometimes email doesn’t go through. And if you call me — well, we work with voicemail extensions so it’s not like there’s a direct line to me. You have to filter through the office, and I’m always available to talk, but obviously if I’m teaching class, I’m not reachable.

Other students would pop in to check on an assignment, or they’d want to stop by and pick up a worksheet. I have everything in my room set out, but students would put papers down, and things would get covered up. So it might not be easy to find.

Or, the students would come in and leave notes saying, “I stopped by to find out … ” or “I wasn’t sure … ,” and they’d leave me a note on the board or on my desk. But if I were going to be late or had a long meeting, I might not see those notes until the next day. And if my board was cleaned that night, I might not see them at all.

So again, the students came in to get help, and I wasn’t there.

That’s when I really started to ask, “What can I do?”

I thought the board was great because students could come in anytime, but that’s not accessible in the evening when they sit down to do homework. Planners are great, too, but what if you forget them or they’re lost? I was looking for something to fix a lot of these things I saw impeding the learning process. The lack of access to resources was really bothering me because I wanted to do more.

I first decided to use the messaging tool Celly to message my students. I used it to send reminders and answer questions. I could quickly respond to messages about homework or what was missed during an absence, and I didn’t have to use class time to help students catch up.

I use it with my Spanish club, too, and now there are other groups in the school that use it for field trips and other things. It’s really quite nice, because if you’re on the bus and you’re missing students, now you can reach them instead of waiting and wondering.

But students were still asking for help finding class materials and keeping them organized. I wanted some kind of assurance that everything was centralized and easy to find. And I hadn’t found an easy way to keep parents in the loop. I decided to give another tool a try: Edmodo.

It’s a web-based app, so students can use their phones to log in, or a computer at home if they don’t have a phone, or a phone with data. Students get a join code so they can join a class when I’ve created one, and parents get a parent code so they can sign up and see what I post to the class and see their kids’ work, the grade they got, and the comments I’ve made. They know everything we’re doing in class.

Usually students log in once a day. I post homework reminders and share links. One of the nice things about Edmodo is students can reply to a post I’ve made and ask a general question, and anyone in the class can answer. For example, if they forget something — a textbook or a worksheet — they can ask, “Can somebody please share an image of the homework?” They help each other out.

It helps me, too, because if a student has been absent for a day or more, they can easily go back and see what you did in class. It’s part of my routine now, and I have five courses. Generally if a student says, “I was absent three days ago. What did I miss?” I have some idea but I’m not exactly sure. So it’s nice to have that reference.

It’s more than just communication — it’s collaboration. And I keep thinking of new ideas I can use it for.

The first two assignments I gave my Spanish 1 and 2 classes this year were discussions on Edmodo. The first was on how they study and learn, with personal kinds of questions so I could get to know them and give them ideas. The second was to come up with five personal learning goals. I gave them a reply, and in a week or two we’re going to reevaluate: “You said you were going to study every day for 30 minutes. What happened?”

You can use it as a reflection tool or as a digital portfolio. If the students do a project with technology, they can put it on Edmodo, and we can go back to it to share learning.

These tools have made a tremendous difference in my ability to provide the best possible learning experience for my students — and that’s what I wanted. And bonus: They’ve made my life easier, too.