Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU

peercollaboration

Originally published on Getting Smart on 

Every day brings a new opportunity to implement a new tool or method into the classroom, and what better way than to have students be able to immerse in a learning experience. Augmented and virtual reality are becoming more commonly used in K-12 classrooms and higher ed for this purpose. With the increased focus on and questions surrounding the use of AR and VR tools, educators and parents may be wondering about the benefits for student learning. In a recent report from Common Sense, 62% of the parents surveyed, stated they believe that VR will provide educational experiences, this same belief was shared by 84% of parents surveyed, who have children already using VR. In the recently published book Learning Transported, author Jaime Donally focuses a chapter on the reasons that these tools should be welcomed into our classrooms. Some reasons include more authentic learning, innovative learning spaces and a means to transform how students are learning.

The use of AR and VR is about providing powerful opportunities for students to explore objects or places, in ways that traditional tools such as textbooks and videos cannot provide. It enables students to have more control over how they are learning. It is through these augmented and virtual reality tools and apps that we bring never before possible learning experiences, such as travel and the use of holograms, to students. Students can travel anywhere around the world or outer space even and explore these places more closely, looking at what they want and learning in a more authentic way. It is a truly personalized way to learn and one which serves to engage students more by helping them to drive their learning and exploration.

Even more important than having students be able to immerse in learning by interacting with the content, it is of far greater benefit to move students from being simply consumers to being the creators. With the different educational AR and VR tools now available, we not only afford students the possibility of interacting with these objects as they have been, but we create a more engaging opportunity for them to develop the skills that will benefit them in the future. Learning how to create with these different tools and in some cases, being able to collaborate with their peers on projects, will help students to develop critical 21st-century skills. Students will build their ability to problem-solve, to think critically, and to enhance their creativity in the learning process.

Technology of the Future: Tools to get started with AR and VR in your classroom

With so many different apps available, it can be difficult to figure out where to start. As many wind down the school year, this can be a great opportunity to try one of these tools within your classroom. Students learn how to interact with these tools very quickly, it boosts student engagement, which is something that may be decreasing at this time of the year. Here are two tools and how we used them. They each offer many options for classroom use as well as ready-made examples that can be used to get started.

As a long-standing fan of technology and the endless possibilities, any time I learn about a new tool, I either immediately create an account and try to figure it out on my own or I learn just enough about it to get my students started working on something. In the last couple of years, I’ve come across CoSpacesEDU and Metaverse. I had no idea what to expect other than knowing I would be able to include unique learning experiences for my students, through the use of augmented and virtual reality tools.

So what’s the learning curve with some of these tools? Personally, I am the type of learner who would rather struggle and figure things out on my own first. Only after I have seemingly exhausted all of my efforts, will I then turn to YouTube or the tool’s website for video tutorials, or connect with other educators in a variety of educational communities found on social media.

CoSpaces: Bring a story to life

Two years ago, when I started creating with CoSpacesEDU, a virtual reality platform, I was immediately amazed at the possibilities for creating my own virtual reality space. Initially, there was a bit of a learning curve, but I was determined to work through it on my own. The benefit is that by allowing myself to push through the challenges I encountered, it helped me to better understand some areas that might require me to step in and help my students as they created their own space. I wanted to be prepared for their questions, and be able to help some, but not too much, as it is important for students to learn to problem solve and develop these skills on their own.

In prior years, students in Spanish II would narrate their childhood by creating a drawing and writing a story below their illustration. Authentic work such as this helps students to connect more to the content and it is a great way for teachers to learn more about students. However, this year, I wanted to take a different approach and decided to try CoSpacesEDU, with my Spanish II classes. I thought it would be a fun way to create a story and then be able to use headsets to walk through the spaces they created.

I started by grouping students randomly, having them select from chapter vocabulary cards, and then using the newer “Collaborate” feature of CoSpaces EDU, to have them create their story together. Students can now be placed in groups and collaborate on one project. Students began creating their spaces, adding in objects, animations and sound, using Blockly to code and more. They were amazed at the ability to collaborate in the same space and see objects moving on each of their screens. They worked as a team to create amazing, memorable stories that help them to meaningfully practice the content, narrate a story and have fun while learning.

We know that using technology just for the sake of using it does not make sense. However using technology that enables students to create, collaborate, problem-solve and be curious in learning, leads to more motivation and student engagement. It was a risk to do this, but one which had tremendous benefits for all of us “learners” in the classroom.

MetaverseApp

Metaverse enables the user to create an “experience” which includes activities and different features, for augmented and virtual reality. Creating with Metaverse offers students immersive ways to interact with the content. It can be rather simple to get started, as Metaverse has a library full of helpful tutorial videos and they are also available through the chat feature within the platform. Metaverse can be used to create an immersive, interactive learning “experience”, where students have so many choices in design, libraries full of different characters, GIFS, various objects, 360 images or videos, portals, Google Vision options and more.

When we began using Metaverse, I wasn’t sure if students would be able to navigate the platform (the layout is a storyboard). What I found was that students were able to quickly create their own experiences, which led me to ask them to also facilitate in the class and answer any questions that their classmates had.  What I noticed was an emergence of “student leaders,” a team of Metaverse creators, 8th-grade students who were sharing their knowledge and excited to do so.

How to use it? Have students create a quiz, a fun game, or simply tell a story.

Learning together

I don’t have all of the answers, but I enjoy being able to turn to students for help. I enjoy learning with and from them. Empowering students with the opportunity to share their skills brings about positive changes in the classroom, especially in terms of peer relationships and collaboration. Trying out new technologies shows we are interested in bringing new ideas and ways to learn into our classrooms, which is a good model for students.

Want to know more? There are a lot of resources available. I recommend joining in the weekly #ARVRinedu Twitter chat on Wednesday nights at 8 CT/9ET or taking a look at the many resources available on Jaime Donally’s website.

Bringing Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality to all Classrooms

Jaime Donally’s book “Learning Transported” is the resource to go to to learn how immersive technology can be used in education. For anyone looking to get started with bringing augmented, mixed or virtual reality and different learning experiences into the classroom but not sure of where to begin, Jaime provides a well laid out format which provides the reader with the all of the information and resources they need to feel comfortable in using AR and VR in the classroom.
For some readers, knowing the differences between augmented and virtual reality or knowing the different apps available for each of these may not be clear. However, the structure of the Learning Transported book enables the reader to progress from understanding how it is used, and even more importantly “why” it should be used education, to reminders of some things to consider before getting started and then how to have a successful implementation into the classroom.

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Beyond just having students as consumers of the content, Jaime offers ways for students to become the creators and design their own stories through augmented and virtual reality experiences.
Jamie is constantly looking for more tools and new ways to bring immersive learning experiences to educators and students, and has done nothing but share her wealth of knowledge and fully invest herself in making sure that educators feel comfortable with using the technology and knowing that she is available to help them in the process.
Learning Transported is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone, as the resources and experiences that she shares within this book definitely have application to other settings besides education.

Before Jaime even dives into the content of the book, she engages the reader with her message of “why” for using AR and VR. She shares the reasons why educators need to understand the possibilities of using immersive technology and the benefits that will happen as a result. She explains how to use the book, and guides the reader on how to navigate each of the chapters, explaining the process involved when starting to implement some of these augmented virtual and mixed reality tools, and encourages the reader to join in with other educators through social media using the #ARVRinEDU chat.

Learning Transported is geared toward anyone looking to try immersive technologies in the classroom and Donally provides all of the resources and many examples, especially through the lesson plans written by Jaime and how they were facilitated in different classrooms.

Another key features of Learning Transported is in Jaime’s message about why educators should use AR, VR and MR in education. The largest benefit is for students being able to engage and explore in the content in a different and more authentic way. It also facilitates building skills of communication and collaboration as well as social-emotional learning, when students connect with their peers and learn more about places and life outside of their own community. Jaime also explains exactly how the use of these tools can meet the ISTE Standards for Students, and encourages the reader to think about how these tools can benefit the students in their own classrooms.

Each chapter provides a wealth of examples and images for reference, explanations of each tool shared and ways that it can be used, and ends with a “Learning Transported” challenge for the reader. Jaime provides clears definitions and more detailed explanations throughout each chapter, and continues to encourage educators to challenge themselves to implement some of these different tools into their classroom and to share their experiences using the #ARVRinedu hashtag.

Some of the best features of the book are the way that Jaime conveys the information, reassuring educators that it is okay to take some chances with trying these in the classroom and involve students in the process. Chapters 5 through 8 include so many different examples of augmented and virtual reality tools, including ideas for creating with the tools, brief descriptions of how the tool works and for using it, as well as including some sample lesson plans that educators can try within their own classrooms.

The last chapter focuses on preparing for the future of mixed reality and Donally reminds us to keep moving forward as these tools are constantly evolving, and having an impact on the learning environment and educational market. In the conclusion, Jaime ends by stating “Teachers will facilitate a class of explorers, developers and designers as they experience, build and present their own immersive technology resources.”
Donally reminds us that “authentic learning experiences and opportunities that have never been accessible in the classroom are now possible with virtual field trips, interactive stories, and tools that can allow students to explore the world, the solar system and beyond.”

The book concludes with an appendix listing all of the apps shared within the book as well as the websites to find the apps and a brief description of what the after does. The standards for students are also included

She encourages the reader to share whatever they create after completing some of the learning transported challenges

Learning Transported makes a topic that can be overwhelming to anyone just starting with augmented and virtual reality, become something that is digestible and helps the reader to build confidence in learning more throughout the book. Donally provides answers to the questions that educators all have to consider when starting to implement these tools, and gathered everything into one well laid out guide for learning.

Thankful for All the Things

A Blog Written by the #4OCFPLN

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Rachelle Dene Poth, Spanish and STEAM Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA @Rdene915

www.Rdene915.com

I am thankful for all of the opportunities that each new day brings. Time to continue to build relationships, to connect with students and educators from around the world. For so many years, I was teaching in isolation and did not truly understand the value of being a connected educator and the importance of relationships. A tremendous mentor in law school helped me to see what it truly means to be an educator and the need to focus on the relationships first. His guidance has made such a difference in my personal life as well as my professional life and I will always be thankful for his ongoing support. There are often challenges that come each day, and sometimes it is the challenges we face as educators or it is something that our students are struggling with. We need to connect. As much as our students rely on us to care for and support them, we count on them to lift us up at times as well. Knowing that together we are creating a welcoming and supportive classroom, where students are comfortable asking for help and where they are willing to reach out and help others, is something that I am thankful for each day.

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Amy Storer, Instructional Coach, Montgomery, TX

“I am thankful for every moment.” Al Green

Every single moment that has occurred in my life so far has led me to where I am today. Some of those moments were filled with love and laughter and some were blanketed in sadness and fear. But each turn taken and road followed has helped to mold me into the person that I have become today and who I will be in the future.  I am thankful for a mother that fought for her daughters to have everything that the world could give them and more. She sacrificed so much for us, and everything we do as educators today is because of her and for her. I am thankful for a dad, who found his way back to us. We are so glad that you did. I am thankful for grandparents and their love and endless amounts of cookies and candy! I am thankful for a sister who is truly my best friend. Thank you for giving me one of my greatest gifts, Nancy and Finn. They crawled right into my heart and filled in the hole that momma left when she passed away. I am so incredibly thankful for them. I am thankful for the love of my love, Tony. Thank you for picking up the phone when I bravely called you in the fall of 1997. Thank you for being my biggest supporter and for loving me for over 20 years. Thank you to my campus family for loving and supporting me in everything that I do. I am so lucky to get to work alongside each of you! Thanks to all of my former students. You truly schooled me on school. I learned all I needed to know from each of you, and I am a better educator and human being because of you.
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Louie Soper, 5th Grade Teacher, Philadelphia, PA

I am so thankful for the opportunity to teach in the city of Philadelphia this school year.  Albeit some challenges, each day is an opportunity to learn and grow. Learning blocks can be challenging.  Days can be challenging. Weeks can be tough, but I am so so thankful for the relationships I have been able to build with many of my students.  From Fortnite dances to slime, the fun doesn’t end. I am so grateful for this group of students I have this year.  We are all walking side by side daily in our journeys together in becoming the best versions of ourselves we can be.  Lastly, I am so thankful for the regular reminders from the #4ocfpln for pointing out these daily opportunities for growth.

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Kristi Daws, @kristi_daws, Technology Integration Specialist, Region 9 ESC

I am thankful for my journey. So thankful for the support of Bob Johnson who offered me an amazing opportunity to practice my love of music. I left for college a music major switching to math after two wonderful years thanks to Dr. Linda Fausnaugh. She awakened a Math Teacher inside me I did not know existed. After twenty, YES 20!!!, amazing years loving my career I stepped into the unknown and became a Digital Coach under the leadership of Brett Thomas. I was so fortunate to work alongside a leader who pushed, encouraged, challenged, and supported me daily. I followed this leader into my current position as the Region 9 ESC Technology Integration Specialist. I have learned so much in my first few months at R9 and I could not be happier. I don’t know where my journey will take me next, but I have faith that it will be an adventure. #Thankful
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KathiSue Summers, Educational Mentor for 1st and 2nd year Teachers, Medford, OR

Do You Believe Relationships Are Important?

When I started teaching in 1986 in public education, I was a Lone Ranger. I was the only female teacher out of seven teachers in the small high school where I taught Business and Computers. I didn’t think that being alone in the classroom was uncommon in my educational career. Before coming to public education, I taught for several years in the private sector; there you were on an island.

What I learned quickly was that relationships with other educators and students were very important to me as a person; as well as a professional.  It was easy for me to develop relationships with students, but it was difficult when I was the only female on the high school staff. It was hard for me to relate to the male teachers on staff.

I made it a point to become part of the community during my first year. I  developed many positive relationships and eventually, dear friendships that I still cherish after thirty-three years. There have been many times that a message, a visit or call have made my day. I am thankful that these individuals are in my life.

As the years have passed, I have developed different relationships. I have relationships with professional people I never thought would be in my circle. I think about my Voxer group (#4OCFPLN), my Twitter #PLN and my local face-to-face PLN. These people have helped me to grow professionally.

Do I think relationships are important? Yes, Yes, Yes! And, I am thankful for all the relationships I have made along my journal.
Jennifer Ledford

My one word focus for 2018 has been “SHINE” and when I chose that word, I could never imagine the journey that this year would take me on. I learned through these last 11 months what it truly takes for me to shine. There are some days that my light is easy to find and I simply project it at others and I am good to go. Yet there are other days that my light is underneath a thick layer of grime and muck, which is caused by stress and negativity. This is not the dirt you can simply wipe away but the kind that takes back-breaking scrubbing.

This year has had its share of muck that has attempted to cloud the light I have to shine, yet I am so thankful that in January, I met an incredible group of people that continually help me clean the grime away. They do this by helping me find the courage within myself to combat all the dirt and muck that may come against me in life.

Many who know me know that I am a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan and the way that the 4OCFPLN has helped me through this year can compare to that of the Lion. The Lion lacked the courage to do much of anything and was even losing sleep because of his irrational fears. He then meets a group that soon become his friends and along their journey, he is given opportunities to show the strength and courage inside of him. When they finally reach the Wizard, the Lion realizes he does not need the courage from the Wizard, for his friends have helped him find it in himself.

While I may have not been afraid of everything, I would simply stand back and let some things go even if I knew in my heart they were not what was best. I would let negative words seep in and not do anything to redirect them.  I was managing yet not thriving until I found my group, my tribe, my edu-family. They helped me discover the power within me to roar at the negative words (in the politest way possible) and to stand up for what I know is best.

As we enter this month of thanks and the last 2 months of 2018, I am very thankful for my 4OCFPLN and for all my additional support on Twitter and Voxer. These people have truly shaped me in the last year and helped me become a better educator and a better person. I am also very thankful for this new found courage. It allows me to do what I know should be done in all aspects of my life. While it is not accepted 100% of the time, others have said they have noticed a change for the better in me. As I look forward to 2019, I am excited for the opportunities that this courage can open for me.

I also want to encourage all of you to find your group. Find those people that will allow you to uncover things within that you never knew were possible. If you are open, these changes can impact your life in the most amazing way.

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Heather Young, Kindergarten teacher, Seattle, WA

@msyoung114

I’m thankful for my students, who come to school with wide eyes every day, willing to dive into whatever we are going to learn.

I’m thankful for the families, who trust every day to grow their children as learners and humans.

I’m thankful for my in-building colleagues, always willing to give perspective when my thoughts might be off track.

Lastly, I’m so thankful for my PLN, a crew of professionals from across the US.  In close to a year, they have pushed my practice to new heights I never imagined reaching.

This list is full of people who believe in me, they are the foundation, the motivation and the joy in my life.  I am so incredibly lucky.

 

Sarah Fromhold

Sarah Fromhold, Digital Learning Coach McKinney, TX @sew1080

fromholdsblog@wordpress.com

“If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  ~African proverb

This quote sums up both my journey and my struggle, and I am grateful for both!  My personality is one that I prefer to work alone most of the time. Going through school, I preferred finishing projects on my own rather than working in a group.  Because of this, I usually turned in assignments early and had plenty of free time. However, looking back, I realize I was doing the bare minimum to satisfy the requirements of the assignment.  There was no motivation to dig deeper into a topic. I was good to simply get it done. It was hard for me to find people I trusted to work with because I honestly thought it was better for me to do it alone.

My family, friends, coworkers, and the #4OCFpln have changed my view on the importance of relying on others.  With two young daughters, a husband with odd work hours, and everything I aspire to do personally and professionally, I recognize I cannot do everything by myself (and that’s perfectly fine!).  My coworkers and my PLN are constantly available for my questions and to bounce ideas around. Without my tribe, I would still be moving along in life, but with them, I’m learning, growing, changing, and truly living my best life.
Don Sturm

Don Sturm

Technology Integration Specialist, Morton, IL @sturmdon

Thankfulness is something that is easy to take for granted. I am guilty of looking at situations and only focusing on those annoyances that get under my skin. This blog post idea came at a perfect time for me because I was getting stuck in the rut of not looking at the positives as much as I should. Honestly, I am thankful for those who are willing to make changes. I have learned that many teachers have a genuine fear of change and trying new things. It takes real bravery for some individuals to step out of their comfort zone and, as Tara Martin says, “Cannonball in!” My goal is to be more outwardly thankful to those who decide to throw caution to the wind and try something new for the sake of their students. These teachers and administrators need to realize that their willingness to conquer their fears sends a message to their students and staff that risk-taking is ok and necessary. Think about the domino effect of this risk-taking. Relationships will be built, growth mindset thinking will become the norm, and an overall positive culture will emerge. All of this is needed for schools to be places of learning and inquiry.
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Laura Steinbrink, HS English, Tech Integration, District Communications Director/Webmaster, Plato, MO @SteinbrinkLaura

My life is busy. It seems like my family and I are always on the go, sometimes in separate directions, for at least two of the three sporting seasons during the school year. Yes, you read that correctly. I said sporting seasons because that is how my school year is divided in my mind. Besides the titles of my job that I listed above, I am also the assistant coach for our volleyball and softball teams, and this year my husband, the tech director for our district, became the head cross country coach. So for the beginning of the school year through this first weekend of November, we have juggled schedules for my volleyball practices and games, my husband’s cross country practices and meets, and our son’s junior high basketball practices and games. This alone is enough to overwhelm a family, but me? I’m thankful. I spent a lot of time with my volleyball team, making connections with those students, watching them struggle, succeed, persevere, break down, and get back up again. Did I miss my son’s games because of my coaching duties? Just one. My district honored my desire to be a mom first and a coach second. Did my husband regret his choice to coach this year? He developed close relationships with his team as they struggled and pushed themselves to get up and down the hills around our school and in their personal lives. At our son’s games, we connected with families and students too. His teammates will be in my classroom in a few years, and when they walk through the door and become officially mine, I will already have a solid foundation for a relationship with them.

Did we still attend other school events during our whirlwind fall season? Yes. We supported as many students and staff as we possibly could. Did we make it to everything? No. But I am thankful for all the things we were able to do, relationships we forged or broadened, the impact we may have had on students, and the impact those same students most definitely have had on us. We may not always be able to do all of the things we want to do, but I am very grateful for all of the things we can do.
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John Martinez, elementary school principal, Rowland Hts, CA @jmartinez727

http://betweenthejohns.com/

In 1963, my father Eduardo left his homeland to make a new life in America. At 31 years of age, he arrived in New York leaving behind his wife Maria, four children, and all the people he knew.  When he arrived in New York he began the journey of finding work and earning enough to bring his family together. He didn’t speak English and did not have a trade. So he took whichever job he could find: work in kitchens, factories, and more. He worked two to three jobs at a time and left one job for another if it meant he could earn more or learn a marketable skill. In the meantime, my mom was caring for her children not knowing how the venture would unfold. In six months my dad had earned enough to bring the family from Colombia to the United States. Seemingly overnight, my family’s fortunes had changed. Opportunities and life trajectories for my siblings, for my parents, and for myself were transformed. My dad’s journey continued – finding different jobs, taking classes at night to learn English, and connecting with other immigrants for support. Then he did it all again. He packed his bags and traveled across the country to Los Angeles because he believed there were more opportunities out west. My mom continued to be the rock of our family in the way she supported my dad and nurtured her children. My dad found more jobs, continued learning English and made new connections with others. Not long after, my mom and siblings made the cross-country trip by railroad and began their new lives in Los Angeles. All of this happened before I came along in 1968. By then, the tireless of efforts of my mom and dad had set the foundation for my family’s success. For the next twenty years, they continued building on that foundation. My dad worked as many jobs as needed. My mom got jobs as us kids grew a bit older and more comfortable in our surroundings. Throughout my childhood, I saw countless examples of my parents’ dedication to their family. The way they faced and overcame adversity taught me to persevere. The way they modeled the values of family, faith, and country taught me to be loyal and sustain my beliefs. I learned about teamwork, integrity, and courage from my parents. I am thankful to my parents for emigrating to the USA. Who I am, where I am, what I am, and why I am would not be had my parents not had their vision and their courage. I am thankful to America, the fertile soil where my family could boom.

Matt Larson

Matthew Larson, PE teacher, Trenton, NJ, @mlarson_nj

I am thankful for one, all-encompassing thing…my support network. This network includes personal, professional, and pseudo-family supporters.

My professional support comes from my place of work. I am entering my fourth year teaching in an urban charter school and it has been quite the growing experience since day one. Since beginning there I have started and finished a degree in Ed Leadership and been on the hunt to move into administration to pursue and accomplish my vision of education. My colleagues and supervisors know of my search and aspirations and have been in my corner supporting my attempts every step of the way from writing references to covering my class when I have to miss time at school in order to interview. For them I am thankful!

My pseudo-family of support comes from my PLF, professional learning family. This group came together as strangers around a book study in January of 2018 and has since stayed together, met in real life, presented at conferences together, and truly become a support network both personally and professionally. Every day we continuously push each other to explain and rationalize thinking, challenge long-held beliefs, and grow beyond what we thought we could accomplish. They have truly helped my journey through daily conversations as I have to constantly verbalize my beliefs, values, and transformations regarding education, children, and working with adults. I can honestly attribute the nearness to my professional goals to this collective group. They are the individuals writing this blog collectively. For them I am thankful!

My personal family is a group I am indebted to and thankful for beyond words. I have twin 11-month old girls, a four-year-old son, my partner Jackie, two dogs, and three cats. Four years ago I left North Carolina to be with Jackie and Hayden as they moved back to New Jersey to be nearer Jackie’s family. Since then Jackie’s family and friends have been the safety net for us, young parents, as we tried to build careers and roots of our own in The Garden State. Without Jackie’s family and friends neither of us could be doing what we are doing. Without Jackie, I could not do what I do. Every day I am out of the house by 6am and don’t return until 6pm. During that time she is either at home with 2-3 kids by herself or she has childcare taken care–something she personally puts together because I have no connections within 400 miles to help with our children. Jackie knows and understands my professional goals and supports me through every interview and through every let-down. For her I am thankful.

I am also thankful for you, the reader, for taking time to read our collective work of #thankful thoughts.

Jennifer Ledford

Jennifer Ledford, 6th grade ELA teacher, Hammond IN

@MrsLedford6Eng

(https://theclassroomstage.blogspot.com)

My one-word focus for 2018 has been “SHINE” and when I chose that word, I could never imagine the journey that this year would take me on. I learned through these last 11 months what it truly takes for me to shine. There are some days that my light is easy to find and I simply project it at others and I am good to go. Yet there are other days that my light is underneath a thick layer of grime and muck, which is caused by stress and negativity. This is not the dirt you can simply wipe away but the kind that takes back-breaking scrubbing.

This year has had its share of muck that has attempted to cloud the light I have to shine, yet I am so thankful that in January, I met an incredible group of people that continually help me clean the grime away. They do this by helping me find the courage within myself to combat all the dirt and muck that may come against me in life.

Many who know me know that I am a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan and the way that the 4OCFPLN has helped me through this year can compare to that of the Lion. The Lion lacked the courage to do much of anything and was even losing sleep because of his irrational fears. He then meets a group that soon become his friends and along their journey, he is given opportunities to show the strength and courage inside of him. When they finally reach the Wizard, the Lion realizes he does not need the courage from the Wizard, for his friends have helped him find it in himself.

While I may have not been afraid of everything, I would simply stand back and let some things go even if I knew in my heart they were not what was best. I would let negative words seep in and not do anything to redirect them.  I was managing yet not thriving until I found my group, my tribe, my edu-family. They helped me discover the power within me to roar at the negative words (in the politest way possible) and to stand up for what I know is best.

As we enter this month of thanks and the last 2 months of 2018, I am very thankful for my 4OCFPLN and for all my additional support on Twitter and Voxer. These people have truly shaped me in the last year and helped me become a better educator and a better person. I am also very thankful for this new found courage. It allows me to do what I know should be done in all aspects of my life. While it is not accepted 100% of the time, others have said they have noticed a change for the better in me. As I look forward to 2019, I am excited for the opportunities that this courage can open for me.

I also want to encourage all of you to find your group. Find those people that will allow you to uncover things within that you never knew were possible. If you are open, these changes can impact your life in the most amazing way.
Maureen Hayes

Maureen Hayes, K-6 Humanities Supervisor in Lawrence Township, NJ   @mhayes611

As we enter the month of reflection and gratitude, I am thankful for those who encourage and push me every day to be my best….teachers & staff, administrators, students & my PLN.

The teachers and staff members I have the privilege to work with each day continually expect my best as an instructional leader. My job is to support them as they plan for instruction and work to meet the needs of all students in our district. They hold me accountable for being a researcher and reader and sharing my knowledge with them.

I am fortunate to be a part of a district administrative them that is continually pushing the limits and asking “why not” when it comes to serving our students. Each of the building principals on our team is true PIRATE Principals, and my fellow instructional supervisor team is a supportive group of instructional rock stars, especially my elementary counterpart Kristin Burke (kburke4242) who is the peanut butter to my jelly, the carrots to my peas, the macaroni to my cheese…

I am continually reminded of my purpose as an educator, and that is the students I serve. Every decision I make needs to be in the best interest of the students in my district.

Finally, my PLN/PLF, the #4OCFpln has by far been the greatest influence on me as an educator and leader, thanks to the daily talks, monthly book studies, and ongoing push-back and support they provide me. Each day spent in conversation with them is the best PD I have ever had.

 

Kimberly Isham

Kimberly Isham, K-5 Reading Specialist, Greenville TX   @Isham_Literacy

https://kimberlyisham.blogspot.com

This past spring, my mother spent 2 weeks in a Critical Care unit about an hour away from my home.  I am so grateful that we did not lose her. My parents have been some of my strongest supporters and most important critics.  They have modeled hospitality and generosity throughout their lives. Their example and encouragement have been a big part of making me the person I am today.

My husband is my biggest supporter, whether it be acting as my cheerleader when I take on a project I am not sure about or letting me vent when I am frustrated with something at school.  He makes me laugh and lets me know in a million ways how much he loves me and our boys.

My children (biological and school) have challenged my thinking as I strive to give them the best of myself in helping them to be the best version of themselves.  

My co-workers have caused me to question what I know as I work within the box we know as the public school system.

My #4OCFpln has been a serendipitous group that not only gets me, but also pushes me to do more, learn more, and be more.

I am thankful that God has brought all these forces into my life to help me continue on this path of growth to be the person He created me to be.

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Cathy Hink, Kindergarten Teacher & Technology Resource Teacher

Washington @mshinksclass   Website: cathyhink.com

I am thankful for relationships with…

the Trinity that gives all of life deep meaning and purpose empowers me with a strong faith, sense of hope and teaches me everyday what it means to love and be loved.

a daughter who has taught me the meaning of true love, courage and joy beyond measure.

Boo my loyal fur baby,  who provides soft cuddles, smiles and giggles everyday.

Family that has nurtured and shaped my character.  For a mom that taught me unconditional love. For a father who taught me to work hard and be a problem solver.  For siblings that have taught me acceptance and taught me the fine art of negotiation and compromise. ; )

friends who have added laughter, compassion, support as they accept me as I am and encourage, support and hold me accountable to be the best me I can be.

young students who remind me of the power and wisdom found in wonder and play and who daily model what it means to be resilient and trusting.

My #40CFPLN (a.k.a. My Tribe) who live out the honorable task of educating, loving and advocating for the children of this great nation.  Their courage, intelligence, dedication, and passion consistently inspire, strengthen and motivate me.

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Elizabeth Merce- Kindergarten Teacher Virginia Beach, VA @EMercedLearning EMercedLearning.com

As I reflect on all the things I am thankful for I keep coming back to the people.  Each person I meet has changed me in some way, they have left a part of themselves with me.

I am thankful for my amazing husband and daughter who have given me the strength to try all the things.  The unconditional love they give me allows me to dream big dreams and chase them. I have been blessed with an amazing support at home.

I am thankful for all the educators that have touched my life as a child and as an adult.  I have learned so much from them. Sometimes it was just as an example of what not to do, but more often than not it was what teaching can be.

This year I also get to be thankful for my #4OCFpln.  I have found my people in this group. I have had more support and growth in the past year than in any time period in my life.  There are no words to adequately describe how this group of strangers have become my second family, my teaching home.

 

Mike Messner — High School Teacher, Los Altos, CA

https://momentswithmike257577506.wordpress.com/

This year, my thanks goes out in many, many directions…

To my wife Nancy, who sustains and accompanies me on my life journey and my teaching journey, and who always reminds me what those journeys are really all about.

To my son Stephen, who calls me to reflect on the job I do as an educator, and who has unflagging faith in his old man.  Breakfast at Black Bear Diner this weekend, bucko.

To Snoopy, who is the single most loving creature with more than two legs that I have ever met or am ever likely to.  

To my closest companions at Los Altos High School, Seth Donnelly, Chris Phipps, and Katherine Orozco, who have seen me at my most distraught and exhausted, and still take the time to fellowship and collaborate with me.

To the teachers who touched me most deeply and influenced my practice most profoundly: Dave Squellati, Mark Shaull, Wynne Satterwhite, and Jerry Messner (save me a seat in heaven next to you, Dad).

To my students at Los Altos and at Skyline College for allowing me to try out new ways of teaching and who forgive me when they go awry — and especially the members of Future Business Leaders of America for letting me take a fun and exciting ride as your adviser!

To the members of #4OCFPLN for their support, their exhortations, and their relentless drive to make our education system better; I cannot imagine where I would be as a teacher without this group of voices, and I can’t wait to see you all in person.

And to my Father in Heaven: Thank You for allowing me to shed burdens that might have destroyed me, for giving me a future that I think I understand, and the promise of an eternity in Your presence.

God bless us, every one.  Happy Turkey.

 

Debbie Holman, Science 8, AVID, Wellington, CO.

I have so much to be thankful for.   I truly feel as if I am blessed by all those who support,  encourage me and help me learn.

I’m thankful for my family including my awesome sister my amazing parents my nieces and nephew and all of my extended family, that support me day in and day out and make sure that I am at my best.  I would not be who I am without these people who have supported throughout my life.

I’m thankful for my husband who deals with the frustrations that come with being the husband of an educator. He constantly supports all of my Endeavors and all of the things that I use our hard-earned money to bring things into my classroom to support the Science Education of all my students.

I’m thankful for my colleagues who understand the way I work and work with me as I am always challenging myself to try new things to make the instruction in my classroom new and better.  

I’m also thankful for my tribe, my professional learning network, or my professional learning family, The #4OCFPLN They encourage, inspire, and challenge my thinking on a daily basis. I am so thankful to be part of such an amazing, brilliant group of educators.  

I’m also thankful for my two fluffy amazing Great Pyrenees dogs, Bear and Taos. No matter the day I have, they always listen and are available for a good snuggle if necessary!

Debbie Holman, Science 8, AVID, Wellington, CO.

I have so much to be thankful for.   I truly feel as if I am blessed by all those who support,  encourage, and inspire me. I am thankful for my family that support me day in and day out and make sure that I am at my best.  I am thankful for my husband who deals with the frustrations that come with being the husband of an educator. He constantly supports all of my Endeavors and all of the things that I use our hard-earned money for to bring things into my classroom to support the Science Education of all my students. I am thankful to the young people that I am privileged to work with every day.  They push me to be better than I was the day before because they deserve the very best I have to give. I am thankful for my colleagues who understand the way I work and work with me as I am always challenging myself to try new things to make the instruction in my classroom new and better. I am thankful for my tribe, my professional learning network, or my professional learning family, The #4OCFPLN. They encourage, inspire, and challenge my thinking on a daily basis. I am so empowered and inspired to be part of such an amazing, brilliant group of educators.  I’m also thankful for my two fluffy Great Pyrenees dogs, Bear and Taos. No matter the day I have, they always listen and are available for a good snuggle!

4OCFPLN

One of the most important ways that we can start a new school year is by setting aside time to get to know our students. Not only should we have time to interact with them, but we need to give them time to interact with one another. Relationships are the foundation for so many positives in the classroom. Before all content and getting to the rules and classroom procedures, we have to find a way to start on day one by making this a priority. I truly believe that it needs to be a priority every day after that, because even the slightest interactions matter.

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When: Some educators may disagree about holding off on the content or putting off the discussion about classroom procedures until another day. We all need to do what works best for our students and for ourselves. So you may choose to start the first day with something different, by focusing on the content and including some of the expectations or responsibilities for the classroom. Even starting with this, I’m sure that most everyone includes time to work on getting to know one another. By being at the door to greet the students as they arrive or making an effort to learn student names, and start to associate who the students are and engage in minor interactions will go a long way.

Why: I am very passionate about this now but I wish I could say that I always thought this way. I didn’t.  I don’t know how much I valued the power of relationships over the first ten years of my teaching career. Of course I cared about my students and I wanted what was best for them, but I recognize that how I was then and the way I am now are completely different.  And I really didn’t start every year the way that I’m suggesting that the year should be started by educators today. I was that teacher who welcomed students into the classroom and then started every class period on the first day, by talking about my classroom expectations and even adding in a little bit about the content material. I would even have students who were entering their second or higher level of the foreign language, write a short paragraph about topics like the summer, a movie they saw, a vacation or really anything they wanted to, so I could use it as a way to assess their skills before starting into the new material.  It’s just the way that I had been taught and I thought I needed to start like this, with no learning time lost.

Something that bothers me now about myself when I think about this, is that I remember students trying to talk to their classmates about their summers and just being excited to come back to school. I remember trying to get them to just stop and focus on the writing that I wanted them to do. The writing was more important, at least that is the message that I was sending. Thankfully I am no longer that teacher. I just wish I would have changed sooner.

No wonder I never really worried about the first day of school, even though I might not sleep too well the night before. Lack of sleep was partially because I was excited and the thought of going back after being on a break, somehow prevented me from sleeping. Why didn’t I worry? Because for me, day one was for going through some of the normal routine activities, those clerical or housekeeping tasks, that I had done every year prior. I never worried about Day One, but I always said I worried more about Day Two because that’s when I really had to start teaching.

I’ve changed my mind over the years because I’ve had some challenges, due to questioning my own methods of instruction and why something was not working for a specific class. I also questioned the ways that I handled challenges in terms of classroom management over the years, and finding ways to connect with students.  I am continuing to learn and there are days where it can feel like I’m not making any progress in building those relationships. I have to remind myself that I’m trying. That sometimes things don’t happen as fast as we want, it might take days, weeks, months or even longer to notice the impact or to see some kind of a transformation, but we just have to keep moving forward. And we may never really know what it was that made the difference, we just might feel a change one day.

How: I wish I had an answer for the question of “how.” What works for one student will often not work for another and it might take you a while to find a way to connect with some students and for them to connect with you. Have you ever tried so hard to connect with that one student, and no matter what you did it just felt like you would never get there? I have.  Many times. One time last year I tried everything that I could, and no matter what I tried, it just seemed like I could not find a way to connect. But then I saw a book, one that I had read and enjoyed, and that amazingly just so happened to be a book being read by that student. Had I not seen that book, I might still be thinking about how to bridge some type of connection.

So that’s why those slight interactions matter, why we need to be present, visible, leaning in and listening more. We need to really see our students, who they are, and show that we really care.

I could offer a few suggestions but they might not be the ones that will work the best for you, your students or even that one student that you’ve been trying to connect with. Over the years I’ve taught, there have been some days where I felt like giving up. Truly, just felt exhausted because no matter what I did, it just did not work. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way but I hope that the more that we share our stories, we can help other educators who might be experiencing this same thing.

The greatest success I’ve had in making connections, after struggling to find ways to do so, have come about because I stopped trying to think so hard about how to connect. Instead, I just sat down, made time to lean in and listen, and to really talk with a student. That’s not something that I probably would have done 10 years ago. I can only keep moving forward with what I know now.

“When we know better, we do better,” as Maya Angelou said, and I definitely know better now.

Recently published on DefinedSTEM

The start of each new school year is such an exciting time for educators and students. After the summer break, educators head back into their classrooms and schools, hopefully feeling recharged, excited for the new school year, and ready with a list of new teaching ideas. Planning for the first day and first week back to school are so important, we want to set up our classrooms but also need to focus on the environment and culture we are creating. Of course, there are classroom expectations and class details that we need to share with our students, but we need to do something first. In starting to plan instruction and methods, we first should focus on learning about our students and showing that we are invested in their success. By starting here, we begin to develop our classroom culture and set up a welcoming environment for learning.

Welcoming students in and learning together

At the start of the school year, and every day thereafter, we should be intentional about being present. We need to spend time greeting all students and welcoming them back to school. Beyond the students on our rosters, It is important to acknowledge all students as we see them in the halls and throughout the building.  The power behind creating a positive and supportive climate in the building and in each classroom starts with teachers. When we are visible and show students that we are excited about school, we will start making connections that will help in fostering a positive classroom culture.

It can be challenging to start a daily routine of school after a summer break, or any extended break during the year. We must set a good example by engaging our students in conversations, showing an interest in who they are, encouraging and providing opportunities for peer connections. These intentional strategies to get to know our students will positively impact the learning environment

There are many ways to learn about our students. There are icebreakers and other games that can be used as a way to learn about one another. As educators, this is our opportunity to take time to encourage students to share their thoughts and interests with peers, and also what and how they hope to learn in your class.

Making those connections

There are many tools available to set up methods of communication and collaboration and to help students develop these critical skills for their future. For learning, we have to determine how to make ourselves available to students when they have questions or need additional support or resources. The questions do not stop when the school day ends, or over the weekend break. Without a way to ask questions during these times, students can become frustrated and the potential for learning diminishes. In our increasingly digital world, we have access to so many resources, but we also need to know how to find the right tools. First, I recommend that educators find a tool that enables students to connect, to ask questions, and to access classroom resources. Among the digital options available today, it still can be challenging to select the right one. A few examples are setting up a classroom website, a messaging app or using an LMS.

A classroom website is great for having a centralized location for students to access resources, post questions, review content and more. Websites and using LMS platforms can easily be set up using EdmodoSchoologyGoogle ClassroomWeebly a Google Site, or even Padlet.  Communication is also easier with a messaging tool that enables the sending of reminders, links to resources, or that integrates with other digital tools for learning. A few options are Bloomz (for parent-teacher communication) and Remind. There are several other options available, depending on your needs and the level you teach. I have used Voxer with several of my classes, especially for talking about Project Based Learning and sharing ideas and reflections.  One thing to keep in mind is to find out about the kind of technology and internet access available to the students.

Learning about each student

Even the slightest interactions can provide so much information about a student. It happens through those quick conversations as students enter the room, or by including fun activities in the lesson, and creating a supportive, welcoming environment where students feel valued. Engaging in some of these practices will help to build and foster positive relationships. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start creating connections with one other.

Some quick ways to get started are by having students create a collaborative Google Slides Presentation, or use another digital tool, like Buncee or even Padlet perhaps,  for students to create one slide or add some information. Encourage each student to contribute by adding in fun facts, share how they spent the summer, or the weekend,  to help each member of the class to learn about one another. I did this with my Spanish III and IV students and it was fun to learn more about each student and their summer experiences and we had some fun in the process.

A personal goal at the start of each school year is to learn about my students and help everyone start to feel comfortable in our classroom. We used some icebreaker games, a great game of Bingo, shared stories, and it definitely helps students to learn about each other and for me to learn about them.  Our classroom culture continues to develop each and with it brings new learning opportunities.

Another great way that I have found to learn about each student is through the use of project-based learning. When students have the choice to determine what it is that they want to study and can drive their own learning, we can connect more with each student and understand who they are and what their passions are for learning.  The students can learn about their peers as well as become more globally aware of what it is like to be a student in different parts of the world and to just really explore whatever it is that they want. For us as educators, it creates a way to extend our own learning and we can continue to improve and learn and grow with and from our students,  starting from the beginning of the year.

 

Published originally on Getting Smart 

One of the most important roles for educators today is that of being a mentor. As educators, we are often called upon to mentor the students in our classroom, as well as colleagues in our school. Throughout our lives, we have all had at one time or another a person who has served as a mentor, whether they have been selected for us or it is a relationship that simply formed on its own. Take a moment and think about the different mentors that you have had in your life. How many of them were teachers? How many of them were other adults, such as family friends or perhaps even coaches? How many of your own mentors have been the colleagues in your building or members of your PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network)?

There may be a few that come to mind immediately, both because you remember having a specific time that was set aside to work with your mentor, maybe during your first-year of teaching or as a teacher who needed some guidance while working through some of the challenges of teaching. There is probably a mentor that comes to mind because you credit them with some aspect of personal and or professional growth. For myself, I have been fortunate to have some supportive mentors that have helped me to grow professionally and taught me what it means to be a mentor. These relationships are so important because it is through mentorships that we continue to learn and grow and become a better version of ourselves. In the process, we also develop our skills to serve as a mentor to someone else and continue the practice promoting growth.

Getting Started with Mentoring

Take a moment and think about your classroom or your school and the types of programs which may be already in place in your building. Are there specific times set aside for teachers to act as mentors for students? To their colleagues? In my school district, Riverview, we implemented a homeroom mentoring program a few years ago, as part of our RCEP (Riverview Customized Educational Plan) which we were making available for our students. A few years prior to that, we began with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, and our school was among the first schools in the United States to achieve national/state recognition for bully prevention. Through the program, we implemented a variety of learning activities, with the goal of engaging students in learning and collaboration, to promote a positive school climate and to create opportunities for students to build positive and supportive peer relationships.

For our Homeroom Mentoring Program, small groups of students in grades 9 through 12, are assigned to a homeroom, with a mentor. By having these smaller groups, the teachers are able to serve as a mentor for each student, working with them closely, to not only support them during their high school experience but also to prepare them for their future after graduation. It is a way to provide a more personalized learning approach for each student and for each student to know they have support available to them. These mentoring homerooms meet on a regular basis, providing ongoing opportunities for the teacher and students to interact in team-building and work on fostering peer relationships. During these homeroom meetings, some of the activities include pride lessons, goal-setting discussions, career exploration surveys and job shadowing, community service experiences and other topics which come up throughout the year. It is a good opportunity for the students to have a small group to work with and to develop critical skills for their future, such as communicating, collaborating, problem-solving, and developing social and emotional learning skills as well.

In addition to the planned activities, a key part of our mentoring program is the creation of a “portfolio” which includes samples of student work, a job shadow reflection, resume, list of volunteer experiences and additional artifacts that students can curate in their portfolio. The past few years, students have organized these materials into a binder, which has been kept in the mentoring homeroom. The materials become a part of their required senior graduation project. This year, we have started creating an e-portfolio, using Naviance, a program that promotes college and career readiness. Students begin by creating their online profile and sharing their activities and interests. Using the program, students can take surveys to learn more about their own skill areas and interests, learn about colleges which might match their interests, and also continue to build their digital citizenship skills. According to one of our guidance counselors, Mrs. Roberta Gross, the mentoring program was implemented to help students make transitions toward post-secondary goals and plans, and moving to the e-portfolio is creating more opportunities for students to explore their own interests and create their online presence.

There are many benefits of having students create an e-portfolio. Moving to an e-portfolio makes it easier to access the information for each student, it can be shared with parents and it opens up more conversations between the students and the mentor teacher. It is important to prepare our students for whatever the future holds for them beyond high school graduation, and working with them as they grow, in these small groups, really promotes more personalized learning experiences and authentic connections.

As a final part of this program, our seniors take part in a senior “exit interview”, a simulated job interview with a panel of three teachers, a mix of elementary teachers and high school teachers. It truly is a great experience to have time to see the growth of each student, learn about their future plans and to provide feedback which will help them continue to grow and be better prepared for their next steps after graduation. And for students, being able to look through their portfolios, reflect on their experiences, self-assess and set new goals, knowing they have support available, is the purpose of the mentoring program.

Resources on Mentoring

There are many resources available that can provide some direction for getting started with an official mentoring program.

  1. The “Adopt a class” program, founded by Patty Alper, who also wrote a book on mentoring called “Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America.” Alper talks about the impact of mentoring and how her view of it is towards an “entrepreneurial” mindset, preparing students for the future, with the skills they need. Alper breaks down the process into practical steps, with examples and encouragement for those new to the mentoring experience.
  2. The national mentoring partnership “MENTOR”, offers a website full of resources and ways to connect with other mentoring programs. MENTOR even held a Mentoring Summit in Washington, D.C., this January, where professionals and researchers gathered to share ideas and best practices for starting a mentoring program. Be sure to check out their monthly themes and presence on Twitter.
  3. The National Mentoring Resource Center offers a collection of different resources for mentoring include manuals, handouts and a long list of additional guidelines for different content areas, grade levels, culturally responsive materials, toolkits and more. The website has most of the resources available as downloads.

How you can get started

I would recommend that you think about mentors that you may have had at some point during your life. What are some of the qualities that they had which made them a good mentor and why? For me, I felt comfortable talking with my mentor, being open to the feedback that I would receive, and I knew that my mentor was available to support me when I needed. Another benefit is that we learn how to become a mentor for others, and when we have these programs in place, our students will become mentors for one another. I have seen the positive effects in my own classroom, and many times, these new mentorships have formed on their own.

 

A phenomenal mentor that taught me what it means to be an educator.

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Thrilled to have an awesome mentor and professor, thank you Bruce Antkowiak

 

**Slightly updated from an earlier post, but some ideas to get that energy back up

Ending  the year with 5 random ideas: Going back to basics 

The end of the school year is a great time to try some new ideas. With summer approaching,  we have time to reflect on methods used this year and to seek out new ideas and tools, to come up with creative and innovative methods and ways to welcome to students back in the fall. Hopefully these new activities will help to keep students more engaged in learning.

Here are 5 ways to have students connect, collaborate and create. These are also helpful for building peer relationships and for reviewing content or assessing skills at the end of the year. These ideas can be no-tech or using something suggested by the students.

1) Random games or icebreaker style: There are tons of ways to create icebreakers, whether by using paper and pencil or even with digital tools. For example, with Buncee, Piktochart or Canva students can come up with four statements about themselves to share with classmates. These can be in the form of three truths and a lie, as a way to help students learn about their peers and for the teacher to learn about the students. It is beneficial for making connections with one another, finding things in common, but also to appreciate the different perspectives and backgrounds students bring into the classroom. It will be a great way to enhance communication and comfort in the classroom and also, if tech is used, to start teaching students alternative ways to present information.

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2) Categories:  Create a template with 4 or 5 different categories related to the content area and grade level being taught. After deciding on categories, select 5 or 6 letters of the alphabet, or use numbers, that students must use to come up with a word, topic or date, that ties into each category. Students can randomly be assigned to small groups and can then share what their group came up with. This activity will promote communication between peers and provide an opportunity for collaboration and some fun as well. It can also be a good way to have students review, be creative and brainstorm new ideas even. It will provide time for teachers to assess student needs and decide the next steps in the lesson, as we keep moving toward the summer break.

 

3) Word art: Students need different ways to practice the content and one way that helps some learners is through visual learning. Students can use vocabulary, verbs or any content material to generate word art. Students can create a word cloud using paper and marker or try using a digital tool like WordCloud, or WordItOut, or other similar word cloud generators available. After the word clouds are created, teachers can build on the learning potential by having students post their work in the classroom, having a gallery walk where other groups can discuss the terms, brainstorm new ideas, define or translate them (if a foreign language) and increase the authentic learning materials in the classroom.

 

4) Music: Music can really liven up the classroom and be useful for helping students remember the material. One idea is to have students create rhymes or a song using a vocabulary list, names of famous people, state or world capitals, monuments or anything related to the content area. Students can work in pairs or a small group and create a song which can be used as a mnemonic device, to help them retain the information in a more meaningful way. For presentation purposes, students can then have the choice of sharing live in class or perhaps trying a tool like Flipgrid or Recap to record and share with classmates. It can even be followed up by posting the video on a Padlet and encouraging students to comment in writing, or leave a reply on Flipgrid. These student creations will add to the authentic classroom resources and engage students more in learning.

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5) Creating games: Students can create a game as a way to help themselves and their peers practice the material. It can be a game made up using paper or any materials the students decide on or created using one of the digital tools available like Kahoot, Quizlet or Quizizz. Students will have a more authentic learning experience when they select the specific vocabulary they need to practice, which will will give more personalized learning opportunities.

In trying one or all of these activities, it presents an opportunity for the students to work together, to build their relationships, to collaborate and to engage in more authentic learning experiences. And it provides the teacher with an opportunity to step aside and become a facilitator, and to use the time as an opportunity to not only assess student learning but to interact more and provide feedback for students.

 

There are many ways to practice the content material and engage students more in learning, these are just a few of the ideas that I have tried in my classroom this school year, and they are a work in progress. Knowing that something works takes reflection and student input, and one thing I have noticed in the few short weeks we have been in school, is that students are asking more questions and thinking of new ways to extend their learning. I have more time to move around and work with every student and provide more individualized instruction and really understand each student’s progress.

They are asking, “Can we…?, What if…?, Is it okay to…?” and adding their creativity into our activities. They are also suggesting improvements, “Maybe we could…, It might be better if you…, and This has helped me to remember…can we keep doing these activities?”  And my answer to all of these has been “Yes, I think we should try it.” If it works, then great. And if not, we will try again!”

 

 

Published on Getting Smart, 

 

Toward the end of the past school year, I noticed some changes in student behavior. There was a decrease in student engagement, especially while I responded to the question of a student seated close to me, students around the room became distracted or stopped listening. Trying to get the group to refocus sometimes presented a challenge and resulted in a loss of valuable instruction time. A second concern was how students had been treating one another. I overheard conversations in the hallways, witnessed unkind interactions in the classroom, or heard directly from students who sought help in dealing with different situations. There were two issues to resolve: eliminate the valuable instruction time that was being lost and help students to develop more positive, collaborative peer relationships. How could I connect students more to the content and to one another, so they could work together to foster a more positive classroom. After some brainstorming, I decided to first focus on ways to promote collaboration and to step out of my role of “leader” in the classroom by stepping aside.

The changes:

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

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

 

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

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

Practical ways to promote SEL:

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

Challenges and solutions:

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

Benefits:

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

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.

 

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

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