personalized

Guest Post by Kristen Koppers, @Mrs_Koppers

Educator and Author of Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession 

The movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was one movie that brought together friendship through hardships. But a single pair of pants (no matter the size of each of the girls) fit perfectly to where they would wear the pants, write on them, and send them to each other throughout the summer.

We all know that wearing a pair of pants in one size does not mean that another pair of pants will fit even with the same size. The fact that one pair of pants can fit four different girls ‘perfectly’ who all have different body types is not realistic. Although the movie focused on the jeans, it was more about the friendship of the four girls during their personal problems they went through without each other.

The same idea goes for teaching and learning. While we hope that one size pair of pants (learning styles) would fit more than one student, we know that is not the case. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, schools, and learning abilities so we cannot think that one curriculum or one “pair of pants” can fit all. This goes the same for purchasing a Halloween costume or outfit where the tag says “one size fits most.” Someone who weighs 120 pounds wearing the same costume that a person who weighs 30 pounds more won’t fit the same way. While the outfit will fit both sizes, the look will be quite different.

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL – What many forget is that teachers come from all backgrounds, cultures, educational institutions, and ethics. We cannot expect one teacher to teach the same way as other teachers. This is the same for students. It would be a perfect world if one style of teaching will reach all students. However, this is not the case. Differentiating work can be difficult as well to meet the needs of all students. In order to have that perfect pair of pants to fit all students, teachers must be willing to put their ego and pride aside and stretch the pants just a little wider so that not one size person but multiple sizes can fit.

The struggle is real. We all know how it is to try and fit into a fresh pair of washed jeans. The jeans that fit you the day before now feels tighter 24 hours later. If we think about how that one pair of jeans fit the day earlier and then the next day they don’t, this is how many students feel. One day they feel like they understood the information and then the next day nothing makes sense.

Using Differentiated Instruction is not about separating all students or creating one lesson plan for many. It’s about assessing student needs throughout the year. While one lesson plan will help several students at one point, another lesson plan may not work for the rest. Assessing students needs does not need to be cumbersome. It can be as simple as noticing non-verbal clues in the classroom to written work.

Recently, we were reading a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Students were intrigued by the reading and began to focus on the plot. It wasn’t until they were to share out what they learned to the class that everything unfolded. When I moved around the room, most groups were able to explain what they were thinking. However, between the individual group discussions and the informal presentation, something went wrong. This is where I used differentiated instruction. We discussed the lesson, the assignment, and guidelines. It was the connection from what they read to their knowledge that seemed ‘not to fit.’

As an educator of 16 years and instead of taking it as an insult to my teaching, I swallowed my pride of experience and began to learn how to fit into a pair of jeans that did not fit me. After a large group discussion, I was able to use differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all the abilities in my classroom. Students were given the choice to keep their grade or complete one of the two alternative assignments to replace the previous grade. Instead of making this decision, I let the students choose because, after all, they are the ones who truly know their own learning ability.

When one pair of pants does not fit, we shouldn’t just give them away and buy a larger or small pair, we need to stretch them a little to fit.

Follow Kristen on Twitter and Check out her book! Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession

Post sponsored by ParentSquare. The opinions expressed are my own.

Why Schools and Districts Need ParentSquare

The functionality of a teacher tool with a district-adopted platform

Finding a reliable and secure way to facilitate communication between school and home is critical for helping our students to be successful. When implementing digital tools and district-wide platforms, schools and districts must be cognizant of the rights and responsibilities when it comes to student privacy and digital safety. District leaders must protect the school community by maintaining a safe learning environment while also empowering teachers and families with the right tools to build community and promote family involvement.

For many classroom teachers, the options for tools to use are becoming more limited, whether because of access or school and district policies. While there are many free digital communication tools available, more and more teachers are being asked to not use the free tools and to implement tools that are district- or school-managed. Teachers must look for and recommend alternatives that will provide the same functionality they are used to and that will not require a lot of time to make the transition.

Choosing the Right Platform

There are many digital communication tools available to schools which offer a lot of benefits. It is important to find something that provides quality resources, centralizes school information, and which gives teachers the freedom they need to create a virtual space for their students and families.

Through the right platform, teachers can complete important tasks such as sending class updates, asking for volunteers, scheduling conferences and school events, sharing files and photos, and communicating various types of information to families, for a start. Being able to connect families and the school community with what is happening inside the classrooms strengthens the connection between home and school.

At the school and district level, being able to provide everything that students and families need through a comprehensive program and in a manner that parents and families choose is important. The entire school community benefits by having a consistent and efficient program in place that meets the needs and preferences of each of its members. So why should schools choose ParentSquare?

A Centralized Space for the Community

ParentSquare is available for the district- or school-wide implementation. If you find that you or your school are using multiple different apps to exchange information and communicate, ParentSquare provides one tool that does all of this and more. ParentSquare takes multiple tasks and communicative needs (messaging, attendance and grade notifications, event planner, calendar, fundraising, lunch balances, and much more*) that schools and teachers are currently using and unifies them in one easy to use and widely accessible platform.

ParentSquare facilitates timely and relevant communication between home and school through push notifications with real-time interactions and reports to show the reach and deliverability of messages, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted. Schools can create wishlists, ask for volunteers and launch fundraising campaigns, therefore streamlining more of the common tasks for schools. ParentSquare enables schools and districts to share information from the same source, which promotes consistency and efficiency in a simplified platform.

Unique Features

With district-wide adoption of ParentSquare, school districts can provide one comprehensive tool to connect families with their child’s school and the district, in a centralized space. Schools can then provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to facilitate higher engagement and better communication between school and home.

Although ParentSquare combines multiple apps and resources into one platform, it is very easy to navigate. Everything in ParentSquare has a similar look and feel, “if you know how to do one thing, you know how to do everything.” The design encourages parents and families to interact more in the space and work together toward fostering a collaborative relationship between home and school. Communication happens through posts and direct messaging which facilitates a higher level of engagement for families and greater connectedness. Parents can opt-out of certain communications and enjoy the benefits of being connected with the school and their children’s teachers, by receiving messages based on their preferences.

Another unique feature of ParentSquare is the Smart Alert and Notices for sending emergency alerts with options to send to the entire district, individual schools, parents, or students. You can choose between sending a recorded message or one created using the text-to-speech feature provided by ParentSquare. The receipt of each message is verified and detailed analytics for reach and deliverability show the percentage of contacts reached and the number needed to achieve 100%.

ParentSquare scores on the integration aspect too, integrating with many SISs, so teachers do not have to invite parents and maintain a contact list, thus also protecting privacy. Parents need not join and create a password, they are still kept informed and in the loop, thereby including every parent.

ParentSquare helps to streamline school business and workflows by providing:

  • Attendance notifications with excuse notes
  • Grades, Assignments, Assessments, Attendance in the Portal and App
  • Social and Web Share (web widget)
  • Invoices (recurring and one-time)
  • Payments (spirit wear, tickets, etc.)
  • Fundraiser with Battery meter
  • Calendar and RSVP (adults and kids)
  • Lunch Balance Notifications and other notices with merge fields
  • Secure Document Delivery including postal mail (progress reports, report cards)
  • Advanced analytics
  • SIS integrations
  • Support

Beyond the Platform: What Does ParentSquare Offer?

One thing that I think is important is that edtech companies offer a unified space for educators, parents, and students to access information when they need it. All companies should be intentional about providing support and resources such as webinars, user stories, blogs written by members of the team or teachers currently using the platform, and make sure the information is current. It’s equally as important to actively share new features and any changes that are coming in the near future. I appreciate being able to find a lot of resources and support when I am using a digital tool or platform with my classes.

ParentSquare provides a wealth of information on their site including blog posts, Meet the team, webinars, new features, thought leadership, educator insights, best practices and more. The ParentSquare team also sends newsletters full of information to keep customers informed of events and updates to their platform. ParentSquare is fully invested in family engagement and is helping to streamline the communication between home and school. With ParentSquare, schools can provide a more consistent, effective and reliable way to communicate, and promote student success and family engagement. Learn more about it here.

Key features: Also check out the video here.

Key Features
Privacy Available, updated 2018
District Level Oversight
Messaging to and between parents
Messaging between teachers and staff
Individual/Group Messaging
Notifications as text, email, app
Send/Schedule reminders
Language Translation 100+ with Real-time translation
Class/School Calendar 2-way Sync with Google and iCal
File and Photo Sharing
Conference & Volunteer Signups
Single Sign-on
Unlimited Message Length
Coordinate Events/RSVP
Permission Slips
Devices: iOs, Android, Web
Attendance
Grades and Assignments
Report Card Delivery
Attendance Delivery and Excuse Notes
Truancy Letters
Cafeteria Balance
Payments and Invoices Recurring & one time
Polls and Surveys

This post is sponsored by Socrates. All opinions are my own.

When I think about trying some new tech tool, I first consider my purpose when deciding which tool to try. As educators, our goal should be to leverage technology in a way that helps to empower students, promote personalized and student-driven learning, and amplify their learning potential.

As the school year winds down, I think we have a great opportunity to provide some new, authentic learning experiences for our students. We can use these last few weeks of school to do some really cool things. If you notice that students are kind of drained or their motivation or engagement seems to be lacking, then I think it’s the perfect opportunity to try something that you’ve had on your mind but never quite found the time, or to try something new that you recently learned about. Either way, in my own experience, I have seen improvements in these areas by providing access to different digital tools for students to choose from and that meet their needs and interests. Of course, finding something that enables students to have fun while learning is never a bad thing. I recently found something that will definitely help: Socrates

Why Socrates?

Socrates provides a unique game-based learning platform that is focused on differentiating instruction for students. By using Socrates, teachers have access to a wealth of resources and ways to better engage students in learning, helping them to build their skills in content areas such as math and English through the use of games. Because the platform uses artificial intelligence, it is able to adjust to student needs by creating an individualized learning path in real-time, which makes Socrates stand out from other learning platforms. It is easy for teachers to track student progress and quickly identify where students might need some extra help or instruction. It enables students to progress at a pace that meets their individual needs and provides them with the right supplemental resources they need when they need them.

Getting started with Socrates is easy!

Finding time is always a challenge with so much to do in our school days and prepping throughout the week. However, with Socrates, teachers can quickly set up an account, add students to classes and start assigning free practice, homework, and tests in no time at all. The Teacher and School Command Center Modules in Socrates provide a powerful teacher assistant that informs teachers when and where each student needs help. Being able to act on that information quickly is key for teachers, and this is where the AI makes an impact on student learning and growth. Get started today! (link)

Worried about having devices that are compatible? Socrates can be used on a PC, Mac, Chromebooks, Android, and iOS devices. Students can complete their work in class or on their own schedule wherever they have access to a device.

How to get students started

To add new students, simply follow these steps:

1. Go to your teacher Dashboard and select “Manage.”

2. Click the student icon to add a new student.

3. Enter student first and last name.

4. Add a student ID (at least 4 digits).

5. Select the grade level for the student.

6. Click “Create a student account and add to the roster.”

Making changes to student account information is easy using the Command Center. Teachers can specify a grade level, an active area of study, learning style, and gameplay (ranging from High gameplay to No games). Assessing student progress and making changes to their learning profile is easy to do within the Command Center.

Free practice, homework, and tests

It is easy to find the right activities for students and to start a class or set up activities for students to work on at a later time.

To get started:

  1. On the dashboard, select “Assignments.”
  2. Once assignment opens, select the Area of Study (K through 5th) and the content area (Math or Language Arts)
  3. Select the topic, and continue making selections for the specific content material.
  4. On the Assignment details, change the name, the number of questions, add a start and end date if applicable.
  5. Choose to assign as Free Practice, Homework, or to Print.
  6. Once selected, the assignment is added to the student____________ and a box prompts you with “OK” to signify the assignment has been created.

First impressions

Before getting students logged in, we discussed artificial intelligence and how it was used in the Socrates platform. Students were excited to get started. I was impressed by how quickly I could create accounts for my students and get them logged in. They were able to navigate the platform without my assistance and enjoyed having so many choices in which games to try first. Being able to track their progress and make adjustments so quickly is definitely a benefit of the Socrates platform.

If you have not yet tried it, I recommend getting started here. Socrates offers a 30-day free trial. I encourage you to try it out for the rest of the school year and see what students think and reflect on how it benefits learning now and through the summer.

For more information, see the blog, be sure to share your feedback and also follow Socrates on Twitter: @learnwithsocra1

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Learning at the Speed of You

In the spring, I like to explore new tools and ideas for use in my own classroom and for colleagues who want to try something new before the school year ends. Spring is the perfect time to try out teaching methods or tools that you perhaps did not have time for yet, or to find something that will keep students engaged through the end of the school year and maybe even to use to avoid the “summer slide.”

A few weeks ago, I came across Socrates, a learning platform also referred to as a “learning engine.” Socrates offers many valuable features for students and teachers, that make it a standout and I am looking forward to sharing its features, ideas to get started and tips over the next few weeks.

The story behind Socrates

I’m always interested in the people behind the product and learning about their motivation for designing something for educators and students. To learn more, I contacted Brian Rosenberg, the Co-Founder, and Chief Executive Officer, to gather some background information on the platform, to find out how it uses Artificial Intelligence, which is a key area of interest for me, and the types of resources available for students, teachers, parents and for homeschooling. The platform, created by Education Revolution, LLC has already received recognition several times this year. Socrates offers such distinct features, which makes it clear why it was endorsed by and received a grant from the National Science Foundation. Less than 5% of the companies are chosen, and Socrates, selected for its unique innovation and having a clear benefit to society was the first winner in Nevada in six years. More recently at the Magnet Schools Conference in Baltimore, Brian had a chance to share the vision of Socrates. He shared that the platform “was created to help provide equal access to students regardless of their socio-economic background.”

Impressive features

I scheduled a demo with Brian and was able to “experience” the platform from the perspective of a teacher and student. As Brian showed me the different components in the Teacher Dashboard, the analytics, and a variety of information available for teachers to use to guide instruction was impressive. One of the first things I consider is ease of navigating through the platform and whether the layout is visually engaging and rich in terms of content.

One aspect of Socrates that makes it unique is that it functions through the use of Artificial Intelligence and cloud computing, there is no IT setup and it can be used on any device. Socrates is fully automated and using the AI, it can quickly assess individual student or whole class needs, and then make adjustments in the learning path. While it the artificial intelligence allows it to automatically adjust for each student, it provides extensive tool for teachers to take over the learning experience and is designed to be a teacher assistant, not a teacher replacement According to Brian, there are 1300 categories of information with millions of questions, and it can adjust to particular topics as students progress, and goes question by question to make changes and create a unique learning path for each student.

Currently available content is Math and ELA (K-5) with Science about to release. During our recent conversation, Brian highlighted a “roadmap” for some updates and new features coming up in the platform over the next few months and at the beginning of 2020. There are plans to roll out activities for K-8 Science, grades 6-8 Math and Language Arts throughout the summer and early fall. Later this year and into early 2020, plans are in the works for Social Studies, ESL, high school Math, and even Test Prep. The number of resources currently available within Socrates is impressive, but with the additional features being added, it will provide an even more robust learning platform.

Socrates recently launched in Mexico, and therefore the teacher and student application is available in English or Spanish.

I will have the opportunity to explore the Socrates platform on my own and will take a closer look at each of the features, comparing it to other tools that have the same end goal as Socrates: providing students with a unique, individualized, learning path.

Experiencing the Power of Socrates

A few of the features that I will be looking at:

  • Dynamic Assessment: How the platform assesses students to find out the specific student needs.
  • Teacher Dashboard: Explore how to move students between classes, look at options available for each student, sorting of data
  • Weekly Reports: Look at the information available, ease of obtaining a snapshot of student progress
  • Command Center: Closer look at features and tools available.
  • Navigation of platform: Evaluate the learning curve for teachers and students, watch tutorial videos
  • Categories of Games: Explore the different categories, rewards, and badges available for students
  • Shop: Look at “cards” available to students, some examples are Greek Mythology, Presidents and more.

If you have been using Socrates, I would love to hear from you. If you have not yet tried it, I recommend getting started here. Socrates offers a 30-day free trial, and Brian encouraged teachers to try it out for the rest of the school year and said that their students can use it over the summer at no charge if they sign up before the end of the school year.

The classroom version: http://withsocrates.com/classroom/

***Coupon code is THRIVEinEDU2019. It can be used for the classroom edition or for the summer edition ($39.99 for the summer for teachers with summer school classes)

Connect with them on Social Media to keep informed of the great new features coming. Twitter is learnwithsocra1Facebook is learnwithsocrates

In Other Words, my new book is now available! Click here for more information on how to get a signed copy.

 

​​Storybird in the Foreign Language Classroom

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Updated from an original post on DefinedSTEM.

Technology creates many opportunities for teachers to provide innovative learning experiences for students. An even greater benefit is that these learning experiences can take place regardless of the time and place, and offer students more personalized opportunities for interacting with their peers and the content. With so many choices now available, sometimes deciding on a specific digital tool or a type of tool can present a challenge.

I am often asked about where a teacher should start when either implementing technology for the first time or creating a blended learning environment. What I suggest is to first think about some of the learning activities that are already being used in the classroom. What has seemed to work the best and what are some that possibly either take a lot of time to create or that don’t offer students a lot in the way of choices.

Another consideration is focusing on your goals and what you are hoping to accomplish by using technology. Is it to create an access point where students can ask questions, obtain class resources or interact with their peers? Or is it to provide students with different methods to practice the content and also to apply their learning in more authentic ways?

Here are four strategies for helping students to communicate, collaborate and create in the traditional learning space as well as beyond the classroom setting. By trying some of these ideas, you will see some positive changes that promote student voice, create more time for you to interact with and support students in learning, and it will help students to build digital citizenship skills as they learn to leverage the technology and navigate in the digital world.

Improve Communication Through Effective Technology Use

One way that I have used technology that has had a big impact in my classroom is by using a messaging tool. A few years ago I noticed a disconnect with students and the class, either they were absent and could not get materials or they had questions after the school day had ended. By using messaging apps, I can send reminders, answer student questions and provide feedback when students need it. You can also use some of these apps to connect with families as an alternative to email. There are a lot of options available and your choices will depend on the level and area you teach and whether your goal is to set up communication between students and you or with parents. I use Remind with students and parents, and BloomzApp is another option for creating a space to interact with parents. Either of these is good for providing students and parents with live feedback. It is easy to sign up for either of these using any device, and privacy and security are provided.

However,  I was recently looking at communication tools and thinking about promoting family engagement and came across ParentSquare before attending FETC in January. ParentSquare is more than simply a one-way communication tool. It is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. 

 

ParentSquare provides a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement.

Enhance Collaboration Through Digital Learning Spaces

By establishing a specific location for students to access class resources, find out about assignments, and to ask questions, we can provide the support that students need to be successful. Some of the ways that I have used Edmodo and Google Classroom are to curate and provide resources, post daily assignments or reminders, announce upcoming class events, and to be accessible for student questions. Depending on the platform you use, it is easy to update the site and it is also a good way to help parents stay informed of what is going on in the classroom. It can be a collaborative learning space for students to interact with their peers or to connect globally using additional digital tools that are all housed within one learning space.  Tools like Edmodo, a blogging site, Google Classroom or creating a standalone website will help to create a connection between you, the students, and their learning.

Foster Active Discussions

Sometimes you may want to have students brainstorm an idea, participate in a scavenger hunt, share a learning experience, or just respond to a question. While we can always use the traditional tools for this in class, sometimes we may want the discussion to go beyond the class time and space. I would recommend trying either Padlet or Synth. There are so many ways to use Padlet, that if you want students to post images, record audio, upload video, or simply respond to a question, it offers all of these options in one tool. Students have come up with some great ideas for using Padlet, such as building a digital portfolio, creating a multimedia presentation, or presenting their Project Based Learning. It is a versatile tool that many educators may already be using, but may not be aware of other innovative ways to use Padlet.

Also by using Synth, a tool for podcasting, educators can provide daily class updates, add links or resources to supplement what was done in class, and even interact with other students in classrooms around the world. It enables discussions to happen at any time and is an easy tool to use for promoting discussions and helping students to share ideas. There are many ways that these tools can also add to the organization in the classroom by providing written or verbal directions and ways to reinforce instruction.

 

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Enhance Visualizations and Presentations

Some students are visual learners and having tools which enable them to display different types of information and content, they will be able to retain the content in a more authentic and meaningful way as they create. Infographics are useful for so many class assignments and projects that are student created, but they are beneficial for teachers to create a course syllabus, make visuals for the classroom, or to create a flipped lesson and display all of the learning materials in one graphic. Beyond creating representations of learning, they are useful for sharing information and offering ways for students or parents to contact you or access class materials. Some of the options available are BunceeCanva, Piktochart, Smore, and Visme. It is always good practice to learn with and from the students, so try creating some new materials for your classroom as well. Perhaps create a class newsletter, or make some signs that will be useful for your learning space.

 

 

There are many ideas for how to expand the learning space and to set up different learning opportunities for students. These are just a few of the ideas that we have used and that have worked well in our classroom. Sometimes we just need to brainstorm a little or, if you want to find new ways to use some digital tools in your classroom, try asking your students. Students come up with really creative ideas and by involving them in some of the classroom decisions, they will feel more valued and have a more meaningful learning experience.

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 9.04.12 PM

Originally published on Getting Smart

 

Involving families in the education of our students is crucial to their success. Beyond just involving families, schools need to strive for family engagement and the creation of partnerships between school, home, and community. These partnerships, or connections between “stakeholders”, are important for promoting student well-being and success. When there is a greater focus on fostering more meaningful and personal connections, the school, community, and families can work together to provide the support, structure and make decisions for the benefit of student achievement.

Importance of Connecting

To promote family engagement, we must be intentional in learning about the families in our schools. It is important to make an initial connection, invite families in to engage in conversations and start to develop an awareness of each family’s needs, preferences and prior experiences in terms of involvement with the educational community. We should also explore any perceived or real barriers to family engagement. Recognizing some of the biggest barriers to family engagement will help schools to develop the most effective strategies to help families feel more connected to and supported by the school.

A survey of over 18,000 parents indicated some of the biggest barriers to family engagement were: time, lack of information, availability of childcare, and inconsistent treatment of students. Using this data, schools can develop specific strategies aimed at reducing and eliminating these barriers. Understanding the diverse needs of the families and students in our school system is crucial, as we always want to create a welcoming and supportive environment, one which should also be reflective of the educational setting for our students. A strong and collaborative home to school partnership has been shown to positively impact student performance as well as empower parents.

Communication between school and home has traditionally involved sending information in letter form, an email or by making a phone call. While these methods are still useful, they are not the best choices in terms of timeliness, especially when it comes to time-sensitive matters. Being able to connect and share school news and update families on student progress, in a timely manner, is vital to classrooms and fostering this sense of “community”. The sense of “community” comes from focusing on the building of family relationships, which are critical for student success in the classroom.

In a survey done by SpeakUp in 2015 (cited in Learning Transformed), 55% of the half million K-12 parents surveyed stated that they wanted a weekly text message with updates. The same survey given five years prior yielded a result of only 5% of parents interested in this form of communication. With the digital age and many options for communicating, it is not that surprising to see such an increase. However, before starting to use a certain messaging tool, teachers should first consider what might be the best way to connect with parents and how to provide access to the classroom resources which will support student growth. Sharing an initial survey can help educators can determine how to best establish a classroom presence and open channels of communication.

Connecting with Families

There are many ways to connect with parents. With technology, tasks such as sending class updates, assignment reminders, creating a calendar, sharing photos and distributing information are much easier. Knowing that families have mobile devices, does not guarantee that WI-FI access is available, and this is something that can be determined through the use of a survey.

In a recent Trends in Community Engagement report, written in partnership with Project Tomorrow, 30,000 parents expressed expectations for frequency and forms of communication. Among the key findings of this report were that parents want timely and impactful communication. While parents want to be kept informed, they do not want to be overwhelmed with a flood of information. The CDC created strategies to help schools build frameworks to promote family engagement. The focus is to “Connect, Engage, Sustain” families’ in the educational community. Schools can refer to the many resources with tips for promoting engagement. To get started, here are five different ways to “connect, engage and sustain” family involvement.

1) Communication Tools: By using social media tools such as Twitter or Instagram, school leaders, and classrooms can transmit messages quickly and with a far reach. Tools such as Remind, or BloomzApp enable teachers and parents to communicate and also share information quickly. Both options offer translation capabilities which promote digital equity and accessibility. ParentSquare, is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration and increase family engagement in schools. ParentSquare is for use in grades PreK-12, geared toward streamlining parent notifications, increasing participation and family engagement in the school community and more. It can be used by students, teachers, staff members, administrators, and parents, and it creates a virtual space where so many vital communications and interactions can be completed. By using these tools, teachers and parents communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed throughout the year.

2) Video Tools: Sharing news about student work, or creating a lesson for students to view outside of class, can be done with tools such as EducreationsFlipgrid, or Screencastify. Teachers can record videos of weekly announcements or special events, or even teach a lesson and share the links with parents, which will create a more supportive connection between home and school. Videos can also be a great way to have students share their learning, even creating a digital portfolio, or have families record video introductions to learn about one another.

3) Blogging/Class Webpage: Maintaining a classroom space in the form of a blog or a class website, can be done easily using tools like KidblogPadletEdmodo or other web-based learning platforms. When families know they can refer to one centralized location to obtain class updates, ask questions, or read about class events, it provides a more structured framework for engaging families in the daily activities of the school and fosters a greater connection between school and home. It also aids in resolving the barriers of time and lack of information, as families can refer to these spaces when convenient.

4) School and Community: There are a lot of possibilities for amplifying student learning by connecting with and sharing news of school events within the community itself. Social media can be one way of connecting, or simply by seeking out the local library and businesses to bring in real-world experiences for learning and to inform the community of the educational events going on at school. Invite the community into events such as Back to School nights, Open Houses or STEAM showcases, or hold a learning night for families. Any of these offer a good opportunity to meet and engage families in conversations and planning to impact student learning.

5) Family Activities: Finding ways to involve parents in the learning process can be a challenge. A good opportunity to co-learn is to take part in something called “Family Playlists”. A Family Playlist, devised by PowerMyLearning, basically has the student becoming the “teacher”. In their role as “teacher”, students share their knowledge with the family, who then provides feedback to the classroom teacher, as to how the student conveyed the information and their confidence in doing so. Trying this method is a good way to further involve families in the educational experience, leading to a greater understanding of the type of learning occurring in school as well as provide beneficial insight into a child’s progress. It also promotes ongoing and supportive collaboration between home and school.

There are many strategies that schools can use to keep families informed and involved. The key is to find a way to not only make an initial connection and build the “family to school” partnership but to engage families and continue to collaborate and grow together. These connections will lead to the creation of solid and supportive relationships between school and home, which will promote student achievement and enhance their sense of belonging.

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Sponsored Content, All opinions are my own

February 18, 2019

Learning and sharing through the world of AR

When I started creating with Metaverse, an augmented reality tool, a few years ago, I was immediately impressed with the potential for learning and the many possibilities for engaging students more in authentic learning “experiences.” More ways to move students from consumers to being the creators which is what we should strive to do in our classrooms. The first “experience” that I created took a bit longer than most because I chose to not explore any of the tutorials or the helpful resources available and instead opted to dive right in. Why? I thought it was better to experience possible struggles with figuring out how to create with Metaverse, similar to what students might face when they got started. As a teacher, I wanted to prepare myself to help them if and when they needed. What I noticed is that students were more than ready to create!

Over the past two years, students in my 8th grade STEAM classes have enjoyed creating with Metaverse and definitely figured it out much faster than I did. Being able to see their work, their creativity and then to enjoy testing their “experiences” has been very rewarding for several reasons. I have learned so much from them, it led to conversations about the importance of sharing struggles that we experience and to not be afraid to ask others (especially students) to help you. It even led to the addition of student tech assistants in my classes. There is so much to learn from students, and in addition to building technology skills and providing more immersive and engaging learning experiences for them, we empower students to become the leaders in our classroom. Developing their skills of problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking and pushing their curiosity will benefit them as they move through school and head into the future!

How does Metaverse promote student driven learning and choice?

It is important to offer students choices in learning and to step aside and encourage them to pursue knowledge on their own. With Metaverse, students can create fun experiences to share with their peers and have so many choices available to really make it an engaging way to learn. Regardless of content area or grade level, or even one’s role in education (why not create for teacher PD), there are thousands of new items to choose from and new features being added frequently. Students can spend a long time creating their storyboard or they can design an experience quickly, as Metaverse is user friendly, especially with the recent updates and addition of new features!

So many possibilities!

Students can find exactly what they need, create something meaningful and share their work with students in their class and even connect globally with other peers. Testing their experiences in class by scanning a QR code is quick, but what about if you want to keep all of the student projects in one space? Or even collaborate with other classrooms, either as part of project based learning or to connect globally? Students need to create for a purpose and sharing their work with others is very important. Sharing experiences can be overwhelming if you have the number of experiences being created like I do.(Students were so excited that they created extras on the weekends and sent them to me, to keep me from being bored while away from school! This is when you know that the tool is making a difference).

An important of student work is the ability to share it with others, to learn about one’s peers and enjoy learning together. Access to student work can be an issue, which is where Padlet helped initially, as a way to have students post their projects. But even this took time. I wanted to keep track of their work and have it accessible by students and teachers, as we collaborate by using Metaverse to engage all students in learning. Creating experiences with videos, 360 images and even portals, to immerse students in a world of learning right in their hands.

Explore the new Collections, now in beta release!

Wanting to be able to share and display the experiences created by students was very important and now, it is easier than ever for teachers to do. With the new “Collections,” now released in beta, teachers can manage student experiences, edit student work and easily share all of the experiences created in class! Why? Because it is easier to manage student work and save the experiences to use with other classes and even collaborate beyond your school.

To get started, simply create a “Collection” for your class and you can share the join code with students, or quickly add them from the experiences you have in your account.

Metaverse has so much potential as an instructional tool for teachers.

Why use Augmented Reality?

A popular topic at both FETC and TCEA was Augmented and Virtual Reality. Tools like Metaverse have tremendous potential to immerse students in a more authentic and purposeful learning adventure, by giving them more control in how they show learning and a hands-on experience. It is a fun platform to use in the classroom and benefits students by promoting student agency and increasing engagement in learning.

Collections create more opportunities for Interactive Learning Adventures

As educators, we want our students to have a learning “experience,” more than what the traditional methods of classroom instruction might offer. Finding time to create and explore can be a factor in deciding where to begin, but with Metaverse, it is easy to get started, especially when we let students take more control. We need to help students to embrace an opportunity to drive their learning. In doing this, we guide them toward a learning journey that will attach more meaning to the content, in a personalized and exciting way to learn, and above all, a more authentic experience. Teachers have access to collections where they can see, edit and share student work, track progress and help students as they create. Creating a collection is easy. Check it out here!

Many students learn more by doing, and when they have opportunities to engage in hands-on activities, it leads to more personalized experiences and student-driven learning. A world of learning that they create is right in their hands.

Some ideas to create with Metaverse

  1. A tour and a survey: Have students create an experience to introduce visitors to a town, retell a part of history, ask for input and preferences for travel. With all of the choices in items to add into Metaverse, thousands of unique possibilities exist.
  2. Just for fun: Sometimes the best way to get students involved is by only offering a few guidelines. Provide a number of scenes, type of questions to include, different features including GIFS, Google vision, polls and more. Each student can create something unique and meaningful to them, and then using collections, share it with the class. If access to devices is an issue, set up learning stations in the room.
  3. Book review and tales: Why not have students explain key parts of a book, or make up a story, and include images, videos, portals and more as part of the experience. Share it with other students, maybe even add in a poll, and then use the results to brainstorm new ideas and keep the discussion going. I

Technology tools for education provide enhanced ways to learn, to engage students and to empower them in learning. As teachers, we always want to focus on the “why” when making our decisions, and with Metaverse, the “why” is clear: student driven learning and the power of creating. Start your collections today and share student work!

 

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

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

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

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

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

1. Flipping and Blending with Videos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Discussion Beyond the School Day and Space

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

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

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

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

 

Originally published on Getting Smart,

Augmented (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are becoming more commonly used in our classrooms, with many new tools being added that promote more authentic and immersive learning experiences for students. As educators, we should welcome these unique tools because they can help with designing more authentic and innovative learning spaces, and are a means to transform “how” students are learning. We can take students on virtual trips and really open a world of opportunities for them to explore.

Why use AR and VR? These tools enable educators to provide powerful opportunities for students to do more than learn through videos or photos. Students can closely explore objects or places, in ways that the traditional tools of textbooks and videos cannot provide. Students have more control in how they are learning and interacting with the content. Through these augmented and virtual reality tools, we can bring never before possible learning experiences, such as travel and the use of holograms, to our students. These tools make it possible for students to travel anywhere around the world or into outer space even and explore these places more closely. Students can explore what they want and learn in a more immersive way, which helps to engage students more.

4 Tools to Try for AR/VR Explorations

1. Nearpod enables students to experience Virtual Reality through the use of 3D shapes, or go on a Virtual Field Trip powered by 360 cities. Nearpod became beneficial in my Spanish courses, because its immersive capability promotes global knowledge, helps to expand student comprehension of different perspectives and enables students to become immersed in a variety of environments. It has an extensive library of VR lessons ready for free download as well as additional ones available in the pro account. Using tools like Nearpod can help provide opportunities to really engage students in learning, be active, explore and have multiple options for assessing student learning and receiving timely feedback. Some recent additions to the VR library include College Tours, which are a great way to have students take a look at different colleges they might be interested in, without having to travel the distance to do so. Using these options, students can immerse in the campus and look around more closely, although it is not a complete replacement for being able to physically visit, it gives students the chance to explore many colleges from wherever they are. There are currently 43 different colleges represented in the collection, which include universities such as Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, Penn State, Tokyo and Vassar to name a few. A fun idea for these VR tours is to have students participate in a scavenger hunt, which will push them to really explore the sites and think through what they are seeing.

2. Google Expeditions is a free tool that teachers can use to take students on a field trip to virtually anywhere. It is an immersive app that can be downloaded using either Google Play or the App Store, that students view using their devices and a Google cardboard or other viewer. There are more than 800 virtual reality tours to choose from and 100 augmented reality tours. Some of the VR tours include famous locations, exploring career paths, and learning about global initiatives. With the recent addition of AR objects, students can now interact more with the objects by walking around and seeing it placed in their physical space. Teachers and students take on the roles of “Guide” and “Explorer” by being connected on the same network. Teachers can lead their explorers by following the script and guiding questions that are included within each tour, and can also opt to have the audio narration used with students as well.

With the augmented reality tours, teachers select the objects and tours to bring into the classroom, and students can then walk around and interact with the object as though it were in the classroom space. During the tours, pictures can point out specific locations or use some of the guiding questions to engage students more and conversation and promote curiosity and learning while they explore in this more immersive learning space.

3. Google Tour Builder is a great way for teachers and even students to be able to create their own tour for use in the classroom or connect with other classrooms globally. Through the creation of an interactive story or tour, students can better understand locations they are studying, explore a place of historical or cultural significance, or even narrate a trip that they have taken. It is easy to create and share a tour. Tours can include images and videos that you upload, as well as images selected from the Google Street View options. The tour can include descriptions and hyperlinks to extend the learning and add more resources for students. Originally Google Tour Builder was created for veterans to record the places where their military service took them and it has become a great tool to use to help people understand different locations and interact with multimedia formats. Students can even create a tour of their town to share with global penpals in order to broaden global connections and cultural awareness.

4. Skype can be a good way to connect classrooms globally and even involve students in problem-solving and critical thinking by using Mystery Skype. There are opportunities to set up a Mystery Skype as well as a Skype session with an expert, by connecting through Microsoft. Using this type of technology to bring in experts and to connect students with other classrooms can really add to the authenticity of the learning experience, and make it more meaningful for students. When students take part in a Mystery Skype, it promotes collaboration with their classmates, critical thinking as they try to uncover where the other classroom is located, problem-solving as they are working through the clues and the responses, and of course it is a fun activity to do that will likely promote social-emotional learning skills as well.

Activities to Engage Students Globally

Think about the tools you are currently using to amplify or facilitate student learning. What is making a difference in how, what and where students learn? Could one of these tools be used in place of something you are already using that only offers one-way interaction or a static image? The use of virtual field trips and augmented reality explorations can engage students more in learning and provide opportunities for them to move from consumers to creators.