PLN

**this is a work in progress

Things on my mind: Self-awareness, Competition,  Failure, Focus

During the last couple of weeks as the school year was winding down, the demands on my time were increasing exponentially. While this may seem a bit exaggerated,  there really is no other way to describe it. Granted, I take a lot of extra things on personally and professionally, when most people meet me, they ask if I sleep. I do, some. So why do I, or educators take on so much? For me, the reason is because I truly am a lifelong learner. I don’t want to miss opportunities, especially when that might mean I miss out on creating opportunities for others.  I don’t want to say no to someone that needs my help, because I realize that for some people, asking for help required that they be vulnerable and step out of their comfort zone. So I will always try to help someone else, even if it means delaying my own goals or veering from some path that I am on. And I am good with that, but I also realize that there is only so much that I can do. 

 

Self-awareness

Being self-aware means you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, emotions, thoughts, and have a deeper understanding of what motivates you, at least this is my way of defining it. I can somewhat identify my strengths, but it is uncomfortable to openly admit my weaknesses.  I have no problem admitting mistakes and failures in front of my students. The more that I can do this with them, will help to dispel that misconception that failure is final. Personally or among friends, for me, admitting weakness is tough, but the first step in trying to improve is acknowledging that there is a something to improve upon.  I’m well aware that I have certain areas that I need to devote some time to in order to become more effective and consistent and possibly attain some level of balance. If balance is really a thing. Maybe it is because I set demands on myself that are too high or overly ambitious, but I have reached a point in my career and my life, where I feel I need to engage in activities that I am passionate about being involved in. Even while I was in law school,  my friends would often laugh at my ability to multitask and my methods of over-preparation for class. I did then what I try to discourage my own students from doing now. I would take notes on the computer, write notes on paper, listen to the lecture and grade papers all while sending text messages throughout the class. And somehow while doing all of that I still managed to answer a question when called upon. I survived the four years of teaching full-time and four nights a week of law school. When I think back and compare schedules of then and now I feel so much more out of balance now than I did back then. It just does not make sense. 

 

While this post has started off as random thoughts,  they do have a point, which will present itself sooner or later. (perhaps not even in this post, as I am between a few projects).  These random thoughts are my reflections, and how I become more self-aware. As some of my friends know, I tend to not sit and type but rather speak my thoughts into a document and then go back and revise and reflect in the process. It simply works for me and it makes me more productive, at least I think that it does.  We don’t need to make big gains each day, it is in the small wins, ongoing progress that we achieve more. Reading this post yesterday, reminded me of this fact.  I got away from reading the posts by Thomas Oppong, and this quote helped me through some of my reflections. “It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small gains on a daily basis.” 

But lately, I have not felt as productive as I would want to be. Yes I’ve made lists, checked items off as I completed them, kept up with email only to have two or three emails pop in as soon as one is sent. I have opened Voxer to find four or five hundred messages waiting and many other notifications from other forms of social media. So how does one find balance? How does one keep focus when surrounded by and consumed by so much “connectedness.” In the pursuit of learning, how much is enough and how much is too much?

What I mean is I think as educators we need to involve ourselves in a variety of learning possibilities. We no longer need to leave our homes to go out for professional development, nor be limited to that which we have at our schools. There are so many options available that meet our needs as far as goals and time and passions. But it seems that more and more time is consumed by social media like Voxer or Twitter, just for a few examples. Don’t get me wrong, these are tremendous tools for becoming a connected educator, for breaking away from the isolation that can happen. But how do we keep up with everything and everyone?  If you know, please share.

 

Competition

It is tough “keeping up” lately. I read a lot of blogs, books and stay active through Twitter and Voxer, and have a pretty good routine for keeping up-to-date with information. Reading has never been a problem for me. The area in which I need to improve is with my own writing. Some days I feel like I just can’t keep up. I feel like I’m falling behind, that I’m not meeting the goal, not pushing myself enough to accomplish things. But today I had a moment to pause and think, and it came after reading  some of the The Path to Serendipity , by Allyson Apsey and also “What School Could Be,” by Ted Dintersmith.  After reading these, it occurred to me that I am doing the exact same thing that I try to stop my students from doing which is push myself so hard, judge myself so critically, to the point where my desire to work and to get things done becomes consumed as soon as my eyes focus on that ever-growing list of goals. I put up a wall and that inner voice tells me that I will never get things done. The inner voice convinces me that I can’t, so I don’t even try.  And then I remember the quote  “the only thing standing in your way is you,” so I need to get out of my own way. 

My list is full of things which are not part of my daily work as a teacher, but rather tasks that I have voluntarily pushed myself into becoming a part of. Maybe it’s my fear of missing out, maybe it’s my drive to keep doing better, to keep pushing myself to do one more thing, take one more step, to see how much I can handle and how much I can learn. But in recognizing this, I realize that my students do this as well. I’ve seen them push themselves and worry that they won’t finish something in time, that they won’t get into the college that their parents want them to, that they won’t get the highest grade, that they won’t be as smart, as quick or as good as somebody else in the class.  Pressure.

How many times this year I have said to them “You don’t need to worry about anybody else. You only need to worry about yourself because you aren’t in competition with anyone else but yourself.”  I came across an anonymous quote a while ago that said “I’m in competition with no one but myself.” The power of this quote really hit me. These are the reminders that I give to my students, but yet are ones that I have failed to be cognizant of within myself.

In reading “Path to Serendipity”, so much of what Allyson says resonated with me, especially when thinking back to when I first started teaching. And in reading “What School Could Be,” I am thinking about the structure of school, the “game” of school and all of the pressure that exists. Pressure which is placed on students whether by the school system itself, the testing, parents, teachers or the students themselves. How do we break this cycle? Wanting the best for someone should be more about supporting them with whatever decision they make, and being there if they find out that it was not the best decision to be made. That’s the risk we take when we step out of our comfort zone, when we go against the grain and do something that is different, that may not be the traditional way to do something but it’s the way that we want, it’s personal to us, it’s our passion.

 

And I know I have derailed a bit in this, maybe more than a bit, but sometimes it’s good for me to just sit with my computer, and thanks to the voice to text, I can close my eyes and talk through what has been going through my mind, and then edit the writing. Lately it’s been that I just can’t get enough things completed. Countless presentations, proposals, webinars you name it, I am doing and experiencing the same thing that many other educators are experiencing as well. However the difference is that my perception of others is that there are no struggles. Blogs are being published, podcasts are being recorded, books are being written, speeches are being given, and my question is where do you find the time? How can I find a time? And I am so impressed and inspired by the work of my friends and my colleagues who share their stories and seem to have a lot of balance, but then again how do I really know? My perception is not necessarily their reality.

A good friend of mine Mandy Froehlich has written a book which just came out today, called “The Fire Within”, in which she shares personal stories as well as stories of educators who talk about the different struggles that they’ve gone through. We don’t often hear of the struggles and the negative experiences that we as educators may have, but there are a few things that I’m sure of. We need to start with relationships. We need to be open and vulnerable. We have to tell our stories. It is from these stories, whether they are stories of great innovations or epic failures, where we can connect and provide the inspirational redirection that someone else may greatly need. And while telling our story makes us vulnerable, there is great power in vulnerability. Vulnerability does not mean weakness, as defined by Brene Brown in her book “Daring Greatly”. It is “uncertainty,risk and emotional exposure.” My favorite quote from Brown is that vulnerability is “the courage to  show up and be seen even when you have no control over the outcome.” This quote is one I read last summer, and I kept in the back of my mind while preparing for different events in which I felt completely out of control. I didn’t think I had the courage and was ready to back down, but this served as a reminder to me that it was better to try and fail, than to never try at all. The interesting part about this book is that she came up with the title after reading a quote by Teddy Roosevelt from 1910, where he spoke about the man who enters into battle valiantly, and at best he has success and at worst he errs while daring greatly.

 

Focus

So there is nobody pushing me to get things done but me. Nobody adding more items to the list but myself. And there is nobody that I’m in competition with. I have to accept that I will accomplish the things that I need to accomplish in my own time and in my own way. Pushing the publish button on this was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’ve been thinking a lot and decided to put my thoughts out there. 

comfort

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Fun on the Riverwalk

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

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

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

Next post: Learning opportunities and things to consider

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This is the third part of a series on how I learned the value of social media platforms for becoming connected and professional development.  I was wrong.

LinkedIn

I have not been on the job search. I did not have an account with LinkedIn. If I were  seeking employment, I would go directly to classified ads or employment websites. As for LinkedIn, I had heard of it, but I had never used it. Last year I had several people ask me why I did not have an account, and honestly I really didn’t want another account with more notifications. I had not considered using it since I thought it was simply for people who were actively looking for employment or who were recruiters.

While all that is true and it is a platform and a means for people looking for and posting employment information. It is really quite a professional community similar to the other platforms for people to share information, to learn, grow and connect with one another. I think that depending on who you are, what you do and what you need, you could decide to have accounts with each of these platforms I have mentioned, or simply choose one of them and try it out for a period of time. You might really be surprised at what it adds to your personal and professional life. Constant stream of information available, learning potential and power for becoming more connected.

LinkedIn differs from the others in that even if you are not actively looking for employment, it is a way to display your professional appearance/ persona and show people what it is that you do, share your interests, highlight your skills, for a few uses. But beyond these “postings”, it is also a way for people to support you because they endorse you for these skills. I have been in conversations with mixed viewpoints on these features, but I guess the thing to remember is that not everyone will find the same value, benefit for these, the important thing is that there are choices available for people to make their own decisions about what works best for them .

To create an account or not….

Now some people have accounts with all three of these and the way they interact with each of them varies, depending on role/profession in society, you may be very active and share your information freely. Or you may be more private and use each one of these in a different manner. It’s just about choice and preferences. But what I like is that with any of these you can share with others who you are and what you are about. And maybe more importantly, you are available for supporting and adding to conversations, communities and more.

I enjoy having options available as a professional, finding the right balance between all of these can be tricky, but better to have choices than not. 🙂

 

Next up…Walkie Talkie??

voxer

Rachelle Dene Poth

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next up….Twitter!

Posted on TeachThought, January 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

Communication, Collaboration

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

1. Recap recap pioneer badge 2017 (1)

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

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

2. Voxervoxer

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

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

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

3. PadletPadletBlended

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

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

4. PiktochartPIKTODash

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

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

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

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

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

6. Nearpodnearpod4

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

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

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

7. FormativeGoForm

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

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

Join #formativechat on Monday nights

8. QuizizzQuizizz1

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

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

9. Buncee

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

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

10. Blendspace TES Teach

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

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

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

11. Storyboard ThatSToryboardCH

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

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

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

12. BloomzApp bloomz1

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

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

Conclusion

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

Posted by on September 7, 2016 .

Piktochart is the perfect example of a tool that can be used by anyone for almost anything. You can create flyers, brochures, presentations, and reports. It doesn’t matter what line of work you are in because any of the templates can be used by anybody.

For example, as a teacher, I can create posters for my classroom or presentations for my lessons. I can have my students use Piktochart to create projects for our class. Piktochart can be used for conveying information for professional development, to show evidence of learning, and so much more. I’ve even used it to create a birthday card for a friend. You can download the image, share it, or print it, and they always look amazing.

books-school-field-pencilIn addition, students have a tremendous amount of choice when it comes to creating with Piktochart. Even students who say they are not creative find that their creativity comes out once they get started.

I have some quotations that I plan to incorporate into a poster for my classroom, and by having so many design options within Piktochart, I know I can create something personal, vibrant, and visually engaging for my students. I feel confident that even though I’m not a designer, I can still create something that will stand out and make my students curious about how they might be able to create something similar.

You might think that these ideas won’t work for you because you don’t work in education, marketing, or design. But step back and think about all of the digital tools and resources out there.

While it’s helpful to know what their “intended” purpose is, that doesn’t mean it can’t also fit your specific needs. Sometimes all it takes is some creative thinking (and some trial and error), and you’ll find a way to make it work for you. Once you get started, the ideas keep coming.


Getting Started

It’s all about taking a step back and looking at the picture from a different angle. When I started using Piktochart two years ago, it was my first experience with infographics. I had only recently learned what an “infographic” was.

I really wasn’t sure what to create, so I decided to start with my course syllabus. I copied the content from a Word document, pasted it into the template, and added some different visually engaging images around the text. It was a great way to add some technology to my classroom and to introduce students to the concept and benefit of using infographics for presentations.

Then I realized I could have my students use Piktochart to create projects to tell me about themselves, to talk about their family, and for many other uses where I would have normally just used paper. From there, the ideas just kept coming.

brainstorm-idea-thoughtNot that they were always my own. Often the new ideas were brought on by seeing the work of my students, or I’d be inspired by a conversation with other educators at conferences. My ideas for using infographics in the classroom kept growing.

One of my best ideas came to me recently while I was attending ISTE in Denver. My presentation was about using Piktochart to create infographics and presentations. Our discussion focused on how engaging and interactive these creations can be, and it occurred to me that there’s absolutely no reason why you couldn’t use Piktochart to run a flipped classroom lesson or to lead someone through a process.

Simply choose a template and add your information, and you will have created a lesson for students in which you lead them step-by-step through a lesson in a visually engaging way. You can include your links to websites, embed video in it, add your images, and so much more.


My Classroom Lesson

While I was at ISTE, I began thinking about using Piktochart as a means to provide a flipped or blended learning experience through the use of an infographic.

In order to test the idea of what would be or could be a lesson, I created a lesson with activities in a document as I normally would. Then, I transferred the lesson into one of my favorite Piktochart templates.

I numbered the steps, and I included some of the links and all of the necessary information. I added some icons, changed the backgrounds, and altered the sizes of images and the colors of the backgrounds.

I’m going to test it out with my students and get their thoughts. I plan to have some students use the paper format and others use the infographic in order to gauge their responses to my flipped classroom experiment.

As a teacher, my purpose for creating something like this is to engage my students and provide more for them. I want to give them something visually appealing that adds to their learning experience. The impact that digital tools have on my students is very important to me, and I carefully select tools that will provide the most choices for them and that prove to be more meaningful and beneficial.

globes-school-lantern-learnTaking this concept a step further, I could also flip it again and have the students create their own lesson in the same way that I did. By doing this, students develop leadership skills and are empowered. They gain new perspective as the “teacher”. They get to be creative, and they drive their own learning.

The teacher then becomes the student, and he or she has the opportunity to learn and gain another perspective that will be beneficial to their role in the classroom. There are many options for using infographics like this. You just have to find what works best for you.


Limitless Technology

From a teacher’s perspective, I think that if you are looking for ways to flip your classroom or to make it more interesting and engaging, infographics (particularly ones you can create with Piktochart) are the way to go.

Even if you are not in the educational field, think of the documents that you have to create in your line of work. You can easily paste the information into one of the templates. You can add your own photography or logos, search for new images, add icons, change the font colors or the backgrounds, and so much more. It is very easy to do, and it just takes that first step to get started.

When it comes to technology, I’m starting to think that there really are no limits. There is something out there for everyone to use. And while it may not be apparent at first, give it a little bit of time. If you are not sure where to start, make a birthday card for a friend.

https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/15072511-spainlesson

#ISTE16 Takeaways Part 1: Let’s Talk About Relationships

By Rachelle Dene Poth

ISTE Takeaways

Let’s talk about the relationships (part 1 of a series)

Rachelle Dene Poth

ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) is a conference that draws in people from all over the world and all levels of education and technology. With an estimate of close to 20,000 people from 70 countries in attendance, this year’s conference was tremendous. An event so large but yet at times seems so small, when you find yourself running into the same people in different areas of such a large event space. It has so much to offer, that it is hard to do it justice by summarizing or simply writing about one aspect of it.  So I thought I would highlight a few of the biggest takeaways that I had, and ones which I gathered from others.

 

Going to ISTE? What can you expect?
There are a lot of discussions and questions leading up to the conference. For people attending for the first time, the most common questions are: What sessions should I choose? What type of clothing is appropriate? What items should I carry in my bag? What should I expect? What are the “must do” events? and many more questions like this.  Simply put, where do I begin?

I myself was a first-time attendee last year and had absolutely no idea what to expect.  I had been to many different conferences, but none as large as ISTE. I was nervous about not really knowing a lot of people there.  I was fortunate to have just gotten involved with PAECT (Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology) and two of the ISTE networks (MLN and Games & Sims).  Being involved with these organizations helped because I knew some people and had some events lined up, but I figured the chances of seeing them with all of our different schedules, were not too likely.

PAECT Friends

IMG_20160626_173826603_TOP-COLLAGE

I tried doing some research, asking questions on social media, reading through and studying the ISTE website to learn as much as I could. I think I studied the program multiple times every day, each week leading up to my travels to Philadelphia. I had a nice schedule planned out, my favorites marked and areas that I wanted to focus on, so it seemed like I was ready to go.  But as I quickly learned last year, and definitely felt the same this year, is that it really doesn’t matter what you decide to do, what schedule you set up to follow, whether or not you know anyone, because no matter what decision you make you can’t go wrong. Honestly. There are no “wrong” or “bad” choices because there are opportunities everywhere. Even if you have a schedule, it is really tough to stick to it. And if you are traveling alone for the first time, don’t worry about being alone. It is a place for building relationships and making connections above anything else. So if you want to learn what ISTE is about let me start by telling you about the relationships and why they matter.

(Photos from #iste2016 Twitter)

(Photo from TechieTeacherTalk @GUAMlovesAT)

 

It starts with relationships: The value of connections

I had to conquer a big fear this year: my fear of flying. Last year, I traveled by Amtrak to Philly, and it was no problem. I don’t mind traveling alone, I use the time to read, participate in Twitter chats, catch up on work, and enjoy the trip.  But this year, preparing to travel to Denver, with my fear of flying, something I have not done in 21 years, was a bit difficult.  I have avoided air travel, preferring to drive or take a train any distance. However with Colorado being a bit far of a drive, bus ride or travel by train, I was not left with much in the way of options. So that meant flying. Fortunately, I had a good friend providing me with the support to help me get to the airport, get on the plane and get to Denver without worry. At least not too much. I just kept thinking about the week ahead.

My support for the travels started with another conference.  Karyn and I met at a Keystone Technology Innovator Summit in Pennsylvania a few years ago. I was also fortunate that at Karyn had another friend traveling with us, Chris, so I had two amazing companions to ease my nerves and it really made a huge difference during the flight and throughout the conference.

Chris Stengel and Karyn Dobda

 

Relationships started through Social Media.  Now aside from the travel, another tremendous part of this experience was a group that originated on Facebook, educators connecting in an ISTE2016 group.  The group then transferred into a Voxer group created and led by Rodney Turner. We communicated in the weeks leading up to ISTE. Lots of conversation, lots of questions and more than anything a ton of inspiration and excitement fueled by the chatter, the shared experiences, the anticipation and even more so, motivation provided by the guidance of our named “Concierge Rodney.”

He started each day with a Vox, a countdown to ISTE, an inspiration and a story.  He brought a bunch of people together, a group of connected educators, who became friends, excited to meet F2F after developing these relationships. Becoming friends through technology. I could hardly wait to meet the members of this group, officially, because we had already learned so much about each other. And we even had t-shirts and stickers made for our group, thanks Mike Jaber.   

(Meeting in Bloggers Cafe, VoxUp)

And at conferences like ISTE, meeting your “Tweeps” and #eduheroes finally F2F is a possibility.  Even though we all feel like we already know each other, after many Twitter chats and social media interactions, it is nice to be together and talk (about technology) without the technology.

Sean Gaillard and Natalie Krayenvenger     (Photo from Katrina Keene)

 

First steps for ISTE

Having these core groups to connect with is something I highly recommend.  All it takes is one or two people and you can build your entire group, so at no point do you feel alone during the conference. One of Rodney’s messages was to be on the lookout for people you notice sitting alone. If you see someone sitting alone, go over and start a conversation, invite people to join you, be welcoming, and it worked. We had our “VoxUp” in the Bloggers Cafe on Sunday before the Keynote, and what a great experience that was.  There were lots of hugs, laughs, smiles and excitement.   This was truly a defining moment.  In looking around, people joined in this group, new connections were made, the excitement and power of this PLN was contagious.  All it took was joining in a group, taking that step and becoming part of something, and having a support system already in place.  Looking around the Bloggers Cafe, there were a lot of small groups of people, gathered to listen to the Keynote, take pictures, make new connections, network and just to absorb everything that was going on. No matter where you looked, you could see the energy and excitement. The energy was so high and it was just the starting point for what would be a phenomenal 3 day event.

 

So, what should your plan be?

Well, maybe the best plan is to not have a plan.  Maybe just have an idea. A focus.  Time goes by so quickly and the choices are so numerous that it can be overwhelming, especially for a first time attendee.  Not everybody can make the same decision about what would be the best session or event to attend. You have to make your own decision and even though there is comfort in going to a session with somebody you know, it is equally if not more beneficial to go your own way, interact with other educators and create new relationships.  You can then come back to that core group with new ideas and new friends, and you never know, it’s such a small world sometimes that you might all know the same people.  And by going to different sessions and different events, there are more stories and experiences to be shared. So the learning possibilities are even greater.  And friends made along the way become part of different groups but connected into one.
Having these different groups really added to the experience.  We shared ideas, attended events together, grabbed early coffees at Coffee Edu, and so much more. Even if you weren’t at ISTE, you could join in virtually and be a part of the ISTE community as well.  The idea behind attending conferences like ISTE is to make new connections, gain new knowledge, to grow professionally, and to explore.  I can’t think of a better way to start doing this than by focusing on relationships. It is where I start each school year and it is where I focus for conferences like ISTE.

(#coffeeEdu, Thanks Craig Yen for Periscoping for #notatiste)

(Mobile Megashare)

 

Share your thoughts and experiences and photos, we would love to hear from you! Next up, focus on some of the ISTE events and takeaways.

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

A couple of reasons why I love summer

Rachelle Dene Poth

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

Connections

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

Summer for educators

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

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

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

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

Our schedules

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

So back to why I love summer

Getting back to some of the reasons I love summer. Each summer gets better and better, and it’s not because I traveled and spent hours on beaches, or to the contrary, kept idle. It is because I have used the time to learn more, to read, to connect, to reflect and to prepare for the next year.  My summer goal is to work so I can start stronger and be better than I was the year before. This summer has been an unbelievable period of growth for me and I knew at the end of the school year that it would be exhausting but a well worth it kind of exhausting.

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

My summer recommendations

Some things that I think are important to do in the summer. I think you have to give yourself some freedom and flexibility with your schedule. So that means if you want to go to bed early and get out of bed late, that’s fine. If it means that you then spend the majority of your day working and reading, or doing nothing at all, that’s okay too. You have to make time for friends and family, connect with people that are important and that matter and that maybe throughout the school year you don’t have as many opportunities to spend time with. Once the school year starts, schedules become very hectic. That is the nice thing about being a teacher in some sense, is that your availability is more open in the summer but then again people with year-round jobs aren’t as available as you. You should find conferences or webinars, join in book studies or Voxer groups, or try connecting with some different learning communities. Get involved in a Twitter chat, whatever it is during the school year that just doesn’t seem to fit as part of your routine, make it part of your summer routine.

There are lots of opportunities out there and while there is not time for everything, there can be time for a little bit of everything. So decide what is best for you.  Do you want to be in one Voxer group or join one book study ? Then make that your focus. Or maybe you want to participate in writing tips for a blog or website. It’s up to you, because it is your time to decide how to spend your summer break.

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

 

Posted in the Edutopia Community Discussion

If you are looking for new ways to share information, or create a new sign for your classroom, or have students work on a project, then perhaps infographics is what you need.

Infographics are one of many options for presenting information in a vibrant, engaging way. There are many digital tools out there that can be used to create an infographic, and you may know of a few of these tools. If you have not heard of an infographic or you have not yet created one, then I hope I can provide some new information or ideas. And if you have been looking for a way to integrate technology into your classroom, or a quick and easy way to make a slight change in your classroom, then perhaps using one of the great web tools for creating an infographic is just what you need.

An infographic is something that I learned about two summers ago while participating in a weeklong technology conference. I had seen infographics before, but did not know the term and had no knowledge of any of the tools available for creating one. I was anxious to create my own and decided to start the new school year, by creating infographics for each class in place of printing a course syllabus. I used three different tools to create an infographic for each course and then posted them on our class website.

Creating an infographic is quite easy and there are so many templates and options available to include in your work. Making the change from a paper syllabus to an infographic is easy. Simply take the file that you already have and copy and paste your content into one of the many templates that are available, and then have some fun with it. Depending on which web tool you use,  I have used Piktochart, Canva and Smore, you have a variety of choices for the additional icons, images, and more that you can add into your infographic. The possibilities are endless for creating a diverse, vibrant, multi-media, engaging presentation for any kind of use.

So changing from my paper formatted syllabus over into an infographic was the first step that I took. I then decided to take it a few steps further and have my Spanish I students create an infographic to describe themselves. This was something I had them do each year, to practice the beginning vocabulary and to learn about them,  but it was a project usually done on paper. I gave them the choice of a few different tools, and provided my infographics as a model. But I left it up to the students to decide and to explore the options within each of these choices. There were no limits on what they could add into the presentation, nor requirements about which tool they should use. Some students even added some audio and video into their projects, something that cannot be done using the traditional paper format. The best part was how their individuality, interests, and creativity were expressed using infographics.

On a personal level, I enjoy using infographics for creating presentations for graduate course work, book studies, moderating Twitter chats, and even birthday cards and more. It’s a lot of fun to work with these tools and to see what you can create, and even better, what the students create.

** I always give my students choices as to which tool to use, they all have benefits and unique features.  It depends on what works best for our needs.

Suggestions: Piktochart, Visme, Canva, Smore    @piktochart @canva @smorepages

Pikto1

 

Thanks Adam Schoenbart  and The EduCal for the opportunity to share what a great event this was for everyone.

summerspark2016

The Summer Spark Experience

By Rachelle Dene Poth

What is the Summer Spark? In the words of lead organizer, Chuck Taft, it’s a conference with the goal to “set the the stage for all participants to innovate, collaborate, and connectate (Chuck’s word) and set the stage for exciting summer PD, renewed enthusiasm in the profession of teaching, and get fired up for their best ever year of teaching.” I can tell you that the Summer Spark delivered all of this and much more.

The Summer Spark was held at the University School of Milwaukee on June 13-14, 2016. I discovered the event through Twitter, and I am excited to share my Summer Spark experience from this year’s event.

A Great Start to Summer

If you are looking for a great way to kick off your summer learning, I highly recommend joining Summer Spark next year! Mark the dates on your calendar now: June 12th – 13th, 2017. Learn more about the event here and start planning your trip. No matter where you live, traveling to USM is well worth it!

It was two days full of learning opportunities which included keynotes, networking time, tracked sessions, workshops, unconferences, fabulous food and a ton of fun. The days included presentations led by authors including George Couros, Jason Bretzmann, Kenny Bosch, Shelley Burgess, Don Wettrick, Julie Smith, Michael Matera, Matt Miller, and Quinn Rollins. Each day kicked off with a fabulous keynote speech, inspiring all of those present to seek more opportunities for themselves and for their students and calling on all education professionals to take action and expand their learning possibilities. #USMSpark was trending, and Twitter was full of inspiring posts and pics to share the experience with those in attendance and people everywhere. Check out the Twitter feed for quotes, pics, and inspiration.

Summer Spark 2016 Begins!

It started with a welcome breakfast, which was fantastic, and time to meet and greet. For me, it was the opportunity to finally meet a friend in person and learn together in the same place, rather than learning virtually, as we had for the past few years. For many, it was an opportunity to reconnect with friends from last year’s conference, to meet “tweeps” face to face, and to make new friends as well. For everyone, it was the start of what would be an inspiring and invigorating two days of learning and growth. No matter where you looked, people were engaged in conversations, smiling, laughing, taking photos, posting tweets and having a lot of fun together.

The Summer Spark conference had sessions organized into strands for learning which would help attendees to select a particular learning topic and find sessions most relevant in their area of interest. There were so many opportunities for networking and personalized learning with the great offering of presentations, so many in fact it made it hard to narrow down to just one choice for each time slot. However, with so many opportunities to sit down and talk with one another, plus the availability of presentations and collaborative notes through the conference site, there were alternate methods of gaining new knowledge and ideas, even if you couldn’t attend all the sessions you wanted at the same time.

And at the end of Day 1, there were 25 teams racing against the clock in a Spark Treasure hunt, frantically trying to solve various puzzles and tasks, engage in “tomfoolery” to unlock the box. Congratulations to Team Typewriter! A thrilling end to the first day, fueled by innovation, collaboration, and “connectating.”

Day 2 was no different, kicking it off with another motivating keynote by Don Wettrick, with the message to “accept the challenge: I don’t care if you teach 20 years, just don’t teach the same year 20 times.” The keynote was followed by “unconferences” in the traditional EdCamp style, and attendees were called on to come to the front and pitch a session (which also gave you some extra tickets for those great raffle prizes). There were a lot of great topics ranging from alternate assessments to Google Classroom, infographics and interactive lessons, gamification, elementary apps, creating an innovative genius hour, getting started with Twitter, and so much more.

There were additional presentations before and after another tremendous lunch buffet, some trivia games and the day was rounded out with 90 minute workshops allowing for a deeper dive into the morning’s topics. It was a fantastic two day learning experience that drew to a close on Tuesday afternoon with the raffle and announcement of the dates for next year’s Summer Spark.

My Takeaways

It was such a phenomenal event, led by the host Chuck Taft and his team who provided everything and more that you could possibly want. The welcome, the students helping the attendees, the tech support, the staff and everyone at the school made this a truly outstanding experience for everyone. There were lots of highlights throughout the two days, new connections made, friends meeting face to face finally, and lots of fun and excitement.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend Summer Spark and be able to share some of my knowledge, but more importantly, to meet and learn from so many others. The trip from Pittsburgh was well worth it and I look forward to attending again next year. Conferences like this connect people, enable Twitter friends to meet face-to-face, or to make new friends and to walk away at the start of summer with some new ideas and new directions to go. I’m thankful to have left energized and excited for the future.

Thanks Chuck Taft and all of the Summer Spark conference planners for a truly amazing opportunity and I am honored to have been able to be a part of this experience.

Thoughts from Attendees

Here are some thoughts from other participants about their Summer Spark experience:

  • “The atmosphere was electric” (Nick Davis)
  • My brain won’t stop thinking about all of the amazing ideas I got from #USMSpark. I dreamt about it last night! (Neelie Barthenheier)
  • “Already going through withdrawals after a 7 hour drive home, missing the magic, excitement, and connectedness of the conference. I know the magic of being around so many teacher authors/ entrepreneurs was empowering“ (Dean Meyer)
  • “I was blown away by @USMSpark! Thank you so much for an amazing 2 days of learning and growing!” (Rebecca Gauthier)
  • “You knocked it out of the park! #USMSpark was a fabulous conference!” (Tisha Richmond)
  • “Truly humbling experience to be surrounded by so many passionate, visionary educators. I wouldn’t miss #USMSpark” (Brian Durst)
  • “Can’t say enough about the hard work, dedication, positive, encouraging, energizing nature of the the heart & soul of #USMSpark “ (Jason Bretzmann)
  • “A big thank you to a terrific host @Chucktaft at #USMSpark. So many new friends, ideas, and passion as a result” (Mike Jaber)
  • “So much learning and working together…this is what it’s about. Getting better so WE can make education better!” (Brit Francis)
  • “Wanted to make sure I told you how awesome #USMSpark was & loved meeting you in person! I’m excited about coming back next year :)” (Mandy Froehlich)
  • “Thank you for your passion, commitment, enthusiasm, & humor. Thanks for igniting the spark” (Yau-Jau Ku)
Learning Together Finally!
Thanks #usmspark!

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an attorney and earned her Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. Rachelle enjoys presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. She serves as the Communications Chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, a Member at Large for Games & Sims, and is the PAECT Historian. Additionally, Rachelle is a Common Sense Media Educator, Amazon Educator, WeVideo Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer and also participates in several other networks. She enjoys blogging and writing for Kidblog and is always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. Connect with Rachelle on Twitter @rdene915.