Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

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Educators have busy schedules and one thing that I hear quite often is that there never seems to be enough time. We need time to plan for our classes, to complete different tasks required by our roles in education, and of course, most importantly is time to spend with our students. But in order to be at our best, we need to find time to take advantage of different learning opportunities to stay informed of best practices and emerging trends in education. We also need time to connect with other educators. It’s through these relationships and finding the right tools that we will grow personally and professionally, and bring our best selves into our classrooms each day. The challenge is not so much in finding resources, but rather in finding the most valuable ones that will fit into already busy schedules.

Personally, I stay involved in a lot of different ways so I can continue to build my professional knowledge and my connections with other educators around the world. Having chosen to spend many of my first years of teaching isolated, I missed a lot of opportunities to learn more, to do more, and to provide more for my students. A few years ago I made a shift to becoming a more connected educator by leveraging the technology available through social media. It has been an ongoing personal and professional transformation. Becoming connected has increased my awareness of the plethora of learning opportunities available for educators. I have changed my teaching methods, broadened my perspective of strategies and best practices in education and have more options for getting the support that I need to bring new ideas into my classroom.

Here are different ideas for ways to learn on any schedule. These options create a lot of possibilities for how, when, and where we can engage in professional development and become more connected educators. With the summer break coming for many educators, it can be the perfect time to explore new ideas.

Social Media

Over the past few years, there has definitely been an increase in the amount of social media used by educators for professional learning and networking. Depending on your level of comfort and how often you choose to interact, there are many ways to learn, crowdsource ideas and access different perspectives and people with different backgrounds and experiences.

  1. Twitter. Although I was hesitant for many years to create a Twitter account, once I did a few years ago, my Professional Learning Network (PLN) has continued to grow. Whether you have time to engage in a nightly or weekly Twitter chat or just follow one of the many hashtags related to education, there is something for everyone when it comes to Twitter. Do you have ideas and want to gather more? Create your own hashtag and use it to invite people to share their ideas with you. Post a poll to get quick feedback, find educators to follow and create a list to keep track of resources and ideas shared. In addition to hashtags, there are many chats and topics to follow. If you want to find educators to follow on Twitter, David Lockhart created a list of 100 educators to look into.
  2. Voxer. A walkie-talkie messaging app that promotes communication and collaboration. It’s easy to get started with and it provides a lot of different ways to add to your professional learning. Use it for somewhat asynchronous conversations with a colleague, create a small group to discuss specific topics such as blended learning, project-based learning or augmented and virtual reality. Using Voxer for a book study also works very well. It provides a great platform for talking about a book and sharing resources, without having to be in the same space at the same time. There are even groups on Voxer, you can search the list and join them. It’s nice to be able to listen to the messages on the way to or from school, perhaps during a lunch break, or while making time for a walk and self-care.
  3. Facebook. Initially used with friends and family as a way to share what’s happening in each other’s lives and maybe to reconnect to organize events like family or class reunions, Facebook is now used by a lot of educators. There are many educator accounts to follow as well as groups of educators to join.

Information Sharing

Sometimes it is easier to find the information that you need, especially information which is current and offers a lot of resources, by exploring the different digital forms of information such as books, blogs, and podcasts. Knowing that the information is credible, up-to-date, and provided by educators with experience, is what sets these options apart from other options.

1. Blogs are a quick way to get information from a variety of sources, especially when you look at different blogs available from publications such as Getting SmartEdSurgeTeachThoughtEdutopiaeSchoolNews and EdWeek to name a few. Searching the list of top education blogs to follow is helpful for finding specific topics, content areas, and grade levels, or even for opportunities to contribute to a blog.

Many educators have personal blogs which offer a lot of inspiration and share ideas and even struggles. You can browse through this list of educator blogs to follow. Some educators that I follow are Mandy FroehlichJennifer GonzalezEric SheningerKasey BellKristen NanMatt Miller, and David Lockhart.

2. Podcasts can be a great way to pass time when traveling to and from work, relaxing or even during exercise. Most podcasts are short enough that you can listen to an episode and pick up new ideas and inspiration. Over the past year, there has been an increase in the number of podcasts available to teachers, whether created by educational organizations or simply teachers wanting to share their experiences and inviting others to join in the conversation. Some that I regularly listen to and which have been recommended to me are: Edumatch Tweet and Talk, Jennifer Gonzalez (Cult of Pedagogy), Vicki Davis (Ten Minute Teacher), Will Deyamport (The Dr. Will Show, the Edupreneur), Barbara Bray (Rethink Learning), Brad Shreffler (Planning Period Podcast), Don Wettrick (StartEDUp),  Google Teacher TribeTeachers on Fire, Andrew Wheelock (Coffee with a Geek), Dan Kreiness (Leader of Learning), and Denis Sheeran (Instant Relevance Podcast).

3. Books. There are more educational books available for professional learning than ever before. It’s easy to find book recommendations by following specific hashtags on Twitter or looking at different curated lists of education books. For some book recommendations, I generally follow the hashtags #bookcampPD#PD4uandMe, and #Read4Fun, which are led by different educators. The Read4Fun group also shares books in a Voxer group. For a list of recommended books, ISTE crowdsourced recommendations last year and I also created a survey to gather ideas from educators. Some of the books mentioned on the list include: Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess, The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, Courageous Edventures by Jennie Magiera, Culturize by Jimmy Casas, LAUNCH by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf, Start with Why by Simon Sinek, Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, Take the L.E.A.P.  (Elisabeth Bostwick), and What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith. Many publishers have books coming out on an almost weekly basis it seems. Check into DBC ConsultingEduMatch PublishingIMpress and ISTE to explore more books available.

Online Learning Opportunities

When we leverage technology in a way that opens up powerful learning opportunities and pushes back the limits based on time and location constraints, we find innovative ways that we can learn.

4. Online Learning Communities. There are different learning communities to join in for professional development. As a Common-Sense Certified Educator, you have access to the newest tools and resources. By becoming Google Certified or a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, educators can enroll in learning modules, training sessions, and receive a digital badge for completion of each different module. Besides building PLN, these opportunities offer yet another way to learn on your schedule, in a time and place that meet your own needs.

5. Summits and Webinars. There are organizations that provide webinars for educators, many of which are offered free of charge or a minimal fee or are subscription-based. For example, if you take advantage of providers like EdWeekSimple K12, or ASCD there are webinars available on a variety of different topics that work with your schedule. As a member of ISTE, joining in any of the PLNs gives you access to a series of weekly webinars and sometimes even more than once per week depending on the PLN. These webinars can be viewed live or as recordings when most convenient to you. The topics are always current and in some cases cutting edge or emerging trends, so you can keep informed of new ideas and teaching strategies, better than you ever could before.

Throughout the year there are even online conferences, or “Summits” which provide a series of speakers and sessions, sometimes held over a multi-day format. These are offered free and in my own experience, have always provided a wealth of knowledge and resources. Personal favorites include the Ditch Summit hosted by Matt Miller, Hive Summit hosted by Michael Matera and EdCamp Voice on Voxer, started by Sarah Thomas of EduMatch.

It’s clear there are many options and resources available to educators for professional development. It simply takes thinking about an area you would like to learn more about, exploring one of the choices and giving it a try.

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

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

5 Ideas for Engaging Students

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

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

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

 

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.

 

I decided to give Podcasts a try, and by try, I mean do my own. I really started to learn more about how to create one by looking into Soundtrap to use with my students. But with the end of the year coming up so quickly and the mix of tests, changed schedules and other events, it just did not happen. So I decided to do my own, without any real direction to go in.

I have been a listener of podcasts for a while and have been fortunate to be a guest on some as well. Last year I was a guest on Vicki Davis’ show, which was an awesome surprise and great experience.. Dr. Will had me as a guest last spring and I had the opportunity to talk with Andrew Wheelock, Coffee With a Geek Podcast creator as well.

I have many friends who have podcasts and they are amazing, the sound, so professional and so well done. I know that I am not going to be at that level…at least not yet.  I have not found much time lately to write, and will also be very limited in writing in a few weeks once I have shoulder surgery, so I guess the time is now for me to try this podcast thing out.

It will be random, it is unnamed, and the episodes vary in length. I am and will always be a work in progress. Still learning as I go, definitely room to grow, but just excited to try something different, even though it is a bit scary.  It is one thing to put your words and ideas out there in writing, but another to speak openly through a podcast.

Episode 1 is here, very brief, very random, but hopefully will entertain, or give an idea, or even lead you to give me some feedback or even be a guest on my show, once I figure out how that works! Now if you want to listen, see if you can find the widget….

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