The Summer Spark experience

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.

New challenge in my classroom: Interactive Lessons

A New Challenge For My Classroom: Creating Interactive Video Lessons

 IMG_20160425_133159414
A New Challenge For My Classroom: Creating Interactive Video Lessons

Thank you Terry Heick and TeachThought for posting this on June 27, 2016

In my prior blog posts, I talked a lot about taking steps into integrating some type of technology into your classroom. I started with some general ideas about what you might consider and questions you might ask yourself to determine what might benefit your classroom.  Thinking about the best ways to help your students is the first step, and also an important way to focus on what you can do that will also benefit your practice as a teacher.

The underlying premise is that all involved have to take some sort of a risk. The teacher has to risk trying something different and new that perhaps is way off from the traditional practice of their classroom or perhaps it’s just a minor change in how they deliver instruction, with a learning target in mind. The students have to take a risk because they are the ones that will be using this new technology.  They will be trying a new tool, creating a project with a new presentation style, communicating and collaborating outside of the traditional classroom. And maybe even more importantly, stepping outside their comfort zone.

So it comes down to not only a change in thinking but also a willingness to expand one’s comfort zone and through collaboration, work on building something that can lead to many benefits for students and teachers in the learning environment.

The reason I decided on this topic is that while I have been talking about things I’ve been using in my classroom and how I got started, I also decided that I needed to branch out and try some new methods of delivering instruction. And even more important than my own risk in trying these things was the risk in getting the feedback from the students and learning what the impact was on them as well.

One of the things I love most about Twitter chats and reading blogs is that you get a lot of great ideas and feedback and I very much value the perspective of others.  So when trying something new in my classroom, I truly want to know what the students think about it. Did they like it? Did they have problems accessing it? Did it enhance their learning or did it take away from something that would have been more beneficial? In other words,  could it have been considered a total waste of valuable learning time.

Getting Started

A few months ago I decided to try Educanon (now Playposit). I have wanted to try it for a while, and since it was available as an app with Edmodo, I definitely wanted to try it with a group of my students. Over the past few years, I have been using some tools to flip my classroom and provide more blended learning experiences for my students.

In doing this, I also wanted a way to make them accountable for the activities that I was having them do outside of class. Without specific interactive tools, it can be difficult, aside from actually giving students a test or other assessment, to have proof that they watched a video; this was a risk for me.

I’m fortunate that my students are interested in learning new things and tolerant of the fact that I like to try new tools in our classroom and work to find a variety of engaging ways to help them learn. Playposit is integrated with several different Learning Management Systems, making that part easier.

I decided to take a small step and have Spanish II try it out first,  chose a YouTube video and created a lesson. There were some initial glitches, most of which occurred because students did not follow my instructions and I had to troubleshoot, however the feedback was very positive and the students really enjoyed it. Another area which was challenging for me was that I would not necessarily be able to answer their questions, because it was new to me as well.

I had researched and learned as much as I could before assigning the first “bulb” which is a lesson.  Other concerns I had were whether it would it be accessible to the students, would it indeed benefit their learning and how would they respond to yet another new tool.  My goal was to find another way to connect the learning and engage students, and even more, transform their roles from learners to leaders in the classroom.

How Does It Work?

It is very user friendly to create your own “bulb.”  You can select your video from YouTube, Vimeo, SchoolTube, TeacherTube, and Google Drive, and simply paste the URL into your lesson.  You then can add a variety of questions, discussion, audio, images, equations and more for your lesson, even explanations and descriptions. Once you are finished, assign the lesson and the students can begin.

There are a lot of choices for analytics to see how the students are progressing, their answer selections, see if any questions were skipped or that students found confusing, and look for trends across the class. Several ways to share the lesson, either by having students sign up, upload a roster, or have it integrated with your LMS.  There are diverse ways to create the lessons that will help to engage your students more and deliver lessons which provide more personalized learning experiences and give you the means to provide feedback to the students.

I have encouraged students to create presentations using tools like this, because I think it really helps them to learn the material, they can personalize it, it is interactive, they build on their technology skills, and they can see what it is like to be the teacher, to have the power to drive the learning in the classroom. Feeling valued and having input into the classroom, engages students more and enhances the learning opportunities for all.

As the teacher, I take part in their lesson and enjoy learning from them as well.

 

Conclusion

The nice thing about Playposit is that there are premade “bulbs” or public lessons already available, so if you don’t have a lot of time right now to build your own, take a look at what is already made and try it in your classroom. Talk to your students and see how they like it and how it impacts your learning environment.

There is nothing wrong with trying it out and seeing what others have done. Sharing leads to new ideas and it is all part of the growth process. The important thing is to just start somewhere, start small, and work your way up.  It may go really well and it may not go as hoped, but it is an opportunity to learn, expand skills and involve students in the process.

Listening to Student Voices: Piktochart

This is a story done about one of my students, after working with Piktochart and participating in their user story last year, thought hearing from students about the benefits of Piktochart and other tools in the classroom.  Thank you to Jacqueline Jensen and Piktochart for this great post, originally posted on Medium. 

User Story: Students Using Piktochart

In this user story, we talk with Dana Grover, a high school student in Pittsburgh, about how she uses Piktochart inside and outside the classroom, why she thinks visual storytelling is important for her generation, and her favorite EdTech tools.

The fast pace of technology advancement is affecting students outside andinside the classroom. At Piktochart, we often talk to teachers about how they are using Piktochart in the classroom. Uses range from creating a new visual take of the traditional syllabus to utilizing one of our 500 templates to quickly turn text-based material into engaging visuals for the classroom.

But we felt like we were missing an important voice in the conversation. What do students think about Piktochart? Do they think that visual storytelling is a trend that will stick for their generation?

Meet Dana Grover

Dana Grover lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is a student at Riverview High School.

“I am a theatre enthusiast who is involved with the marching and concert bands, orchestra, and chorus, along with the Spanish, drama, cinema, and Model United Nations clubs at Riverview,” she told me. “If someone were to look for me outside of school, they would find me in the kitchen, listening to my extensive music collection, or just relaxing.”

Dana first learned about Piktochart about a year ago. In fact, a big part of her discovery of Piktochart was thanks to her Spanish teacher, Rachelle Poth, who we profiled recently in our video user story series. Check out how Rachelle uses Piktochart in her classroom. Video on Youtube of User Story

Piktochart User Story — Rachelle Poth

“Technology is a big part of our Spanish curriculum,” said Dana. “We find new and interesting ways to use it, and showcase our knowledge through it. When I started taking Spanish, all of our projects had to be created using some sort of digital presentation application.”

Dana said when Ms. Poth discovered Piktochart as a tool for students to use to create their presentations, she was quick to share it with all of her students, “as she is prone to do with all great tools,” recalled Dana.

Dana said the way class projects are set up leads students to use new websites each time something is created. “So when I had already used Visme, Sway,Glogster, and others, I decided to try Piktochart,” she said.

“What made me want to explore Piktochart more was when my peers presented in class and I saw how organized and aesthetically pleasing their projects were,” Dana said.

When she thought about what she and her peers needed in an EdTech tool, Dana pointed to one must-have:

“We need to be able to express ourselves in creative ways. Piktochart lends itself to this perfectly,” said Dana.

“Everyone wants technology to be fast and easy to use,” she continued. “Teenagers want lots of choices when creating projects, because we are our own projects, and we want to be able to have choices and create ourselves in creative ways.”

Dana’s Work on Piktochart

When I asked Dana to share her favorite project on Piktochart with me, she was quick to point to an infographic she made about one of her favorite shows — HBO’s The Leftovers.

“Piktochart was the perfect tool to use for this project,” she said. “The Leftoversis such a good, well thought-out, creative show, and I needed a website that was going to be able to do it justice. I was really pleased with all of the options I had when making this project. I felt like I was able to create exactly what I had envisioned it to be, which is not the case for a lot of tools.”

Dana’s Tips and Tricks for Using Piktochart

Dana knows what’s it’s like being new to using Piktochart, so I was curious to hear some of her tips and tricks for newbies.

“The first thing I would show them would be text features, photo options, and background choices,” she said. “Not only are those the basics to creating an infographic, but Piktochart does a really nice job of making these features accessible, easy to use, and extensive in their range of creativity.”

Dana said that when she first started making infographics, she wanted to make the visual longer. The problem, she recalled, was that she couldn’t figure out how to add blocks to build on to her visual.

“It probably took me a good 10 minutes before I realized that when I had a block selected, in the upper left hand corner was a button to add more blocks,” she said. “And below, there is the option to re-size them, which is really helpful.”

For those who are new to using Piktochart, this is what Dana is talking about. This is how to add more blocks!

Dana told me she loves how many symbols, shapes, and colors can be put into visuals she creates using Piktochart.

“Lots of applications have options, but not nearly as many as Piktochart for creative purposes,” she said. “My presentations don’t have to be dry when I use Piktochart. Whatever I envision for my project, odds are I can create it with Piktochart.”

Dana’s Favorite EdTech Tools

When she’s not creating on Piktochart, Dana said she loves using Storybird. Storybird lets anyone make visual stories in seconds. The team curates artwork from illustrators and animators around the world and inspires writers of any age to turn those images into fresh stories.

“Storybird is another great website because it is fun to use and really simple,” said Dana. “I love that people are able to write their own stories and use professional artwork to accompany it. The best part is that you can order your story as a hard or soft cover book. Everyone who worked on it is cited — the author, the illustrator, and the website.”

Another tool in Dana’s toolbox is Sway. Sway, a digital storytelling app, was recently released by Microsoft and is part of Microsoft Office.

“Sway’s layout is very interesting, with options to make a beautiful cover page and online poster-style infographics,” explained Dana. “There are a lot of options on Sway when it comes to pictures, so when I created mine, I only used images from the website, which was really helpful to save time and citation effort.”


Looking for more ways to utilize Piktochart to make students excited in the classroom? Or maybe you’re looking for ways you can use infographics to make your next school assignment shine? Take a look at how teachers and students alike are using Piktochart in the classroom!

Student voices, learners become leaders

Empowering Students To Find The Best Resources For Them

May 23, 2016  – Shared on the Formative Community Forum

By Guest Author Rachelle Dene Poth

HS French and Spanish Teacher Rachelle Dene Poth argues for more student voice, choice, and leadership when finding the right materials for every student. One of her students, Cassy, a 9th grader in Spanish I, reflects on what she’s learned from that experience.

Resources Are Everywhere: Where Do We Start?

Teachers work hard to find diverse resources to help students learn. Supplemental materials can be found in textbooks and other resources, through a quick search online or implementation of teacher-created or student-made materials.  An online search will result in a tremendous list of resources which includes webpages, images, documents, videos, and other media formats for a teacher to choose from. It seems simple enough, but it really isn’t quite that simple.  The challenge is finding the right resource for each student.  Being able to do this requires more than just conducting a simple online search. It requires that we truly know our students and understand their needs. Students do not all respond the same way when it comes to learning and feedback and developing these relationships will help teachers to provide the best learning opportunities.  Finding something that will enable each student to have an opportunity to grow, receive personal feedback, to experience learning multiple ways, is something that teachers strive to provide for their student.

Choosing Tech Tools For Students Is A Good Starting Point…But What’s The Next Step?

Technology offers many ways for teachers to differentiate instruction through digital tools. The number of tools and the features available changes every day. Finding something that works for everyone may take a little bit of time, and it involves some risk taking, flexibility and reflection to truly find what works best for each student.  And while teachers are good at determining what might work best for their students, it is important to hear from the students themselves.  Asking the students directly what helps them to learn better, stay engaged, and feel challenged will enable teachers to differentiate instruction and provide appropriate opportunities for all students.  Student voice in how they learn and their opinion of tools used in the classroom offers the teacher valuable information and different perspectives.  So it is worthwhile to take the time to investigate some tools, ask the students to try new things and then see what they think.

Rachelle's students drawing a watermelon with our "Show Your Work" drawing tool!

Rachelle’s students drawing a watermelon with our “Show Your Work” drawing tool!

Give Them Choices And Let Them Lead

So I wanted to know, what do students get from the choices they are given? Does it make a difference?  What helps the students to learn?  A few years ago I started giving the students different options for how to complete a project or an assignment. Other times,  rather than assigning a worksheet for  homework, they had other options such as creating a game, participating in a classroom discussion online, or even the use of blogging, all which made learning more personalized and meaningful for each student. I value the feedback that I receive from the students and when I try something new, I always want to know what they think of it. In order to learn more about student needs, I decided to have one of my students become the teacher, create a lesson using Formative, and share their thoughts about the new experience and the benefits.

Student Perspective On Edtech: Cassy Becomes The Teacher

Cassie getting ready to show tech tools that help her learning "catapult".

Cassie getting ready to show tech tools that help her learning “catapult”.

Cassy: I believe technology is an important part of learning and is a great asset to teachers and to students. Technology allows students to have the freedom to choose how to do projects, homework assignments or other classroom activities. This freedom allows students to thrive and do the best they can. I know that I love the process of finding a new website, game, project or teaching tool that I can use to help my learning catapult. It is also fun to explore the possibilities of technology and what it offers me. I can be creative and innovative. Classes which integrate technology are completely different than those which do not, because they provide more opportunities for students to learn.
Formative is a great example of the infinite possibilities technology can offer students and teachers.Documents, websites, pictures, questions and drawings are integrated into this program which allows for differentiation and creativity in various ways. Also, many people can participate in one formative assignment. The teacher or creator of the formative can see individual responses and work with the student one on one and provide personal feedback. Formative creates an effective learning experience while keeping a fun atmosphere.
On May 16th, 2016, I participated with other students in the PAECT (Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology) student technology showcase, where students from Pennsylvania showed how they use technology to its fullest potential. I made my own Formative and allowed others to try it, and highlighted all of the different uses and how effective it is for education. I enjoyed sharing how a digital tool like Formative can provide different learning activities, enhance how students learn and how teachers can teach.

"Formative is a great example of the infinite possibilities technology can offer students and teachers."- Cassie

“Formative is a great example of the infinite possibilities technology can offer students and teachers.”- Cassie

Why Having Tech Available In The Classroom Matters

I feel that making students turn off their phones or computers is not fair and is not smart choice. Teachers do that for their benefit, not for the students. The current  generation of students is extremely involved and knowledgeable about technology. If all teachers could dive into the world of technology and understand its importance, significance and benefits, and then take the time to explore new ways to integrate some technology into class, it would make a huge difference in a student’s learning experience. I don’t know why more teachers don’t use technology to teach because it is a way to get the students more involved in the learning material.

What Do Students Want?

I want teachers to empower, engage and inspire me. I want teachers to give me the freedom to be creative while I am learning. I want teachers to make learning relevant to my time, and my life experience. Technology is the way to do that, to get students involved. It allows me to have my own voice and learn in the way that is best for me. I do not want to be held back from the infinite possibilities that technology offers any longer.

Student Voices: Listen To What They Say

Rachelle: It is clear that students have opinions about technology and its benefits.  Having choices in how to learn, being exposed to different learning tools and styles, and receiving feedback are all benefits of technology integration and ones which positively impact students.  When they have opportunities to work with technology and choose how they learn, including them in the conversation and asking for feedback empowers students even more. Since students are the group most affected by the technology used in the classroom, we need to hear what they have to say.

Staying strong to the end of the year! Thanks Teach Thought

treePSU

 

The Year Is Almost Over. Don’t Miss The Opportunities.

by Rachelle Dene Poth

As the final grading period sets in, it’s hard to not look forward to summer vacation, having days where we don’t have any particular place to be or tasks to attend to, but we have to remind ourselves to keep our focus, stay motivated, and keep up that momentum until the finish. Too many days can be lost as a result of changes in schedules, standardized testing or any number of things that can take away from the valuable class time at the end of the year. There are many factors that can lead students and teachers to lose momentum such as: nicer weather, school sports, school musicals and activities and the rounds of standardized tests.

Classes, teachers and students can be pulled into many different directions and finding ways to stay engaged, motivated and working right up until the end can be a challenge. I am not saying that I have all of the right answers but I decided to do things a little bit differently for the end of this school year.  I decided to take some risks.  I wanted to try some new things, give the students more control in the classroom, and see what happened.

What brought about this change of mind, change of plans and new perspective?

Lots of things. A combination of finishing out a two-and-a-half-year graduate program for a Master’s in instructional technology, getting involved at education/technology conferences and edcamps, and interacting with people having various roles in these areas and hearing some really great ideas. A lot of my inspiration came from seeing my students involved in a technology showcase and the pride that I felt while watching them taking the lead, advocating for technology use, interested in more opportunities, and my desire to make things better, more interesting and meaningful for them.

So taking a bit of time over the recent spring break, I thought about what had not been going so well, things I might like to try to change or improve upon. I referred to my list of different ideas and tools that I’ve wanted to try in my classroom, but did not have enough time. I wanted to try different ways of doing things I had always done, to see if it made an impact in the classroom. I figured that now was as good a time as any to integrate some new ideas, to seek student input and to change things up a bit.

I thought that the end of the year seemed like a decent time to do this because it could lead to creative and innovative way of trying things, different from how we had done things throughout the year.  And it would provide an opportunity for reflecting over the summer break.

Sometimes change is good and the benefits are seen quickly and sometimes they are not. Worst case scenario in my mind was that the changes I would make and the different methods for enhancing student learning and interactions in class would not end up as I or the students hoped, but in the end, it’s all about learning and growing. And then figuring out what the next steps should be and starting from there. It is about taking risks, evaluating, reflecting and then moving forward. But there has to be a first step.

So if you find yourself feeling like this.  If you are seeking a way to help the students hang in there for the final stretch of the school year or to keep yourself going as well, think about trying something different, that has been on your list. Maybe it is a new classroom setup, or trying a different tool, or some other activity, that will give you just enough time to get some experience, involve the students in the decisions and get their feedback.

Having this information at the end the year can provide some really valuable information, leading you to reflect over the summer. Perhaps you will start off the new school year with these ideas. Worst case scenario is that it doesn’t go as you or the students had planned, and so you use that information to reflect and grow and plan something different or better for the future.

Starting with change number one.

I had a day to think about where I wanted to start.  Was it a specific activity? Or should I try a new tool in class? After some thought, it ended up being the same way I started the school year, creating a new learning space.

I am always trying new ideas, activities, tools and more now with my classes than I have never done before.  In some cases it’s trying out a new idea that I just thought up right before they came in, and in other cases it’s integrating a tool that we had used before, but because of lack of time, did not have opportunities to use recently. Regardless of what you decide, it will be something new and different and just might be that extra spark that you and your students need to stay strong to the finish.

I can give you some examples that have been working for me but again, it’s what you need and what’s best for your students. I will share some additional ideas and how they went in my next post but here are a few simple ideas to consider if the learning space is an area you would like to change.

Can you change around your learning space?  Can students be paired up and then rotate seats every so many days so they have a new partner to work with?  Does your classroom lend itself to movement and flexibility?

I changed the arrangement of my classroom so students would be seated across from each other. I wrote numbers on cards and the day they came to class, I gave each student a number written in Spanish.  They had to put themselves in numerical order and then starting with one, were able to go in and select their seat.  It was a fun activity and the students were really excited about the opportunity to choose their seat and the different setup.  I was nervous because I was not sure how it would all work, but I was willing to give it a try.

So, what happened?

I used the new arrangement as a way to have students work with peers more in cooperative learning activities during class.  This has had many benefits. I am still working through it, but my students like the arrangement and sharing the role of teacher and having opportunities to collaborate more in class.  I had them take on various roles and complete different activities with their partners over the first week. Sometimes it was seated in their group, others it was combining with another group, and a few times we did gallery walks with activities and stations in the classroom.

These are just the first in a series of changes/new ideas that I started with and I will admit, I was a bit hesitant and nervous at first because I did not feel as in control.  I can tell you that each class reacted differently and some reactions initially to the new seats, new methods were not all positive.

So I took this as an opportunity to ask my students for their input, whether in conversations, in writing, or surveys.   I had to set up some expectations and let them know that it was a risk and that it might need adjustments along the way.  After a few days, it worked out and the students have said how much they are enjoying this new experience. And I’ve noticed less students looking at the clock and less counting down the days to the end of school.

As a facilitator more with this arrangement, I have been able to interact more with them, answer individual questions, assess their needs more regularly, and continue to work on the relationships.  So I take these as good signs and what’s even better is that they seem to be making more progress with the material which is an area that is quite difficult for students in Spanish II to master.

So this is an evolving process and I would love to keep you up-to-date to where it goes for the rest of the year. So I leave you with this: think of a class or classes that you have, in which it seems like students need a little something extra.  Find a spark.  Ask them what could help them to learn better, make things more exciting, and then just try something.

Get them up and moving, mix it up, whatever you do it will be new and different and hopefully keep everyone going strong. And don’t give up too soon, give it some time and see what happens.

The Year Is Almost Over. Don’t Miss The Opportunities.; image attribution flickr user vexrobotics

Blendspace: How it can benefit your classroom

What Is Blendspace?

 Thanks to Terry Heick and TeachThought for publishing this today.

What Is Blendspace? Using Blendspace In The Classroom

by Rachelle Dene Poth

In my prior two posts, I talked about the way I started to gradually work toward integrating more technology into my classroom.

I focused on what I thought was an area that could use some improvement, and found that there was a disconnect occurring.  I needed a better way to communicate and collaborate with my students and for them to access help when they needed it and the resources that would help them to be successful.  So for me I started with Celly (a messaging app) and once I felt comfortable, integrated Edmodo as our classroom LMS.

BLEND

Once I felt like these were having a positive impact on my classroom, which came in the form of solving problems of lost papers, forgotten assignments, and missed learning opportunities due to class absences.  I began searching for another way to make some improvements and found a tool called Blendspace.

Change takes time, there is no doubt, but we must persist when we take on any new venture. Sometimes it can take longer than we like because we run into difficulties and roadblocks.  In the search for answers to your initial questions, new questions arise, And that is the nature of the game. it becomes an ongoing cycle which helps in the promotion of goal setting and growth as teachers.

How Does Blendspace Fit?

Blendspace is a tool that provides many possibilities and initially I used it as a method of curating resources and flipping my classroom. There are similar tools available, and regardless of which you choose, having one place to keep your resources is a really great idea. So how do you make the decision of which to rely on?

Looking at sites such as Graphite or EdShelf can help. Reading blogs and participating in Twitter chats are also great ways to find out what others are using and their thoughts.  For example, using something like Graphite or EdShelf, you can get a summary of the uses of a web tool, read the reviews and stories about user experiences. Hearing about how other educators are using tools like Blendspace is tremendously helpful when deciding on what tool to integrate into your classroom.

3 Ways To Use Blendspace In The Classroom

1. Flip Your Classroom

I like Blendspace because it really does provide a variety of benefits to me both personally and professionally.  It can be used as a way to flip the classroom and to save that vital classroom time for student interactions, engaging activities, or having students work independently while teachers facilitate their activities and provide feedback one-on-one.

Blendspace can be used to create a lesson using the TES Resources tab, then shared with students through their class account or through a direct link. Regardless of how the lesson is shared, students have access to many resources and can learn asynchronously outside of the classroom, on their own schedule, using whatever device they choose.

This means that, in ideal circumstances, learning can take place anywhere at any time. The choice is the students’ and that’s the great thing about technology and the usefulness of tools like Blendspace. It can also be used to store favorite web tools, presentations, or one’s personal work. It makes it easier to share ideas with colleagues, and organized teaching and learning materials with students.

BlendspacesSpanish5A

2. Present Student Work In Class

Blendspace is a way to avoid fumbling with flash drives, losing valuable class time opening emails and attachments.  All of the student projects can be added by their URL or uploaded into one lesson, given it a title, and in class, only one lesson has to be opened to display the student work for the class to enjoy.

FOODSImage

3. Build A Lesson

Building a lesson for any level or discipline is easy with Blendspace. Simply choose your topic and by using the TES Resource tools provided such as Google Search, Educreations, Google Drive, Dropbox, uploads from your computer, and more, you can quickly build a lesson.  All it takes is finding the resource and dragging it into place in your lesson.

You can add boxes, move items around, and no matter what you do it is done quickly. It really is a great way to share information, keep track of projects, and so much more. These are just some of the reasons why I am really happy that I found Blendspace and how its use has benefited my classroom. I recommend checking it out if you have not, and letting me know in the comments below what your experience was!

BlendspaceLessonCreation

Recent Blog posted on VISME: Visual Storytelling in the Classroom

Thanks again to Payman Taei and Nayomi for publishing my recent post.

visual-storytelling-in-the-classroom-1024x590

Posted on January 29, 2016 by Rachelle Poth

How to Use Visual Storytelling in the Classroom

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/visual-storytelling-in-the-classroom-1024×590.jpg

Everybody loves a good story. Whether it is a story you are reading in print, hearing firsthand or retold by another, each unfolds in creative and engaging ways. What all of these have in common is that they are created and presented in a way that is unique and meant to engage the audience.

By infusing one’s personality, individuality and creativity into the story being told, the story takes on a new life. Everyone can have similar experiences; our interpretations of them, however, are unique. Through digital tools, we have numerous possibilities for bringing these interpretations to life.

In the classroom, storytelling occurs on a daily basis. The content delivered to and interpreted by the students is a story. How teachers choose to deliver the content, their presentation style and tools used, can make all the difference in the learning that occurs in the classroom.

The way that students interpret the instruction and show their understanding can be accomplished in so many unique ways. It can come in the form of assessments, the sharing of experiences that spontaneously arise during the lesson or through interpretation of a class discussion or sharing of projects.

These are the same possibilities that can occur in any area of life, stemming from our interactions with one another and our efforts to express a thought, feeling or experience.

 

Designing your story

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/16.jpg

1In years past, these stories, essays, reflections and authentic creations were shared using paper and other supplies to create a visual representation.

Today, these options still exist and lead to enhanced student engagement and encourage their creativity. But we now have an abundance of digital tools that can provide these same benefits and also help develop vital technology skills required in today’s world.

Having been on both sides, a teacher and a student, I find that I like working with new presentation creation tools. They give me a greater variety of options and, more importantly, the choice of how to best express my thoughts. I appreciate the variety of choices these tools afford to individuals like me, who are not very artistic, and how they enable us to breathe life into our stories.

 

Project possibilities

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/32.jpg

3I have always liked having possibilities and the freedom to search for tools that meet my needs and interests. I value this freedom of choice greatly for my students as well. Deciding to move toward more personalized instructional opportunities was one of the greatest changes in my classroom that has led to truly amazing benefits for my students as well as for my own professional growth.

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/21.jpg

2One of the reasons I look forward to students’ projects is that by giving them a choice in the type of tool to use, I learn a lot about their interests. They have the freedom to find something that engages them and lets them be creative in their own way. They can express their individuality and in the process of learning and showing what they know and can do, they have fun.

 

Great examples for storytelling

There are so many choices available for students to create a digital story. For example, as a foreign language teacher, we cover a lot of themes in our courses. I enjoy having my students complete projects to show what they have learned, but I prefer they select their own method of presentation.

A few great ways to incorporate visuals through web tools are to have students design a brochure advertising a store or another similar concept covered in class. With so many add-ons available in the template choices, students can create almost anything. I have had students describe their daily routine using visuals, ranging from infographics with a timeline to comics, animated cartoons and much more.

How can students tell their story?

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/42.jpg

4

In my classroom, students often complete a variety of themed projects. Some examples include creating a restaurant scene, a menu, a self-description, a narrative about one’s daily routine and preparing for a special event.

There are so many possibilities for students to create a visual representation of these topics. In addition to working individually, students can work collaboratively on things like the creation of a travel agency or on a food and recipe project; or they can create websites, videos, animated presentations and more.

While the instructions and the rubric for each of these projects are always the same and have the same requirements, it does not make a difference to me how the students choose to convey their information. There are times when I may give them a choice between four or five specific tools for creating an infographic because that is the format that I prefer and a skill I would like them to be able to have.

However, there are also many times when I will give them 20 or more choices–ranging from infographics to cartoons, comics, videos and more–because I want them to feel free to express themselves in a way that meets their needs and interests.

 

Examples from my classroom

To give a few examples, in Spanish I, students created infographics to talk about their school schedule and were able to use the various icons, font styles and templates to bring their schedule presentation to life. They also created their own menu for a restaurant and had the same capabilities, regardless of which tool they chose to use.

In Spanish II, where the presentations take on more of a narrative and a lengthier description, some of their work includes describing a daily routine or shopping excursion, and with the newer digital tools available, they can add audio, video and choose from a range of icons and other art that is included; they do not have to worry as much about citing their images because it is an all-inclusive tool.

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/visme-interface-screenshot.jpg

visme interface screenshotStudents have also described their city or a city they would like to live in using a cartoon character or an animated comic strip. They have also created videos using their camera and a tool that helps them edit and combine it into a finished product.

In the upper level Spanish courses, where we focus more on communication and collaboration, students have worked together on telling a story using Wikispaces and Kidblog and shared accounts with something like GoAnimate to create videos. It really does help to engage them, and it definitely makes the learning experience more meaningful because they can recall how they chose to portray the information in their own personalized way.

 

How can this benefit your classroom?

So, if you have a project in mind, think about what the requirements are and how have you assigned the project in the past. What really matters is, “what do you want the students to show you that they know and can do with material that has been covered.” Then think about what has been your traditional way of having the students create something. Do you feel, when you look at their final product, that they are mostly all the same? If so, then using one of the digital tools available is your answer.

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/5.jpg

5Try this: Keep the same requirements but give the students some choices by offering a variety a presentation tools and let them teach you some new things about technology. Also, let them drive their learning, become more engaged and as a result inspire others to do the same.

One thing I have noticed when projects are shared is that in each of the classes, students enjoy seeing each other’s work and having a choice. Another benefit is the relationships that form. Of course, they can go to their teacher, but they can also go to their peers and receive guidance when trying some new presentation tool.

Sometimes students fear new things and are afraid of taking a risk, but experiences that are diverse like this truly help to support students. Digital storytelling encourages creativity; having that choice inspires curiosity and will help to diminish the fear of trying something new.

And finally, it brings a lot of extra diversity and excitement into the classroom. As teachers, we benefit from the extra learning opportunities provided by these tools as well.

Read more at http://blog.visme.co/visual-storytelling-classroom/#xk1rvEGYWugIskuS.99