#reflections

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One area that I’ve tried to focus on more in my teaching recently is collaboration, specifically how students collaborate with one another, and finding more ways to do this in class so that I can facilitate their learning.

I enjoy having students work together within the same class because I believe in the value of building relationships and establishing a positive classroom culture. I also know how effective it is to take advantage of the time in class for students to become more familiar with each other and to work together towards a common goal.

Understanding that not everything can be accomplished in a classroom is a big reason for this shift in my teaching–and this is where I believe that technology can be extraordinarily useful with a real sense of purpose.

The Tools Of Collaboration

I have been using various tools over the past few years which have really opened up the possibilities of how, when, and where students communicate and collaborate.

Our interactions are ​​no longer confined to being in the same classroom, let alone the same school. Collaboration can occur between students across the globe and does not have to be done synchronously. The nature of tools such as Padlet or Wikispaces for example allows students to collaborate on their own terms. Time and place don’t matter as much as purpose and connectivity.

Thinking Bigger

I recall driving home one day and trying to come up with innovative ways to have students create with the language.

I liked the idea of projects, but wanted something more than simply having every student completing an individual project on the same topic. Each of my Spanish courses were at a place where I thought it would be great for them to do a project and work through learning in their own authentic way, so I decided to go big and involve the students from levels 1 through 4 as part of a team project.

I didn’t have a clue how this would work, but it seemed worth figuring out. I hoped that something like this would bring students together and show them the power of technology for collaborating and putting a project like this together, so I gave it some thought and this is what I came up with: A cross-level, cross class team project.

Executing The Project In The Classroom

Here’s how it worked: Spanish IV students had been studying careers and planning for the future. Spanish III was focused on travel and preparing for a trip. Spanish II was learning vocabulary related to a community and and types of activities that one can do in a neighborhood. Spanish I was learning vocabulary for houses, chores and describing living arrangements.

Taking all of these themes into consideration, I decided that one student from Spanish IV would be the ‘Team leader,’ and their ‘mission’ would be finding a job to apply for in a Spanish speaking country with the idea of going to work abroad.

Their task was to create a collaborative space, whether that be by creating a Padlet or Google Slides or something else altogether, and share it with the other members of their ‘team.’

Team leaders also had to write a brief note to their Travel Agent, Community Specialist and Realtor (students from Spanish I, II, and III) to let them know their travel interests and needs they have for moving abroad. The team members would then take this information when creating their part of the project. Spanish III would then plan how their team leader was getting there.

To make it more fun, I included a requirement that each Team Leader wanted a chance to sightsee before starting work, so the Travel Agent’s task was to plan a two-day tour that would meet the interests of their client.

Spanish II would research the neighborhoods where the client would be living and let them know what types of services and businesses were available for their new community. Spanish I, with two members assigned to each team, had to prepare to real estate ads for the clients. Each group would take the information from the notes and try to cater to the needs of their client.

There was a tricky part to this which was that I had to be out of school for a period of time. I was not there to oversee the work, however I use messaging tools like Celly, Voxer, and edmodo to communicate. The biggest tool I used, though, was the concept of collaboration among students.

While I didn’t plan this wrinkle in the beginning, I started to see that I relied on them as much as they relied on me and one another.

Stepping Aside & Letting Students Work: The Outcome

I distributed list of teams to each student. I put the team list on the board and left a space for the team leaders to put their link and their notes or however they saw fit to share this information.

There were problems at first. Students said they did not have the link, or had the link but did not have access and a few other issues, all of which I had expected and told the students to send messages or leave a note on the board. Always plan for failure, and have a backup for your backup.

 

Ultimately, I wanted the students to practice the vocabulary in their respective Spanish classes, but I also wanted them to learn how to work towards a common goal and without having to be in the same physical space or during the same time. I wanted them to see what great resources are available through technology and how they can work as a team without being in the same place.

The team leaders had the opportunity to say whether or not they really liked what the group members had put together for them, and for me it gave me another opportunity to let the students be creative, independent, to decide whatever they wanted to in terms of this project and that’s very important.

Giving the students a choice in how they show what they know and can do with the material and being open to their ideas was crucial to the success of the project. When planning, keep in mind that even if things don’t turn out the way you had planned, if the critical objectives of the project are met (whether academic standard-based, soft-skill, or something else), then the project has to be considered successful.

While planning is important and leadership essential, the tighter you hold to your vision of things as a teacher, the less ownership students can take over their learning.

Previously Published on MARCH 9, 2017   Kidblog

hands-hand-book-readingBlogging helps develop critical skills students need. In addition to working on necessary skills for communication and mastering grammar, blogging boosts creativity, increases confidence in expressing thoughts and ideas, and encourages authenticity when students write with purpose. Blogging for increased social interaction in the classroom will also lead to a more positive learning environment and help students develop critical peer relationships and collaboration skills.

The prompts

I have focused on transforming my classroom from “teacher centered” to “student-centered” and, as a result, created a student-driven learning environment. Moving the direction of your classroom in this way can help students emerge from learners to leaders and become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses in writing. Writing prompts are often discouraged in blogging – hindering student creativity. However, there are ways to design prompts that increase student engagement, lead to more authentic and meaningful learning, and provide an opportunity for students to be in charge of their learning.

It is important to offer a varietyof prompts to reinforce student choice and voice in the classroom. Additionally, prompts that include a picture lead to a variety of creative and authentic responses, while also giving students ownership in learning. Not to mention, it is a fun way to practice their writing skills.

Something new I tried this year, in an effort to open up more options for student choice and authentic and meaningful learning, was to design a “let’s tell a story” prompt. My goal was to help students build their vocabulary and refine their writing skills by learning and applying new words outside of our textbook chapter theme. To do this, students in Spanish II read a short Spanish book and while reading, they were tasked with creating a list of unfamiliar vocabulary words in each chapter. These lists would become their personal “dictionary” of (ideally) 50 – 60 words. I wanted them to select words that they did not understand and incorporate these words within their stories. This provided an authentic method for the students to create with the language and practice their writing skills.

Co-creating a story

I decided to have students participate in writing a collaborative story. Using a theme similar to the reader, which was a story involving a student who solved a crime and helped to capture a thief, each student was to select a certain number of their words, and create a story of their own. Once a story had been created, we selected another student to continue the story using different words from their vocabulary “bank”. In the process, I would read each of the posts, provide feedback and keep my own lists of some of the most commonly selected words, so that I could later use these additional words for building vocabulary.

This was a fun way for students to collaborate with their peers and make learning more meaningful through their own choice and voice. It enabled students to work together, to provide support and to keep each other focused on the writing task. After all, collaborative skills are so important, especially for building vital classroom relationships and social interactions.

Overall, this activity was an engaging way for students to practice the language, increase opportunities to show their language skills, all while being the main driver in their learning. Giving students the chance to demonstrate what they know, in their own way, amplifies their learning and connects them with the subject content in a more personalized, meaningful way.

Kidblog

 

SNAPAs part of my ongoing realization that there is a lot of value in social media, especially for education, I had to acknowledge that Snapchat has more to offer than what I originally thought. I will be honest, I never really understood how Snapchat worked and thought it was something that only teenagers used, offering little more than fast  disappearing messages with funny pictures. I did not try to find anything out about it at all. I did not have an account or want one (same story as all of those other accounts I now have), but a friend (Chris Stengel) encouraged me to create an account so that he could send me some snaps or whatever they’re called.

I tried to give it some effort and explore. Fortunately because I learned about Voxer, through Facebook (this is rough), I joined a Snapchat! team through Voxer  (thank you Christy Cate). The team was set up to help others learn about using Snapchat, but I was still having difficulty. I could figure out how to take pictures and how to add on to them but I struggled with how to add contacts, open messages and reply. I even asked some of my students to help me out earlier this year, and maybe it was something with my phone, it is an Android which causes people to gasp sometimes, but even the students at one point could not point me in the right direction.

 

It was not until I learned about “book snaps” that I could see what a fun tool this could be in the educational world. When it comes to homework or practice, finding ways for students to do something that is authentic, fun and engaging can be challenging. Even though social media tools can be considered a distraction, especially in the classroom, when we find unique ways to use them for educational purposes, it makes a tremendous difference. The most interesting way I found was to use #booksnaps a la Tara Martin. (@taramartinedu) When I learned of this use I thought it was really quite cool, what a fun way to have students share their takeaways, find a quote or share anything while reading and then add some kind of a note or text to it and then share it with the rest of the class. Each student adding their own personal touch and using something that can make their learning more meaningful because it is connecting a tool they are familiar with and giving them the opportunity to use it for education and to have fun learning. A great way for teachers to learn more about their students based on each students’ booksnaps. (I got some #booksnaps with #spanishsnaps Spanish Booksnaps )

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Another great resource is the book Social Leadia by Jennifer Casa Todd (@jcasatodd) in which she shares different ways to use Snapchat in the classroom. Having these tools available, following the #booksnaps on Twitter and reading the ideas shared by Jennifer about integrating social media into the classroom and how to do so, expands the ways for students and teachers to learn.

I enjoy trying these tools, especially when I realize that I was so wrong about the value of them. As for Snapchat, I was quite pleased with myself when I did my first book snap and shared it with Rodney Turner (@techyturner) who I met through social media (Facebook and Voxer), and connected through those accounts that I had no interest in creating but I’m so thankful that I have today. My friends Mandy Froehlich (@Froehlichm) and Tisha Richmond (@Tishrich) have been encouraging me to join in the Sing Off with our Snapchat group. However, I am not much of a singer, so I have enjoyed recording random videos and changing the sound of my voice. But I have enjoyed listening to Rodney, Mandy and Tisha sing great songs and maybe, I might try it soon since I have been pretty actively using Snapchat for 24 hours as of now. I would rather sing with friends, Jaime Donally (@JaimeDonally) and Claudio Zavala (@ClaudioZavalaJr) with the #singasong on Flipgrid to have their support like at ISTE, but I may try the Snapchat Sing Off soon.

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#singasong

 

So once again I was wrong about social media. Now I see some of the ways that these tools can be brought into the classroom to expand learning opportunities for students and teachers, and really open up authentic ways for students to show what they know and can do with the material they are learning.

If you want some ideas for using Snapchat, check out Twitter, yes I said Twitter, another social media platform and the hashtag #booksnaps to see some great ideas and have some fun. Why not start the year having students use Snapchat to introduce themselves? Or share a fun fact or summer experience using Snapchat! I still have a lot to learn!

And for the record, they got me to sing, inspiration from their singing and the help of Lady Gaga, Sugarland, Pearl Jam, oh goodness 🙂 Thankfully the videos disappear….right?

 

And finally Periscope – up next!

 

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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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