6 Must Haves for School Districts to be Successful in Remote and Hybrid Learning

Guest post by Stephanie Burroughs (@BurroughsEDk12)

For this school year to be successful, we have to take the 40,000 foot view and make sure we have the systems and structures in place to help all students, teachers, administrators, and community members work together to support student learning. 

Whether your district is beginning the school year fully in-person, remotely, or in a hybrid learning model, there were clear concerns over approaches to emergency learning in the spring that we should be fixing no matter what school will look like for your district. Below are six ideas that K-12 districts should be planning for: 

1. Train your students to LEARN online 

It’s not just about technology training. We should be prioritizing executive functioning in the same way that we are prioritizing learning padlet and flipgrid. What we got wrong in emergency learning is creating a massive tech learning curve for our students. Over-stimulating students with log-ins to platforms instead of focusing on student-centered discourse, consistent workflows, and modes of communication would be a mistake moving forward. 

Learning online requires more initiative and better time management. In a US News article for college students they discuss the need for improved communication and self-discipline in order for students to be successful in an online environment. K-12 schools are beginning to acknowledge their role in on-boarding students, with one district releasing plans that prioritize student training prior to shifting to fully remote.

Advice: Give students a learning coach, a teacher in the building that checks in with them each week to assist with managing their assignments and advise them on communication with their teachers.  

2. Have Open House early and virtually

​Supporting student on-boarding is only the first step in ensuring a smooth roll-out of learning expectations. We must remember that families are partners in learning and get them in the loop early. When emergency learning rolled out, parents were overwhelmed with taking on their child’s learning and it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Parents need to know how this is all going to work. Answering these questions for parents at an early open house will help parents act as allies in learning:

  • How can I prepare my child for an online class? 
  • How will teachers communicate expectations and how can I stay in the loop on my child’s learning?
  • When will I be able to check-in with teachers on my child’s progress?
  • What is a reasonable amount of time for asynchronous work?
  • What strategies can I support my child with in communicating with teachers and knowing when/how to get help?

Advice: Give parents a cheatsheet newsletter that clearly defines workflows and expectations for their child, including the technology students will need to be using and all the ways their child can get support. 

3. Train your teachers to teach online 

I earned a doctorate online at the University of Southern California and we used 3 tech tools: G-Suite, a Learner Management System, and Zoom. My classes were engaging, rich discussions with clear expectations for learning. There is no reason why we should be exhausting our teachers with learning every technology platform they can get their hands on. Instead, we should be focusing our professional learning time on modeling online pedagogy and creating workflows that maximize engagement while minimizing the technology learning curve. 

In my post on learning online, I highlight the need for student-friendly online learning and identify the following action items for teachers:

  • Front-load student learning – Let asynchronous work act as a springboard for live class discussions
  • Begin class with a quick check for understanding – Keep it simple and let students warm-up to engaging in an online environment
  • Prepare templates for group work ahead of time – It will help students focus and help teachers keep track of the progress of small group work
  • Share your slides, make your expectations clear – It helps your students focus and aids them in processing important information
  • Make caring a part of your routine – Let checking in on how your students are feeling be a routine in your classroom

​Advice: Give teachers permission to keep technology tools simple, support them with distance learning pedagogy first.  

​4. Embrace virtual parent conferences 

It was always bizarre to me that a common practice for parent-teacher conferences was a 15 minute time slot in the middle of your workday. Virtual parent teacher conferences will enable more families to engage in conferences, but it will also allow districts to schedule time for conferences with more flexibility. But let’s not stop there, let’s look for opportunities to engage with families and make sure that there are consistent feedback loops to support a successful school year for our students:

  • Open up PTA meetings to have consistent opportunities for parents to ask questions
  • Have time slots for parent-teacher conferences throughout the year so that teachers have the time set aside to support families
  • Hold coffee hours with families to offer support with technology and support with navigating their child’s learning experience

Advice: Plan for opportunities to engage with families and communicate them consistently so that every parent feels connected to their child’s school.

5. Focus on consistent communication

School districts all around me have communicated throughout the summer months on their plans for the fall, opened up family forums to ensure that all voices were heard and that districts could account for feedback, and truly spent a significant amount of time on developing out plans for opening school buildings in compliance with state guidelines. It’s been great, students and parents need to know what to expect and when to expect it.

As we kick off the school year, that same steady communication must happen within the classroom and within school buildings. As a parent, I hope to see the following:

  • A clear schedule of how and when assignments will be communicated
  • Consistent meeting times for each of my kid’s classes, communicated at the start of the year and consistent throughout
  • Consistent time for extra help and support for students so that we can plan for it in our day
  • Consistent communication on grades and progress in each of my kid’s classes

Advice: Parents should be added as viewers to google classrooms to help with communication and grade books should be kept open.

6. Embrace professional learning communities 

Teachers need time and they need us to honor that. Professional Learning Communities, or teachers meeting intentionally to co-plan curriculum, instruction, and assessment, must be a top priority for school districts developing their schedules for the upcoming year. PLC time is sacred and should be intentionally scheduled so that not a single one of our teachers feels isolated in their efforts to provide the best possible learning opportunities for their students. 

That being said, collaboration on building materials and resources must be a priority in PLC time and we all need to embrace teamwork over autonomy. That last bit is hard, but our students deserve a consistent learning experience in the upcoming year and we can only accomplish that by being intentionally collaborative in our creation of student learning experiences. 

Advice: Teachers should talk as a team about what they can commit to building together and where they need breathing room to add their own personal touches. Asynchronous materials may be the best place to start for building common ground.

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Game based learning

Guest post post by Brigid Duncan, Educator, Creator, & Blogger

Shaking up learning by bringing retro games to class lessons!

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If you have been teaching for a couple years now, you would be asked by many students to play Kahoot! Or just mention the word Kahoot! and kids await eagerly to hear the elevator music playing in the background as they enter the game code to join your game. So, our students love to play games. Who doesn’t? There is an old Finnish saying that goes like this:

“Those things you learn with JOY

You will not forget easily!”

So why use game-based learning? Many reasons come to mind, however the most significant one is that students work harder when they are given a choice, autonomy, and they are in an audience being observed by their peers. In other words, they like a challenge and want to win. So, knowing this and building games into your instruction accomplishes that and so much more. Many of our students are Gen Z’s, and research has proven that this generation loves challenges, they love independence and relish having a voice in their learning outcomes. Theory behind game- based learning is that we are taking the motivational aspects of a game and applying it our lessons for assessment, while kids are having fun. 

As we move into the start of this ever-pivoting school year, our instruction has to keep up with modifications as our classroom changes, whether we are online,  face to face instruction or hybrid. The problem teachers face with this type of instruction, lies in with our assessments and the integrity of them. Are my students truly understanding the essential questions as outlined at the start of the lesson? Are they using Professor Google (my favorite word for searching google for answers) to my assessments? Should I even have assessments and just go strictly to project based assessments. Well I am here to say you can have online assessments using game-based learning. 

Who wouldn’t want to play an old-fashioned Trivial Pursuit board game? A favorite for many and can be used to assess for key terms or conceptual thinking on a unit lesson. Have them play in teams, assign points and give them badges that they can proudly display. Have a “Battle Royale” with review or test bank questions. Want to take it a step back in our time capsule, do you remember Four Corners a game still played in and out the classroom. Well you can simulate the same idea but on a board game and in, an online classroom. Let’s say you are teaching themes in a novel read that the class just wrapped up. You can ask students to identify themes on opposite side of the four corners. Example, revenge in one corner and opposite side “compassion” You can give them a blank card with 4 squares and play Pictionary, another retro board game. You can pose the same questions but this time you say to your students use icons to represent the themes and place in opposing squares. Sites like The Noun Project or AutoDraw are all free. And of course, I couldn’t write a blog post on game-based learning and not mention Monopoly. I have seen many teachers get creative by incorporating unit lessons using a Monopoly style board, guiding students through asynchronous lessons from START to FINISH. 

I hope this post on game based learning will encourage you to Level Up, on your lesson plans and incorporate games in your classroom learning assessments. Many teachers will be starting a new year with students you have never met in person. I have read many of your comments on social media asking how to build classroom community when we have never met and will continue online. Then this is one of the best solutions available now, to ease your concerns. By having games included in your lesson plans, you will begin building online classroom student relationships. Have fun this school year and remember that Old Finnish saying when developing and designing your lesson plans: “Kids remember best when they are having fun!” 

Brigid Duncan, Educator, Creator, & Blogger

Brigid Duncan is an AP Econ/Business instructor teaching high school in Hollywood, Florida. Originally from the Caribbean, she pursued a career in advertising and Marketing before transitioning to teaching. She is Mom to three wonderful and energetic teenagers and enjoys being creative, especially in graphic design. Favorite quote: “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not’?” – George Bernard Shaw.

Follow her educational journey at @MsBDuncan

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

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Tools for anywhere learning

Each year I like to take time and think back to the digital tools that we used in our classroom, what the benefits were, and how I might find new ways to use them. When I look to use technology in my classroom, I always start with the purpose behind it. What do I think it will help me to do better as a teacher? How can it help students to learn in more personalized or authentic ways? And what are the skills that students will build as a result that traditional non-technology methods might not afford?

There are tools that I continue to use each year because they have added new features or they have integrated with other tools that we are using in our classroom. Here are twelve tools that made a difference for my students and some even helped me to stretch professionally this year.

  1. Gimkit, a game-based learning tool has continued to be a favorite with my students because of the potential for increased content retention through repetitive questions, and because of the different ways it can be played in the classroom. It enables students to develop strategies and have fun while learning. Some of the updated features in Gimkit 4.0, include being able to search and use pre-made kits, multiple ways to look at the student data, and now you can even make flashcards.
  2. Buncee is a versatile tool for creating multimedia and interactive presentations. It provides multiple ways for students to learn and to express themselves, promoting student choice and voice, offering many choices for creation in an all-in-one tool. Buncee has an Ideas lab, where teachers can explore lesson ideas and templates to use in the classroom. Two months ago, Immersive Reader was added, which increases accessibility for students and offers more robust ways to learn, especially for language learners.
  3. Synth provides an easy option for recording a podcast and building communication skills. It can be a great tool for speaking assessments and extending the time and space of classroom discussions. We use Synth with our project-based learning and students were able to ask questions, respond to discussion threads and communicate with students from Argentina and Spain. Synth includes options to record audio or video. It is a great way to encourage students to share their ideas and build some in speaking.
  4. Anchor, another tool for podcasting, is one that has helped me to finally create my own podcast to share my ideas with other educators. But it’s also a popular tool that can easily be used with students to create their own podcast, adding in transitions and even creating a hook to advertise a podcast they create. Using a tool like Anchor would be good for launching a school podcast to share what’s happening in the school with the greater school community.
  5. Wakelet is a content curation tool and so much more. It has gone from simply being a space where I would curate blogs, videos and other resources that I wanted to have access to quickly, to being a powerful tool for student learning.  With Wakelet, teachers can provide blended learning experiences, use it for station rotations, have students create a digital portfolio, post-class projects, create a scavenger hunt and many other possibilities. It even offers the capability to record a Flipgrid short video right within the Wakelet collection. Educators and students can collaborate in a Wakelet collection.
  6. Nearpod is a multimedia, interactive presentation tool that enables teachers to create engaging lessons which can include virtual trips and 3D objects. It offers lessons on topics such as digital citizenship, social-emotional learning, career exploration, English learner lessons, and professional development resources for teachers. Educators can create lessons with many options including quizzes, polls, drawings, matching pairs, audio, video, and content from PhET Simulations, Desmos, BBC, YouTube and more. Nearpod lessons can be done live in class or student-paced and there is also the option for use as sub plans.
  7. Adobe Spark is a presentation tool that can be used to create an infographic, a website or a video. Using the apps, it is easy to create with Spark Post, Spark Page, and Spark Video. This year my students chose Adobe Spark for a project about their family and narrating their childhood. It was not only a more authentic way to create with the content and build other vital skills for the future, but it led to the creation of something more meaningful, the students could share with family and friends.
  8. Voxer is a walkie-talkie app that can be used for educators to collaborate and avoid the isolation that can happen at times. It is a tool that I have used for four years, in many ways including connecting with educators to discuss a book, focused on specific topics, or for small groups as part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC). We have also used it for project-based learning as a way for students to share their ideas and reflect. Because time is something that teachers never have enough of, Voxer is a great tool for learning and finding professional support on any schedule.
  9. Flipgrid is a social learning platform where students and educators can record a video response and include additional content. It has helped with global collaboration by creating a way for students to connect with classrooms and experts around the world. With the summer updates, the addition of augmented reality with Flipgrid AR would be a fun way to have students record their thoughts or do a short presentation and then have a QR Code for others to scan and see their video pop up in AR! With Flipgrid, my students shared videos with students in Argentina and learned more about life and school, which took their learning to a whole new level.
  10. Remind is a messaging app that enables students and parents to stay connected with access to information and resources. Being able to send a quick reminder, to answer students’ questions, to inform parents of upcoming events, and to have a space where students can get the help they need when they need it, has made a difference in my classroom. It also helps with building digital citizenship skills as students learn to interact in a virtual space. Remind can also be used to share a lesson from Nearpod, or a game through tools like Quizizz or Quizlet.
  11. Quizlet is a learning tool that offers students many different ways to practice content. There are thousands of flashcard sets available for educators and students and with each set the activities include flashcards, learn, write, spell, test, match, gravity and Quizlet Live! When playing Quizlet Live, students are placed in teams and can collaborate as they play. Only one member of the team has the right answer. It is a good tool to get students moving in the classroom and building those peer relationships.
  12. CoSpaces EDU is a virtual reality platform that became a favorite for some of my eighth-grade students this year. Whether creating a space in 360, designing a game, an interactive story, or an experiment, students will enjoy creating in VR and developing coding skills too. Another benefit is the Merge Cube add-on, which enables students to hold the space they have created in their hands! Students can even collaborate by working on teams to create a space together. With MergeEDU, educators can use the cube as an interactive tool to further engage students in learning about the earth, dissecting a frog, exploring a volcano and more.

While this is how my students and I have used these tools in our classroom, there are definitely a lot more ways that these tools can be utilized. Think about some of the tasks that might be taking up a lot of your time, or consider some issues or challenges you might be having. A few years ago I noticed a decrease in student engagement and I was looking for opportunities to open up more choices for students to share their learning. Any of these tools can be good for addressing those concerns. My Advice? Start thinking about your own personal goals and start with one thing. Try it and see how it goes, ask students or colleagues for feedback, and then make adjustments as needed.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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Distance Learning, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

COVID-19 & Education:

Guest post by Shelly Vohra: See the prior posts in the series.

The shift to “emergency online learning” in the last month or so has created some discussions and debates about what ‘school’ will look like once we do return. Depending on the structure and demographics of the school (e.g., K-5, middle school, high school etc), how will students and teachers return to ensure everyone is safe? Will there be a staggered schedule? In other words will we have students rotating through school for half days or full days to maintain physical distancing rules? Will each class be split in half and desks spaced out 2m/6ft with everyone wearing a mask and then sanitizing their space when the class/day is done? For example, in middle school, will we see half of the Grade 6s come into school in the morning and the other half in the afternoons 2- 3 times a week? Will grades 7s and 8s come in the other days and the rest of the time is being supplemented by virtual learning? And what are the implications for daycare, babysitting and parents work schedules depending on their work situation? Will teachers move from class to class instead of the students to minimize contact between individuals? If students are coming in for half days, what does that look like in terms of mathematics, language, social studies, science, and subjects like art, phys-ed, music, etc? There are so many factors to consider in terms of our kids returning to school and still ensuring their safety. Will we even return at all depending on what unfolds over the next few months? Many experts are talking about the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 cases if we ease restrictions too soon as well as the regular flu season later this year that will cause many to get sick. Or another scenario could be that we stagger students back into schools in September (or whenever your school year starts) to meet each other and build community and then in October, move to virtual learning. Again, there is so much to think about moving forward and the truth is we don’t really know what will happen because it all depends on what will happen over the next three months in terms of how the coronavirus is contained or how it might cause a second wave of infections. For now, it’s a wait and see situation.

The shift has also created discussion about more permanent changes to the future of education. I have seen teachers and various other stakeholders talk about some of the ‘permanent’ changes they would like to see as a result of this pandemic. While some of these ideas are good and can move education in a positive direction, some of the ideas need to be considered carefully due to several factors (e.g, developmental levels of students, equity, etc). Based on what I have heard and discussed with a variety of students, parents, and educators, here are five changes I would like to see:

1. Focus on Wellness & SEL: this pandemic has brought to light the importance of wellness and mental health. Many of our students are going through a range of emotions, which includes, fear, anxiety, and sadness. There are many reasons our kids are feeling this way and some of those reasons are: (a) they are missing their friends, (b) they are missing the regular routine of school, (c) their parents are front line workers, (d) they might have lost a loved one, (e) they are stuck in an abusive household, (f) they are bored, (g) they are stressed about school work and meeting deadlines set by teachers (which is another issue in itself!). According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” They identify five core competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making). Research has demonstrated that when there is a focus on SEL, there are positive changes in behaviour (e.g., attendance, classroom behaviour, etc) and academic achievement (https://casel.org/what-is-sel/). This pandemic has demonstrated that we need to invest more resources and time in this area. Students need to learn how to manage emotions when challenges and difficulties arise, which is currently happening due to the impact of the coronavirus. They need to identify their emotions and have a range of strategies to deal with these feelings, which might help them build a positive relationship with themselves and others. This pandemic has also brought to light the importance of play. As I’ve mentioned in my other posts, many parents/guardians are talking about how they are spending more time with their kids engaged in a variety of activities (e.g., cooking, baking, sewing, talking, playing board games, gardening etc), which has helped their relationships with their children. Perhaps there is something to be learned here. Should the school day be shorter, placing an equal or more important focus on SEL and play? If many parents are going to continue to work from home due to the shift in thinking in terms of what work now looks like, should we be re-thinking what school looks like? Again, these are all questions that came up during my conversations with parents, friends, and educators that I’ve had the privilege of having over the last few weeks. Our kids these days, in my opinion, are over-scheduled. Between school/homework and all the extra-curricular activities, children these days are overloaded. It seems they just don’t have time to just be kids! I think we can all agree that we don’t want them to hate learning; we want them to be excited about learning and new ideas. We want them to be thoughtful, and kind and compassionate and curious. But to be happy, we can’t and shouldn’t overload them. Do we really want to take away their present for whatever the future may hold? I believe somewhere along the way, we forgot that we need to be educating the whole child. In the recent past, there has been way too much emphasis placed on exams, grades, and standardized test scores, that we have forgotten we need to teach to the heart. We need to be placing more emphasis on teaching habits of mind, relationships, ethics, and morals.  What about bringing in the community to support student learning? I truly believe we have lost the community aspect of educating our children. As the saying goes, “It truly takes a village”.  We need to get back to working with our community members and organizations in order to educate the whole child.

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(www.casel.org)

2. Focus on personalized learning:  this pandemic should also bring to light the need for personalized and individualized learning. Learning needs to be student-centered and not teacher-centered; in other words a focus on learning over teaching. Learning should be approached from an inquiry stance (big idea and driving questions) with a social justice & equity lens. This approach is linked to student wellness & SEL – students learning in a manner in which empathy and other habits of mind are developed as well as digital citizenship skills. We need to move away from traditional worksheets and teaching methods as well as busy work to more authentic learning. Information is everywhere; it’s pretty much at the end of your arm and we need to be asking questions of our students that require critical thinking, evaluating, judging, synthesizing, and constructing, just to name a few. If you can Google an answer to a question, it’s not a good question. This kind of learning means we need to move away from exams, which usually test knowledge & facts and not on understanding, thinking, and application to more ‘projects’ and assignments that are choice-based. It also means we move away from using textbooks (yes, I still see teachers using this as the sole source of information and there are reasons behind this, which I will talk about in another blog post), and teacher ‘lectures’ where students sit and take notes; in other words students are not passive recipients but they take control of their learning and become active members of their learning. This type of learning just might fit nicely with shorter and staggered school days, especially in middle and high schools. Students would come into school to participate and host seminars, focus groups, and discussion with their teachers and classmates on their learning tasks and learning journey; then they might spend some time in the LLC (Library Learning Commons) or go home to continue their learning and complete their work. They need to be provided with opportunities to access learning in a manner that suits them. This type of learning model not only lends itself to students focusing on deeper learning and less on tests and exams but it also builds time for students to focus on their passions and interests, more time for play, and their well-being. For this to be successful, we need to re-examine the curriculum so that it is more flexible and there is a focus on skills and not content. We would also need to focus on digital literacy skills – we have all heard the term “digital natives” but our students are not digital natives. Yes, they were “born with technology” and they might know how to use tech tools like social media for personal reasons but they still require a lot of support on how to use technology for learning purposes (one example is teachers conveying to me that most students don’t know basic online etiquette when talking to their teachers and peers online). They not only need to learn how to collaborate online but they need to learn to use tech responsibly and in ways which deepen and extend their learning. Of course, this blended model will require parameters in terms of teacher availability and students’ schedules. Teachers can not be expected to be available 24/7 and students learn and complete their work at different times. And as always, privacy and security issues need to be maintained in this type of environment (more to come on this). We also need to look at equity in terms of this type of model to work. As I’ve said before, “equity is an institutional commitment, it’s not a band-aid strategy we use when needed.”  How are we getting devices into the hands of every student? How are we ensuring they have strong internet/wi-fi connections? In order to close the achievement gap, we need to start by closing both the engagement gap and the opportunity gap.

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3.Assessment and Evaluation: related to personalized learning, we need to rethink how we assess and evaluate students. We need to move away from “unit tests” and exams, which only seem to test knowledge and not understanding of the material. These types of assessment do not for the most part, develop student skills in critical thinking and other higher order skills. We need to look at providing more descriptive feedback based on learning goals and success criteria (and know the difference between success criteria and task requirements) and moving away from assigning grades; we know research has indicated that when we provide a grade with descriptive feedback, students only focus on the grade and not the feedback the teacher provided and when teachers provide only descriptive feedback, learning is enhanced. For example, students are given descriptive feedback on a writing piece and given the opportunity to improve on their next draft and subsequent drafts based on just descriptive feedback. This type of assessment shifts the focus from achievement to learning. I know grades are a contentious issue in education because of the implications related to higher education but I honestly don’t remember the last time an employer asked me for my transcript during an interview. They want to see what skills I bring to the role and how I can contribute to the team as a whole to improve the organization’s mission and vision. If we are to give grades, then let’s sit side by side with the student and negotiate a grade based on all their work and effort throughout the learning experience (e.g. not just after two drafts of a writing piece). And in the age of technology, let’s ensure all students have an online portfolio and some sort of online presence in the form of a blog and/or website. And let’s please get rid of standardized testing; not only is it not necessary but it’s harmful and negatively impacts students well being and we all know it is not a true reflection of what a student knows and understands.

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4.Conferences: We also need to rethink educational conferences (or all conferences for that matter). Conferences have either been postponed or cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic. I know several conferences have opted for an online version of what should have been their face to face conference and I believe this is something we need to examine more closely. Costs to attend a conference has become astronomical. From registration fees to hotels and from flights to food, attending even one conference can take a significant bite out of anyone’s budget (a very small percentage of educators get their expenses covered by their district or school). And even when we get past the pandemic, flying may never be the same. So why not move towards more online conferences where educators can attend live sessions as well as pre-recorded sessions from the comfort of their home? If you must, charge a minimum fee to cover any costs based on the platform(s) you are using. And organizations can archive these sessions and have a repository available for everyone to access at any time.

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5.Teacher Professional Learning: last but certainly not least, let’s rethink teacher professional learning (PL). I’ve always believed that teacher PL needs to be  personalized, differentiated, and self paced. Teachers should be able to choose their own PL based on their goals, experiences, and background knowledge. This makes the learning more meaningful for teachers if they are allowed to pursue their own interests and passions related to education in the form of action research, collaborative inquiry cycles, etc. I believe the quote/image below says it all in terms of my beliefs for teacher PL. Let’s use an LMS (Learning Management System) like Brightspace to enhance teacher PL where teachers are learning from and with each other across districts – technology gives us the power and opportunity to learn with teachers from around the world so why not connect with teachers from different schools around the world to enhance and positively impact our practice? Why not use these PL opportunities to create learning experiences with these teachers for your students that incorporate social justice and equity mindsets (as mentioned in my bit about personalized learning? Let’s start putting PL back into the hands of educators.

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It will be interesting to see what education looks like when we do return and if any of these five points will be examined and explored further to not only enhance and improve education but also ensuring we keep students at the centre of it all.

I will be writing in more detail about each of these five points in upcoming blog posts but for the next few weeks, I am going to shift to writing about some other topics in education 🙂

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

When Schools Resume

Guest Post by Kathryn Starke (@KathrynStarke)

Opinions expressed are those of  the guest contributor.

 

Schools and districts across America have been closed for over a month now, and many schools are closed through the end of the year. It is sad and shocking for all of us. Teachers and children can’t wait to be back in their classrooms. Unfortunately, it will not be anytime soon. Therefore, teachers and parents across the country are sharing their passion and purpose in the teaching and learning process in a variety of creative ways. I have seen car parades through neighborhoods, teddy bear hunts in windows, nature scavenger bingo boards, and daily food delivery to bus stops. I have seen educational companies and some authors provide free access to their learning tool and NFL athletes help families Tackle Reading at home. This is an unprecedented event in our history.

The health and safety of others becomes the primary concern. Curriculum should not be a priority. Copyright should not be a priority. Digital learning is not accessible to every home. Not every child has a parent at home who is able to work with them. Just like in the classroom, differentiation is key. Teachers should feel empowered to create their own lessons and share their ideas with their students. Elementary school parents do not care about grades or attendance at this time. They want educational ideas and support, and most importantly, they want their children to be happy, healthy, and safe. Therefore, educators should focus on the new school year. So, what will happen when schools finally resume? Will every child be passed on to the next grade? Will every teacher receive the reading support they will need to effectively support these vast gaps while maintaining their designated grade level literacy objectives?

According to the most recent report by the National association for Educational Progress, sixty- four percent of all fourth-grade students in America are unable to read proficiently. The number increases to seventy-eight percent of fourth-grade students in low-income areas. When schools finally open, which may not be until August or September, the focus on learning will be a priority and it is going to need to change. Children will return to schools without six months of formal reading instruction. Some of our children will be significantly behind. The teaching and learning process will have to adjust. One hour of reading instruction will not be enough. It is in times like this when innovation and creativity in school communities will make the greatest impact and should be encouraged.

Teachers will need to feel supported and empowered to make decisions to match the needs of their students. They will be tasked with having to conduct remediation, intervention, reteaching, and teaching. One solution may be to incorporate transitional grades in the fall. For example, a first-grade teacher may be reviewing kindergarten standards while introducing new first grade standards. Another idea would be to group children by reading and math abilities multiple times throughout the day. One to two hours of daily language arts instruction will not be enough in the fall. Literacy needs to be at the forefront of instruction through all content from pre-K to fifth grade. This means we need to incorporate the five pillars of reading instruction or the “science of reading” in every lesson including math, science, and social studies. Team teaching across grade levels is another option. We have to think outside of the box.

Kathryn Starke is a national urban literacy consultant, reading specialist, author of Amy’s Travels and Tackle Reading, and founder of Creative Minds Publications, LLC, an educational publishing company. She created the annual Tackle Reading initiative supported by the NFL and NFL Alumni.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

 

 

 

Keeping the Learning Going

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been a lot of conversations about what educators will do if schools need to experience school closures or move to a hybrid model in the upcoming school year. With so many uncertainties when it comes to the pandemic, it has definitely been a challenge to figure out how to provide the best learning experiences for our students and to keep them engaged and motivated during this time. I miss being in my classroom and the interactions with my students, greeting them at the door, working with them on activities and projects in that classroom” space” although the time we had never seemed to be enough!

Finding ways to extend the “space” of learning for our students has been a popular topic of discussion for many years, and something that I have worked on, so it is not entirely something new. However, with our current global situation, educators and schools are seeking to find the right resources that can be put into action right away and that will work for transitioning back into the classrooms too. I love that I can create a message to share with students, to check in and  for them to connect with each other.

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We must look for ways to provide rich learning experiences through versatile tools that students can access and work on independently wherever they are and regardless of time. What I have suggested to many educators is finding one or two tools that enable them to do many of the same things they would do in the classroom and even more. With Buncee, we can work remotely and provide meaningful learning experiences that engage students in the digital space as well as our physical classroom spaces. As students create, they can work from school, at home, or anywhere, and be able to share their work with classmates and teachers, even globally.

Endless Possibilities with Buncee

One of the things that I love the most about Buncee is that it can be used in so many different ways, not only for instruction in our classrooms but also in life. I tell the story often that I have used Buncee personally to create cards for family and friends, personal business cards, design engaging graphics for Twitter chats and presentations for webinars, or to make quote graphics for my books. There are so many ways to use it and for me, it always comes down to the why, or the purpose for choosing a specific digital tool. What can I use it for? What are the benefits? How does it help students to learn, to be more engaged in learning and to build skills?

When I decide to use digital tools in my classroom, I want students to practice the content in a more authentic and engaging way, while also developing essential skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity that will benefit them in the future but that are necessary now too.

Having a specific platform or digital tool in place that all educators can use and making sure that all students will have access is very important. As teachers, we have so many choices for how we can use Buncee in our classrooms and we can share ideas for families to use it for activities too. It is a versatile tool that provides multiple ways for people to learn and to express themselves.We’ve tried a lot of different ways for using Buncee in the classroom, many of which have been a result of the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking of the students.

Unlock the Power of Creativity

It just takes logging into Buncee to unlock the power of creativity once you see a library of more than 31,000 graphics with new assets added every day that connect with what is happening in the world. Regardless of what you want to create, there are more than enough choices for what to add into your multimedia presentation. Students (and anyone) can quickly create a multimedia presentation full of animations, drawings, stickers, emojis, 3D objects, Buncee messages, 360 images, audio and video embedded and even student artwork!

Beyond the potential for creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication, using Buncee, students can build skills in digital media literacy, technological proficiency, and digital citizenship. Students have the opportunity to use technology as a tool for solving real-world problems or making real-world connections.

Buncee is so invested in providing a lot of options and opportunities for students and educators to enjoy learning, creating and growing together. I have been proud to be a part of this growing educator community and have learned so much from the connections that I have made and from the relationships that have formed with the Buncee team and Buncee Ambassadors.

I looked for some examples and asked for some feedback from ambassadors and Buncee educators.

Buncee has been a wonderful asset during this time of remote teaching/learning.  I used Buncee every week to create my lesson plans.  I would make a copy and adjust my template to what I needed for that week. I also used Buncee to create flyers for our school-wide virtual spirit days.  
Buncee provided templates that I was able to use both for paper packets as well as digital templates for the students who were able to connect digitally (even if that number is small).
One big way that Buncee was a help was the sense of community and support that it provided during this time.”   Jessica Chandler 

 

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“It is such a special time for my students and for me as we look back.” Barbie Monty.

Barbie worked on the Hugs4Heroes initiative with Kristina Holzweiss and Amy Storer and there was also the #WithHeartWhileApart.

Check out this Buncee Board with more than 10,000 views!

Check out Buncee’s posts on Ideas for the end of the year and Summer Fun!

10 activities for a productive summer

Here are some of the latest ideas that have been shared.

Explore virtual classrooms.The Merrills shared a template and I created several virtual classrooms for my students!

Check out Marie’s virtual classroom where she lost her Bunceemen!

Explore Summer fun for early learners

A new habit in 21 days activity

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My Spanish I virtual classroom

Art Classroom by Colette

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Kristen Regan’s Classroom!

Check out Parent Newsletters from Laurie Guyon

Barbie Monty said, “My favorite is having my students create a Buncee end of the year reflection.

Bonnie Foster created a Covid-19 Survivor certificate

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Ide Koulbanis is having students plan a trip! Bunceeman Adventure

Daily Reflective Thoughts by Don Sturm

Test Prep and Motivation: Amy Nichols

Self-care suggestions

End of the year celebrations and certificates or make a Buncee Card! 

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Virtual Camps!

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To learn more, join in the daily live webinars with Buncee at 12 and 3pm eastern. I also have webinars on Tuesdays at 4pm!

Check out the Ideas Lab!

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Fun badges and learning opportunities!

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Why Making Time for Reflection Matters: 5 Ideas to Try

Some recent ideas I have shared, by @rdene915

Reflection is an important act that regardless of your profession or role, is something that we all need to take part in regularly. On a daily basis, the interactions we have, the actions we take, and the decisions we make, likely have an impact on someone else, ourselves, or otherwise that we may never be aware of. Personally, reflecting was not something that I had always done. As a student in high school and growing up, I had a diary that I wrote in quite often, which at the time, I didn’t realize that I was in fact reflecting. But looking back now, that’s exactly what I was doing.

As a teacher, for many of my beginning years, mentors would ask for my thoughts on a lesson that I had taught or my principals would discuss their observations with me and ask me to reflect on my lesson. Whether it was to reflect on the choice in the activities I had used in my lesson or they offered additional questions in order to help me think through my methods and set new goals. But other than those experiences, reflecting was not something that I could say I did on a regular basis. I was not intentional about it and did not fully realize the importance of doing so for many years.

Why We Must Practice Reflection

In order to bring our best selves into our classrooms each day, we must evaluate our own practice and use a reflective process to grow professionally. We also need to help our students develop these skills and because of our role, it is important that we model reflection and provide different ways for our students to reflect as well. Not only will we help them build their skills, become self-aware and develop a greater understanding of their interests and needs, but we will also provide them with learning experiences that will benefit them in the future regardless of where their education takes them or which careers they pursue later on in life. Doing this will also help us continue to engage in the practice ourselves, and enable us to reflect with our students by asking for their feedback and working on goals together. However, not everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves in the same way, which is why it’s important to have different options available for engaging in the practice of reflection.

Here are some ways that you can incorporate reflection in your daily practice as well as include it as part of the work you do with students and colleagues. There is an idea here that can match your interests, needs and even time and place constraints,

  1. Old-fashioned pen and paper. Take time to jot down thoughts at certain periods throughout the day. For some people, trying to remember to write notes down throughout the day can be overwhelming, so instead pick a specific point in the day where it can become part of your routine. Grab a notepad or a special journal that you use, anything that makes sense to you. Make the effort to write down at least one thing or a few things each day and then the next day review your thoughts. See what you could change, if you want to change anything and how you can improve a little bit from the prior day. I used this practice with my students years ago, as a daily journal entry in Spanish and gave them questions to consider as prompts. It can also be a good practice to include in your daily activities.
  2. Blogging has become a great outlet for many educators to share the work they’re doing in their classroom, to express challenges or frustrations, or share positive thoughts or anything in between. Incorporating blogging into the classroom is also good for students for many reasons beyond just simply enhancing their writing and literacy skills. By using digital tools for this purpose, we can also promote peer collaboration, digital citizenship skills and it helps to build a solid online presence. Students can build their reflective skills with their peers and develop communication skills and better understand the importance and power of feedback.
  3. Podcasting can also be effective for reflection. Create your own podcast and invite people to listen to your thoughts, respond in a thread or simply create a podcast just for your own purpose of listening and reviewing. There are many free tools out there to use including Anchor and Synth, and who knows, it just might be something that you decide to pursue on a more regular basis and share with other educators in your PLN.
  4. Voxer is a walkie-talkie messaging app that can be used for anything ranging from recording voice memos for yourself, participating in synchronous or asynchronous discussions, connecting with other educators from around the world. It can be used for participating in a book study, having a topic and engaging with colleagues about specific discussion points and reflecting together. Voxer makes it easier to “think out loud” and then be able to process your thoughts. It is also a convenient way to communicate to meet everybody’s schedule and location. Students in my classes have also used it for their project-based learning to share ideas with me and to reflect on the work they have done and to ask questions and feedback.
  5. Videos. There are a lot of options out there for recording oneself while teaching, Swivl, as well as some online web applications that school districts can use. Although it can feel uncomfortable, especially watching yourself teach, it’s really good to be able to analyze your teaching practices, evaluate your rate of speech, how well you explained ideas, the involvement of your students, and many more important components of teaching. Having a video recording of a lesson or lessons that you’ve taught, are great ways to reflect because it gives you the chance to go back and really focus on key parts of your lesson delivery. You can also use these videos to share with a supportive group and use as a way to give one another feedback

Reflecting is important for all of us because it’s how we evaluate our actions. We can explore who we are, whether looking at the qualities and traits that we convey to others, our behaviors and how we interact with other people. It’s important that we continue to understand ourselves and to work on bringing our best selves to our families every day and to those with whom we work. When we work on this together, we will have it become a regular part of our daily practice and will continue to grow. We will also empower our students and those we lead with this powerful practice for personal and professional growth.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

A focus on Learning… in a “Remote World”

Guest post by: Whittney Smith, Ed.D. (@whittneysmith_) is the Principal at Mineola High School. You can follow the work done by our amazing students and teachers by following us at @mineolahs on both Twitter and Instagram.

In high schools across New York State there is always talk of the Regents Exam. This exam has been the focus of teachers since 1878 when the first high school exams were given. On April 6, 2020, that changed… at least for the time being. 

Now what?  I think we now have the unique opportunity to focus on learning, not the test anymore.  While we rely solely on remote learning opportunities… our ability to leverage technology will certainly accelerate our ability to focus on student agency. Some cynics will say that without a Regents Exam, the students will not be motivated anymore, they’re going to “check out.” I don’t think so. Instead, I believe we need to seize this opportunity and engage our students.  Remember that first and foremost we teach students, then we teach content… and remember, children are naturally curious, want to make connections, and desire learning things that are relevant to them; things that are real. 

When we were thrust into this remote world as we walked out of our schools on March 13, 2020,  I sent an email to the faculty. I will never forget that email. Along with a remote learning planning guide, I sent teachers my phone numbers and those of my assistant principals’, so they could reach us at any time.  I wanted them to know that we cared about them as people first; we cared about their social and emotional well being just as we wanted them to care for our students and their families.

In the educational world we hear a lot about “Maslow before Blooms;” in other words, we need to take into account the hierarchy of human needs before the hierarchy of human learning. 

Next, I asked our educators to reflect on remote learning and consider the following while they focused on what remote learning would look like in their ‘new’ classrooms.

  • Emphasize Choice – allowing students to choose how they demonstrate their learning will increase completion and help them navigate misconceptions
  • Emphasize Learning and Not Grades – when students are not concerned about “the grade,” they are more likely to learn the material on their own, rather than “collaborating” with others (unless that is what you intend them to do). 
  • Direct All Student & Teacher Tech Related Issues to Bonnie and Katie (they are our Coordinators of Information Technology (CITs) and can do just about anything… and know who to reach out to when they can’t)).
  • Last but not least (for now) —> If you are having difficulty reaching a student (e.g. they are not responding) please reach out to our mental health team. They are counseling students and are ready to assist in any way possible.

Never did I think that I would be writing this post on April 30, 2020 (30 days into an extended school closure) telling you that the Regents exams have been canceled. 

Now is the time to tap into student interests and passions.

Now is the time to focus on strengths.

​Now is the time to give choice.

Now is the time to leverage creation tools. Whether it is a product to create or a problem to solve, allow students to determine how they demonstrate and share their learning. 

Now is the time to shift the paradigm  as we are  not going to take high stakes, multiple choice tests! Let’s do what we’ve always wanted to do… make learning fun!

 

Bloom’s Taxonomy graphic taken from: https://mylearningnetwork.com/blooming-as-a-learner/ 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Guest post: Teachers have earned the benefit of the doubt

Be patient during the COVID-19 pandemic

As schools throughout the nation close for the remainder of the year, take a minute to consider what this will mean for thousands of teachers who are doing their best to educate our children. School leaders and local officials are scrambling to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is our top priority, and as we retrofit our education system on the fly to meet the needs of millions of students, we ask for your patience and understanding.

Schools are not designed to adapt quickly

Be kind to teachers who are on the front lines navigating school closures in an education system that is, like so many institutions, incapable of meeting the demands placed upon it by the outbreak. At best, the expectations for most teachers right now are loosely defined by school leaders. Many teachers are trying to patch together inadequate distance learning programs without guidance. This is not the time for parents to use social media platforms to compare teachers or to publicly complain about a teacher who is slow to adapt. Our nation’s teachers have earned the benefit of the doubt, so please show some grace if you are irritated.
During normal times, school districts take several months, even years, to institute changes in curriculum and instructional methods. Expecting teachers to do this at a high level, with no time to prepare, during a national emergency is ridiculous. If you feel the need to share feedback with an educator, consider what would be helpful before you hit send. Negativity toward a teacher at this time will bruise deeply and could limit the creativity of teachers trying their best to meet student needs. A measured tone is imperative if you feel discouraged as a parent and wish to share your frustration. Trust me, teachers wish they could meet the needs of every student and family they serve.

More than the internet

Connecting and teaching students in a distance-learning environment is not akin to a teacher simply jumping online and presenting academic material to students. Conducting meaningful virtual instruction requires dedicated professional coaching for staff, and it also requires significant training and practice for students and families. Most teachers have never been expected to integrate remote learning into their curriculum. The instinctive knowledge teachers have spent their respective careers amassing has a vastly different application online, and most educators have never been trained to deliver robust instruction in that format. In addition, the inequity of student access to technology and broadband internet service is woven into the challenge of teaching students remotely.

Teachers are pros at building relationships

Teachers are well versed in building relationships with students so be grateful for the teachers who are trying to maintain their connection to students. This connection — virtual or in-person — is critical for academic and social-emotional growth. Our best educators specialize in making those human connections and they are experts at molding positive relationships, devoting their talent to create a culture of learning, and contributing to the school culture. Those indelible skills for expressing care and demonstrating a commanding presence may translate online for some teachers, but it is unfair to expect it to happen naturally.

Teachers are stuck waiting

Many of our teachers can’t share with you that they are at the whim of school leaders and state mandates that are not always communicated to them effectively. While teachers are on the front lines of most communication with parents and students, they are not always armed with the information parents seek. Your child’s teacher understands your concerns about assessments and grades, your child falling behind and your desire to have access to more resources. Teachers are trying to be flexible and they do not want to throw their school leaders under the bus by voicing their misgivings to you and fueling the anxiety parents are feeling.

Uncertainty and sadness

Educators lament the loss of the celebrations, getting that last high five, hug or final word of encouragement to students. Teachers have been working hard to get your child to the finish line, and in a career that has always included clear beginnings and ends each school year, this new reality is bewildering. Many educators are helping their own children cope with the loss of a traditional school year while they also cope with the same reality as a professional. Not being able to grieve the loss of the school year together is tough on the children and the adults who serve them. Teachers wonder if their current efforts are making much of an impact on students. In some cases, only a handful of students are still connected to school and that is disheartening. Teachers are used to receiving regular feedback from students and adjusting their teaching strategies accordingly.

Moving forward

The best thing you can do to help teachers is to unite with them and let them know you appreciate them. If you feel the need to share your concerns about school district policies and local programs, reach out to school leaders. Our educators are committed to serving all children and we know that we’re in this together. Teachers and school leaders throughout the country care deeply about the health, safety, and engagement of their students. Right now our teachers need your support.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

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