Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

risktaking

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

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

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

Social Media

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

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

Information Sharing

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

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

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

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

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

Online Learning Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

**this is a work in progress

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

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

 

Self-awareness

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

 

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

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

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

 

Competition

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Focus

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

comfort

 

**Slightly updated from an earlier post, but some ideas to get that energy back up

Ending  the year with 5 random ideas: Going back to basics 

The end of the school year is a great time to try some new ideas. With summer approaching,  we have time to reflect on methods used this year and to seek out new ideas and tools, to come up with creative and innovative methods and ways to welcome to students back in the fall. Hopefully these new activities will help to keep students more engaged in learning.

Here are 5 ways to have students connect, collaborate and create. These are also helpful for building peer relationships and for reviewing content or assessing skills at the end of the year. These ideas can be no-tech or using something suggested by the students.

1) Random games or icebreaker style: There are tons of ways to create icebreakers, whether by using paper and pencil or even with digital tools. For example, with Buncee, Piktochart or Canva students can come up with four statements about themselves to share with classmates. These can be in the form of three truths and a lie, as a way to help students learn about their peers and for the teacher to learn about the students. It is beneficial for making connections with one another, finding things in common, but also to appreciate the different perspectives and backgrounds students bring into the classroom. It will be a great way to enhance communication and comfort in the classroom and also, if tech is used, to start teaching students alternative ways to present information.

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2) Categories:  Create a template with 4 or 5 different categories related to the content area and grade level being taught. After deciding on categories, select 5 or 6 letters of the alphabet, or use numbers, that students must use to come up with a word, topic or date, that ties into each category. Students can randomly be assigned to small groups and can then share what their group came up with. This activity will promote communication between peers and provide an opportunity for collaboration and some fun as well. It can also be a good way to have students review, be creative and brainstorm new ideas even. It will provide time for teachers to assess student needs and decide the next steps in the lesson, as we keep moving toward the summer break.

 

3) Word art: Students need different ways to practice the content and one way that helps some learners is through visual learning. Students can use vocabulary, verbs or any content material to generate word art. Students can create a word cloud using paper and marker or try using a digital tool like WordCloud, or WordItOut, or other similar word cloud generators available. After the word clouds are created, teachers can build on the learning potential by having students post their work in the classroom, having a gallery walk where other groups can discuss the terms, brainstorm new ideas, define or translate them (if a foreign language) and increase the authentic learning materials in the classroom.

 

4) Music: Music can really liven up the classroom and be useful for helping students remember the material. One idea is to have students create rhymes or a song using a vocabulary list, names of famous people, state or world capitals, monuments or anything related to the content area. Students can work in pairs or a small group and create a song which can be used as a mnemonic device, to help them retain the information in a more meaningful way. For presentation purposes, students can then have the choice of sharing live in class or perhaps trying a tool like Flipgrid or Recap to record and share with classmates. It can even be followed up by posting the video on a Padlet and encouraging students to comment in writing, or leave a reply on Flipgrid. These student creations will add to the authentic classroom resources and engage students more in learning.

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5) Creating games: Students can create a game as a way to help themselves and their peers practice the material. It can be a game made up using paper or any materials the students decide on or created using one of the digital tools available like Kahoot, Quizlet or Quizizz. Students will have a more authentic learning experience when they select the specific vocabulary they need to practice, which will will give more personalized learning opportunities.

In trying one or all of these activities, it presents an opportunity for the students to work together, to build their relationships, to collaborate and to engage in more authentic learning experiences. And it provides the teacher with an opportunity to step aside and become a facilitator, and to use the time as an opportunity to not only assess student learning but to interact more and provide feedback for students.

 

There are many ways to practice the content material and engage students more in learning, these are just a few of the ideas that I have tried in my classroom this school year, and they are a work in progress. Knowing that something works takes reflection and student input, and one thing I have noticed in the few short weeks we have been in school, is that students are asking more questions and thinking of new ways to extend their learning. I have more time to move around and work with every student and provide more individualized instruction and really understand each student’s progress.

They are asking, “Can we…?, What if…?, Is it okay to…?” and adding their creativity into our activities. They are also suggesting improvements, “Maybe we could…, It might be better if you…, and This has helped me to remember…can we keep doing these activities?”  And my answer to all of these has been “Yes, I think we should try it.” If it works, then great. And if not, we will try again!”

 

A Classroom’s Journey To Student-Led, Interactive Lessons

Written for the RUBICON SUMMIT

About two years ago, I found myself struggling to find ways to keep my students engaged in the lesson. I tried to get them involved more in class activities by offering more choices and providing opportunities for them to be part of the decisions made about what we were doing in the classroom. Why did I do this? Partially because I saw – and could feel – a decrease in student motivation and engagement. It was approaching the end of the school year, and the focus had shifted more to “when does summer begin?”

So I tried to do things a bit differently, think creatively, and take some risks. I wanted to keep us all moving, to finish strong at the end of the school year and begin summer vacation with a sense of accomplishment, to celebrate all that we had learned throughout the year and also what we had gained from these new experiences.

Educational Technology and Digital Tools with Purpose
Educational Technology provides so many resources that enable students to learn anywhere and at any time, and at a pace that is comfortable for each student. We can instruct from inside the traditional classroom, ​”​the brick-and-mortar​” ​as it is called, or from anywhere around the world. Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and provides opportunities for the students to move from consumers to creators. When students have choices in how to show what they have learned, they are more likely to be engaged and excited for learning. They will feel valued​,​ and the lesson and learning will be more meaningful because it has been made perso​n​al to them.

Creating Interactive Lessons
What did I change? I started by having my students create some interactive lessons using educational technology tools like Formative, Nearpod, and EDPuzzle, or even games with Kahoot! and Quizizz. It proved to be a very beneficial learning experience for all of us. By doing this, we had extra resources available that could be shared with students who might need some extra practice. I thought it went so well that I decided to take it a step further and start a “teacher for a day” activity during which the students create a lesson based on a grammar topic or vocabulary.

I stepped back and had the students lead our classroom. It was a really good way to learn a lot more about the students, to better understand what their needs were in terms of the content material, and for the students to learn about each other. Giving students the control and the opportunity to become the creators and leaders in the class has tremendous benefits and it has been something that we have enjoyed.

Giving Students the Control
At first when students created interactive lessons, I would launch the lesson and control it on the SmartBoard, but find ways to involve the student who created it during the presentation. I eventually decided to move aside, and took a seat in the back of the room, having the student lead the lesson, give explanations, answer questions, call upon students for answers, and provide feedback. Having the opportunity to sit back and experience this was tremendous. The students enjoyed the activity, supported each other, collaborated, and provided some positive feedback to each of their classmates. I was very impressed with how well they taught, led, and learned during each of the “teacher for a day” lessons.

Empowering Students in Learning
The use of these digital tools means ​that ​the “time and place for learning” is no​ longer​ confined to the ​traditional time and setting of the physical ​classroom​. It opens up the learning environment ​to​ anywhere​, at any time and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well. Learning and having timely, purposeful and authentic feedback is critical ​for growth to happen. When we shift our focus to creating opportunities, giving students the control, leaving the decision making to students to choose ​how t​o show what they have learned, or ​letting them​ design their own assessments, they are more empowered in their learning.

What are the Next Steps?
Have a conversation with your students and ask for their honest feedback. What did they like? What did they not like? Which lesson or format seemed to help the most? What did it feel like to be in control, decide how to deliver the lesson, and experience being the teacher? You can have this as a face to face conversation, students can respond on paper, or use one of the many digital tools available for communication. No matter which way you choose, look to your students for the valuable feedback to decide your next steps. Be sure to ask yourself these same questions and continue to reflect on steps taken and progress made!

For more strategies about integrating technology into instruction, read Overcome

EdTech’s Problems With Blended Learning!

 

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!

 

Thank you Terry Heick and TeachThought for this opportunity to share ideas for some tech tools to engage students. Published Monday, September 26, 2016.

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students        
by Rachelle Dene Poth
 

Fall is an exciting time of the year.

Summer provides an opportunity to relax, but is also a time to explore new ideas and reflect on the previous year. We have to ask ourselves what worked and what did not. With the start of each school year, teachers begin by establishing classroom procedures, getting to know the students, and then starting their instruction.

Even with the best plans thought out in advance, things can come up that limit our time to try something new. There is nothing wrong with sticking to some of the same instructional strategies and using some of the same tools that were used last year. We all have methods and tools we use that are beneficial to our students. But summer does offer an opportunity to think about some new things to bring to our classroom and our students at the start of the new school year.

Because time is a factor, it can seem overwhelming to try too many new things at once. It is helpful to think about maybe just slightly altering how we used a certain tool or presented a topic in the prior year. Start by focusing on one thing at a time and see how it goes. The most important part is to remember that we want to implement something that will positively benefit our students. It should be something that has a true purpose and will amplify the learning experiences and potential for our students.

Below are a few ideas that I have used in my classroom which have been fun for the students and had positive effects on their learning.

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students

Idea: Use infographics to create an engaging syllabus

Instead of creating your course syllabus on paper and handing it out to your students, try creating an infographic to post online through your class website or LMS if you have one. It will be easier to read, model a sense of enthusiasm for your own craft, and separate your classroom from others in the eyes of students/parents/admin.

With a graphic, you can also print and laminate the infographic to keep it accessible in your classroom. There are many tools to choose from for creating one and many options for implementing them into your course. In order to create one you simply take the information from your document and paste it into the infographic.

There are many choices available for templates, icons, fonts and much more. As an alternative to having your students complete assignments or projects which traditionally are done on paper or using a Word document, have them create something creative and visual using one of the infographic tools available. It will be a more engaging, visual way to share information, have a more authentic learning experience, and they can be created rather quickly.

Some recommendations of tools to create infographics are Canva, Piktochart, Smore and Visme.

Idea: Create interactive lessons

Students need to be actively involved in the classroom and in learning.  A good way to do this is through interactive video lessons. There are many digital tools available which enable a teacher to choose a video from YouTube or other video source, and use it to create a quick interactive lesson with questions or other activities for the students to complete. The nice thing about the tools available for interactive video lessons is that there are some lessons available for public use allowing you to try them out with your class first before creating your own.

Trying one of these out first is a good way to see what the students think, and use their feedback to help guide the next steps, whether to create one and which tool to use. Offering lessons like this is great for having students complete assignments outside of the traditional “brick and mortar” classroom as part of an asynchronous lesson or in a blended or flipped learning environment. You can quickly assess students, track their progress, and hold them accountable for having watched the videos.

A few suggestions of some of the tools available are EDpuzzle, Playposit, Vizia, and even a Google document could be used with questions added in for students to complete. My suggestion is that you choose one of these options, see what is available, and then be very clear how you can use it to benefit your class. There are tutorials available on the websites which offer guidance to help you to create your first video.

Simply select a video that you would typically show in class or assign for students to watch outside of class and think about the questions you could or would ask to check their understanding. It is easy to add your video into the lesson editor, add in different question styles including true and false, multiple choice or short answer, in addition to other formats. There are also options for quizzes to be self-graded, making the data available right away.

Each tool offers different features which add extra benefits to learning. For example, you can also see how long it took the student to view the video and if they tried to skip through it, depending on which tool you choose.

Idea: Student Created Lessons

Instead of the teacher creating the lessons, you could also have the students create lessons to share with the class. When I did this with my students, they sent their completed video lessons to me and I completed the lesson. It gave them an opportunity to see what teachers see and an opportunity to provide feedback to their “student.” By doing this, the students learned in a more authentic way because they decided which video to use, created the questions and as a result, it reinforced the material; it was more personal for them.

Teachers learn by seeing the type of content the students choose and can use this information to guide the next steps in the lesson. The class as a whole learns and benefits by having more resources available for practice and students can become more proficient in the content. One other great thing besides improved learning is that it can be fun for students to create these videos as well.

And fun is good, yes?

Idea: Use engaging digital quizzes & tools

There are a variety of tools to use for creating quizzes and lessons for students to complete in and outside of class.

In many cases, you can upload your own documents or PowerPoint presentations into the lesson, and keep everything organized in one place. Using some formative assessment tools like Formative, Kahoot, Nearpod, Quizizz, and Quizlet to name a few, are ways to have some fun with the students and add to the learning resources available for your classes.

Students enjoy creating their own quizzes and lessons, having a choice in the tool and types of questions included, and being able to further develop their technology skills in the process. These activities are all highly beneficial to student growth. By giving students more choices, we empower them in the classroom.

Conclusion

When used with a purpose, there a lot of ways that technology helps teachers and students. Using technology saves time, makes feedback available immediately, and gives students the chance to be creators and have a choice. It also promotes learning outside of the traditional classroom setting, which reserves the time in class to do other activities, to clear up any misunderstandings and to spend time getting to know the students and giving individual feedback.

Once you decide on one of these ideas, give it some time, see how it goes, and then think about taking the next step. Be sure to involve the students in the conversation because their input is vital and it matters. When students feel valued, learning is more meaningful and this leads to many positive results. Teachers and students working together, creating lessons, providing feedback, will add to a positive classroom culture.

Perhaps one of these areas is the next step that you could take, try and see how your students respond. It was a nice change in my classroom, my students were creative, engaged, and really enjoyed the chance to lead. The learning that occurred was more meaningful and they recalled the content information much more when they created their own product or recalled the work of one of their classmates.

Either way, it was a much more meaningful experience, and something that I will continue to do this school year to grow my classroom.

4 Simple Ideas To Use Technology To Engage Students; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad

How I Solved My Classroom Management Problems

Achievement unlocked: Making assignments and resources available to everyone, anytime.

Common Sense Education, posted on September 15, 2016

Rachelle Dene Poth

Classroom teacher, Technology Presenter

Students often have organizational problems. It’s an ongoing struggle, so I’ve always done the best I could to help them stay organized. Years ago, that often came in the form of a planner students were supposed to fill out with assignments, and I’d sign off on it.

There was one particular student with a planner whom I remember. The system worked well when she remembered the planner, but sometimes she didn’t.

On the whiteboard at the back of my room, I have a space where I write down the assignments for students. I keep my door open most days, so if they want to stop in and peek at the board, they can. I’m available anytime; the only thing I ask is that they kind of discreetly come in.

So, this particular student would appear in the morning during homeroom or at the beginning of class to check the whiteboard. Sometimes she got the assignment. But sometimes, what I wrote was erased. Anything can happen: Other students might erase it and write over it, for example.

Then her mom would send an email to clarify things — and I’m really good about checking email, but sometimes email doesn’t go through. And if you call me — well, we work with voicemail extensions so it’s not like there’s a direct line to me. You have to filter through the office, and I’m always available to talk, but obviously if I’m teaching class, I’m not reachable.

Other students would pop in to check on an assignment, or they’d want to stop by and pick up a worksheet. I have everything in my room set out, but students would put papers down, and things would get covered up. So it might not be easy to find.

Or, the students would come in and leave notes saying, “I stopped by to find out … ” or “I wasn’t sure … ,” and they’d leave me a note on the board or on my desk. But if I were going to be late or had a long meeting, I might not see those notes until the next day. And if my board was cleaned that night, I might not see them at all.

So again, the students came in to get help, and I wasn’t there.

That’s when I really started to ask, “What can I do?”

I thought the board was great because students could come in anytime, but that’s not accessible in the evening when they sit down to do homework. Planners are great, too, but what if you forget them or they’re lost? I was looking for something to fix a lot of these things I saw impeding the learning process. The lack of access to resources was really bothering me because I wanted to do more.

I first decided to use the messaging tool Celly to message my students. I used it to send reminders and answer questions. I could quickly respond to messages about homework or what was missed during an absence, and I didn’t have to use class time to help students catch up.

I use it with my Spanish club, too, and now there are other groups in the school that use it for field trips and other things. It’s really quite nice, because if you’re on the bus and you’re missing students, now you can reach them instead of waiting and wondering.

But students were still asking for help finding class materials and keeping them organized. I wanted some kind of assurance that everything was centralized and easy to find. And I hadn’t found an easy way to keep parents in the loop. I decided to give another tool a try: Edmodo.

It’s a web-based app, so students can use their phones to log in, or a computer at home if they don’t have a phone, or a phone with data. Students get a join code so they can join a class when I’ve created one, and parents get a parent code so they can sign up and see what I post to the class and see their kids’ work, the grade they got, and the comments I’ve made. They know everything we’re doing in class.

Usually students log in once a day. I post homework reminders and share links. One of the nice things about Edmodo is students can reply to a post I’ve made and ask a general question, and anyone in the class can answer. For example, if they forget something — a textbook or a worksheet — they can ask, “Can somebody please share an image of the homework?” They help each other out.

It helps me, too, because if a student has been absent for a day or more, they can easily go back and see what you did in class. It’s part of my routine now, and I have five courses. Generally if a student says, “I was absent three days ago. What did I miss?” I have some idea but I’m not exactly sure. So it’s nice to have that reference.

It’s more than just communication — it’s collaboration. And I keep thinking of new ideas I can use it for.

The first two assignments I gave my Spanish 1 and 2 classes this year were discussions on Edmodo. The first was on how they study and learn, with personal kinds of questions so I could get to know them and give them ideas. The second was to come up with five personal learning goals. I gave them a reply, and in a week or two we’re going to reevaluate: “You said you were going to study every day for 30 minutes. What happened?”

You can use it as a reflection tool or as a digital portfolio. If the students do a project with technology, they can put it on Edmodo, and we can go back to it to share learning.

These tools have made a tremendous difference in my ability to provide the best possible learning experience for my students — and that’s what I wanted. And bonus: They’ve made my life easier, too.

Posted by on September 7, 2016 .

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

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

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

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

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

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


Getting Started

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

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

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

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

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

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


My Classroom Lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Limitless Technology

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

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

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

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

Using Nearpod in class

I have used Nearpod many times, but during the past few months, I had an opportunity to dive in and see what it can provide for student-led learning. As part of conference presentations, graduate coursework and lessons for my Spanish classes, I have a much greater understanding of its capabilities for instruction and the tremendous features it offers for education. At the end of the school year, after noticing a decrease in student engagement and motivation, I wanted to try some innovative, different methods of instruction.

Technology in our classroom: It has a purpose

Students work with many digital tools and choose how to showcase their learning.  Using technology to provide authentic and meaningful learning experiences leads to an increase in student engagement, motivation, and content mastery. I am invested in providing diverse learning opportunities and look for innovative ways to introduce content and promote student choice.  Students need to do more than just be receptors of information, they need to be creators! After reflecting on my practice and thinking about student needs, I had my students create a project using digital tools typically used by teachers to facilitate a lesson.

The Project

I first used Nearpod to review South American culture and verb tenses.  The virtual field trips were fantastic and the students were much more engaged in the lesson. I then wondered how students would like creating a Nearpod lesson and taking control in the classroom, so I put them up to the challenge! After my students created and facilitated their Nearpod lessons, they had some fantastic feedback about using Nearpod as a tool for both teaching AND learning.

So what did the students say?

“I used Nearpod for a class project about South America, and the amazing virtual tours took my presentation to another level. I consider myself tech-savvy, but I’ve never seen anything like this; I’d recommend Nearpod to anyone wanting a real step-up from Powerpoints, Prezis, or Google Slides!” – Sydney

“As someone who finds technology unnecessary at times, I often do not enjoy using some of the tools I have in the past. Nearpod has really gotten me excited about the possibilities of technology in the classroom! Being able to take an adventure on virtual tours and experience culture first hand is something I have never been able to do before. Nearpod is a great tool for every classroom!”    -Patrick

“Having so many choices for activities to use were educational and fun. Choices make learning more enjoyable for students. It provides more than just listening to a presentation, or watching a video, and not really being held accountable. I recommend Nearpod for other educators and anyone looking for a new way to present information. -Izabel

Learners to leaders

Using Nearpod means that learning is no longer confined to the traditional classroom setting, nor that the “teacher” is the only person providing instruction.  Students were empowered in their learning.  Seeing their transformation from learners to leaders was tremendous. The choice was theirs.

Students teaching a Nearpod lesson 1

Students teaching a Nearpod lesson 2

Students working on projects in class 1

Thank you Visme for the opportunity to share this and involve my students in this blog post.

How to Use Narrated Presentations With Voice Overs in the Classroom

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/AudioHeader.png

Projects are one way that teachers can assess students throughout the year. Regardless of the theme, students have a lot of opportunities today to complete their projects using a variety of presentation formats. They have more options for showing what they have learned and how they can apply the material covered in class.

With each passing school year, the options available to students increases, enabling each student to find and work with a digital tool that is personalized to them because it meets their interests and needs, and also their comfort level with technology.

While using tools such as Microsoft Word or a standard PowerPoint to create reports and presentations provides students with a foundation for learning technology skills, taking their knowledge of these formats and applying them to new technology tools can maximize their learning in many critical areas.

Audio11

Depending on the type of project or assignment that a student must complete, tools such as Visme offer many options to users who want to create any type of project or presentation with a single multi-tool that integrates multimedia and many other visual elements. As a foreign language teacher, for example, I often want students to include an audio component to their project so that I can assess their speaking skills.

A recent example of this is a project I assigned to Spanish III students which entailed describing the life and work of an artist. The project required a certain amount of vocabulary to assess their Spanish language skills, but it also had to include images or video and an audio narration with their comments on the project.

Whereas in the past, they may have needed to use two separate digital tools to do this, depending on their choice, they can now rely on Visme to create their projects with all of these elements in one presentation.

There are many choices as to the type of format, whether it be an infographic, flyer or a presentation. Each of these have options to include multimedia and many other choices for audio, video, and other visual representations. With the new updates, these choices are even greater than they were for our prior student projects.

There are a lot of tools available which integrate various components, enabling students to record audio or upload audio files into their presentation, but these often require multiple steps, or specific formats, and in some cases may require advanced knowledge of technology.

However, with the recent addition of Visme’s new audio feature, students only need to look to this one tool to create their presentations. They can add their voice-over directly into their project with just a few clicks.

RELATED: How to Create a Narrated Presentation With Voice Over Using Visme

 

Ideas for Using Narrated Presentations

Rosa

There are tons of possibilities for using audio in presentations. As a teacher, I can create lessons for my students, with instructions on each slide, to guide them through the presentation. This is a great option for students who are absent from class or who would like to revisit a specific lesson.

I can also teach a lesson and explain grammar, vocabulary, culture, or any topic we are covering in class, and easily add the recording to the slide, making it easier for the students to follow along. The potential for this is huge, especially in flipped classrooms, or blended learning environments.

Anyone who creates a presentation, regardless of whether it is for use in an educational setting, can take advantage of the audio component of Visme, to really add that something extra to the presentation.

CostaRica8

It can be a recording of one’s own voice, or it can be other audio that has been added in from the library or uploaded from another source. There really are a lot of possibilities for enhancing anyone’s presentation.

 

What Can Students Do With This?

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Students were excited to use Visme’s audio feature for recording voice overs and creating narrated infographics and presentations for our class. Some of the students shared their opinions of Visme’s audio feature.

Ellie: “The audio feature makes it easier to explain your work more in depth when you don’t want to have too many words on the screen, or simply want to describe an image.”

Alexa: “With voice overs, it’s easier to include all of your information and faster than reading slides word for word. It would be a lot easier to present it to people because I could take my time and make sure that my pronunciations were right rather than having to speak in front of people from memory. It’s really easy to use, and it made my presentation more interesting.”

Camp

From a student’s point of view, presenting information to classmates can be a bit scary, and rather than speaking while displaying the presentation, the students can pre-record their information, and let the presentation run on its own.

This is a great way to help students gain confidence in the classroom and keep comfort levels in check. It is also a great way to have presentations available for sharing with peers and for use as a resource for future classes. Teachers can benefit by being able to record their own lessons, but students benefit by having everything they need to create highly visual and engaging multimedia presentations.

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/themes/blog/img/pei1.png

image: http://blog.visme.co/wp-content/themes/blog/img/pei4.png

Visme simplifies presenting and storytelling for you and your team.

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