risktaking

#ISTE16 Takeaways Part 1: Let’s Talk About Relationships

By Rachelle Dene Poth

ISTE Takeaways

Let’s talk about the relationships (part 1 of a series)

Rachelle Dene Poth

ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) is a conference that draws in people from all over the world and all levels of education and technology. With an estimate of close to 20,000 people from 70 countries in attendance, this year’s conference was tremendous. An event so large but yet at times seems so small, when you find yourself running into the same people in different areas of such a large event space. It has so much to offer, that it is hard to do it justice by summarizing or simply writing about one aspect of it.  So I thought I would highlight a few of the biggest takeaways that I had, and ones which I gathered from others.

 

Going to ISTE? What can you expect?
There are a lot of discussions and questions leading up to the conference. For people attending for the first time, the most common questions are: What sessions should I choose? What type of clothing is appropriate? What items should I carry in my bag? What should I expect? What are the “must do” events? and many more questions like this.  Simply put, where do I begin?

I myself was a first-time attendee last year and had absolutely no idea what to expect.  I had been to many different conferences, but none as large as ISTE. I was nervous about not really knowing a lot of people there.  I was fortunate to have just gotten involved with PAECT (Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology) and two of the ISTE networks (MLN and Games & Sims).  Being involved with these organizations helped because I knew some people and had some events lined up, but I figured the chances of seeing them with all of our different schedules, were not too likely.

PAECT Friends

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I tried doing some research, asking questions on social media, reading through and studying the ISTE website to learn as much as I could. I think I studied the program multiple times every day, each week leading up to my travels to Philadelphia. I had a nice schedule planned out, my favorites marked and areas that I wanted to focus on, so it seemed like I was ready to go.  But as I quickly learned last year, and definitely felt the same this year, is that it really doesn’t matter what you decide to do, what schedule you set up to follow, whether or not you know anyone, because no matter what decision you make you can’t go wrong. Honestly. There are no “wrong” or “bad” choices because there are opportunities everywhere. Even if you have a schedule, it is really tough to stick to it. And if you are traveling alone for the first time, don’t worry about being alone. It is a place for building relationships and making connections above anything else. So if you want to learn what ISTE is about let me start by telling you about the relationships and why they matter.

(Photos from #iste2016 Twitter)

(Photo from TechieTeacherTalk @GUAMlovesAT)

 

It starts with relationships: The value of connections

I had to conquer a big fear this year: my fear of flying. Last year, I traveled by Amtrak to Philly, and it was no problem. I don’t mind traveling alone, I use the time to read, participate in Twitter chats, catch up on work, and enjoy the trip.  But this year, preparing to travel to Denver, with my fear of flying, something I have not done in 21 years, was a bit difficult.  I have avoided air travel, preferring to drive or take a train any distance. However with Colorado being a bit far of a drive, bus ride or travel by train, I was not left with much in the way of options. So that meant flying. Fortunately, I had a good friend providing me with the support to help me get to the airport, get on the plane and get to Denver without worry. At least not too much. I just kept thinking about the week ahead.

My support for the travels started with another conference.  Karyn and I met at a Keystone Technology Innovator Summit in Pennsylvania a few years ago. I was also fortunate that at Karyn had another friend traveling with us, Chris, so I had two amazing companions to ease my nerves and it really made a huge difference during the flight and throughout the conference.

Chris Stengel and Karyn Dobda

 

Relationships started through Social Media.  Now aside from the travel, another tremendous part of this experience was a group that originated on Facebook, educators connecting in an ISTE2016 group.  The group then transferred into a Voxer group created and led by Rodney Turner. We communicated in the weeks leading up to ISTE. Lots of conversation, lots of questions and more than anything a ton of inspiration and excitement fueled by the chatter, the shared experiences, the anticipation and even more so, motivation provided by the guidance of our named “Concierge Rodney.”

He started each day with a Vox, a countdown to ISTE, an inspiration and a story.  He brought a bunch of people together, a group of connected educators, who became friends, excited to meet F2F after developing these relationships. Becoming friends through technology. I could hardly wait to meet the members of this group, officially, because we had already learned so much about each other. And we even had t-shirts and stickers made for our group, thanks Mike Jaber.   

(Meeting in Bloggers Cafe, VoxUp)

And at conferences like ISTE, meeting your “Tweeps” and #eduheroes finally F2F is a possibility.  Even though we all feel like we already know each other, after many Twitter chats and social media interactions, it is nice to be together and talk (about technology) without the technology.

Sean Gaillard and Natalie Krayenvenger     (Photo from Katrina Keene)

 

First steps for ISTE

Having these core groups to connect with is something I highly recommend.  All it takes is one or two people and you can build your entire group, so at no point do you feel alone during the conference. One of Rodney’s messages was to be on the lookout for people you notice sitting alone. If you see someone sitting alone, go over and start a conversation, invite people to join you, be welcoming, and it worked. We had our “VoxUp” in the Bloggers Cafe on Sunday before the Keynote, and what a great experience that was.  There were lots of hugs, laughs, smiles and excitement.   This was truly a defining moment.  In looking around, people joined in this group, new connections were made, the excitement and power of this PLN was contagious.  All it took was joining in a group, taking that step and becoming part of something, and having a support system already in place.  Looking around the Bloggers Cafe, there were a lot of small groups of people, gathered to listen to the Keynote, take pictures, make new connections, network and just to absorb everything that was going on. No matter where you looked, you could see the energy and excitement. The energy was so high and it was just the starting point for what would be a phenomenal 3 day event.

 

So, what should your plan be?

Well, maybe the best plan is to not have a plan.  Maybe just have an idea. A focus.  Time goes by so quickly and the choices are so numerous that it can be overwhelming, especially for a first time attendee.  Not everybody can make the same decision about what would be the best session or event to attend. You have to make your own decision and even though there is comfort in going to a session with somebody you know, it is equally if not more beneficial to go your own way, interact with other educators and create new relationships.  You can then come back to that core group with new ideas and new friends, and you never know, it’s such a small world sometimes that you might all know the same people.  And by going to different sessions and different events, there are more stories and experiences to be shared. So the learning possibilities are even greater.  And friends made along the way become part of different groups but connected into one.
Having these different groups really added to the experience.  We shared ideas, attended events together, grabbed early coffees at Coffee Edu, and so much more. Even if you weren’t at ISTE, you could join in virtually and be a part of the ISTE community as well.  The idea behind attending conferences like ISTE is to make new connections, gain new knowledge, to grow professionally, and to explore.  I can’t think of a better way to start doing this than by focusing on relationships. It is where I start each school year and it is where I focus for conferences like ISTE.

(#coffeeEdu, Thanks Craig Yen for Periscoping for #notatiste)

(Mobile Megashare)

 

Share your thoughts and experiences and photos, we would love to hear from you! Next up, focus on some of the ISTE events and takeaways.

Thank you @Kidblog for publishing my recent post on how to start blogging with your students.  Great way to start off the new school year.

Getting Started: Tips for launching a successful class blog

Enthusiastic Students Showcase Kidblog

Summer is full of opportunities for reflecting, learning, and planning. Teachers and students have the ability to review the past year and develop goals for both the summer and the upcoming school year.  While summer gives teachers a chance to unwind and relax, it is often used as a time for exploration and preparation for the new year.

During their time off, many teachers participate in professional development events, become involved in learning communities, and look for new ways to engage their students in the classroom.  I am no different. This summer I had many opportunities to connect with other educators and discuss ideas for increasing engagement in students’ learning and blogging became a common topic. I welcomed these conversations as I have seen first hand the positive results blogging has had on my students.  These discussions revolved around questions about getting students started, privacy, the best use of blogs in the classroom, and how to create new ideas and keep students motivated to blog in and out of the classroom. I was always happy to offer my advice. I created this post in hopes of sharing what I learned from these discussions with a wider audience.

The benefits to student blogging are endless. If you are looking for something new to try with your students, to get them talking, and to learn about your students, I highly recommend blogging as a way to start this new school year.

If you are not familiar with classroom blogging, I suggest setting up your “class URL” first – select a theme, familiarize yourself with the settings, features and how students will create their accounts and log-in.  Additionally, by setting up an account as a student in your class you can better understand the student experience and be prepared to answer any questions. Once everything is ready for real students, creating a handout to explain the use of blogging for your class, listing your expectations and some guidelines, and encouraging creativity in the process, is a great way to start the blogging conversation.

I have tried various methods to getting students started in our class blog. Regardless of the method you choose, it is always worth while to start with a conversation regarding your class blog. Talk about what students will write, when they will use the blog, who will be reading their posts, etc. Getting students excited about the options for post styles, fonts, and the wide audience they can reach in the process is helpful in driving motivation to write.

One option to get students started writing in class is through the use of prompt responses. I started small by instructing students how to join the class and having them begin responding to my posts with meaningful discussion points. If you have time in class to do this, facilitate as the students create their account, personalize their page and begin writing. Eventually students will feel comfortable and excited about creating their own ideas for writing.

Another successful way to get students blogging is to start with what they know – pen and paper. Try providing a prompt and having students write a response on paper, as they had done in the past. This is a great way to ensure students learn to evaluate their work and self-correct. It also reinforces that the true value in blogging is to feel comfortable and confident in expressing one’s ideas and using it as a means for personal growth. Once the students have written their responses, you can ask them create their Kidblog student account and use their writing as the first entry.  By having the first draft, and then entering it as a blog post, students have the opportunity to think, reflect and work on their skills.

Either option provides a great starting point. I recommend that you base your decisions for your class blogging on your students and what will be the most beneficial to your classroom.

Getting students excited about blogging only takes that first step. It is a continuous work in progress.  We are all involved in ongoing learning, and by being learners ourselves, we can help our students to take risks, accept challenges, reflect, and grow. And, through the process, we learn about each other, reinforcing the value of relationship building and support in the classroom.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. I am also an attorney and earned my Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and recently received the Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. I enjoy presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. I am the Communications Chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, a Member at Large for Games & Sims, the Innovation Resources Co-Chair for the Teacher Education Network and the PAECT Historian. Additionally, I am proud to be involved in several communities including being a Common Sense Media Educator, Amazon Inspire Educator, WeVideo Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer, Nearpod Certified Educator and also participate in several other networks. I enjoy blogging and writing for Kidblog and I am always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. You can connect with me on Twitter @rdene915.

I tried Recap at the end of the year and really enjoyed what it offered.   I appreciate the opportunity to have my experience shared on Recap.

Posted on July 20, 2016Posted in Guest Post

Student voice is very important in education today. Teachers benefit greatly by understanding what the students’ needs and interests are, their backgrounds and other experiences they bring with them to the classroom. Students participate in so many diverse learning experiences aimed at providing the best practice through multi-modal instructional methods, to personalize instruction, drive student learning and to provide the resources and support necessary for student success. And while the teacher may believe that each learning experience they provide is valuable and will benefit the students’ growth in the class, it is critical to seek input from the students themselves to really understand the impact these methods have on their learning.

Involving students in conversations can happen in many mediums. With all of the digital tools available today, there are endless possibilities available for substituting the traditional face-to-face conversations or having students write some type of a response such as a self-reflection in class. Having students reflect on a particular learning experience or participate in a discussion after class, are valuable opportunities for teachers as well to learn more about the students and to continue building those vital relationships. Including students in the planning and gathering input from them benefits the learning environment tremendously and there are many ways to do this. I found a new method of encouraging students to share their thoughts this year, through Recap.

Deciding to Try Recap

Toward the end of the school year, I wanted to try some new tools in the classroom, to keep students engaged and motivated through the end of the year. I thought that trying out some new ideas would work well at this time, because I could use the information to reflect and plan over the summer. I came across Recap and was very interested in trying it out with my students.
I was initially unsure of whether it would be easy to implement into my classroom, or even how I would use it, but as with all things, sometimes you have to just take a chance and see how it works out. So I did just that and created a class for my students using Recap. The first time I logged in and created a video in which I asked the students to share their thoughts about some of the projects we had done, some of the tools that we had used, and any other insight that they wanted to provide to me. I explained how Recap would work and set up my recording for them. It was very easy to use and to set up. More important, students were excited about this new experience and felt comfortable in sharing their ideas.

Ideas for Using Recap

There are many uses for Recap in and outside of the classroom to have students respond to a prompt, have a debate on a topic, use it for a speaking assessment, and many more possibilities depending on content and grade level taught. But one of the biggest benefits I think it provides is a comfortable way for students to connect with their teachers and to honestly share their ideas, thoughts or reflections. Students are often afraid to speak up, we all are, and having a tool which enables the assessment or reflection to be done in the comfort of one’s own home or place, is very beneficial.
After the first time my students completed the assignment, watching their responses compiled into a daily reel, several things were clear. I could see that they were comfortable, which was very important to me, especially when trying something new like Recap. I also appreciated the fact that they took the risk to share their ideas and provided honest evaluations of my teaching and their classroom experiences. And I really like that I was able to give them feedback as well following their video responses.

The Foreign Language Classroom

As a foreign language teacher, I can use this in my classroom to have students complete speaking assessments, discuss topics we are working on in class, whether it be a work of art or particular reading, and they can give their honest opinions in a more comfortable, safer environment for expressing themselves. It is also quite useful for students to do a reflection of my instruction or of their own skills, interests and needs in the classroom. The nice thing is that either way, teachers and students can learn about each other, and grow from the feedback given.

I was very excited after this initial experience with Recap and so I tried it with several of my other classes. The response was all positive and I know that I will use it a lot more in the upcoming school year to have students complete speaking assessments, have discussions and more activities like these. But more than these uses, it is a way for me to better understand their needs and to learn more about them in the process. A way to continue building the vital relationships that help to build a positive, supportive classroom environment.

There are many ways to use Recap in the classroom but also as part of professional development, conference presentations and much more.

About Rachelle Dene Poth

She is a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an attorney and earned her Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and recently received the Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. She enjoys presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. She is the Communications Chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, a Member at Large for Games & Sims, the Innovation Resources Co-Chair for the Teacher Education Network and the PAECT Historian. Additionally, She is proud to be involved in several communities including being a Common Sense Media Educator, Amazon Inspire Educator, WeVideo Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer, Nearpod Certified Educator and also participate in several other networks. She enjoys blogging and writing for Kidblog and is always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. You can connect with her on Twitter @rdene915.

IMG_20160629_103429847 (2) (1)

After recent technology showcases, finishing up an independent study focused on Student engagement, motivation and social presence, I wanted to learn more about what students want and what they need to do well.  Taking the digital tools we had used, with me leading the lesson, I put it in their hands to create and lead.  It was an exciting opportunity, as the year was winding down, to keep motivated and try new things, but to give choices for all.  Here is the second part of a series of stories, with student reflections.

 

Interactive Video Lessons:  EDpuzzle

Rachelle Dene Poth: I am a Spanish and French Teacher and I look for ways to include student voice, choice, and leadership when finding the right materials for every student. With the help of some students, we worked with EDpuzzle as part of a new learning adventure, I wanted to empower students to become more than learners in the classroom. I wanted them to lead the class and develop these critical skills and have choices.

Choosing EDpuzzle

EDpuzzle is a tool that I have been increasingly interested in using with my students, to add to our video experiences and find new ways to engage them more in and out of class.  As the school year started to wind down, I found myself wanting to try some new methods of instruction with my students.  We have used a variety of digital tools to complete assessments, have discussions, create projects, collaborate on class wikis and more.  The benefits have been tremendous.  Students have improved their Spanish language skills by creating a more authentic and meaningful representation of what they know and can do with the material by having a choice in tools. This personalization  meets their interests and needs and helps to motivate them.  

Motivation for trying new things in the classroom

One of my main goals is to work to find creative and innovative ways to introduce content in my classroom and above all, to make sure that students have choices and feel valued and supported in the classroom.  Giving choices for how to show their learning, leads to a more beneficial and personalized experience for all students and even myself.  If each student chooses something different, this promotes more meaningful and unique learning experiences, and builds vital technology skills in the process. Opportunities like this lead to many benefits.   

So who benefits from these new, interactive and flipped experiences?

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We all do. Teachers and students benefit because not only have we all reinforced our knowledge of the content material, (Spanish language and culture in our case), we are learning about new tools, and maybe even more importantly, about each other.  

Giving choices is a risk.  With so many options available, it is not possible to know everything about each tool and its benefits.  So as teachers, we have to learn as much as we can, and then relinquish some control to our students.  They need to have the chance to explore, create, and share.  Give them the opportunity to do more than simply produce the same product as the other students, because they are not the same.  Let them become the “creators” and the leaders in the classroom.  Let them take on a more active role and see how this promotes engagement, curiosity and motivation within them.

Putting the plan into action

With these new reflective thoughts, I began a new venture into having students select from diverse tools, which are typically used by teachers for delivering content, and had them create and teach a lesson.  I thought this could be a bit risky, but would also be beneficial for many reasons.  It seemed like an interesting twist to try, especially at the end of the year, and I wanted to see if and how it was of benefit.

Why make the change to student created lessons

Accountability.  In education, there is a lot of accountability.   Both teachers and students are accountable for learning and classroom involvement, as well as many other responsibilities.  In my classroom, I use a variety of learning activities and offer choices of tools to help the students to learn.  I often tell the students that it is like having a room full of toys, find one and try it, if you like it, keep it.  If you don’t then select something else, because the idea is for it to be something that is beneficial and meaningful to you. No matter what you do, use each as a learning opportunity and a chance to reflect and grow.

Videos for learning

One area I rely on for helping students is the use of videos. In the past, I would assign the videos to be viewed outside of class, flipping the learning environment, and hope the students watched the videos as instructed, but without any real way to know.  Sometimes we would discuss the video or I would have them complete an in class activity, ways to hold students accountable for watching the video.  But students could skip through the video, gathering only the highlights, and get by with just enough information to complete the activity, or without watching the video, could learn the information elsewhere.  So the problem remained student accountability.

 

That is before tools like EDpuzzle which enable the creation of interactive video lessons with analytics to show who watched, analyzing their responses to questions and much more. Without having tools like EDpuzzle, assigning students to watch a video alone does not promote accountability and is not quite as engaging, nor is it interactive.  Students are less likely to really focus on the material.  

How else can videos be used?

We use a variety of videos to enhance our learning in the classroom and I have spent time this year, creating more interactive lessons, to hold the students accountable.  I also started wondering how the students would like being the creators, more active and interactive, rather than passive in their learning, and using these traditionally considered “teacher” resources to produce an assessment or a project and let them lead in the classroom.  

I am thrilled with how this new approach has gone. While I may think that it went well and was very helpful, what matters more to me is what do the students think?  I make it clear that I do not want to waste their time and would not assign something that I did not truly believe was beneficial. This is my hope, but I rely on the honest feedback of students, to reflect and move forward.

 

So what do the students have to say?   

Three of my 10th grade, Spanish III students reflect on their experience with EDpuzzle.

Adam: I had been struggling to find a good web source to meet my needs for entertainment as well as my education in the classroom and EDpuzzle is a great way to meet both of these needs.  When I faced the challenge of preparing a lesson to teach to my Spanish 3 class, I honestly didn’t know where to start.  I first tried some other resources that we had used but they really weren’t getting the message across like I wanted. Then Mrs. Poth recommended a new tool by the name of EDpuzzle to me and my reaction was

“Edpuzzle? Mrs. Poth this is a Spanish project, not a puzzle!”
“Just try it out!” She said.
So I went home that night, and after thinking it through, I again began my Spanish project.  I started with another source and was still disappointed in my product.  Finally I decided to give EDPuzzle a chance. By the time the loading bar hit 100 percent and that page loaded up I knew I found the perfect tool for not only this project but many more to come!

EDpuzzle was a fantastic way for me to use my sports video and transform it into something completely unique with a few easy changes. And for future projects, I will never have the issue of handing out papers with the questions. I can simply tell my “class” to pull out their mobile devices and answer the questions that I have integrated into my video. There are so many options for a user to enjoy and learn from the features that EDpuzzle has to offer! Thank you for providing the tool to not only teach my Spanish 3 class but to have them enjoy  as well.

BEN: I used EDpuzzle for a class project. The first time I saw EDpuzzle was in class and I thought it had a pretty interesting concept. So, when we were assigned a project for the camping unit, I decided to try EDpuzzle.

I created a lesson for my classmates by adding comments and questions to a camping video I found online. I found that EDpuzzle was easy to use and that it was a new fun way to make a class project that could be used as an interactive lesson. I especially enjoyed the many features EDpuzzle offers such as the being able to crop the video, make an audio recording over the video, and being able to make different types of questions. I felt that EDpuzzle impacted me in that it gave me a new way to present a topic and a more fun way to create projects and relay information. EDpuzzle is a fun and different digital tool to use that can be a great tool for learning.

EDpuzzle

 

A student who participated in the lessons of Adam and Ben said: “ By having all of the different choices of tools to use for our project made it easier to find something that I was interested in and comfortable with.  The activities included in their video lessons were educational and fun,  and made learning more enjoyable for the students. It provides more than just watching a video and not really being held accountable for paying attention. You had to pay attention in order to answer the questions.   I would recommend EDpuzzle to anyone looking for a new way to present information, in any setting.”

 

In the end

It is all about giving the students choices and allowing them the opportunity to try new things, lead the class and develop their content area skills, as well as many other critical 21st century skills.  EDpuzzle and the other tools,  provided an opportunity for students to take on a new role, to build their comfort level, and to learn new ways of integrating technology and having fun in the process.  They were the teachers and we all were the learners. 

Showing how to use EDpuzzle in class.  IMG_20160601_105253829

 Toward the end of this past school year, I noticed a quick decline in homework completion, student progress and motivation. I knew that it had been a very busy final few weeks full of testing, athletic events, and much more, and thought that I should work on ways to engage the students more, try some new things in class, and finish the year strong. So I used that time to test out some new tools, offer some new opportunities and different choices to the students. I found myself allowing for more spontaneity in our learning, taking a few more risks, and asking the students for more input into what they wanted to do and how they wanted to learn. It became part of my “staying strong till the finish” experiment, which included mixing up the seating arrangements, giving students opportunities to teach class, choosing how to show what they had learned and more. With positive responses, I then shifted to another area which concerned me and that was homework.
Do we need to assign homework?
As a student, I always had homework and it was always the same as everyone else. We did worksheets, or outlined chapters, or had some other task. When I first started teaching, I found myself teaching similar to how I had been taught. Homework was assigned to my students on most days, and on most days it was the same. For a very long time I did not see any problem with this, I was using the homework to assess the students and give them the practice they needed to master the content. But as part of my professional development and interest in trying new methods and focusing more on student needs, I realized that it does not have to be the same. So I shifted my focus to evaluating the types and the frequency of homework assignments that I was giving to my students.
Over the past few years, I have changed my thinking, looking for ways to move away from those “one size fits all” assignments and aim toward providing more personalized, authentic assignments for my students. Some other reasons are that students can possibly find answers online, or worse, copy the homework. And as a language teacher, I also wanted to find ways to discourage students from using online translators. These experiences, along with feeling a bit frustrated about the homework not being completed, led me to really try some new methods at the end of the year. And have led me to really think about what types of homework I will have for the upcoming year. It is an ongoing learning process. Some areas that I have been reflecting on are: the types of assessments used in my classroom, my different groups of students, the frequency of their homework completion, and even more closely, a look at the individual students within each of the classes. My goal is to continue to reflect on whether or not the type of instruction and the strategies I am using, are beneficial to them and if what I am assigning truly has value and is helping to build their skills, or is it simply busy work.
Questions I asked myself I have been thinking about a few areas of my teaching. What are the types of materials use in class? Have I been using the same resources each year with each class? Was I assigning the same homework to each class? There are times when I had used the same worksheet, or a test over the years. Not because I was lazy, but rather, because it was a quick assessment to use or I believed it was the best way to provide the students with practice. But I have been working to find something that would work best for and help the students. And I have realized that it is more than taking a look at each individual class, it means really developing an understanding of the needs of each individual student. What helps them to learn the best? What do our students want and need from us?
An experiment
I do believe in the value of homework and I know that students today have a lot of homework each day. Homework is one of the ways to help students to practice and evaluate what they know, what they don’t know and how they can improve. It is one of many ways teachers can assess students and learn about their needs, provide instruction and valuable feedback. To change things a bit, I decided to make things more personal and have the students decide what they could do for homework.
I assigned each student to be the teacher for the next class period. The students were working in pairs and their homework was to come to class the next day with a lesson to teach. It could be something tangible such as a worksheet or could be a website, a video, a game, or any other resource. I was fine with whatever they chose as long as they could use it in class and more importantly, that they could teach their partner. I thought this would be a great way for the students to have more meaningful learning and also build relationships and collaborative learning skills. And in the process, also see there was more than one teacher in the room.
The results
During the lessons, I interacted with each group to see the lessons they prepared. Students had created worksheets, written notes, brought flashcards, had games and videos and more. A few even created a game for their partner to play. But what was most important was that they sought out resources, they had an opportunity to teach someone else and their homework was personalized not only for them, but also for other students. It went well and they were enjoying it and learning. I was nervous about doing this, about not having clear expectations, and leaving it up to the students. It was a risk. But it went very well and I was impressed with how creative they were, their level of engagement, and the variety of “homework” that had been done.
The student responses
I value student input and regularly engage them in informal conversations because I want to know their thoughts. Did they learn? Was this an effective way to practice? It was a very positive experience and the end result was that the students became teachers, the learning was more personal, they felt valued, and it was meaningful and beneficial to their learning experiences. It is a risk and when you don’t necessarily have the whole plan set out, and you just kind of go with it, you might be surprised at the results. Giving up some control to the students is not always easy, but in doing this, it opened up more opportunities for facilitating their learning, providing more individualized instruction and continuing to build those relationships which are the foundation of education. I still have some time before the new school year and I am looking forward to trying more ideas like this, which give students more control and provide diverse learning opportunities.
There are a lot of great tools out there and students really like having choices in the classroom and learning new ways to use technology that helps them to develop their language skills.

Thanks Adam Schoenbart  and The EduCal for the opportunity to share what a great event this was for everyone.

summerspark2016

The Summer Spark Experience

By Rachelle Dene Poth

What is the Summer Spark? In the words of lead organizer, Chuck Taft, it’s a conference with the goal to “set the the stage for all participants to innovate, collaborate, and connectate (Chuck’s word) and set the stage for exciting summer PD, renewed enthusiasm in the profession of teaching, and get fired up for their best ever year of teaching.” I can tell you that the Summer Spark delivered all of this and much more.

The Summer Spark was held at the University School of Milwaukee on June 13-14, 2016. I discovered the event through Twitter, and I am excited to share my Summer Spark experience from this year’s event.

A Great Start to Summer

If you are looking for a great way to kick off your summer learning, I highly recommend joining Summer Spark next year! Mark the dates on your calendar now: June 12th – 13th, 2017. Learn more about the event here and start planning your trip. No matter where you live, traveling to USM is well worth it!

It was two days full of learning opportunities which included keynotes, networking time, tracked sessions, workshops, unconferences, fabulous food and a ton of fun. The days included presentations led by authors including George Couros, Jason Bretzmann, Kenny Bosch, Shelley Burgess, Don Wettrick, Julie Smith, Michael Matera, Matt Miller, and Quinn Rollins. Each day kicked off with a fabulous keynote speech, inspiring all of those present to seek more opportunities for themselves and for their students and calling on all education professionals to take action and expand their learning possibilities. #USMSpark was trending, and Twitter was full of inspiring posts and pics to share the experience with those in attendance and people everywhere. Check out the Twitter feed for quotes, pics, and inspiration.

Summer Spark 2016 Begins!

It started with a welcome breakfast, which was fantastic, and time to meet and greet. For me, it was the opportunity to finally meet a friend in person and learn together in the same place, rather than learning virtually, as we had for the past few years. For many, it was an opportunity to reconnect with friends from last year’s conference, to meet “tweeps” face to face, and to make new friends as well. For everyone, it was the start of what would be an inspiring and invigorating two days of learning and growth. No matter where you looked, people were engaged in conversations, smiling, laughing, taking photos, posting tweets and having a lot of fun together.

The Summer Spark conference had sessions organized into strands for learning which would help attendees to select a particular learning topic and find sessions most relevant in their area of interest. There were so many opportunities for networking and personalized learning with the great offering of presentations, so many in fact it made it hard to narrow down to just one choice for each time slot. However, with so many opportunities to sit down and talk with one another, plus the availability of presentations and collaborative notes through the conference site, there were alternate methods of gaining new knowledge and ideas, even if you couldn’t attend all the sessions you wanted at the same time.

And at the end of Day 1, there were 25 teams racing against the clock in a Spark Treasure hunt, frantically trying to solve various puzzles and tasks, engage in “tomfoolery” to unlock the box. Congratulations to Team Typewriter! A thrilling end to the first day, fueled by innovation, collaboration, and “connectating.”

Day 2 was no different, kicking it off with another motivating keynote by Don Wettrick, with the message to “accept the challenge: I don’t care if you teach 20 years, just don’t teach the same year 20 times.” The keynote was followed by “unconferences” in the traditional EdCamp style, and attendees were called on to come to the front and pitch a session (which also gave you some extra tickets for those great raffle prizes). There were a lot of great topics ranging from alternate assessments to Google Classroom, infographics and interactive lessons, gamification, elementary apps, creating an innovative genius hour, getting started with Twitter, and so much more.

There were additional presentations before and after another tremendous lunch buffet, some trivia games and the day was rounded out with 90 minute workshops allowing for a deeper dive into the morning’s topics. It was a fantastic two day learning experience that drew to a close on Tuesday afternoon with the raffle and announcement of the dates for next year’s Summer Spark.

My Takeaways

It was such a phenomenal event, led by the host Chuck Taft and his team who provided everything and more that you could possibly want. The welcome, the students helping the attendees, the tech support, the staff and everyone at the school made this a truly outstanding experience for everyone. There were lots of highlights throughout the two days, new connections made, friends meeting face to face finally, and lots of fun and excitement.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend Summer Spark and be able to share some of my knowledge, but more importantly, to meet and learn from so many others. The trip from Pittsburgh was well worth it and I look forward to attending again next year. Conferences like this connect people, enable Twitter friends to meet face-to-face, or to make new friends and to walk away at the start of summer with some new ideas and new directions to go. I’m thankful to have left energized and excited for the future.

Thanks Chuck Taft and all of the Summer Spark conference planners for a truly amazing opportunity and I am honored to have been able to be a part of this experience.

Thoughts from Attendees

Here are some thoughts from other participants about their Summer Spark experience:

  • “The atmosphere was electric” (Nick Davis)
  • My brain won’t stop thinking about all of the amazing ideas I got from #USMSpark. I dreamt about it last night! (Neelie Barthenheier)
  • “Already going through withdrawals after a 7 hour drive home, missing the magic, excitement, and connectedness of the conference. I know the magic of being around so many teacher authors/ entrepreneurs was empowering“ (Dean Meyer)
  • “I was blown away by @USMSpark! Thank you so much for an amazing 2 days of learning and growing!” (Rebecca Gauthier)
  • “You knocked it out of the park! #USMSpark was a fabulous conference!” (Tisha Richmond)
  • “Truly humbling experience to be surrounded by so many passionate, visionary educators. I wouldn’t miss #USMSpark” (Brian Durst)
  • “Can’t say enough about the hard work, dedication, positive, encouraging, energizing nature of the the heart & soul of #USMSpark “ (Jason Bretzmann)
  • “A big thank you to a terrific host @Chucktaft at #USMSpark. So many new friends, ideas, and passion as a result” (Mike Jaber)
  • “So much learning and working together…this is what it’s about. Getting better so WE can make education better!” (Brit Francis)
  • “Wanted to make sure I told you how awesome #USMSpark was & loved meeting you in person! I’m excited about coming back next year :)” (Mandy Froehlich)
  • “Thank you for your passion, commitment, enthusiasm, & humor. Thanks for igniting the spark” (Yau-Jau Ku)
Learning Together Finally!
Thanks #usmspark!

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an attorney and earned her Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. Rachelle enjoys presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. She serves as the Communications Chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, a Member at Large for Games & Sims, and is the PAECT Historian. Additionally, Rachelle is a Common Sense Media Educator, Amazon Educator, WeVideo Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer and also participates in several other networks. She enjoys blogging and writing for Kidblog and is always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. Connect with Rachelle on Twitter @rdene915.

A New Challenge For My Classroom: Creating Interactive Video Lessons

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A New Challenge For My Classroom: Creating Interactive Video Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Started

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

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

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

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

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

How Does It Work?

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

Thanks to Edutopia for this recent post on June 20, 2016

Blogging

As a foreign language teacher, I constantly look for new, engaging ways for students to work on their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in and outside of the classroom.  It is also very important to me that they develop confidence in expressing themselves with the language.  Confidence is sometimes an issue because of the fear students have of making a mistake, either writing something incorrectly, or pronouncing a word wrong. The fear exists and often it causes students to be more hesitant before responding and not participate as much.   The fear of mistakes is not something that is specific to students.  Teachers have this same fear, as do all people.  I have noticed more this year, than in prior years, that students struggle with this and as a result, it limits their learning potential.  So I have worked on finding ways to encourage them to use the language and be creative, and to leave that fear behind.

I took some opportunities to ask students why they did not answer a question on an assignment or a test, or respond in class, and before hearing their response, I already knew what they would say.   They “figured it would be wrong” or they “didn’t know the whole answer” so they left it blank or did not complete the assignment.  Sometimes the students would even write on their papers that they were wrong, or would draw a big X or a frown next to a response.

Seeing these responses, or hearing their reactions, made me want to find ways to help build their confidence levels and to keep them learning.   I tried encouraging them to speak more in class, emphasized that it was more important to try and express themselves and create with the language, rather than worry about being wrong.  I thought that by providing opportunities for them to choose a topic, to know that they were not being graded based on perfect grammar, but rather receiving points for having made the effort and created with the language.  The way to do this was through blogging.

Blogging helps students develop content area skills and confidence

I thought that blogging would be a good way for the students to have a more meaningful and personalized learning experience because they could choose a topic and write about something that they wanted to.  While I emphasized the importance of using the related vocabulary and verbs, I also made it clear that I was more concerned with them using the language, expressing their ideas, and then taking time to look at mistakes and learn from them. Reading their blogs was a great way for me to focus on their individual needs but also to learn more about each student.  It is helpful as a teacher to understand where the students are coming from, what their interests are, and their learning styles, and blogging is a very beneficial method to accomplish these tasks.

Some students initially were not in favor of blogging and at times, seemed almost pained at the idea of having to “blog”, however it is really not any different than filling in a worksheet or making up sentences for class.  It took a little time, but in the end, many students enjoyed blogging and made their blog posts a very creative and personal space, but also were able to look at their growth over the course of the year, and see the progress that they had made.   Blogging is a great tool  for practicing language skills and many others, but also a way to look back and see how you have improved.   The ease of sharing ideas and creating with the language, plus the increase in confidence, are some of the reasons why I think blogging is beneficial for any student or teacher, but also why it will be a practice which continues in my classroom next school year.

Thanks Terry Heick and TeachThought for publishing this recent post on June 20, 2016.

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The end of the school year can be challenging with so many changes occurring: the weather, spring sports, weeks of standardized testing, field trips and other activities lead to oftentimes, chaotic schedules.  These changes can decrease motivation in students and in some cases, teachers as well, and result in a feeling that the school year is over before it really is.

I notice this gradual transformation each year, and do my best to mix things up, to keep learning going, and to stay strong until the end.  This year seemed to be a more challenging year, although I cannot pinpoint why, but as I mentioned in my prior post, I decided to do something about it. I made the decision to try some new methods, reevaluate how I have been doing things in my classroom, and what could I be doing better.

The last grading period has been a time to test out some new tools, give students new opportunities, more choices and be a little less structured, allowing for some spontaneity in our learning.  So as part of my “staying strong till the finish”, after mixing up the seating arrangements and receiving positive responses, I shifted my focus to a new area:  Homework

What Is Homework, Anyway?

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to homework.  My focus has been on really looking at the types and the frequency of assignments I give.  Over the past few years, I have changed my thinking and tried to move away from a “one size fits all” assignment and move toward a more personalized, authentic assignment.  There have been several reasons for this change in thought.

Hearing from other educators at conferences, input from my students, and as a language teacher, also having to find ways to avoid student use of translators for assignments. These experiences, in addition to a little frustration from homework not being completed, have led me to really try some new methods in this area.

Some of the areas I considered when thinking about homework were: the types of assessments I use in my classroom, my students, the frequency of homework completion, the type of homework, and even more closely, a look at the individuals within each group of students that I am teaching.  My goal is to continue to reflect on whether or not the type of instruction and the strategies I am using, are beneficial to them and if the homework I assign truly has value and builds their skills, or is it just busy work. A lot of the discussion out there now is about getting rid of homework assignments and traditional grading.

Why I Decided To Do Something Different

I have been teaching foreign languages for almost 20 years, and I notice how quickly time has passed, when I find myself teaching a concept and I feel like I just taught the same thing the day before. This “déjà vu” experience leads me to think about the progress I am making with the curriculum in the current school year, and how I have paced my instruction throughout the year. But what I have come to realize more this year than any other, is that it should not be the goal to be at the same point at the same time each year. In my mind, that simply should not be how it goes.

I think a lot of people consider teaching as a profession in which the same plans are used, lessons are taught at the same pace, the same assignments and tests are given each year. If we truly did that, then the profession of teaching would seem to be a rather easy and predictable one. However, that is not the way it is.

I had a conversation with someone that thought teachers simply used the same exact materials each year, with each class, and that teaching was a really easy profession.  This conversation bothered me, and the last part about it being “easy” really hit me. So this inspired me to think about my teaching practice.  What materials I was I using in class? How was I providing instruction for my students and was I using the same resources each year with each class?  Had I been doing the same thing in my classroom every year?  Did I simply pull out a folder to make copies or open up a computer to reprint what I had used each of the 19 years prior to this one?

Honestly, sometimes yes. I had. I had used the same worksheet, or a document for a part of a test over the years.  I hadn’t done this because I was lazy.  In some cases it was for providing a quick activity or assessment, and others it was because I thought the materials were valuable and would help the students to learn.

Thinking About Homework In Your Classroom

Ask yourself these same questions.  What do you come up with?  If you have been doing the same thing, then maybe it is time to make a few changes.  Think about what would work best for and help your students.  This means more than just looking at each individual class, it means really looking at the needs of each individual student.  To do this requires that we get to know our students, and to know our students means we have to build relationships and understand where they’re coming from and what they’re interested in doing in class.

What helps them to learn the best?  What do they want and need from us?  So I decided to use this as an opportunity to take a bit of a risk and try some new methods during this final grading period. It made sense because then I could really think about it over the summer and start fresh in the fall.

The first homework experiment

Students have a lot of homework and I do believe in the value of homework.  It is the way we help students to practice and figure out what they know and what they don’t know and how they can become better. It is one of many ways teachers can assess students and learn about their needs, provide instruction and valuable feedback.  But I’ve changed my thinking about homework.  I used to think that I had to give students homework every day.  And I also thought that homework had to be the same for each student and each class. In part, my methods were a result of the experience I had as a high school student.  I decided to change the daily homework assignments and make things more personal,  let the students determine for themselves what they could do for homework, and have choices.

Just as a start, I assigned each student to be the teacher for the next class period.   With a partner for example, we are working on the past tense in Spanish and in pairs, I let the students decide which verb tense they would like to teach their partner.  The homework was to simply come to class the next day with a way to teach their partner the verbs.  I said it could be something tangible in the form of a worksheet or any activity that they found, a website, a video, a game, or another resource. It really did not matter to me as long as whatever they had they could use in class and they could teach.

I believed that in the process the students would learn more and also develop collaborative learning skills.

What Did The Students Think?

While they taught, I moved around to interact with each group to see what it was they had prepared. There were worksheets found online, worksheets that students created, handwritten pages of notes, flashcards, some had found websites with games and others had found videos or had created a Kahoot or Quizizz game for their partner to play. But what was most important was that they sought out resources, they had an opportunity to teach someone else and their homework was personalized not only for them, but also for other students. It went well and they were enjoying it and learning.

I will admit that I was nervous about doing this.  Not requiring a specific form or product for each student to show in class, and being open to any format the students brought in, was very different. It was a risk. But I was amazed at how creative they were, how engaged each group was, and the variety of “homework” that had been done.

Student feedback is very important for me and I value their input and regularly engage them in informal conversations or will have them complete a survey.  I want to know their thoughts. What did they like?  What did they not like?  Did they learn? Was this an effective way to practice the material we were covering in class?  We spent two days doing this first assignment, so each person could teach.  And then I had them switch groups, and teach again.  The end result was that students were teachers, the learning was personal, they were engaged, felt valued, and the experience was meaningful and beneficial to their learning.

It is a risk and when you don’t necessarily have the whole plan set out, and you just kind of go with it, you might be surprised at the results.  Giving the students control, seeing their interactions, and knowing that this homework was the type that was beneficial to each of them, encouraged me to continue to find new ways to give more classroom control to the students.  Giving up some control is not always easy, but in doing this, it opens up more opportunities for facilitating learning, providing individualized instruction and building those relationships which are the foundation of education.

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Using Technology To Help Students Lead Their Own Learning

 

by Rachelle Dene Poth

Technology provides ways for students to learn anywhere and at any time, and affords the possibility of providing learning at a pace that is comfortable for each student.

Teachers can teach students from inside the traditional classroom, “the brick-and-mortar” as it is called, or from other places anywhere around the world. Lessons can be pre-recorded and shared or streamed live, and students can access these types of tools at any time and refer back to them as needed. The availability of tools which lend themselves to more interaction between the teacher and the students–and the content can continue, in the mind of the student, to grow.

There are many options available and the best part is that with so many choices, it is possible to find something that meets the needs of each class and each student. Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and can provide opportunities for the students to take on the role of teachers and to create their own lesson and lead. Students can create with these tools and share lessons with the class, thereby increasing the resources available to all students. Or simply use the opportunity to become the creator, as a way to help them learn the material in a more meaningful and authentic way.

They Can Learn Anytime, Anywhere

The use of technology can mean that learning is no longer confined to the traditional time and setting of the classroom. In this way, it opens up the learning environment to anytime, anywhere–and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well.

Teachers and students can access so many resources to teach the content and to help understand and then apply the knowledge they have gained. And when students are given 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 personal to them. Given support, students can find resources that meet their needs, and teachers can also use these resources to find out what the student needs are.

With the multiple ways to assess students using digital tools today, teachers can have the data instantly, through live results, and can provide feedback to students when they need it the most. Students can take this information and then build on their own skills, and when they can’t or choose not to, you know where to start when helping them and their families growing as master learners.

It Give Them Choices

The timing and quality of learning feedback is critical for growth to happen. Students can also make choices about what types of activities they want to use and therefore are more empowered in their learning and can self-direct. If you give some of the control and leave the decision making to students to choose how to show what they have learned, or let them design their own homework assignment, they have the chance to be more empowered, and build momentum that can endure after the unit is over.

Giving students opportunities to work with each other and take on a new role, such as that of a teacher, enables you to also provide more one-on-one feedback. Teachers can become more of a facilitator and move around the classroom and learn more about the students and their needs, and also build relationships in the process. Relationships are key to student growth, and choice can be a significant boost here.

It Can Help Them Find Resources More Relevant To Them

One of the advantages of digital tools is that it can make some things more accessible; anytime, anywhere access to information, past work, groups, experts, and more are not the only benefit of technology. The resources and materials have more of an opportunity to stay up-to-date, and there are many so choices that each student can find something that is relevant to them.

 

Using Technology To Help Students Lead Their Own Learning; adapted image attribution flickr user sparkfunelectronics