#SEL

Metaverse: Collections are here!

This post is sponsored by Metaverse. All opinions are my own.

Metaverse has become a favorite of my students for creating fun, interesting, interactive “experiences” for class. The best part about using a tool like Metaverse is that it enables educators to give students more control and an opportunity to create something that is more meaningful to them. With libraries full of thousands of choices, every student can find something that meets their interests and engages them more in the creative fun and process of learning. While sometimes it can take a little bit longer to figure out how to use different tools for creating in Augmented Reality, or problem solve to find out why something isn’t working during the creation process, with Metaverse, all students can find exactly what they need. Sometimes people wonder if there’s any bit of a learning curve or how much time it takes to get started with something, but in this case, it couldn’t be easier.

I have found that students really enjoy creating with Metaverse, especially because they have so many possibilities for what they can create. They can add in characters and 3D objects, portals, 360 videos, YouTube videos, audio, and much more. There has been an update to the way that the website looks and it is now even easier to find what you need in order to create your very own experience. Of course if you need help, you can send a message directly to the Metaverse team using the chat or check out some of their updated video tutorials on YouTube.

Other benefits

I find that another bonus of using Metaverse is that it is very user-friendly to get started with and it doesn’t take long for students to figure out how to design their experience on their own or for students to step in and help their peers. I’ve noticed when using tools like Metaverse in the classroom that there is this other component to what students are able to “experience” while learning. It really does a lot for helping peers work on their collaborative skills and even social-emotional learning skills. There are many ways to use this for students to create a representation of something they have learned, to tell a story, to create a scavenger hunt even. You can learn more about Metaverse and how it works from my prior post or check out a recent post about using Augmented Reality tools for blended learning here.

Eagerly anticipating the new features

I had a chance to preview the Collections with the Metaverse team about a month ago, and I was very excited when I learned about the changes that would be coming to the Metaverse platform. Not only would there be more items and awesome things to choose from, that students and teachers could create with, but there would also be a new dashboard with a better way for students and teachers to access the experiences that have been created.

Having used Metaverse for a few years, I have saved a lot of student-created experiences to use in my STEAM classes. In order to make these experiences available for all students to see and enjoy each year, I chose to create a Padlet and have students post their QR codes onto the Padlet. By doing this, it was easy to simply display the Padlet on the Smartboard and have students walk up and scan the QR code. Another benefit was that it gave students time to explore a variety of experiences created by their peers and make new connections while learning.

It’s very easy to manage the student work from your classroom once you create a collection from your Metaverse dashboard. With this new feature, you can see all of your students’ experiences, you can set them up by class or if it’s the same class, put all of the experiences together, that way students have even more to explore and learn from. As a teacher, you have the option to edit the student experiences and take a look at what they have created, and beyond that, once you have the collection created, you the projects for the entire class can be shared through just one link. So easy to connect student work in one space. Check out Collections here!

How to get Collections

So how do you get the Collections? For right now it is still a free feature, without the Collections add-on. Creating collections will become a paid add on for the Metaverse studio. To submit one of your experiences to a collection, there is no cost involved. Students from prior classes or who create experiences in other courses can still share their experiences to be used with the other students in my STEAM class.

The cost is going to be approximately $7 per month or you can sign up for a year at a discount rate of $64! And speaking of benefits, use the promo code ARforEDU and take advantage of a free month of Collections!

The result?

A much easier way to gather, explore and share student work. More convenient and better access to be able to explore the different experiences. One thing to keep in mind is to always check over the student experiences and keep providing reminders about digital citizenship and responsibilities as part of learning journey in Augmented Reality. Ready to get started with Metaverse in your classroom? Check out all of the great resources for teachers here.

Bringing Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality to all Classrooms

Jaime Donally’s book “Learning Transported” is the resource to go to to learn how immersive technology can be used in education. For anyone looking to get started with bringing augmented, mixed or virtual reality and different learning experiences into the classroom but not sure of where to begin, Jaime provides a well laid out format which provides the reader with the all of the information and resources they need to feel comfortable in using AR and VR in the classroom.
For some readers, knowing the differences between augmented and virtual reality or knowing the different apps available for each of these may not be clear. However, the structure of the Learning Transported book enables the reader to progress from understanding how it is used, and even more importantly “why” it should be used education, to reminders of some things to consider before getting started and then how to have a successful implementation into the classroom.

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Beyond just having students as consumers of the content, Jaime offers ways for students to become the creators and design their own stories through augmented and virtual reality experiences.
Jamie is constantly looking for more tools and new ways to bring immersive learning experiences to educators and students, and has done nothing but share her wealth of knowledge and fully invest herself in making sure that educators feel comfortable with using the technology and knowing that she is available to help them in the process.
Learning Transported is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone, as the resources and experiences that she shares within this book definitely have application to other settings besides education.

Before Jaime even dives into the content of the book, she engages the reader with her message of “why” for using AR and VR. She shares the reasons why educators need to understand the possibilities of using immersive technology and the benefits that will happen as a result. She explains how to use the book, and guides the reader on how to navigate each of the chapters, explaining the process involved when starting to implement some of these augmented virtual and mixed reality tools, and encourages the reader to join in with other educators through social media using the #ARVRinEDU chat.

Learning Transported is geared toward anyone looking to try immersive technologies in the classroom and Donally provides all of the resources and many examples, especially through the lesson plans written by Jaime and how they were facilitated in different classrooms.

Another key features of Learning Transported is in Jaime’s message about why educators should use AR, VR and MR in education. The largest benefit is for students being able to engage and explore in the content in a different and more authentic way. It also facilitates building skills of communication and collaboration as well as social-emotional learning, when students connect with their peers and learn more about places and life outside of their own community. Jaime also explains exactly how the use of these tools can meet the ISTE Standards for Students, and encourages the reader to think about how these tools can benefit the students in their own classrooms.

Each chapter provides a wealth of examples and images for reference, explanations of each tool shared and ways that it can be used, and ends with a “Learning Transported” challenge for the reader. Jaime provides clears definitions and more detailed explanations throughout each chapter, and continues to encourage educators to challenge themselves to implement some of these different tools into their classroom and to share their experiences using the #ARVRinedu hashtag.

Some of the best features of the book are the way that Jaime conveys the information, reassuring educators that it is okay to take some chances with trying these in the classroom and involve students in the process. Chapters 5 through 8 include so many different examples of augmented and virtual reality tools, including ideas for creating with the tools, brief descriptions of how the tool works and for using it, as well as including some sample lesson plans that educators can try within their own classrooms.

The last chapter focuses on preparing for the future of mixed reality and Donally reminds us to keep moving forward as these tools are constantly evolving, and having an impact on the learning environment and educational market. In the conclusion, Jaime ends by stating “Teachers will facilitate a class of explorers, developers and designers as they experience, build and present their own immersive technology resources.”
Donally reminds us that “authentic learning experiences and opportunities that have never been accessible in the classroom are now possible with virtual field trips, interactive stories, and tools that can allow students to explore the world, the solar system and beyond.”

The book concludes with an appendix listing all of the apps shared within the book as well as the websites to find the apps and a brief description of what the after does. The standards for students are also included

She encourages the reader to share whatever they create after completing some of the learning transported challenges

Learning Transported makes a topic that can be overwhelming to anyone just starting with augmented and virtual reality, become something that is digestible and helps the reader to build confidence in learning more throughout the book. Donally provides answers to the questions that educators all have to consider when starting to implement these tools, and gathered everything into one well laid out guide for learning.

One of the most important ways that we can start a new school year is by setting aside time to get to know our students. Not only should we have time to interact with them, but we need to give them time to interact with one another. Relationships are the foundation for so many positives in the classroom. Before all content and getting to the rules and classroom procedures, we have to find a way to start on day one by making this a priority. I truly believe that it needs to be a priority every day after that, because even the slightest interactions matter.

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When: Some educators may disagree about holding off on the content or putting off the discussion about classroom procedures until another day. We all need to do what works best for our students and for ourselves. So you may choose to start the first day with something different, by focusing on the content and including some of the expectations or responsibilities for the classroom. Even starting with this, I’m sure that most everyone includes time to work on getting to know one another. By being at the door to greet the students as they arrive or making an effort to learn student names, and start to associate who the students are and engage in minor interactions will go a long way.

Why: I am very passionate about this now but I wish I could say that I always thought this way. I didn’t.  I don’t know how much I valued the power of relationships over the first ten years of my teaching career. Of course I cared about my students and I wanted what was best for them, but I recognize that how I was then and the way I am now are completely different.  And I really didn’t start every year the way that I’m suggesting that the year should be started by educators today. I was that teacher who welcomed students into the classroom and then started every class period on the first day, by talking about my classroom expectations and even adding in a little bit about the content material. I would even have students who were entering their second or higher level of the foreign language, write a short paragraph about topics like the summer, a movie they saw, a vacation or really anything they wanted to, so I could use it as a way to assess their skills before starting into the new material.  It’s just the way that I had been taught and I thought I needed to start like this, with no learning time lost.

Something that bothers me now about myself when I think about this, is that I remember students trying to talk to their classmates about their summers and just being excited to come back to school. I remember trying to get them to just stop and focus on the writing that I wanted them to do. The writing was more important, at least that is the message that I was sending. Thankfully I am no longer that teacher. I just wish I would have changed sooner.

No wonder I never really worried about the first day of school, even though I might not sleep too well the night before. Lack of sleep was partially because I was excited and the thought of going back after being on a break, somehow prevented me from sleeping. Why didn’t I worry? Because for me, day one was for going through some of the normal routine activities, those clerical or housekeeping tasks, that I had done every year prior. I never worried about Day One, but I always said I worried more about Day Two because that’s when I really had to start teaching.

I’ve changed my mind over the years because I’ve had some challenges, due to questioning my own methods of instruction and why something was not working for a specific class. I also questioned the ways that I handled challenges in terms of classroom management over the years, and finding ways to connect with students.  I am continuing to learn and there are days where it can feel like I’m not making any progress in building those relationships. I have to remind myself that I’m trying. That sometimes things don’t happen as fast as we want, it might take days, weeks, months or even longer to notice the impact or to see some kind of a transformation, but we just have to keep moving forward. And we may never really know what it was that made the difference, we just might feel a change one day.

How: I wish I had an answer for the question of “how.” What works for one student will often not work for another and it might take you a while to find a way to connect with some students and for them to connect with you. Have you ever tried so hard to connect with that one student, and no matter what you did it just felt like you would never get there? I have.  Many times. One time last year I tried everything that I could, and no matter what I tried, it just seemed like I could not find a way to connect. But then I saw a book, one that I had read and enjoyed, and that amazingly just so happened to be a book being read by that student. Had I not seen that book, I might still be thinking about how to bridge some type of connection.

So that’s why those slight interactions matter, why we need to be present, visible, leaning in and listening more. We need to really see our students, who they are, and show that we really care.

I could offer a few suggestions but they might not be the ones that will work the best for you, your students or even that one student that you’ve been trying to connect with. Over the years I’ve taught, there have been some days where I felt like giving up. Truly, just felt exhausted because no matter what I did, it just did not work. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way but I hope that the more that we share our stories, we can help other educators who might be experiencing this same thing.

The greatest success I’ve had in making connections, after struggling to find ways to do so, have come about because I stopped trying to think so hard about how to connect. Instead, I just sat down, made time to lean in and listen, and to really talk with a student. That’s not something that I probably would have done 10 years ago. I can only keep moving forward with what I know now.

“When we know better, we do better,” as Maya Angelou said, and I definitely know better now.

Recently published on DefinedSTEM

The start of each new school year is such an exciting time for educators and students. After the summer break, educators head back into their classrooms and schools, hopefully feeling recharged, excited for the new school year, and ready with a list of new teaching ideas. Planning for the first day and first week back to school are so important, we want to set up our classrooms but also need to focus on the environment and culture we are creating. Of course, there are classroom expectations and class details that we need to share with our students, but we need to do something first. In starting to plan instruction and methods, we first should focus on learning about our students and showing that we are invested in their success. By starting here, we begin to develop our classroom culture and set up a welcoming environment for learning.

Welcoming students in and learning together

At the start of the school year, and every day thereafter, we should be intentional about being present. We need to spend time greeting all students and welcoming them back to school. Beyond the students on our rosters, It is important to acknowledge all students as we see them in the halls and throughout the building.  The power behind creating a positive and supportive climate in the building and in each classroom starts with teachers. When we are visible and show students that we are excited about school, we will start making connections that will help in fostering a positive classroom culture.

It can be challenging to start a daily routine of school after a summer break, or any extended break during the year. We must set a good example by engaging our students in conversations, showing an interest in who they are, encouraging and providing opportunities for peer connections. These intentional strategies to get to know our students will positively impact the learning environment

There are many ways to learn about our students. There are icebreakers and other games that can be used as a way to learn about one another. As educators, this is our opportunity to take time to encourage students to share their thoughts and interests with peers, and also what and how they hope to learn in your class.

Making those connections

There are many tools available to set up methods of communication and collaboration and to help students develop these critical skills for their future. For learning, we have to determine how to make ourselves available to students when they have questions or need additional support or resources. The questions do not stop when the school day ends, or over the weekend break. Without a way to ask questions during these times, students can become frustrated and the potential for learning diminishes. In our increasingly digital world, we have access to so many resources, but we also need to know how to find the right tools. First, I recommend that educators find a tool that enables students to connect, to ask questions, and to access classroom resources. Among the digital options available today, it still can be challenging to select the right one. A few examples are setting up a classroom website, a messaging app or using an LMS.

A classroom website is great for having a centralized location for students to access resources, post questions, review content and more. Websites and using LMS platforms can easily be set up using EdmodoSchoologyGoogle ClassroomWeebly a Google Site, or even Padlet.  Communication is also easier with a messaging tool that enables the sending of reminders, links to resources, or that integrates with other digital tools for learning. A few options are Bloomz (for parent-teacher communication) and Remind. There are several other options available, depending on your needs and the level you teach. I have used Voxer with several of my classes, especially for talking about Project Based Learning and sharing ideas and reflections.  One thing to keep in mind is to find out about the kind of technology and internet access available to the students.

Learning about each student

Even the slightest interactions can provide so much information about a student. It happens through those quick conversations as students enter the room, or by including fun activities in the lesson, and creating a supportive, welcoming environment where students feel valued. Engaging in some of these practices will help to build and foster positive relationships. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start creating connections with one other.

Some quick ways to get started are by having students create a collaborative Google Slides Presentation, or use another digital tool, like Buncee or even Padlet perhaps,  for students to create one slide or add some information. Encourage each student to contribute by adding in fun facts, share how they spent the summer, or the weekend,  to help each member of the class to learn about one another. I did this with my Spanish III and IV students and it was fun to learn more about each student and their summer experiences and we had some fun in the process.

A personal goal at the start of each school year is to learn about my students and help everyone start to feel comfortable in our classroom. We used some icebreaker games, a great game of Bingo, shared stories, and it definitely helps students to learn about each other and for me to learn about them.  Our classroom culture continues to develop each and with it brings new learning opportunities.

Another great way that I have found to learn about each student is through the use of project-based learning. When students have the choice to determine what it is that they want to study and can drive their own learning, we can connect more with each student and understand who they are and what their passions are for learning.  The students can learn about their peers as well as become more globally aware of what it is like to be a student in different parts of the world and to just really explore whatever it is that they want. For us as educators, it creates a way to extend our own learning and we can continue to improve and learn and grow with and from our students,  starting from the beginning of the year.

 

Published originally on Getting Smart 

One of the most important roles for educators today is that of being a mentor. As educators, we are often called upon to mentor the students in our classroom, as well as colleagues in our school. Throughout our lives, we have all had at one time or another a person who has served as a mentor, whether they have been selected for us or it is a relationship that simply formed on its own. Take a moment and think about the different mentors that you have had in your life. How many of them were teachers? How many of them were other adults, such as family friends or perhaps even coaches? How many of your own mentors have been the colleagues in your building or members of your PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network)?

There may be a few that come to mind immediately, both because you remember having a specific time that was set aside to work with your mentor, maybe during your first-year of teaching or as a teacher who needed some guidance while working through some of the challenges of teaching. There is probably a mentor that comes to mind because you credit them with some aspect of personal and or professional growth. For myself, I have been fortunate to have some supportive mentors that have helped me to grow professionally and taught me what it means to be a mentor. These relationships are so important because it is through mentorships that we continue to learn and grow and become a better version of ourselves. In the process, we also develop our skills to serve as a mentor to someone else and continue the practice promoting growth.

Getting Started with Mentoring

Take a moment and think about your classroom or your school and the types of programs which may be already in place in your building. Are there specific times set aside for teachers to act as mentors for students? To their colleagues? In my school district, Riverview, we implemented a homeroom mentoring program a few years ago, as part of our RCEP (Riverview Customized Educational Plan) which we were making available for our students. A few years prior to that, we began with the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, and our school was among the first schools in the United States to achieve national/state recognition for bully prevention. Through the program, we implemented a variety of learning activities, with the goal of engaging students in learning and collaboration, to promote a positive school climate and to create opportunities for students to build positive and supportive peer relationships.

For our Homeroom Mentoring Program, small groups of students in grades 9 through 12, are assigned to a homeroom, with a mentor. By having these smaller groups, the teachers are able to serve as a mentor for each student, working with them closely, to not only support them during their high school experience but also to prepare them for their future after graduation. It is a way to provide a more personalized learning approach for each student and for each student to know they have support available to them. These mentoring homerooms meet on a regular basis, providing ongoing opportunities for the teacher and students to interact in team-building and work on fostering peer relationships. During these homeroom meetings, some of the activities include pride lessons, goal-setting discussions, career exploration surveys and job shadowing, community service experiences and other topics which come up throughout the year. It is a good opportunity for the students to have a small group to work with and to develop critical skills for their future, such as communicating, collaborating, problem-solving, and developing social and emotional learning skills as well.

In addition to the planned activities, a key part of our mentoring program is the creation of a “portfolio” which includes samples of student work, a job shadow reflection, resume, list of volunteer experiences and additional artifacts that students can curate in their portfolio. The past few years, students have organized these materials into a binder, which has been kept in the mentoring homeroom. The materials become a part of their required senior graduation project. This year, we have started creating an e-portfolio, using Naviance, a program that promotes college and career readiness. Students begin by creating their online profile and sharing their activities and interests. Using the program, students can take surveys to learn more about their own skill areas and interests, learn about colleges which might match their interests, and also continue to build their digital citizenship skills. According to one of our guidance counselors, Mrs. Roberta Gross, the mentoring program was implemented to help students make transitions toward post-secondary goals and plans, and moving to the e-portfolio is creating more opportunities for students to explore their own interests and create their online presence.

There are many benefits of having students create an e-portfolio. Moving to an e-portfolio makes it easier to access the information for each student, it can be shared with parents and it opens up more conversations between the students and the mentor teacher. It is important to prepare our students for whatever the future holds for them beyond high school graduation, and working with them as they grow, in these small groups, really promotes more personalized learning experiences and authentic connections.

As a final part of this program, our seniors take part in a senior “exit interview”, a simulated job interview with a panel of three teachers, a mix of elementary teachers and high school teachers. It truly is a great experience to have time to see the growth of each student, learn about their future plans and to provide feedback which will help them continue to grow and be better prepared for their next steps after graduation. And for students, being able to look through their portfolios, reflect on their experiences, self-assess and set new goals, knowing they have support available, is the purpose of the mentoring program.

Resources on Mentoring

There are many resources available that can provide some direction for getting started with an official mentoring program.

  1. The “Adopt a class” program, founded by Patty Alper, who also wrote a book on mentoring called “Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America.” Alper talks about the impact of mentoring and how her view of it is towards an “entrepreneurial” mindset, preparing students for the future, with the skills they need. Alper breaks down the process into practical steps, with examples and encouragement for those new to the mentoring experience.
  2. The national mentoring partnership “MENTOR”, offers a website full of resources and ways to connect with other mentoring programs. MENTOR even held a Mentoring Summit in Washington, D.C., this January, where professionals and researchers gathered to share ideas and best practices for starting a mentoring program. Be sure to check out their monthly themes and presence on Twitter.
  3. The National Mentoring Resource Center offers a collection of different resources for mentoring include manuals, handouts and a long list of additional guidelines for different content areas, grade levels, culturally responsive materials, toolkits and more. The website has most of the resources available as downloads.

How you can get started

I would recommend that you think about mentors that you may have had at some point during your life. What are some of the qualities that they had which made them a good mentor and why? For me, I felt comfortable talking with my mentor, being open to the feedback that I would receive, and I knew that my mentor was available to support me when I needed. Another benefit is that we learn how to become a mentor for others, and when we have these programs in place, our students will become mentors for one another. I have seen the positive effects in my own classroom, and many times, these new mentorships have formed on their own.

 

A phenomenal mentor that taught me what it means to be an educator.

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Thrilled to have an awesome mentor and professor, thank you Bruce Antkowiak

**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

 

Published on Getting Smart, 

 

Toward the end of the past school year, I noticed some changes in student behavior. There was a decrease in student engagement, especially while I responded to the question of a student seated close to me, students around the room became distracted or stopped listening. Trying to get the group to refocus sometimes presented a challenge and resulted in a loss of valuable instruction time. A second concern was how students had been treating one another. I overheard conversations in the hallways, witnessed unkind interactions in the classroom, or heard directly from students who sought help in dealing with different situations. There were two issues to resolve: eliminate the valuable instruction time that was being lost and help students to develop more positive, collaborative peer relationships. How could I connect students more to the content and to one another, so they could work together to foster a more positive classroom. After some brainstorming, I decided to first focus on ways to promote collaboration and to step out of my role of “leader” in the classroom by stepping aside.

The changes:

My first realization was that I needed to shift roles in my classroom. I needed to get out of the way, and students needed to do more than simply sit for the entire class. To get started, look at your own classroom. Where are you and the students spending the class period? Are you the only one speaking and moving? If so, think about how you can open up space and provide a more collaborative setting for students. Think about how you can involve the students in more “active learning” that will lead to better student engagement.

One morning, I looked at the physical space of my classroom and decided to break apart the rows of desks. By doing this, it created more flexible spaces for students to interact, to create and lead, and do more than just sit and listen. Students need opportunities to work with their peers through lessons and engage in activities where they can master the content together, and that will provide opportunities to develop their interpersonal skills, self-awareness and social awareness of others.

 

Making these changes can feel uncomfortable because it means going against what likely has been the traditional classroom structure. However, many teachers have moved toward flexible learning spaces, creating a more student-centered and student-driven classroom. A classroom which moves away from simply lecturing, reviewing homework, passing out materials, assigning new homework, and repeating this same routine the very next day. While this process may promote the acquisition and application of knowledge, it does not effectively promote collaboration, invite student input, nor foster development of vital SEL (social-emotional learning) skills.

CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), formed in 1994, is an organization which actively works toward promoting the importance of developing SEL skills in education. SEL is focused on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness,  relationship skills and responsible decision making. The development of these skills can benefit the level of student engagement as well, leading to higher academic achievement and reduce discipline issues in the classroom. To promote the development of SEL, here are some ideas and additional resources to get started.

Practical ways to promote SEL:

  • Icebreakers: I started the school year with fun icebreakers, to get to know one another and to find out what students had in common. Why? It all starts with relationships, building a connection with peers and the teacher, and using this to connect with the content area. Returning after an extended holiday break, doing even one icebreaker can be a good way to welcome students back to the classroom, to ease into the daily routine and to start the year fresh by working on relationships. Perhaps have students share what they did over break, show a picture, talk about favorite foods for holidays even, and let students make connections on their own.
  • Games and activities: Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of games and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. There are many online tools available to help you get started. For elementary and middle school, Centervention provides free online games, activities and printables for teaching students about SEL. Gaming helps students to learn to problem solve, collaborate, think critically, and develop empathy through scenarios within the game itself, or as a result of being part of a team. It creates a sense of community and belonging, which foster the social-emotional skills students need. Even by using Minecraft, educators have seen a connection between the benefits of gaming for learning and the development of SEL skills.
  • Learning Stations: Something that has really made a difference in my classroom has been using learning stations. I started the year with rows and decided one morning, that the rows had to go. I quickly set up clusters of desks or “stations” to accommodate three students each, with four extra desks grouped together in the center. At each station, students spend 10-14 minutes doing a hands-on activity like a worksheet, creating flashcards, watching a video, playing a game or simply coming up with their own ways to practice. Deciding upon the activities takes some planning, especially when trying this for the first time, but it is well worth it. Start by explaining the “stations”, involving students in the discussion and asking for feedback. When we explain our goals and share any fears we may have, we are modeling “self-awareness” and “self-management”. By using stations, we also have more time to interact with each student and group, work on relationships and foster a deeper understanding of the content as well as connecting with one another and creating a more positive classroom culture.

Challenges and solutions:

  • Groups: The first few class periods there were complaints. Students wanted to work with their friends and others wanted to work alone. It can be awkward if you are the only one who doesn’t find somebody to work with, but it can also be a challenge to work with a group when you may end up being the only one doing the work. Assigning random groups can help alleviate some of these uncomfortable feelings, even though in life and for the future, students may face the same challenges and uncomfortable moments, not having a choice in collaborative work. However, for the time being, the importance is to help students to develop interpersonal skills that will enable them to be successful in the future, to develop the social and emotional learning skills, especially in terms of relationships, decision-making and developing a self- awareness.
  • Timing: It can be a challenge at first to know how much time to provide for each station. I started by spending ten minutes reviewing material, asking questions, or doing an activity with the whole class, before starting stations. I tried giving 15 minutes for each, so students would work through two each day. Some students finished early and wanted to move on. To work through this, I would use the time to speak with each group or individual students, and then make adjustments during the next station rotation. There is always room to improve, but the important thing is remembering to be flexible and open to changes that will positively impact student learning and relationships.

Benefits:

  • Student engagement: Students have been more engaged in learning, and have come in to tell me how much they look forward to coming to class. Because of the different activities within the stations, students participate more because they are active and moving, and know that each station offers a new way to learn.
  • Student leaders: Students are offering to help one another, to explain concepts, and to cheer each other on. They keep each other on task and by working in these small groups, there are less distractions than working as a whole group. Each small group can ask questions, receive individualized feedback because I can freely move around the classroom and clear up any misunderstandings.
  • Teacher-student relationships: Students are getting timely, authentic and personal feedback. By using learning stations, more time is student-focused and those individual conversations can happen as needed, to help students to be successful and be more confident.
  • Student learning: In terms of academic achievement, the participation and results of recent assessments are the highest they have been. Students enjoy coming to class because they know they’re going to be leading and making decisions about their learning, in a way that is comfortable, flexible and fun.The learning experience is more authentic and meaningful for students. Research has shown the positive benefits of incorporating SEL into the curriculum.
  • Student behaviors: As for the class distractions and the negative interactions that existed before, both have decreased tremendously. It is not something that is going to change overnight but what matters is that we make constant progress. We are learning and becoming better together.

Published on Getting Smart, February 3, 2018

The “gig economy” is fairly new to me, I was unaware of the terminology until recently. When I first heard “gig economy”, I could not figure out what it referred to, at least in the sense of both words used together. Separately, I can easily define “gig” and “economy.” The gig economy gets its name because each job or work assignment is similar to an individual “gig”. The gig economy was formerly known as the ‘sharing economy’, with one of the most popular examples being Airbnb. I recall first hearing “Airbnb” two years ago and not having a clue about what it meant then. I only knew that I had several friends who arranged travel as part of Airbnb.

So how does the gig economy work?

It is employment that is a temporary task, for example, delivery couriers, Uber (another term I did not understand when I first heard it three years ago), or Lyft, to name a few. A prior post in Getting Smart included some statistics related to the average income from providing these types of services. The numbers are fascinating. In 2015, 54 million people worked as freelancers earning an estimate of 17% more per hour than full-time employees. It is projected that 60% of companies plan to hire more freelancers rather than full-time employees in the future. In 2016, 35% of workers were freelancers and estimates are that by 2020, this number will increase to 43% in the United States. So it leads me to wonder: What will the number rise to in another 10 years, by the year 2030? In a quick estimate, perhaps it will rise to approximately 63% if following the previous increase as a trend.

Looking ahead, the students currently in kindergarten will be the graduating class of 2030. It seems a long way off, but we need to prepare them for their future, and if the future does involve less traditional educational paths and more “gig” jobs and freelancing, how do we start preparing them now? It is important to consider these statistics and trends when preparing your lessons each day, and it has led me to think about how I am instructing students in my class.

As a foreign language teacher, students often ask why they should learn a foreign language, or say that they won’t need a foreign language in their future. There are many benefits in learning a foreign language, but I think the gig economy presents a perfect example of how it could be of even greater benefit to students in the future. Having foreign language knowledge is a skill that can come in handy and benefit students later on in life. Some common examples that come to mind are sellers on sites like Etsy or even someone who works as an online tutor or an editor. These do not have to be full-time positions, but can be in addition to a more permanent job, and done as extra work on the side. It’s about having options available. And to best prepare students for the future of work in a gig economy, we need to give them options.

Prepping for the future

How do we prepare students for a future of freelance work or to become entrepreneurs? By offering more opportunities for them to explore and create, through opportunities to not only explore the types of jobs available but also job shadow to learn firsthand, the qualifications and skills that may be necessary.

So if this is the trend that will be coming in the future, then will schools continue to encourage students to seek a college degree, or an extended learning program or formal training? Or do students need to simply master a skill or have time to explore an interest they have, to become more marketable? Do schools have the responsibility to create different courses through which students can learn about a variety of professional options and afford time for students to explore on their own or by connecting with professionals in their community?

Many schools have started to offer more courses based on emerging trends, such as entrepreneurship, webpage design, sports and entertainment management, and other similar courses to help students develop skills necessary to create their own job opportunities. At my school, Patsy Kvortek, one of our business teachers, recognized a need for courses which would help students to develop some of these skills. She thought “we should provide students with opportunities to learn in more authentic ways that would prepare them for future success.” To do this, a few years ago she created a course in “Entrepreneurship” and  “Sports and Entertainment Management” in which students develop a wide variety of skills focused on project management, event planning and learning everything there is to know about being an entrepreneur. In her classes, students take on different roles, learn to collaborate and be part of a team that is entirely responsible for planning, organizing and executing large-scale school and community events. Some of the roles include: Project Manager, Committee Chairs, Social Media and Advertising. Students rotate through these roles so they develop the skills necessary to be successful in any of these areas in the future.

Through this course, students have developed skills to prepare them for many career options as well as better understand how to start a small business or plan major events. They also develop critical skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving and as an added benefit, SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well. Observing the students involved in these courses has always impressed me, and seeing them come up with new products and start their own business, has shown the value behind providing these opportunities. These electives grew in popularity over the years because of the truly authentic and relevant learning experiences they provided.

Degree or no degree?

What difference does having a degree make? There are a lot of statistics that point to alternate forms of furthering one’s education, which do not involve the traditional undergraduate degree. There is more of an emphasis on building skills in diverse areas, to be flexible and explore alternate training options. There is a growing trend of students “crafting their own career” and not being dependent on an employer to do this, but rather create a professional path based more on personal interest. Several former students, ones whom I thought would pursue a college degree, instead opted to venture into unique areas of business. They have been successful and it is even more rewarding knowing they are doing what they love and control their schedules. Some of these entrepreneurial ventures include: a dog daycare, photo booth rentals, personal shopping service, resume writing, jewelry making, party planning and photography. These students chose these paths because they were able to pursue personal interests through electives, and develop skills and knowledge to get their business started. There will continue to be a demand for these services and these entrepreneurs will be in control of when, where and how often they provide these services in a gig economy.

The preparation that all students need

What are the skills that all students should develop regardless of what the future holds in terms of education? We need to help students learn how to communicate, to collaborate, to problem-solve and to find out what they are passionate about. There should be opportunities for students to engage in more real-world experiences, where they can assess needs in their community and brainstorm ways to offer services that will be beneficial for others. Project-based learning is a great way to help prepare students for working with others and to have more of an authentic and meaningful learning experience.

The Buck Institute of Education is working to develop a High-Quality Project Based Learning framework (to be published in March), with six criteria that students should experience through PBL. One of these six is “project management”. The focus of this is more on how to support students with goal setting, time management and self-assessment. These skills will prove beneficial regardless of what the future “job” may be for students.

When we support students in setting goals, learning to self-assess, engaging in more independent work and developing time management skills, we help them to develop the skills that they will need to be successful in the future regardless of what they ultimately decide to do. Whether they pursue full-time employment or explore options in a “gig economy”, they will be ready to face any challenges that arise in a constantly changing workplace.