studentperspective

Buncee and Immersive Reader: A Winning Combination for Assistive Learning

For several years, Buncee has been one of my favorite creation tools; both for personal creation needs and for classroom instruction. While there are many digital tools to choose from when it comes to teaching and having our students create, Buncee’s versatility, ease-of-use, and recent integration with Microsoft’s Immersive Reader make it a go-to tool for all creative needs and accessible for students of diverse ages and abilities to learn 21st-Century Skills and express themselves. What my students love the most is that Buncee offers something for everyone, and I love that they love it.

Always keeping their finger on the pulse of their community’s needs, Buncee listens to educators about the needs for our students and takes action to find solutions! Their integration with Immersive Reader is a perfect example of this.

Immersive Reader: It’s About Opportunities to for ALL Students

This summer, Buncee added Microsoft’s Immersive Reader to its platform, increasing accessibility for students and offering more robust ways to learn. Immersive Reader is full-screen accessibility tool, supporting the readability of text in a Buncee for students with dyslexia, visual impairments, and for language learners and their families. Any text added into a Buncee can be translated and read aloud in over 60 + languages.

There are many ways Immersive Reader can enhance the learning opportunities for all students, build their confidence, and create an inclusive classroom environment. The use of Immersive Reader in Buncee will enable students to do more than just create Buncees, it will help them improve reading and language learning skills, while engaging more with the content in authentic and meaningful ways.

Imagine the possibilities for reaching and engaging students and their families who are just learning to read, who may be struggling with identifying parts of speech or word recognition, or who may be coming from non-native English speaking homes. Educators can use Immersive Reader to create lessons, make interactive flashcards for students and also for communicating with families. Being able to provide for students and their families of different backgrounds and learning styles is something that the Buncee team is definitely passionate about and does well!

How Does Immersive Reader Work in Buncee?

There are several ways to help students to build their skills through the different options available within Buncee and using Immersive Reader.

Getting started with Immersive Reader in Buncee is easy. By clicking on the Immersive Reader icon when viewing a Buncee, options pop up that you can work with to help further personalize the learning experience for students. Immersive Reader can then access the text in a Buncee. For example, it is easy to adjust the reading speed and make changes to the font spacing to help students who might need some adjustments in the visual appearance. You can also choose to display the text in shorter lines, or break down the syllables, to help students process the information in ways that meet their needs.

Navigating the Options

I decided to create a Buncee using some of the new 3D objects and also explore the options available through Immersive Reader. When viewing my finished Buncee, clicking the Immersive Reader symbol takes me to a new screen where I have additional options to further personalize the appearance of the creation. For first time users, it is easy to figure out how to adjust the settings. In preview mode, I clicked on the speaker symbol to listen to the text. Students could use this as a way to practice their own pronunciation, especially when using it for language learning, by repeating after the speaker. Students can also build listening comprehension skills by focusing on the written words and making connections with the audio.

By clicking on text preferences, I can choose the text size, increase spacing, and select from three choices in font style. These are great options to help with readability for students. There are also 21 color choices for the background on the screen. I find this to be very useful, especially as someone who can be sensitive to certain colors when reading. I’ve also had students experience difficulty with reading on certain colored backgrounds, so this is a definite plus.

The grammar options enable you to turn the syllables on or off and also color code the different parts of speech. Being able to use the color codes to help with the identification of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs will help students to build their grammar skills. These labels can be turned on or off, which means that families can work with their children and use it as a teaching tool for review.

Just to experiment, I turned everything off except for the verbs. Displayed on the screen were the two verbs in the sentence both highlighted in red. I then selected a different color for each part of speech, I chose purple to identify nouns and green for the adjectives. I was amazed at how quickly this could be set up and the possibilities for helping students with reading comprehension and language skills. Using this as a way to further engage students with identifying parts of speech and making the visual connection is another option for more interactive learning.

Under reading preferences you can focus on one line or on the entire text.

When you focus on a line, it closes the screen down to that one specific sentence, which you can also make narrower or thicker depending on your choice.

There are more than 60 languages available for translation. I decided to try French first, and when I clicked on a word, it showed me the word in French and in English. I also explored other languages, including Spanish and was impressed with how much it offered to reinforce the content and to provide a more personalized learning experience for students. You can choose the voice and speed of reading, so it provides a great way to reinforce speaking skills as well as listening, reading and writing.

In his book, Digital Leadership, Eric Sheninger talks about the critical competencies needed by learners to be successful in today’s world. These competencies are in alignment with the ISTE standards for students and teachers, and can be addressed through the use of Buncee. Now with Immersive Reader integrated, the possibilities to address these standards is open to all learners. Beyond the potential for creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication, using Buncee, students can build skills in digital media literacy, entrepreneurship, technological proficiency, and digital citizenship. Students have the opportunity to use technology as a tool for solving real-world problems or making real-world connections. We have to look beyond simply using digital tools to engage students in learning and instead, empower them through opportunities to apply what they have learned in unique ways.

Buncee: More than just a presentation tool!

There are a lot of great digital tools out there for educators to bring into their classrooms. When it comes to deciding on a specific tool to use, we must always think about our purpose and perhaps ask ourselves a few questions, such as: why are we looking for a digital tool, what are we hoping to accomplish by using it and how will it benefit students and learning? I’m often asked by colleagues either to recommend a new tool or direct them to something specific based on their requirements, such as video, audio, text and more. Because Buncee is such a versatile tool and offers so many options all-in-one, I find myself recommending it a lot. It is easy to get started with and full of choices for teachers and students.

Educators want to use tools that promote student choice and student voice and offer more than just one purpose. The reason I recommend Buncee is because it offers much more than simply being a way to create presentations. In addition to all of the wonderful things that can be created using Buncee, there are additional benefits for educators and students that might be overlooked or simply not thought of when getting started. For example, educators can meet the ISTE Standards for Students and Educators. By having students create with Buncee, students become empowered learners, creative communicators, innovative designers, knowledge constructors and engage in learning that meets each of the ISTE standards. With technology, we want to make sure that it is being used in a way that amplifies student voice and choice in learning.

However, Buncee does more than that. Beyond addressing the ISTE standards and providing students with more authentic and personalized learning experiences when creating with Buncee, there are other skills that are being addressed. In my own classroom, we have used Buncee for many different projects and even for project-based learning (PBL). My students created Buncees to share with their global peers in Argentina and Spain. Creating an “About Me” Buncee enabled all students to develop a more global understanding and become aware of cultural differences, as well as to develop empathy in the process.

Students enjoy creating with Buncee and even more than seeing their own creations, they really enjoy seeing what their classmates create. I have noticed that students become more comfortable with one another in class and start to build closer connections while working on their Buncees. Even the quietest students begin to ask questions, interact more and have been more engaged in creating when using Buncee than they had with other tools before. Students tell me that they enjoy teaching one another, learning about their classmates in unique ways, and feel like they are part of a classroom community.

Knowing that students are picking up on this has been a great way to foster the social-emotional skills (SEL) students need now and in the future. Buncee is so invested in providing a lot of options and opportunities for students and educators to enjoy learning, creating and growing together. Now Buncee has templates available to address SEL.

What is Social-emotional learning?

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.

Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of digital tools and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. Using some of the Buncee templates and emojis, students can comfortably express how they are feeling, provide a quick check-in based on their level of understanding, share personality characteristics or likes and dislikes, or respond to questions in class, for a few options. Buncee is “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

In my own experience, I have seen students who have preferred to not speak out in class or who voiced that they were not creative or would not be able to do a presentation, design amazing Buncees and be excited to share with their classmates. Students build confidence while creating and the benefit is that they become more engaged in and excited to share their learning and interact with classmates. It helps to foster the development of skills such as problem-solving, working with different layouts, visualizing and displaying student learning.

It is always a good idea to ask students for feedback. I want to know what their thoughts are, if the tool or strategy is making a difference for them and if so, how. Here are some student thoughts about Buncee.

“It helps me to express my ideas more easily and make presentations which are much more interactive for myself and for my classmates.”

It is made in a way that allows students to make it really personal and specific to what they need. If students are enjoying their work and are able to make it their own, then they will be more willing to learn and will improve because of using Buncee.”

Hearing from students is important and making sure that all students feel comfortable expressing themselves is even more important. With Buncee, students have many choices to find what interests them and to express themselves in a way that is authentic, meaningful and personalized.

 

Toward the end of the past school year, I noticed 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 students to refocus sometimes presented a challenge and the result was a loss of valuable instruction time. Another concern was how students had been treating one another. I  often overheard conversations in the hallways, or witnessed unkind interactions in the classroom, or had students who sought help in dealing with different situations.

There were two issues that I needed to resolve: regain 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, and reaching out to my PLN,  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 first 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? Think about how you can open up more space and create a 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 this 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 fewer 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 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

PBL and GimKit

So the tool was Gimkit and I only heard bits of a conversation in the #4OCFPLN group (Thank you Laura Steinbrink) and I honestly thought it was something only for elementary school. I decided last weekend to look it up, create an account and give it a try. At the end of the school year, I love trying new tools and ideas to keep students engaged in learning and finish strong. A few years ago, Goose Chase was a huge success, and so I was excited for the possibilities with Gimkit.

It was so easy to create a game, referred to as a “kit.” I created several “kits” for my classes and then noticed that I needed to upgrade to make additional kits. I reached out to the game’s creator to find out if I could have a brief trial period, so that I could make more games. Since the school year was ending, and I had conferences coming up, I really wanted to try out as many features as I could.  I was quite surprised to find out that this is a tool that has been created by a high school junior, as a part of project-based learning.

“Being uncomfortable is a great way to increase your skill of learning”

Learning the story behind the creation of Gimkit

When I asked Josh asked about his background, he told me that during the last school year, a new project-based learning high school opened in his district and he decided to attend.(See an interview done by Michael Matera, #xplap, where he interviews Josh).

In May of 2017, as he was completing one of his projects , he thought back to traditional school, where he really enjoyed using other game based learning tools, and thought he could create something to improve upon them. He started by interviewing different students and teachers, and compiled a list of the most common issues expressed, which became part of his focus in creating Gimkit.

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As an assignment

Last summer he worked on creating the first version of Gimkit, and ran a small beta test in October and officially launched the day before Halloween. He says they have spent “little to no time and money on marketing,”  and the user base is growing, over the past few weeks he has seen around 20x the usage he did from just a month ago. As for the team, for the most part, it’s just Josh who does all of the engineering and responds to customer support messages. He started to code between freshman and sophomore years, and then developed GimKit over the following summer. Josh also has a mentor who works with the customers and provides business advice. Listening to his interview with Michael, there are three questions that he asked himself which impressed me. “Am I working to improve the product every single day? Am I improving myself every single day? Am I doing something to push the product further everyday?” He clearly has a growth mindset and is reflective in his “challenges” that he has set up for himself.

 

I was so surprised when I received a response to my email to Gimkit  within about fifteen minutes of having sent it. I can’t recall the last time that I got a response so quickly.

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Giving it a try

So last week I decided to give it a try in my classes without really knowing what to expect. I got started over the weekend by creating classes, entering the students’ names to make it easier in class. I created a few “kits”, which are games. It is very easy to create. You can start from scratch, upload your own sets of terms or connect with Quizlet to export a list of words directly into your game. The goal is to make as much money as you can, or for students to reach a set goal. Students can play individually or in teams and logging in is done through a code, where students can then either find their name if part of a class, or enter their name.. You can also set a time period to play, I have been using 10 and 12 minutes, just as a start.

I was very excited to try this with my classes and actually only intended to play during my Spanish I classes. To start, I told them that I really wasn’t sure how it worked and told them to just go for it.

Playing this reminded me of that day five years ago when we play Kahoot! for the first time. The students wanted to keep on playing more games every day and said it was their favorite. They were excited and having fun but more importantly I noticed that they were learning the words and their recall of the words became faster and faster with each time played. It was fun to observe them as they played, learning how the game worked, and hearing their interactions. Some students were yelling at their teammates “to stop buying things”, as they can “shop” and level up with extra money per question, buy insurance, bonus streak or other options. Eventually they all had fun buying things,  when they saw how quickly the money was being added to their account.

After the first round of games, I think the total won was around three million which seemed like a lot until the next class came in and had 17 million. The third group to play earned 37 million and when we decided to continue this the next day we were in the billions!

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Gathering feedback and assessing the benefits of the tool

Once the game is done, a report is available which opens as a PDF. The summary shows the class results and the individual report lists each student, money earned and lost, correct and incorrect answers, followed by a list of the terms asked and the number of correct and incorrect responses. It is a great way to see what areas that the class as a whole needs some review with, but more importantly, something that can be shared with each student and used as a tool to study. Teachers can create 5 kits for free and edit each kit once. There are also paid plans that enable you to create more.

 

For the determining the benefit for students, I value their feedback very much and I ask them what they liked about the game and how they felt it impacted their learning of the vocabulary. They liked the game setup and the repeated questions, the music and the teamwork made it fun as well. Creating the kits was so fast and made it easy to keep adding more into my library. Another nice feature is the ability to assign kits for students to play outside of class for practice.

There are different options available for play in class as well as assignments. I love that students can work at their own pace and that they are learning more and feeling more confident with the material.  I definitely recommend that you check them out and follow them on Twitter, @Gimkit. Just in the past few days, there are already new features added, one favorite is the messages sent to teammates letting them know when someone on the team buys something.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Updated from the Original Post on Getting Smart, January 19, 2018

Looking for new ideas to try before the end of the school year? If you have not tried some of this, now is the time!

There are so many digital tools available today that offer opportunities for promoting student creativity, student voice, and expanding where and how students learn. I had my own list of the tools that I found made a big difference in my classroom, but decided to ask students for their input.

Here is a list of tools to try in 2018, (or to try before the end of the year, let’s keep learning!)

Each of these offer multiple ways for students to create, connect and engage in more authentic learning experiences.

Promoting Connected Learners

We were able to take our learning to a whole new level this year through Project Based Learning (PBL). Using these tools enabled us to connect with students from several Spanish speaking countries, which created tremendous possibilities for more authentic learning and broadening our cultural understanding.

1) Edmodo: Virtual learning space, where teachers can set up a digital classroom to connect students with the resources they need, in a safe learning environment. Edmodo can be used for assessments and integrates with Microsoft Office and Google, making it easy to share files with students. Students relied on Edmodo to connect with students in Argentina, Mexico and Spain for their PBL. One student said “these connections enabled me to sculpt my PBL, and learn in ways that books, videos and regular classroom lessons cannot provide.”

2) Flipgrid: Video response tool, which became one of the most talked about tools this past year after launching new features, making it even easier and more fun for students to share their ideas. Students can record up to a five minute response, add emojis to their photos and access the “grid” quickly through a grid code. It is a great tool for helping students to become more comfortable and confident in sharing their ideas and sparking curiosity with their peers.

3) Padlet: Padlet, a virtual wall, is a favorite in our classroom. Students can create a digital portfolio by uploading files and links to projects, curate resources for PBL, or have discussions with classrooms around the world. Other popular ways to use Padlet are to ask questions, post homework, or as a classroom website. Newer features include being able to “like”, “grade” or “upvote” a post and directly transfer posts to another Padlet wall.

4) Recap: Recap 2.0 is a free video response tool, which integrates with Edmodo, Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom and Blackboard, making it easy to implement right away. It provides a comfortable way for teachers and students to ask questions by setting them up in a “Queue”. Students can submit questions and receive direct feedback, in a safe moderated environment.

Tools to Engage Students in Learning

5) Quizlet Live: Quizlet Live is a fun way to encourage student collaboration by playing a team game using a set of Quizlet study cards. Teachers select a set of study cards, launch a Live game by providing students with a join code, and students are divided into teams. To play, you need at least four players and a study set with at least 12 unique terms. Only one member of the team has the correct answer and answering incorrectly bounces the team score back to zero.

6) Quizizz: Quizizz has launched some new features, including integrating with Edmodo and Google Classroom, which makes sharing or assigning games and reviewing results much easier. When playing live, students can see the class accuracy reflected as it updates the leaderboard live with each response. There are thousands of games available in the library, making it easy to get started or create your own.

7) Kahoot!: Some big changes to the layout and options of the platform make it easier to navigate and review questions in class. Teachers can now assign “challenges” to students as a fun way to practice by sharing a code. The new “Nickname Generator” creates fun and unique usernames such as “Mystery Panda” or “Fantastic Bat” to students. It definitely saves time rather than waiting for students try to come up with their own “creative” names.

8) Kidblog: Blogging has many benefits for helping students to express themselves and begin to develop their online presence. Teachers can provide students with a variety of writing prompts to not only assess student learning, but promote creativity, communication, collaboration and digital citizenship skills. With Kidblog, teachers can even AppSmash (use two or more apps or tools together to complete a task) by embedding other tech tools into the platform, such as Buncee, Flipgrid or by uploading images and documents directly from Google Drive.

Creativity, Assessments, Interactive Lessons and More

9) Buncee: Buncee, a versatile presentation and assessment tool, is great for creating multimedia projects full of animations, graphics, audio, and videos. Choose from thousands of templates, backgrounds, animations and other graphics to create invitations, classroom signs, and unique “Buncees” for any purpose. Buncee enables every student to find exactly what they need to add into their project and to bring out their creativity.

10) Formative: An interactive tool for creating formative assessments, for use in class or as student-paced practice. Students enjoy using Formative because they receive feedback quickly, they are able to “show” their work and when done as practice, move at their own pace. Teachers can create Formatives with different question types, content and even the ability to upload and transform files. Try having students create their own Formatives as a way to have more personalized and authentic practice.

Immersive Learning, Coding and Problem Solving

11) Nearpod: Nearpod continues to be a game changer in our classroom. It provides so many options for presenting material as well as assessing students through diverse activities. The chance to be immersed in the virtual field trips and explore places around the world is of tremendous value for students. Educators can quickly create interactive lessons which include multiple question formats, the ability to upload content, BBC lessons, PhET simulations, and even add in GIFS! Nearpod integrates with Google Classroom and Canvas, and most recently with Remind, making it even easier to share lessons. Nearpod also added 27 “College Tours”, available in VR, a great way to have students experience different schools by immersing in the campus, without having to travel the distance.

12) CoSpacesEDU: CoSpacesEDU provides students with a way to not only create their own “spaces”, but to be able to walk in the spaces created by their peers. To explore in VR (Virtual Reality) and problem solve by figuring out how to code using Blockly, offers students a truly authentic way to learn, create and problem solve. The Gallery is full of examples to get you started with ideas for your classroom. Use CoSpaces to have students represent a scientific concept, a book report, or create a scene representing something studied in any content area. Talk about creativity, imagination, innovation and critical thinking, and more all in one tool.

In the End

These are just 12 of the many tools out there for education. The most important thing to remember is the “Why”? behind using these in the classroom. While these 12 tools made a difference in my classroom, they may not have the same impact in yours, but I do recommend giving them a try. Think about the tools you are currently using to amplify or facilitate student learning. What is making a difference in how, what and where students learn? Could one of these be used in place of another, as a way to engage students more in learning, or even better, provide opportunities for students to move from consumers to creators?

My advice is to simply choose one of these 12 tools and give it a try. See how it goes, ask your students for some feedback, and then plan your next steps.

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

Written for the RUBICON SUMMIT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more strategies about integrating technology into instruction, read Overcome

EdTech’s Problems With Blended Learning!

 

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, November 5, 2017

What image comes to mind when you think of classrooms today? Where is the teacher and where are the students? Who is leading the discussion and doing most of the talking and moving in the classroom? For many, the image that comes to mind is that of a room of students, lined up in rows, with their attention directed to the teacher at the front of the room or involved in some activity at their desks. In this scenario, students are passively learning. Their involvement in class, in some cases, has them seated for the entire class period, while the teacher does most of the talking and moving around the room.

In the past, this may represent the typical format of classroom instruction, however today, with a greater focus on flexible learning environments, and educators looking to promote student choice and voice, this image or perception of “what classrooms look like”, has changed and continues to evolve into a more active learning space, a place where students are empowered. A space in which students take a more active role, transform students from consumers to creators and the former teacher-centered classroom into a student-centered and student-driven space.

Because students have typically spent so much of their school day seated, taking information in and do not always have time to ask questions, interact with peers, or do more than consume, they may become more passive learners. I started to notice this in my own classes. There was a decrease in student engagement, and reflecting on my methods I realized that I was spending so much time talking, that it was me making the decisions and leading all of our activities. There were not many opportunities for the students to work with peers, to move around, to really take control of their learning.

In an effort to encourage students to become more active learners as well as to be more involved in the types of activities and instruction in the classroom, I started to implement some teaching strategies involving music and games. There are many benefits to getting students more actively involved in learning and this can be done quite simply through a variety of teaching strategies. It can be a challenge to change over from the traditional classroom lecture model, however, there are some easy ways to change to a more active, engaging space.

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How to design more active learning experiences:

1. Game-Based Learning (GBL): GBL is a great way to add fun into the classroom and help build student excitement for learning. The use of gaming offers different ways for students to practice and develop their skills in more active learning environments. Games encourage students to learn and master content by problem-solving, collaborating, creating and engaging in more authentic and meaningful learning. It is a way to promote independent learning as well as by offering students choices in games to play and the means to work toward individual goals.

2. Tech: Students can create a game as a way to help themselves and their peers practice concepts and gain mastery. It can be a game created using one of the many digital tools available like KahootQuizlet or Quizizz. Students enjoy the opportunity to create a game, which leads to a more authentic learning experience when students select the specific vocabulary they need to practice, thus leading to more personalized learning opportunities. Students add to their skills by choosing how to leverage technology for the purpose of more self-directed learning.

3. No-tech: Students are very creative and offering them a chance to design a game to practice new content can lead to better retention and increase motivation. To get started, a few examples that can be used are to create a chart which includes 4 or 5 different categories or topics related to the content and grade level being taught. After deciding on categories, perhaps select 5 or 6 letters of the alphabet, or use numbers, which students must use to come up with a word, topic or date, that relates to each category. For example, in teaching Spanish, selecting categories such as classroom objects, verbs, colors, family and then deciding on the starting letter, students can brainstorm words and review in unique ways. Students can then randomly be assigned to small groups and then share the words their group came up with. An activity like this will promote communication between peers and provide an opportunity for collaboration and some fun as well. It can also be a good way to have students review, be creative and brainstorm new ideas. This creates time for teachers to assess student needs and decide the next steps in the lesson.

4. Music: Music livens up the classroom and is useful for helping students retain their learning. There are many ways to include music in learning, one just as simple as playing music when students enter the room, or while they work in small groups, to add to the culture of the classroom. As instructional materials, one idea is to have students create rhymes or a song using a vocabulary list, names of famous people, state or world capitals, monuments or anything related to the content area. Students can work in pairs or a small group and create a song which can be used as a mnemonic device, to help them retain the information in a more meaningful way. Students can then present live in class or use a tool like Flipgrid or Recap to record and share with classmates. These student creations add to the authentic classroom resources and engage students more in learning.

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

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There are many ways to build students skills in the classroom, and these are just a few of the ideas that we have been trying and they are a work in progress. Knowing that something works takes reflection and student input. With students creating more and working in small groups, I have more time to move around and work with every student and group and provide more individualized instruction.

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

Students need to be moving in the classroom and have opportunities to learn in different formats using a variety of instructional strategies and tools, and it’s okay if they are not in the traditional format.