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Part Two of my posts on AI, recently published in Getting Smart.  (image from CC)

Teaching Students About AI

One of my professional goals this year was to learn more about artificial intelligence (AI). Over the course of the past year, there have been a lot of stories coming out about how schools are adding the concept of artificial intelligence into their curriculum or trying to weave it into different courses offered. The purpose is to help students better understand its capabilities and how it might impact the future of learning and the future of work. When I did some research earlier this year, I was amazed at some of the different uses of artificial intelligence that we interact with each day, and may not realize.

A quick Google search of the term “artificial intelligence” turns up 518 million results in .17 seconds. Compare this with the methods for conducting research years ago, where we had to brainstorm topics as we searched the card catalog, and then had to understand the Dewey Decimal system, in order to find the books on the shelf.  Advancements in technology led to the creation of online databases which made it easier to find articles and journals electronically, however it still required us to think of what terms to use in the search and may still have required you to locate the resource from a shelf or borrow it from another library. Today, the capability of technology for finding answers to the questions we have is tremendous. Now through tools like artificial intelligence and virtual assistants we have access to millions of resources in our hands instantly.

What are some everyday uses of AI?

Some common uses of artificial intelligence that many people likely use every day and may not know it are:

  • Smartphones:  The use of artificial intelligence is used with the photo editor on smartphones. When you want to take a picture, artificial intelligence helps by selecting the appropriate settings and suggesting different modes to you.
  • Music and Media: Whether you use something like Spotify or enjoy watching Netflix or even YouTube, artificial intelligence is helping you find the music and media that you want. Over time, it learns based on your selections and then provides recommendations for you to add to your playlist.
  • Smart Home Devices: Artificial intelligence is used in smart home devices to adjust the temperature and even lighting based on our preferences.
  • Online services: From travel to banking, shopping, and entertainment, these industries rely heavily on artificial intelligence for using chatbots or through algorithms that enable it to track spending, suggest purchases, prevent fraud and complete other transactions much faster.

Because artificial intelligence is used so much in our everyday lives, we need to make sure that our students understand its impact and potential for the future of work and learning.

How can we teach students about artificial intelligence?

One of the best ways we could teach our students is by making sure we keep challenging ourselves. I recently enrolled in the course offered by ISTE U, Artificial Intelligence Explorations and Their Practical Use in the School Environment.  The course was made available through a collaboration with ISTE and General Motors Corporate Giving and focused on K-12 STEM education. My interest in the course is to learn more so I am able to share with my 8th grade STEAM course and in my foreign language classes. Having taught about artificial intelligence last year, it is a high area of interest that I want to grow in professionally.

Throughout the course, participants work through ten different modules focused on topics related to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Each module contains activities that enable you to interact with different forms of artificial intelligence, engage in discussions, view videos and to even create things such as chatbots and virtual facilitators. Part of the course includes an IBM Developer course on “Chatbots for Good,” in which you work through activities and learn about design thinking and empathy, and other activities related to the IBM Watson program. The culmination of the course has participants design a Capstone project, which will ideally be used with students through PBL or as a student-directed exploration of AI.

There are many uses of AI for education and one school in Pittsburgh is offering the nation’s first AI course to prepare students. Pittsburgh is where AI began and developed starting back in the 1950s which makes this an exciting event. Students enrolled in the Montour School District, a district known for its innovation and “student-centered, future-focused” mission, are learning about AI through a program that launched this fall. Students will have access to resources from Carnegie Mellon University, which became the first university to offer an undergraduate degree in AI. The goal of the program is to help students learn about AI by exploring the uses of virtual assistants, engage in inquiry-based learning and build their skills in STEM-related fields.

How can we provide the opportunity for all students to learn more about AI?

Simply explaining the concept of artificial intelligence and identifying some examples of what it might look like, does not really enable you to understand it at a deeper level. The best way that I have found to understand it better myself has been by first learning how it functions by trying some of the different tools and interacting with the AI. By trying some the AI experiments and creating chatbots, you and your students can think about how the tasks are being completed, which leads to a better understanding of artificial intelligence.

While schools may not be able to offer a full course to students, there are enough resources available online that teachers can implement in the classroom.

To learn more about AI and Virtual Assistants, have students explore these:

  1. Google AI Experiments: Through Google experiments, there are hundreds of different experiments available to explore based on AI, Augmented and Virtual Reality. Students can select experiments to try and decide what makes it “artificial intelligence.”  The favorites are Quick Draw and Semantris.
  2. Botsify: Teachers can teach students online by using artificial intelligence through Botsify. By creating chatbots, teachers provide an innovative learning experience for students, where they can interact with the chatbot, ask and answer questions and even submit quizzes through the chatbot.
  3. Avatars: It can be fun to have students create their own talking avatars, and use them even as evidence of learning or to create a lesson or instruct on a topic to share with peers or even younger students. Some tools to check out are VokiTellagami and My talking avatar.
  4. Akinator: A “web genius” that tries to guess the famous real or fictional character you are thinking about. It is fun to see the questions that it asks based on your responses and see how many tries it takes for it to guess.  It is also available on Google Play and iOS
  5. Learning tools: There are different apps available that through artificial intelligence, provide students with opportunities to have additional practice and amplify their learning potential. Elementary students can learn about geography through Oddizzi, or math through Splashmath. All students can practice vocabulary by trying Knowji, which uses characters to “bring vocabulary to life” in flashcards. If students have questions, they can try Brainly, which is a tool for students to ask and answer homework questions in a collaborative, community type platform.

Looking to the future with AI

The use of artificial intelligence in the world and specifically in education will continue to grow as more people explore the topic and develop new ways to incorporate it into daily life. The potential for learning through artificial intelligence means that students have access to virtual tutors, can enroll in an online course taught by AI, and have access to the resources they need at the exact moment they need them.

Rachelle Dene Poth

One of my favorite things about teaching, besides working with my students, is finding new and engaging ways to have students create and show their learning. I remember when I first came across Buncee about two years ago, I really enjoyed creating different presentations and exploring all of the choices that were available. Coming up with new ways to use it in the classroom and even creating a Buncee for Open House, that could later be sent to families who could not attend. I was amazed at the many options to include my own images and even to record messages explaining what students would be doing in our class throughout the year. An added benefit was that by sharing one of the tools that students would be using in class, I hoped that it might become something that other members of the family could use as well, because Buncee works for everything!

Buncee is the one tool that educators and students need for creating a multimedia presentation that includes animations, a drawing feature, emojis, stickers, 360 images and even audio and video embedded within and a lot more. As teachers, we should strive to offer different choices for our students to be able to show what they are learning and to apply their knowledge in a way that provides opportunities for them to be creative, to have fun while creating, and that will engage students more in learning. Buncee has consistently provided a presentation tool that offers all of this and much more for our students and for everyone.

Newest options

There are new features and items added all of the time, but some of the other features that were a game changer for me was being able to set up classes, thousands of new items to choose from in the gallery, and even new ways to share the Buncee creations. We were thrilled when students realized that they could share their work seamlessly by sharing to Google Classroom. In my own classroom, I think it is so important to give students more choices and to provide a tool that offers more than just one format for students to create with. Using Buncee, students can find what they need to be creative, communicate ideas, and think critically about the work they are doing, while having fun during the creation process. It promotes student engagement because they can truly create something that is authentic and meaningful to them. And it enables educators to learn more about the students in the process.

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I love creating Buncees to share quotes!

Templates are here!

Finding enough time to get started with new tools is often a challenge, but with the new templates, creation just got even easier. Buncee enables the user to create something wonderful in a very short amount of time. Just this week, Buncee launched hundreds of new templates, divided into categories based on topic or type of media format. With these new templates, it now offers even more options to make creating more personal and fun.

With the new templates, it’s easy to get started creating right away. There are many different categories to choose from including: Awards, bookmarks, business cards, flyers and events, printable worksheets, scrapbook and photo albums, various social media formats and much more. The hard part is deciding which one to go with because there are so many awesome choices, and when you start looking at them, the ideas for how you can use them keep coming. Don’t be surprised if you start creating and then keep on going, there is so much to choose from that can truly enhance the learning and teaching process.

Select a Template and Go!

Once you select a template, it becomes yours to change and to really make it your own. Each template is different and when you select one, you can preview the different backgrounds that will be included within the template. You can easily change the font color and style, change the colors in the background and then add more items into your Buncee. Creating with a template is perfect for anyone who wants to get started quickly, but does not have a lot of time to search different backgrounds and add in text and other items. You can change anything within the template, it simply makes getting started easier and gives you more time to find fun animations, stickers, emojis and more to visually represent your learning. Using the templates is also perfect if you don’t have a lot of time in class, but want students to be able to create something unique and personal to them, giving a boost in confidence by having a great starting point that they can build upon.

Buncee has made it their mission to amplify student learning and provide a tool that enables each student, educator, anyone to visually communicate learning, thoughts, experiences and create something unique. It gives students a ton of options and a safe space to explore and find exactly what they need. Can’t wait to see what they create!

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Make it your own, use the template then build!

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by Rachelle Dene Poth

It is amazing today what we can accomplish through the use of technology. Past methods we relied on for communicating with friends, family, other schools, and abroad were limited to telephone calls, letters, meeting in person (if geographical location afforded this), for a few examples. When it came to learning, our opportunities for connecting students with others were limited to classrooms within the same school or a nearby school. These interactions had to be set up in advance either by making a phone call or even sending a letter in standard mail. (This goes way back to  my own elementary and high school experience, we did not have cell phones or the Internet and I am not sure about fax). Finding ways to create diverse learning experiences, took a good bit of time and collaboration for everyone. Schools needed to set up transportation, plan the schedule and other logistics, and of course the purpose had to be for a beneficial learning experience if it meant disrupting the school day.

We can provide so many more activities and learning experiences for students today, and they can be carried out with little to no real pre-planning, because of the diverse tools we have available through technology. Whether we use a form of social media or connect with a member of our PLN, and try using a tool like Voxer, or Slack, we can have a quick conversation instantly. Differences between time and place do not matter anymore, there is not even a need to move groups to different locations. We can simply talk, share images, livestream videos, use web conferencing, collaborate to add resources, (anything is possible) for us to quickly connect our classroom and our students, with another classroom and students somewhere in the world.

How we can open up these opportunities

There are many options for encouraging and supporting our students as they become globally connected. We should promote these connections so that students can develop a broader understanding of diverse world cultures, perspectives and have an appreciation of different experiences. With so many resources available, we have the ability to truly bring learning experiences to life, immerse students into different cultures and parts of the world, by simply connecting. It just takes one step.

Some examples of how easily this can be accomplished are by using some of the web-based tools available to teachers and students today. Through the use of video tools, many of which are available as free platforms, classrooms can connect with others throughout the world, regardless of differences in time and place. You can truly see what others experience in their day-to-day learning and living, and engage in conversations in real time.

Students can participate in activities like a mystery Skype or collaborate through a discussion, by using tools such as  Padlet or Flipgrid or use something like Appear.In or Zoom, for a live interaction or even Google Hangouts. These are just a few of the many options available to classrooms today. To promote conversation without video, we can use collaborative tools such as Padlet, Gecko or even a class Twitter account, (depending on grade level), as ways to have students connect through writing. In addition to learning about different cultures and establishing global connections, we can build other critical skills like communication and collaboration, digital citizenship and help to engage students more in the learning environment.  Imagine being able to have a conversation with people from 80 different countries at the same time. Regardless of geographical location or time zone, everyone can connect using one of these forms of technology and the many others that are out there.

Getting Started

Connecting globally requires that we as educators be connected. It always starts with us to set an example for our students. We have to build our own professional and globally connected network so that we can provide these learning opportunities to our students. It is worth the time, the risk, and the effort to seek out learning communities and build a community of support. We become stronger and better together, and when we collaborate to provide opportunities for our students to learn from other students, to gain new perspectives, to experience the multitude of ways of collaborating and communicating globally, we take their educational experience to a whole new level. Become a more globally connected classroom today.

 

Start by joining in on Global Maker Day!

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.

It’s back to school time! Depending on who you are, your feelings about heading back to school might differ dramatically. And I don’t just mean whether you are a parent versus a teacher, I mean even within these two groups. Among those of us in the classroom, the realization that we are headed back to school brings about a lot of different reactions. Of course there is still that perception that teachers have the best, easiest job, because we have summers off and all those holiday vacations as well, and don’t forget about the weekends. And there may even be a perception that teachers are happy when the school year ends. I have been asked many times, “How many days left until you’re off for the summer?”

I have never been one to count down the days till the end of the school year. While I am cognizant of the end of the year, I don’t, nor have I ever posted a countdown of how many days until summer vacation begins. A few years back there was a countdown board posted, but it was just for a student’s birthday. (Fun fact, she had written using a sharpie, so it kind of became a permanent birthday countdown board).

For me, I consider school to be year-round. Even though I don’t have to report to my classroom during the summer months, I am still involved in professional learning and trying to grow and learn as much as I can during that period of “free” time. I love being able to set my own schedule, in my own space, definitely perks of having the summer off. But I know that there are educators who do count the days until the end of the year, not because of excitement for a family event or vacation, or any special occasion, simply because they are done “working” for the summer.  I think that to be in education today, you really have to love what you do. You have to know your “why” behind it and you need to stay focused on what your purpose is for having chosen to be in this amazing profession.

Just like any other job, teaching has its challenging moments as well. And who hasn’t been excited about the weekend or an extended holiday break coming around? That’s natural regardless of what profession you are in. But if you are in education and you are counting down the days, you end up conveying the message to students that you cannot wait for the year to end. Why would they want to be in your class, or even be positive about being a student your class whenever you’re sending the message that you can’t wait to have a break over the summer? That may be blunt, but that’s exactly what I think of when I hear of “countdowns” in classrooms. 

I know that students may count down the days, especially seniors, until summer vacation starts. This is understandable because they have spent so much time in classrooms, sitting in uncomfortable desks for nearly eight hours a day and then going home to do even more work. And I know there’s a big controversy regarding the benefits of whether or not homework should even be given, especially when we think about the real world and the jobs that are out there, like teaching, where work does not end at the end of the “work day”. But at this point in time, I think that we need to focus on preparing students to make decisions about their future. To do this, I changed my practice of nightly homework and instead, created more ways for them to work in class and for me to work with them individually and in small groups. It is also important to stay positive about the learning experience and to do that means not counting down until the end of the school year.

Now the flip side is the back to school. Some parents are thrilled to have their children head back to school after a busy summer of family activities and hectic schedules. Some teachers are not as excited to head back to school because for them it means giving up that flexibility in the schedule where they can spend time doing what they want, learning, or just simply relaxing with family and friends.  But there are some educators who are excited about heading back to the classroom, so much in fact that they go in over the summer to prepare their classroom, to buy school supplies for their students and to really work on making it a welcoming place starting with Day one.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed this summer, and I am somewhat sad that there are two weeks remaining before I head back to school for the year. However, once I get there, I’m happy to be there. The opportunity to work with students and my colleagues and to just have something new and exciting to learn and explore every single day inspires and motivates me. And I think if you are in the business of counting down the days until the school year ends and openly sharing how upset you are that the school year is beginning again, you might want to consider a career change.  Again, apologies for being slightly blunt.

 

A few weeks ago my #4OCFPLN noticed that there were tons of negative memes being placed on Twitter and social media by educators about heading back to school. So to make a difference, they began to create their own memes with positive messages and excitement for heading back into the classroom. Think about it. As an educator you have the opportunity to do something different every single day. You make the decisions, it’s your classroom, you interact with the students and your colleagues and you have the power to make it something wonderful and unique and fun. It is YOUR choice to make it amazing. If you don’t enjoy heading back into the classroom, then maybe you should think about the way that you are doing things and ask the students for some input. Don’t be afraid to mix things up a little bit. Especially if you find that teaching can be overwhelming at times or if you have been counting down at the end of the year.

Each summer I spend a lot of time traveling to conferences, reading a lot of books and trying to take care of things that I can’t get done during the school year. I do stay connected with my students over the summer, as they have some ongoing reading to do to keep up their language skills. As much as I love teaching, I definitely get used to my routine of sleeping in later or staying up late and reading, and not really having any set schedule to follow. But a lot of the time I find that I’m thinking about what I’m going to do once I get back into the classroom, how can I be better than I was last year, and what can I do differently to really make it an exciting learning experience for my students.

So if you are thrilled to be heading back to school, I think that’s awesome. Please share your positive outlook with others who may not be as excited as you. And if you are thinking about how sad you are that school is starting so quickly, think back to your previous year and some of your best interactions, or your best lessons or even your worst lessons. What made them go so well and why do you think some of them didn’t go as well? Invest some of your remaining summer “break” rethinking the lessons that didn’t go as well and make those the point that you start the new year with. Challenge yourself to do something different and something better than the year before. Maybe that will be the motivation and the catalyst that you need to build some excitement for heading back and greeting your students for the upcoming school year.

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Welcome back to school!

 

Here are a few from the #4OCFPLN –

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I wrote this about a month ago…time flies when you’re spending it with your PLN! #iste18 #RealEDU #USMSpark #ST4T #tlap #FETC Connecting is everything!

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ISTE

 

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Live tweeting for #tlap at Summer Spark

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Women in EDTech Ignites

Why you need a PLN

One of the many benefits of being part of a PLN (Personal or Professional Learning Network) is having a constant system of support. Because of my PLN, I have access to new ideas, tools, methods at any time. Being “connected” means having a personal and professional support system, whenever you need it and wherever you are. We can connect in person with colleagues at our schools or during conferences, but at times this can be difficult because of the availability of time or based on location. The solution? Technology. We can connect virtually through the numerous forms of social media and web tools that promote anytime collaborating, communicating and conferencing. We become “connected” by connecting.

Gone are the days where educators have to scour the Internet for resources, search through books, or even travel for professional learning. We don’t even have to leave our homes to participate in professional development.  (Although it is nice to get out and meet our PLN F2F). And when it comes to our teaching practice, we don’t necessarily need to create all of our own materials or wait in line at the copier. (if we are in the habit of making packets, but that is another conversation entirely #paperless).

 

We have access to support and thousands of resources instantly, simply by connecting through our devices and reaching out into our “network.” The power of connecting and collaborating. Sharing our own ideas and gathering new ones, building on our strengths and honing in on areas in which we need to grow. Through our PLN, we have these opportunities and whatever we need, available to us at any time. It just takes one tweet, one post, one Vox, and the connecting begins and the support is available.

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Unexpected PLN

Sometimes we just happen to become part of a PLN, or a PLF (Personal or Professional Learning Family). The same can be said for mentoring. Sometimes we make these connections, develop relationships that grow into something powerful and life-changing, without even realizing it as it is happening. When I first heard about the “power of a PLN”, I really didn’t get it. I thought it was the same as being a “colleague” or having “work friends” as they are often called. But I have learned that I was way off about this, and I am glad to know that I was wrong (again). I have become “connected” through several PLNs, that have also somehow interconnected with one another.  It has become a super PLN, or mega PLN. And it evolved through Social Media, which I was so wrong about the value for education.

 

My first true PLN is referred to as the “53s”. A group that grew from a Facebook group of ISTE goers, created by Rodney Turner, that then evolved into a Voxer group. Rodney’s message was to make connections, see someone sitting alone, ask them to join in. As a group, we met face to face at ISTE 2016 in Denver. There are also a few members of this group that I met through Twitter chats and then met in person at other conferences, and had time to spend with them learning in the same physical space. We welcomed our friends into the group and continued to build a core PLN. We have come together to be the 53s, a name significant to us. A name which evolved after our initial core group grew. A group based on trust, transparency, empathy, kindness, pushback, fun and passion for education and the power of learning. And most importantly, true friendship.

These people, my friends, are my source of inspiration and the ones that I rely on heavily each day. We are a unique group that spans the United States and Canada.  I am so fortunate to be a part of a core PLN that I know will be there for me no matter what. The only thing I wish I could change is our geographical locations. We are from different states and a different country, and so time together does not happen that often. But when it does, it truly is the best time ever. #singoff #booksnaps #carpoolkaraoke.  LOVE our times at FETC, Summer Spark, ShiftinEDU and ISTE and more to come!

I am not sure where I would be without my 53s. The times we have shared are so special, and I am so thankful for this group and wish for everyone to have a core PLN like this: Evan Abramson, Jarod Bormann, Jennifer Casa-Todd, Jaime Donally, Mandy Froehlich, Tisha Richmond and Rodney Turner. Add to that our awesome Snapchat singing group which also includes Tara Martin, Andrew Easton and Mandy Taylor. They are an amazing group of educators, who would drop everything to be there to support you. I am proud and honored to call them my friends.

Another PLN: adding to the PLF

I am also fortunate to be connected with two other tremendous groups (my PLF) and cannot wait to meet more of them in person.  The #4OCFPLN and Edugladiators! Loved the adventures trying to meet up in Chicago!

 I had read the book “Four O’Clock Faculty” by Rich Czyz  and was part of a Voxer group doing a book study. Once the book study ended, many members of the group stayed connected and kept the conversation going. A group that stayed together and continued to connect and grow long after the book study had ended. We have become a real PLF and I enjoy learning new things from this group every day and knowing that they are there when I need them. “We” have had our picture taken with many authors and we have stickers and our own hashtag even #4OCFPLN. And stickers too! Shirts on the way.

4OCFPLN

There are so many great conversations, a lot of laughs and fun that happens within this group every day.  I love knowing that I can reach out to this group at any time. It is a very supportive and fun group with a lot of diverse perspectives and a bond that continues to grow and get better. Laughs, inside jokes, challenges, pushback, inspiration and amazing connections. REAL connections. We know more about each other and learn and push boundaries of learning every day.

Everybody needs to be part of a PLN. Depending on your time and what you’re looking for, there are lots of options available for making these connections fit with your schedule and based on your interests. It might be formed through Twitter and it might be through a book study or other focus group using Voxer,  or one of the other social media tools out there. It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as you make connections that will help you to continue to grow and have the support you need when you need it. Whether it is a group you join, a chat you follow, or a mix, get out there and connect. The best is when we get to spend time together, learn from each other, share the same nervousness before giving an ignite, and knowing that there is always someone there to help you whenever you need. (ST4T Tech Fail, thank you David Lockhart and Nik!)

We are better together!

Love meeting up with my #4OCFPLN, Fellow #Edugladiators Core Warriors, Edumatch PLF, Buncee Family, Future Ready PLN, the Women in EdTech and of course, the 53s.

And a tremendous surprise having one of my students be in Chicago during ISTE. That may have been the best part! Sharing some of the awesomeness of ISTE and the people there.

 

 

**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

ocean under blue sky

Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

Being a teacher is easy.

It must be nice to have your summers off.

You’re so lucky, you don’t have to work on the weekends.

You have such long holiday breaks!

If you are a teacher, you likely have heard at least one of these statements before, perhaps from friends and family, or from people you just meet, that respond with similar statements when they find out that you are a teacher. Are these statements accurate? Well, I guess to an extent, but there are some ways to counter these comments.

 

It can be easy to be a teacher, if you love what you do, it does not feel like” work.” I enjoy  working with students, learning with and from them, and having the opportunity to start fresh each day and create experiences to engage students in learning. Having the summer off is nice too, but most teachers I know either work in the summer, attend conferences, or pursue some professional development. The “summer off” is nice for providing a more flexible schedule, and a time to reflect, explore new things and prepare for the new school year.

And as for weekends, I am fairly certain that most teachers look forward to the weekend for many reasons. Of course, time with family and time to relax are important. But it is also a time to catch up on some grading, emails, or exploring new methods to bring into the classroom. So weekends without work, I don’t think they happen too much.

And the extended holiday breaks are nice as well. But again, many teachers use this time to reflect, recharge and prepare for the return to school.

So, What is the reality?

The reality of being a teacher is that teaching today can be quite challenging. Maybe in the past, the life of the teacher was perceived to be a pretty comfortable and easy profession. The typical school day of 7:00 to 3:00 or some variation, with weekends and holidays off and of course, that summer break. With those hours and that schedule who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? From the outside looking in, it might seem like each day is the same, right? Each passing year the same as the year prior. How could it be that difficult? Once you make a worksheet or a test you have them to use forever, right?  Lesson plans are the same, projects are the same, and folders full of worksheets and activities pulled from the file cabinet, simply copy it, teach it and then move on to the next day. Same. (hopefully not).

There may be some truth to this, as I’m sure there are some teachers who are teaching the same way that they were taught and/or are using the same materials each day with each class and then doing it all over again the next year. No judgments made.

To an extent, I myself was this type of teacher for a long time. Not because I was trying to take the easy way out or save time. Rather I was using some of the methods that worked for me when I was a student. I thought this was the right way to prepare. And sometimes I used some of the same materials each year because I thought there was value to them for student learning. I know that when I was a student, some of the same issues that exist today existed then (copying homework, cheating on tests), but we didn’t have the technology, which creates tremendous learning opportunities but it also takes away some opportunities as well.

Foreign Language Teacher vs. Online Translators

I thought that being a foreign language teacher meant that I was a member of a group that had a distinct battle not experienced by any other content area.  It took some time for me to notice some bothersome trends in student work. The copying of assignments, the use of online language translators, and even copying information directly from websites. So the struggle was to find a way for students to have authentic practice that would not encourage student copying or trying to take a shortcut with learning. But each year it becomes more and more challenging to stay ahead of technology in this sense. I don’t know the answer as to how to get students to stop copying homework other than to not assign homework. And this has been a very strong discussion as to the value of homework, the type of homework, and whether or not homework should even be given at all. #ditchthehomework (follow the hashtag)

 

I will not make a decision either way, other than to say that for me, I do assign some “practice” tasks for the students to do, but they typically don’t come in the form of a worksheet. And sometimes when we are working in stations in class, if students do not finish something, I do ask that they work on it until complete. But I do add, “at their pace.”  Instead, I encourage students to practice the content by playing a game of review using the Quizlet cards, sharing a Quizizz game or provide prompts for writing a blog post. And these are ongoing practice tasks that are due on a weekly basis or that I have students create to use in the class. Why? Because in doing this rather than assigning the same worksheet to each student to complete,  I know that it is more authentic, will provide students with personalized practice and it is not something that can readily be copied.

But recently I was rather surprised when I saw some students switching between screens on their computer while working in their practice workbook. (As a side note, I stopped assigning practice from the workbook for homework because of copying).

I thought that by having students work on the pages in class, during stations, that I could interact more and provide more one on one feedback and  give time for students to collaborate with their peers. I did not anticipate this “new” form of copying, until one day a few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of a student switching screens on his laptop and then writing in the workbook. The process repeated and continued for a few minutes. From across the room I had an idea of what they were doing, but I gave it some time before I walked over. Hoping that I was wrong, and that it was not the website that provides answers to so many books and workbooks. (Still cannot believe what is available).

 

It was exactly as I had thought, one of the students was using that website, to look up and copy the answers for the workbook. While I understand that there can be comfort in having a resource to look at, especially when a student may be struggling with a concept, it is helpful to learn that you were on the right track. But I do have a problem when the answers to all questions in every book are so easily accessible and available to students. I know when I was in school, often our math teachers would assign questions opposite to the answers that were available in the back of the book. It was nice to have an option to look at some answers to do practice problems and see if we were working on them correctly, and there were times when I did wish that all of the answers were available. But it forced us to push through the challenges and solve the problems. There were struggles in the learning but that’s how we improved and kept going forward.

Simple lesson learned. In these experiences, and on a personal basis, you cannot or should not assign students the exact same thing if you can avoid it. Especially when teaching a higher level course or one in which students have the possibility to create, rather than simply consume. We need to give them more authentic opportunities to practice what they are learning. They need to create, not consume, be active, not passive, and have the opportunity to set their learning path and be curious in their pursuit of knowledge. This is how we prepare them for the future.

DEWEY

 

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!