What’s Your Green Sauce?

Guest post By Brent Coley, @brentcoley

Principal, Alta Murrieta Elementary School, Murrieta, CA

#EduInfluence

Most people have a favorite restaurant. Ask 20 people to identify their favorite and you may get 20 different answers. Some may name a fine steakhouse like Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s. Fans of sushi might select as their favorite a local establishment serving up this Japanese delicacy. Ask a small child to name his or her favorite and you may get McDonald’s or Little Caesar’s as the answer. To each his own.

What about me? What’s my favorite restaurant? If you hadn’t already read the title of this blog post, the answer may have surprised you. My favorite? El Pollo Loco.

That’s right. El Pollo Loco.

Seriously, Brent? El Pollo Loco? Out of all the restaurants you could choose, your favorite is a drive-thru fast food restaurant serving a variety of inexpensive chicken meals? That’s right. El Pollo Loco.

I love this restaurant. It’s affordable. It’s relatively healthy when compared to other fast food options that serve up only burgers and fries. And there’s a location only a mile down the road from my school. I’m not ashamed to say I order lunch here multiple times a week. I get the same thing every time. A $5 Pollo Bowl Combo with flour tortillas and a large tropical iced tea. Mmmm. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

But it’s not the taste of the food that keeps me coming back, though I do enjoy the combination of chicken, beans, and rice. It’s not the value either, though being able to fill my stomach for under six bucks is a fact my budget definitely appreciates. And it’s not the comfortable ambience I used to enjoy before COVID-19 forced the closure of all restaurant dining rooms in my community. So what is it? What pulls me to this restaurant like the Millennium Falcon caught in the Death Star’s tractor beam? (You’re welcome, Star Wars fans.)

It’s the avocado salsa, what I affectionately call “green sauce.” I absolutely love it. Seriously, can’t get enough. It’s flavorful with just the right amount of kick. I could drink it like water (which I actually did one time to win a bet, but that’s another story). I love smothering each bite in this liquid slice of heaven.

If I hit the drive-thru and discover upon returning to the office they forgot to put my green sauce in the bag, my mood turns grumpy. The birds stop singing, and the day seems darker. The meal just isn’t the same. I go to El Pollo Loco for the avocado salsa. I go for the green sauce. If the restaurant stopped serving it, I can honestly say I wouldn’t eat there as frequently as I do. I’m not sure I would go at all. It’s that important to me.

​It’s salsa for crying out loud. A side dish. No, it’s not even a side dish. A condiment. It’s a condiment, something extra the restaurant gives away for free, but it’s what keeps me coming back over and over. And over.

So let’s tie this into education. Ladies and gentlemen, my question to you is this — “What’s your green sauce?”

What is that extra something that keeps your students wanting to come back to your classroom, to your school? What is it that, figuratively speaking, makes their mouths water when they think about getting to spend time with you?

While this question focuses on the “extra,” let me be clear. The main dishes we serve in our classrooms, lessons in reading, writing, math, or whatever subject you teach, are important. Very, very important. It’s imperative we provide our students with rigorous opportunities for learning, that we fill their “stomachs” with nutritious “food.” But my point is this — the main dish may not be what gets your students up in the morning. It may be that something extra you provide, that cherry on top. It may be the green sauce.

So I ask you once again, “What’s your green sauce?”

  • It may be your smiling face that greets students each day when they enter your classroom or the front gate of your school.
  • It may be the high five, fist bump, or hug at the door each morning (current physical distancing restrictions aside).
  • It may be the smelly stickers you put on your students’ exams when they do well. That’s right. A smelly sticker may be making a student’s day, may be what he or she is looking forward to. And this is not just limited to the elementary grades.
  • It may be the instrumental music you play in the background as students are working, or the upbeat music you have playing in the room as students enter each day.
  • It may be the corny dad jokes you tell every day. You know, the ones at which the students outwardly roll their eyes, but inwardly look forward to hearing.
  • It may be the class Instagram account you created to share the great things taking place in your classroom. Or maybe you’re on TikTok, creating funny videos, making you “cool” in your students’ eyes.

In the grand scheme of things, these are all actions or gestures that could be considered small. These may not have been the things upon which your professors focused when you were studying to be a teacher. But that doesn’t mean they can’t and don’t make a big difference in the lives of those we serve. Don’t underestimate the power of the little things, because more often than we may think, it’s that little something extra, that green sauce, that our students are thirsting for and what keeps them coming back for more.

​What’s your green sauce?


Want to hear more? I devoted an entire chapter of my book Stories of EduInfluence to the topic of how small actions can make a big impact. Click/tap here to listen to the Audible version of “Chapter 8: The Power of the Little Things.”

If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book, available in paperback, Kindle, and audio versions, head over to Amazon.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

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4 Ways To Rebuild Our Students’ Emotional Health

Guest post by Monica Gupta Mehta @emotionalMUSE

Across the country, millions of teachers are preparing for what will be the hardest year of teaching in modern history. Educators are dealing with stress, anxiety and fear from unrealistic public expectations and rapidly changing plans. While we work diligently to perfect our Zoom skills and transform curriculum into distance learning content, the nagging thought on almost every teacher’s mind is an entirely different one; a looming problem of epidemic proportions. Our country is entering one of the biggest mental health crises we have faced in decades.

Once we tackle the logistics of where our children will physically be as the school doors “open,” our gears will have to quickly shift to where they are at emotionally, and how to best support them.

Like many teachers, some of my favorite work hours are spent learning from my PLC on social media. These days, our conversations center on how to include more social emotional learning (SEL), including diversity and inclusivity curriculum. However, with so much going on in the intersection of education, politics and public health, teachers are finding themselves with a Herculean labor to perform. Teachers are busy either preparing their classrooms for in-person learning to comply with ever-changing guidelines (often without adequate funds); or transforming their entire curriculum into a virtual learning format…or both. This leaves little time for SEL efforts, which often fall to the back burner despite our best intentions.

Many teachers know the benefits of investing time on social and emotional learning. CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, has collected decades of research showing the impact of SEL education. Focusing on social emotional learning leads to better academic outcomes, such as better test performance and higher graduation rates, as well as reducing behavioral issues and improving mental health. So how do we create a safe, nurturing, relationship-based environment for students when we have so little time to invest in it? One answer is to use “SEL Hacks” from the MUSE Framework for Social Emotional Learning.

SEL Hacks are stand-alone curricular components that can be easily incorporated into the classroom with minimal effort. Start by choosing just a few of these to add on for the start of this school year. As each component becomes ingrained in your curriculum, visit the MUSE website to find new ideas and learning units. SEL Skill Set #1: Modeling Behaviors

Developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky calls this concept ‘apprenticeship.’ The incredible learning that happens through apprenticeship starts very young, in the home, and continues with teacher scaffolding throughout the school years. We model emotional health for students by prioritizing our physiological and psychological well-being. We ALL must ‘Maslow’ before we can effectively ‘Bloom.’

Start by spending the first week of school sending this message loud and clear. Introduce your students to virtual tools they can use to learn and practice SEL skills, and dedicate at least 30 minutes per day to the explicit teaching and practice of social emotional learning. For example, here is a feelings board that was created using padlet. Tell students to identify which emotion(s) they are feeling each morning, and make sure you include your own name as well.

Having a feelings board shows students they are not alone in feeling such turbulent emotions. It also increases student awareness of their own resiliency as they notice their moods shift back to the positive, which can help increase optimism. Lastly, this gives you the opportunity to quietly note which students seem to be struggling more frequently. You could follow up one-on-one with these students by having private chats, phone calls home, or using apps like Seesaw that allow you to communicate with your students individually. Another great ‘first week of school’ activity is to discuss a set of classroom rules or community standards. The emphasis you place on this discussion will help you set up a safe learning environment for the school year.

Allow students plenty of opportunities to feel heard each day. Keep your lectures to a minimum and allow for group games, break out rooms, and one-on-ones. One way to accomplish this is to record your lessons for students to watch asynchronously, so that more of your synchronous learning time is spent connecting with one another and practicing their learning. Motivation theory says that allowing students to use their voice, and additionally allowing them to make choices in their learning, increases engagement.

One model example of student choice is Genius Hour, inspired by Google’s policy of allowing employees to spend 20% of their time on side passion projects. During Genius Hour, students are allowed to pursue their own educational learning objectives. SEL Skill Set #2: Understanding Emotions The Feelings Board, shown above, is one way to help students to label their emotions, which is one of the first steps in building self awareness skills. You can also add mindful moments into your students’ days. Mindful moments allow your students to check in with their emotions and their body throughout the day, an important step towards building emotional regulation skills.

Another useful time in the day for a quick check-in is just before class ends. Exit slips can be used as a simple tool for seeing how students are feeling about class, or just in general. Exit slips can also be a useful formative assessment tool for teachers, allowing insight into whether or not each student is understanding the concepts being taught.

The most important part of helping students understand themselves and their emotions is to give them plenty of opportunities to speak up and connect. “Be willing to have personal, empathetic, authentic conversation,” says fellow educator Traci Browder. SEL Skill Set #3: Social Skills

While it may seem as though socialization and the teaching of social skills has necessarily hit the pause button, there are still ways to teach these crucial life skills. If your district is doing distance learning, one practical way to start off the school year is to have a conversation about virtual classroom etiquette. Here is an infographic you are welcome to use:

Teach children to show respectfulness and kindness to their peers, even via video conference. This means using non-disruptive signals, being on time and prepared as they would be to a normal class session, and respecting each others’ privacy. If you are teaching in-person, these masks that allow students to see your facial expressions will help greatly with creating connection. Practice greetings by the door, if possible, though without the hugs and fist bumps. Make mornings fun and relationship building — for example, you could ask students to do a little dance move that you mimic as they come through the door.

If you are teaching virtually, smile and greet each student every morning by name. Ask attendance questions to get students sharing and connecting right from the start of class. Having morning meetings is just as important now, if not more important than ever. Visit Responsive Classrooms for inspiration for morning meetings.

Not all of your time on video calls needs to be academic learning. Spend some time allowing students to share, getting involved in random discussions, telling jokes, and discussing feelings — just like you would in a regular classroom environment. Create break out rooms and pair students with random “recess buddies” — you could allow them to play digital games together, or interview one another. Another idea for building relationships is to create virtual ‘dialogue journals.’ You could create a journal to write back and forth with each student, and also create journals for students to dialogue with their peers, taking turns in rotation. You can include a combination of SEL topics as well as academic check-ins in your journaling prompts.

Teach students how to treat each other kindly by encouraging appreciation.

You can build student communication and conflict resolution skills by teaching “I Statements.” I statements are scripted conversations that follow this format:

I feel… because… I need…

While this format often feels stuffy and unnatural at first, with practice you may find students attempting to use a more relaxed version on their own. For example, “I feel overwhelmed by the constant changes in expectations for teachers, and I need the administration to pick one course and stick with it for at least one solid month.” SEL Skill Set #4: Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation has been a struggle for many people lately, not only for children. Mental and emotional health issues are rapidly rising, and often result in behavioral issues. One of the most important skills you can give your students is the ability to manage their responses to their emotions.

The MUSE website has a virtual curriculum called ‘Piloting Your Plane,’ geared at early elementary age students. This curriculum uses the analogy that our bodies are like planes and we are the pilots. Our responsibility is to fly our plane smoothly without crashing. In order to do so, children learn to check their control centers throughout the day, including their emotional thermometer and hunger/thirst gauges. The curriculum comes with plenty of ready-to-use activities that could be easily integrated into virtual or in-person classrooms, creating a wonderfully playful and highly effective common language.

Teaching ‘growth mindset’ can also help students with emotional regulation. The concept of growth mindset helps students to normalize mistakes, treating them as part of the learning process rather than as a sign that they are incapable of learning.

Having calm down kits and either in-person or virtual calm down centers is very helpful for students who need to take breaks in order to remain regulated. Storyline offers a wonderful online library of books read aloud by celebrities, with beautiful animated graphics to go with them. Set up your own virtual calm down center, and teach students how to use it when they are in need of a break.

While we will continue to see the effects of this pandemic on our children for years to come, incorporating the MUSE framework into your classroom will help you begin to rebuild your students’ emotional health.

For more tips on how to help your students (and yourself) during this chaotic time, please follow me. I am working fast to upload hundreds of units of SEL curriculum for all ages to my new site, EmotionalMUSE, and will send out updates as new units become available.

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**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

Buncee for engaging learning opportunities!

We are a few weeks into the new school year and for many educators, it has been an interesting start to the year. Whether in physical classroom spaces or in a hybrid or distance learning environment, our focus at the start of the year is on building relationships and engaging students in learning. The challenge this year for many is  creating the right spaces to build those relationships when we are not together in our physical classrooms.  Buncee provides so many possibilities for doing just this.

Introductions

I can create with Buncee and engage my students in opportunities to not only create and engage more in learning, but provide a way that they can feel connected to each other if we cannot be together in the same physical space.  A great place to start is exploring the Ideas Lab. There are great templates available to choose from that work well for the beginning of the year and a back to school theme, or for some ice breakers to build relationships that are so important. 

Check out some of these recent additions to Buncee templates for having students express themselves by creating an acrostic poem or a virtual locker.  These are great options to have students create a Buncee to introduce themselves to their teacher and to their classmates!

(this one was shared by Buncee)

(drag and drop items into your virtual locker)

Using Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom, it makes it really easy to share these with students. For global collaboration, create a Buncee board to post all of the amazing student creations. With project-based learning, my students have been able to connect with students in Argentina and Spain and share a little bit about their experiences as students and what life is like here in the United States.  With all the options available for creating within Buncee, it’s fun for students to be able to create something that represents who they are and even to have the option to include audio or video to really get to know each other.  Being able to collaborate like this is quite valuable regardless of where learning is happening but definitely beneficial as many schools are working with hybrid and distance learning. It helps students to feel more connected to their classmates and their teachers and also to be able to connect on a global scale which is important for all students. 

Teach a Lesson

One of my favorite ways to use Buncee is to create lessons to share with my students. One of the first ones that I did was to teach about digital citizenship and it was easy to create something using all of the different options available within the media library and to give students an opportunity then create their own buncee to share what they had learned. 

Set up class expectations for virtual learning

Explore the templates and create something like this fast and make it your own by selecting from the more than 35,000 choices available in the media library! 

Ready-made templates and new topics

Something else that I’ve always loved about using Buncee is that it integrates with other tools that we use in my classroom. With this new partnership with Flipgrid,  there are even more ways to use these tools together to provide more opportunities for students to build essential skills. You can find pre-made Buncee templates available in the discovery library focused on topics like social emotional learning, goal-setting and schedulers and organizers.  Check out all of the choices today!

One of the things I love the most about using Buncee is that there is always support available. Whether you connect with the Buncee team through the different social media platforms, or make connections with educators from around the world through Twitter or Facebook, there are so many ways to learn and grow as educators. And even more importantly,  to bring new opportunities to our students. If you need some quick resources on different topics, check out all of the many options available at their Buncee help desk.

Looking for more ideas?  See what the Buncee Ambassadors are up to! Explore the 66 ideas for using Buncee from Maria Jose Giavedoni.  Did you catch the Creative Beginnings event at the beginning of August? Three days of sessions and so many topics and ideas.  Catch the recordings here.

Coming up:

Don’t miss out on the new idea o’clock with Buncee starting September 16th happening live on Facebook at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.  First up was Shannon Miller and Amy Storer is on the 23rd! Be sure to tune in to learn new ideas from Buncee educators!

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Find more in the Back to School Resources Kit

Check out the videos available here.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

6 Must Haves for School Districts to be Successful in Remote and Hybrid Learning

Guest post by Stephanie Burroughs (@BurroughsEDk12)

For this school year to be successful, we have to take the 40,000 foot view and make sure we have the systems and structures in place to help all students, teachers, administrators, and community members work together to support student learning. 

Whether your district is beginning the school year fully in-person, remotely, or in a hybrid learning model, there were clear concerns over approaches to emergency learning in the spring that we should be fixing no matter what school will look like for your district. Below are six ideas that K-12 districts should be planning for: 

1. Train your students to LEARN online 

It’s not just about technology training. We should be prioritizing executive functioning in the same way that we are prioritizing learning padlet and flipgrid. What we got wrong in emergency learning is creating a massive tech learning curve for our students. Over-stimulating students with log-ins to platforms instead of focusing on student-centered discourse, consistent workflows, and modes of communication would be a mistake moving forward. 

Learning online requires more initiative and better time management. In a US News article for college students they discuss the need for improved communication and self-discipline in order for students to be successful in an online environment. K-12 schools are beginning to acknowledge their role in on-boarding students, with one district releasing plans that prioritize student training prior to shifting to fully remote.

Advice: Give students a learning coach, a teacher in the building that checks in with them each week to assist with managing their assignments and advise them on communication with their teachers.  

2. Have Open House early and virtually

​Supporting student on-boarding is only the first step in ensuring a smooth roll-out of learning expectations. We must remember that families are partners in learning and get them in the loop early. When emergency learning rolled out, parents were overwhelmed with taking on their child’s learning and it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Parents need to know how this is all going to work. Answering these questions for parents at an early open house will help parents act as allies in learning:

  • How can I prepare my child for an online class? 
  • How will teachers communicate expectations and how can I stay in the loop on my child’s learning?
  • When will I be able to check-in with teachers on my child’s progress?
  • What is a reasonable amount of time for asynchronous work?
  • What strategies can I support my child with in communicating with teachers and knowing when/how to get help?

Advice: Give parents a cheatsheet newsletter that clearly defines workflows and expectations for their child, including the technology students will need to be using and all the ways their child can get support. 

3. Train your teachers to teach online 

I earned a doctorate online at the University of Southern California and we used 3 tech tools: G-Suite, a Learner Management System, and Zoom. My classes were engaging, rich discussions with clear expectations for learning. There is no reason why we should be exhausting our teachers with learning every technology platform they can get their hands on. Instead, we should be focusing our professional learning time on modeling online pedagogy and creating workflows that maximize engagement while minimizing the technology learning curve. 

In my post on learning online, I highlight the need for student-friendly online learning and identify the following action items for teachers:

  • Front-load student learning – Let asynchronous work act as a springboard for live class discussions
  • Begin class with a quick check for understanding – Keep it simple and let students warm-up to engaging in an online environment
  • Prepare templates for group work ahead of time – It will help students focus and help teachers keep track of the progress of small group work
  • Share your slides, make your expectations clear – It helps your students focus and aids them in processing important information
  • Make caring a part of your routine – Let checking in on how your students are feeling be a routine in your classroom

​Advice: Give teachers permission to keep technology tools simple, support them with distance learning pedagogy first.  

​4. Embrace virtual parent conferences 

It was always bizarre to me that a common practice for parent-teacher conferences was a 15 minute time slot in the middle of your workday. Virtual parent teacher conferences will enable more families to engage in conferences, but it will also allow districts to schedule time for conferences with more flexibility. But let’s not stop there, let’s look for opportunities to engage with families and make sure that there are consistent feedback loops to support a successful school year for our students:

  • Open up PTA meetings to have consistent opportunities for parents to ask questions
  • Have time slots for parent-teacher conferences throughout the year so that teachers have the time set aside to support families
  • Hold coffee hours with families to offer support with technology and support with navigating their child’s learning experience

Advice: Plan for opportunities to engage with families and communicate them consistently so that every parent feels connected to their child’s school.

5. Focus on consistent communication

School districts all around me have communicated throughout the summer months on their plans for the fall, opened up family forums to ensure that all voices were heard and that districts could account for feedback, and truly spent a significant amount of time on developing out plans for opening school buildings in compliance with state guidelines. It’s been great, students and parents need to know what to expect and when to expect it.

As we kick off the school year, that same steady communication must happen within the classroom and within school buildings. As a parent, I hope to see the following:

  • A clear schedule of how and when assignments will be communicated
  • Consistent meeting times for each of my kid’s classes, communicated at the start of the year and consistent throughout
  • Consistent time for extra help and support for students so that we can plan for it in our day
  • Consistent communication on grades and progress in each of my kid’s classes

Advice: Parents should be added as viewers to google classrooms to help with communication and grade books should be kept open.

6. Embrace professional learning communities 

Teachers need time and they need us to honor that. Professional Learning Communities, or teachers meeting intentionally to co-plan curriculum, instruction, and assessment, must be a top priority for school districts developing their schedules for the upcoming year. PLC time is sacred and should be intentionally scheduled so that not a single one of our teachers feels isolated in their efforts to provide the best possible learning opportunities for their students. 

That being said, collaboration on building materials and resources must be a priority in PLC time and we all need to embrace teamwork over autonomy. That last bit is hard, but our students deserve a consistent learning experience in the upcoming year and we can only accomplish that by being intentionally collaborative in our creation of student learning experiences. 

Advice: Teachers should talk as a team about what they can commit to building together and where they need breathing room to add their own personal touches. Asynchronous materials may be the best place to start for building common ground.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

Game based learning

Guest post post by Brigid Duncan, Educator, Creator, & Blogger

Shaking up learning by bringing retro games to class lessons!

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If you have been teaching for a couple years now, you would be asked by many students to play Kahoot! Or just mention the word Kahoot! and kids await eagerly to hear the elevator music playing in the background as they enter the game code to join your game. So, our students love to play games. Who doesn’t? There is an old Finnish saying that goes like this:

“Those things you learn with JOY

You will not forget easily!”

So why use game-based learning? Many reasons come to mind, however the most significant one is that students work harder when they are given a choice, autonomy, and they are in an audience being observed by their peers. In other words, they like a challenge and want to win. So, knowing this and building games into your instruction accomplishes that and so much more. Many of our students are Gen Z’s, and research has proven that this generation loves challenges, they love independence and relish having a voice in their learning outcomes. Theory behind game- based learning is that we are taking the motivational aspects of a game and applying it our lessons for assessment, while kids are having fun. 

As we move into the start of this ever-pivoting school year, our instruction has to keep up with modifications as our classroom changes, whether we are online,  face to face instruction or hybrid. The problem teachers face with this type of instruction, lies in with our assessments and the integrity of them. Are my students truly understanding the essential questions as outlined at the start of the lesson? Are they using Professor Google (my favorite word for searching google for answers) to my assessments? Should I even have assessments and just go strictly to project based assessments. Well I am here to say you can have online assessments using game-based learning. 

Who wouldn’t want to play an old-fashioned Trivial Pursuit board game? A favorite for many and can be used to assess for key terms or conceptual thinking on a unit lesson. Have them play in teams, assign points and give them badges that they can proudly display. Have a “Battle Royale” with review or test bank questions. Want to take it a step back in our time capsule, do you remember Four Corners a game still played in and out the classroom. Well you can simulate the same idea but on a board game and in, an online classroom. Let’s say you are teaching themes in a novel read that the class just wrapped up. You can ask students to identify themes on opposite side of the four corners. Example, revenge in one corner and opposite side “compassion” You can give them a blank card with 4 squares and play Pictionary, another retro board game. You can pose the same questions but this time you say to your students use icons to represent the themes and place in opposing squares. Sites like The Noun Project or AutoDraw are all free. And of course, I couldn’t write a blog post on game-based learning and not mention Monopoly. I have seen many teachers get creative by incorporating unit lessons using a Monopoly style board, guiding students through asynchronous lessons from START to FINISH. 

I hope this post on game based learning will encourage you to Level Up, on your lesson plans and incorporate games in your classroom learning assessments. Many teachers will be starting a new year with students you have never met in person. I have read many of your comments on social media asking how to build classroom community when we have never met and will continue online. Then this is one of the best solutions available now, to ease your concerns. By having games included in your lesson plans, you will begin building online classroom student relationships. Have fun this school year and remember that Old Finnish saying when developing and designing your lesson plans: “Kids remember best when they are having fun!” 

Brigid Duncan, Educator, Creator, & Blogger

Brigid Duncan is an AP Econ/Business instructor teaching high school in Hollywood, Florida. Originally from the Caribbean, she pursued a career in advertising and Marketing before transitioning to teaching. She is Mom to three wonderful and energetic teenagers and enjoys being creative, especially in graphic design. Favorite quote: “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not’?” – George Bernard Shaw.

Follow her educational journey at @MsBDuncan

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

Versatile Tools for Blended Learning

Posted originally on DefinedSTEM: Ideas for some AR/VR for Blended Learning

Years ago when I started to use more technology in the classroom, I thought that by having students watch videos at home, rather than in class, I would be “flipping” the classroom. Fortunately, I learned quickly that I was not, and made some changes to implement blended learning instead. As part of my ongoing reflection, I continue to think about the many changes that I have made and the tools that have helped me to create a more authentic and engaging learning experience for my students. There are so many tools available, and we always want to first consider the “why” behind using them and also think about the purpose and how versatile the tools can be. Learning opportunities for students are everywhere and the best part of having so many choices is that it promotes student agency. Students can find something that meets their interests and needs, and that offer more meaningful ways to engage with the content. Choices will lead to purposeful learning experiences for students.

Sometimes it is fun and beneficial to try unconventional tools or methods, to immerse students more in learning and do things differently than what they have become accustomed to. Making a change to thttps://www.definedstem.com/blog/versatile-tools-for-blended-learning/he traditional style and structure of the classroom can feel uncomfortable at first, but giving students more control in designing their learning is worth it. The flexibility of these tools enables learning to happen anywhere and at any time, based on the student’s or school schedule, which help to foster a blended learning environment. Here are a few ideas to immerse students in learning.

Augmented/Virtual Reality

One of the biggest areas of growth in education has been the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality in the classroom. In  my own classroom we have used a variety of tools and students have enjoyed the time exploring new tools and definitely different ways to learn. The idea of teaching by using tools for AR or VR can  seem challenging, but it really can be quite simple to add it into the course and there are tons of resources available. I recommend exploring the resources shared by Jaime Donally on all things related to Augmented and Virtual Reality in education.

These tools can offer more powerful ways to immerse students in learning, to “travel” and “explore” places and things more closely. Students can create, problem solve, become more curious and experience something unique through the use of these tools, which enable learning to happen beyond the classroom walls and involve students in more collaborative experiences.

Tools to try:

  1. 3DBear: A newer platform that enables students to add objects into their space and then narrate a story in augmented reality. Teachers are able to create a class account and can choose from the lessons available for grades 1-6 and up, in content areas including ELA, Math, Social Studies, Science, and also STEAM-related topics. Each lesson includes links to reading materials, timelines, and also worksheets. Teachers can sign up for a free trial.
  2. CoSpaces:  A tool for creating “spaces” where students can tell a story, create a game to represent their learning in a more authentic and meaningful way. Students can work together on projects and design a more immersive story together. Working together helps students to develop their  digital citizenship skills as well as promote social emotional learning skills. An engaging way to reinforce content by having students design spaces they can then “walk” through in virtual reality.
  3. Metaverse: An augmented reality tool that teachers can use to create assessments with or have students design an interactive “experience” full of choices in characters, GIFS, 360 images, themed objects and more. There are “experiences” available and it is easy to get started by  watching the tutorial videos from Metaverse. Students can create their own experiences and share them with classmates and teachers can create more engaging review activities for students.
  4. Shapes 3D Geometry:  An app that gives students and teachers a more interactive way to explore core concepts of geometry and that can help students discover 2D and 3D shapes in an augmented reality experience. Using a Merge cube, students can examine 3D shapes by holding the solids in their hands, manipulating them and being able to more closely understand the core concepts of geometry.

Learning beyond  the classroom: Virtual Field Trips

It is important for students to experience learning and explore the world, beyond the limits of the classroom time and space. While we can’t easily take students to  faraway places,there are different tools that make these “trips” possible. The right tools bring in a world of learning for our students, enabling them to closely look at a location rather than by simply watching videos or looking at pictures in a book. We can even connect students with  other classrooms and experts around the world by using one of these options in our classes. Many of these tools are easy to get started with and some even have lessons available, which makes the lack of time factor, not an issue.

Tools to Try:

  1. Google Expeditions: By using Google Expeditions, teachers can “guide” students in faraway lands or have them closely view an object in Augmented reality. All that is required is the App, and then students need to be on the same wifi as teachers in order to “explore” in the classroom. Teachers can choose from more than 100 objects in augmented reality and 800 virtual tours to travel around the world. Each tour includes a script with guiding questions and enrichment activities, all easily accessible by downloading them to a device.
  2. Skype: Years ago, connecting with other classrooms took a lot of time to plan, working with different schedules and access to the right technology. Now through tools like Skype, students andteachers can connect with anyone in the world. By joining the Microsoft community, teachers can connect with other classrooms and create connections for students to communicate by using Skype or for more fun and pushing the critical thinking, collaboration and problem-solving skills, try using Mystery Skype.

Tools for anywhere learning

With blended learning, students have the online component as well as the traditional in-class instruction. One type of blended learning involves the use of stations. By using some of these tools, especially if access to devices is an issue, students can participate in station rotations and learn in multiple ways. The best part is that these tools are accessible when convenient for students as well.

  1. Nearpod: A favorite because it is such a versatile tool that offers a lot of options for how to have students interact with the content, and even go on virtual reality tours and explore 3D shapes. Some of the activities you can include are polls, open-ended responses, matching pairs, for a few and also including content such as BBC videos, PhET simulations and more recently, a Desmos graphing calculator. A tool to enhance instruction whether in or out of the classroom, and one which students can use to create their own lessons to share.
  2. Buncee: Students can create multimedia presentations that include a variety of items such as animations, emojis, 360 images, and web content including videos that can be embedded into the presentation. Teachers can create a lesson using Buncee by adding videos, audio, including hyperlinks and sharing one link with students, that leads to multiple other activities.
  3. Quizizz: A game based learning tool that can be used for instruction, both in and out of class, or for students to create their own games as more authentic practice. Quizizz has thousands of games available in the library and recently added a student log-in that enables students to track their progress and gives them access to prior games played so they can always go back and review. Having this available to students makes it more personalized because students can get extra practice whenever they need it.
  4. Kahoot!: Challenges with Kahoot have become quite popular. Teachers can “challenge” students to participate in a game as a way to practice the content or review for an assessment. Students can even challenge each other by sharing games and codes, which makes it good for peer collaboration and building the social emotional learning skills.
  5. Synth: A podcasting  tool that can be used to have students respond to questions, participate in a conversation by responding to a prompt or a “thread.” A thread is a string of responses in a conversation. Creating with Synth is easy and simply by recording a prompt that can also include a video, teachers can promote communication and student discussion beyond the school day. Teachers can then listen to all student responses as a podcast.

Finding new tools to explore is  always fun, especially when we have students create with them and share their work with classmates. We learn more about their interests and needs and they have a more personalized experience.

These tools have made  an impact on my students this year and I have seen a lot of benefits by offering students a variety of tools to choose from. Creating a more interactive classroom experience and expanding the where, when and how students learn, leads to more of a blended learning  approach. It is important to show students that learning can happen anywhere and give them the tools to make that possible.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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Creating the right space with Wakelet

Creating the right space with Wakelet!

You need to check out the Wakelet Launch Party!  Wow, talk about an awesome launch!  Great work from the Wakelet team and a very exciting launch.  Launch party!

For anyone that has been using Wakelet, you already know how many amazing possibilities there are for using Wakelet! For creating a space to connect with educators, students, families and more, Wakelet offers many choices for exchanging ideas and providing content and more. Earlier this summer, Wakelet announced the capability to collaborate in real-time, enabling educators and students to work together and provide feedback right away.

WakeletPBL

In my classroom, Wakelet has been a way for my students to share their project-based learning (PBL) products, to gather resources for our classes and to even use as a digital portfolio. For me, Wakelet has been a space to gather collections of resources for topics of interest, for curating ideas from book studies, for sharing archives of a Twitter Chat and much more. Now, the Wakelet team has added even more to help educators promote student engagement, by providing a collaborative space for students to work together and foster collaboration regardless of where learning is taking place. Check out the new Spaces!

What are Spaces?

Spaces is the newest feature from Wakelet that enables you to create a “space” for adding collections, organizing your current collections and inviting others to join and collaborate. Spaces can be a private or a public area. Spaces adds a whole new level of organization and collaboration to your Wakelet experience.”

Simply click the plus button on the new bar in the left of your home area to create a new Space. It is easy to start creating collections on any topic. My first “space” was to place all of my Twitter Chat collections which makes it great for organization and to be able to share with others. Create a space and invite your students, other educators, and anyone else to contribute and add collections of their own.

What I love about this new feature is that I can now organize my current collections into Spaces which makes it so much easier to find what I am looking for. It enables me to create powerful learning environments for my students and for all of us to be able to collaborate like never before!  I have needed this capability for a while because I have a lot of collections!

As an educator, you can create a Space for each class or subject you teach, a project, a PLN community, your own professional learning, or just to organize your collections however you want!

Getting Started with Spaces

Definitely easy to create a space!

Click the + button on the new bar in the left of your home area to create a new Space. Want to add an image and name for your space? Just click the + button, choose an image from the gallery or upload your own, add a name to your space and then click “create.” You now have a Space where you or your students can collaborate, share resources, build a library full of content, organize a research project, or for you to organize your collections.(this is amazing!)

Want to share Podcasts? Blogs? Books? You name it, Spaces is the place to do this!

There is no limit to the number of collections that you can create in your Spaces. Collections can also be moved between spaces. What? How awesome is that!

I always say, the 3 dots are your friend. Click on the dots while you hover over one of the collections and select “move” and then decide which Space you want to move that collection to. Talk about fast organization!

Ready for more awesomeness?

It’s not just a space for you, it can be a space to collaborate! Invite colleagues, PLN, global connections and students to share their own collections in that space! Simply click the “members” button and you can invite others to join by sharing a code, a link or through email. Once they receive the invite, they click the link and are now joined with you in that space. Now everyone can add their own items to the collections in that space, how cool is that? Or create new collections of their own!

Sharing and learning together!
Just like collections, spaces can be for your own work, or you can make them available to the public. Looking for ideas for global collaboration? Why not have your students work together on gathering resources, brainstorming ideas, or whatever they need! Decide on the visibility of the space, private or public, and remember that you can change your Space back to private at any time.

Ideas for Spaces

1. Curate resources for your classes

2.  Create spaces for students to use as a digital portfolio.

3. Invite colleagues to share their resources on a common topic!

4. Project-based learning: Great way for students to share resources

5. Station rotations?  It could work! Create a space and add collections for each of the activities. Try it and let me know how it goes!

There are so many more ways to use Spaces. What are your ideas?

Create your first Space now and share the ways that you plan to use this awesome new feature from Wakelet! I cannot wait to see what my students think!

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

If it ain’t broke, then break it

 

Guest post by Cory Radisch, Follow Cory on Twitter @cradisch_wc

Wait, that’s not how the saying goes! However, even though data still demonstrates consistent opportunity and achievement gaps in schools, there are many who think things are not broken. It doesn’t matter that the data tells a different story. In many places, if adults are satisfied and comfortable, many believe the system “ain’t broke”! My longtime mentor, Marc Natanagara, used the title of this blogpost with former staff, not only to inspire them to challenge the status quo, but also to let them know it’s perfectly acceptable to break the system! It was appropriate long ago and it’s even more appropriate today. If we are going to truly transform education, then we just may need to break it. 

  • We need to break the system that marginalizes students!
  • We need to break the system that perpetuates learning and opportunity gaps!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately disciplines students of color!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately has fewer students of color in AP and advanced classes!
  • We need to break the system where your zip code usually determines what level of education you receive!
  • We need to break the system that fails to recruit and retain teachers of color!   
  • We need to break the system that teaches a unilateral perspective of history!

 

Breaking the system is not blowing up the system. Breaking the system is about addressing and interrupting implicit and explicit bias in our policies, curricula, and procedures. It will undoubtedly cause discomfort. Then again, when has breaking something not created discomfort? We can either be comfortable or we can grow, but we can’t do both!  I would love to know what you will break in order to ensure equity in your district, school, or classroom.

This post is dedicated to my longtime mentor and friend, educator Marc Natanagara, who recently retired after 33 years of breaking things that weren’t broken!

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Your Story Matters, Here’s Mine

LEAN ON ME, WHEN YOU’RE NOT STRONG

From the time I became very aware of what my parents did for a living, I firmly decided that I did not want to follow in their educational footsteps. They worked too hard for too little compensation for all the time and effort they spent on their work, students, and school. They were outstanding educators (my dad retired as an elementary principal, and my mom retired as a psychological examiner for an educational cooperative). In college, as I considered my major area of study and degree options, Dad pointed out that careers define where we live. At the time, I wanted to write for a magazine, so I was considering a Bachelor of Arts in English. However, Dad suggested that if I completed a Bachelor of Science in Education with an English major, then magazine companies would still view it as an English degree, but I would have the flexibility to become a teacher as well, allowing me to live anywhere.

AND I’LL BE YOUR FRIEND

I took over my first classroom a few years later in October, becoming the third Spanish teacher that year for McDonald County High School after working for Missouri State University for 3 years. I nearly hyperventilated the night before my first day as I pondered all of the responsibility I had just agreed to shoulder, but the next morning, as I stood in front of my first class of thirty high school students, I realized that I was finally home. Education was where I belonged.

I’LL HELP YOU CARRY ON

Thoughts of my greatest accomplishments in education over the years always have me looking outward, not inward for impact. Have I made a difference in anyone’s life? Many have made a difference in mine. Am I transmitting inspiration and motivation? Many have inspired and motivated me. Have I equipped students to be able to walk through any door they want in life to fulfill their dreams? Am I walking through my own doors? These questions are why I am never satisfied with my own knowledge and skill. I must know better so that I can do better. Toward that end, I relentlessly pursue professional development, typically completing 150 or more hours each year (and I’m blessed to have a passion be what I do for a living, though I also get time away from PD, so don’t judge your own learning based on mine. Nothing normal here.) As I learn, I share what I know with other educators everywhere. Since the summer of 2016 (I had Twitter before that, but I had no idea what to do with it), I have become a connected educator on social media and have discovered my voice, my audience, and shifted my focus to being a conduit of empowerment for all learners, adults and students alike.

FOR IT WON’T BE LONG

I tell my students that while in my classroom, they will learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Together we will push ourselves to take risks and go beyond the boundaries of what we think we can do (Thanks, Dave & George!). In my classes and professional development sessions, we leverage technology to flatten the walls of our classroom so that the world awaits. I have connected my students with experts and companies (Thanks, Buncee!) from all over the world during global DigCit Summit 2019 (Thanks, Marialice!). We connect with students from as close as Jackson, Missouri (Thanks Lance!) and as far away as Argentina (Thanks, Rachelle!) to learn other cultures, spread kindness (Thanks, Heather!), practice digital citizenship, and to develop authentic audiences for our work (Thanks, JessicaJamie, and Heather!). My passion for technology helps me guide students in a world where they no longer have to wait “grow up” to make an impact (thanks for reminding me, Kevin!).

‘TIL I’M GONNA NEED

Besides leveraging technology to empower students, I also cultivate their voice. Communication is another big skill that employers look for when hiring. Google, at the time this post was written, ranks it second in their top 7 desired employee skills, so I want my students to be able to articulate ideas then see them come to fruition. Students guide my teaching by giving me after action reports when I try a new activity or lesson. They give me as much feedback as I give them. Students have input on what activities we do, how we do them, and in choice of tool for completing the activities. Their voice matters (Thanks for reminding me, Rick & RebeccaLet Them Speak: How Student Voice Can Transform Your School).

SOMEBODY TO LEAN ON

But I don’t stop there. While I flatten the classroom walls for my students, I also do that for myself. An educator in North Carolina, my friend Holly King, pointed out that one of my talents is in connecting the dots, whether that be in combining learning sciences with supported research based teaching strategies, social emotional skills with academics, using tools in new and unique ways to help students learn, or just in the realm of ideas and theories, I make connections. By doing so, I connect people. Whether it is high school students or adults, I connect people, which connects ideas, and that elevates us all and empowers us with a platform, with a sounding board, with a brainstorming opportunity to be better, to elevate the field for us all. (Speechless, Holly.) This is what a lot of us in education do, whether we realize it or not. It’s why left our own islands and continue to grow our professional learning network. Teaching is a life changing business (Right, Dave?), and not just for students. It changes us all.

HEADING TITLES ARE PARTIAL LYRICS FROM BILL WITHERS’ SONG, LEAN ON ME, © UNIVERSAL MUSIC PUBLISHING GROUP

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**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

CONUNDRUM SCHOOLING: PART DEUX

Guest blog post by Jillian DuBois  @JillDuBois22

When COVID chose to collide with our lives in March, teachers and educational leaders defied time and space by achieving more than we could ever dream of doing in our profession.

FOR our STUDENTS.

We gave up Spring Break. We sacrificed family time. We had sleepless nights. We KNEW what needed to be done, followed through, and gave it our all.

Some described it as distance learning. Homeschooling. Virtual school. These types of schooling require months, even years of preparation before taking on that challenge.

In the simplest of terms – it was far more than that. It was what I called CONUNDRUM schooling (conundrum – An unstable time or period, usually marked by intense difficulty or danger. Thank you to wordhippo.com for the explanatory definition.). Traumatic schooling that was disruptive, stressful, and anxiety-inducing, leaving little time for research + planning. Teachers sent up an SOS.

We grieved over what was lost. In just one critical moment, we somehow surrendered our community, fellowship, daily routines, and a predictable schedule that gave us satisfaction + security in our profession.

But we persevered. It was muddled, unpredictable, and often frustrating. We came out of it still breathing and somehow able to exhale, knowing that during our physical time away from our students we had gained meaningful pedagogy in our learning strategies and skills.

Thankfully, the #edtech platforms we chose provided excellent facilitation and reinforcement for the majority of our instruction and learning. In turn, that opened up a new path as to how to process + present our instruction differently and more efficiently. Teachers met via teleconferencing and innovatively collaborated together. We shared lesson plans, ideas, and exceeded what we assumed we could do – like superheroes.

So as I begin to conceptualize the next few weeks in preparation for the new school year…I am drawing a BIG, FAT…blank, that leads to…

CONUNDRUM SCHOOLING: PART DEUX.

The current space available in my head is not prepared for academics + curriculum planning AT ALL. I don’t even have the words to properly and politically respond to friends and family who ask how I feel about returning.

BLANK. NADA. NOTHING. (and if you know me at all, I don’t blank on anything, that’s NOT what teachers do. We are masters at improvisation.)

Moment of truth? I believe I’m a darn good teacher. The last semester drained every ounce of imagination + creative skill that I estimated I had. I’m slowly rebounding. What I DO know is that I WILL be brave + undaunted. I will NOT let fear worm its way into my tenacious spirit. I refuse to give in and give up.

WILL consider + celebrate the progression that I made as a teacher last year.

I have cultivated new ways of being FLEXIBLE + RESILIENT. I was able to give up control and allow my students unique opportunities to drive their own learning. They participated in the decision-making process by expressing their choices when given the chance. There was extended time for inquiry + building out their curiosities with enthusiasm.

They had questions that I did not have the answers for…and that was truly amazing. There was project-based learning alternatives that sparked many in-depth conversations, ‘a-HA’ moments, and periods of self-reflection. JUST this alone was worth the efforts. We honored the process of learning + accountability as a class…together.

There MAY not have been any stellar discoveries of new content during this time of conundrum schooling, BUT there was incredible facilitation of educational experiences that they will never forget. Neither will I.

What will I carry into this new year? These things I just mentioned. I will join tens of thousands of other teachers who will be using their newly-gained expertise to keep some semblance of normalcy + security for our students.

Unlearn the conundrum. Relearn confidence with conviction.

I will teach them honesty, kindness, empathy, justice, and inclusivity. THAT is where I will begin. I know I will get to the planning + academics, don’t you worry. But FIRST things FIRST. I love them already.

We need time to heal together.

We will get there. There’s still a steep learning curve ahead with no signs of caution. Education will now be in stark contrast to what was before comfortable + traditional. As we launch with students, we will crawl along slowly. Next, steadily we will learn to walk together as weeks go by. Possibly, we may even start to run again. GRACE + PATIENCE will be generously granted each day as we encounter new circumstances and ways of life.

We are in it for the beautiful mess that it is. It will be SUCH a monumentally great year if we allow ourselves to take one day at a time, appreciate our vision + mission, and lean into our passion for our students.

Oh, and don’t forget the #impartEDjoy.

Best wishes for an amazing conundrum of a journey.

Jillian

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Here are my books available. Find them at bit.ly/Pothbooks