#singlevoicesglobalchoices

Guest post by Barbara Zielonka  @bar_zie

 

Dear educators,

We would like to invite you to the global and collaborative project for middle and high school students and teachers #singlevoicesglobalchoices. We are reaching out to educators who want to bring the real world into their classrooms and who want to engage their students without the coursebook.

We are going to do that by focusing every month on one or more international event/ events created by the United Nations and other organizations and by analyzing current events. International days are occasions to educate our students on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources, to address global problems and to celebrate and reinforce the achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations but is also a powerful advocacy tool that may help us empower our students and create global citizens who are aware of the wider world, have a sense of their role as world citizens, respect and value diversity, want to tackle social justice, and believe that all children and young people have a right to an education.

Each international day offers the opportunity to organize activities related to the theme of the day at our schools. The themes of international days we have selected will always link to:

  • the maintenance of international peace and security;
  • the promotion of sustainable development and global mindedness;
  • the protection of human rights, and the guarantee of international law and humanitarian action

The main aims of this global and collaborative project are to:

  • infuse curriculums with more project-based learning and exposure to real-world examples;
  • empower students by giving them the opportunity to co-create knowledge and learn through mistakes in a safe environment;
  • support students in becoming familiar with the professional environment and behaviours such as clear and timely communication, thinking critically, problem-solving and time management;
  • help students to see how their achievements are based upon more than just the grades they earn in class, but also the experiences they develop during their lessons

Upon completion of this project, students will:

  • define real world problems and find solutions;
  • meet international students and become a part of a global community;
  • participate in thought-provoking conversations and self–reflection activities that challenge students to investigate global problems;
  • gain factual knowledge of human rights and environmental issues;
  • learn and expand their digital citizenship skills;
  • be challenged to share the information they learn;
  • develop their global competency.

More than ever before rapidly changing working conditions and social structures require students to actively shape their role in society. Schools form future leaders for positions in society that require a high degree of social emotional skills and global mindedness. In response to that, our project provides specific collaborative assignments and strategic threads to realise related education goals. Democracy and citizenship, health and life skills, sustainable development are three interdisciplinary themes the project aims to address.

After having registered, we will verify your identity and invite you to our Microsoft Team where all the collaboration will take place.

Find more information about out project here:

https://singlevoicesglobalchoices.wordpress.com/

Registration: https://singlevoicesglobalchoices.wordpress.com/join-us/

We hope to see you soon! Join us in this collaborative and global adventure!

Kind regards,

Lesley Fearn, Lynn Thomas and Barbara Anna Zielonka

Project logo- created by Barbara Anna Zielonka

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 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  

Tools for anywhere learning

Each year I like to take time and think back to the digital tools that we used in our classroom, what the benefits were, and how I might find new ways to use them. When I look to use technology in my classroom, I always start with the purpose behind it. What do I think it will help me to do better as a teacher? How can it help students to learn in more personalized or authentic ways? And what are the skills that students will build as a result that traditional non-technology methods might not afford?

There are tools that I continue to use each year because they have added new features or they have integrated with other tools that we are using in our classroom. Here are twelve tools that made a difference for my students and some even helped me to stretch professionally this year.

  1. Gimkit, a game-based learning tool has continued to be a favorite with my students because of the potential for increased content retention through repetitive questions, and because of the different ways it can be played in the classroom. It enables students to develop strategies and have fun while learning. Some of the updated features in Gimkit 4.0, include being able to search and use pre-made kits, multiple ways to look at the student data, and now you can even make flashcards.
  2. Buncee is a versatile tool for creating multimedia and interactive presentations. It provides multiple ways for students to learn and to express themselves, promoting student choice and voice, offering many choices for creation in an all-in-one tool. Buncee has an Ideas lab, where teachers can explore lesson ideas and templates to use in the classroom. Two months ago, Immersive Reader was added, which increases accessibility for students and offers more robust ways to learn, especially for language learners.
  3. Synth provides an easy option for recording a podcast and building communication skills. It can be a great tool for speaking assessments and extending the time and space of classroom discussions. We use Synth with our project-based learning and students were able to ask questions, respond to discussion threads and communicate with students from Argentina and Spain. Synth includes options to record audio or video. It is a great way to encourage students to share their ideas and build some in speaking.
  4. Anchor, another tool for podcasting, is one that has helped me to finally create my own podcast to share my ideas with other educators. But it’s also a popular tool that can easily be used with students to create their own podcast, adding in transitions and even creating a hook to advertise a podcast they create. Using a tool like Anchor would be good for launching a school podcast to share what’s happening in the school with the greater school community.
  5. Wakelet is a content curation tool and so much more. It has gone from simply being a space where I would curate blogs, videos and other resources that I wanted to have access to quickly, to being a powerful tool for student learning.  With Wakelet, teachers can provide blended learning experiences, use it for station rotations, have students create a digital portfolio, post-class projects, create a scavenger hunt and many other possibilities. It even offers the capability to record a Flipgrid short video right within the Wakelet collection. Educators and students can collaborate in a Wakelet collection.
  6. Nearpod is a multimedia, interactive presentation tool that enables teachers to create engaging lessons which can include virtual trips and 3D objects. It offers lessons on topics such as digital citizenship, social-emotional learning, career exploration, English learner lessons, and professional development resources for teachers. Educators can create lessons with many options including quizzes, polls, drawings, matching pairs, audio, video, and content from PhET Simulations, Desmos, BBC, YouTube and more. Nearpod lessons can be done live in class or student-paced and there is also the option for use as sub plans.
  7. Adobe Spark is a presentation tool that can be used to create an infographic, a website or a video. Using the apps, it is easy to create with Spark Post, Spark Page, and Spark Video. This year my students chose Adobe Spark for a project about their family and narrating their childhood. It was not only a more authentic way to create with the content and build other vital skills for the future, but it led to the creation of something more meaningful, the students could share with family and friends.
  8. Voxer is a walkie-talkie app that can be used for educators to collaborate and avoid the isolation that can happen at times. It is a tool that I have used for four years, in many ways including connecting with educators to discuss a book, focused on specific topics, or for small groups as part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC). We have also used it for project-based learning as a way for students to share their ideas and reflect. Because time is something that teachers never have enough of, Voxer is a great tool for learning and finding professional support on any schedule.
  9. Flipgrid is a social learning platform where students and educators can record a video response and include additional content. It has helped with global collaboration by creating a way for students to connect with classrooms and experts around the world. With the summer updates, the addition of augmented reality with Flipgrid AR would be a fun way to have students record their thoughts or do a short presentation and then have a QR Code for others to scan and see their video pop up in AR! With Flipgrid, my students shared videos with students in Argentina and learned more about life and school, which took their learning to a whole new level.
  10. Remind is a messaging app that enables students and parents to stay connected with access to information and resources. Being able to send a quick reminder, to answer students’ questions, to inform parents of upcoming events, and to have a space where students can get the help they need when they need it, has made a difference in my classroom. It also helps with building digital citizenship skills as students learn to interact in a virtual space. Remind can also be used to share a lesson from Nearpod, or a game through tools like Quizizz or Quizlet.
  11. Quizlet is a learning tool that offers students many different ways to practice content. There are thousands of flashcard sets available for educators and students and with each set the activities include flashcards, learn, write, spell, test, match, gravity and Quizlet Live! When playing Quizlet Live, students are placed in teams and can collaborate as they play. Only one member of the team has the right answer. It is a good tool to get students moving in the classroom and building those peer relationships.
  12. CoSpaces EDU is a virtual reality platform that became a favorite for some of my eighth-grade students this year. Whether creating a space in 360, designing a game, an interactive story, or an experiment, students will enjoy creating in VR and developing coding skills too. Another benefit is the Merge Cube add-on, which enables students to hold the space they have created in their hands! Students can even collaborate by working on teams to create a space together. With MergeEDU, educators can use the cube as an interactive tool to further engage students in learning about the earth, dissecting a frog, exploring a volcano and more.

While this is how my students and I have used these tools in our classroom, there are definitely a lot more ways that these tools can be utilized. Think about some of the tasks that might be taking up a lot of your time, or consider some issues or challenges you might be having. A few years ago I noticed a decrease in student engagement and I was looking for opportunities to open up more choices for students to share their learning. Any of these tools can be good for addressing those concerns. My Advice? Start thinking about your own personal goals and start with one thing. Try it and see how it goes, ask students or colleagues for feedback, and then make adjustments as needed.

 

 

**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  

 

3  books.png

What skills will students need

 

I’ve been thinking about the world of education and work right now. We are experiencing so many changes, uncertainties and yet have to determine how to plan for the upcoming school year and what types of learning experiences to design for our students. For myself, something that keeps coming to mind is providing ways for students to have more choices, to become flexible with learning and new ideas, and to consider strategies or tools that enable us to transition between our physical and virtual learning spaces.  I thought back to some research that I started a few years ago and how that can help us now as we consider options in the new school year.

About two years ago, I read about something called the “gig economy.” Not knowing what that meant, I turned to Google to do a search and within .30 seconds, I had over 35 million results. After a more advanced search and filter, I learned that the term refers to jobs or work assignments that are the equivalent to a “gig.” Short-termed, specific types of tasks. Common applications of this are jobs that employ freelancers or independent contractors. When searching for the top “gig economy” jobs, a few common themes of the top 10 list include Deep Learning (think AI and machine learning), Bitcoin, Blockchain and Social Media Marketing.

Employment in a gig economy is on the rise, which means that our students need to develop a variety of skills that will prepare them to adapt to the changing landscape of work since we cannot predict what jobs will exist in the future. With statistics such as:

  • In 2015, 54 million people worked as freelancers and on average earned an estimate of 17% more per hour than full-time employees.
  • A projected 60% of companies plan to hire more freelancers rather than full-time employees. In 2016, 35% of workers were freelancers and it leads me to wonder what the number will rise to in another 10 years?

We need to prepare students for their future by offering innovative and challenging learning experiences. Experiences that will push their problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration skills and that involve real-world experiences.

As a Spanish and STEAM teacher, I am commonly asked why students need to learn a foreign language, or why I have them create different projects using emerging technologies rather than traditional document or powerpoint style presentations. My response is always that students need to develop a variety of skills that will enable them to adapt and be marketable to multiple job possibilities in the future. The ability to communicate in another language can benefit students in many ways and it is always a marketable skill to have.

Students also need the opportunity to explore their interests, whether in the arts, music, technology, through entrepreneurial courses, as a few examples. Learning how to establish oneself as an independent contractor, to be self-employed and to understand the traditional components of working in business, but yet preparing for non-traditional forms of business and work.

What experiences will help?

Entrepreneurial Courses: How can educators best prepare students for a gig economy workforce or to possibly become entrepreneurs? By designing learning experiences where students have an opportunity to explore, create, and innovate and have choices in the how, what and where they learn, we will offer more possibilities for inquiry-based learning and foster a growth mindset. Some schools offer programs and courses which lend themselves to these types of possibilities for students.

In my own school, we have a course on entrepreneurship, sports and entertainment management, and a variety of STEAM courses where students design problems to solve and explore emerging technologies. Patsy Kvortek, one of our business teachers, recognized a need for more relevant courses that provide students with opportunities to learn in more authentic ways. She believed that these courses “would prepare students for future success.” She created a course in “Entrepreneurship” and “Sports and Entertainment Management”  a few years ago and has continued to build more real-world experiences and project-based learning into the curriculum. In her classes, students learn about project management, business management, social media, finances and how to plan large events. In courses like this and others like it offered across the country, students are not only developing skills that will prepare them for many career options, they are also building critical skills of communication, collaboration, problem-solving and as an added benefit, SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) skills as well.

Project-based learning: Alan November, international keynote speaker, and author, said we have to “teach students ​how to learn.​”​ During his keynote, November stated: “I think we should begin to move more and more toward the skill side, because if we teach you to memorize and regurgitate content and your job is wiped out by technology, you’re not well prepared to reinvent yourself if you didn’t learn how to learn.”

November’s message reinforces the importance for students to learn to communicate, collaborate, problem-solve, and think critically. These are key skills that will benefit students whether they choose to enroll in college, get a job, pursue specialized training, or possibly take a gap year to explore the world and different learning experiences before deciding.

Project-based learning (PBL) helps students to create their own learning path by looking for an answer to a question they come up with and not having a specific direction to go, nor one right answer to find. With PBL, students ​engage in sustained inquiry and the skills of critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving become part of the learning process. Students need more real-world experiences, especially those like in place-based learning where they can assess needs that exist in their own community or look globally, and then brainstorm possible solutions. Learning beyond the classroom walls with a more authentic purpose will benefit all students.

STEM and Emerging Technologies: Artificial Intelligence is a growing area in education and in the world. It is estimated that 40% of the jobs will be replaced by AI, so how can we prepare students to be competitive? We create opportunities for students to become the creators of AI, to learn how to code, to design new technologies that will make an impact on not only their learning experience but for the future. Even using AI for learning, students have access to virtual tutors and can enroll in online courses that are taught by AI, which expand the how, when and where they can learn. Knowing how to code becomes a skill that is marketable to many areas. Students can become app designers, create new innovations, and develop the critical “21st-century” skills that they need to be successful in whatever their goals may be.

Educators can facilitate greater, more personalized learning experiences for students by fostering a “STEM mindset” in students. As Dr. Jacie Maslyk states, “The way we engage with our students can build confidence and fuel curiosity.” In a world where the future of learning and work are uncertain, the best way we can provide for our students is to push their curiosity, promote risk-taking and challenge them to explore emerging technologies and different STEM concepts and be there to support them along the way.

 

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 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  

5 Ways to Build Collaborative Learning Skills In and Out of the Classroom

Developing skills for collaboration is a critical component for our students for their future. It is so important that educators provide opportunities for students to work together in our classrooms so that they can develop the necessary skills for working on a team which will also enable students to build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. As we think about the importance of social-emotional learning and its role not only in education but in the future, this is why we must be intentional about finding ways to engage our students more by learning from one another in their classroom and beyond.

There is so much potential for having students work in teams or in small groups in the classroom. Technology can be an important component of these collaborations by creating access to more resources. There are many great opportunities for students to use digital tools available that help to create extra time in the day and offer various ways for students to collaborate beyond the time and space of the classroom, by fostering connections with other students in classrooms around the world.

When and Where to Collaborate

I think that the most critical piece of this is realizing that learning is no longer confined to the instruction that happens in the classroom during class. Unlike years ago when I was a student, our learning took place in the classroom and then we took time at home whether in the evening or weekends to complete homework assignments and projects. But for having opportunities for collaboration, it was far more difficult to work with partners and find a common time to meet beyond the school day. Meeting required physically going to a place to work together and have discussions. With access to new digital tools which bring innovative and more interesting ways to collaborate, these constraints on how, when, and where learning can occur exist minimally today. The biggest factor is whether or not our students and schools have the right access to the resources that are needed.

Just as students need opportunities to collaborate, as educators, we also need to find ways to work with colleagues and members of our Professional Learning Network (PLN), often beyond the school day. We also need to build our own skills and share our skill-sets and methods with our colleagues and PLN. by actively engaging in this right along with our students. We must model lifelong learning and the importance of asking for and offering help to others. Our goal is to construct a supportive foundation where we can all grow from.

Five ways to collaborate wherever and whenever

Here are five ways to promote collaboration both in the physical classroom setting as well as the virtual learning space. With each of these ideas, teachers can have students working together using different digital tools or teaching strategies. Beyond the content involved, students will build their communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and develop the SEL skills at the same time.

  1. Learning stations when used in the classroom open up more possibilities for personalized learning, for social interactions, and the building of relationships between students and between the teacher and students. Using between three and five stations in the classroom, depending on class size and grade level, teachers can have students work together through a series of learning activities. Selecting a mix of digital tools, hands-on learning activities, and teacher-directed instruction creates a good mix of ways for students to engage with the content. For some, giving students the option to collaborate and design their own way of practicing the content can lead to new ideas for the whole class. Encourage students to team teach and take more of a leadership role in the classroom.
  2. Cross-curricular collaboration: How about working with another curricular area or even grade level?  Find a connector between your class and that of a colleague. Create a task where the students in both of your classes must collaborate on the same project while you do the same. Maybe you use project-based learning (PBL) in your class and you want to share that framework with a colleague or it is something that you are hoping to learn from a colleague. Find a common bond between your courses and start collaborating. I connected with an eighth-grade science teacher and our students used Buncee to create their presentation. This past year, my students connected with students in Spain and shared backgrounds, interests and other facts about their lives by leveraging technology tools to exchange information. Working together with colleagues to create these opportunities for students and helping students to engage in more meaningful learning makes a
  3. Beyond Classroom Discussions: Have you had a great discussion going in class just to have it interrupted by the bell? Or have you tried to encourage students to share their ideas but have not been successful? How about getting students to share ideas on important topics, by using some of the digital tools available for curating material or gathering feedback. We have many tools available that when leveraged with purpose, can add great benefits for student learning and student confidence. Some of the options are using things like Padlet to create a wall for discussion where students can post comments and respond to classmates. Try Wakelet to post an idea or a theme and ask students to share and create resources. To get students speaking more, use Flipgrid to create short videos as a prompt for students to discuss. Or try having students create a podcast using tools like Anchor or Synth. Which enable students to create on their own, and using Synth, students can ask and answer questions asynchronously. These are just a few quick digital ways to promote collaboration.
  4.  Collaborative Creations: When it comes to having students do more creating in the classroom, we have a ton of resources and materials to choose from. Giving students the option of using traditional formats versus digital formats is something that I do a lot in my own classroom. I want my students to have choices, however I also want them to build some other skills like online collaboration and designing. There are many tools that are adding features for students to create together. Beyond the collaborative options within Microsoft and Google, students can now work with emerging technologies. Using tools like CoSpaces and 3DBear, students can work together to create augmented and virtual reality spaces for digital storytelling. With either of these options, students work together in ways that build collaborative skills while also connecting them with more authentic and meaningful learning experiences.
  5. Blogging and Website Design: Blogging offers so many benefits in addition to building literacy skills and helping students to share ideas in a more authentic way. It also offers an effective way to build relationships between students as they exchange ideas, offer peer feedback and engage in more conversations in the classroom and online. Teachers can learn more about students and their interests, and use these ideas to create additional opportunities for collaboration within the classroom and with global peers. Tools such as Kidblog or Edublogs are good options. Creating a group project can be done using many different presentation formats, but one which helps students to build skills transferable for the future is in designing a website. Students in my school created websites for History Day and had a great artifact of learning to share and developed skills which will benefit them in the future.

Beyond these ideas, reach out into your school community and find local organizations that are open to working with students. It would benefit our students by connecting with real-world learning experiences and building skills beyond those covered in the curriculum. It benefits the school community by learning about what education looks like for students today. Providing options through place-based and experiential learning opportunities will open new possibilities for student interests and future career explorations.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 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  

5 Ideas for Building Communication Skills for the Future

My prior post on Getting Smart

Looking toward the future, as we consider how to best prepare our students for jobs that may not exist yet, what are the skills that will benefit them no matter what they decide to do? If we look at the research, trends over the past five or ten years of the top skills required by employees, there are a few that have stayed in place if not shifted toward the top because they are becoming increasingly more important. Looking at the shift from 2015 to the projections for 2020 and beyond, what do students need?

We’ve been talking about 21st century skills for a long time, often referring to how we are addressing the four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration within our respective content areas and/or our roles. I have even heard mention of the “5Cs” and “7Cs,” with the addition of character, computational thinking, and citizenship included in the “C’s” of 21st century learning. With the increased use of technology in our classrooms and  daily lives, we can leverage some of these digital tools to help our students build the vital skills that will benefit them in the future, regardless of where their learning journey or careers take them.

As a Spanish teacher, I am always interested in finding ways to help students communicate their ideas, to express themselves in the language of study. Beyond language skills, I also want to help them learn how to communicate and collaborate with one another in various settings and contexts and in different media formats.

What are some tools that we can use to help our students become better communicators and to build confidence and promote student voice in learning?

Here are five different platforms or ideas that I think can be very beneficial for student learning and will help educators to implement some digital tools into the classroom without taking too much time to get started.

Written Communication

Students need to do a lot of writing to build their skills although this does not necessarily need to involve technology. However, the benefit of using digital tools for written communication can enhance student learning by creating more meaningful connections and providing different formats for students to convey their thoughts. Blogging is an effective tool to promote writing skills and literacy, to build digital citizenship skills, and to help students create a digital portfolio where they can track their own growth and build self-awareness as a result. Using tools like KidblogBlogger, or Seesaw offers students a space where they can take more ownership in learning, track their progress and growth over time, and become more comfortable and confident as they express themselves in a space where they can truly develop their ideas. It also promotes collaboration and fosters relationship building and getting to know our students.

Video Response

We also want to promote oral communication and give students opportunities to engage in speaking, especially if students tend to be shy in the classroom and prefer not to speak in front of their peers. We can leverage the video tools available to give students a comfortable space to begin building their speaking skills. In the past, I used Recap (now Synth), and students expressed how much it helped them to feel more comfortable to share their ideas, to reflect on project-based learning, and to be able to record their thoughts wherever they were and in a way that was comfortable. Flipgrid with its updated features offers more than just recording videos, it also promotes the opportunity for students to become global collaborators, and explore different ideas and perspectives from students in their classes. We can also use these tools to more easily connect our students with classrooms and experts around the world.

Podcasting

There are a lot of educational podcasts and platforms for creating them, depending on the amount of time you have, the age of your students and access to these resources. One idea is to start one podcast for the class, post a question for discussion and have students respond by creating a thread of their own to each question. Perhaps students can create their own podcasts or listen to the podcasts of their classmates, to focus on listening comprehension skills and also use it as a way to further expand conversations in and out of the classroom. We can build relationships between our students as they begin to better understand their classmates and make connections with one another. Students could work together to create a podcast to share within the class or to create for the school community, which would be a great way to facilitate that home to school connection to share the work being done by students in our classrooms.

Infographics

Having students work on conveying information, communicating ideas, even advanced or complex concepts, is sometimes more difficult if limited to writing a report or sticking to solely traditional methods. However, by using infographics, students learn to break down information and sort and share the most important facts or the data and determine how to best convey it to someone else. We meet the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Standards for Students by using activities like this because students are creative communicators, they develop computational thinking skills, problem-solving, and become empowered in their learning as they choose how to convey their information. We connect them more authentically with the content. Some digital tools to try are Adobe SparkBunceeCanva, or Piktochart. However, it does not have to involve technology.  It’s not about using tech, it’s about the activity itself and how that can benefit students. Giving students the choice to use a digital tool or simply use paper and do something like a sketchnote or other visual representation, will still develop their skills in this area.

Videos and Vlogging

If these options have been tried, educators may try out vlogging to take learning to a higher level or simply to just build upon each one of the other ideas. Even if these are simply created for use in the classroom and not shared publicly, having students create and experience the power of video for communicating and being able to create these products, will no doubt benefit them in the future. Whether students create a screencast or do a short talk about a topic of study, they are engaged in project-based learning, teaching a lesson and recording it so it can be used for other students in the class. Some digital tools to explore are WeVideo and Educreations.

There are many options out there; it just takes thinking about what we’re already doing in our classroom and making one slight change to do something a little bit differently. Or as I have done in my classroom, offer all of these possibilities for students. At times, this initially felt a little uncomfortable  because it was so open, but it had huge benefits for student learning and engagement. I want my students to build their skills with technology and connect with what we are learning in the classroom, but I also very much value the power of choice and making sure that students feel comfortable. For this, I sometimes start by offering choices and then letting students decide what will work best for them. When they do, I’m there to support and encourage them to take the next step.

 

**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  

Skip the Course, Get the Curriculum

Guest  post by Monica Gupta Mehta  @EmotionalMUSE

I know there are many teachers who just don’t have the time to read anything extra right now, but would love to include more social emotional learning into their virtual week. For those teachers, I have pulled together all of the student activities in one place. In order to not feel overwhelmed, I would recommend choosing just 1-2 activities to include in your curriculum this month!

These activities are organized by topic, so you can find them in the following order:

Curiosity, Mindsets, Self Awareness, Social Awareness, Self Care, Emotional Regulation, Calming Mind and Body

Feelings Board: Make a feelings board for your own students. You can do this using Padlet as I did, using your own digital tools…or simply make it an activity at the start of classroom chats, having every student share with one word how they are feeling.

Exit Slips: Use digital exit slips in your next class session to ask students what they most want to learn about a specific topic. Try to incorporate their ideas in your next unit.

Personal Projects: (Not a typical curriculum item, but especially helpful for emotional regulation and coping during this time of high stress) If your teaching team agrees, you could reduce workload for each course and jointly allow students to come up with their own project, something they would like to spend their time doing. Each teacher could take charge of one component – helping students set goals, make a plan, and checking in to see how it is going and if adjustments need made. I did this with my own kids over Spring Break – one chose to create a website for collecting people’s experiences during COVID19 (covid19capsule.org), one chose to study neuroscience, and one learned Scratch programming. It was a great form of mental engagement and inherently motivating.

Gratitude Journal: Begin a gratitude journal with your class. You can do this in numerous ways – you can use digital learning tools, ask them to complete one at home in a journal, make it simple or artistic. The practice of writing down what we are grateful for each day helps us to focus our attention on the positives in our life. A positive attitude helps us cope, and makes it easier to avoid excessive worrying.

Here is a link to one on teacherspayteachers but it costs money – fairly simple to make your own.

Gratitude Read-a-Loud: Choose your favorite picture book about gratitude and read it to your students, or record yourself reading it and post it for them. If you can find your book on Storyline Online, it will be read aloud by a celebrity and have beautiful illustrations to accompany it.

One book that works well for this is ‘Please, Please the Bees’ by Gerald Kelley – you can find it on Storyline read by Rashida Jones. It is an excellent story of gratitude and appreciation.

Everyday Heroes: For very young students, you could use this game to discuss gratitude for our everyday community heroes.

Mastery Orientation: Ask students about a time they did something well. Ask them to write a few sentences about what rewards they received. Ask them to think about what external praise they got for their work, and what internal rewards they felt. Ask them what else makes them feel proud inside themselves.

Growth Mindset Charts: Ask students to list sentences they have said or heard about their ability, and have them classify each as growth or fixed mindset on a chart. Have them convert fixed mindset expressions to growth mindset ones.

Growth Mindset Discussion Question: Ask students about something they used to struggle with, but now are good at. What are all of the things that helped them to improve?

Self Check-In: Using the Starfish/Tornado visual below, ask your students to check in about how they are feeling. Are they calm as a starfish, or agitated like a tornado (or have fun making up something in between!). Brainstorm a list of ways to calm back down when they feel agitated inside. Ask them to stop and think a few times each day about how they are feeling. It helps to give them a place to make a tally (worksheet, digital document) each time they remember to stop and check in with themselves.

Emotional Vocabulary: Ask students to process one emotional vocabulary word each week. Ask them to define it, comment on times when they have felt it themselves, and times they have seen others exhibit it. For example – ‘What is courage? What is a time when you felt courageous? When have you noticed others being courageous?’

Identity: For older students interested in personality as a component of identity, a basic starting point is on the topic of extroverts/introverts. This is an often misunderstood dichotomy, and it can help students to understand themselves better. Many are surprised to learn that being an introvert is not about being antisocial…it is about where we get our energy from. An interesting discussion point: many argue that these days, our society more publicly rewards people for being extroverted. Being in quarantine, we are seeing introverts thrive (relatively) and extroverts have a much more difficult time.

One of my all-time favorite TED Talks is this one, on the Power of Introverts.

Coping Skills: Take a ‘Coping Skills Inventory.’ Give students a list of activities that are often useful for coping with big emotions. Explain that people all around the world are feeling complex emotions – for example, a child may be happy they are getting to play more games with their family, but sad that their birthday party is cancelled. Ask them to check off which coping strategies most help them, and to brainstorm others that may help as well.

Sample List: Going for walks, Music, Sleeping, Family Movies, Online Communities, Connecting with Friends, Puzzles, Comedy, Audiobooks, Books

This site has some great printables.

Sesame Street and Big Emotions: For very young students, Sesame Street continues to have wonderful content about understanding and processing our feelings. Here is a very sweet song with Abby Cadabby about big emotions. Here is a link to activities and other Sesame Street videos on emotions.

Calm Down Spot: If possible, ask students to create a place that is just for them to sit and be calm. This is a great place to have ready for later in this course, when students will practice going there to cool down when their emotions become overwhelming. For now, it can just be a place to sit and think about how they are doing, and what they might need at that moment. They can keep a few books nearby, perhaps some coloring, or even a water bottle can be helpful. A favorite stuffed animal is always nice to have. My daughter keeps her ipod and headphones there to listen to some music when she wants to relax and reset and think about life.

Empathy and Appreciation: One fun way to build empathy is to give your students an ‘Acts of Kindness’ challenge. Explain that to do effective acts of kindness, students need to observe others and think about what would make the recipient happy – not what the student themselves would want. Ask students to document their acts of kindness, ideally in a way that can be shared with their classmates. For example, you could ask students to create short videos about their act of kindness using FlipGrid or to create Padlets. For older kids, share the Berkeley study on acts of kindness and their impact on happiness. The study discovered the greatest benefit to self came from doing 5 acts of kindness all on the same day, once a week every week for 6 weeks. Teenagers could even do my #fiveacts challenge on Tik Tok!

Social Detective: You can teach students active listening and observation of others by playing ‘social detective.’ Ask students to think of a situation coming up in which they will be interacting with others. At this time, it will most likely be other family members in their household. Have students draw the anticipated scene and place each family member in it. Then ask students to give each person a thought bubble, and to write in one thing that person might be thinking – something the person might be feeling strong emotions about or hoping for.

Another way to play social detective is to use picture books. Stop at an interesting scene and ask students to notice everything they can about the scene and the people in it. This can also be done with movies. Here is a sample worksheet from the Michelle Garcia Winner Social Thinking series.

Cry Baby: This is a simple ‘social detective’ type activity as well. Show students a picture of a crying baby, and ask them to think of all the reasons a baby might cry. This is particularly effective as young babies can not yet talk to communicate their needs, and so students must work hard to be observant and practice empathy skills.

Turtle Time: Ask students to sit and observe people by acting like a turtle. They should move their head around in a slow, exaggerated fashion. Ask them to write (or draw) everything they notice. Then ask them to think of a behavior that would be appropriate for them when entering that scene…and one that would be inappropriate. For example, if their brother is having a school video chat, it would not be appropriate to be loud as they enter that scene.

(They do not have to be turtles. They could be spies with binoculars, or anything else they can come up with!)

The Main Point: Host small group virtual chats, ideally with 2-4 students per session. Ask students to take turns sharing a short story about their day, and ask other students to listen carefully. Then have each student practice showing they were listening by identifying what they felt was a ‘main point’ in the story, along with an appropriate emotion word. An example might be, “It sounds like you felt really scared when your sister got sick.”

Same But Different: Tell your students a statement in a neutral tone, and then practice saying it in different tones of voice. Ask students to differentiate the possible emotions and thoughts of the speaker.

Feelings Cards: There are countless online resources for creating a stack of ‘feelings cards.’ These are simply a collection of photos of people expressing different emotions. Ask students to identify what they notice in the photo, helping them make careful observations. Then ask them students what they think the person is feeling. I enjoy doing this activity with gifs, as they show a bit more of the natural movements of a person’s body and face.

Whichever images you choose, please don’t use emojis for your feelings cards. They teach very little, as they are not realistic expressions and have no body language.

Connection: Students are in need of connection to their peers, and as teachers we can serve as facilitators for this. Schedule video chats with students in small groups of 2-4, and send out a sign up sheet ahead of time. This allows students to sign up for slots with friends they are missing. If that does not work well for your schedule, you can also create ‘break out rooms’ in Zoom chats to allow a few students to be together during a full class video chat.

Some ideas for games students can play together virtually are Simon Says, Guess Who, I Spy, and Twenty Questions.

Vulnerability and Belonging Discussion: For older students, just a great TED Talk that can be spun off into a discussion about connection: Brene Brown and the Power of Vulnerability.

Simple Self Care Practice: One very simple activity is to ask students to print out this handout, or something similar, and ask them to check off each item across the week.

Piloting Your Plane: This activity is a complex metaphor, but tends to resonate very well with young students. For a fun example of how to explain this analogy to students, watch my own videos here: Piloting Your Plane. (I made these today quickly to give you an example – the sound quality is not stellar. If anyone wants a better quality version to actually use in class, let me know and I can remake it.)

You’ll need to give kids some way to keep track of checking in with their bodies all day. Here is a sample worksheet you could ask them to use for this activity. Some other ideas: you could ask them to check in on a spreadsheet or document in Google Classroom, or use Padlets.

The script goes something like this:

“Imagine your body is a plane, and your mind is the pilot. Your mind is in charge of keeping the plane flying smoothly, without crashing. When you have tantrums, overreactions and large emotional outbursts, that is like your plane crashing. If you pay attention to piloting your plane, you can fly it smoothly all day.

Just like a real pilot, there are important gauges you can check to make sure you are flying smoothly all day. It is important to stop and check on your gauges all throughout the day. These gauges are:

Temperature: When you are feeling calm, you are in the green. If you check your gauge and it is green, you can go back to your normal activities. If you are in the red, that means you are very angry, frustrated, or upset for some reason. It is important to stop what you are doing and calm your body back down to green. Blue means you are feeling sad, or lonely, or disappointed, and perhaps could use a hug or something that makes you feel happier.

Fuel: Your fuel gauge measures if you are hungry or thirsty. Take a minute to check in with your body, and if you are running low on fuel, fill it up! Being hungry or thirsty can actually make our emotions overreact to situations.

Energy: Your energy gauge tells you if you are too full of energy, or perhaps too low on energy. If you are too full of energy, do some exercise and movement to help release it. If you are not getting enough exercise and movement in your day, then your energy gauge is going to get too full and could cause a crash. If you are low on energy, allow your body some rest – if not a nap, then perhaps reading a book or just relaxing on the sofa for a bit.

Weather: Your weather gauge tells you if your plane is going to run into some turbulence ahead! Think a little forward in your day – is anything coming up that might cause your emotions or body to not fly smoothly? Something exciting, or difficult, or a change of routine? Preparing for bad weather ahead can help you to handle it better.”

This analogy can extend further than teaching kids to check their gauges. Here are some additional pieces you can add on to this activity.

The Watchtower: The Watchtower is essential to flying a real plane, because there are events or conditions that a pilot cannot detect by themselves, even if they are very good about checking all of their gauges. Let’s take a moment to think who acts as our watchtowers? Often, this can be your parents or teachers, and perhaps even siblings. It is important to listen to our watchtowers about our emotional well being, because they often see things we don’t see ourselves.

The Rocket Ship: When something really big or exciting is going on, sometimes our everyday plane turns into a rocketship!! When this happens, it usually means our emotions are turbo charged!! This means we have to be even more careful about checking our gauges often, and taking care of our bodies all day. When we blast off for a big event, we have to look out for not only bad weather turbulence, but also asteroid fields and meteors!! When in our rocket ship, we fly fast, and that also means we can crash fast! It can be really helpful to take extra good care of your body when you are flying in a rocket ship.

Habit Tracking for Older Kids: Older students may not need the full ‘piloting your plane’ analogy, but they do need to learn about taking care of their bodies. For teens, a helpful activity is to ask them to track for themselves:

1. Sleep

2. Exercise/Movement

3. Screen Time (non academic)

4. Socializing Time

5. Outdoors Time

6. Water

7. Food

8. Mood

Ask them to draw connections between their activities and their feelings/energy levels. What is one habit they want to keep in their daily life to feel better? Have them set a personal habit goal and check in on it weekly.

Mindfulness – Nature Walk: One mindful activity that is often satisfying for young children is going on a nature hunt. Ask them to take a magnifying lens if possible, and to walk slowly around their yard or neighborhood looking for nature. They can analyze leaves, look for insects, find snails, notice spiderwebs…there is so much to discover. Ask them to remember the things they are seeing and to come back and journal them.

GoNoodle – not just for movement!: GoNoodle has a number of video series that are helpful for self care, beyond their movement and exercise videos. One that is good for self care is: Take on the Day,

Movement and Exercise: Since movement and exercise are so critical to emotional regulation and sleep quality, it would be beneficial to offer students ideas for how to stay active at home. To get you started:

GoNoodle

Backyard Play

Biking

Walks

Station Rotations (sit ups, jumping jacks, push ups, plank)

Games (tag, Simon Says, hide and seek, freeze dance, animal workout)

Dancing – zumba videos, Kidz Boop, Just Dance

Cosmic Kids Yoga or simple yoga on own

Mental Enrichment: Students may need mental stimulation beyond school work. It could be fun to brainstorm a list together of things students can do to stay busy beyond school, ideally without devices. To get you started:

Reading

Video Chats

Obstacle Courses

Escape Room

Imagination Play

Art

Board Games and Cards

Puzzles

Brain Teasers

Cleaning/organizing/tidying

Helping parents with tasks or chores

Clue Hunts

Learn a new skill

DIY projects

Experiments

Writing stories, poems, comic strips, etc.

Building (Legos, scrap materials)

Acts of Kindness

Origami

Audibooks

Journaling

Problem Solving Wheel: Teach students to stop, calm down, and then think. Use this wheel to help them make a good choice for what to do next.

Bending the Rules: Try playing games but changing the rules of the game. This might be met with resistance, but if you can come up with rules that make the game slightly more fun, eventually it may be met with joy and curiosity.

Three Solutions: Students often come up with one answer, and then dig in their heels defending that answer or way of doing things. Ask students to come up with three possible answers to various questions or riddles. This is a very important skill to hone for group work.

Breathing with Cookie Monster: For very young kids, they might enjoy watching Cookie Monster use breathing to calm down and increase his patience while waiting for his cookies to be ready.

Yoga/Stretching: There are many printables available online of ‘animal yoga.’ These stretches are relaxing to the body. You can also find great story-telling style yoga at Cosmic Kids Yoga.

Calm Down Spots: I mentioned these earlier, but having a spot that students are used to using as a ‘calm’ area will also help them when agitated. Students can be asked to go to their calm down spots until they are back in the green, or at least the yellow. It should be explained to students ahead of time that this is not a punishment, being ‘sent’ to their calm down spot. It is merely a strategy that is very helpful for avoiding poor behavior when agitated. In this article, I give lots of advice for how we made a calm down spot at our home for my son. This includes building a ‘calm down kit‘ to keep nearby.

Breathing Shapes and Props: A unique way to practice breathing is to ask students to choose their favorite breathing shape. I have included one example here, but there are many different ways to practice deep breathing – often one style will suit a particular student better than another. Ask students to practice this daily, so that they build their muscle memory. Students who attempt to do deep breathing when agitated, without practice, often end up breathing far too rapidly and feeling more frustrated. This site also includes props, such as breathing with bubbles.

Exercise and Movement: As discussed in the unit on Self Care, exercise is great for emotional regulation. While a child who is very upset won’t likely be in the right state to go for a bike ride, taking a little walk or doing some movement in place, such as jumping jacks, might help them to work out some of their energy. Whatever movement they choose should not be one that requires much coordination. My favorite is to keep a balloon around, and to ask them to bop the balloon in the air and keep it up for at last 10 iterations. This helps their mind focus and clear, while also giving them an opportunity for safe movement. If something more aggressive is needed, students could try ripping up a pile of junk mail paper.

5-4-3-2-1 Grounding: For children who struggle with anxiety, it can be helpful to teach them grounding activities. 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding is a method in which you use all your senses to ground yourself in the moment. Ask students to list:

5 things they can see

4 things they can touch

3 things they can hear

2 things they can smell

and 1 thing they can taste

Here is a graphic you could use while practicing.

Accomplishments Box: Celebrating accomplishments can help build confidence, self esteem and optimism, all of which are helpful to staying regulated. Here is a fun activity for building an accomplishments box, which will help keep students motivated as well.

Finding Humor: Humor is often the secret key to help students return to a state of calm. Keep some joke books, comics, or even comedic audiobooks handy for when a child needs a pick-me-up.

________________

Classroom Tools and Activities that Foster Future-Ready Skills

Originally published on DefinedSTEM 

There are so many different ways to get our students involved in learning with the use of technology. When we leverage the technology properly, there really are no limits to the number of resources and the possibilities to enhance and extend the learning that we can set up for our students and for ourselves. Whether you are an educator with a lot of experience using technology or just beginning, the benefit of these different tools is that it does not take much more than setting up an account to get started. But the more important benefit is that by using these different tools, it gives our students a more authentic and engaging way to share their ideas, to think critically, to problem-solve, and to collaborate. We enable students to apply their learning in a way that is more authentic and meaningful to their respective needs and interests.

While it is great to have so many choices available, it can be challenging to filter through everything to find exactly what you’re looking for. Fortunately, many of these tools offer multiple uses, beyond the traditional purpose for which they were created. Sometimes it comes down to being creative and trying some of the tools yourself, and possibly even asking students for their ideas. We always need to be purposeful when choosing technology for our students. Think first about the “why” behind wanting to include a new tool in your class. What will it enable the students to do differently and how will it promote student learning? We want to build student skills, create innovative ways to learn and prepare for the future.

Preparing for the future

We will not know exactly what the future of learning or work will hold for students,  but I do believe that they will need these essential skills regardless of what they ultimately end up doing. Because of this, I am always looking for new or different ways to build communication and collaboration skills and promote creativity in learning. I want to help students to build their confidence, to explore and do work which is purposeful for them. With these options, students can get started regardless of their level of comfort with technology, and as a result, they will become more confident in learning, and connect better with the content because they had a choice. We need to promote student agency in learning.

Some of the best ways that I have noticed for engaging students in more discussion, to think differently about learning and to share their ideas, is by using tools that promote independent thinking as well as peer collaboration. We create opportunities and enable students to broaden their perspective, and ideally, broaden their perspective beyond their school and community, by helping them to become more globally aware.

Here are some quick ideas for tools and activities that can build student skills in the content area as well as fostering the development of vital future-ready skills.

Some options: Blogging, podcasting, multimedia presentations without the “presentation,” creating a tour and sketchnoting.These might seem to be a little bit different than traditional activities, but the potential with each of these I believe is at the core of the format of these options.

  1. Blogging offers students a comfortable way to write, share, read and learn. There are so many benefits of blogging and sometimes the greatest benefits are those personal to each individual student. Blogging is a great way for students to develop the critical skills they need for learning today. It helps students to become more creative, to feel more confident in expressing their thoughts and ideas, and promotes authentic writing when students write with purpose. It can also help to further develop relationships by promoting collaborations between teacher and students, and students with students, when we read the blogs and provide feedback.
  2. Podcasting offers students a way to build speaking skills that can tie into future opportunities where public speaking might be a requirement. With the new tool Synth, we can create more opportunities for students to share their learning using a platform that goes beyond a simple podcasting tool. Create a series of “Synths” which give students a different explanation or offer tips for students to follow as they are completing an assignment or working on a project. For teachers, it is helpful for posting a discussion question for students to respond to beyond the school day and to create a new point of discussion for the next class. How fun would it be to have your own class podcast or create a podcast that can be shared within and beyond the school? Students could explore careers and the community  by setting up interviews with different student groups or teachers and then share the story of what’s happening in the classroom and school community.
  3. Multimedia “presentations” For students who need to create a presentation that involves a variety of media formats and information, the idea of doing the research and putting everything together into a presentation tool could be time-consuming and possibly overwhelming for some. However, when using a tool like Wakelet, students can simply place or curate all of the resources for their project into one “Wake” and then share the link with their teacher,  who can then create one class Wake where all the materials are accessible. It helps students to gather their information and to store it in one digital space and can also serve as a digital portfolio for students as they progress through school.
  4. Sketchnoting: It is not always about technology, as some students may not enjoy using technology to create a project, especially if they prefer creating something on their own. Sketchnoting has a lot of potential, especially for conveying a lot of information in a visually engaging way. Some students retain content better by creating a visual representation. Sketchnoting can be done with paper and markers, or it can be done using any of the apps available for creating a sketchnote.

There should be opportunities for students to engage in more real-world experiences, where they can assess needs in their community and brainstorm ways to offer services that will be beneficial for others

Using any of these different formats for showing their learning, students not only become more skilled at working independently and building confidence, but also in collaborating with their peers and working with other adults besides their teacher. We promote digital citizenship and help our students to develop their online presence and practice the responsible use of digital tools for learning. What are some different ways you have your students communicate, collaborate and create?

 

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Keeping What Matters Most

 

Our son, Nick, sees an occupational therapist each week who does amazing work with him to help strengthen his core, quicken his response time to questions, practice his social interactions, and work on his fine motor skills. The best part is that she does all of that while he rides a horse around an arena. The horse provides sensory input and forces him to focus his core on maintaining balance, which allows his brain more freedom to work. As Nick rides, he plays Pictionary with a whiteboard, sprays water guns at targets, moves cones from side to side, identifies letters, and has conversations with the therapist and the other assistants as they walk next to the horse to make sure he stays safe while riding around. At the end of each session, he takes responsibility to prepare a bowl and feed the horse a snack to thank him.

His skills have grown tremendously since we started this therapy. We have missed going while we have been home, so we were so relieved that he was able to return last week. They had all kinds of new safety rules that we had to follow. His therapist met us in the parking lot; he had his temperature taken and had to thoroughly wash his hands as soon as we walked in. We all wore masks. We stayed distanced from one another as best as possible. They shifted the options for therapy so there were fewer clients in the facility at one time. We didn’t do some of the classroom-based exercises before he got on the horse, and he couldn’t prepare the bowl of snacks on his own. The most significant shift was that I was suddenly the volunteer walking alongside the horse. It helped to limit the number of people in the arena, but also allowed me a new opportunity to understand more about what he is working on in therapy and how he responds to the staff and the horse. I am not convinced that I am the best guide as it was much harder to hold the materials, keep an eye on his safety, and not get distracted by the beauty of the horse than I thought it would be, but we made it work.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to do something that felt “normal” to our routine until I walked through the doors of the arena. It was so comforting to do something that we used to do even though the process of doing it was different. Nick was excited to see the therapist, and I had the chance to help him share a little more about himself as we did the exercises and walked around the arena that she wouldn’t have otherwise known even though she has a great relationship with him.

As we start planning for school to look different in the fall, the first week of therapy had me feeling hopeful about what we can maintain when the process and school system may look really new for a while. A big question for me has been how to explain the shifts to staff, learners, and families. I read a great article by the Harvard Business Review that helped me to start thinking about communicating what’s to come.

The first point in the article is to acknowledge your own anxiety. I am nervous, very nervous about how we will make the process of school work in the fall while following the safety guidelines and still meet the needs of our families that need childcare. I am nervous about the gaps in learning or experience that may be happening for our learners. I’m nervous that they will miss out when we can’t give the reassuring hugs and high-fives we are used to. What I am not nervous about is our ability to maintain our relationships with our learners and grow them in new ways. We’ve bonded during this time at home, which has deepened many of our relationships with learners and families. Those get to continue and get to keep growing no matter how we provide schooling.

Nick’s relationship with his occupational therapist was not different. His ability to complete the tasks and work on his skills was not different. We just did it differently. He was super quiet in the arena, which honestly surprised me and helped me to learn more about him in that setting. He still talked the whole way home about his horse and the experience just as he usually does. I know I will be anxious as we drive there and as we walk in again this week, but I am hoping that goes away with time.

“Listen for the need underneath the question” is something I have practiced a lot recently. When a parent, staff member, or school leader gets frustrated, it sometimes takes asking many additional questions to get at the root of the concern or the reason behind the issue, which is almost always a genuine fear about something. To help build our skills in understanding one another and ourselves, we are working on summer professional development options for our staff that include having critical conversations about challenges, trauma training, mindfulness, and compassion resiliency. We all need to be able to see one another through an empathetic lens more than ever and give each other grace. Our stress as a collective society is high, and our composure tends to fail us when we are stressed. We need to prepare as best as possible for strategies to reduce stress in our schools, for and with our staff, as well as learn how to have more open communication about what is happening so we can acknowledge our fears and build hope whenever we can.

We have seen some absolutely inspiring efforts by our staff and learners that we continue to try and capture and share. It is hard to always stay focused on those positives, but they are also ways to find strength as we move into our next steps. I have seen teachers doing evening bake-offs with learners online, daily video announcements to celebrate birthdays and accomplishments, safely going to homes to drop off supplies or check-in, creating videos with shared books, songs, and poems, writing personal notes, sending “flat teachers” to each learner, and many, many more. We have worked to support our community and help our learners find their passions during this crazy time. I get to ask our leaders and staff about those moments to help them see all the positives and make sure we recognize the impact of those remarkable connections. The Harvard article said, “Asking, “What’s one of the worst things you’ve ever overcome or endured?” helps people tap into sources of hope and fortitude from their own stories.” Our stories of what our staff has done with learners and families during this time, as well as what our families have done on their own, are perfect sources of hope and fortitude to carry us forward through our next challenge.

As I start to find my way back to social events and daily activities, I think a lot about one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” I certainly feel changed by much of what has happened and what I know is coming. Some days it really gets to me, but it has not reduced my desire to do the work we get to do each day with learners and families as I know how much it matters no matter the setting or the format in which we do it.

 

 

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Distance Learning, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!

COVID-19 & Education:

Guest post by Shelly Vohra: See the prior posts in the series.

The shift to “emergency online learning” in the last month or so has created some discussions and debates about what ‘school’ will look like once we do return. Depending on the structure and demographics of the school (e.g., K-5, middle school, high school etc), how will students and teachers return to ensure everyone is safe? Will there be a staggered schedule? In other words will we have students rotating through school for half days or full days to maintain physical distancing rules? Will each class be split in half and desks spaced out 2m/6ft with everyone wearing a mask and then sanitizing their space when the class/day is done? For example, in middle school, will we see half of the Grade 6s come into school in the morning and the other half in the afternoons 2- 3 times a week? Will grades 7s and 8s come in the other days and the rest of the time is being supplemented by virtual learning? And what are the implications for daycare, babysitting and parents work schedules depending on their work situation? Will teachers move from class to class instead of the students to minimize contact between individuals? If students are coming in for half days, what does that look like in terms of mathematics, language, social studies, science, and subjects like art, phys-ed, music, etc? There are so many factors to consider in terms of our kids returning to school and still ensuring their safety. Will we even return at all depending on what unfolds over the next few months? Many experts are talking about the fear of a second wave of COVID-19 cases if we ease restrictions too soon as well as the regular flu season later this year that will cause many to get sick. Or another scenario could be that we stagger students back into schools in September (or whenever your school year starts) to meet each other and build community and then in October, move to virtual learning. Again, there is so much to think about moving forward and the truth is we don’t really know what will happen because it all depends on what will happen over the next three months in terms of how the coronavirus is contained or how it might cause a second wave of infections. For now, it’s a wait and see situation.

The shift has also created discussion about more permanent changes to the future of education. I have seen teachers and various other stakeholders talk about some of the ‘permanent’ changes they would like to see as a result of this pandemic. While some of these ideas are good and can move education in a positive direction, some of the ideas need to be considered carefully due to several factors (e.g, developmental levels of students, equity, etc). Based on what I have heard and discussed with a variety of students, parents, and educators, here are five changes I would like to see:

1. Focus on Wellness & SEL: this pandemic has brought to light the importance of wellness and mental health. Many of our students are going through a range of emotions, which includes, fear, anxiety, and sadness. There are many reasons our kids are feeling this way and some of those reasons are: (a) they are missing their friends, (b) they are missing the regular routine of school, (c) their parents are front line workers, (d) they might have lost a loved one, (e) they are stuck in an abusive household, (f) they are bored, (g) they are stressed about school work and meeting deadlines set by teachers (which is another issue in itself!). According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” They identify five core competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making). Research has demonstrated that when there is a focus on SEL, there are positive changes in behaviour (e.g., attendance, classroom behaviour, etc) and academic achievement (https://casel.org/what-is-sel/). This pandemic has demonstrated that we need to invest more resources and time in this area. Students need to learn how to manage emotions when challenges and difficulties arise, which is currently happening due to the impact of the coronavirus. They need to identify their emotions and have a range of strategies to deal with these feelings, which might help them build a positive relationship with themselves and others. This pandemic has also brought to light the importance of play. As I’ve mentioned in my other posts, many parents/guardians are talking about how they are spending more time with their kids engaged in a variety of activities (e.g., cooking, baking, sewing, talking, playing board games, gardening etc), which has helped their relationships with their children. Perhaps there is something to be learned here. Should the school day be shorter, placing an equal or more important focus on SEL and play? If many parents are going to continue to work from home due to the shift in thinking in terms of what work now looks like, should we be re-thinking what school looks like? Again, these are all questions that came up during my conversations with parents, friends, and educators that I’ve had the privilege of having over the last few weeks. Our kids these days, in my opinion, are over-scheduled. Between school/homework and all the extra-curricular activities, children these days are overloaded. It seems they just don’t have time to just be kids! I think we can all agree that we don’t want them to hate learning; we want them to be excited about learning and new ideas. We want them to be thoughtful, and kind and compassionate and curious. But to be happy, we can’t and shouldn’t overload them. Do we really want to take away their present for whatever the future may hold? I believe somewhere along the way, we forgot that we need to be educating the whole child. In the recent past, there has been way too much emphasis placed on exams, grades, and standardized test scores, that we have forgotten we need to teach to the heart. We need to be placing more emphasis on teaching habits of mind, relationships, ethics, and morals.  What about bringing in the community to support student learning? I truly believe we have lost the community aspect of educating our children. As the saying goes, “It truly takes a village”.  We need to get back to working with our community members and organizations in order to educate the whole child.

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(www.casel.org)

2. Focus on personalized learning:  this pandemic should also bring to light the need for personalized and individualized learning. Learning needs to be student-centered and not teacher-centered; in other words a focus on learning over teaching. Learning should be approached from an inquiry stance (big idea and driving questions) with a social justice & equity lens. This approach is linked to student wellness & SEL – students learning in a manner in which empathy and other habits of mind are developed as well as digital citizenship skills. We need to move away from traditional worksheets and teaching methods as well as busy work to more authentic learning. Information is everywhere; it’s pretty much at the end of your arm and we need to be asking questions of our students that require critical thinking, evaluating, judging, synthesizing, and constructing, just to name a few. If you can Google an answer to a question, it’s not a good question. This kind of learning means we need to move away from exams, which usually test knowledge & facts and not on understanding, thinking, and application to more ‘projects’ and assignments that are choice-based. It also means we move away from using textbooks (yes, I still see teachers using this as the sole source of information and there are reasons behind this, which I will talk about in another blog post), and teacher ‘lectures’ where students sit and take notes; in other words students are not passive recipients but they take control of their learning and become active members of their learning. This type of learning just might fit nicely with shorter and staggered school days, especially in middle and high schools. Students would come into school to participate and host seminars, focus groups, and discussion with their teachers and classmates on their learning tasks and learning journey; then they might spend some time in the LLC (Library Learning Commons) or go home to continue their learning and complete their work. They need to be provided with opportunities to access learning in a manner that suits them. This type of learning model not only lends itself to students focusing on deeper learning and less on tests and exams but it also builds time for students to focus on their passions and interests, more time for play, and their well-being. For this to be successful, we need to re-examine the curriculum so that it is more flexible and there is a focus on skills and not content. We would also need to focus on digital literacy skills – we have all heard the term “digital natives” but our students are not digital natives. Yes, they were “born with technology” and they might know how to use tech tools like social media for personal reasons but they still require a lot of support on how to use technology for learning purposes (one example is teachers conveying to me that most students don’t know basic online etiquette when talking to their teachers and peers online). They not only need to learn how to collaborate online but they need to learn to use tech responsibly and in ways which deepen and extend their learning. Of course, this blended model will require parameters in terms of teacher availability and students’ schedules. Teachers can not be expected to be available 24/7 and students learn and complete their work at different times. And as always, privacy and security issues need to be maintained in this type of environment (more to come on this). We also need to look at equity in terms of this type of model to work. As I’ve said before, “equity is an institutional commitment, it’s not a band-aid strategy we use when needed.”  How are we getting devices into the hands of every student? How are we ensuring they have strong internet/wi-fi connections? In order to close the achievement gap, we need to start by closing both the engagement gap and the opportunity gap.

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3.Assessment and Evaluation: related to personalized learning, we need to rethink how we assess and evaluate students. We need to move away from “unit tests” and exams, which only seem to test knowledge and not understanding of the material. These types of assessment do not for the most part, develop student skills in critical thinking and other higher order skills. We need to look at providing more descriptive feedback based on learning goals and success criteria (and know the difference between success criteria and task requirements) and moving away from assigning grades; we know research has indicated that when we provide a grade with descriptive feedback, students only focus on the grade and not the feedback the teacher provided and when teachers provide only descriptive feedback, learning is enhanced. For example, students are given descriptive feedback on a writing piece and given the opportunity to improve on their next draft and subsequent drafts based on just descriptive feedback. This type of assessment shifts the focus from achievement to learning. I know grades are a contentious issue in education because of the implications related to higher education but I honestly don’t remember the last time an employer asked me for my transcript during an interview. They want to see what skills I bring to the role and how I can contribute to the team as a whole to improve the organization’s mission and vision. If we are to give grades, then let’s sit side by side with the student and negotiate a grade based on all their work and effort throughout the learning experience (e.g. not just after two drafts of a writing piece). And in the age of technology, let’s ensure all students have an online portfolio and some sort of online presence in the form of a blog and/or website. And let’s please get rid of standardized testing; not only is it not necessary but it’s harmful and negatively impacts students well being and we all know it is not a true reflection of what a student knows and understands.

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4.Conferences: We also need to rethink educational conferences (or all conferences for that matter). Conferences have either been postponed or cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic. I know several conferences have opted for an online version of what should have been their face to face conference and I believe this is something we need to examine more closely. Costs to attend a conference has become astronomical. From registration fees to hotels and from flights to food, attending even one conference can take a significant bite out of anyone’s budget (a very small percentage of educators get their expenses covered by their district or school). And even when we get past the pandemic, flying may never be the same. So why not move towards more online conferences where educators can attend live sessions as well as pre-recorded sessions from the comfort of their home? If you must, charge a minimum fee to cover any costs based on the platform(s) you are using. And organizations can archive these sessions and have a repository available for everyone to access at any time.

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5.Teacher Professional Learning: last but certainly not least, let’s rethink teacher professional learning (PL). I’ve always believed that teacher PL needs to be  personalized, differentiated, and self paced. Teachers should be able to choose their own PL based on their goals, experiences, and background knowledge. This makes the learning more meaningful for teachers if they are allowed to pursue their own interests and passions related to education in the form of action research, collaborative inquiry cycles, etc. I believe the quote/image below says it all in terms of my beliefs for teacher PL. Let’s use an LMS (Learning Management System) like Brightspace to enhance teacher PL where teachers are learning from and with each other across districts – technology gives us the power and opportunity to learn with teachers from around the world so why not connect with teachers from different schools around the world to enhance and positively impact our practice? Why not use these PL opportunities to create learning experiences with these teachers for your students that incorporate social justice and equity mindsets (as mentioned in my bit about personalized learning? Let’s start putting PL back into the hands of educators.

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It will be interesting to see what education looks like when we do return and if any of these five points will be examined and explored further to not only enhance and improve education but also ensuring we keep students at the centre of it all.

I will be writing in more detail about each of these five points in upcoming blog posts but for the next few weeks, I am going to shift to writing about some other topics in education 🙂

 

 

**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  

 

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