Change Your Bat Angle

Guest post by Brian Kulak

K-5 Principal at Tatem Elementary School in NJ

@Bkulak11

Brian’s Book: Level Up Leadership: Advance Your EduGame

Read this blog long enough and you’ll realize how obsessed I am with baseball. Inevitably there will be posts devoted to baseball, anecdotes will center around baseball, and metaphors will be drawn from baseball.

Barguments often focus on which sport is the most difficult to play, the most demanding physically and mentally, the most failure heavy. As a lover of all sports, I can appreciate that an argument can be made for each of the four major sports: baseball, basketball, football, and hockey but, to me, there’s really only one answer.

Baseball.

Because of the physics (round ball, round bat), the variables (pitcher, weather), and the psychology (streaks, slumps), there is nothing more difficult than hitting a baseball consistently. A monster game at the plate can just as easily be followed by a soul-crushing slump of weeks, or months, the time in between at-bats seeming equal parts interminable and immediate as you perseverate on what went wrong.

As a 41-year-old weekend warrior, I only get a chance to play games on Sunday mornings. While my preparation for each game often dictates some midweek tee work or live batting practice, I’m still only playing once a week. Admittedly, I take baseball too seriously, but part of me doesn’t apologize for that because I don’t understand why folks would set out to do anything poorly, so I want to play as well as I can each week.

A few years ago I suffered through my worst season ever, and I’m including my high school playing days, during which I hit a paltry .179. During that summer, getting on base was such an anomaly that I could recall when I did reach base because it was only a handful of times. That ain’t good.

Deflated but undaunted, I continued to work that offseason because I was not going to return to my team the same player. At one point, I sent a video of myself taking swings off the tee to a friend of mine who is a hitting tactician. In seconds, he responded with a diagnosis and, ultimately, saved my swing.

“Dude, look at how far you’re wrapping the bat around your head. Change the bat angle to 1 o’clock before you load, and you’ll be quicker to the ball.”

Change. Your. Bat. Angle.

No amount of work on my own would have led me to that conclusion because, though I would have been working hard, I would have been working incorrectly. There was no way for me to self-diagnose my own flaw, so I had to ask for help.

Now, I “change my bat angle” all the time.

When I’m struggling with a certain colleague, I change my bat angle.

When I’m trying to convince my five-year-old that he can, in fact, put on his own socks, I change my bat angle.

When my early morning writing process stalls, I change my bat angle.

As you approach the upcoming school year, I challenge you to change your bat angle. Reflect intentionally on that which you have done the same way each year and change it.

  • Experiment with flexible seating and let the kids help you design the classroom’s layout
  • Revolutionize your “Back to School Night” by asking parents to leave their kids a video via Flipgrid
  • Reframe your instructional walkthroughs to focus on the kids, even a specific kid, in each room, and then write those kids a note of appreciation
  • Flip and hang old posters and allow kids to recreate them using their own words and images
  • Print, laminate, and hang Tweets or blog post excerpts about which you want your staff and students to think
  • Use a mobile desk so you’re in the hallways more and in your office less
  • Take time for yourself each day, even if it’s five minutes of nothing but sitting and breathing

Baseball is a game of failure, and in many ways, so is education. In each, the best players make adjustments all the time in order to best help their team. In each, those who refuse to make adjustments all the time don’t often have teams for long.

Change your bat angle.

**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? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

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Reflective Teaching and Powerful Professional Learning with LessonLoop

Reflective Teaching and Powerful Professional Learning with LessonLoop

Educators are always looking for new ideas to boost student engagement in the classroom. To do so, they need to understand student interests and needs and also be intentional about reflecting on their teaching practice. While teachers want to understand the impact of their instructional methods and tools on students’ learning, they often don’t have time to solicit feedback from individual students, and students are afraid to provide honest feedback when they feel saying the wrong thing could impact their grade. Yet students need to be part of the conversation, because not only is student voice a powerful tool that can be used to engage students in their learning, but student feedback surveys are better predictors of academic growth than principal observation and teacher self-ratings (Hanover Research 2013). 

As Alex Isaacs, an 8th-grade math teacher notes, “LessonLoop allows me to quickly conduct a survey with great questions built-in where I can quickly push this out to my students to better inform my practice.” 

LessonLoop instantly shows you how engaged your students are with a class lesson so you can gain immediate insights and adjust your instruction in real-time to help them learn better. As shown below, LessonLoop works through the four simple steps of:

1. Anonymously survey students, 

2. Review instant actionable lesson engagement reports, 

3. Receive personalized instructional recommendations, 

4. Discuss results with students so learners feel seen and heard. 

How LessonLoop Works

How do the surveys guide teachers about their practice?

LessonLoop measures student engagement in nine actionable categories (see below) that provide you with insight on how to calibrate your instruction to support active learning at each student’s just-right instructional level. With these categories, teachers have better ways to focus on the specific needs and interests of their students. Especially for social-emotional learning (SEL) and determining student progress in class, the categories and questions provide tremendous insight for teachers with information not easily accessible in any other way. 

With the information the surveys provide, teachers have many ways to evaluate, analyze and then act upon authentic student feedback to improve their practice. Working with LessonLoop’s instructional coaches/Tip Masters, they can explore new methods and tools to help address some of the areas indicated in the survey.

Sample Lesson Engagement Report

What can we learn about student engagement from using LessonLoop?

Through lesson embedded feedback, teachers better understand the impact of their instructional strategies and how students experience the learning environment. By reviewing the responses, especially the free responses, teachers receive feedback that promotes reflective practice. Using the survey results, Tip Masters work with each teacher to find strategies and tools that will increase active student learning.

Sample LessonLoop Student Free Responses

How does LessonLoop facilitate getting to know students? 

LessonLoop provides opportunities for every student to share their perspective on their immediate environment and how they are experiencing a lesson. Incorporating student voice allows students to experience a sense of respect and empowerment from their teacher. With LessonLoop, students can provide valuable feedback to their teacher and all feedback is provided through an anonymous survey, which promotes more honest feedback. Students feel comfortable responding to the survey, and because their opinions are heard, they feel more connected to and comfortable in their classroom community. When teachers circle back and discuss how to improve a lesson with students, students feel their voice is impactful and are empowered to take ownership of their learning. Students that feel seen and heard have greater motivation for and engagement in learning because they feel like an impactful member of the classroom community. 

How does the gamification aspect of LessonLoop lead to better and more authentic, honest feedback from students?  

LessonLoop incorporates gamification elements through our fun, animated surveys (see pictures below). According to Dr. Shawn Clybor, “These gamification elements keep students more alert, more active in engagement, and therefore more likely to read the questions and think about their answers.”  LessonLoop is designed to be a robust platform that informs instruction and involves students in their learning experiences. It is also meant to “encourage joyfulness, to be fun, to be funny,” says Clybor.  Using it becomes its own experience, building bonds between teachers and students.

LessonLoop Gamified Surveys

In addition to the gamified surveys, LessonLoop provides educators the ability to ask custom questions and generate two new games (humorous poll and secret word) with one click. These games focus on student engagement at the beginning of class, serve as a pick-me-up if attention is flagging mid-class, or are a fun way to end a student engagement survey.

What professional learning comes with LessonLoop?

LessonLoop provides personalized data-driven professional learning for teachers.  While all teachers have access to a knowledge base of free tips, with a paid tips subscription, every teacher is assigned an experienced Tip Master to help with reviewing their surveys and finding strategies and tools to try. The real-time lesson-embedded feedback helps educators better connect their instruction to students and be more reflective in their practice. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) also benefit as all teachers receive instructional recommendations from subject-area specialists and coaches! PLCs can be organized around student-centered data for engagement and professional learning. Within the PLCs, teachers can share ideas and provide support to one another which then enhances the learning experience for all students. In addition, educators accumulate continuing education units (CEUs) based on minutes of use of the platform aligned with Learning Forward and/or Charlotte Danielson standards.

What to expect with LessonLoop

So many benefits!

Student Engagement Surveys: 

  • Amplify student voice through anonymous surveys
  • Strong predictor of academic outcomes 
  • Provide missing actionable data on why students aren’t learning 
  • Provide daily feedback on the delivery of the curriculum with a clear focus on social-emotional learning (SEL),  critical thinking and collaboration, and culturally responsive instruction.

We are offering free trials of LessonLoop to educators who provide feedback on our new gamified student surveys. Click here for a free trial!  And if you missed our webinar, here is the link!

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

**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? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

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

Poth: Building Digital Citizenship Skills with Book Creator

Sponsored post. All opinions are my own.

Each October, educators and students have opportunities to participate in events focused on digital citizenship. This year “digcit week” will be held from October 18-22. Learning about digital citizenship is important not only during October, but should be something that we focus on throughout the entire year. With such an increase in the use of technology, especially during the past school year, educators need to intentionally create opportunities for students to build digital citizenship skills in our classrooms by exploring the digital tools and learning experiences that we can provide with them.

Book Creator for DigCit!

Using Book Creator, we can create opportunities for students to become more digitally aware and literate and to be responsible in using and creating with technology. Helping students to learn to safely navigate through what has become a highly digital world is something that we are all responsible for. Students need to learn how to collaborate online, to access and share information, to create and manage accounts and protect their personal information, which are essential elements of digital citizenship.

With so many students interacting and having access to social media and digital tools, they need to develop the right skills to navigate in these spaces and be prepared to deal with any challenges or barriers that may arise. When students have the chance to collaborate and create a book together, there are many benefits. Some of the positive outcomes include building essential SEL skills like strengthening relationships, becoming more self-aware and developing a greater understanding of diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

Ideas for a digital citizenship book with Book Creator

  • Creating passwords and Internet safety
  • Using social media and responsible posting
  • Cyberbullying and how to respond
  • Finding balance on social media platforms and with technology
  • Communicating and collaborating in the online space
  • Create a book about an experience related to the theme of digital citizenship or one of the focus areas.

Getting started with Book Creator is easy!

Book Creator now has three books available to help educators get started with activities and experiences focused on digital citizenship. In June of this year, the new books were created in collaboration with Common Sense Education and are available for use in classrooms with students ages 5 through 11. In addition to using these books, Book Creator is a great choice for having students create their own books to share what they are learning about being a responsible digital citizen. Students are able to collaborate with their classmates in the digital space and learn how to post responsibly, access and use information, and build their own digital citizenship skills during the process.

Book Creator promotes more authentic and meaningful learning that helps students to build content knowledge and the essential skills they need now and for the future. All books can include audio, images, text, and video. Why not have students select a relevant topic or one of the nine elements of digital citizenship, to create a book to share with others in their school community or with global connections?

Templates!

The Book Creator team worked with the Hillsborough County Public School district in Florida to design special events for their entire district. Using the Digital Citizenship Week curriculum from Common Sense Education, they created templates to use for activities which will be part of a competition. There are many important topics to choose from including: Choosing the right words, avoiding drama in the online space, social presence on the social media platforms, this is also great for educators. There are options available to use with students in grades K through 12 as well as for teachers. Everyone can use their templates which makes it easy to get started today with some digcit activities using Book Creator!

Having access to great topics and ready-to-use templates saves a ton of time! All you need to do is add the books to your library and with the “remix” feature, students and educators can really make the books their own.

Also check out the book by Dr. Monica Burns which is based on the 6 themes of the Digital Citizenship curriculum from Common Sense Education.

Join some of the events happening during #digcitweek through Common Sense Education and @BookCreatorApp. Be sure to sign up for some of the upcoming Book Creator webinars to learn more!

About the author

Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.

She is the author of six books including ‘In Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking,” “Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU” “The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead,” “Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World, “True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us” and her newest book “Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-person and Digital Instruction” is now available.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

**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? Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks

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

Join my weekly show on Mondays and Fridays at 5pm EST THRIVEinEDU on Facebook. Join the group here

Adult SEL and Why it Matters

In Collaboration with Peekapak

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is an area that we need to intentionally focus on in our classrooms. As we reflect on the challenges experienced this past year, we must closely focus on our own well-being and make sure we can provide the right support for our students. For many educators, SEL has become a new addition to planning for each day. We need to be intentional in facilitating opportunities for our students to build their SEL skills each day and to do so, we need access to the right resources and support.

In our classrooms, it is crucial that we model SEL skills for our students. For example, the importance of building and maintaining positive relationships, developing self-awareness and social awareness are essential for everyone. And as we have experienced this year, being able to manage stress, making decisions and focusing on self-care practices are vital for us as educators and in our daily lives. Educators need access to the right professional development to know how to bring SEL curriculum into every classroom. With Peekapak, schools have access to structured and easy to use curriculum for students and SEL workshop resources for educators.

Research shows that teacher well-being has a substantial effect on school climate. If educators are experiencing burnout and elevated levels of stress and do not have the right strategies to push through, it will negatively impact students. To prevent this, we need to establish routines, work with colleagues and with students, and build trust with each other.

Building Our SEL competencies

To learn more about SEL, there are many resources and professional learning opportunities available. Peekapak offers the SEL Summit which has been providing informative webinars each month full of valuable ideas and resources for getting started. These webinars have been a great opportunity to not only learn about how to build holistic and school-wide strategies, but also ways that educators can practice SEL skills and feel more confident to bring it to life in our classrooms. During these live sessions, it is also a great opportunity to ask questions and connect with other educators.

During the most recent June 15th “SEL Starts with Adults” SEL Summit, the panelists discussed the latest research and shared some best practices and tips for supporting educator SEL. You can access the recording here to learn how the panelists have been supporting SEL in their schools and what their plans are for the coming school year.

Here are a few of my favorite tips from the event, given the importance of starting the year with a focus on SEL. There was a “Turn off the Noise” suggestion from Dr. Salvatore, encouraging us to limit distractions and give yourself mind breaks when possible. Additionally, I found Dr. Grant’s “Caller #10” activity to be an intriguing way to not only show appreciation for staff, but to get the students excited for their teachers to call and possibly win a well-deserved prize. Some other strategies included icebreakers during meetings, creating activities during PD days, trying out “half smiles,” and providing opportunities for staff collaboration. This emphasis on self-care and mental health is essential for teacher wellbeing, and more schools need to provide such resources for educators that promote SEL, and in doing so, help design meaningful experiences for students.

You can access the June 15th recording here to learn in greater detail the different ways the panelists have been supporting SEL in their schools and what their plans are for the coming school year. I think that if we all recognize and work toward improving SEL for all of us it is going to benefit us as educators and we can nurture all students through the upcoming recovery in the years ahead.

Sign up for your free trial with Peekpak today!

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Designing Authentic Project Based Learning

Guest Post by Stephanie Rothstein, @Steph_EdTech

I hear it often, “Oh yeah, I do projects.” But doing a project is very different from Project Based Learning. Chairing a Design Thinking PBL pathway has changed me as an educator. I now look at all situations through a project application lens. A few years ago at a leadership conference, I went to a session on Project Design. The speaker explained that there are three ways to approach project design. 

When designing projects, you can be inspired by your content, you can be inspired by a real need in your own community, you can be inspired by an issue that impacts the world. 

I have thought back to this approach often as I approach project design. I find when I work with educators, that most approach projects trying to figure out how to apply their content to a project that helps students showcase their learning. But Project Based Learning means revamping this idea and essentially inverting it. So instead of a project at the end after doing the learning, it is through the project that students learn the concepts. It might not be in the order we would have planned for them, but they will learn it and in my experience will go deeper because they developed questions and created meaningful connections. 

So, what does this actually look like in the classroom? How does it actually work? I will take you through one of my English 9 projects to walk you through.

I have done Service Learning for 18 years but it was only about 8 years ago that I finally felt like this really became Project Based Learning. Based on a general interest survey on service topics, I split the class and bring them to 6 different locations. We learn about that service organization and volunteer. These students then come back and present to the class about the organization. Students in the class are able to ask questions to the student experts. After, students then pick their topic to focus on for the unit. 

Students are then organized into shared topic groups and together these students pick a non-fiction book. I have a suggested book list that has been made by local and global non-profit groups, teachers, and students. Groups are also encouraged to propose a new book. While reading their book, students hold their own book chats, record them and use them to create their own podcasts to submit to the NPR student podcast challenge. This is not “the project” and is just one part of the project design. Students also select their own individual research topic and use articles, the interview of an expert at their non-profit, and reflection on their time volunteering to help inform their research paper. 

The last part of this unit came because students asked me a question. They said, “I’m glad we volunteered 20 hours, interviewed someone, read, researched, wrote a paper, but shouldn’t we be doing something more? Shouldn’t we apply our learning and give back in some way?” After that, the real Project Based Learning opportunity was born. Students create a Give Back Opportunity that helps spread awareness, collects items to donate, or fundraises and must be based on the needs of that organization. These projects have brought about real impact. This year, being virtual has broadened my perspective on how to make an impact with this project and we will use Solve In Time Cards to Design Think their Give Back Opportunity and The Global Goals for Sustainable Development to help students think both locally and globally. This unit takes 14 weeks and closes with group presentations to the class and an invited group of non-profit panelists. 

This project approaches from all three focus areas: content, local, and global. I always knew for this project that I wanted to connect with local non-profits and that I wanted students to better understand non-fiction resources. The other layer to consider when building the unit plan is which tech skills will students build upon during this project. 

Project Based Learning is complex and is rooted in questions. It must begin with an entry experience. My “workshops” are based on student needs that they create at the start of the unit. These workshops may be for small groups or the entire class. Students still have deadlines, they still have goals, but project based learning means that groups may be at different stages of the project. I use a shared SCRUM board to help students track project progress so that I know where they are and the team understands where they are in the process. Topics for this project vary based on year and interests. And this is real life. I have had students who focus on Foster Care, Women’s Rights, LGBTQI, the Environment, Black Lives Matter, Food Insecurity, Animal Rights, Homelessness and more. It is the variety of topics that helps me know that my students are connecting individually and are able to teach something to their classmates and to me. They are all learning the skill of researching using articles, non-fiction books, interviews, and personal experiences. 

It keeps me on my toes and no year is ever the same but I am proud of the learning experiences created through deep Project Based Learning.

**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  

Providing the Right Learning Spaces for Students to Explore and Create

 

When looking at the design and structure of classrooms today, they may look quite similar to the classroom setting that you experienced when you were a student. Structurally, students in most schools follow a set schedule each day and spend time in different classrooms throughout the building. Unlike years ago when I was a student and even as recently as five or 10 years ago, learning was still confined to the physical classroom space. However, through the capabilities we now have with technology, the opportunities to connect students with learning that takes them out of the classroom space are incredible.

For most students, learning took place in the classroom and on-the-job or real-world learning experience had to wait until the end of the school day or in some cases, after high school graduation. Of course, there were students enrolled in vo-tech or career and technical education programs outside of the school building, taking them to a new learning environment to interact and collaborate with students from other schools, learn from different teachers, explore ideas and strategies, and even different types of careers. These types of learning spaces helped students to better understand the skills they might need in the future. However, not all students had access. But today, we have the power to offer these opportunities to all students. With the resources that we now have, we owe it to our students to offer them learning experiences in as many different learning spaces as possible so that they have time to explore and build the skills that they will need when they leave our schools.

So where or how do we provide these different learning spaces for students? We start by making sure that we are connected in the right spaces ourselves. As educators, this means being connected in a space that goes beyond our school community. It means leveraging social media and different networks, attending conferences, reading blogs, listening to podcasts for ideas or picking up educational books on topics that we wish to learn more about. We must make sure that we have the right knowledge to stay current and relevant so that we can design the best learning experiences for our students. Not that we need to create everything for them; we just need to get them started so that they can take the initiative to design their learning path in the space they decide best fits their interests and needs.

How to Provide Space for Students to Explore

1. Project-based learning (PBL): By implementing PBL, we empower students to look for problems or challenges in their community and globally, try to find solutions, and focus more on learning as a process. Beyond just doing PBL in a class, there are schools opening which are PBL schools, like Gibson EK, a public high school located in Washington. The motto at Gibson EK is “Real World, Real Learning, Real Life.’” Students do not enroll in traditional courses, instead they “earn academic competencies through projects” and work with a mentor through internships two days per week. The school is designed on principles such as “Stop learning for school, start learning for life.” I truly believe that students need opportunities to explore their passions, design their own problems or challenges, and have the time to work through the learning process. To best prepare students for the future, whether college or career ready, they need to decide on their learning space, experience productive struggle, reflect, revise and continue on their path of learning.

 

2. Student Organizations: Schools that have student organizations like the Model United Nations empower students to build skills of advocacy, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and self-confidence. In my school, I have seen remarkable growth in the students who have become involved in the Model UN under the leadership of Mr. Ken Kubistek, a history teacher, who has led this group through conferences and competitions for many years. Through work with the Model UN, students engage in authentic learning experiences that take them out of the classroom and connect them with real-world learning and global issues. Students develop their voice and build many vital skills for the future by exploring new learning spaces through organizations like the Model UN.

 

3. Media Creation. Students need opportunities to create their own space to show learning. Whether students create a YouTube channel and develop their own show, explore an emerging technology trend or prepare a solution to current event issues, there are many ways that students can create a different type of learning space for themselves and for others. Perhaps a student-created podcast using tools like Anchor or Synth, where they invite guests to discuss current issues, focus on themes for education or anything that interests them. A podcast designed with the goal to help educate not only classmates and members of their school community but the public at large. Opportunities like these promote more meaningful learning while also building digital literacy skills and empower students to find space that meets their interests.

 

4. School Community Connections: I recently gave a keynote about the future of education and how the look of school is changing.  I received a lot of great questions and comments and one suggestion that led me to think about the power of creating more community connections. The idea was to have students go to local senior care facilities where they can share some of the things they are learning in school, and engage in discussions with older adults to learn about each other’s experience in education, work, and life. I think this would have a great impact because of the connections that would form between students and members of the community. The learning space can be anywhere and it would be an authentic way to engage students with learning about the world around them. Build connections and greater understanding about what things used to be like, what things are like now, and make predictions for the future.

 

5. Brainstorming ideas: Push student thinking by asking them to brainstorm ideas for the top five or 10 challenges in a certain area of the world, maybe based on geography, a certain industry, or perhaps ask students to come up with a list of complaints or things they notice about the world around them. Give students space to develop plans for how to solve these challenges or how they could have solved them better. Another idea is to have students be part of project event management for planning. In my school, students can take an entrepreneurship course in which they design products, make sales pitches and plan large scale events. The course also takes students out into the Pittsburgh area to tour businesses and learn about different industries, where they can get that close view, ask questions and make connections. They begin in the classroom and then find the space to pursue new knowledge and explore.

 

There are many ways to expand where and how our students can learn. We have access to the world as our classroom and the more we can increase the learning space we provide the better prepared our students will be for the future.

**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  

Educators: 10 Ways to Make Time for Self-Improvement

Originally published on Getting Smart
As educators, we need to make more time for self-care. In order to bring our best selves to our classrooms and our schools, we must make time for our needs each day. Over the holiday breaks, making time to do some normal things like catching up with family and friends, and sleep in late, are good ways to recharge over the summer break.

When we have these breaks, it is easy to get into a new daily routine, finding time for all of the things that we wanted to do but couldn’t fit into our schedules throughout the year. It may take a few days to adjust, but I find that in a short amount of time, I am well into my winter break routine of catching up on some work and enjoying the extra time with family. The days are still filled but on a more relaxed schedule. Many take advantage of the extra time and lack of a set schedule to engage in personal and professional development. Whether it is a time to travel with family and friends or something more professional like attending conferences or taking a class, we all find ways to fill all of that extra time. We get used to a new routine, and likely feel pretty good about our improvement and feel some balance until August arrives and educators return to their classrooms, hopefully, recharged and excited for the new school year.

This has been a challenging year and educators can quickly become burnt out trying to prepare everything and keep up with the changes. We can struggle with finding balance and making time to keep up our personal and professional growth during the school year . So how can we still do ‘all the things’ and stay balanced and find enough time for ourselves?

Here are ten ways to add in more time for you and to be more productive each day:

  1. Connect. We are surrounded by so many people each day in the midst of thousands of interactions. But how many of those interactions are truly meaningful and give us the needed time to pause, lean in and really listen? Are we able to connect with family, friends, students, and Professional Learning Networks (PLN)? Find a way to connect every day. Make time for family first. Share a meal together, go for ice cream, take a walk, watch TV, or play a game. Family time is critical; remember to make time for your ‘school family,’ too. Whether it’s by greeting students at the door, spending time in the hallways or the teachers’ lounge, or using social media to connect through messaging, make time for those moments. Find at least one person to connect with each day. It helps to keep us grounded and gives us access to a constant support system.
  2. Have a routine. Sometimes it comes down to just having a little bit of consistency in each day. Maybe this means setting aside a specific time to read in the morning, listen to music, respond to emails, or simply reviewing your schedule for the day. Personally, I find that having these activities during the day is one way to keep myself in balance. Knowing what my day holds or starting each day with a certain task like reading a blog keeps me accountable for taking time for myself.
  3. Choose one. There are so many choices we have for activities that are worthwhile for our mental and physical well-being. Our days become quite full, and the worst thing we can do is overwhelm ourselves by trying to do everything. Some good advice I received from a friend is to simply choose one thing. Get outside and walk, meet up with family and friends, whether once a week or as often as your schedule allows. Try to pick one activity per day that will be good for your well being.
  4. Disconnect. We all stay connected by a variety of devices. Technology is amazing because it enables us to communicate, collaborate and access information whenever we need to. However, it disconnects us from personal connections, takes away a lot of our time, and can decrease our productivity. It’s beneficial for us to make time to truly disconnect. Whether you leave your device at home during a vacation or simply mute notifications for a period of time during the day, it’s important to take a break. Pause to reflect, and be fully present with family and friends. Personally, I struggle in this area but have been more intentional about taking a break from technology.
  5. Exercise and movement. Think about the students in our classrooms and the learning experiences we create for them. Do we have them stay seated in rows each day or are there opportunities to move and be active? Finding time for exercise and movement is important to our well-being. Go for a walk, have a dance party, or use an on-demand or online exercise program. Get up and moving with your students, and take learning outside whenever you can. Exercise has so many benefits that even setting aside 10 minutes a day is a great way to boost energy and mental wellness. Invite a friend or colleague to join you and hold each other accountable.
  6. Time to rest. Just like exercise, it’s also important to get enough rest. How many times do educators stay up late grading papers or writing lesson plans, and get up extra early to prepare for the day?  We can’t bring our best selves to our classroom if we are tired. Lack of sleep and quality rest will negatively impact our mental and physical health. Our students and colleagues will notice our lack of energy and possibly even mental clarity, so we need to ensure time for sleep to receive the positive benefits!
  7. Reflection. It is important that we model lifelong learning and the development of self-awareness and metacognition for our students. This involves setting aside a period of time where we reflect on our day, the progress we made, the challenges we faced, and even epic fails that we might have experienced.  Finding a way to capture these reflections whether in a blog or journal or using an audio recording to listen to later, are all great ways to track our progress. Then we can revisit our reflections and ask ourselves, “Am I a little bit better today than I was yesterday?”
  8. Learning. Education is changing every day. There are new topics, trends, and tools that make keeping up with everything tough. There are so many ways that we can learn today that don’t take up too much time, however. While traditional professional development training and in-person sessions are useful—especially for the opportunity to connect with other people—the reality is that carving out availability to do this on a regular basis is a challenge. Instead, find something that meets your schedule. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or participating in a Twitter chat once or twice a week, watching a webinar, reading a few blog posts, or joining a group on Voxer to discuss what’s on your mind and ask questions about education. There are many ways to learn on the go!
  9. Celebrate. Make time every day to celebrate something. Whether it’s a positive event in one of your classes, something one of your students did, recognizing a colleague, validating your own efforts or just a random celebration, focusing on the positives will impact your well-being in the long run. No matter how big or small, the steps toward success and achieving goals and even some mistakes should be embraced and even celebrated. Modeling a celebration of the learning process, especially from failures, sends a positive message and is a good model for students.
  10.  The power of no. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to say no. Educators are often asked or volunteer to assume additional responsibilities like sponsoring a club, joining a committee, chaperoning an event, or participating in other school events. There are so many things that comprise our role as educators and with our passion for teaching, it can be difficult to say no, especially when it comes to education and our students. But as hard as it is, sometimes it’s the best choice. Think about what is most important to you and the limited time that you have. I focus on why and how my participation or acceptance of whatever it is can benefit my students and the school community. Saying no is tough, but it is more than reasonable to say no sometimes. We have to do what is best for ourselves, so we can do what is best for our students.

These are just a few ways I’ve tried to maintain more balance and be more effective and productive in my work. We have to start each day with a focus on self-care, because that is how we can make sure that we are bringing our best selves into our classrooms, into our schools, and home to our families each day.

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

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18 Resources to Get Students Coding This Year

Each year during December, there’s a focus on coding and computational thinking. Computer Science Education Week is happening December 7th-13th this year and there are a lot of great ways to get involved. A few years ago I first learned about the Hour of Code, and immediately referred to the Code.org website to find activities for my eighth grade STEAM class. Just getting started, I didn’t know much about the resources available and thought this was the best way to provide some activities for my students to join in during the week. It was fun to sign up to participate in the events of the day and see from where around the world other classrooms were joining in from. But beyond that one day, and actually, that one hour, we didn’t really do much more in my class. I asked colleagues and members of my PLN about their activities for the Hour of Code and coding throughout the year, and many stated that they didn’t know how to implement more in their classrooms. It was then that I recognized the need to provide more ways for students to learn about coding and computational thinking, and that as educators, we must actively look for opportunities for our students. We need to push past an Hour of Code and do more in our classrooms.

Preparing Ourselves

For some educators, topics like coding and computational thinking can seem challenging to bring into the classroom and for them to know enough to feel confident in teaching students about these topics. I was one of those educators. My comfort level changed when I had to create a game using Hopscotch for a master’s course and I struggled a lot. It was uncomfortable to not be able to fully understand the coding process, but it pushed me to keep learning and to start using Hopscotch with my eighth graders. I learned a lot from my students and it was a great opportunity to put myself in their place as they learn something new. Realizing that it is okay to not know all of the answers is a valuable lesson.

Another hurdle was to learn more about computational thinking, a topic that I had avoided because of a fear of not understanding it enough and thinking it did not apply to my role as a Spanish teacher. It was an area that intimidated me because I believed it to be so complex.

However, I recently took a Computational Thinking (CT) course provided by ISTE U, which definitely stretched me professionally and provided a solid foundation full of resources for doing more with these topics in my classroom. We need to find ways to give our students and ourselves an opportunity to learn about topics like coding and computational thinking and how they apply in our daily lives and how it could possibly benefit us in the future.

Where to Begin

There are so many resources out there that sometimes knowing exactly where to start presents the challenge. It is easy to get started by referring to the Code.org site or checking out CS First from Google and resources for educators. There are some apps and websites to get started with coding and computational thinking. Some of these can be used specifically with elementary students in grade bands pre-reader through two, three through five, and six plus, and others that are specific to middle school or high school. Several of these options offer ways to search based on topic, level or type of activity. What I like the most is that they are fun ways for educators to get started with coding and CT, with the ability to decide how to apply them to our own work.

Start with Code.org or CS First from Google, and then explore these 18 resources to check out what specifically to use during the Hour of Code and Computer Science Week, or take the time and try each of these out over the course of a couple of weeks. Have your students explore and continue learning right along with your students.

18 Sites to Explore

Artist. Use this as a way to have students begin coding with blocks to complete tasks to build their coding skills.

Code.org. Explore this link to find a list of resources and different activities and to sign up to participate in the Hour of Code. There are more than 500 one hour tutorials that are available in more than 45 languages.

Code Combat is a game based computer program for older students who want to learn about Javascript or Python. In Code Combat, students type in their code and see their characters respond in real-time.

Code Monster is an easy way to get younger students to learn more about code. Two boxes on the screen show the code and what the code does, with explanations popping up to show students what happens with each command.

CoSpacesEDU Robot Rattle. Students learn to operate a robot and the activity includes a tutorial video. Using blocks and drag and drops, students can write the instructions for the robot and then if devices are available, the robot can be seen performing the tasks as written in the code in virtual reality (VR).

Hopscotch is for use with iPads and has specific activities available for the Hour of Code but offers many options for students to create their own games or to remix games that are available.

Turtle Art. Students use block coding like Scratch but through the use of one turtle and mathematics to do the programming.  Students can create their own work of art or remix someone else’s painting.

Science

Explore Mars with Scratch. Students in grades three through eight can create a Mars exploration game using Scratch. Through this lesson, students work through activities and build their math, computational thinking, and problem-solving skills. There is also the option for an extension activity for students in grades K-12 to do an independent project.

Multi-topics

Code-it studio is for use with grades two and up and offers students the chance to program art and designs.

CodeSpark. Students up to grade five can design and code a video game using the self-paced activity available through this site.

Code an Unusual Discovery. Using Scratch and CS First from Google, students can work through on their own and create a story using code.

Khan Academy Code. For grades six and up students can watch an interactive talk-through, work through challenges or decide to do their own project. Everything that students need for coding is available directly through the website. Students can also learn to code by making a website in HTML tags and CSS.

Kodable. Activities for students in grades two through five, offering Javascript for students in upper elementary grades. There are activities for social studies, science, ELA, math and more with levels from beginning to advanced. Students can even choose their own adventure.

Minecraft Hour of Code. A free Hour of Code lesson was developed by Microsoft’s AI for Earth team. In the lesson, students in grades two and up use code to prevent forest fires. There is also a free online course for educators to learn how to run an Hour of Code lesson in their school.

Robo-Restaurant Decorator. Students in grade two and up can program a robot to paint a restaurant and the algorithms must be done correctly

Star Wars. The first activity we tried was working through the activities provided using the Star Wars theme. Activities are available for students in grades two and up. Learn to code with Blocks and Javascript.

Tynker offers a lot of activities for students to participate and learn about coding, specially curated for the Hour of Code. Activities are grouped for students in the ranges of K-two, three-five and six plus. Options available include text coding, STEM activities, and the new UN+ which is focused on ecological issues such as life on land, responsible consumption and affordable and clean energy.

VidCode is an online platform that offers opportunities for teachers to explore computer science curriculum or individual lessons related to coding. For the Hour of Code, explore the Climate Science coding activity.

Another option is to have students learn about the Hour of Code, its origin and different terms related to coding and then use some of the game-based learning tools out there like Kahoot! To help students develop a better understanding of the basics of coding. Try one of these ideas out for some fun ways to get students involved with coding and use the game as a starting point for class discussion.

3 Ways to Unleash the Most Creative Students Ever (Part I)

Guest post by @Chris_Chappotin

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction

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I am certain to be way late to the party, but consider me asking for a friend:

What is the point of Minecraft?

Through a first-person view, the player mines resources to craft a whole new world. That’s it.

No score.

No clock.

No competitors.

No levels to beat. No game to win. No way to throw the game controller across the room while flossing as confetti explodes all around and ESPN Jock Jams push unhealthy decibel levels, because you have just become the ultimate Minecraft champion.

Instead, you mine and you craft. You mine, and you craft. You gather resources and apply those resources with no clear victory to be achieved.

Except, if you have ever watched kids mine and craft, you know that the experience unlocks creativities that you never knew were there. Swimming pools. Gardens. Dining rooms. Roller coasters. Towers. And more and more and more.

So much so, that it causes me to ask follow-up questions: Could it be that creativity was present all along? Could it be that Minecraft contains the code to release the creativity that kids naturally possess? In short, are kids wired with creativity? If so, what learner experiences can we mine and craft in order to unleash the most creative students ever?

Facilitate Intrigue

Facilitate intrigue to develop the most creative students ever. I believe that most students come to school each day saying, “Fascinate me. Captivate me. Show me why it is good for me to devote most of my day to this.” For educators, if this is the case, we should eagerly anticipate and embrace such opportunities every day. How? By intentionally designing learner experiences that tap into the natural curiosity tendencies of our students. Teachers that embrace this challenge…that respond with: “Just wait until you experience the learning planned for today. I’ll show you!” These are the teachers, classes, and experiences students run toward.

Therefore, how can we mine intrigue to craft irresistible learner experiences for students? First, ensure that students walk into an experience that is already occurring. Intrigue levels are typically high when we feel as if what we are about to participate in is already happening. This could be as extravagant as transforming a classroom into a hospital or restaurant or courtroom. It could also be as simple as playing music, appealing to the sense of smell, or having a design challenge ready for students as they enter the learning environment. I imagine students running into your learner experience in order to determine just what in the world the teacher is going to do today!

Second, launch learner experiences with questions that force students to take a side or argue a point. In other words, “Here’s the scenario. What side are you on and why? What are you going to do about this? What do you think about the way this person or people-group handled the situation?” By inviting students into a situation, intrigue develops as they forget they are participating in a class; but instead, take on the character roles of the people in the scenarios. Educators can deepen this reality by reorienting learners with questions such as: “Why do you think we are investigating this scenario? Why do you think I forced you to choose a side and defend your choice? How do you feel about the lesson so far, and where do you think we are headed?” Maybe, at this point, you offer students voice and choice as to where to proceed next. Regardless, they should be charged up with intrigue and buy-in while eagerly anticipating whatever is coming next.

Third, in order to facilitate intrigue in a learner experience, change the meeting location for class. If the class comes together in a location that is unusual, intrigue is a natural result. Why? Because you are going to get a myriad of questions that all begin with: “Why are we having class here?” Whether you are outside, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, in the gym, or in an online learning environment, if the location is atypical, intrigue will result. Intentionally leverage that to your advantage, and take students on a learning journey they will never forget. Consistent intrigue builds anticipation that becomes excitement, and excitement is fuel for learning.

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

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Creating Culturally Responsive Environments

Guest post by Eva Cwynar

I want you to think about the last time you watched a movie where the main character looked like you, lived in a community like yours, or came from a similar background/culture. How often do you come across stories or texts where one or more of these characteristics are present? For some, the answers to these questions are that it happens all the time. For others, the answer may be rarely, if ever. Now imagine that you are a student in a school where the history that you learn is not the history of the culture that your family comes from, the scientists and mathematicians that you learn about don’t look like you or come from similar backgrounds, the literature that you read, music you hear in band, or sports that you play in PE don’t reflect your experiences or heritage. How do you think this would make you feel? This is a reality for many students that walk our halls and form our school community and this is why culturally responsive teaching is so important!

Culturally responsive teaching validates and affirms the culture of students in our schools/classrooms and incorporates that culture in meaningful ways in both the learning and the environment. It’s not enough to simply make mention of a race or culture or to change the names in a word problem so that they’re “ethnically diverse”, CRT is about leveraging and growing students’ existing funds of knowledge by connecting to diverse personal experiences. The following examples are simple ways to develop culturally responsive environments in your classroom:

  1. Connect learning to background knowledge – Take the time to learn more about your students’ homes, community, and interests. Parent & family surveys are a perfect way to learn about your students and their backgrounds. Think about providing the survey in multiple languages and in multiple formats so that it is accessible in multiple formats. Once you have this information, USE IT! Don’t just file it away in their student folder…incorporate these gems into the learning environment.
    • Create a library of non-fiction texts that focus on student interests and make them available in different languages that represent the home languages of your students.
    • Create a “Netflix” playlist full of documentaries showcasing diverse people, cultures, and countries, historical events from around the world, nature shows that highlight plants, animals, and natural phenomenon in different continents.
    • Bring the community into the classroom – connect social studies concepts to neighborhood events and/or landmarks, explore science concepts taking place in their backyards or local parks, engage in learning walks to identify geometric shapes in architecture.
    • Play music during transition periods that reflects students’ heritage or favorite genres.
  2. Encourage cognitive routines that foster critical conversations- Ask students to think critically about the relationships and connections between concepts or phenomenon.
    • Have your students engage in word play that’s both cognitively demanding yet fun. Taboo and Scrabble are great ways to build vocabulary about concepts students are learning while simultaneously repositioning the student as a leader in the learning by developing student agency. You may choose to have students do this by sharing the vocabulary terms in different languages, by having them define the term used in their own words, or by connecting the terms to something that they have experienced in their life.
    • Engage students in literature analysis by comparing the central idea of traditional texts in ELA and Social Studies to popular music and poetry (there is a library of songs as well as other resources that can support this type of learning at Get Free Hip Hop Civics Ed).
    • Provide texts that share diverse viewpoints and experiences to spur discussion about socially relevant topics that effect our community. These texts should provide avenues for students to think critically about current and past events in a classroom environment that provides a safe forum to share sensitive and thought-provoking concepts.

A critically important aspect of culturally responsive teaching is that these experiences, methods, and strategies do not become a single activity that you check off a to-do list once a trimester…these practices should become routine and be practiced over and over again throughout the school year and across the campus. A culturally responsive environment acknowledges that everyone brings something to the learning table and that everyone’s voice and experiences are incredibly valuable.

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

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