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.

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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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Focus in the new school year: Building relationships

Focus in the new school year: Building relationships

Rachelle Dene Poth

It is time for many to head back to the classrooms and prepare for a new year of learning and growing. It is an exciting time for educators and students to have new opportunities to learn and to reconnect. Hopefully educators and students are excited and recharged for the new year and the possibility of new ideas for learning.

For me, I am intentional in planning activities to get to know my students and for them to know one another. I often rely on some traditional methods like icebreakers and conversations, however, I also enjoy using some of the different digital tools as a way to gather some quick feedback but also to learn more about the students in our classroom.

By planning for some relationships building on that first day and during the first week back to school, we can focus on the environment and culture we are creating for our students. Covering course details and class expectations are important, but we should start by building a solid foundation so that we can work together. By starting here, we foster a positive classroom culture and welcoming environment for learning.

Learning Together

Starting from the very first day, we should be intentional about being present. Being at our classroom doors and in the hallways to greet our students as they arrive and welcome them to school is a great way to start. It is important to acknowledge all students as we see them in the halls and throughout the building, a positive step in creating a supportive climate in the building and in each classroom. We have the power to do this when we are visible and make connections to help foster a positive space for learning.

Starting back to the daily routine of school after a summer break, or any extended break during the year, always presents a good opportunity to try new ideas and to build relationships. Using intentional strategies, we can get to know our students by using games and activities that will connect classmates and will positively impact the learning environment

We can use low tech or no tech to do some icebreakers and other games to learn about one another and in some cases, review the content from the prior year. As educators, it is during this time that we should encourage students to share their stories, to make their own connections and to share with us what their goals are for our class. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to get started, whether or not edtech is involved, but it can be a great way to introduce some of the digital tools that will be used throughout the year.

Start connecting

In my classroom, we use a lot of tools throughout the year and many are focused on streamlining communication and collaboration within our classroom but also for connecting globally. Being available to our students when they have questions or need access to class resources is important since their questions do not stop when the school day ends, or over the weekend break. We also want our students to be able to connect globally and using these tools to help them facilitate these connections makes sense. Always focus on the why behind using an edtech tool in your classrooms.

How do we find the right tools

My first recommendation is that educators talk to PLN and colleagues about specific needs in a tool. Do we want students to be able to connect, to ask questions, to access classroom resources, and to interact online? Or do we want students to create presentations that they can share or collaborate in? Or maybe we want alternative ways for students to show their learning based on their needs and interests? All of these options exist. Here are five tools to explore and that are easy to get started with.

  1. Buncee is a “one stop tool” that educators and students need for creating a multimedia presentation full of animations, emojis, stickers, 360 images and also includes audio and video and a lot more. So many ways to create graphics, bookmarks, presentations, flipped lessons and more.
  2. Remind makes communication easier by enabling the sending of reminders, links to resources, or even photos, and it integrates with other digital tools that teachers use for learning.
  3. Padlet is thought of as a virtual wall. It helps students to collaborate, write a response to a discussion question, or even add resources for a collaborative class project, or for brainstorming,
  4. Wakelet is a great tool for curating content to share with students or for having students contribute to a Wakelet collection. As a teacher, I love using the Wakelet extension to save articles and websites that I come across while doing research.
  5. Synth is for podcasting. Students can create a podcast to discuss a topic, perhaps interview a “special guest.” It can be a different way to engage students in a discussion, promote student voice and implement a new tech tool in the classroom.

One thing to keep in mind is to make sure we are aware of any accessibility issues for our students and their families. Find out about the kind of technology and internet access available to the students when they are not in school.

Learn With Students

We learn so much from our students. Beyond the content that we teach, there are so many opportunities to extend the learning that happens in our classrooms. Whether from a quick conversation or during fun activities that we include in the lesson, we are always learning Trying some new strategies and using some of the many different digital tools to expand how, when, and where students learn can be a good example to set for students. Take some risks in the classroom and use one of these to help build and foster positive relationships. Why not have students create an About Me Buncee or Padlet, or share stories using Synth and then listen, and stay connected with Remind. As educators, it gives us a way to extend our own learning and to continue to learn and grow with our students. Sometimes we just need a new idea or tool to spark that curiosity and excitement for learning.

BIO

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Edtech Consultant, Attorney and author. Follow her on Twitter at @Rdene915

 

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

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When Schools Resume

Guest Post by Kathryn Starke (@KathrynStarke)

Opinions expressed are those of  the guest contributor.

 

Schools and districts across America have been closed for over a month now, and many schools are closed through the end of the year. It is sad and shocking for all of us. Teachers and children can’t wait to be back in their classrooms. Unfortunately, it will not be anytime soon. Therefore, teachers and parents across the country are sharing their passion and purpose in the teaching and learning process in a variety of creative ways. I have seen car parades through neighborhoods, teddy bear hunts in windows, nature scavenger bingo boards, and daily food delivery to bus stops. I have seen educational companies and some authors provide free access to their learning tool and NFL athletes help families Tackle Reading at home. This is an unprecedented event in our history.

The health and safety of others becomes the primary concern. Curriculum should not be a priority. Copyright should not be a priority. Digital learning is not accessible to every home. Not every child has a parent at home who is able to work with them. Just like in the classroom, differentiation is key. Teachers should feel empowered to create their own lessons and share their ideas with their students. Elementary school parents do not care about grades or attendance at this time. They want educational ideas and support, and most importantly, they want their children to be happy, healthy, and safe. Therefore, educators should focus on the new school year. So, what will happen when schools finally resume? Will every child be passed on to the next grade? Will every teacher receive the reading support they will need to effectively support these vast gaps while maintaining their designated grade level literacy objectives?

According to the most recent report by the National association for Educational Progress, sixty- four percent of all fourth-grade students in America are unable to read proficiently. The number increases to seventy-eight percent of fourth-grade students in low-income areas. When schools finally open, which may not be until August or September, the focus on learning will be a priority and it is going to need to change. Children will return to schools without six months of formal reading instruction. Some of our children will be significantly behind. The teaching and learning process will have to adjust. One hour of reading instruction will not be enough. It is in times like this when innovation and creativity in school communities will make the greatest impact and should be encouraged.

Teachers will need to feel supported and empowered to make decisions to match the needs of their students. They will be tasked with having to conduct remediation, intervention, reteaching, and teaching. One solution may be to incorporate transitional grades in the fall. For example, a first-grade teacher may be reviewing kindergarten standards while introducing new first grade standards. Another idea would be to group children by reading and math abilities multiple times throughout the day. One to two hours of daily language arts instruction will not be enough in the fall. Literacy needs to be at the forefront of instruction through all content from pre-K to fifth grade. This means we need to incorporate the five pillars of reading instruction or the “science of reading” in every lesson including math, science, and social studies. Team teaching across grade levels is another option. We have to think outside of the box.

Kathryn Starke is a national urban literacy consultant, reading specialist, author of Amy’s Travels and Tackle Reading, and founder of Creative Minds Publications, LLC, an educational publishing company. She created the annual Tackle Reading initiative supported by the NFL and NFL Alumni.

 

 

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

 

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

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When you feel like you’re not getting anywhere

Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what the problem is or where to start when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. What I mean is that as teachers, we may have days when we might feel like we’re just not connecting with the students. Sometimes when trying to create a lesson or some new experience for students, we are met with less enthusiasm than we had hoped for, and sometimes, it might even be nonexistent.

About two years ago, I really struggled with finding ways to engage my students in learning. I reached out to my PLN to ask for advice, I tried Twitter, pretty much anywhere that I could think of to gather ideas from other educators who might be experiencing the same thing. That’s probably the most important point if anything out of my thought process, is that had it not been for those connections and knowing where to look to find help that I greatly needed, I would have been working through it on my own in isolation, as I had been for many years of my teaching career.

It’s not easy to ask for help especially when as teachers, we feel like we are supposed to be the experts when it comes to students and learning and teaching. There may or may not be assumptions about our abilities to manage our classroom, deal with student behaviors, to be flexible in our instruction, and to balance so many different things every day. But without having a way of connecting with others, we would be stuck doing the same things we’ve always done. While in some cases that might be good if the experiences went well, often times it might not be that great. And that is how it was for me.

Last year is what I considered to be probably my best year in teaching and it came to be because of relationships I had formed over the years and also because I got away from doing some of the same traditional things I had always done and pushed the limits a little bit and tried some different things in my classroom. There were some things I just didn’t appreciate any more like standing in the front of the room and talking at my students. It was exhausting trying to think of ways to spend 42 minutes leading the class and keeping the students “busy.”

I had reached a breaking point early in September two years ago when I just decided to get rid of the rows in my classroom and see what would happen. The combination of these actions and everything in between is what I believe led me to have the best year yet. I felt connected with the students, I could see them learning and that they were more engaged. Students would come in throughout the day and say how much they liked class better than the prior-year. I just felt that there was a different vibe, I sensed a more of an excitement about being in the class and while at times it was uncomfortable worrying about if my class was too noisy or if students were off task on occasion, I really felt good about it

So I decided to keep the same kind of methods and habits in the new school year, making changes here and there, but I was not seeing the same results. I had different students than I had in the past and so it kind of led me to go back and rethink what I had been doing. What had worked so well last year was not working as well this year. I did not expect that because I was assuming that things would be the same as they were the year before. Thinking like this, the “way we’ve always done it” is what gave me some trouble in the first place. I taught the way I had been taught using methods that worked for me as a student and even as an adult, but these methods did not work for all of my students. So by doing that I was doing them a disservice. Flash forward to this school year, trying to use the same methods and strategies should not work because I had different students than the year before.

There have been days that I left school feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, a bit uneasy because like I said, last year I had a great year. And I had not experienced that type of struggle in several years. so trying to figure out what the problem was and how to work through it has been something I’ve been working ever since. I felt some moments of success and other times I thought I just couldn’t do it anymore. Sometimes I became so frustrated at the behaviors, whether it be lack of respect or lack of wanting to work or negative attitudes that instead of trying to better understand the students and focus on having conversations, I responded to their behaviors and the reactions. I lost my “cool,” I lost my composure, my eyes filled with tears of frustration and I didn’t like it. I even told them that it was something that would bother me the rest of the day and for days to come, because that was not like me but I had “had it.” I had been doing everything that I thought I could to help them and I was getting nothing or the bare minimum in return. I just wanted them to hear me and to understand that their behavior matters. Being respectful matters, and that it doesn’t matter how great your grades are or what you have in life if you are not a nice person. If you do not show respect and you don’t take time to listen to others and give them their attention when they ask for it or when they deserve it, that makes it very uncomfortable.

I thought it was just me, I had convinced myself that it was something that I was not doing. There was something wrong with me that I needed to fix within myself. But the more that I talked to people I was connected with locally, nationally and even around the world, I soon realized it was not just a problem that I was facing. Again, if I was still in isolation staying in my room and not connecting anywhere in my school building, I would feel exactly like I did. It’s just me, I’m the problem. Because I had those connections, I was able to recognize that it isn’t just me it’s a struggle other educators face and there are different ways that they deal with it that may or may not work for me.

I had lots of recommendations, great ideas, stories of how changes in different classrooms made a big difference for different friends of mine and for every suggestion they offered I felt terrible telling them that know it just would not work for me. While I may not have all the answers, I know my students well enough to be able to figure out what might and might not work for them. So while I did not come up with a magic solution to any of the challenges that I feel like I’m facing, which in the scheme of things in the rest of the world they’re not that big at all. But there are bumps in the road, a road which prior to this year had finally been mostly well paved with occasional potholes along the way.

But a new year, new challenges changes just to show why we can’t teach every year the same way that we were taught. You can’t do things the way you’ve always done them and as Don Wettrick’s dad said: “Don’t teach the same year 20 times.”

I guess I felt that because my methods worked so well last year, that I should just do the same thing again this year. I was wrong. New year, new beginnings, some changes, a bit of discomfort, challenges, through all of it. Yes, please. That’s what keeps us moving, what keeps us active and engaged and although sometimes you feel like you’re becoming disengaged from the profession when you sit back at the end of the day or in the middle of the day or whenever it is that you reflect, you must stay focused on your why. The why is your purpose, your passion for what you do and why you’ve gotten up early every morning and worked through weekends, holidays and even summer vacations. It is when you come full circle and realize that you’re there to make it work to find an answer and a solution because it might be that you are the problem

And sometimes you might be the problem creator, it’s never the same. It’s always changing, it’s uncomfortable but it’s how we grow. And if you don’t share your experiences with others then you are going to be limited to only growing in your own space. To put yourself out there, be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it, that is not a sign of weakness it’s a sign of tremendous strength. When you can identify that you have a need, a weakness, an area of struggle, you show that you are vulnerable and that is more than okay. Because as many times as I’ve said it, I will continue to say it twice as much:

I’m not an expert.

I don’t know everything.

I make tons of mistakes every single day.

I’m willing to try and I’m willing to grow.

I’m willing to get up no matter how many times I’m knocked down and go for it again.

I am a work in progress and I am learning as I go. 

 

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

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Why Making Time for Reflection Matters: 5 Ideas to Try

Some recent ideas I have shared, by @rdene915

Reflection is an important act that regardless of your profession or role, is something that we all need to take part in regularly. On a daily basis, the interactions we have, the actions we take, and the decisions we make, likely have an impact on someone else, ourselves, or otherwise that we may never be aware of. Personally, reflecting was not something that I had always done. As a student in high school and growing up, I had a diary that I wrote in quite often, which at the time, I didn’t realize that I was in fact reflecting. But looking back now, that’s exactly what I was doing.

As a teacher, for many of my beginning years, mentors would ask for my thoughts on a lesson that I had taught or my principals would discuss their observations with me and ask me to reflect on my lesson. Whether it was to reflect on the choice in the activities I had used in my lesson or they offered additional questions in order to help me think through my methods and set new goals. But other than those experiences, reflecting was not something that I could say I did on a regular basis. I was not intentional about it and did not fully realize the importance of doing so for many years.

Why We Must Practice Reflection

In order to bring our best selves into our classrooms each day, we must evaluate our own practice and use a reflective process to grow professionally. We also need to help our students develop these skills and because of our role, it is important that we model reflection and provide different ways for our students to reflect as well. Not only will we help them build their skills, become self-aware and develop a greater understanding of their interests and needs, but we will also provide them with learning experiences that will benefit them in the future regardless of where their education takes them or which careers they pursue later on in life. Doing this will also help us continue to engage in the practice ourselves, and enable us to reflect with our students by asking for their feedback and working on goals together. However, not everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves in the same way, which is why it’s important to have different options available for engaging in the practice of reflection.

Here are some ways that you can incorporate reflection in your daily practice as well as include it as part of the work you do with students and colleagues. There is an idea here that can match your interests, needs and even time and place constraints,

  1. Old-fashioned pen and paper. Take time to jot down thoughts at certain periods throughout the day. For some people, trying to remember to write notes down throughout the day can be overwhelming, so instead pick a specific point in the day where it can become part of your routine. Grab a notepad or a special journal that you use, anything that makes sense to you. Make the effort to write down at least one thing or a few things each day and then the next day review your thoughts. See what you could change, if you want to change anything and how you can improve a little bit from the prior day. I used this practice with my students years ago, as a daily journal entry in Spanish and gave them questions to consider as prompts. It can also be a good practice to include in your daily activities.
  2. Blogging has become a great outlet for many educators to share the work they’re doing in their classroom, to express challenges or frustrations, or share positive thoughts or anything in between. Incorporating blogging into the classroom is also good for students for many reasons beyond just simply enhancing their writing and literacy skills. By using digital tools for this purpose, we can also promote peer collaboration, digital citizenship skills and it helps to build a solid online presence. Students can build their reflective skills with their peers and develop communication skills and better understand the importance and power of feedback.
  3. Podcasting can also be effective for reflection. Create your own podcast and invite people to listen to your thoughts, respond in a thread or simply create a podcast just for your own purpose of listening and reviewing. There are many free tools out there to use including Anchor and Synth, and who knows, it just might be something that you decide to pursue on a more regular basis and share with other educators in your PLN.
  4. Voxer is a walkie-talkie messaging app that can be used for anything ranging from recording voice memos for yourself, participating in synchronous or asynchronous discussions, connecting with other educators from around the world. It can be used for participating in a book study, having a topic and engaging with colleagues about specific discussion points and reflecting together. Voxer makes it easier to “think out loud” and then be able to process your thoughts. It is also a convenient way to communicate to meet everybody’s schedule and location. Students in my classes have also used it for their project-based learning to share ideas with me and to reflect on the work they have done and to ask questions and feedback.
  5. Videos. There are a lot of options out there for recording oneself while teaching, Swivl, as well as some online web applications that school districts can use. Although it can feel uncomfortable, especially watching yourself teach, it’s really good to be able to analyze your teaching practices, evaluate your rate of speech, how well you explained ideas, the involvement of your students, and many more important components of teaching. Having a video recording of a lesson or lessons that you’ve taught, are great ways to reflect because it gives you the chance to go back and really focus on key parts of your lesson delivery. You can also use these videos to share with a supportive group and use as a way to give one another feedback

Reflecting is important for all of us because it’s how we evaluate our actions. We can explore who we are, whether looking at the qualities and traits that we convey to others, our behaviors and how we interact with other people. It’s important that we continue to understand ourselves and to work on bringing our best selves to our families every day and to those with whom we work. When we work on this together, we will have it become a regular part of our daily practice and will continue to grow. We will also empower our students and those we lead with this powerful practice for personal and professional growth.

 

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

 

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

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What we deny

Check out the Podcast too: “Just Conversations” with Melanie White and Amanda Potts. https://voiced.ca/project/just-conversations/

Only in our isolation and disconnectedness do we discover that everything and everyone is localized and connected. And, in this distancing, I am beginning to question what we deny.

Rebecca Solnit kept appearing in my daily consumption of media and I’m beginning to wonder if this is the work of a latent existential force drawing my attention to something I should have known or done long ago. I listened to her voice in an episode of On Being last week. She wrote, “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers…and that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” The unusual lilt of her voice and calm intellect still spin in my mind’s ear. And, this morning, I stopped scrolling my Twitter feed struck by this linguistic wisdom. She wrote,

“Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” #RebeccaSolnit

And then on Twitter, Gianpiero Petriglieri wrote that an “old therapist friend” told him why everyone was “so exhausted after video calls. It’s the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. Our minds tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. Dissonance is exhausting. Our bodies process so much context…” I stopped to think about that wording, “plausible deniability”, and the more common legalistic use for one escaping criminal repercussions as a member of a corrupt organization or political power.

However, I couldn’t wrap my head around this experience of dissonance and the connotations of “plausible deniability” as something happening to us rather than something we choose to avoid like the truth or an injustice. According to Wikipedia“the expression was first used by the CIA” but the idea apparently has a longer history. I needed to understand the term, like Solnit explored “emergency”; it was an itch that pressed me, so I read further. “Plausible denial involves the creation of power structures and chains of command loose and informal enough to be denied if necessary”.

Then a thought struck me. What power structures are currently in place which I deny? What small almost imperceptible movements have made me complicit in this dance of distraction? Solnit reappeared during my longer moment of breakfast reading in The Guardian article entitled: “The impossible has already happened: what coronavirus can teach us about hope”. How marvelous and uplifting it is to read her vibrant words calling us to action and existence, to make the most of the worst.

While I cannot deny there is absence in my new-found isolation, I can also see that my thoughts attend a new experience. I am paying attention to moving about my house, to walking the dog, to gazing out the window with no real productivity pressure of this instant. And, yes, I am teaching remotely, but connecting, supporting personalized learning is my focus rather than a product on the line of academic factory life. This is where I cannot sense Petriglieri’s Tweet about “plausible deniability”. I am now working on processing the context of my daily life which I previously ignored in mind-numbing haste consumed by the blind goals of my own productivity or some socialized version of productivity.

My body is processing the context of my life in isolation and thinking about the actions needed for when we might connect again. I am trying not to deny my own physical interaction with and existence in the world.

 

**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  

Riding an edu-emotional roller coaster

 

Opinions expressed are those of the author.

 

Last week those of us in BC ed had no idea what this week would have in store for us. When I was a kid, “self-isolating” was humorously coined for those who rather not deal with the public, “social distancing” was something told to us by supervisors at teen dances, and “quarantining” was something learned in history units.

But like it or not, we have been hit in the face with a crisis of epic proportions. It’s been an emotional roller coaster navigating the slings and arrows of toilet paper hoarding, Bonnie Henry updates, and beachy trip cancellations.

And now, BC teachers are faced with uncertainty as to how we will continue teaching without students in our classrooms. Over the last few years, we’ve been besieged with a renewed curriculum and just started to understand how proficiency scales can be used in our classrooms. Some of us have been making waves by leading teachers on a gradeless mission. Since yesterday’s announcement, I cannot help but wonder if all the work we’ve done will now be undone. I could scream and cry at the same time.

I know it might seem like an unrealistic conundrum to be contemplating the fate of gradeless at a time like this. Like many of you, I’m hanging on pins and needles waiting for our school board to announce how, specifically, we will meet the needs of our students after spring break. I have so many questions from communication to assessment. I’m worried about my at-risk students and how my colleagues will weather this storm. How will my student LEARN at home?

Learn. Hmmm…

Learning is the focus of gradeless teaching and assessment. You’ve heard me explain so many times over that when we remove grades and focus on the individual child and their growth, a child will develop a growth mindset. When we put the needs of each individual child instead of comparing them to each other or categorizing them by grades, we build a culture of learners, not grade grabbers.

Amid this edu-crisis, do we have to stop? Should we still consider gradeless? In fact, isn’t now, more than ever, the time to rethink what our goals are for our students? Is uncertainty and anxiousness a reason to revert to old habits, like handing over packages of content heavy worksheets, and abandoning single point rubrics? Or is this an opportunity to practice…really practice putting learning before grades? Isn’t this the time to think about the needs of the child? Shouldn’t our focus be on how the child will learn instead of how will I teach under these different circumstances? So many questions!

One thing I know is, now more than ever, students do not need grade pressures. They don’t need us to hover a “here’s what you need to pass” over their heads because we’re worried about getting through “the curriculum.” At home, students are juggling feelings of isolation, parents being laid off, themselves being laid off, lack of technology, too much technology, empty grocery store shelves and empty cupboards, never mind the questions: When will we return to school? Will there be a grad ceremony? Why can’t I see my friends?

In my opinion, if the government (or school board, or whomever makes these decisions) is smart, they’ll deemphasize grades. This will reduce the burden on educators. But like letter grades, even discussions over pass/fail, if that becomes the new norm, should not be considered or discussed with students until the end of the year. We can, instead, focus our energy on creative ways to meet students’ social emotional needs, develop a distance classroom community, and give voice and choice. Teachers will need to let go of being an eyewitness to learning in their rooms and we’ll really need to let go of content. If we hand over miles of notes, worksheets and google-able essay topics, we’re asking for trouble in the form of disinterest, cheating and plagiarism, and crushing failure. We’ll need lots of time to settle into a new routine. Students will need time to adjust.

Ultimately, before we start teaching, we need to figure out a balance between Maslow and Bloom….for all stakeholders: students, parents, and us. We need to lower our expectations and big dreams for the perfect online or distance education course. We need to take care of ourselves and our families first, connect with students and their families second, and collaborate with colleagues on implementing curriculum third.

When we implement the curriculum, we need to use the skills that are the focal point of the BC curriculum as a platform for meeting student’s social-emotional needs. If we give students some voice and choice as to what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, it will feel less like us pushing our agenda on them, and more like welcoming students into this new learning environment and building trust. For example, an English teacher (well duh…of course I’m going to use an English example) might begin by asking students to journal every day from a series of prompts but use prompts that are flexible and open to interpretation. This will give teachers some insight into students’ social-emotional levels/needs as well as meeting curriculum requirements to foster reflection and thinking. Information from those journals could springboard into a project-based learning assignment. Creative writers could write a story, critical thinkers could research a topic, and visual learners could create a collage or PowerPoint. Content pieces can be slipped into to individualized projects to try to meet curriculum requirements.

I understand the pressure that content heavy courses like science and math have on teachers. This dilemma has been systemically ingrained in school culture for years. Right now, a math teacher is reading this blog and thinking that there is no way they can do PBL when they have X number of chapters to get through in the textbook by June. My hope is that teachers incorporate a bit of hands on learning in order to make learning in seclusion enjoyable and fun. The reality is, the content students do not learn this year, can be incorporated into next year’s curriculum. Yup it can. But that’s next year.

I’ve made a point to vocally de-emphasize prepping over spring break, but I know that recommendation has fallen on deaf ears. I cast no blame, for if I were to, that would draw attention to me as a proverbial finger-wagger instead of me the genuine worrier for the well-being of my colleagues around the province. I confess, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I will handle my own new teaching situation, as, but I lost sleep thinking about how my colleagues are handling the pressure. I already see the formation of chats and groups with sole purpose of collaborating on resources and expertise. While these groups have good intentions, I hope teachers are using this time to focus on themselves and their families.

Teachers wear their hearts on their sleeves. We want to do what is best for our students. We naturally lack patience when gaps of information are left without direction. We overthink. We care so much. We worry. We’re teachers. Heck, I’m writing a blog in order to manage my own stress. It’s how I roll. It’s how I cope.

It won’t be long and spring break will be over and we’ll return to school. It will look and feel different. We’ll have to collaborate virtually with our colleagues who work just next door. Staff meetings may very well take place in the theatre so that we can sit 2 meters away from each other. It will be weird. Nothing about this pandemic is familiar. It’s important that we don’t expect to recreate what was in our classrooms and in our buildings. It’s important to accept the feelings of uneasiness and frustration that will come. Pause. Breathe. Accept. Repeat.

Focus on yourself. When you are ready to focus on how you’ll teach your students in this new reality, make learning and the social emotionally well being of them the priority. They’ll be just fine. So will you. We are, after all, in this together.

#mygrowthmindset

 

 

**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  

How I Created a Podcast PD for Teachers

Guest post by Laura Cahill @engageducate

I’m always looking for ways to innovate professional development. Teachers are busy people and sometimes those after-school, face-to-face sessions just aren’t doable. I actually prefer PD that comes to me…webinars, Twitter chats, blog posts, podcasts…so I ran with that and created a podcast PD for the teachers in my district. Think book club, only with podcast episodes and online discussions. This was really simple to set up, especially because we are a G Suite for Education district but this could be done in other platforms as well. To get this running, I:

  1. Posted a sign-up to my district (this could be done at any level; district/school/grade-level/etc.)
  2. Created a Google Form with links to 20 episodes for participants to vote on (I chose all Cult of Pedagogy episodes for this initial session because I am familiar with the high quality of them but episodes could be from any/many podcasts.)
  3. Chose the top five episodes and created a Google Classroom with the link to one episode per “assignment”.
  4. Added open-ended discussion questions (What resonates for you? What do you agree/disagree with? How can you see this working in your own setting?)
  5. Set two-week “due dates” for each episode.
  6. Sat back and watched amazing conversation unfold…I didn’t really sit back, I participated, BUT I was shocked at how rich and thoughtful the conversation was!

Some logistics:

  • I offered 2 professional development hours for each week (10 total), assuming that listening takes about an hour and posting/commenting takes another hour.
  • We require that our PD participants demonstrate learning through some type of product, so we are going to create reflection videos at the end.

The participants are already asking for additional sessions and I’m thinking that participants could make suggestions for podcast episodes in the future! Such a simple solution to creating accessible and relevant PD for educators!

 

************ Check out my THRIVEinEDU PodcastHere!

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  

Immersive HyperDocs in Minecraft Education Edition

Guest Post by Matthew Nickerson, Instructional Technology Specialist, AACPS

Professional Learning Specialist, i2e, @dadxeight

Author: All the Microsoft Tools You Need To Transform Your Classroom

 

 

Are you familiar with HyperDocs?  You can learn more about them on their website, but essentially it is using one document (They specifically say a Google Doc, but it works the same with a document in Word Online.) that contains all the elements of your highly engaging lesson.   Although the “hyper” refers to hyperlinks, it is not just a bunch of urls pasted on a page. HyperDocs should have a blend of multiple ways to access content as well as a variety of activities for students to engage with the content in addition to alternatives for assessment os learning.  In short, a good HyperDoc addresses all of UDL– multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation and multiple means of action and expression.

If a HyperDocs are supposed to be “visually engaging and packaged learning experiences as it says on their site, how much more visually engaging can you get than being fully immersed into a Minecraft world?

 

Let’s take a look at applying the principles of a HyperDoc within Minecraft Education Edition.  First, there is an immersive world to build a story in.  Any way we can build a story is a great way to get students engaged.  This has been widely known in business, particularly marketing, but as usual, education is a little bit behind.  (You’d think this is one trend education wouldn’t  be behind on!  The Minecraft platform has multiple ways to distribute content, but it can also be a portal to other content platforms.  Likewise, there are several ways of encouraging students to create or engage with lesson content, as well as ways to assess student learning.  Once again, it can also be the doorway to other tools that accomplish these tasks.

 

First, let’s build a story.  You can start from scratch with an infinite world in Minecraft and build what you need.  Well, maybe you don’t even need to actually build it. I recently had a request for a specific lesson topic, and I found a lesson plan on Education.Microsoft.com that addressed that topic, as a murder mystery.  It used some Word documents to deliver the lesson material.  I adopted the murder mystery idea, but used the /locate command in Minecraft to find an existing mansion, teleported my character there and turned the mansion into a hotel.  I then filled the hotel with NPC characters, and took each of the puzzles from the Word document, each of which was a clue, and “distributed” those to students through the NPCs.

 

Because there are multiple biomes to choose from in the Minecraft:EE library, it’s easy to select a custom setting for your story.  Another way I like to start is by taking an existing lesson from the Minecraft Lesson library and just replace the academic content.  Some of the lessons have great bones- the world’s have already been created for you, and you can swap out the questions and prompts with your own topics. 

 

Now let’s consider ways to distribute content to students.  The most time intensive way might be to build structures. For example, you can create the setting for a novel or short story.  If I need to do that, I pay my 9-year-old. He works for cheap, since, well, I’m paying him to play Minecraft. In the absence of a 9-year-old coworker, don’t fear.  Within Minecraft there are signs, slates, posters and boards 

that you can write on if you want to deliver instructions, guidance or questions via written text.  You can also grab a book and quill and write things there, and leave them for students to pick up.  Each of those items (except the “sign”) can also be edited so students can write their responses in or on those tools. 

All of them also have Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, an entire suite of reading accessibility tools, built in.  All text inside of Minecraft Education Edition has these accessibility features.

 

However, what makes Minecraft amenable to the HyperDocs model, is that NPC’s (non-player characters) can be easily programmed to send students to websites.  

You can essentially insert a Quizlet set of vocabulary in your world, or even an entire self-paced Nearpod lesson.  Looking for more collaboration? Remember that every Word document, Google Doc, PowerPoint or Google Slides slideshow have a unique URL.  You can give that url to an NPC so when a student clicks on that button, that document opens online. When multiple players, each playing in their own copy of the Minecraft world (or in the same copy if the teacher is hosting it), they can all collaborate in that same document or slideshow.

 

The same holds true for student work and assessment.  Within Minecraft students can build, then take a picture with the camera.  Pictures are saved in a portfolio, where students can type in a caption.  Or, they can choose pictures to insert into a book and quill, where they have far more space to write, or simply write without pictures.  They can also take pictures of any signs, slates, posters or boards they write on. Both portfolios and books can be exported as a PDF and shared with the teacher through Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, OneDrive or Google Drive.  However, you can also use an NPC to send students to FlipGrid to record a video response, Padlet to brainstorm together, link to a quiz in Microsoft Forms or Google Forms, or an assignment in Teams, OneNote Class Notebook or Google Classroom, among many other options.

 

The idea of a HyperDoc is solid pedagogy in an engaging format that provides variety and student choice.  They can include a story component or not. They are usually visually compelling. By taking these same principles into Minecraft, it’s like a far more immersive HyperDoc, a Hyper-HyperDoc!

 

 

**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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