Providing Different Learning Tools

As educators, it is important that we find ways to provide more personalized learning experiences to meet the individual needs of our students. What this means is that beyond simply offering more choices in the types of assessments we offer students, we must do more by learning to understand the specific learning styles and interests of each of our students. We must differentiate our instruction and to do so requires that we develop a clear picture and gain a deeper understanding of the various learning styles of the students in our classrooms. When we do this, we can then design lessons that are focused on the specific student learning styles and offer more individualized choices for students. Whether that offers more options to work independently or in groups based on a specific topic, an area of interest or even based on the level of understanding of the content, we serve them best by having the right resources available for them.

Each of our students have specific needs and preferences for how they learn and we do the best for them when we help them to identify these preferences and then offer a variety of materials and resources for them to explore. It is not about always using a digital tool or shifting away from traditional methods, but rather being able to determine which of these options will work best for each of our students. It also means helping students to become more self-aware of their own interests. One change that has helped me to better identify these styles and guide students in my classroom is by using the station rotation model.

Through the use of stations, I am able to provide multiple activities that enable students to interact with the content in a variety of ways. There are tech and no-tech options, student and teacher-created materials, hands-on activities to choose from, and times where students decide on a focus for their group. By providing a variety of learning options for each student, giving them all the opportunity to explore, we empower students with more meaningful and personalized learning that will lead to more student engagement and content retention.

Learning Styles: The VARK Model

In 1987, Neil Fleming designed what has become known as the VARK model. Fleming developed this model as a way to help students learn more about their individual learning preferences. The VARK learning styles include: visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic.

Personally, I have always been more of a visual and somewhat kinesthetic or “hands-on” learner. At varying points throughout my life, I can recall taking a test and being able to see specific notes that I had written in my notebook, but still being unable to respond to questions. I tended to create graphic organizers and had my system for making more visual connections with the content. Many of my students are visual learners and over the past two years, have often noticed that they have specific ways of processing the information in class as well as how they prepare and respond during assessments. We must be able to provide different options for our students where they can choose a format that will best suit their interests and needs in more authentic and personalized ways.

Visual Learners

Visual learners are more likely to use charts, icons, images and are able to more easily visualize information and as a result, can retain it longer. An estimate is that visual learners make up approximately 65% of the population, and remember 75% of what they read or see. Visuals learners prefer to do projects and presentations that involve creating visualizations of their learning. For visual learners, some good options include creating infographics, using Augmented and Virtual reality for creating immersive experiences, designing 3D objects, sketchnoting, or using digital tools such as Padlet or Wakelet to curate content in ways that promote better visualization of content. Visual learners would also benefit by creating a mindmap or making flashcards, which can also be done using a digital tool like Quizlet.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners listen carefully and often focus on the tone or the rate of speech, and may also benefit more by having supplemental resources made available to them such as videos or audio recordings. Learners of this type can recall information such as song lyrics and conversations, and can often recreate a story more easily because of that auditory connection they have. There are many options to engage auditory learners more by selecting options that promote listening and speaking skills. Some ideas include using video response or podcasting tools to have students explain concepts or brainstorm ideas. Another option is by creating a more interactive presentation using a tool such as Voice Thread, students will connect with the sounds, dialogue, and tone used in a presentation such as this, where they can listen and respond.  Another idea is to use Flipgrid to post a question and have students also respond to classmates to further the discussion and promote higher-order thinking. Try using Synth to create a podcast for students to have the active listening component addressed, and invite students to listen and respond to the prompts by adding a thread to the podcast.

Read/Write Learners

Read/write learners prefer to have the text available to them in some written/tangible format. Whether students first take notes and then decide to rewrite their notes for additional practice, or read over their notes each day for review and class preparation, these learners benefit from sustained interactions with the text. The more they interact with written formats, the better equipped they are to understand the content. Beyond writing in pen or pencil, or creating a document, using some tools such as Kidblog, for writing a story and getting started with blogging is a good way to promote reading and writing opportunities. Another idea is to have students create a multimedia presentation with a tool like Buncee to tell a story, adding text and icons to make the content more meaningful. These options make the activities more authentic and aligned with the needs of learners of this type.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners learn best through hands-on learning opportunities. Students spend a lot of time sitting in classrooms and perhaps more passively learning. We need to design ways for students to be more active in the classroom. Some choices would be through a STEAM curriculum, the use of makerspaces, place-based learning, game-based learning and creation, designing projects and having students engage in project-based learning (PBL).

Multimodal Learners

For some students, providing options that foster a multimodal learning style is most beneficial. A multi-modal learning style means that you benefit through multiple ways of processing the information which can be through images, sounds, movement, speech, audio, visuals and more.  When I have used stations in my classroom, providing the different options at each station was helpful for students who are multimodal learners, to be able to interact with the content in different ways. Some of the tools that I have used include NearpodKahootQuizlet, in addition to giving students options to create something based on their own choice, which lends itself to more hands-on learning. The use of infographics, hyperdocs, choice boards, and even digital breakouts can give students a variety of ways to engage with the content and provide activities that will meet each learning style.

All students benefit from multimodal learning options that support a Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Providing something for each student and offering a mix of learning tools will help students to master the content in more authentic and personalized ways.

Interested in learning more about your own learning style preferences? You can take the VARK questionnaire and find out what type of learner you are.

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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Pushing Ourselves Professionally: 5 Ways to Share Our Educator Talent

Previously posted on Getting Smart

As educators, we need to actively take part in the reflection of what we do in our classrooms and schools, our interactions, and make sure we are intentional about setting aside time to think about each day as we plan for the next. As humans, we need to reflect on who we are, our growth, our goals, and be mindful of what we are doing to make a difference in the world and how we can support others each day.  Here are five ways to reflect on our practice, push ourselves personally and professionally, and also highlight the work that we are doing. We each have special talents and need to share them with other educators so that we can continue to grow.

Blogging

One way to reflect more closely, beyond simply processing our thoughts is by starting a blog. Finding the time to sit and write a blog, can present a slight challenge, however, a blog can take whatever form that we want it to. Getting started might simply mean having a stack of post-it notes, where each day you write down one thought on the post-it notes and then at the end of the week or over the weekend, reflect on the questions or comments you made. Compile your thoughts into a document, use voice to text to save time, and share with your PLN.

Another option would be to create your own blog site and start a draft to gather your thoughts in a short or long post. Whether you just keep a draft for your own personal review and growth or choose to publish it and share it with your PLN and the larger educator community, it will still benefit your growth. Sharing our thoughts like this makes us vulnerable, which can be uncomfortable, but if we truly want to grow, we need to put ourselves out there. It is important not only for our own growth but also serves as a good model for our students and our colleagues.

Podcasting

There are a lot of podcasts available to educators today. Some choose to launch a podcast focused on a specific topic or theme, or to create a podcast for the purpose of highlighting other educators and the work being done in our schools. Podcasts can be another beneficial addition to our practice not only for reflecting, but to share the ideas of what we are doing in our classroom. One might ask, what would I talk about? What would I have to contribute? We all have our own unique ideas, skills and perspectives. Even if we reach just one person with a word of advice or a new idea, that still makes an impact. It might be exactly what that one person needed to hear. Again time can be an issue but there are many tools out there that make it easy to create a short podcast. It might be just 5 minutes sharing what happened in your classroom, or 10 to 15 minutes spent talking about a specific topic that was part of a conversation within your PLN or brought up in class. Other options include inviting other educators to be guests on your podcast to share what they are doing. Podcasting is another option for pushing ourselves to continue to grow personally and professionally. I recently started my own podcast after thinking about it for a few years, and it has been a good way for me to think about different topics and reflect on my practice.

Live Streaming

Technology has really enabled educators to do so much more and engage in learning that far extends the reach of classrooms and schools.  Being able to talk about an activity that we did in our classrooms, or describing projects that students presented, of course does not provide a clear picture of what that actually looks like in practice.  We can be as descriptive as possible, we can even share photos and talk about it, but to be able to live stream and invite other classrooms, students and educators into our learning space to see it firsthand is far more powerful. As educators, we can also use these different tools to give a quick update, to talk about topics that are important to us, to share new ideas, to ask for help, and sometimes, to escape the isolation that can happen in our profession. Selecting from options like PeriscopeInstagram, or Facebook Live, we can leverage the platform that makes the most sense for us. Each month, a group of educators hold #PassTheScopeEDU and throughout the day, educators from around the world stream using Periscope to share their experiences and thoughts based on a monthly theme. Look at the different platforms and how educators are using these tools to make connections, and give one of them a try. It can definitely stretch us beyond our comfort zone, but the personal and professional benefits that can result are worth it!

Educators at ISTE presentation. Image courtesy of Rachelle Dene Poth.

Presentations

There are many ways for teachers to share the work they are doing and make new connections. For years, professional development in schools often involved sessions that were presented by outside organizations who sent trainers into the schools for the PD days.  However, more recently, teachers are taking the lead on professional development days within their own schools, traveling to local schools to share the work that they are doing, or even planning special learning events at their own school as my friend Zee Poerio does with a “Taste of Technology”. Opportunities like these foster a more authentic learning experience for educators, just as we want for our students, and also provides the opportunity to receive peer feedback and build our knowledge base. There are many in-person and virtual learning events that seek presenters. Find a conference to submit a proposal for or create your own meet-up with educators and stretch yourself a bit. Taking advantage of these opportunities is important as it pushes us to take some risks, enables us to expand our own learning network, and fosters our professional growth.

Video Tutorials

Something else that not only benefits our own practice but helps to create a resource that we can use in our classrooms, is to create video tutorials or screencasts. For times when we may not be in our classroom and need to have lessons available to share with our students or our colleagues, having video lessons or tutorials available can make a difference. It is something that can take as little as a few minutes to create. Using tools like Screencastify, you can record your screen and navigate a website, explain a project, discuss a concept, work through a problem, teach a lesson, or anything else on your screen. Taking advantage of this technology makes this fairly easy and quick to do. You can also create screencasts and other helpful videos to share with other educators which can explain how to use a certain digital tool or showcase some examples of student projects or other work that you have done. Creating these can be more comfortable because we control the recording and can redo as often as needed. However, the benefit is that we are continuing to build our skills and share our expertise with others; creating more learning opportunities that will benefit educators and students.

Each of these ideas offer many benefits for educators and students. If our students engage in these learning activities or create presentations for our classes, we should also engage in them ourselves. Modeling this for our students, being willing to take some risks, to put ourselves out there, and stretch beyond our comfort zone, is important for our growth as well as theirs.

**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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Buncee + BETT = What a week!

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What an amazing week it was spending time with Buncee at BETT, the biggest edtech conference in the world held in London. I am so thankful to be a part of the Buncee family and to have had the opportunity to travel to London and share in this experience with Marie Arturi, Francesca Arturi, Eda Gimenez, and Bryan Gorman. It truly was an honor to be there. I love having an opportunity to share Buncee with educators from around  the world and to be able to talk about the impact it has made for students in my classroom and for me as an educator.

 

BETT was unlike any other conference that I have attended. It was definitely a unique experience to be in a space with around 34,000 people,  many educators who traveled from around the world to learn about trends in education, emerging technologies, best practices and to exchange perspectives with one another. There were so many exhibits and learning sessions happening, but for me, my favorite part of conferences are the connections that are made and the learning from the conversations that happen with those connections. 

 

Promoting Awareness

For me, being able to spend time learning about what the educational system is like in so many different countries and to better understand the challenges that are faced by educators around the world was eye opening. During my time at the conference, we had so many groups of educators come to the Buncee booth, eager to learn more about how to amplify student choice in learning, promote creativity, nurture a love of learning and support all students. We had conversations with educators from countries like Nigeria, India, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Belgium, France, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, and many others, almost all of whom had never heard of Buncee before coming by the booth and being drawn in by the “Unlock the Power of Creativity” and the beautiful booth display and many Buncee examples showing on the monitor. Educators and students were curious about what Buncee was and how it could be used.

ImageMarie, Eda, Bryan and Francesca

The booth set up was beautiful and everybody who passed by stopped as soon as they saw it and wanted to capture a picture of Unlock the power of creativity. It might have been the most photographed area of the conference if I were to guess, because there were so many pictures taken during those four days!

 

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Francesca had a whole team come together to learn about the power of Buncee

Working Together

There was so much activity in the Microsoft Education space, which highlighted themes focused on personalized learning, student voice and choice, accessibility and learning tools, unlocking the power of creativity, and collaboration, for a few. Educators moved throughout the Microsoft and partner spaces to learn about each of these topics and find out how to provide more for students using the tools available. It was interesting to see the collaboration of colleagues and teams from the same district or even government organizations showing up to learn about what Buncee has to offer students and educators.

Sharing the Power of Buncee

Every time that I have the opportunity to introduce someone to Buncee, I love seeing their response as they observe all of the possibilities for creation that are available. During presentations, I always ask attendees about their familiarity with Buncee, whether they have heard of it or used it before, and I’m always very excited when a lot of hands  go up to say that it is new to them. Being able to share and show all of the options and ways that it can be used at any level, with any content, is always a good experience for everyone. And I always learn more from those attending because of the specific needs they have for their classroom or the ideas that they are looking for.

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Francesca and Bryan

Powerful learning

Something that I find to be so beneficial in conferences like BETT whether from presenting in the booth, doing demos, or even through poster sessions, is that you get to have those one-on-one conversations to find out exactly what educators are looking for and hoping to learn. You can really connect and work together to explore the tools and strategies out there and personalize it to exactly what each educator needs for their students and themselves. 

When you can make that direct contact and work with closely with them, they walk away with new ideas that they can put into practice right away, and with the reassurance that is sometimes necessary when it comes to technology, that it can be easy to get started, especially with tools like Buncee.

Sharing a love of learning and love of Buncee

nullI was honored to present a session with with Eda Gimenez, about using creativity to nurture a love of learning and the power of immersive reader for accessibility for all learners. We worked on the presentation for a while and I was excited and nervous of course, to present. But what always makes a difference is talking about something  that you are passionate about and believe in and also making a connection with the attendance.

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Ready for our presentation

What made this session special is that those in attendance had not experienced the wonder of creating with Buncee and were there to learn about it for the first time. Being able to share all of the potential it has for empowering our students with choices and creating opportunities for all students. I admire Eda and the work that she does, the message she shares about the power of Buncee and Immersive Reader for language  learners and for nurturing “a sense of participation, inclusivity, fun and creativity.”  

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We checked out our presentation room early.

An added bonus is that we were also able to try out the live captioning during our presentation. For attendees in our session, they could join with a code and then select their language of choice for captions during the presentation. Being able to communicate your message, tell a story, share learning between students and families is vital for educators and for student learning. With the power of technology, through tools like Buncee and Immersive Reader, we can make sure that families are involved and information is accessible for every student and their families. 

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Eda shared Christine Schlitt’s story during our presentation

There are some common questions when it comes to using technology: 

 

What are the ways you can use it? 

How much time does it take to get started? 

Is there a big learning curve? 

How does it benefit students?

I always anticipate these questions and appreciate the pushback that comes sometimes because that’s how we know we are truly looking at the tools and methods we want to bring into our classroom with the right lens. I enjoyed seeing attendees from our session head to the booth to learn more!  It was fun interacting with everyone, seeing their reactions to the Buncees on the screen, and many wondering how to unlock the power Several times there were requests to make sure that somebody would be available to explain Buncee, to do a demo, to answer questions later when they brought back the rest of their team.

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Image from Buncee

Highlights

One of my biggest takeaways from experiences like this is that regardless of if we are a teacher in the classroom or the one doing the presentation, we learn so much more from those who are participating in our session or the learners in our classroom. Without a doubt, I walked away with so many new ideas for my students and a greater understanding of how different educational systems are and the challenge that educators have when it comes to a lack of resources. 

It is definitely a joint effort where they want to have everybody involved and learning together with a theme of global collaboration, it surely was that. We made new connections, shared and learning experiences together and continue to learn and grow together.

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We got to meet Maria in person!

Meeting Buncee Ambassadors

Something else that made it wonderful experience was being able to connect with Buncee ambassadors from around the world. Meeting Maria in person for the first time was exciting and she even brought gifts for us from Argentina. She is a beautiful person and I’m so thankful to be connected with her! 

 

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Thank you Maria for the thoughtful gift from Argentina!

I am so thankful to be part of the Buncee team and Buncee family, who truly does join together to do what’s best for all students, and build a nurturing learning community fueled by a love of learning.

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Thank you Buncee for making a difference.

The Power of Listening

Guest post by Charles Williams, @_cwconsultingOpinions expressed are those of the author.

Anthony* stormed into the office, marched past the front desk without acknowledging the startled office manager, and into my office where he dropped into a chair heaving deep breaths with a hint of moisture in his eyes. Calmly, I stopped working on whatever mind-numbing report I was completing and turned to him.

“Hey Anthony.What’s going on?” I asked as I took a tissue from my desk and handed it to him.

Wiping his face, he responded, “They never listen. They always get to talk but they never want to listen.”

I didn’t need to ask. I already knew to whom he was referring and it was something that I knew needed to be addressed. But how? How do we get teachers to actually listen to our students?

Recently I was introduced to the concept of Talking Circles through the book “Circle Forward: Building a Restorative School Community” by Carolyn Boyes-Watson and Kay Pranis. I was sharing my frustrations with a colleague and he immediately reached for the book. As I listened to his similar experiences I thumbed through the pages noting that it offered strategies for both students and staff both in the classroom and during meetings. Two days later, I had my own copy.

This past August we held our first Courageous Conversation as a staff during our back-to-school orientation week.

The first question asked was what led us to the field of education. We were surprised to find that many of us did not start in this field and thus brought an entirely different world of expertise that we could now tap into. We had chefs, engineers, and even artists. It was enlightening.

The second question asked was why we have remained in education. The stories varied but they all had the same central theme – we’re invested in our students. From those ah-ha moments to grieving with families through loss to providing for a family in need to celebrating a student’s graduation, we knew that our students had potential and that we were committed to helping them find it. It was emotional.

The final question asked about privilege. Some teachers reflected on how they struggled growing up, needing to figure out how to reach their goals with substantially less than some of their peers. Others talked about their appreciation for the ability to have access to resources and materials without worry. Some noted that they had forgotten what it was like to struggle now that they were financially secure. It was powerful.

There were several reasons that I wanted my staff to engage in these Courageous Conversations.

First, I wanted my staff to understand the power of listening. A central tenet of Talking Circles is that only one person at a time is allowed to speak. Furthermore, the other speakers are encouraged to share their own thoughts and are not expected to respond to someone else’s comments. Participants are, essentially, forced to listen to others.

Second, I wanted my staff to separate themselves from their titles. Talking Circles remove any form of hierarchy. During these conversations, no participant is more important than the other. The information being shared by all is equally valuable and should be treated and respected as such.

Third, and the biggest driving force, I wanted my staff to connect this experience with our students. I wanted them to see how they learned something new about a colleague and how that information may shape their interactions moving forward. I wanted them to readjust their perceptions from seeing our students as at-risk to budding successes. I wanted them to remember that our students come to school on a daily basis dealing with so much more than academic tasks.

My teachers were hooked and asked that this become a regular part of our staff meetings. It has.

More importantly, this practice has become common place in the school. It may be implemented differently from class to class – some start the week to get a pulse of the students’ after a weekend while some end to help students bring the week to a close while some use it when the vibe in the classroom isn’t quite right – and that is okay.

This simple yet powerful practice has had profound impacts on the school’s culture and climate. During the first two months of school, our referrals have dropped nearly 70%. Our attendance rating has soared to 97%. I now see teachers and students mutually engaged in honest conversations when issues arise to develop solutions.

And Anthony? Well, he still visits my office regularly. Only now its to check in on me and to take a peppermint.

Charles Williams is a professional educator with nearly 15 years of experience. Williams currently serves as a K-8 Principal in Chicago, IL. He is also a member of Great Expectations Mentoring and Men of Color in Education. Williams has presented at numerous conferences including the Statewide ESSA Conference, the Annual INCS Conference, and the CPS Leadership Institute. He has also started his own educational consulting firm, CW Consulting.

**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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Challenges, Connections, and Learning every day!

Recently I had a colleague ask me for some ideas for dealing with challenges when it comes to classroom management, student behaviors and just keeping up with the responsibilities of teaching in general. I’m always happy to have time to talk with other educators, there is so much to learn by connecting. I think sometimes there is an assumption that because someone may have been teaching for 10 or more years, or worked in the same school district for a long period of time, that’s there is a higher level of knowledge and skill held by a teacher that fits into this description. While of course the more that you teach, it might seem like you would have a lot of ideas and answers to share with younger or new to the school teachers, but the longer you have taught also means, I think, that you have that much more to learn.

Having taught for about the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of different experiences, some good, some bad, some in-between and some just absolutely fantastic. I have been in the position where I needed to improve, and felt like no matter what I tried to do or could try to do, that I just would not succeed. That I would lose my job. I’ve also been at the opposite end where I felt like things were going well, I could feel more success and a change in how I had been teaching in the classroom and in my connections and relationships that I had built with the students and colleagues.

 

I think if you ask any educator, most can probably identify the best year they’ve had, and if they can’t, they just can’t yet. We always have room to grow and things take time. How do educators decide what makes it the best year? For some, is it a year without many challenges, the students are well-behaved, homework is complete, other clerical tasks and responsibilities held by the teacher are finished, observations went very well and teacher ratings are satisfactory or proficient or whatever the ranking may be? Maybe. But how do we truly define what would be the best year ever?

It takes time to build

I am fairly certain that last year was the best year I’ve had yet. I think because I changed a lot of things in my classroom, I stopped worrying so much about having every minute of every class accounted for and instead gave the students more possibilities to lead in the classroom and for me to have more opportunities to interact with them. Now it did not come without its challenges, some student behaviors that in some cases pushed me so far beyond frustration that I thought I reached my breaking point. I reacted in ways that I was not proud of, but I let the frustration get the best of me. I stopped seeing the student and only saw the behaviors. My “lens” had become clouded and it took some reflection and just not feeling very good about it for me to realize that I had to do something different.

 

The common feeling or response is when you feel like there is a lot to handle or come up with a plan for, can feel so isolating. you might feel lost or like others are judging you based on what you perceive to be your weak areas when it comes to instruction. And I’ve had a few people confide in me that they feel like they’re too different or too weird or they’re not normal enough to be teachers. Hearing those kinds of things breaks my heart because I don’t want to see teachers become disengaged or to lose their passion for doing the work that teachers do because of worrying about how others may or may not perceive them.

My response is always it’s good to be different, what does normal look like anyway? Does normal mean everybody gets and does the same thing? Does being normal mean you fit into some kind of mold, one that may or may not be who you truly are? I think the best that we can do for our students is to show them who we are because we want to know who they are.

We can’t hide behind some perceived idea or model of what a teacher should or should not look like. Nor should we compare ourselves to our colleagues or other teachers that we may have had in our own experience. When we do this we lose sight of something and I think it’s important for us to demonstrate and model for students. We need to worry about ourselves first and only compete with who we are today by judging it based on who we become tomorrow. Everyone has weaknesses, everybody struggles, everybody feels like they don’t belong at times, a friend once wrote about being in the land of misfits, I’m totally fine with that.

 

What can we do, regardless of what year we are in during our careers? New teachers have a lot to offer us veteran teachers, there are better pre-service teacher programs and more information available to current students that are seeking to get into the profession, than what is available to us veteran teachers, who may not have access to or may not even know they exist. And for the new teachers, when you are assigned to have a mentor in your school, I really don’t think you should consider it to be that you are the learner and that you must follow and adhere to all of the advice of your mentor. You have to decide who you want to be, what is your purpose, your why, your spark, your passion for doing what you’re doing?

It starts with us and it always starts with us to take that first step. We have to be okay with who we are and commit to doing whatever is best for our own personal and professional growth but being mindful of what that means and how it will impact those we lead and learn with.

So if at any time you feel down or lost or frustrated or like you’re becoming disengaged or that you don’t fit in, please send me a message. I’d love to talk to you and share some of my own experiences on my 25-year learning journey.

 

**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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A New Way of Looking At Student Created News

Guest post by Jason Clark, Innovation Specialist, Eagle Point School District 9, Eagle Point, Oregon     Twitter: @jpclark03    #Go3agles #epsd9 

 

Throughout my career as an educator and edtech enthusiast, one of my passions has been to use video to tell a story, or to deliver news. At every school that I have been at along my journey (elementary school), I have created a student news program. This started way back before digital video and personal devices, and that makes me feel like a fossil. I have created news programs that aired live through closed circuit cable every single day, and news programs that were pre-recorded and posted to our school webpage via youtube every day. It was always a huge hit with students and we found that it was a great way to reach our parents and community as well, once our shows were shared on youtube. That’s that magic of it, students reaching an audience to deliver a message in a fun creative way.

In my new role as an Innovation Specialist for my district, one of my goals is to begin student news programs in each school. Our district is a 1:1 iPad district which puts us in a very unique situation. Every single student from K-12 has a working studio in their hands, with the ability to reach a broad audience. That is powerful. Our high school just started a video production class this year and we’ve built a working studio that is based and focused on the iPad. We use Padcaster Studios along with our ipads to create two video news episodes a week that go out to students and the community. The episodes are fun and creative. However, it is very difficult for teachers to take time out of the day to watch the news with students. Time is always an issue.

One trend that I’ve noticed is that we aren’t generating the views that we had hoped to get.

How can we reach our high school students in a different way? The news and announcements are filled with important information that they need to know, but many are missing them because the don’t listen to the intercom announcements (I’m guilty as well) or get a chance, or the time to view our student video news (Eagle News) on youtube. Then it hit me.

There is a way to hit just about every student in our high school with the important news and information that they need to know. We are now taking a risk that many schools are not willing to take. We are using the platforms that the majority of high school aged students use regularly. We are pushing out our video news and announcements through Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. Our students are consumers of a constant bombardment of information, so watching a 3-4 minute news episode is unlikely to happen throughout their day. However, they check their Snap, Insta, and Twitter accounts between classes (never during class) and when they are away from school. We are meeting them where they are at. Our video students and leadership students are changing the way school news and announcements are sent and received. They are content creators of short bite-sized nuggets of news that will reach their peers and the community in multiple ways. We are evolving what school news can look like, and it’s exciting to see where it goes.

One thing to consider is building trust with students and the use of social media. They don’t necessarily want teachers to see what they are doing and posting on their social media accounts. The way that we build trust with our students is that our Eagle News accounts don’t follow anyone back. We are purely using the platforms to push out our content. All things said and done, our social media news does not replace our studio news. We still create our studio news episodes because even if we don’t have many viewers yet, the experience in a studio is vital to video production. What we have done is to mesh our created content together in multiple platforms to reach a greater audience.

Ask yourself this question: How do you get most of your news? Do you sit on your couch to watch the 6:00 pm news? Or do you get live updates from your local news station on Twitter or Facebook? As our world changes and technology changes, as educators, we need to pay careful attention to how our students view news so that we can adapt to meet them where they are. That place is usually one with a device close by.

 

 

**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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Game-ify Social Studies Learning & Current Event Learning with FANSchool.org

Opinions Expressed are those of the Author

Guest Post By: Gerald G. Huesken Jr, Social Studies Teacher – Elizabethtown Area High School, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania

@MrHuesken

As someone who has been teaching high school social studies, particularly government and economics, for the better part of the last decade, a study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania was quick to catch my eye. In this study, researchers found that American’s basic civic knowledge, as well as their basic understanding of current events around the world was startlingly lacking – only 26% of respondents could name all three branches of government compared to 37% of respondents naming a freedom protected by the First Amendment. Furthermore, researchers found that with this lacking basis of knowledge, respondents were even less likely to look at, consume, or engage in discussions about national or world events or understand their key significance. Quite shocking, to say the least.

While some of my colleagues would be quick to point out fundamental flaws in how we as teachers engage our students in basic civic education, we as educators do an equally flawed job of encouraging our students to read about and discuss current events and relate it to the broader issues of the day. Long seen as a “filler” in social studies classes, current events, in my opinion, serve a valuable purpose in relating course content to the real world for our students. Finding engaging and unique ways to get students making such connections and engaging with news media of all kinds is the real challenge. That is why I have become a believer in FANSchool.org.

Popularly referred to as “fantasy football for social studies and literacy standards,” FANSchool.org is an easy-to-use new learning site that attempts to “game-ify” current events consumption for students. Developed by Minnesota-based social studies teacher and FANSchool.org co-founder Eric Nelson, who was looking for a new way to engage his students in current events and the study of cultures around the globe.FANSchool.org (and its flagship games of Fantasy Politics & Fantasy Geopolitics) engages students in the study of current events in a new and different way, by turning it into a fantasy football-style experience. Students draft teams of countries or US states, follow those countries or states in the news, and get points for every time their countries or states are mentioned in assigned media outlines like The New York Times. The points are then tableted and posted on the FANSchool.org site. Using this game friendly system, teachers then have the flexibility (along with the network support of other educators using the FANSchool.org platform) to develop engaging activities, challenges, awards, and programs to engage their students more fully in the current events experience. The site also runs “March Madness-style” competitions for Presidential elections and the Olympic Games, pitting students from across the nation and the world in a knock-down current affairs slugfest for bragging rights and prizes.

In my classroom, I have used the Fantasy Geopolitics game as a way to further engage my Honors and on-level students in engaging with world events and international media, while promoting friendly academic competition. This November, FANSchool.org will roll out a new feature of their Fantasy Geopolitics game that includes the “drafting” of members of Congress along with US states, providing a new dimension of engagement for my Honors and on-level Government and Economics classes. Their Election Challenge game (provided every four years with the coming of a new Presidential election) also creates discussions of how the Electoral College will unfold and how Americans will vote for their next President, stimulating questions, discussion, and discovery of America’s political system. FANSchool.org’s devoted network of “Teacher-Commissioners” also provides a great opportunity for networking as well as a shared repository of activities, classroom ideas, and engaging projects. Have students write “Presidential briefs” of hot-current event topics to engage in civic or international action, or have them develop a podcast that discusses how the events of their game relates to the real world (like my students did with the Fantasy Geopolitics Podcast…)

With competition comes the quest for knowledge, and with knowledge comes true competency. That is the goal of FANSchool.org and this is why I would highly recommend fellow social studies educators check out this engaging and fun-filled current events tool for their social studies classroom.

 

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

 

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The Impact

The Impact
Guest Post by Megan Reinke, Student at Iowa State University, @MissMeganR

Last spring I took CI 245. It’s a class focusing on classroom management and lesson plans. That isn’t why I loved it though.

 I loved it because my teacher was one of the most supportive, knowledgeable, caring, fun teachers. People say, “You don’t get that in teachers at big universities,” but oh no, I definitely did. She is such a role model to me as I continue into the field of education. She didn’t just share her successes and high points of teaching, but she also shared her lowest points and failures. I loved this about her because it taught me that it is okay to mess up. Teaching and life is hard. We are all going to make mistakes.

 In her final thoughts on the last day, she had our class calculate the number of students we would touch the lives of throughout our teaching careers.

 There were 24 students in our class, and if we each thought for roughly 42 years, and had 20 students in our class then…

 (24 times 42 times 20)

 20,160.

 20,160 students. Wow.

 She started crying. I started crying. My class started crying. She went on to express how much she loved us, is proud of us, is excited for us, and going to miss this class.

 Point is, we all get the chance to make a big impact. HUGE in fact. I don’t mean this in regarding to the size of group or number of lives we get to impact. That number could have came out to be way smaller and it still would give me a reason to be purposeful in the ways I am impacting lives. Whether you get the chance to impact 20,000 lives or 2 lives, you get the opportunity to leave a HUGE impact on someone in this world. GET EXCITED FOR THIS! What are you doing now to prepare for this? How are you treating people everyday?

 Be that positive light, that positive influence, that supportive role model. Just how my teacher did to me.

Its 2019, and now I actually have a calculator (app) everywhere I go. Why do I need to learn math again?

Guest Post by Dan Haiem, @danclasscalcco1 

“But teacher, why do I need to learn this math stuff if I can just use my calculator app?”

Every teacher has heard this at some point. Most students have asked this at some point. Up until around 2007, teachers had a great answer that kinda-sorta worked, which went something like “You’re not going to always have a calculator everywhere you go, are you?”

The opposite of that, of course, became a reality when the iPhone became the most common tool found in any student’s pocket, and gave them access to powerful calculators like Desmos, Geogebra and our very own ClassCalc.

Here’s my opinion though – the old answer was never a good answer, and the ubiquity of iPhones has given us a golden opportunity to re-evaluate a very valid question. What’s the point of learning math if we have calculators that do math for us?

In the words of NYC’s (possibly) most high-energy math teacher, José Vilson, “Math shouldn’t be limited to a disconnected set of rules and jargon that doesn’t seem to mean much of anything.” If math really was about the rules and jargon, then a calculator could truly replace the need for learning it. Fortunately (for humans), it’s not.

For the sake of simplicity, and because this is my first blog post ever, here’s a short roadmap of this post’s approach to this topic:

  1. First, we’ll discuss how math helps students build tools and skills, and define the difference between the two:
    1. Tools: Spreadsheets, running an analysis, doing taxes.
    2. Skills: Good communication, emotional intelligence, problem-solving.
  2. Next, we’ll discuss how math has shifted from serving us as a tool, to helping us sharpen our skills – most important of which is problem-solving.
  3. Finally, we’ll take a look at an example of how a specific math problem helps us build a specific problem-solving skill called mental-triage, and how we might help students make that connection as well.

Onwards.

Math serves two primary purposes in education: it gives students the tools to play with numbers, and it serves as practice to sharpen certain mental skills that are important in life. To define the two:

  • Tools: Concrete things a person “knows.” Examples include: spreadsheets, coding, writing blog posts (a tool I clearly lack), social media advertisements, taxes, etc.

  • Skills: More abstract, broad abilities that are not particularly associated with executing a specific task – the kinds you always see in leadership charts. Examples include: Hard working, communicative, optimistic, honesty with self, problem-solving, etc.

*Credits to Business Simulations

In this sense, math falls into an interesting crossroads as both 1) part of the abstract skillset a person has, (ie: “problem-solving”) and 2) a tool that can be put to work (ie: part of your “toolkit” – like running a statistical analysis on two data sets).

It’s important to keep in mind though that:

Math will play a fundamentally different role for different students, and we need to bring that understanding into the classroom.

An engineer will likely benefit from math as both 1) an exercise in problem-solving (skill) and 2) a tool to accomplish certain tasks.

An artist might use the abstract side of problem-solving (skill) but – and this is especially applicable today, with all the calculators in our pockets – they probably will not have much use for math as a tool

Here’s a screenshot I grabbed off the might internet that summarizes the point (albeit, aggressively):

*drops mic*

I believe it’s important and ok to tell our students that not all of them will be using math as a tool. At this point, most people don’t need math to do taxes (here’s a calculator for that), split a tab (here’s a calculator for that) or accomplish any of the other tasks that might have required math as a “tool” before calculators were built.

To recap:

  • Math confers two types of skills: Abstract problem solving (skill) and an actual tool in your toolkit (tool)
  • Everyone can (probably) benefit from the problem-solving (skill) aspect. While some people (engineers, some scientists) benefit from having math in their toolkit (tool), most can get by with their super powerful pocket calculator.
  • So, for students not interested in pursuing a career that would require a math toolkit, we must focus on the abstract problem-solving (skill) aspect of math.

As brilliantly stated by Baltimore Ravens lineman and MIT mathematician John Urschel, we need “students to see that math extends far past the confines of the classroom and into everyday life.” What’s more “everyday life” in the 21st century than problem-solving?

Now the questions shifts to: How do we show students the relationship between learning math and developing this abstract ability to “problem-solve”?

I have two thoughts on this:

  1. One thing to consider is that skills and tools are actually mutually conducive. Google is a tool you learn to use. Being able to learn stuff on your own is a very important skill in today’s workforce. Knowing how to use the Google tool will help you build the learn-stuff-on-you-own skill. I think the same applies to math.

Although students may never use calculus directly, the mental exercises they go through in solving calculus problems might help improve the mental muscles required for peripherally related skills.

  1. We need to find good examples to demonstrate the above. I mean good examples. Not the “Well, don’t you want to know how to do this without your calculator?” type of answer and not the “Being able to do your taxes is very important” type of answer and not the “here’s an example of Timmy calculating the volume of the Earth by standing on a ladder and looking at the horizon (although that’s super cool)” type of example. These examples all focus on the tool aspect of math, which we know won’t be as relevant to all students. We need to focus on the skill aspect of mathematics.

So now the challenge becomes being able to demonstrate to students a link between learning math and learning how to problem-solve. A good approach might be to 1) Have your students break down what sub-skills are required to succeed in math 2) Have your students break down what sub-skills are required to problem-solve 3) Discuss the cross-overs.

One of my favorite examples is mental triage: the abstract skill of quickly finding the most efficient path through a challenge given a limited toolkit.

Here’s an example of a math problem that helps sharpen the sub-skill of mental triage:

  1. Math itself is a limited toolkit. You learn how to move numbers around. How to draw graphs etc. Each time you learn one of these new tools, you’re essentially learning a new way to play with numbers. When we approach a math problem, we subconsciously run an analysis that goes something like this: What do I want to make these numbers do? What tools do I have to move these numbers around? What tools am I not allowed to use? What is the most efficient tool path to an answer?
  2. As an example, let’s take the following problem, a favorite of the SAT:

  1. Here’s how my brain runs through my math toolkit.
    1. I gotta solve for x.
    2. Problem: x is in the exponent.
    3. Do I have any tools to get rid of an exponent?
    4. I can raise both sides to ^(1/4x) which would lead to:
      1. No good. Back to step c.
    5. How else can I get rid of the exponent? Logarithms, let’s try that:
      1. which simplifies to:
    6. Great, we got rid of x in the exponent. Onwards! Divide both sides by 4log(2):
    7. Plug into by handy dandy ClassCalc Calculator to get:
      1. x=1

There we have it: mental triage in math.

Finally, we’ll bring it full circle with a real-world example of mental-triage as a sub-skill of problem solving.

Teaching my high school students how to pick a college

It was the last day of my physics class last year, and my students were just about done with school. They had already taken the AP test and were ready for summer. Instead of squeezing in another physics lesson, I decided to tackle a more pressing concern of theirs – choosing a university.

In retrospect, my method for picking a university was suboptimal – I just asked my good friends where they were going and what they thought a good college was, and ended up at UCLA. Lucky for me, I met good people there and had an awesome experience, but many others who take the same approach are not. I wanted to teach my students how to be proactive and problem-solving-oriented in making life choices.

Rather than start with “I want to go to college” I wanted to help each one of them hear their inner voice, and begin a dialogue with it. Start for the bottom. Here was my approach:

Student: *Says something*

Me:

And this is what the conversation ended up sounding like:

  • Student: What college should I go to?
  • Me: Why do you want to go to college?
  • Student: I need to get an edu-
  • Me: Yes, but why do you need an education? What’s your goal?
  • Student: I want to make money. Goal number 1: Make money!
  • Me: Honest, but fair. What else? A lot of jobs will make you money.
  • Student: I want to become a doctor.
  • Me: Do you for sure 100% want to become a doctor? Have you had real exposure to medicine? Or is it alluring to you for other reasons?
  • Student: I’m not sure. I want to figure out what I want to become. Goal number 2: Explore career options!
  • Me: Ok, what else?
  • Student: I want to make good friends and party. Goal number 3: Have fun
  • And so on..

By the end, we put together a list of priorities for each student. I could see their perspective change drastically. Rather than listen to a parent’s friend’s suggestion, they were determined to go online and research.

Now, I am not necessarily saying that a better mathematician is going to be better at selecting a college, but certainly, the tools we learn in math can inform our decision-making process for the important choices we must all make in life, especially if we are aware that there is a problem-solving oriented approach to making these decisions. Our jobs, as teachers, is to help students form that awareness.

A good method for cultivating that awareness is with Miyagi Moment every so often. What’s a Miyagi Moment moment, you ask?

It’s a metaphor for when a teacher (or sensei) helps a student develop a crucial skill by practicing adjacently related skills that at first do not seem connected.

In the first gif below, we see the legendary Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel San how to…wax a car. Not really relevant to fighting karate.

In a later scene, Daniel san gets angry, accusing Mr. Miyagi of wasting his time with chores, when he should be learning super cool action moves to take down the big bully Johnny. Right then and there, Mr. Miyagi throws a couple of HYAH punches and BAM. Daniel san blocks them – all the while shocked in disbelief that he had developed the skills to do so. That moment of disbelief in the newly developed skill is the Miyagi Moment!

In math, students will often be practicing skills that seem almost irrelevant to them in life. It is up to us teachers to remind our students every so often that that is not the case. The best way to show them that is with a Miyagi Moment. It is time away from teaching the next chapter or lesson, but it is time well-spent.

I think blogger and math teacher John Trout McCrann put it beautifully in writing “Deep understanding about the process of solving an equation helps everyone understand how to create systems to solve problems at work, in their families, in our world. The kinds of problem-solving strategies you might use to tackle a big project, develop a more efficient engine, or address an issue that’s arisen between you and your partner. Deep understandings about shapes help everyone understand how to reason spatially, a skill that you may one day apply as a designer or as you lay out the furniture in your first house or apartment.”

About Me (Daniel Haiem):

  • I love math and education.
  • I’m an ex-physics teacher
  • I founded and lead a company called ClassCalc – the lockdown calculator app that lets teachers lock students out of all outside distractions such as instagram, calls and texts, keeping students focused in class, and preventing cheating on tests. Our goal is 100% access to calculators for students across the planet by 2025.

**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  

 

Books available

Teaching Can Be Challenging

 

Guest Post by Andrew Easton, @EastonA1, Personalized Learning Collaborator and Consultant, Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Nebraska

*Future DBC Inc. author on Personalized Learning, Spring 2020

Now that we are into November, it’s likely that at some point this year you’ve been asked the question, “So, do you have a pretty good group this year?” In my time in education, I’ve heard a myriad of answers to this question – some that I don’t want to repeat. Whether it’s right or wrong or not even a thing worth discussing, I do find it interesting to hear what a teacher has to say. And actually, there is one word in particular hat comes up rather consistently when this question is asked. One that on its own doesn’t completely address the question. The word “challenging.”

This year, I am redesigning our high school’s English 4 course and am teaching that class for the first time. When the teacher who had previously taught that course retired, she politely used the word “challenging” when describing to me the group of students that she typically supported in that course. She quickly followed that up with a “Good luck!” that felt more like a warning than words of encouragement.

English 4 is an appealing option for students who are simply looking to pass an English class to graduate and pick up a few helpful life hacks along the way. Many of our students have had significant struggles with learning in the past for a variety of reasons. Those reasons have made it hard for them to find consistent academic success. For these students, senior year has brought both the liberating promise of change once they reach the end of May but along with it the stinging reality that they have navigated their K-12 education to the 12 end of that spectrum and the experience has left them feeling like they have not taken much from a system that has helped some of their peers to thrive. 

Planning over the summer was, well, challenging in its own right. I knew very little about this group that wasn’t second hand knowledge. But as I perused the gradebook and academic history for some of my students prior to the start of the year, I knew one thing: I had to give these learners the opportunity to feel what accomplishment feels like. There is a certain rhythm to success that has to be found and then felt before it starts to beat and almost swell from within. I guessed then and now know that many of these students have never heard, nor much less felt that beat, and I knew that I would be working against thirteen years of baggage if I tried to convince them, initially at least, to search for this experience in an academic setting. But I had an idea.

When I find myself feeling stagnant in my own motivation, I often start a #Five4Five Challenge. The #Five4Five challenge was created by Michael Matera, author of Explore Like a Pirate, in the spring of 2018. He posed this challenge through his Twitter and YouTube account, and I was immediately intrigued by the idea. The #Five4Five Challenge asks individuals to select one “thing to do” and do that thing each day for five days straight. What you decide to do is entirely up to you, but you have to do it once a day for each of the five days to succeed. I myself had done six #Five4Five Challenges before the school year began. I had created a vlog, done anonymous acts of kindness, set workout goals, even given up Starbucks for five days straight (that one was brutal). The goal itself doesn’t matter; it’s not about the goal. It’s about intentionality and filling your day with purpose and success. It seemed like the right fit for my learners, and so in the second week of school, I issued them all a challenge.

Now, if I’m being honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how they would respond to it. Would they laugh this off? Would they be into it for a week or two and then fade away as the grind of the semester progressed? Well, I’m happy to share that as I’m writing this, we just finished our fourth week of #Five4Fives (we go two weeks on, one week off), and the experience has not only gone well but it has exceeded all my expectations.

Our implementation has been pretty simple. We created a one-sided handout that has four boxes on it, one box for each of the first four weeks of the course. Each box contains a line for the learner to write out their goal for that week, the days of the week with a checkbox next to each day, and a place for the learner to sign their name if they complete the challenge by the end of the week. 

This is not for a grade and we try to keep our daily commitment to discussing these goals to five minutes or less each class period. We don’t always open class with our #Five4Fives, but when we do, I really enjoy it. It’s captivating and powerful for class to begin with students openly sharing their passions and accomplishments. It’s been such a positive culture piece. It’s also been encouraging to watch students fail for a day and then keep going for that week. I’ve noticed too a greater sense of resilience in the students; in the first week, most would hang their head if they had to share about missing their goal the previous day, but now they confidently share their failures too. In those moments, I try to ask, “So are you going to get back on track tomorrow?” Most answer yes and at least make that goal for another day or two that week.

One month in, I’m really glad that we don’t require that the #Five4Five goals be education related. It’s funny, despite having the freedom to set any goal they wish, several students each week still choose a goal that has something to do with school. The goals that they set often speak to their values, their challenges, and desires for change; by offering them the freedom to create the goal that they want they are more willing to follow through with it. The only stipulation we have set for the goals is that they must be measurable. 

Check out how we are doing! Here’s some of the data we have collected thus far…

 

#Five4Five Challenge: Number of Students Completing a Certain Number of Goals Per Week

Completed One Goal  Completed Two Goals Completed Three Goals  Completed Four Goals Completed All Five Goals 
Week One 4 Students 5 Students 4 Students 10 Students 25 Students
Week Two 5 Students 4 Students 4 Students 8 Students 27 Students
Week Three 1 Student 2 Students 7 Students 2 Students 36 Students

 

Though I’m not sure that I needed this data to have a sense that this practice was having a positive influence on our learners, I’m very happy with the story these numbers seem to tell. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from it.

A final piece of evidence that I would like to share comes from our weekly Flipgrid video reflections that students have gotten into the habit of recording. Every two weeks, the students create a video in which they reflect on their efforts in the course and with their #Five4Five goals. This reflection comes from a student named Luis. In week two, Luis chose to set an academic goal for himself, and I’m proud to say that Luis met his goal that week. Afterward he reflected on his experience saying, “…my goal was to do my homework for every class, and I was surprisingly successful. I picked it because junior year I was not good with homework at all and I just had so many missing assignments. And for senior year I want to be able to do all my homework and get some good grades because my grades were terrible last year. I just want to be able to see what I can do, and this goal has really helped me this week.” 

Ugh, I love that! 

So, the next time someone asks me, “Do you have a pretty good group this year?” I’m looking forward to shooting them a smirk and answering, “Yes, they are definitely… challenging.” Challenging themselves, challenging me to be a better teacher and a better person, and challenging the way I think about my responsibility to help them grow both as people and learners.

Andrew is the Host of the Westside Personalized Podcast (bit.ly/WPPodcast)

WestsidePersonalized.com

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

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