teachingpractices

This post is sponsored by Screenleap. Opinions expressed are my own.

At the end of January, I attended the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. FETC has become one of my favorite conferences to attend and each year I return to my school with a lot of new ideas and tools that I’m excited to try in my classroom and share with colleagues and educator friends. This year was no exception. After reading about the 31 start-up companies that would be participating in the “Pitch Fest” competition happening in the expo hall, I decided that I wanted to start there. These companies—the “best-of-the-best startups”—would be pitching their products and services to a panel of judges. I find this to be one of the “musts” for me each year to learn about the new ideas and products available to educators. I enjoy getting to talk with the companies to understand their tools and how it benefits educators and students.

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Before arriving, I had received a flyer from Screenleap. I took a quick look, but decided to set it aside and instead make time to meet with Tuyen Truong, the CEO and Founder of Screenleap, at the conference. We had a great conversation and I was immediately impressed with what I learned about Screenleap from Tuyen and from the reactions of other attendees who had stopped by the booth to learn more about Screenleap.

Not long after speaking with Tuyen, I presented my own poster session on designing “Creative, Personalized, and Productive Classrooms.” A common interest of the attendees was that they wanted to know options that would enable them to share lessons, to work with schedule changes that interrupted the normal class periods, and to provide access to learning opportunities for their students when their students needed them. Screenleap immediately popped into my mind and so I gave them a brief overview and pointed them in the direction of Screenleap’s booth in the EdTech Startup area.  

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Tools with Purpose: Getting Started Quickly

Common issues for teachers regarding education tools are knowing where to start and whether something will have a big learning curve. These are both important factors, but we should also consider the WHY behind adding the technology. Based on the interests of the educators that I spoke with, thinking through it and trying it out on my own, Screenleap definitely addresses these concerns by making it easy for teachers to set up and start using with students and by saving valuable time for teachers who use it.

So How Does It Work?

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Screenleap for Education allows teachers to share their screen with students and record it for later viewing. Whether the students are in the classroom or absent from class on a given day, they can watch the screen share live from wherever they are or access the lesson afterward when it is convenient for them. You can learn more about Screenleap for Education here. If you would like to try it out, you can start a free trial here!

Why Use Screenleap for Education?

When thinking about adding some new technology into the classroom, we really need to focus on the why behind choosing a specific tool or method. What difference will adding this tool make and how can it enhance the learning process and go beyond the traditional methods that are being used? What sets it apart from other tools you are currently using?

I think the benefits are clear with Screenleap for Education:

  1. Teachers can share from any device (including Chromebooks, iPads, Android, PCs, and Macs).
  2. Students don’t need to install any software to view their teacher’s screen, which makes it easily accessible to all students and saves time on IT administration.
  3. Everything is automatically recorded on the cloud for later playback. Teachers don’t need to manually upload the recording after the screen share.
  4. It saves teachers a lot of time because now they do not need to reteach lessons to students who miss a class since the recorded lessons are available for students to watch on their schedule. In addition, when it comes to re-teaching, you don’t always present the information the same way, so having a solid lesson that can quickly be shared with students to view and learn from is a real benefit for you.

Ideas for Using the Recording Feature

Depending on the content area you teach, or even if you have a different role than a classroom teacher, creating these recordings is easy and of great benefit. Having recordings available that you can share with colleagues, offer as extra instruction for students needing review, or even as a way to get feedback from colleagues about how you delivered a lesson, are just a few of the great ways to use the recording feature of Screenleap for Education. There are a lot of other possibilities for teachers, students, and administrators when the recording feature is used as part of a teacher’s daily instruction.

Getting Started

I found Screenleap for Education very intuitive and easy to get started with:

  1. After creating your account, there is an initial setup step where you can create your classes and add students to them.
  2. Once your classes are set up, it is easy to start sharing your screen with your students: all you need to do is click on the button for the class you want to share when your class starts. If it’s your first time sharing your screen, you will be walked through a one-time app installation before your screen share begins. null
  3. Once your screen share has started, your students can watch your screen share by signing into their accounts and clicking on the “View live class” button for your class.
  4. While you are sharing your screen, it is automatically recorded in the cloud.
  5. When you stop your screen share and have recording enabled, your recording will be processed and made available to you from the “Recordings” page. If you have automatic sharing configured, the recording will also be made available for your students to review.

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Additional Features That I Like

  • If you want to remove something from your class recording, you can do so and then upload the updated version.
  • You can share the same recording with multiple classes.
  • You can track student engagement in real-time by clicking on “engagement” or after the recording has been processed. You will see a snapshot of the engagement graph at the bottom of every recording.

Conclusion

Screenleap for Education offers a lot of benefits for teachers, students, and administrators: students can easily follow along in the classroom or from home, teachers do not have to reteach lessons that students miss, students can review lessons before tests, and administrators have resources available  that can help to improve test scores for their schools through better learning. In addition, being able to stay connected and keep up with class—even when not in the classroom—and having information available to share with other teachers and administrators really makes Screenleap stand out when it comes to tools that benefit student learning.

Let me know what you think of Screenleap for Education. Again, you can start a free trial here

Sponsored Content, All opinions are my own

February 18, 2019

Learning and sharing through the world of AR

When I started creating with Metaverse, an augmented reality tool, a few years ago, I was immediately impressed with the potential for learning and the many possibilities for engaging students more in authentic learning “experiences.” More ways to move students from consumers to being the creators which is what we should strive to do in our classrooms. The first “experience” that I created took a bit longer than most because I chose to not explore any of the tutorials or the helpful resources available and instead opted to dive right in. Why? I thought it was better to experience possible struggles with figuring out how to create with Metaverse, similar to what students might face when they got started. As a teacher, I wanted to prepare myself to help them if and when they needed. What I noticed is that students were more than ready to create!

Over the past two years, students in my 8th grade STEAM classes have enjoyed creating with Metaverse and definitely figured it out much faster than I did. Being able to see their work, their creativity and then to enjoy testing their “experiences” has been very rewarding for several reasons. I have learned so much from them, it led to conversations about the importance of sharing struggles that we experience and to not be afraid to ask others (especially students) to help you. It even led to the addition of student tech assistants in my classes. There is so much to learn from students, and in addition to building technology skills and providing more immersive and engaging learning experiences for them, we empower students to become the leaders in our classroom. Developing their skills of problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking and pushing their curiosity will benefit them as they move through school and head into the future!

How does Metaverse promote student driven learning and choice?

It is important to offer students choices in learning and to step aside and encourage them to pursue knowledge on their own. With Metaverse, students can create fun experiences to share with their peers and have so many choices available to really make it an engaging way to learn. Regardless of content area or grade level, or even one’s role in education (why not create for teacher PD), there are thousands of new items to choose from and new features being added frequently. Students can spend a long time creating their storyboard or they can design an experience quickly, as Metaverse is user friendly, especially with the recent updates and addition of new features!

So many possibilities!

Students can find exactly what they need, create something meaningful and share their work with students in their class and even connect globally with other peers. Testing their experiences in class by scanning a QR code is quick, but what about if you want to keep all of the student projects in one space? Or even collaborate with other classrooms, either as part of project based learning or to connect globally? Students need to create for a purpose and sharing their work with others is very important. Sharing experiences can be overwhelming if you have the number of experiences being created like I do.(Students were so excited that they created extras on the weekends and sent them to me, to keep me from being bored while away from school! This is when you know that the tool is making a difference).

An important of student work is the ability to share it with others, to learn about one’s peers and enjoy learning together. Access to student work can be an issue, which is where Padlet helped initially, as a way to have students post their projects. But even this took time. I wanted to keep track of their work and have it accessible by students and teachers, as we collaborate by using Metaverse to engage all students in learning. Creating experiences with videos, 360 images and even portals, to immerse students in a world of learning right in their hands.

Explore the new Collections, now in beta release!

Wanting to be able to share and display the experiences created by students was very important and now, it is easier than ever for teachers to do. With the new “Collections,” now released in beta, teachers can manage student experiences, edit student work and easily share all of the experiences created in class! Why? Because it is easier to manage student work and save the experiences to use with other classes and even collaborate beyond your school.

To get started, simply create a “Collection” for your class and you can share the join code with students, or quickly add them from the experiences you have in your account.

Metaverse has so much potential as an instructional tool for teachers.

Why use Augmented Reality?

A popular topic at both FETC and TCEA was Augmented and Virtual Reality. Tools like Metaverse have tremendous potential to immerse students in a more authentic and purposeful learning adventure, by giving them more control in how they show learning and a hands-on experience. It is a fun platform to use in the classroom and benefits students by promoting student agency and increasing engagement in learning.

Collections create more opportunities for Interactive Learning Adventures

As educators, we want our students to have a learning “experience,” more than what the traditional methods of classroom instruction might offer. Finding time to create and explore can be a factor in deciding where to begin, but with Metaverse, it is easy to get started, especially when we let students take more control. We need to help students to embrace an opportunity to drive their learning. In doing this, we guide them toward a learning journey that will attach more meaning to the content, in a personalized and exciting way to learn, and above all, a more authentic experience. Teachers have access to collections where they can see, edit and share student work, track progress and help students as they create. Creating a collection is easy. Check it out here!

Many students learn more by doing, and when they have opportunities to engage in hands-on activities, it leads to more personalized experiences and student-driven learning. A world of learning that they create is right in their hands.

Some ideas to create with Metaverse

  1. A tour and a survey: Have students create an experience to introduce visitors to a town, retell a part of history, ask for input and preferences for travel. With all of the choices in items to add into Metaverse, thousands of unique possibilities exist.
  2. Just for fun: Sometimes the best way to get students involved is by only offering a few guidelines. Provide a number of scenes, type of questions to include, different features including GIFS, Google vision, polls and more. Each student can create something unique and meaningful to them, and then using collections, share it with the class. If access to devices is an issue, set up learning stations in the room.
  3. Book review and tales: Why not have students explain key parts of a book, or make up a story, and include images, videos, portals and more as part of the experience. Share it with other students, maybe even add in a poll, and then use the results to brainstorm new ideas and keep the discussion going. I

Technology tools for education provide enhanced ways to learn, to engage students and to empower them in learning. As teachers, we always want to focus on the “why” when making our decisions, and with Metaverse, the “why” is clear: student driven learning and the power of creating. Start your collections today and share student work!

Part Two of my posts on AI, recently published in Getting Smart.  (image from CC)

Teaching Students About AI

One of my professional goals this year was to learn more about artificial intelligence (AI). Over the course of the past year, there have been a lot of stories coming out about how schools are adding the concept of artificial intelligence into their curriculum or trying to weave it into different courses offered. The purpose is to help students better understand its capabilities and how it might impact the future of learning and the future of work. When I did some research earlier this year, I was amazed at some of the different uses of artificial intelligence that we interact with each day, and may not realize.

A quick Google search of the term “artificial intelligence” turns up 518 million results in .17 seconds. Compare this with the methods for conducting research years ago, where we had to brainstorm topics as we searched the card catalog, and then had to understand the Dewey Decimal system, in order to find the books on the shelf.  Advancements in technology led to the creation of online databases which made it easier to find articles and journals electronically, however it still required us to think of what terms to use in the search and may still have required you to locate the resource from a shelf or borrow it from another library. Today, the capability of technology for finding answers to the questions we have is tremendous. Now through tools like artificial intelligence and virtual assistants we have access to millions of resources in our hands instantly.

What are some everyday uses of AI?

Some common uses of artificial intelligence that many people likely use every day and may not know it are:

  • Smartphones:  The use of artificial intelligence is used with the photo editor on smartphones. When you want to take a picture, artificial intelligence helps by selecting the appropriate settings and suggesting different modes to you.
  • Music and Media: Whether you use something like Spotify or enjoy watching Netflix or even YouTube, artificial intelligence is helping you find the music and media that you want. Over time, it learns based on your selections and then provides recommendations for you to add to your playlist.
  • Smart Home Devices: Artificial intelligence is used in smart home devices to adjust the temperature and even lighting based on our preferences.
  • Online services: From travel to banking, shopping, and entertainment, these industries rely heavily on artificial intelligence for using chatbots or through algorithms that enable it to track spending, suggest purchases, prevent fraud and complete other transactions much faster.

Because artificial intelligence is used so much in our everyday lives, we need to make sure that our students understand its impact and potential for the future of work and learning.

How can we teach students about artificial intelligence?

One of the best ways we could teach our students is by making sure we keep challenging ourselves. I recently enrolled in the course offered by ISTE U, Artificial Intelligence Explorations and Their Practical Use in the School Environment.  The course was made available through a collaboration with ISTE and General Motors Corporate Giving and focused on K-12 STEM education. My interest in the course is to learn more so I am able to share with my 8th grade STEAM course and in my foreign language classes. Having taught about artificial intelligence last year, it is a high area of interest that I want to grow in professionally.

Throughout the course, participants work through ten different modules focused on topics related to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Each module contains activities that enable you to interact with different forms of artificial intelligence, engage in discussions, view videos and to even create things such as chatbots and virtual facilitators. Part of the course includes an IBM Developer course on “Chatbots for Good,” in which you work through activities and learn about design thinking and empathy, and other activities related to the IBM Watson program. The culmination of the course has participants design a Capstone project, which will ideally be used with students through PBL or as a student-directed exploration of AI.

There are many uses of AI for education and one school in Pittsburgh is offering the nation’s first AI course to prepare students. Pittsburgh is where AI began and developed starting back in the 1950s which makes this an exciting event. Students enrolled in the Montour School District, a district known for its innovation and “student-centered, future-focused” mission, are learning about AI through a program that launched this fall. Students will have access to resources from Carnegie Mellon University, which became the first university to offer an undergraduate degree in AI. The goal of the program is to help students learn about AI by exploring the uses of virtual assistants, engage in inquiry-based learning and build their skills in STEM-related fields.

How can we provide the opportunity for all students to learn more about AI?

Simply explaining the concept of artificial intelligence and identifying some examples of what it might look like, does not really enable you to understand it at a deeper level. The best way that I have found to understand it better myself has been by first learning how it functions by trying some of the different tools and interacting with the AI. By trying some the AI experiments and creating chatbots, you and your students can think about how the tasks are being completed, which leads to a better understanding of artificial intelligence.

While schools may not be able to offer a full course to students, there are enough resources available online that teachers can implement in the classroom.

To learn more about AI and Virtual Assistants, have students explore these:

  1. Google AI Experiments: Through Google experiments, there are hundreds of different experiments available to explore based on AI, Augmented and Virtual Reality. Students can select experiments to try and decide what makes it “artificial intelligence.”  The favorites are Quick Draw and Semantris.
  2. Botsify: Teachers can teach students online by using artificial intelligence through Botsify. By creating chatbots, teachers provide an innovative learning experience for students, where they can interact with the chatbot, ask and answer questions and even submit quizzes through the chatbot.
  3. Avatars: It can be fun to have students create their own talking avatars, and use them even as evidence of learning or to create a lesson or instruct on a topic to share with peers or even younger students. Some tools to check out are VokiTellagami and My talking avatar.
  4. Akinator: A “web genius” that tries to guess the famous real or fictional character you are thinking about. It is fun to see the questions that it asks based on your responses and see how many tries it takes for it to guess.  It is also available on Google Play and iOS
  5. Learning tools: There are different apps available that through artificial intelligence, provide students with opportunities to have additional practice and amplify their learning potential. Elementary students can learn about geography through Oddizzi, or math through Splashmath. All students can practice vocabulary by trying Knowji, which uses characters to “bring vocabulary to life” in flashcards. If students have questions, they can try Brainly, which is a tool for students to ask and answer homework questions in a collaborative, community type platform.

Looking to the future with AI

The use of artificial intelligence in the world and specifically in education will continue to grow as more people explore the topic and develop new ways to incorporate it into daily life. The potential for learning through artificial intelligence means that students have access to virtual tutors, can enroll in an online course taught by AI, and have access to the resources they need at the exact moment they need them.

Part one of a series I will be writing about Artificial Intelligence.

About a year ago I started to notice more news coming out about artificial intelligence and machine learning and their uses for education. I understood the concepts of AI and ML, I could provide pretty decent definitions but beyond that, I really had to invest some time in learning more and being able to identify what it looks like in the world and what it could look like in today’s classrooms. Years ago while working on my Spanish translation coursework, we looked at machine learning for translation and that goes back well over 20 years, so it’s not something new, although it may seem like it because it has been coming more into light recently.

What I think of when I hear “Artificial Intelligence”

When first hearing the words “Artificial Intelligence,” is there an image that pops into your mind? Is AI something that you find easy to define or give examples of? For some, the understanding or a reference point might be something seen in the movies. For me, being an 80s child, my first thought goes to Star Wars, and I picture R2D2 or C3PO. Beyond those two references, my mind wanders to the movie “I, Robot” which starred Will Smith, where the robots developed the capacity to think like humans, to feel and were able to take action on their own. Today, one of the most common thoughts goes to Alexa, Echo, Siri and the other virtual assistants that have continued to gain popularity. All good examples to think of in order to get a better idea of AI, but what is the true meaning of AI and where might we see it in action in daily life?

What is AI

It is a complex concept to understand at first because it is an amazing technological advancement. When I wanted to find out more, I started to look at some of the research done by Getting Smart started in December of 2015. The team at Getting Smart launched a research study referred to as #AskAboutAI and over a two year period, they identified over 100 applications of AI to life in areas such as education, healthcare, recreation, transportation, military uses and gaming to name a few. There were three objectives in the campaign: education, employment, and ethics. The research centered on finding how AI can be beneficial for different industries, some of the main uses, whether there are any risks associated with it, the benefits and of great personal interest, the possibilities for using AI in education.

According to their report following the research, the notion behind AI is that machines become capable of exhibiting human intelligence. “Machine learning” a concept started in 1956, refers to when algorithms are used to interpret data and take an action or complete a task. At its base, artificial intelligence is a computer code that displays some form of intelligence, learning, and problem solving in what has been referred to as a kind of “super intelligence.” It is basically the development of computers that are capable of completing tasks that normally require “human intelligence” however the AI learns on its own and continues to improve upon its past iterations. AI becomes smarter, its knowledge base grows, and it creates new possibilities for society. Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence, and it can be said that all Machine Learning is AI, but not all AI is Machine Learning.

Common uses of Machine Learning and AI: Did you know?

In my exploration to learn more about AI and what its potential is for the future of learning, I researched how we might already be using AI in our daily lives without even realizing it perhaps. Here are 5 common uses that I was kind of surprised at finding out work by AI.

  1. Communication: So much email, fortunately there are spam filters. Spam filters are powered by AI and help to streamline the amount of spam that appears in your inbox. We know that computers can generate email, and so as email senders, whether real or automated, become more careful with choosing words that were not previously flagged, the filters must learn to adapt and do so by learning based on words that the email user flags. Google takes it even further by continuously learning the types of email messages which are marked as “important”.
  2. Travel: Whether you have taken a ride using Uber or Lyft, you have experienced ML (Machine Learning), which is used to predict rider demand and to calculate ETA ( Estimated Time of Arrival). Even the airline industry uses AI, which fascinated me in finding out this fact. Autopilot qualifies as AI, and it has been estimated that actual “human steered” flight time is approximately only seven minutes of the actual flight length. That is amazing!
  3. Social networks: Ever notice how quickly faces are detected in images and names are suggested for tagging friends in photos on Facebook? The artificial intelligence can detect faces and suggest a name to tag the person. Facebook has added new features as part of its own AI Initiative, because the goal is to offer a more personalized and interactive experience for Facebook users. Other social media sites like Twitter, generate lists of accounts to follow, recommend chats to join based on an analysis of user input and data.
  4. Online Shopping: Have you started searching on Amazon, and it quickly suggests other items you “may be interested in,” as a result of prior searches and order history. There are systems are in place to help protect consumers against fraud, with alerts capable of being sent almost simultaneously in response to a transaction that does not seem to be “typical” purchase or is located in a non-home base location. All done through AI.
  5. Education: There are a wide range of tools available for educators and students whether in the form of Google Searches, where alternate search terms are instantly suggested, the use of citation, plagiarism checkers(a favorite) and even Siri is a popular tool for searches. Simply ask Siri a question, have a conversation.

What does AI mean for our classrooms?

Artificial Intelligence can transform classrooms, there are so many possibilities, and of course, we want it to be something with purpose that enhances the learning experience. I think that it is important to think about your classroom and consider: What are some of the tasks that are typically done? How is class time being spent? How could you save some time by using AI? What would you want for your classroom? Dream big!

There are some time-consuming tasks that take away valuable time for providing the best learning experiences for students. It takes time to locate appropriate supplemental activities to differentiate and to find more engaging and immersive learning experiences.

How could AI help?

  1. Communication: Students and teachers would communicate instantly with one another as well as to connect with other forms of AI around the world. Students could be paired with peers instantly, which would help each student to expand their own personal learning networks, with personalized and more authentic connections that will meet the students’ interests and needs at any given moment. Think of the benefits of being able to converse with AI or a virtual peer, which has been located based on an assessment of student needs and error analyses.
  2. Differentiation: With the use of AI, students and teachers could connect with the resources they need right when they need them. An entire internet of resources accessible and deliverable to each student within seconds. Through AI, students could have access to one to one tutors or a virtual peer to learn with.
  3. Personalization: Offer more personalized learning opportunities for students with AI that can analyze student responses, determine areas of need and interest, and access resources to help students better understand the content.
  4. Exploration: Augmented and virtual reality are being used even more in classrooms, and through AI, resources could be found instantly based on student responses, or for the entire classroom to experience. We would not be limited by the time and place of the classroom setting. AI could find ways to bring the content to life instantly.
  5. Assessments: AI could help teachers to assess students and streamline the grading process, with the added benefit of being able to quickly take the data, provide an analysis for teachers, so that time can be saved for more classroom interactions. It can help with student achievement, making sure that each student has the opportunity to learn and grow, benefitting from the faster responses through AI.

Considerations for the future.

There is always a concern when it comes to the use of technology. Especially with AI, we need to determine the true purpose, value and impact on student learning. We don’t want to use it just because it is the newest thing or the latest trend. When it comes to AI, the biggest concern has been whether AI would lead to the replacement of teachers? Would the use of AI in the classroom have negative impacts on student learning? As for replacing teachers, AI cannot help students to build SEL skills and learn from human interactions, all vital components of relationships in the classroom.

So in the end, what could AI do? Here are 10 roles for AI that can be used in education.

A few:

AI can quickly interpret a student’s needs and design an appropriate assessment.

It can show students mastery, repeat lessons as needed and quickly design a personalized learning plan for each student.

AI could provide teachers with a virtual teaching assistant, (something that was done in 2015 without students even knowing), which then frees time for the teacher to move around the room and facilitate learning.

But more than just teachers and students, it can be a way to support parents by involving them in the learning environment of students and providing them with the information they need to help their students be successful when they’re not in the classroom. The future likely holds a lot of possibilities for AI and teachers can take the opportunity to be informed of the possibilities and being open to discussions with students.

Stay tuned for part two of the AI series coming up next week! Check out the ISTE U course on Artificial Intelligence. And look at Montour School District in Pittsburgh, I will be sharing more about that school after I visit it to see the AI Space and Showcase event on January 22nd.

Image from Thinkstock

Recently published on DefinedSTEM

The start of each new school year is such an exciting time for educators and students. After the summer break, educators head back into their classrooms and schools, hopefully feeling recharged, excited for the new school year, and ready with a list of new teaching ideas. Planning for the first day and first week back to school are so important, we want to set up our classrooms but also need to focus on the environment and culture we are creating. Of course, there are classroom expectations and class details that we need to share with our students, but we need to do something first. In starting to plan instruction and methods, we first should focus on learning about our students and showing that we are invested in their success. By starting here, we begin to develop our classroom culture and set up a welcoming environment for learning.

Welcoming students in and learning together

At the start of the school year, and every day thereafter, we should be intentional about being present. We need to spend time greeting all students and welcoming them back to school. Beyond the students on our rosters, It is important to acknowledge all students as we see them in the halls and throughout the building.  The power behind creating a positive and supportive climate in the building and in each classroom starts with teachers. When we are visible and show students that we are excited about school, we will start making connections that will help in fostering a positive classroom culture.

It can be challenging to start a daily routine of school after a summer break, or any extended break during the year. We must set a good example by engaging our students in conversations, showing an interest in who they are, encouraging and providing opportunities for peer connections. These intentional strategies to get to know our students will positively impact the learning environment

There are many ways to learn about our students. There are icebreakers and other games that can be used as a way to learn about one another. As educators, this is our opportunity to take time to encourage students to share their thoughts and interests with peers, and also what and how they hope to learn in your class.

Making those connections

There are many tools available to set up methods of communication and collaboration and to help students develop these critical skills for their future. For learning, we have to determine how to make ourselves available to students when they have questions or need additional support or resources. The questions do not stop when the school day ends, or over the weekend break. Without a way to ask questions during these times, students can become frustrated and the potential for learning diminishes. In our increasingly digital world, we have access to so many resources, but we also need to know how to find the right tools. First, I recommend that educators find a tool that enables students to connect, to ask questions, and to access classroom resources. Among the digital options available today, it still can be challenging to select the right one. A few examples are setting up a classroom website, a messaging app or using an LMS.

A classroom website is great for having a centralized location for students to access resources, post questions, review content and more. Websites and using LMS platforms can easily be set up using EdmodoSchoologyGoogle ClassroomWeebly a Google Site, or even Padlet.  Communication is also easier with a messaging tool that enables the sending of reminders, links to resources, or that integrates with other digital tools for learning. A few options are Bloomz (for parent-teacher communication) and Remind. There are several other options available, depending on your needs and the level you teach. I have used Voxer with several of my classes, especially for talking about Project Based Learning and sharing ideas and reflections.  One thing to keep in mind is to find out about the kind of technology and internet access available to the students.

Learning about each student

Even the slightest interactions can provide so much information about a student. It happens through those quick conversations as students enter the room, or by including fun activities in the lesson, and creating a supportive, welcoming environment where students feel valued. Engaging in some of these practices will help to build and foster positive relationships. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to start creating connections with one other.

Some quick ways to get started are by having students create a collaborative Google Slides Presentation, or use another digital tool, like Buncee or even Padlet perhaps,  for students to create one slide or add some information. Encourage each student to contribute by adding in fun facts, share how they spent the summer, or the weekend,  to help each member of the class to learn about one another. I did this with my Spanish III and IV students and it was fun to learn more about each student and their summer experiences and we had some fun in the process.

A personal goal at the start of each school year is to learn about my students and help everyone start to feel comfortable in our classroom. We used some icebreaker games, a great game of Bingo, shared stories, and it definitely helps students to learn about each other and for me to learn about them.  Our classroom culture continues to develop each and with it brings new learning opportunities.

Another great way that I have found to learn about each student is through the use of project-based learning. When students have the choice to determine what it is that they want to study and can drive their own learning, we can connect more with each student and understand who they are and what their passions are for learning.  The students can learn about their peers as well as become more globally aware of what it is like to be a student in different parts of the world and to just really explore whatever it is that they want. For us as educators, it creates a way to extend our own learning and we can continue to improve and learn and grow with and from our students,  starting from the beginning of the year.

 

ocean under blue sky

Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

Being a teacher is easy.

It must be nice to have your summers off.

You’re so lucky, you don’t have to work on the weekends.

You have such long holiday breaks!

If you are a teacher, you likely have heard at least one of these statements before, perhaps from friends and family, or from people you just meet, that respond with similar statements when they find out that you are a teacher. Are these statements accurate? Well, I guess to an extent, but there are some ways to counter these comments.

 

It can be easy to be a teacher, if you love what you do, it does not feel like” work.” I enjoy  working with students, learning with and from them, and having the opportunity to start fresh each day and create experiences to engage students in learning. Having the summer off is nice too, but most teachers I know either work in the summer, attend conferences, or pursue some professional development. The “summer off” is nice for providing a more flexible schedule, and a time to reflect, explore new things and prepare for the new school year.

And as for weekends, I am fairly certain that most teachers look forward to the weekend for many reasons. Of course, time with family and time to relax are important. But it is also a time to catch up on some grading, emails, or exploring new methods to bring into the classroom. So weekends without work, I don’t think they happen too much.

And the extended holiday breaks are nice as well. But again, many teachers use this time to reflect, recharge and prepare for the return to school.

So, What is the reality?

The reality of being a teacher is that teaching today can be quite challenging. Maybe in the past, the life of the teacher was perceived to be a pretty comfortable and easy profession. The typical school day of 7:00 to 3:00 or some variation, with weekends and holidays off and of course, that summer break. With those hours and that schedule who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? From the outside looking in, it might seem like each day is the same, right? Each passing year the same as the year prior. How could it be that difficult? Once you make a worksheet or a test you have them to use forever, right?  Lesson plans are the same, projects are the same, and folders full of worksheets and activities pulled from the file cabinet, simply copy it, teach it and then move on to the next day. Same. (hopefully not).

There may be some truth to this, as I’m sure there are some teachers who are teaching the same way that they were taught and/or are using the same materials each day with each class and then doing it all over again the next year. No judgments made.

To an extent, I myself was this type of teacher for a long time. Not because I was trying to take the easy way out or save time. Rather I was using some of the methods that worked for me when I was a student. I thought this was the right way to prepare. And sometimes I used some of the same materials each year because I thought there was value to them for student learning. I know that when I was a student, some of the same issues that exist today existed then (copying homework, cheating on tests), but we didn’t have the technology, which creates tremendous learning opportunities but it also takes away some opportunities as well.

Foreign Language Teacher vs. Online Translators

I thought that being a foreign language teacher meant that I was a member of a group that had a distinct battle not experienced by any other content area.  It took some time for me to notice some bothersome trends in student work. The copying of assignments, the use of online language translators, and even copying information directly from websites. So the struggle was to find a way for students to have authentic practice that would not encourage student copying or trying to take a shortcut with learning. But each year it becomes more and more challenging to stay ahead of technology in this sense. I don’t know the answer as to how to get students to stop copying homework other than to not assign homework. And this has been a very strong discussion as to the value of homework, the type of homework, and whether or not homework should even be given at all. #ditchthehomework (follow the hashtag)

 

I will not make a decision either way, other than to say that for me, I do assign some “practice” tasks for the students to do, but they typically don’t come in the form of a worksheet. And sometimes when we are working in stations in class, if students do not finish something, I do ask that they work on it until complete. But I do add, “at their pace.”  Instead, I encourage students to practice the content by playing a game of review using the Quizlet cards, sharing a Quizizz game or provide prompts for writing a blog post. And these are ongoing practice tasks that are due on a weekly basis or that I have students create to use in the class. Why? Because in doing this rather than assigning the same worksheet to each student to complete,  I know that it is more authentic, will provide students with personalized practice and it is not something that can readily be copied.

But recently I was rather surprised when I saw some students switching between screens on their computer while working in their practice workbook. (As a side note, I stopped assigning practice from the workbook for homework because of copying).

I thought that by having students work on the pages in class, during stations, that I could interact more and provide more one on one feedback and  give time for students to collaborate with their peers. I did not anticipate this “new” form of copying, until one day a few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of a student switching screens on his laptop and then writing in the workbook. The process repeated and continued for a few minutes. From across the room I had an idea of what they were doing, but I gave it some time before I walked over. Hoping that I was wrong, and that it was not the website that provides answers to so many books and workbooks. (Still cannot believe what is available).

 

It was exactly as I had thought, one of the students was using that website, to look up and copy the answers for the workbook. While I understand that there can be comfort in having a resource to look at, especially when a student may be struggling with a concept, it is helpful to learn that you were on the right track. But I do have a problem when the answers to all questions in every book are so easily accessible and available to students. I know when I was in school, often our math teachers would assign questions opposite to the answers that were available in the back of the book. It was nice to have an option to look at some answers to do practice problems and see if we were working on them correctly, and there were times when I did wish that all of the answers were available. But it forced us to push through the challenges and solve the problems. There were struggles in the learning but that’s how we improved and kept going forward.

Simple lesson learned. In these experiences, and on a personal basis, you cannot or should not assign students the exact same thing if you can avoid it. Especially when teaching a higher level course or one in which students have the possibility to create, rather than simply consume. We need to give them more authentic opportunities to practice what they are learning. They need to create, not consume, be active, not passive, and have the opportunity to set their learning path and be curious in their pursuit of knowledge. This is how we prepare them for the future.

DEWEY

 

PBL and GimKit

So the tool was Gimkit and I only heard bits of a conversation in the #4OCFPLN group (Thank you Laura Steinbrink) and I honestly thought it was something only for elementary school. I decided last weekend to look it up, create an account and give it a try. At the end of the school year, I love trying new tools and ideas to keep students engaged in learning and finish strong. A few years ago, Goose Chase was a huge success, and so I was excited for the possibilities with Gimkit.

It was so easy to create a game, referred to as a “kit.” I created several “kits” for my classes and then noticed that I needed to upgrade to make additional kits. I reached out to the game’s creator to find out if I could have a brief trial period, so that I could make more games. Since the school year was ending, and I had conferences coming up, I really wanted to try out as many features as I could.  I was quite surprised to find out that this is a tool that has been created by a high school junior, as a part of project-based learning.

“Being uncomfortable is a great way to increase your skill of learning”

Learning the story behind the creation of Gimkit

When I asked Josh asked about his background, he told me that during the last school year, a new project-based learning high school opened in his district and he decided to attend.(See an interview done by Michael Matera, #xplap, where he interviews Josh).

In May of 2017, as he was completing one of his projects , he thought back to traditional school, where he really enjoyed using other game based learning tools, and thought he could create something to improve upon them. He started by interviewing different students and teachers, and compiled a list of the most common issues expressed, which became part of his focus in creating Gimkit.

GimKitHW

As an assignment

Last summer he worked on creating the first version of Gimkit, and ran a small beta test in October and officially launched the day before Halloween. He says they have spent “little to no time and money on marketing,”  and the user base is growing, over the past few weeks he has seen around 20x the usage he did from just a month ago. As for the team, for the most part, it’s just Josh who does all of the engineering and responds to customer support messages. He started to code between freshman and sophomore years, and then developed GimKit over the following summer. Josh also has a mentor who works with the customers and provides business advice. Listening to his interview with Michael, there are three questions that he asked himself which impressed me. “Am I working to improve the product every single day? Am I improving myself every single day? Am I doing something to push the product further everyday?” He clearly has a growth mindset and is reflective in his “challenges” that he has set up for himself.

 

I was so surprised when I received a response to my email to Gimkit  within about fifteen minutes of having sent it. I can’t recall the last time that I got a response so quickly.

GImkitCreate

Giving it a try

So last week I decided to give it a try in my classes without really knowing what to expect. I got started over the weekend by creating classes, entering the students’ names to make it easier in class. I created a few “kits”, which are games. It is very easy to create. You can start from scratch, upload your own sets of terms or connect with Quizlet to export a list of words directly into your game. The goal is to make as much money as you can, or for students to reach a set goal. Students can play individually or in teams and logging in is done through a code, where students can then either find their name if part of a class, or enter their name.. You can also set a time period to play, I have been using 10 and 12 minutes, just as a start.

I was very excited to try this with my classes and actually only intended to play during my Spanish I classes. To start, I told them that I really wasn’t sure how it worked and told them to just go for it.

Playing this reminded me of that day five years ago when we play Kahoot! for the first time. The students wanted to keep on playing more games every day and said it was their favorite. They were excited and having fun but more importantly I noticed that they were learning the words and their recall of the words became faster and faster with each time played. It was fun to observe them as they played, learning how the game worked, and hearing their interactions. Some students were yelling at their teammates “to stop buying things”, as they can “shop” and level up with extra money per question, buy insurance, bonus streak or other options. Eventually they all had fun buying things,  when they saw how quickly the money was being added to their account.

After the first round of games, I think the total won was around three million which seemed like a lot until the next class came in and had 17 million. The third group to play earned 37 million and when we decided to continue this the next day we were in the billions!

GimkitLIbrary

Gathering feedback and assessing the benefits of the tool

Once the game is done, a report is available which opens as a PDF. The summary shows the class results and the individual report lists each student, money earned and lost, correct and incorrect answers, followed by a list of the terms asked and the number of correct and incorrect responses. It is a great way to see what areas that the class as a whole needs some review with, but more importantly, something that can be shared with each student and used as a tool to study. Teachers can create 5 kits for free and edit each kit once. There are also paid plans that enable you to create more.

 

For the determining the benefit for students, I value their feedback very much and I ask them what they liked about the game and how they felt it impacted their learning of the vocabulary. They liked the game setup and the repeated questions, the music and the teamwork made it fun as well. Creating the kits was so fast and made it easy to keep adding more into my library. Another nice feature is the ability to assign kits for students to play outside of class for practice.

There are different options available for play in class as well as assignments. I love that students can work at their own pace and that they are learning more and feeling more confident with the material.  I definitely recommend that you check them out and follow them on Twitter, @Gimkit. Just in the past few days, there are already new features added, one favorite is the messages sent to teammates letting them know when someone on the team buys something.

 

 

**Slightly updated from an earlier post, but some ideas to get that energy back up

Ending  the year with 5 random ideas: Going back to basics 

The end of the school year is a great time to try some new ideas. With summer approaching,  we have time to reflect on methods used this year and to seek out new ideas and tools, to come up with creative and innovative methods and ways to welcome to students back in the fall. Hopefully these new activities will help to keep students more engaged in learning.

Here are 5 ways to have students connect, collaborate and create. These are also helpful for building peer relationships and for reviewing content or assessing skills at the end of the year. These ideas can be no-tech or using something suggested by the students.

1) Random games or icebreaker style: There are tons of ways to create icebreakers, whether by using paper and pencil or even with digital tools. For example, with Buncee, Piktochart or Canva students can come up with four statements about themselves to share with classmates. These can be in the form of three truths and a lie, as a way to help students learn about their peers and for the teacher to learn about the students. It is beneficial for making connections with one another, finding things in common, but also to appreciate the different perspectives and backgrounds students bring into the classroom. It will be a great way to enhance communication and comfort in the classroom and also, if tech is used, to start teaching students alternative ways to present information.

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2) Categories:  Create a template with 4 or 5 different categories related to the content area and grade level being taught. After deciding on categories, select 5 or 6 letters of the alphabet, or use numbers, that students must use to come up with a word, topic or date, that ties into each category. Students can randomly be assigned to small groups and can then share what their group came up with. This activity will promote communication between peers and provide an opportunity for collaboration and some fun as well. It can also be a good way to have students review, be creative and brainstorm new ideas even. It will provide time for teachers to assess student needs and decide the next steps in the lesson, as we keep moving toward the summer break.

 

3) Word art: Students need different ways to practice the content and one way that helps some learners is through visual learning. Students can use vocabulary, verbs or any content material to generate word art. Students can create a word cloud using paper and marker or try using a digital tool like WordCloud, or WordItOut, or other similar word cloud generators available. After the word clouds are created, teachers can build on the learning potential by having students post their work in the classroom, having a gallery walk where other groups can discuss the terms, brainstorm new ideas, define or translate them (if a foreign language) and increase the authentic learning materials in the classroom.

 

4) Music: Music can really liven up the classroom and be useful for helping students remember the material. One idea is to have students create rhymes or a song using a vocabulary list, names of famous people, state or world capitals, monuments or anything related to the content area. Students can work in pairs or a small group and create a song which can be used as a mnemonic device, to help them retain the information in a more meaningful way. For presentation purposes, students can then have the choice of sharing live in class or perhaps trying a tool like Flipgrid or Recap to record and share with classmates. It can even be followed up by posting the video on a Padlet and encouraging students to comment in writing, or leave a reply on Flipgrid. These student creations will add to the authentic classroom resources and engage students more in learning.

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5) Creating games: Students can create a game as a way to help themselves and their peers practice the material. It can be a game made up using paper or any materials the students decide on or created using one of the digital tools available like Kahoot, Quizlet or Quizizz. Students will have a more authentic learning experience when they select the specific vocabulary they need to practice, which will will give more personalized learning opportunities.

In trying one or all of these activities, it presents an opportunity for the students to work together, to build their relationships, to collaborate and to engage in more authentic learning experiences. And it provides the teacher with an opportunity to step aside and become a facilitator, and to use the time as an opportunity to not only assess student learning but to interact more and provide feedback for students.

 

There are many ways to practice the content material and engage students more in learning, these are just a few of the ideas that I have tried in my classroom this school year, and they are a work in progress. Knowing that something works takes reflection and student input, and one thing I have noticed in the few short weeks we have been in school, is that students are asking more questions and thinking of new ways to extend their learning. I have more time to move around and work with every student and provide more individualized instruction and really understand each student’s progress.

They are asking, “Can we…?, What if…?, Is it okay to…?” and adding their creativity into our activities. They are also suggesting improvements, “Maybe we could…, It might be better if you…, and This has helped me to remember…can we keep doing these activities?”  And my answer to all of these has been “Yes, I think we should try it.” If it works, then great. And if not, we will try again!”

 

A Classroom’s Journey To Student-Led, Interactive Lessons

Written for the RUBICON SUMMIT

About two years ago, I found myself struggling to find ways to keep my students engaged in the lesson. I tried to get them involved more in class activities by offering more choices and providing opportunities for them to be part of the decisions made about what we were doing in the classroom. Why did I do this? Partially because I saw – and could feel – a decrease in student motivation and engagement. It was approaching the end of the school year, and the focus had shifted more to “when does summer begin?”

So I tried to do things a bit differently, think creatively, and take some risks. I wanted to keep us all moving, to finish strong at the end of the school year and begin summer vacation with a sense of accomplishment, to celebrate all that we had learned throughout the year and also what we had gained from these new experiences.

Educational Technology and Digital Tools with Purpose
Educational Technology provides so many resources that enable students to learn anywhere and at any time, and at a pace that is comfortable for each student. We can instruct from inside the traditional classroom, ​”​the brick-and-mortar​” ​as it is called, or from anywhere around the world. Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and provides opportunities for the students to move from consumers to creators. When students have choices in how to show what they have learned, they are more likely to be engaged and excited for learning. They will feel valued​,​ and the lesson and learning will be more meaningful because it has been made perso​n​al to them.

Creating Interactive Lessons
What did I change? I started by having my students create some interactive lessons using educational technology tools like Formative, Nearpod, and EDPuzzle, or even games with Kahoot! and Quizizz. It proved to be a very beneficial learning experience for all of us. By doing this, we had extra resources available that could be shared with students who might need some extra practice. I thought it went so well that I decided to take it a step further and start a “teacher for a day” activity during which the students create a lesson based on a grammar topic or vocabulary.

I stepped back and had the students lead our classroom. It was a really good way to learn a lot more about the students, to better understand what their needs were in terms of the content material, and for the students to learn about each other. Giving students the control and the opportunity to become the creators and leaders in the class has tremendous benefits and it has been something that we have enjoyed.

Giving Students the Control
At first when students created interactive lessons, I would launch the lesson and control it on the SmartBoard, but find ways to involve the student who created it during the presentation. I eventually decided to move aside, and took a seat in the back of the room, having the student lead the lesson, give explanations, answer questions, call upon students for answers, and provide feedback. Having the opportunity to sit back and experience this was tremendous. The students enjoyed the activity, supported each other, collaborated, and provided some positive feedback to each of their classmates. I was very impressed with how well they taught, led, and learned during each of the “teacher for a day” lessons.

Empowering Students in Learning
The use of these digital tools means ​that ​the “time and place for learning” is no​ longer​ confined to the ​traditional time and setting of the physical ​classroom​. It opens up the learning environment ​to​ anywhere​, at any time and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well. Learning and having timely, purposeful and authentic feedback is critical ​for growth to happen. When we shift our focus to creating opportunities, giving students the control, leaving the decision making to students to choose ​how t​o show what they have learned, or ​letting them​ design their own assessments, they are more empowered in their learning.

What are the Next Steps?
Have a conversation with your students and ask for their honest feedback. What did they like? What did they not like? Which lesson or format seemed to help the most? What did it feel like to be in control, decide how to deliver the lesson, and experience being the teacher? You can have this as a face to face conversation, students can respond on paper, or use one of the many digital tools available for communication. No matter which way you choose, look to your students for the valuable feedback to decide your next steps. Be sure to ask yourself these same questions and continue to reflect on steps taken and progress made!

For more strategies about integrating technology into instruction, read Overcome

EdTech’s Problems With Blended Learning!

 

Posted on TeachThought, August 29th, 2017  (Thank you Terry Heick)

It started with a cross-class collaboration idea.

I was not sure the idea would work, but was willing to give it a try and it had captured the interest of students. I connected four levels of Spanish and created a team project using Google and Padlet so students could collaborate and share their work.

The experience went so well that it led me to think about other ways to engage students more in a collaborative online learning space. Students need to be connected with authentic learning experiences and develop digital citizenship skills, and to be given choices in learning. Trying to build on the prior project collaboration, I wanted to explore possibilities of using Google slides to have students work simultaneously on a whole-class project.

I asked the students if they had done any type of collaboration online like this before, and I was surprised that they had not. Knowing this pushed me more to decide that I should definitely create this learning experience with them.

Connecting students

I decided to try something more collaborative by using Google Slides. We are a Microsoft Office school, but many students use Google Drive on their own. I also use Edmodo in my classes and like the students to have experience with different kinds of tools. I like that students can work on a document or a presentation at the same time, as this substantively changes the methods and frequency with with students share ideas.

By having students create a class presentation simultaneously, the teacher can then take that extra time to facilitate their learning and interact with students to do something more specific, like assessing their content knowledge. Giving students the opportunity to work as a team toward one whole class project rather than completing individual projects opens up new and more engaging ways for the students to learn not only content or technology skills, or even ‘soft skills’ like collaboration, but also get to know one another more as well.

Connecting students with their peers promotes a friendlier and more cohesive class culture, and I think makes learning more authentic and meaningful for students. To be able to see what they are each working on and to be part of the whole class presentation in real-time requires constant interfacing of different personalities and skill levels.

The divergent interests, backgrounds, and experiences of the students in each class are emphasized in whole-class projects like this, which both strengthens the learning experience while also being more demanding of the technology.

When doing individual projects, it’s not always the case that each student has the opportunity to see the work of the other students. Doing this can be quite time-consuming and feel ‘wasteful,’ but the long-term momentum of successful projects that are as highly-visible as a whole-class collaboration are worth the time taken, and hiccups along the way, especially early in the year.

Our Presentation

To have the students practice the new chapter material on clothing and shopping preferences, I created a Google Slides template for a Fashion Show.

I set up a presentation for each class and shared it with the students. I provided instructions for what was expected for their slide, and reminded them to only work on their slide and respect the work of the other students.

For the fashion show, they were to choose a celebrity, find a picture and write a description in Spanish of the clothing that the person was wearing. They also had to write a few statements about where the clothing could be purchased as well as the cost for the items.

In doing this I thought it would be a great reference because the students could refer back to each slide, read the descriptions, and reinforce and review their content knowledge. Plus, depending on the types of clothing pictures the students chose, it could be a lot more fun–definitely more engaging and an interesting experience for all students than individual study.

This ‘real-world topic meets real-world technology meets whole-class collaboration’ ended up being a more authentic way to practice the content than even I had hoped, increasing the language and content retention for the students as well as teaching them new technology skills.

The students really liked seeing the Fashion Show displayed on the Smartboard, which was another opportunity to reinforce the vocabulary by asking students questions about each slide, reviewing the verb forms, and more.

For the most part, they did respect the work of their classmates. A few students enjoyed adding pictures of some celebrities onto the slides of their peers, which resulted in peers responding instantly and removing them–I didn’t even have to say anything!

A risk in giving open access to the editing of the presentation ended up being worth the risk taken, and was a way to teach lessons about digital citizenship as well.

Next Time

Always thinking of the next thing, I decided that perhaps another opportunity to work collaboratively would be to create a class review presentation for final exams. This might take more planning, but I think the long-term effect will be worth it.

This approach is a great way for the students to prepare for final exams and have a reference to review the material covered in the level 1 Spanish course. The idea is that each student will be assigned a slide and given a verb or grammar topic as well as some vocabulary to include.

For their slide, the goal is to teach a mini-lesson, provide references, include a video or link to a game and some sample sentences. Though I’m taking this approach to teach a foreign language, it could be used to teach, learn, or review almost anything, from math definitions and historical trends to literacy devices, phonics, word parts, and more.

I also hope that it will end up being a good way for students to have some personal instruction as well as a choice in what they are creating–and another opportunity for students to collaborate with their peers as the teacher shifts roles from leader to facilitator of learning.

PBLTT