Buncee for engaging learning opportunities!

We are a few weeks into the new school year and for many educators, it has been an interesting start to the year. Whether in physical classroom spaces or in a hybrid or distance learning environment, our focus at the start of the year is on building relationships and engaging students in learning. The challenge this year for many is  creating the right spaces to build those relationships when we are not together in our physical classrooms.  Buncee provides so many possibilities for doing just this.

Introductions

I can create with Buncee and engage my students in opportunities to not only create and engage more in learning, but provide a way that they can feel connected to each other if we cannot be together in the same physical space.  A great place to start is exploring the Ideas Lab. There are great templates available to choose from that work well for the beginning of the year and a back to school theme, or for some ice breakers to build relationships that are so important. 

Check out some of these recent additions to Buncee templates for having students express themselves by creating an acrostic poem or a virtual locker.  These are great options to have students create a Buncee to introduce themselves to their teacher and to their classmates!

(this one was shared by Buncee)

(drag and drop items into your virtual locker)

Using Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom, it makes it really easy to share these with students. For global collaboration, create a Buncee board to post all of the amazing student creations. With project-based learning, my students have been able to connect with students in Argentina and Spain and share a little bit about their experiences as students and what life is like here in the United States.  With all the options available for creating within Buncee, it’s fun for students to be able to create something that represents who they are and even to have the option to include audio or video to really get to know each other.  Being able to collaborate like this is quite valuable regardless of where learning is happening but definitely beneficial as many schools are working with hybrid and distance learning. It helps students to feel more connected to their classmates and their teachers and also to be able to connect on a global scale which is important for all students. 

Teach a Lesson

One of my favorite ways to use Buncee is to create lessons to share with my students. One of the first ones that I did was to teach about digital citizenship and it was easy to create something using all of the different options available within the media library and to give students an opportunity then create their own buncee to share what they had learned. 

Set up class expectations for virtual learning

Explore the templates and create something like this fast and make it your own by selecting from the more than 35,000 choices available in the media library! 

Ready-made templates and new topics

Something else that I’ve always loved about using Buncee is that it integrates with other tools that we use in my classroom. With this new partnership with Flipgrid,  there are even more ways to use these tools together to provide more opportunities for students to build essential skills. You can find pre-made Buncee templates available in the discovery library focused on topics like social emotional learning, goal-setting and schedulers and organizers.  Check out all of the choices today!

One of the things I love the most about using Buncee is that there is always support available. Whether you connect with the Buncee team through the different social media platforms, or make connections with educators from around the world through Twitter or Facebook, there are so many ways to learn and grow as educators. And even more importantly,  to bring new opportunities to our students. If you need some quick resources on different topics, check out all of the many options available at their Buncee help desk.

Looking for more ideas?  See what the Buncee Ambassadors are up to! Explore the 66 ideas for using Buncee from Maria Jose Giavedoni.  Did you catch the Creative Beginnings event at the beginning of August? Three days of sessions and so many topics and ideas.  Catch the recordings here.

Coming up:

Don’t miss out on the new idea o’clock with Buncee starting September 16th happening live on Facebook at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.  First up was Shannon Miller and Amy Storer is on the 23rd! Be sure to tune in to learn new ideas from Buncee educators!

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Find more in the Back to School Resources Kit

Check out the videos available here.

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Versatile Tools for Blended Learning

Posted originally on DefinedSTEM: Ideas for some AR/VR for Blended Learning

Years ago when I started to use more technology in the classroom, I thought that by having students watch videos at home, rather than in class, I would be “flipping” the classroom. Fortunately, I learned quickly that I was not, and made some changes to implement blended learning instead. As part of my ongoing reflection, I continue to think about the many changes that I have made and the tools that have helped me to create a more authentic and engaging learning experience for my students. There are so many tools available, and we always want to first consider the “why” behind using them and also think about the purpose and how versatile the tools can be. Learning opportunities for students are everywhere and the best part of having so many choices is that it promotes student agency. Students can find something that meets their interests and needs, and that offer more meaningful ways to engage with the content. Choices will lead to purposeful learning experiences for students.

Sometimes it is fun and beneficial to try unconventional tools or methods, to immerse students more in learning and do things differently than what they have become accustomed to. Making a change to thttps://www.definedstem.com/blog/versatile-tools-for-blended-learning/he traditional style and structure of the classroom can feel uncomfortable at first, but giving students more control in designing their learning is worth it. The flexibility of these tools enables learning to happen anywhere and at any time, based on the student’s or school schedule, which help to foster a blended learning environment. Here are a few ideas to immerse students in learning.

Augmented/Virtual Reality

One of the biggest areas of growth in education has been the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality in the classroom. In  my own classroom we have used a variety of tools and students have enjoyed the time exploring new tools and definitely different ways to learn. The idea of teaching by using tools for AR or VR can  seem challenging, but it really can be quite simple to add it into the course and there are tons of resources available. I recommend exploring the resources shared by Jaime Donally on all things related to Augmented and Virtual Reality in education.

These tools can offer more powerful ways to immerse students in learning, to “travel” and “explore” places and things more closely. Students can create, problem solve, become more curious and experience something unique through the use of these tools, which enable learning to happen beyond the classroom walls and involve students in more collaborative experiences.

Tools to try:

  1. 3DBear: A newer platform that enables students to add objects into their space and then narrate a story in augmented reality. Teachers are able to create a class account and can choose from the lessons available for grades 1-6 and up, in content areas including ELA, Math, Social Studies, Science, and also STEAM-related topics. Each lesson includes links to reading materials, timelines, and also worksheets. Teachers can sign up for a free trial.
  2. CoSpaces:  A tool for creating “spaces” where students can tell a story, create a game to represent their learning in a more authentic and meaningful way. Students can work together on projects and design a more immersive story together. Working together helps students to develop their  digital citizenship skills as well as promote social emotional learning skills. An engaging way to reinforce content by having students design spaces they can then “walk” through in virtual reality.
  3. Metaverse: An augmented reality tool that teachers can use to create assessments with or have students design an interactive “experience” full of choices in characters, GIFS, 360 images, themed objects and more. There are “experiences” available and it is easy to get started by  watching the tutorial videos from Metaverse. Students can create their own experiences and share them with classmates and teachers can create more engaging review activities for students.
  4. Shapes 3D Geometry:  An app that gives students and teachers a more interactive way to explore core concepts of geometry and that can help students discover 2D and 3D shapes in an augmented reality experience. Using a Merge cube, students can examine 3D shapes by holding the solids in their hands, manipulating them and being able to more closely understand the core concepts of geometry.

Learning beyond  the classroom: Virtual Field Trips

It is important for students to experience learning and explore the world, beyond the limits of the classroom time and space. While we can’t easily take students to  faraway places,there are different tools that make these “trips” possible. The right tools bring in a world of learning for our students, enabling them to closely look at a location rather than by simply watching videos or looking at pictures in a book. We can even connect students with  other classrooms and experts around the world by using one of these options in our classes. Many of these tools are easy to get started with and some even have lessons available, which makes the lack of time factor, not an issue.

Tools to Try:

  1. Google Expeditions: By using Google Expeditions, teachers can “guide” students in faraway lands or have them closely view an object in Augmented reality. All that is required is the App, and then students need to be on the same wifi as teachers in order to “explore” in the classroom. Teachers can choose from more than 100 objects in augmented reality and 800 virtual tours to travel around the world. Each tour includes a script with guiding questions and enrichment activities, all easily accessible by downloading them to a device.
  2. Skype: Years ago, connecting with other classrooms took a lot of time to plan, working with different schedules and access to the right technology. Now through tools like Skype, students andteachers can connect with anyone in the world. By joining the Microsoft community, teachers can connect with other classrooms and create connections for students to communicate by using Skype or for more fun and pushing the critical thinking, collaboration and problem-solving skills, try using Mystery Skype.

Tools for anywhere learning

With blended learning, students have the online component as well as the traditional in-class instruction. One type of blended learning involves the use of stations. By using some of these tools, especially if access to devices is an issue, students can participate in station rotations and learn in multiple ways. The best part is that these tools are accessible when convenient for students as well.

  1. Nearpod: A favorite because it is such a versatile tool that offers a lot of options for how to have students interact with the content, and even go on virtual reality tours and explore 3D shapes. Some of the activities you can include are polls, open-ended responses, matching pairs, for a few and also including content such as BBC videos, PhET simulations and more recently, a Desmos graphing calculator. A tool to enhance instruction whether in or out of the classroom, and one which students can use to create their own lessons to share.
  2. Buncee: Students can create multimedia presentations that include a variety of items such as animations, emojis, 360 images, and web content including videos that can be embedded into the presentation. Teachers can create a lesson using Buncee by adding videos, audio, including hyperlinks and sharing one link with students, that leads to multiple other activities.
  3. Quizizz: A game based learning tool that can be used for instruction, both in and out of class, or for students to create their own games as more authentic practice. Quizizz has thousands of games available in the library and recently added a student log-in that enables students to track their progress and gives them access to prior games played so they can always go back and review. Having this available to students makes it more personalized because students can get extra practice whenever they need it.
  4. Kahoot!: Challenges with Kahoot have become quite popular. Teachers can “challenge” students to participate in a game as a way to practice the content or review for an assessment. Students can even challenge each other by sharing games and codes, which makes it good for peer collaboration and building the social emotional learning skills.
  5. Synth: A podcasting  tool that can be used to have students respond to questions, participate in a conversation by responding to a prompt or a “thread.” A thread is a string of responses in a conversation. Creating with Synth is easy and simply by recording a prompt that can also include a video, teachers can promote communication and student discussion beyond the school day. Teachers can then listen to all student responses as a podcast.

Finding new tools to explore is  always fun, especially when we have students create with them and share their work with classmates. We learn more about their interests and needs and they have a more personalized experience.

These tools have made  an impact on my students this year and I have seen a lot of benefits by offering students a variety of tools to choose from. Creating a more interactive classroom experience and expanding the where, when and how students learn, leads to more of a blended learning  approach. It is important to show students that learning can happen anywhere and give them the tools to make that possible.

 

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Focus in the new school year: Building relationships

Focus in the new school year: Building relationships

Rachelle Dene Poth

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

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

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

Learning Together

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

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

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

Start connecting

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

How do we find the right tools

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

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

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

Learn With Students

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

BIO

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

 

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

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Exploring the World From Our Classroom

As we prepare our students for their future once they leave our classrooms, I believe that one of the most important skills that they need to develop is that of collaboration. We cannot be certain of the type of work that they will do nor the type of jobs that will exist, but being able to collaborate and to provide and receive support will be beneficial to any line of work. However, we need to go beyond the collaboration that occurs whether in person in the classroom, working in small groups or collaborating virtually through the use of digital tools. We have so many possibilities for extending their collaboration to a global scale and to best prepare for the future, this is what we must do in our classrooms. The benefit of setting up virtual collaborative learning experiences for students is that it shows the powerful capability of technology. Through different digital tools and organizations available, we can now offer faster and more reliable access to resources than we ever had before. But probably more important than this, it fosters a greater understanding of life in the real world and promotes cultural awareness for our students.

As a Spanish teacher, for years I have wanted to create global connections for my students but only until the past few years did I become more intentional about finding ways to do so. Drawing upon my experiences as a student and during the first years of my teaching career, finding opportunities or knowing where to look were areas that I struggled with. However, after doing some research and becoming more connected, there are a lot of digital tools and resources available for making these global collaborations happen and which do not take much time at all to get started.

In my practice, to connect globally, I use project-based learning is the first way that I connected my students with other classrooms and that has made a positive impact on their learning as well as on their personal growth. It simply took connecting with teachers using Edmodo as our platform and then building the different tools in to open up those conversations and create that space for students to collaborate within. Tools like Flipgrid, Synth, Padlet or Wakelet can be used for students to post messages whether written or audio or video and to work together to better understand a concept or potentially work together to solve a problem.

Resources for global collaboration and learning

Scavenger hunts: I’m sure most of us have participated in a scavenger hunt. A few years ago I found the platform Goose Chase which made it a lot easier and quicker to create a scavenger hunt for use in my classroom. What I realized is that by using digital tools like Goose Chase for example, is that those who can participate are not limited to students in the same class nor students in the same school community. Find a partner teacher to collaborate with and design a scavenger hunt that can be a way to exchange information about each respective culture, post images of the school, the town or what life is like beyond your own school community. The results would be amazing when students in both classrooms learn about another culture, become curious for learning, collaborate and problem-solve together while being in a completely different geographical location. This idea had not occurred to me until I participated in a scavenger hunt for a conference in California, from my home in Pittsburgh, and I actually won a prize. And if not Goose Chase, I can use things like Fliphunt or even Wakelet as a good friend of mine Laura Steinbrink had created. There are many tools to get started with this, but the idea is that we push beyond our own classrooms and involve other students so that we can learn and grow together.

There is no shortage of tools for use in our classrooms, whether digital or traditional format. What makes any one of them stand out is the purpose and knowing the why behind our decision to use them in our practice. When it comes to preparing our students for the future, the best that we can do is open as many doors as possible for them to look out into the world, explore, and find something that is interesting and leads them down a road of discovery. In addition to digital tools for promoting global collaboration, there are some organizations that have invested in building global awareness and digital citizenship.

Here are a few resources to start with:

Belouga: An educational platform that provides resources for educators and students to connect with classrooms around the world and engage in more authentic learning. Belouga focuses on promoting intercultural communication and offers resources such as projects for students to participate in to develop a greater global understanding. Belouga offers a deep dive series as well as a new feature that focuses on Mission 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Empatico: A free platform for use with their students ages six through 11. Educators can connect their classroom with a partner classroom and design activities to engage students in more meaningful learning as they develop greater global awareness. Through the connections made within the platform, students can build their vital 21st-century skills and take a more active role in learning.

Teach SDGs:  The “Sustainable Development Goals” are something that we have been learning more about as we’ve done project-based learning in my classroom. Exploring the website and learning more about the needs and challenges around the world has made an impact on my students as well as myself for learning. Going to the Teach SDGs site, students can learn about the 17 goals set forth by the United Nations. Together we can look at global issues, learn how places around the world are solving these problems, and use this to set up connections with classrooms globally. Again it just takes finding the right tool to communicate through. It could be with Microsoft Skype, to set up a call to talk with someone who teaches in one of those places or to connect with an expert I can talk about a specific topic, but that opens up the potential to connect our students’ work together.

Write the World: Students ages 13 through 18 can write and share their work with writers from over 120 countries around the world. Through the global platform, students have opportunities to build their writing skills and become more comfortable expressing themselves. Write the World is a good way to get feedback from students, educators, and authors and to work to build a writing portfolio. With access to writing from around the world and the ability to share their work on a global scale, students and build cultural awareness and become more connected as they design their learning journey.

Global Book!: Or how about Michael Drezek, an educator from New York who came up with the idea to create a global book! Using Buncee, he started the story by sharing it with classrooms around the world and having students add to the book. In the first year, the book traveled over 23,208 miles! This is the second year that Michael is doing this project and the focus is on the global sustainability goals. Imagine having your students come up with part of a global story and in the end to see how they’ve connected with students from around the world without leaving your classroom or possibly even their seat.

As educators, we must continue to push ourselves to learn more about resources available as well as the different ways we can become more connected. There are many online events to build our skills, including virtual learning summits, webinars, and Twitter chats our own professional development. It is through these formats that we can reach out to connect ourselves and serve as a model for our students about the importance of and the power in global collaboration. Check out some of the resources that were available for global collaboration week, there are a lot of ideas and links to excellent resources.

Tools for anywhere learning

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

3  books.png

What skills will students need

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What experiences will help?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

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

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

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

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

When and Where to Collaborate

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

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

Five ways to collaborate wherever and whenever

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

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

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

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

5 Ideas for Building Communication Skills for the Future

My prior post on Getting Smart

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

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

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

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

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

Written Communication

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

Video Response

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

Podcasting

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

Infographics

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

Videos and Vlogging

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

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

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Classroom Tools and Activities that Foster Future-Ready Skills

Originally published on DefinedSTEM 

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

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

Preparing for the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

COVID-19 & Education:

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

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

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

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

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(www.casel.org)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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