“Blogging is a communications mechanism handed to us by the long tail of the Internet.”

Today I came online to write my weekly blog post and I was welcomed by WordPress stating today was my 7 year anniversary of blogging. I thought to myself, wow 7 years, that’s a long time to be writing every Sunday, except for a few holiday here and there. A lot has happened in 7 years but the biggest thing I was most excited about was that I still enjoy it.

I decided today that I am going to keep on writing but I am going to not be writing once a week anymore. I am going to write when the creative juices strike me, to change it up a bit. That might mean two blog posts in a week or one a month but I am giving myself that “freedom” to see what happens.

My top five blog posts based on the statistics:

  1. Shifting the Role of the Teacher written on September, 21st 2014
  2. Ways to use QR Codes in the Elementary Classroom and Using Google Docs to Create Them written on April 8th, 2012
  3. Let the Games Begin…Ecosystem Competition Lesson Plan written August 13th, 2013
  4. Action Based Learning written on October 2nd, 2016
  5. Personalized Learning from A-Z written January 2nd, 2017
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“What is Apple, after all? Apple is about people who think ‘outside the box,’ people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.” By Steve Jobs

Guest Post by Fe Cowan from Palmetto High School, Williamston, South Carolina

Being a student in a higher-poverty district doesn’t mean pupils get a compromised education, just as wealthier students aren’t guaranteed success. How to engage students is up to teachers and while lavish budgets are never unwanted, there are many ways we can use ingenuity to give any student a more enriching experience. Of course, this assumes the teacher is also engaged and doesn’t believe classes should only involve pulling pages out of a standard workbook.

I’ve been teaching for 28 years. Currently, I teach world geography to ninth graders at Palmetto High School, which is located in Williamston, South Carolina near Greenville, South Carolina in the piedmont area of Anderson School District 1.. Even though our district is at 49% poverty while Palmetto sits at close to 60% poverty, our district administrators have put us ahead of the curve when it comes to technology. All students from primary to high school have some form of one-to-one technology. As a teacher, I wanted my students to experience the things that kids in a wealthier district would encounter and I’m delighted to say that not only is this currently the case, but my students are actually ahead of other students in some important ways.

I’ve been using “app smashing” with my students, which is a phrase coined by a teacher who found that after using iPads in the classroom for some time, one application never seemed like enough to achieve a satisfactory outcome. In app smashing, two or more apps are used to create content, delivering several positive results like getting more out of the software, improving the teaching experience, increasing student engagement, encouraging collaboration and, best of all, promoting creative thinking.

Get out of the rut….

Effective teaching mandates not being afraid to try something new in the classroom. Many teachers criticize the kids for spending so much of their time on video games and TV, which automatically turns these areas into a negative. This is the wrong attitude because finding a way to reflect student interests prevents boredom in class and can lead to more enlightened learning that will stick with pupils. And there’s the powerful side benefit of reducing or eliminating behavior problems.

Every year that I’ve taught World Geography, I’ve given an assignment in which students create a restaurant located in some other part of the world. Earlier, we used Microsoft apps like PowerPoint and Word to develop flyers and other details and a few years ago when we had iPads, I had students create commercials for their restaurant. Our school/district recently switched to Chromebooks so initially, I was concerned that I wouldn’t have the familiar applications like iMovie that had been working for me on the Apple platform. I need not have worried. After some online searching, I found WeVideo and Soundtrap for the Chromebook. One of the added bonuses of both software was the collaborative aspects that allow students to work together in groups on the same assignment, which wasn’t possible with iMovie. As educators, we are required to teach our students 21st century skills like collaboration.
As a teacher, I’ve long been committed to developing my own materials rather than using workbook sheets so I make everything my students write on in class like a crossword puzzle or something else myself. But I needed a tool to help me fulfill my longtime goal of adding music creation to my restaurant commercial assignment. This is what brought me to use app smashing.

While WeVideo has downloadable music, this didn’t support my educational goal of enhancing their learning and the innovation process. That’s why I chose Soundtrap, which is an online music and recording studio that lets my kids add music to their commercial. For example, when we study Latin America, their commercial is for an imaginary Latin American restaurant and creating Latin-style music could be part of their commercial. Soundtrap is an intuitive, easy-to-use tool but there are still students who resist or are a bit frightened of technology so I made the music part of the assignment an extra-credit project for those interested. The results were impressive. Many students jumped right in and some created music that was so good that I wasn’t sure if they made it on their own or pulled it off a video. Fortunately, they did it all themselves.

Having taught kids in wealthier and poorer districts, it was disheartening for me to see how the wealthier kids I taught were mainly using their electronic devices just for typing while my students in Palmetto are far ahead of them in app smashing – it promotes creativity and collaboration. We have another assignment coming up — we’re in Europe now — in which they’ll pretend they’re going to two concerts by different artists. They have to find tourist sites they’d visit and they can create and add music and some narration for extra credit.

I’ve been taking every opportunity to play with music with my students because along with collaboration, creativity is a 21st century skill that people need. But, I try to ground these activities in key life lessons, so I tell my students that these creative skills they’re learning are something that might earn them money, too. Knowing how to develop videos with music or develop flyers are skills that are desirable in the real world.
Like anyone, kids can be a bit apprehensive when faced with something they’ve never done before, but the process of learning and producing good results is a powerful teaching tool. Whether its app smashing, making a pretend commercial for an overseas restaurant or learning how to collaborate, the journey is enriching.

Unfortunately, some teachers resist learning new things, too, but I believe stepping out of your comfort zone not only prevents boredom for everyone but can create the pride in achievement that gives educators as well as their students a more engaged, happy life.

“Student voice is the road to change.” By Russell Q

I often talk about how and why we should allow for more student voice in the classroom but lately I have been hearing so many misconceptions. I find the misconceptions mostly stem from thinking students responding in class is adding student voice. Student voice is not about students responding but about students making choices and sharing their ideas about their learning. Below are some of the misconceptions I have heard and ideas of how you can add students voice into the classroom:

  • Talking Sticks: Allowing students to answer questions by using “sticks” with their name on it does not allow for more student voice. It’s a great strategy to randomize calling on students to see how they will respond or for understanding. Instead….
    • For every ten minutes of content you deliver students need TIME to process and synthesize their learning.  Have students turn and talk about what they learned.
  • Question Stems: Having questions stems is a great tool for supporting more in-depth conversations in the classrooms but that is not adding student voice. Instead…
    • Have students write reflections.  This allows for students to work through their thoughts and emotions before sharing and allows their authentic voice.
  • Surveys: Giving students surveys is great. If you are only gathering student feedback that it is not allowing for student voice. Instead…
    • Use the survey data to take action and make changes. This will show students you are listening and value their voice and ideas.

Other ways to add student voice in the classroom is by having students:

  • goal set and reflect
  • led their conferences
  • debate on topics
  • Genius Hour
  • choice on how to show mastery

Please share ways you have allowed more student voice in the classroom.

“Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.” By Amy Jo Martin

I love social media as a way to learn and grow as an educator. To me, it is eyes and ears into so many different educators classrooms, schools and districts. Recently I have been getting a lot of Facebook (FB) requests from educators. To me it is important to keep these worlds seperate as I believe that it is a key component for digital citizenship, especially as educators. This is what led me to make a seperate FB profile as an educator. I can accept other educators as friends to continue to learn and grow and not annoy my other friends when I post about education topics. 😉

Below are all me education social media links:

Facebook 

Twitter

Linkdein

*I have not done instagram at this time but I may on day.

 

“I’m excited about Augmented Reality because unlike Virtual Reality which closes the world out, AR allows individuals to be present in the world but hopefully allows an improvement on what’s happening presently… That has resonance.” Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

AR, VR and MR which are know as ‘realities’ are fast tracking into education in many ways. Are you thinking, AR, VR, MR – oh mylanta?!? Let’s break it down so that together we can understand the differences and start thinking about how we can apply these realities into the classroom! AR, VR and MR provide new ways for teaching and learning to happen that engages all students!

AR = Augmented Reality

  • Overlay of objects in the world around you
  • Uses a phone or viewing device
  • Examples of AR in the real world: IKEA Place (lets you overlay IKEA furniture in your home to “see” it.) Snapchat lenses and Pokemon Go.

VR = Virtual Reality

  • Immersion into another world.
  • Often requires a headset (but not always)
  • Does not interact with the real world
  • Examples of VR in the real world: Playstation VR and DiscoveryNow (Education)

MR = Mixed Reality

  • Combines elements of both AR and VR, real-world and digital objects interact
  • This is still very new and I see it becoming more popular within the next few years as people get more comfortable with AR and VR.

This is a great video explaining the difference between VR and AR in less than two minutes.

I love this Thinglink of educational resources for AR and VR!

Read more about AR and VR:

How Reality Technology is Used in Education

What Is the Difference Between AR and VR? A Lesson in Altered Realities

25 resources for bringing AR and VR to the classroom

Why VR? 8 key reasons VR will transform education

AR vs VR in Education

The difference between AR, VR, MR, XR and how to tell them apart

I would love to hear how you incorporate AR, VR or MR in your classroom!

“Empowering those around you to be heard and valued makes the difference between a leader who simply instructs and one who inspires.” By Adena Friedman

All leaders want people who show initiative by taking on and completing tasks with little guidance. In order to do that leaders need to empower people which is not always easy when there are many initiatives to balance, lack of time and guiding employees  that are facing personal challenges. Below are tips and tricks I have learned and continuing to develop as I grow as a leader.

  1. Cultivate Open Communication: This can be done many ways and needs to be often referenced back to help employees continue to feel safe. One way to cultivate open communication is having an open door policy. Employees can come in anytime the door is open if they have a question or an idea. During this time, the leader needs to stop doing what they are working on and listen. This is not always easy as you as a leader also have items on your plate and to do items to be done but it is something that needs to be done. I know I am not the best at this but hoping that writing about it will help me practice what I preach! Another way to cultivate open communication to empower others is to building a community of authentic feedback. We do this as a team through reviewing all our work as a team so that many eyes are on it and we are always producing our best content. This does not happen over night and will make some employees uncomfortable but over time they will open up as they see that it is a safe learning environment. The other great part of this approach is that it nudges people to produce their best work because they know others will be looking at it with a different “eye.” Just like how students produce better work when they know they have an authentic audience verse just the teachers.
  2. Be Transparent: I feel that the more transparent you are, the easier change becomes and it empowers people with the right information . This doesn’t mean as a leader you don’t filter things to protect employees. For example, for me, I do not tell employees things until they are facts! There are often times many rumors floating around and I will address that with them because they are just that…rumors. If I know a change or changes are going to occur but the leaders above me have not made final decisions, then I do not tell them what could be, I tell them the facts, there are going to be some changes and they are not sure what they are. Another way I am transparent is by having an employee handbook for our department so that each person knows what is expected of them and there are no surprises. If I make a change to the handbook, it is something that we have discussed as a team.
  3. Show Appreciation:  Everyone likes to feel appreciated and for many that empowers them to want to do a good job for the team. I like to show appreciattion differently so they see that I truly care about each one of them (I may be bias but I do have the best team).  Sometimes it is through celebrations at our staff meetings, sometimes it is a thank you note on their desk while other times it is a favorite treat. I also like to do team appreciations such a making breakfast  or getting pizza for them or doing a fun activities such as bowling. It is important to note here something I have recently learned as well, you may feel you are doing a good job of showing apprciation but that does not always mean other on your team feel that way. It is important to try to find out how they view apprecition too.

As always, I would love your ideas and feedback because leadership is always something I am trying to improve my craft in.

“Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work.” By Ralph Marston

Summer break is a time for educators to recharge themselves after an exhausting school year. Below are some ways for you to rest, renew and restore yourself that have helped me.

Rest: Take time off! Many teachers have a second job such as tutoring or summer school which is great but make sure you also take time for you. Go to the beach or on vacation.

Renew: Do something that you have never done before. It doesn’t have to be big but maybe it’s cooking a new dinner recipe or completing a new project. Extra points if you cross something off your bucket list.

Restore: Chose your own professional learning experience whether it be a book study, a face to face course or virtual. Improving your craft based on your needs will restore you and get you excited for the new year.

Please share ways that you recharge below in the comments.

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