Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Educational Book Recommendations

“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” – J.K. Rowling

This week I have been thinking about a lot of books that I have read the last few months so I thought it was a good time to update everyone on my recommendations from the past few months.

  1. The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools by Anthony Kim and  Alexis Gonzales-Black. “If we don’t change how schools work and how they are organized, we won’t ever realize the full potential of the work they do.” This inspirational book provides practical advice for educators who are launching or improving schools that you could use tomorrow to make changes. The authors guide you through six rules that they have seen make the biggest impact on how organizations function and how work gets done. The book is chock full of case studies, activities, and resources for you to use. They also have a helpful website here.
  2. Social LEADia: Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership by Jennifer Casa-Todd. This book explores the concept of digital leadership and its place in today’s schools and classrooms. It provides advice on how we can help our students navigate the digital world
  3. The Wild Card: 7 Steps to an Educator’s Creative Breakthrough by Wade King and Hope King. This book is motivational and encourages educators to find their spark! It also provides educators with a guide of how to build creativity in the classroom through realistic strategies. 

I always love a good book, what suggestions do you have?

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How PLC’s and Personalized Learning Are Connected

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” By Helen Keller

If you are in education you have heard the term PLC which stands for Professional Learning Communities. Every school should have them as it’s a great way to help improvement teachers practices and increase student learning. Strong PLCs ensure equity of resources for students and redesign learning to accommodate the students needs.

PLC involves much more than a group of teachers getting together to discuss their lesson plans or data. Instead, a PLC should represent a focus on continuous improvement in staff performance as well as student outcomes. If teachers are working together in PLCs answering these questions then they are working towards a more Personalized Learning environment for their classrooms. According to Rick DuFour, the guru of PLCs, the four critical questions of a PLC include:

  1. What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
  2. How will we know if they learn it?
  3. How will we respond when some students do not learn?
  4. How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient/shown mastery?

I would tweak these questions to provide support to help educators change their practices in the classroom and to promote more of a personalized instruction by  bringing in the students responses along with a few more I added in green below:

For students during a PLC:

  1. What do I want to know and be able to do?
  2. What dispositions/soft skills will help me accomplish my goal?
  3. How will I know if I learned it?
  4. How will I demonstrated that I have mastered the skill/concept? 
  5. How will I respond when I do not understand the concept or am not learning it? What resources can I turn to?
  6. How will I extend my learning?

Adding student responses into the PLC process starts transforming the agency and shifting practices from a PLC that is student centered to a PLC that is student driven. When PLCs come together to analyze their current reality and make changes to improve upon their practices with students voices at the table; they will not only increase student outcomes but also classroom culture and student motivation.

New Technology Tools for the New School Year

“And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that never were.” By Rainer Maria Rilke

With the start of a new school year, I wanted to share some technology tools that may help you this year in your classroom.

  1. PDF Candy: It is a website that converts PDFs into lots of different formats!
  2. INSERTLEARNING: This chrome extension allows you to take any page on the Internet and turn it into a lesson by highlighting text and adding notes etc. You can even embed your own questions that students can answer right on the page. Check out this video to show you how it works.
  3. Kahoot! I know this one is an “oldie” but there is a feature not many teachers know or utilize which is TEAM Mode. When using team mode there is a pause after each question before a response can be submitted. During that pause, teams can discuss the answer choices then submit a response. This is a great way to build collaboration, critical thinking and communication skills within your classroom.

7 Years of Blogging…Now What?

“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

Why “App Smashing” is Opening up a World of Creativity for School Kids

“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.

Misconceptions of Student Voice and How to Overcome Them

“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.

Summer Break: Rest, Renew, and Restore

“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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