Give Teachers Time to Discover and Integrate Technology in the Classroom

 

Our school has embraced the integration of technology as a key component to enhance the learning experience. We went from 120 Chromebooks to over 1600 Chromebooks in about one year and when you include our computer labs, we are at a 1:3 device to student ratio. While this shift in instructional resources has been promising one of the greatest needs of our teachers has been the ever-limited resource, time. Despite ongoing support and cohort meetings, teachers need and want the time to discover and integrate technology in the classroom.

Here is the video that set the tone for the day:

With the generous support of our administration, we recently had two release days for our teachers who have a class set of Chromebooks. This professional development opportunity was exactly what teachers needed. Teachers spent the day thinking about “What does technology make possible?” and creating a “playground” experience where we looked at platforms from the student and teacher perspective, the possibilities Google Cardboard creates, and ultimately, thought about how we can integrate technology in our lessons/units that will be transformative based on the SAMR model.

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It is important to have experts throughout the staff.
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Teachers using Google Cardboard

Some reflections from the day:

“Today was very helpful. It did not feel overwhelming and, in fact, it was inspiring because I can see all of these new possibilities for my classroom.”

“Wow, I learned so much today.”

“This is exactly what I needed. Having the opportunity to work with my colleagues and share what we are doing helps me see how I can do this in my classroom.”

Takeaways from these Release Days:

  1. We all need time to press pause, slow down and explore possibilities without having to worry about our giant “To-do” lists.
  2. By giving teachers time to discover and integrate technology in the classroom you help to create capacity with these teachers. I am a part-time EdTech Coordinator for my site and I am the only one in this position. As much as I want to support all my teachers, logistically, it can be a challenge. That is why it is important to have “Experts” throughout the staff who can help support their colleagues in their departments or near their classroom. Like all things in education, it takes a village.
  3. Teachers are learners and sometimes we forget that. We get caught up in the “business” of working in education and forget about the art of teaching. If we are going to expect all teachers to be innovative, engaging, and current in their work we need to give them the time to refine their practice. Professional development is one of the first things to go or remain limited in order to save money but, it is a crucial aspect for improving as a practitioner.

Share your experience with professional development or ideas for future trainings in the comments below!

Tear Down the Four Walls of the Classroom: Video Conferencing is Not Just for Business

 

C4UsQzZUYAAwFgo.jpgWhen I was a high school student, the extent of technology we were connected to was a Cingular cell phone with the game “Snake” (it’s was super cool), AOL Instant Messenger, and 3-5 classroom computers with the oh-so-powerful Netscape web browser. The tech tools we had available to us were merely for productivity and publishing and did not have the capability of worldwide engagement. Students today live in a world surrounded by social media, super-fast Wi-Fi networks, and the infinite depository of information: the internet. The power of the internet coupled with improvements in technology equipment has created a new opportunity for students to be engaged in the learning process: video conferencing.

Typically, when someone hears about video conferencing they assume it refers to members of Corporate America sitting around a conference table talking to someone on a screen. While they are not wrong with this assumption, video conferencing is not just for business! Video conferencing can be one of the most powerful tools educators can use in schools. By tearing down the four walls of the classroom, teachers and students are now able to connect with other classrooms from around the world in real time. Additionally, video conferencing allows for teachers to connect with and bring in to the classroom guest speakers even if the individual cannot physically be in the room. Think about how powerful it is for students to have authentic audiences to ask questions and share their learning.

Just recently, my high school partnered up with a local elementary school to video conference using FreeConferenceCall.com. A 9th grade Spanish class was partnered with a 3rd grade Dual Immersion class and our Spanish Translation class was partnered with a 5th grade Dual Immersion class. Video conferencing using FreeConferenceCall.com allowed for students at both levels to authentically engage in conversations, in real time, using the language skills they have been practicing. The elementary school students were able to get to know the high school students better and the high school students were challenged to show their competency alongside the very skilled elementary school students. Think about how powerful and relevant the learning is when the task reflects real-life experiences.

Use video conferencing to create authentic, real-world situations for your students. Technology is meant to help make our lives more efficient and to provide us with new opportunities. There is so much more educators can do when we expand the learning beyond for walls and we bring the world to our students and our students to the world.

Why Can’t Teachers be Leaders?

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“We have administrators, teachers, and teachers who think they are administrators.”

I heard a colleague say this and it made me think about how, in our education system, we have many people who believe that there is a clear difference between what teachers and administrators are able to do on a school campus. There are many in our profession who believe that the influence a teacher has (or should have) is only within the four walls of a classroom and the administrator is supposed to make all the decisions that impact the entire school. Yes, the administrator has the authority to make certain decisions and hold others accountable but authority doesn’t make a leader. Leaders are influencers at any level who are creating change to improve education and are able to get people to follow them. So I ask, why can’t teachers be leaders?

Too often, I hear education professionals automatically bestow the title of “Leader” on a principal or assistant principal. Have they shown leadership? Are they a visionary? Are they working with a team to create the change that is needed so that all students are successful? Are teachers and other staff implementing new practices and taking risks because they were mandated or because they, too, believe in the value of the task? We tend to believe authority and leadership are synonyms and yet, they are vastly different. Teachers do not have the same authority as administrators but can be as much, if not more, of a leader. Teachers have the ability to be visionaries; to work with teams to create the change needed so that all students are successful; and to get others to implement new practices and take risks because they help others see the value of the task. Teachers have the ability to be school leaders and we should welcome it. We should also welcome administrators as lead teachers but that is a post for another day.

I think, when teachers react negatively to the idea that a school leader may be a teacher and not an administrator, it stems from a misunderstanding of where the education world is going. Our world is changing faster than we can keep track of and the needs of our students are becoming more and more diverse. The antiquated model of principal as manager and teacher as autonomous ruler of the classroom does not work in the 21st Century. Our schools must become more democratic and we NEED teacher leaders to implement and support the education initiatives that will help all our students to be successful. We need amazing teachers to become site leaders, to share their best practices, to bring new ideas to the table and to re-energize the system. Leadership is a collaborative idea and is fluid. There may be times when you are the leader and others follow and times when you take the back seat and let your colleague lead. This is the foundation of a strong team and we should want to promote, foster, and value the leadership skills of all educators. If we expect students to be leaders, shouldn’t we expect the same of ourselves?

Turn Your Classroom into a Game!

 

Game Based Learning and Gamification are ever increasing buzzwords in the education world. It’s important to note that they are not synonyms and reflect different forms of pedagogy. Game Based Learning is using a game for students to experience content in a fun, interactive way. For example, using Kahoot! to review for an assessment creates a fun, interactive and competitive experience for students to review material; but, it’s still a review. Gamification is the act of creating a classroom experience that uses gaming structures to immerse students in an ongoing learning experience.  The purpose behind both of these systems is to help motivate students to strive for their best. A major outcome of Gamification is the change in philosophy that students should work towards mastery and as they improve they earn more points, level up and their level reflects their current ability.

I have incorporated both Game Based Learning and Gamification (mainly Gamification) for the last four years and believe the classroom experience it creates is how we should be thinking about education. With Gamification, you are creating a gaming experience for your students to experience your class by incorporating gaming structuring into the learning experience. These structures include avatars, leaderboards, ongoing challenges and quests, referring to points as XP (experience points), opportunities for Award XP (extra points – extra credit), and ultimately some sort of story that helps students understand why they are “playing.”

Here is how I gamified my AP United States History (APUSH) Class:

The Story:

Avatars and the Leaderboard:

What makes Gamification great is the reliance on student choice. One of the simplest but important ways students personalize this experience is by creating their avatar. This is their “code name” or “player name” that represents them and no one else knows who they are. Students always get creative with this and it helps give us some insight into what they like. You can go digital and use different platforms that allow students to also create a visual Avatar. Platforms like Edmodo are great with this.

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The leaderboard is where students see their level as well as how they are doing in the game compared to the other players. I also had level names connect to the content in to inspire students to be aware of these terms.

Challenges and Quests:

This is essentially the typical assignments in your class. You do not need to completely change what you have done in the past but try to incorporate them into the story. Why are they writing the essay? Should the assignment by individual or can they work as a team to accomplish the quest? One of my favorite things to do is to create special challenges that are time-sensitive. Whenever I would travel, I would find historical locations and create a quick “Where Am I?” video. I would post these videos on Friday afternoon and students had until Sunday evening to answer correctly for 1 Award XP. Be creative and have fun with these!

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Remember, Gamification is about creating a gaming experience for students and a big part of this is language. In my class, students earn experience points (XP) as well as earn extra points (Award XP) for bonus tasks. We don’t use the term points because in our game you earn XP. The biggest change, as well as mindset shift, is how students earn XP. In a traditional grading system, students start with 100% and their grade slowly lowers as more assignments are added and the overall average keeps changing. This is not how games work. In a game, you start with 0 XP and as you successfully accomplish tasks you earn more XP and increase your level. This means that on day one, all my students start with a 0% (an F grade), until they start earning XP. This is a huge shock for students at first, but quickly they start to realize that in this system, we only focus on improvement and growth. No matter how poorly a student does on an assignment, since they are earning some points, their grade will increase. No longer do they see a lowered grade due to less mastery than expected; they simply did not raise their level as much as they could have if they mastered the tasked better. The key is to continually remind students AND parents about the philosophy behind this system.

The best part about Gamification is that you get to be creative and have fun! If this seems overwhelming, start small with game based activities and then work up to incorporating these ideas. You will see more motivated and engaged students as well as a renewed energy in your own teaching.

 

Share your thoughts and classroom experiences in the comments below!

One Size Does NOT Fit All

 

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In almost everything we experience, we have choices. You can choose the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, etc. Technology even suggests choices for you based on your previous choices: who to follow, what to watch, and what to buy. Yet, for the average student, choice is taken away from them. We take away choice with assignments, we take away choice with content and the most obvious iteration of this reality is we take away choice of seating.

When you walk into Starbucks, the first thing you notice is the furniture. There are wooden and cushioned chairs, short and long tables, inside and outside seating. You are able to sit and enjoy your beverage wherever works best for you. However, in schools, the typical classroom tells students they all must sit in the exact same type of seat/desk, all must face the same direction, and ultimately, they will SIT.

Why is it OK for students to experience choice throughout their day but be denied the same opportunity in the classroom?

In an earlier post, I wrote about making the classroom more engaging and that can be partly done by eliminating the “Front” of the classroom and eliminating rows. But, we can do so much more than that!

This year, our school was very fortunate to buy new furniture to allow for differentiated seating. For our Student Resource Center, which is a classroom and location for study groups, tutoring, and school work, we wanted to create a place that students WANTED to come to and feel COMFORTABLE while they were there.

Using those guidelines, we purchased:

  1. Desks that could be arranged in a variety of ways
  2. Rocking chairs for students who did not want to sit at a desk
  3. Bouncy fitness balls for students who do not want to sit in a chair
  4. We eliminated the “teacher desk” and created homemade standing desks that students and adults can use

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By providing choice, the furniture creates an enjoyable space for those who use it so they can focus on the task at hand.

Naysayers will argue that “alternative” furniture will distract students and will create a class that is hard to manage. I would challenge these individuals to create an assignment with no directions other than the overall objective of the task. Let the students do whatever they want to accomplish the task and see how engaged they are. The same effect happens with seating. By allowing students to choose where they sit (if they sit at all), it sends a message that you value their choice, trust them and provides a teachable moment about losing privileges if they break that trust.

Ultimately, think about your own experience. How would you feel if you sat in the same seating arrangement as your classroom for 6-7 hours every day?

Share examples of differentiated classrooms at your school in the comments below!

Google Classroom Just Got Better!

I have been using Google Classroom for many years and love the seamless integration with everything Google. The platform has greatly changed the way in which my classroom runs because of the efficiency it creates. However, there was one area of Google that was always missing, groups. I started my teaching career using Edmodo and it’s also a great platform (a post for another day). When Google Classroom came out it made more sense for me to adopt it since I was doing everything GSuite (originally GAFE). However, I quickly missed the ability to group my students digitally in Google Classroom like I was able to do in Edmodo. Student grouping is extremely powerful when differentiating, creating student centered classrooms, as well as managing student work.

The day has come that Google Classroom allows for grouping! Well, sort of…

Now, you can post announcements, assign work, and ask questions to specific students. This is a major step for Google’s learning management system and a win for teachers. Google Classroom now allows teachers to continue their differentiation and grouping by giving individual students or groups the work that pertains to them instead of posting multiple assignments that some students will not complete. This new feature also creates a more accurate reflection of work completion.

How to use this new feature in your classroom:

  1. Jigsaw assignments – assign parts of a larger task to certain students so that they can work on the specific task at hand. All group work will be turned in to you via classroom but only the work pertinent to the specific students will be visible to them.
  2. Assign work based on ability – in a differentiated classroom, you have students who are advanced, on target, below target and everywhere in between. You now can assign the work specific to the ability of the student, creating a more efficient distribution of the work assignment.
  3. Assign different assessments – as part of your differentiated classroom you need to assess different things. Now, you can assign separate Google Forms or other formative/summative assessment tools/tasks to specific students to target their monitoring needs.
  4. Assign extra practice to specific students – instead of posting extension work to the entire class and confusing students, you can now target those who need it.
  5. Assign work based on interest – you can provide different learning experiences to students based on their learning style(s) and/or interest. Now, simply assign individual students and they are ready to go!

This is a big step in the right direction from Google! It would be nice to have groups already made and stored (like it is in Edmodo) so that the teacher can post to a group as well as individuals.

Keep providing Google feedback, they do listen. If you have other ways you are using this resource in your room, share in the comments section!

Staff Meetings Should Be Differentiated Too!

 

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Occasionally, I have the opportunity to go to a conference and every time I am reminded why I like them. Conferences allow you to personalize your professional development by providing lots of choice. As educators, we are taught/reminded/told of the importance of meeting the needs of all our learners (advanced, struggling, language learners, unmotivated, etc.) and one of the best ways to do this is to differentiate our lessons. We all know the “cookie-cutter,” “one size fits all” lesson design is not effective at reaching all student nor is it effective at helping students master the 4C’s. Conferences, differentiate to their “students” (the participants) and provide lots of options, each session, because they know it is the best way to make the conference as meaningful as possible for everyone. School sites, however, struggle with this idea.

Why is it that we believe in differentiation when it comes to students but when we hold staff meetings and other PD we resort to “one size fits all?” Somehow, we believe that the professional learning and growth of adults is different than it is for children? I would argue that all educators have experienced, at least once, going to a meeting where they either mastered the task in the first five minutes, left still unsure of what they were supposed to do, or felt the hour was very productive and learned a lot. Our students have the same reaction when they experience a “one size fits all” lesson because it can’t reach everyone. Our staff meetings and PD should be differentiated too!

Here are some ways that we can differentiate staff meetings/PD:

  1. Let’s start to give options for educators. Provide the resources for all the sessions but hold two or more topics during the meeting time and let participants choose which is more pertinent to them.
  2. Have teachers run staff meetings. Just like the value we see with students teaching students, why not have teachers teaching teachers.
  3. Send out a “pre-assessment” of what will be covered at the meeting. If the educator “mastered” the task, either have the next step for them at the meeting or let them use that meeting time for something else they need to work on.
  4. Ask for feedback! Let your participants help guide the development of the PD from which they are supposed to benefit. While there are lots of things to help make us better educators, a glimpse into what participants believe they need will help make the PD more purposeful.
  5. Always strive for good teaching. Staff meetings and PD are like class lessons, model effective teaching strategies during these meetings. If it not something we should see happen in a classroom it also doesn’t belong in the staff meeting.

All educators want to get better at their craft and they know that professional development is a great resource. Let’s make those mandatory meetings and trainings not feel mandatory. Taking a spin from Dave Burgess’ quote from Teach Like a Pirate: if staff meetings were optional, would you be speaking to an empty room?

More Engaging Classrooms – It should be all of our New Year’s Resolution

Having successful schools where all students can achieve is not a new idea and has been the focus of all stakeholders for decades. We are told American students are not keeping up with their international peers; we pass new Federal and state laws to increase accountability and access for all students; we purchase new reading programs, new textbooks, and new technology in order to provide students with up-to-date educational resources and yet, we still are claiming that our students are not performing at the level they should be. The previously mentioned actions are all valid and do play a role in student success; however, we struggle to tackle one of most obvious areas that affect student performance, student engagement.

If you were to walk into a typical middle or high school and look into the classrooms, what would you see? For most, the answer would be desks in straight rows facing the “Front” of the classroom (just like the picture above). The American classroom hasn’t changed much since the growth of public education in the 19th Century. Students are expected to sit in rows, facing the same direction, paying attention to the teacher writing important facts on the board at the “Front” of the room. Have we ever thought what the implied message is with this furniture arrangement? Students are expected to be listeners, note takers, and passive learners while the teacher is talking, asking questions, moving around, and working with the content. Essentially, the student experience in a typical American classroom is like a 15 year old sitting in the passenger seat, watching his parent drive the car, sharing all the rules of the road and safety tips, before then taking the driver’s test at the DMV despite ever having the opportunity to drive.

Teachers need to get out of the driver seat and allow the students to take the wheel. For too long, teachers have been the “Sage on the Stage” instead of the “Guide on the Side.” The future world in which we are suppose to prepare our students for expects them to be independent critical thinkers, collaborators, and creative problem solvers. The only way we can do that is if we provide those opportunities in the classroom. Think about your furniture arrangement and the the message it is telling students; are they going to be doing most of the work or you?

There are easy steps to start the process of creating a more engaging classroom:

  1. Don’t have rows! Create tables, circle up all your desks, arrange them in a way that says you will be expected to work with others.
  2. Eliminate the “Front” of the classroom. This is harder because infrastructure can create barriers but, the “Front” implies that is where the important things are happening and it shouldn’t always be at the whiteboard or projector screen. The “Front” should be where the students are; on their computers, on the poster they are making, in the hallway when they are creating their skit, etc.
  3. Ditch That Textbook! Like Matt Miller says, get away from the one size fits all, prescribed mentality of teaching. The textbook is one of many resources students can use and they should be using a variety of resources.
  4. Make every day new, exciting, and purposeful. If you had to experience the same, boring thing for 180 days would you? Do you think your students want to either?
  5. Create an environment that helps students develop a love of learning. Learning doesn’t stop when you finish high school or college. Learning is about discovery and using it to problem solve or create new opportunities.

Food for Thought: When you Google image search “Learning in School” or “Learning in High School” are the images that appear typical of what you see in your school?

 

Let’s Stop Giving Homework

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Homework has been a part of the American Education System for decades and is an expectation by many parents and teachers. Parents often see homework as proof of learning in classrooms and if their child says they don’t have any homework, often they are either assumed to be lying or it is thought that the teacher isn’t doing their job. Teachers go into the profession expected to give homework as “Independent Practice” which will have a variety of “benefits” including reinforcing the content of the day, preparing for an assessment and teaching responsibility. The reality is, homework has not been doing any of these things and we have to shift the mindset of adults regarding homework.

As educators, it is our job to make sure students are learning the skills and content necessary to be successful in school and in society. This is why students attend class with a teacher and their peers to work together to develop mastery. The “Learning Environment” provided at home to do homework is completely different; no teacher, either loud or very quiet, and the student is typically alone. Everything we know about good teaching and how to help students learn/master content is ignored when it comes to assigning homework. If a student is going to be given 30 math questions to “reinforce the content” and the student doesn’t know how to do the problem or does it incorrectly, there is no reinforcement or the student does 30 problems to reinforce the WRONG way of solving the problems.

The idea of homework being independent work stems from Madeline Hunter’s Elements of Effective Instruction (EEI) that states a strong lesson concludes with the student doing Independent Practice. This same idea is brought up in Fisher and Fry’s Gradual Release of Responsibility in that the ultimate goal is for the student to get to the “You do it alone” stage. Both of these research-based lesson design models are effective and valid. It is also important to note that the “Independent Practice” and “You do it alone” stages have never been declared as Homework. The idea behind both of these stages is like riding a bicycle; eventually you take the training wheels off and try to ride the bike without any help (but typically an adult is standing by just in case you fall).

Research has yet to show a strong correlation between doing homework and academic success, especially in elementary school.¹ There has been, however, some research that shows a small positive correlation between homework and academic success in high school. It is important to note that the correlation disappeared when students had more than two hours of homework a night. When I first started teaching I remember being told by many practitioners that as along as you assign 1 hour of homework or less you are being “reasonable.”However, none of us followed up with the reality that students take at least six classes which means there could be at least six hours of homework a night!

There are so many more things students could be doing after school. Family time is increasingly important as students get older, extra-curriculars, social time, and time to relax are all crucial to a student’s well being. Most importantly, sleep has to become a priority. We live in a world that continually distracts us and when we expect students to work hard in school for seven hours and then do hours of homework on top of everything else they do, sleep gets left out which ultimately impacts student learning.

I am not saying students should not study, read, and review what they learned. Those are habits that successful students and adults do, but, assigning points to that work won’t teach students those skills, they have to develop them on their own.

I call all educators to rethink their homework policy. Take a pledge to not assign homework or at minimum, do not assign homework over the weekend and vacation. If you already do not give homework, be more public about it and work on convincing your colleagues to join you. 

¹References:
Baker, D.P. & LeTendre, G.K. (2005). National differences, global similarities: World culture and the future of schooling. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1-62
Cooper, H. (2007). The battle over homework: Common ground for administrators, teachers, and parents. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Mikki, J. (2006). Students’ homework and TIMSS 2003 mathematics results. Paper presented at the International Conference, Teaching Mathematics Retrospective and Perspective

Welcome to Teach for Tomorrow!

Since starting my career as an educator, I have been immersed in the power of professional learning networks (PLNs). From beginning teacher support programs to Masters programs to Twitter and site cohorts; the collective knowledge we have in this profession is infinite and continues to shape my philosophy and work as an educator. However, never did I think that I would start a blog! I have to give a huge shout out to Matt Miller, author of Ditch that Textbook and education influencer extraordinaire, for his call to action to engage in the conversation via blogging. As a side note, go and buy his book Ditch that Textbook, it’s amazing!

Coming from a family of educators, I have grown up hearing and learning about the trials and successes of this profession. When I entered this profession in 2010, however, I noticed that not much had changed since when I was a student and arguably since my parents were students. How is it that we are graduating students “ready for the challenges they will face in the world” when they are getting the same educational experience of decades past? The world is VASTLY different from how it was when I was in high school and I graduated in 2005! At the high school where I work, also my alma mater, almost every student has a smartphone and we have 3:1 student to computer ratio. Economically, the world is dependent on technology and the soft skills that textbooks cannot teach yet, as a system, we haven’t changed the way our classrooms are to reflect the changes outside the classroom.

Of course, there are thousands of amazing teachers and administrators doing amazing things. It is these folks that have inspired me to grow, rethink, and create new ways of approaching education. It is my hope to use this space as a place to highlight these innovators as well as challenge the status quo.

“We live in the 21st Century. If we continue to teach like we did in the 1950s, we are not doing the job we are entrusted to do.”