Closing the gap between school and home :)

In an ever-busy and increasingly demanding classroom, it can be very difficult to forge strong home-school links. Too often, communication with parents is limited to reporting the ‘bad news’. Sometimes ensuring a strong social line from the school to the home is difficult because you don’t quite know the approach or tone to take.

This year I’ve found the opportunity to communicate with parents using ClassDojo to be integral in maintaining strong links to the home. From a practical point of view, the parent can check in on their child’s progress so they feel like more of an active participant than a passive bystander in their child’s daily school life. But moreover, I’ve found the simple messages of ‘Remember it’s Swimming tomorrow’ or ‘Don’t forget to bring your coat for the Sponsored Walk!’ to be a subtle but incredibly useful way to utilise the potential of ClassDojo. The parent gets an alert, they don’t need to say anything back. They’re happy to have the reminder!

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Best Resources for Blended Learning!

Even old-school educators agree with the fact that technology has made immense contributions towards the evolution of our educational system. With the right tools and methods, students can achieve great success even in disciplines they used to struggle with. Blended learning can take many forms in the classroom, but one thing is certain: it helps students to study and deliver projects more efficiently.

The following online resources, listed in two categories, will help educators explore the opportunities of blended learning.

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Team Building through ClassDojo!

As humans, we thrive on relationships and connecting with one another. Whether it be in the classroom as a student or a teacher, if people are working together then they can achieve far more than if they were to do so individually.

As part of introducing ClassDojo to my students this year, we decided that we should set a class goal. As a team, the class would need to earn 2000 ClassDojo points in order to earn a class achievement award. This has really added to the excitement of each student earning individual points — students are delighted to watch one another succeed! Daily, students are asking what the class total is, and they even take a few moments to work out how many more points they need and how many each student would need to earn (a little bonus maths lesson!) to reach their goal.

My students have quickly evolved into a fantastic team, working together towards a common goal. Unfortunately, from time to time some students do lose points (which is the case for some when homework is due).  However, when this occurs, these students have a positive support system behind them. Their classmates will say, “WE can get those points back!“. They truly have come together as a class, encouraging one another day in and day out. I am so proud of the positive and supportive relationships that are being built in my classroom. So, thank you to ClassDojo for promoting positive teamwork in my classroom. I’d love to hear how others are using ClassDojo to encourage teamwork in your classroom 🙂

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Whatever it takes: 6 strategies for student success!

Recently I had the pleasure of taking part in a I&RS (Intervention and Referral Services) meeting for a struggling student. Basically a team of teachers, parents, administrators, guidance counselors, child study team members, and others convened to problem solve student deficiencies. Many ideas were shared and an action plan was developed. The passion in the room was truly remarkable, especially the professional manner in which our staff conducted themselves. Each member of the committee took the “whatever it takes” approach in order to put this child in a position to succeed. In fact, throughout the school year other technology based strategies were utilized for other students as well.

Below you will find a sampling of strategies that were recommended for various students throughout the school year in order for them to be in a position to succeed with the help of technology…..

  • Teachers can leverage the power of ClassDojo to track student performance and behavior. This great tool can be very beneficial for students and parents in terms of communication, transparency, and buy-in.
  • Encourage student to utilize their personal computer in the school setting for organization and curation purposes. Often students feel more comfortable using their own device as they make sense of their learning.
  • Utilized the Dragon Dictation App so that the student can highlight their oral abilities on paper and/or computer screen.
  • Increase mental agility at home while at the same time providing breaks with the Pomodoro Timer App.
  • Focus on increasing typing speed using a program called EduTyping. This program can be utilized at home and in school.
  • Provide student with alternative assessment opportunities to show what they know on a given topic. For example, use the Audioboo podcasting app for a project in language arts.

Leveraging the power of technology and available web applications to promote the success of students is critical in the year 2014. Identifying student strengths in order to overcome weaknesses is important if schools are to put students in a position to be successful. As I said before, the strategies above are just a sampling of what was recommended. It’s truly amazing to see passionate school stakeholders collaborate and problem solve together. There is no doubt that struggling students will do a complete turn around and begin enjoying school once again.

“Act like you own the place!” Tips for presenters :)

A few weeks ago someone came up to me and told me how he just accepted his first speaking gig. He was a bit overwhelmed by it all, and knowing I do a lot of presenting, asked me for a few tips. I gave him a few and have since been thinking about things I’ve learned in my first couple years of presenting at conferences.

1. Invest in a remote and a quality dongle. The only thing more frustrating than being in a conference session with someone who doesn’t have proper equipment, is being the presenter without the proper equipment. Most rooms come set up with a VGA cable, but most non-Windows computers will need a dongle adapter. Don’t pinch pennies here and buy the cheapest one. I speak from experience when I say it’s embarrassing when they stop working in the middle of a session. I also recommend a presenter remote so that you’re not bound to your computer. They’re relatively inexpensive and add a lot of fluidity to your presentation.

2. Act like you own the place! One of the many lessons my dad has taught me is to “act like you own the place, and no one will say anything.” When I present I have to believe in my ability and my authority. When I believe in it, everyone else does too. Because, as Taylor Mali reminds us, “it’s not enough to question authority; you must speak with it too.”

3. Use less words and more pictures. Resources like Haiku Deck make it easy for people to create beautiful presentations. Although it’s important to speak compelling things, it’s ineffective to put these long, beautiful sentences on a slide deck. Stick to photos that illustrate the power of what you’re speaking.

4. Manage your time wisely. Plan out how much time you’ll spend on each point. When you’re just starting out, practice your presentation. It’s always frustrating for conference attendees (who have paid for the conference) to attend sessions that are way over or under the allotted time or are filled with unnecessary information.

5. Don’t rely on the internet. I have yet to be to a tech conference where the internet works perfectly all the time. Be prepared to give your presentation without internet. Download your presentation and any necessary videos. Present like it’s 1995.

3 ways to increase teacher collaboration with technology!

Teachers are not known for having a lot of free time, and finding time to collaborate with colleagues can be even more challenging than finding time to plan alone! So how can teachers collaborate effectively with limited time? Here are a few tips:

1. Set measurable, actionable goals

It is very easy to get caught up in business or housekeeping in collaboration meetings, but when you come together to collaborate about curriculum, it’s a good idea to start with some goals. What would you like to see your students improve in? What unit would you like to plan? Your goals should be measurable, so if you decide your students need to improve in a certain area, you should start with how you are going to assess where they are, and where they are going. Be as specific as possible, don’t just say you want your students to improve their writing, pick a specific trait to focus on, and assess only that trait.

2. Start small

By choosing a specific area to focus on, you are not biting off more than you can chew. It may seem like a waste of time to spend all of your collaboration meetings talking about one thing, but by doing this for one trait, you will refine and improve your practice overall. Just look at this Japanese model of lesson study, they spend months, sometimes years refining the same lesson, and it pays off.

3. Use collaboration tools like Mindmeister and Google Docs

When you can’t meet in person, use asynchronous collaboration tools. I love MindMeister, but Google Docs works really well too. You can add thoughts and ideas as they arise, even if you don’t have time to meet.

So why should teachers collaborate when time is so limited? It may end up saving you time down the road. Why reinvent the wheel all the time, when someone has probably been where you are before? At the very least, you will have double the brain power to work on an issue, and at best it will improve student learning in your class, and improve your practice.

 

ClassDojo App Spotlight: Parent Connection – Sushi Monster

As a former classroom teacher I know how important it is to provide resources for parents looking to support their children at home.  When I started using iPads one-to-one in my classroom I found more and more parents and caregivers asking for app recommendations.  They wanted to make sure their children were practicing the same skills we were working on in the classroom with the devices they had at home.

One of my favorite apps to suggest to parents looking to make an at home connection to learning is Sushi Monster.  This app is completely free, made by Scholastic, and works on both the iPad and iPhone.  With this app students can practice addition and multiplication skills.  The Sushi Monster in the middle of the screen gives students a target number they must reach.  If they are in the addition level users must choose two pieces of sushi that add up to the target number.  If they are in the multiplication level users must choose two factor pairs that have the target number as their product.

When families have access to technology at home, teachers have a great opportunity to give advice and suggestions that support student learning.  In the past parents would ask for a list of books for summer reading or suggestions of what to borrow from the local library.  As families increase their use of technology in their home get ready to share a few ideas for favorite apps and websites during the school year!

Coding… The New Problem Solving

Coding in the classroom seems to be at the forefront of what’s happening in the world of technology in education. I have read countless articles on the idea of learning how to code in elementary settings. After reading several articles, I do believe that we, as educators, need to seriously consider the ways that learning how to code can benefit our students and where it belongs in the classroom.

This idea of coding is a new frontier for many of us. It wasn’t until I assisted at our school district’s annual tech camp that all of my reading started to make complete sense. Within the week, I observed coding in the hands of students entering the sixth grade. What I witnessed was eye opening. My definition of coding completely changed. Coding was no longer just about creating software. Coding was about thinking with logic, thinking critically, and problem solving.

It all started with cup stacking and drawing arrows. A stack of cups and a packet of designs were given to the campers. They were asked to “write” code using only arrows that explained how to complete a chosen design. Their code and stack of cups were given to another camper to try. A simple task of stacking cups became a complex task of thinking through a process. I heard students discussing where a camper might have gone wrong in his or her “coding” and how to fix the code. It was a simple task, but one that had these kids curious and determined to make their code work correctly.

The cup stacking activity led to a website called Scratch. The campers only needed a short tutorial on the website before they were off making sprites dance or move. They embedded sounds and timing with Scratch’s program. Once again the coding was simple and well organized, but I found everyone engaged into creating something unique to show what they had learned.

It was on the second and third days of using Scratch that I realized the depth of how powerful learning to code can be for our students. In those days, the campers were asked to develop something and embed it themselves. On the final day, they explored games already created by others who use the website and they had to change a piece of the game. I slowly realized how much problem solving was going on in the room. I began imagining that this is what coders go through everyday in their jobs. I could see the development of code that didn’t work as they had hoped and having to find a solution. Needless to say, I had a whole new admiration for those who develop software.

I now understood how educators can approach the idea of coding within their classroom. In one week at camp, I witnessed true problem solving, critical thinking, and risk taking, to produce a final product. As a teacher, I want my students to take those risks and tackle any problems with just as much determination as I saw in these campers.

It leaves me with one question. Is coding the answer to get my students problem solving in other areas of their education? The answer might be yes, and one I am willing and excited to explore.