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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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.

Flipping Out: Have you tried flipping your classroom?

For the past few weeks, Mr. Burnaugh’s students have been experimenting with simulated parallel and A/C circuits, chatting with him and each other, answering poll questions, and uploading graphic organizers on their LMS (Learning Management System)—all online and before they even enter the classroom. When they meet with him IRL (In Real Life), they have an opportunity to really dive into Ohm’s law and the algebraic recipe for calculating current. In their labs, they use a resistor, a battery pack, an ammeter, and a voltmeter to explore how this equation applies to real life.  They have the opportunity to ask Mr. Burnaugh questions, receive 1:1 and small group help, and connect with peers. When they go home, they can review what they learned in class by accessing teacher notes, re-watching a recorded lecture, downloading a helpful video on TeacherTube or Khan Academy, and completing practice equations. Following classroom learning sessions, they return to the LMS and review, practice, and process what they did in class. A drone delivers college acceptance letters and scholarship offers.

Okay, maybe there’s no drone, but flipped instruction is not science fiction—schools all across the country and world are making this model work for students.

What can flipped instruction do for me?

One of the most heavily touted benefits of the flipped classroom is the efficient use of in-class time. Students view pre-recorded lectures that are either given by the teachers or another expert in the field through Ted talks or Khan Academy for example, or any number of educational podcasts. This cuts out 15-20 minutes of class time otherwise designated to direct instruction/lecture. After listening to online talks, students complete a simple assessment exercise. Using assessment results, teachers can craft the next day’s lesson or project to target all levels of competency. (This last piece is key. Khan Academy cannot to do all the teaching. Effective instruction is presented in multiple formats and from a variety of angles. “See, Hear, Do” still applies.)

Another benefit of the flipped model is the ability to differentiate.  Students who require more time to process and practice can move through pre-lessons at a pace that suits them; they can review and access additional resources for extra help. They can receive assistance from peers both online and in person. Depending on how the teacher sets up live chat sessions, they may even get more one-on-one time with instructors. Students who want to move at a faster clip can complete several pre-learning modules in one session, access and complete extra credit assignments on the LMS, and delve deeper into topics of interest in “Parking Lot”-style chat rooms. Students could even create their own pre-recorded lectures or screencasts to post to the LMS for other students to learn from. (Here is a good example of a screencast from a 4th grade student.)

One last benefit that’s worth mentioning is allowing students to transcend their own biases. Not all teachers are good at delivering dynamic, interesting lectures. Even if you are, not everyone will enjoy or connect with your dry wit, interesting trivia, and wealth of knowledge on a given topic. These are the risks teachers take on a daily basis when they stand up in front of a class. But if we know that Ken Robinson or Neil deGrasse Tyson say it best, then by all means, please let them deliver.

What are the drawbacks?

One of the most obvious drawbacks to flipped instruction is lack of access.  In low-income schools and communities, it’s still a harsh reality that many students don’t have regular and reliable internet access. Smart phones can help level the playing field, but some LMS systems aren’t compatible with all smart phones. Students may be able to view lecture modules, but often encounter obstacles when it comes to interacting with assessment tools.

Another pitfall is the issue of time. Since one-room schoolhouses, teachers have never had enough time to plan lessons, grade papers, attend meetings, and stay ahead of the curb on research; flipped lessons require an extensive and intensive block of time to develop and curate in an attractive and organized manner. In addition, flipped instructors have to manage after-school hours. The ideal is for students to have instant feedback, but as always, educators have to figure out how much of their personal time they are willing to give up.

One final item to consider when weighing in on flipped instruction is the issue of homework, or pre-learning in this case. Interactive videos and podcasts are meant to be more engaging and interesting—certainly more interesting than a worksheet; however, just because homework is delivered to student computers or iPads, doesn’t mean that they will do it. As is the case with any meaningful homework assignment, if students don’t take responsibility for completion, they will come into class the next day with little to contribute and far less understanding than their peers.  Nothing new here.

As technology becomes more accessible and widely utilized, we’ll most likely make the full fledged shift to a blended model of technology-based pre- and post-learning outside of the classroom, coupled with hands-on PBL inside of it.  Now is the time to experiment, play, and try this out. And don’t forget to let your students help you!

 

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.

 

Poll Everywhere: 5 Great Ways to Use it

In the last post, I mentioned Poll Everywhere for beginning-of-class polls. Here are 5 ways you may want to try using polls in class.

Note: Poll Everywhere is free and for students answering, anonymous. They can answer from laptops, tablets, or even cell phones! And their reactions to the polls, in my experience, are surprisingly energized and energizing. It’s fun for them to see their vote counted on the shifting bars, and it gives you a “meta-text” to discuss – not only the student’s reaction to a text or an event, and also, students’ reactions to the reactions!

I suggest using Polls as the final step in FTW

I’ll spare you the details of each question. Read them for approach, rather than for speicifc meaning.

In every case, you can:

A: Ask for students to explain their own answer, in discussion or partners.

B: Ask for students to speculate about why the class as a whole answered with whatever trends they answered.

1. In the video you watched as homework, Darren Brown did some pretty amazing things in a small town in England. Which of these most closely matches your reaction?

A. It was inspiring.

B. It was apalling.

C. It was somewhere in between.

D. Something else.

Then, for 5 minutes, students explain their answer in writing.

Then, discuss why you wrote what you wrote.

2. I found today’s review session games:

A. Helpful, fun, and worth doing.

B. Helpful but not fun. Try a different approach.

C. Fun but not helpful. Try a different approach.

D. Hated it.

E. Something else.

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.

3. I found today’s all school assembly:

A. Interesting and relevant to my life.

B. Interesting but not relevant to my life.

C. Relevant to my life but not interesting.

D. Neither interesting nor relevant.

E. Wasn’t there.

F. Slept the whole time.

G. Offensive.

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.

4. Is your relationship with your parents:

A. Almost always harmonious.

B. Mostly harmonious with periods of conflict.

C. Mostly conflict with periods of harmony.

D. Almost always full of conflict.

E. Something else.

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.

5. Did you find the narrator in the story:

A. Mostly sympathetic?

B. Mostly unsympathetic?

C. Right down the middle?

D. Didn’t read it. Life is busy, yo!

Then, offer the chance for students to comment.

Come Together: Building a Global Teacher

Being a child of the 80s and 90s (Can I get a what-what?!), rap was a big part of music and pop culture growing up (and it still is today). While the music was fresh and funky, one thing that first comes to mind about the early era of rap music was the constant feuding, tension, and “haters” associated with this music movement (R.I.P. Tupac and B.I.G). Then, finally, someone realized rappers needed to (in the ever wise words of the Beatles) “come together,” stop hating, and start collaborating.  My first recollection of this was a Jay Z collaboration that blew my mind. This collaboration model concept caught on, and not only did more and more rappers start joining forces to bring better beats than ever before, but their songs (endorsements, and other products) soared to the top.

What’s my point? (…other than having a bit of a “Throw back Thursday” moment)

I feel like we are seeing an awesome teacher-collaboration movement in the education community.  Our industry has and most likely will always have controversy, opposing sides, endless change, and even some haters that you will inevitably encounter.  Even in my twelve short years as an educator, I’m happy to say that I have seen and continue to witness a shifting culture of increased support and collaboration.  Let me be clear: I’m not saying teacher collaboration is a new trend.  Rather, I feel that technology, ease of travel, and sheer necessity to collaborate (due to ever increasing demands on we teachers) has forged a fantastic network of educators reaching beyond the four walls of their classroom, the buildings they work in, and even states and countries to hold hands together, share, support, inspire, and collaborate through the endlessly challenging task of being a teacher in today’s world.  As we are more closely scrutinized than ever by the outside world, media, and politics, we must “come together” with our colleagues and fellow educators.  Doing so is proving successful for teachers, just as it did in the rap world. Teacher blogs abound with countless followers, districts are tackling Common Core together, educators are trusting other teachers for classroom resources and making major bucks in the process thanks to sites like TeachersPayTeachers.  All in all, connection + collaboration = teacher success in numerous ways!

So, how can you create your own collaboration?

Blogging Besties: If you are already a teacher blogger, you have likely experienced the surprisingly wonderful friendships and professional bonds you have formed with fellow bloggers and your blog followers.  Last summer I began my blogging journey as a Scholastic Top Teaching blogger and instantly met two fabulous ladies (Kriscia Cabral and Erin Klein) who became fast life-long friends and excellent educational collaborators.  If I have a question about teaching or need some inspiration to get out of a curricular rut, I reach out to those ladies, even though they might be in Michigan and California.  Getting outside perspective from teachers cross-country is an amazing way to shake up your instruction and stay current on national education issues. If you are not already a teacher blogger, follow and comment on other teacher blogs for the same type of advice and connection, or start your own blog… why not?

Recently I attended a national teacher-blogger meetup and it was amazing! Not only was I able to reunite with blogging bestie Erin Klein, but I made new friends like these lovely ladies from GoNoodle, and connected with both new and veteran teacher bloggers from across the country, including Angela Watson from The Cornerstone (we had a blast together!).  I can’t wait to reach out to and collaborate with these inspiring educators!

Local Connections: Don’t overlook the importance of starting new local teacher connections and maintaining existing relationships.  We are all so busy as teachers, that sometimes it is difficult to tend to our collegial friendships. Make it a goal to do something special for your teammates, keep in touch teacher friends from past grade levels or schools taught at.  If you want to expand your local circle of teacher connections, challenge yourself to reach out to teachers beyond your team, grade level, school, or even district. Within your school and district, make a point to talk to new people at meetings or times provided to collaborate. Beyond your district, join local educational organizations or tap into social media to make those connections (see below).

Webinars, Blogs, Social Media, Oh My!: If I had to pinpoint a singular catalyst behind this web of teacher connectivity, I would credit technology. You have so many vehicles for collaboration without boundaries thanks to online webinars, teacher/educational organization blogs, and social media. Check them out and mix up the way you follow and connect with people. Don’t limit yourself to in-person teacher relationships. Below you will see how I utilize different social media tools to connect with teachers beyond local borders.

  • Facebook gives me quick peeks at updates on blog posts, products released, reviews, and tips from teachers around the world.
  • Pinterest is one of my biggest obsessions. I search Pinterest for classroom ideas, resources, decor/bulletin board ideas, and organizational tips.  I’m super visual, so purusing through pics is a winning approach for me.  I could Pin away hours of my life and have gleaned some of my best teaching ideas from this source!
  • Instagram is my newest social media love, as it plays to my visual nature much like Pinterest.  I love Instagram because it allows me to often see more personal glimpses of the life and classroom happenings of teacher bloggers and fellow colleagues.
  • Twitter is the perfect forum for me to soak up top educational trends and tidbits, and then further explore via links provided if I so choose. I don’t have time to read every educational organization website, journal, or news report.  The people I have chosen to follow on Twitter provide short blurbs that keep me up-to-date and lead to further exploration of topics most relevant to my professional growth. Also, watch for and engage in top weekly educational Twitter chats that will provide a more personal interaction with Tweeting teachers.

Take a moment and choose even just one of these suggested ways to further connect and collaborate with other educators. If you do so, you’ll see that everyone wins…and most importantly, your students will benefit from the wealth of “good things” that emerge when we as teachers “come together.”

Don’t know where to start?

Connect with ME! I’d love to collaborate together.

5 ways to improve your technology skills!

If you’ve been to Pebble Beach in California, you’ll see the smooth stones. The pounding surf has rubbed off all of the rough edges and made them so smooth. So, they become something collected and touched. They have polish.

Just up the road in a quiet cove there are rocks that no one wants to touch – it is a very quiet cove with no surf to polish down the stones – so the stones are rough and while people may visit, there is no great beauty or anything to share.

The world is clearly divided into two kinds of people: learners and non learners. No mistake, as a professional whose job it is to help learners, learning is hard and requires work.

And yet those who have the best skills for technology are those who have been polished by tough problems. You become better with your computer in one way: by troubleshooting problems. Some people when they have a problem choose to ask me or another. Sometimes I get tweets from people asking me questions that they could find with a quick Google search.

Here are some of my tips for solving your technology problems.

1 – Try to get familiar with the terms

If you want to search for answers on YouTube or beyond try to figure out the terms of what things are called. While the very few pages that come with iphones or computers don’t have much, they do tell you what to call things. With every device I purchase, I review every button and what it is called. I snap a picture of any diagrams and put them in my electronic notebook: Evernote. You could also just keep them in a file.

2 – Be aware of things that change

One of the biggest signs of getting a virus or malware on your computer is a sudden slow down. If you’ve installed nothing and have done nothing on your computer, this usually means something has happened. Keep a current antivirus subscription (like AVG or Avast) on your computer. I also invest in Malwarebytes which you can download and run for free. Malwarebytes snags those little pieces of malware that might download as part of a picture or when you go to a site. On my computer at home it snags 3-4 pieces of malware a day.

3 – Look for answers

If I want to know how to do something in software, I first go to the help button and type in what I’m trying to do. The procedure to do a mailmerge changes quite often, for example, so often I’ll start there in Microsoft Word instead of looking for it.

Secondly, I’ll look for tutorials on YouTube. When I update my favorite filmmaking program, Pinnacle Studio, I’ll watch the tutorials on the program on YouTube first.

4 – Know how to search

One problem is that many of us need to learn basic search engine math.

For example, if you want an exact phrase use quotes: “iPhone 5S” for example will give you that exact phrase. If you want to add something to that search you can use a plus and to remove something you can use a minus.

So, if I want to find out all the latest tips for searching on Google I might type in “search engine” +tips +Google -Bing

5 – Give yourself time

It takes time to troubleshoot. The problem is that many people just want someone to tell them the answer. When they are told the answer, they don’t even write it down or try it for themselves. The problem with this method is that you are promoting dependence on others instead of independence.

The bottom line is that if you want to be a polished technology user, you need to take the time to troubleshoot some lower level problems yourself. You can do this. The funny thing is that technology experts like me are usually not the experts, we just know how to find the answers. We know where to look and we work at it until we find something that works.

With the wealth of knowledge on the web, take time to polish your skills and it may mean taking on problems sometimes.

The Importance of Schedule Once

The worst thing is… a student not getting the help he needs.

The worst thing is… a student going from struggling, to drowning, because she lets a small problem become a big problem.

The worst thing is… a student letting go of the chance to correct mistakes because of the hassle.

That’s a lot of worst things. But it happens way too often.

Here’s how I dealt with this for eleven years:

  • I lectured students on the need to meet with me, especially when things didn’t go well.
  • I told students to meet with me.
  • I told parents to tell students to meet with me.
  • I threatened students who wouldn’t meet with me.
  • I exacted consequences on students who should’ve met with me but didn’t.

Here’s what happened: students who had the proclivity to ask for help met with me and thrived. Students with social anxiety, who were afraid of my bow ties, or who were too busy never met with me, and paid the consequences.

What did those students learn about the importance of meeting with a teacher? Probably nothing.

Then, there was the other side of the problem. Students would email to ask if they could meet.

Email 1: Student: Dear Mr. Wolk. Can we meet to go over my project?

Email 2: Me: Sure. When are you free?

Email 3: Student: A block and B Block.

Email 4: Me: I teach A, B, and D.

Email 5: Student: How about Lunch?

Email 6: Me: I’m free Tuesday and Wednesday.

Email 7: Student: Wednesday Lunch works. See you then.

That process would take 2 days.

Then, on Wednesday, I would sit at my desk during lunch, until 2 minutes before the bell rang. And that’s when the student would show up to review his project.

OR: When I was free during students’ study halls, half of the period would pass, and then three students would show up at the same time.

I wanted to teach students that when you’re in crisis, you should ask for help. But asking for help was inconvenient for everyone. A pain in the butt. Time consuming and cumbersome. A headache for the student and for me.

There had to be a better way…

  • A way for a student to access my office-hours calendar – in class, immediately after a confusing review session, right when the panic and anxiety hits.
  • A way for the student to offer me two times, and where I could pick the most convenient one.
  • A way for students to reserve 5 – 20 minute blocks which wouldn’t be “poached” by another student dropping by.
  • A way for multiple students to fit into one 55 minute period.
  • A way for me to approve or request a reschedule while on the go – from my phone.
  • A way to sync appointments with my own Google Calendar and with my school’s Outlook system.
  • A way for me to survey all the times a student has met with me, to include as feedback on ClassDojo.

As it turns out, there was. IS. Schedule Once – I used the trial free account, then upgraded (gladly) to the pro account. It’s worth it.

I have more students visiting than ever before, but in a more orderly, dependable way. A student who panics when receiving a low grade on a test knows exactly what to do: make an appointment, now.

It’s a good thing.