Edcamps are Excellent PD

Today we held #edcampyork. I had so much fun planning this event w/ a group of York County educators that it seems odd to believe it’s over and done already.

I love attending Edcamps. They offer a unique, unplanned, informal structure that is conducive to educators sinking their teeth into a topic and really putting themselves out there. I love the ease with which sharing takes place in these settings. 

The rule of two feet ensures that all educators and admin in attendance get exactly what the need. If a session you selected isnt what you thought it was going to be, move on to another. I often do this simply to allow myself to experience more topics. 

A lot of first time Edcamp participants were at the first annual #edcampyork today. I hope each and every one of them found a new tip, trick, or tool to take back and plug into their classrooms this week! 

I wish more PD was available at the district level that was authentic, teacher needs driven, and allowed for free movement and attendance. I think teachers would really buy into this model of PD. 

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Lucky Finds

In the spirit of all things green and feeling lucky, I decided today was a day to celebrate those instructional media tools that are truly the pot of gold under my rainbow. These tools have transcended learning for my students and helped me become a better educator and relinquish control to my learners. In the words of Abigail Adams:

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.”

When we think back on our past learning experiences, what sticks with us? Do we remember fondly the bubbling in of multiple choice questions, the flashcards, the worksheets? NO!

When I reflect on my past learning experiences I remember my awesome teachers. The ones who made every lesson come to life, took us canoeing for reading 50 SRA books, had personalities larger than life. I remember dear, sweet Mrs. Figdore who taught reading, but knew I struggled in math and helped me with my multiplication tables during my reading block. She was differentiating before differentiating was a word. Then there was Mrs. Shaffer! That woman was full of spark and loved to challenge her students to go further and do more than they ever envisioned with her scrappy repartee she was quickly one of my favorites during high school.

Finally, there’s good ole Coach Stauffer! This man changed the course of my life and I wish he were still alive to know it. When I was told by my school counselor that my GPA wasn’t competitive enough and I should consider my alternatives, he laughed and said,”Redheads are scrappers and they don’t go down without a fight. You want to teach, teach. Start here. I removed your quiz paper from the stack, check these over for me please.” With those words I was back on track. An educator I admired believed in me, so I could make it happen. Eighteen years later, I thank Coach every day for changing my momentum and path.Which teachers do you remember and why do you remember them? These teachers were my 4-leafed clovers that helped me find my luck and sparked my path towards lifelong learning.

Students also remember the challenges we give them. The opportunity to conquer the impossible and overcome it is always valued and teaches our students lifelong skills that are invaluable. Here’s a funny for you! I was out late one evening with my husband enjoying a beverage and dinner. A former student sat down at a table nearby. I didn’t think she recognized me, but I was very wrong. A while later she proceeded to come over to our table and said to my husband, “This sassy redhead assigns some tough projects! I will never forget the salt dough map she made me build. It was messy, hard, and took forever but it was the best grade I ever got.” Lesson learned, the challenges stick. Our students may grumble and groan because the projects don’t come easily for them, however the lessons they learn and the perseverance they demonstrate will stick with them long after they have left your classroom. Projects with open opportunities and choice are definitely worth their weight in gold coins.

In addition to awesome teachers and challenging projects, there are some amazing instructional tools that can make life easier and spark creativity for our learners that always make this leprechaun feel lucky! In honor of the 4-leafed clover I will share my top 4 tools for increasing student creativity.

  1. Screencastify– an easy Google extension that allows our students to record not only themselves, but their screens as well. I love when students share their learning with others through screencasts. Instructional videos don’t have to be bland, or boring. They are even more engaging for students when they are created by their peers and posted on a Youtube channel for all to view. Everyone knows that once you teach a topic you’ve got it on lock too!
  2. Google Maps– explore unknown places near or far. Add videos, pictures, and take your students on a tour. Even better, allow them to create the tour for the students in their class. Field trips are expensive, but Google Maps is free!
  3. Touchcast– if you want to record your students making a newscast or report, Touchcast is the way to go! Sign out an iPad from my office and allow your students to make their reports and news come to life! With different vApps to apply to their broadcasts, students will love the options they have to be creative.
  4. Google Sites– allow your students to create their own ePortfolios, webpages about historical figures/events, or even create their own digital Breakout! Google Sites gives students the ability to create their own websites with ease.

I wish all of you educators are Happy St. Patrick’s Day and if you feel like allowing your students to chase some rainbows, you will reap many pots of gold in return.

 

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#liftupTchrs

Coming off of the ultimate professional development of the year for myself, amidst the month of amore & all things love, I think it’s more important than ever before that we as educators pass the love around and share a positive, or a few, about those educators that lift us up in our careers. Whether it be an old mentor, a colleague who did you a favor, or someone whose practices make you want to grow yourself give them a shout out the rest of this month. If you are on Twitter use #liftupTchrs and tag a colleague to tweet how terrific they are for all teachers to see. Not only will they appreciate the lift, but their names will be shared with other educators lifting each other and we can grow our PLNs. The groundhog may have predicted six more weeks of winter, but let’s heat up Twitter with a storm of praise for professors, instructors, & educators all over the world! 

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Empowered Educators

I am enjoying a long winter break after a rigorous edtech conference. I haven’t seen a classroom in a week, and I feel off. I can’t explain enough how valuable my time at #PETE2017 was to me. I had 4 days, including the preconference, of PD that was on my level, offered me choice, and allowed me time to connect with other educators across the state of PA. These opportunities for personalized professional development are few and far between and well worth the price of admission.

While enjoying my time at PETE&C, I heard 3 very impressive keynotes. All of them were very different, but they had one thing in common. They offered educators ideas to empower them in their classrooms. The first keynote, Dr. Carl Hooker, gave a humor-laced presentation which valued not the tool, but the skills learner need to develop in order to be successful in the future. He shared his insights on how today’s student should be using tech tools to help them develop skills for tomorrow’s workforce. He said that learners should be, “Filling their minds, not filling in bubbles.” He went on to empower educators to take risks, try new things, and offer their students opportunities to connect, move, create, and fail without fear.

“Students don’t take risks, if teachers don’t take risks. Teachers don’t take risks, if leaders don’t take risks.”  -Carl Hooker

Every child. Every day. Dr. Mark Edwards was our second keynote of #pete2017. He was a great speaker and he threaded music into his presentation to engage his audience. His unique insights were very appreciated.  My favorite quote from Dr. Edwards was, “A classroom without digital resources today is a classroom of yesterday.” He challenges teachers to answer the question how are your learners taking charge of their learning. He admitted that collaborative classrooms have a healthy “hum” to them and that quiet classrooms are just compliant. He encouraged us to allow our students to know their data so they know that they can be successful in their learning.

Finally, #pete2017 was wrapped up Wednesday by an amazing keynote from Dr. Luis Cruz. He was entertaining, engaging, and he began by telling a room filled with educators and administrators that we should never accept, “You’re just a teacher.” Instead he revealed my new favorite job description.

“We are members of a elite team dedicated to the arduous task of saving student lives!” -Dr. Luis Cruz

He also shared that hope is not a strategy. He said to make change we must have action. He humbly shared his experiences and his district’s approach to bringing an impoverished school from failing to flying data. He shared that schools are suffering from the disease of low expectations because our students are not coming to school as “third base kids,” or kids who have parental support and have been learning at home, read to, and supported in their learning. However we are seeing more and more students entering schools who aren’t even dressed to play in the ballpark. He humorously told the audience on the final day of the conference, “Disneyland lied, our schools are where dreams come true.”

There were many great moments at this conference, but I have to say that all three of the keynotes hit the ball out of the park. Educators need to embrace their profession, advocate for their learners, and lead from within. When change comes we need to be willing to dive in and get our hands dirty when the changes coming will empower our learners to take the lead in their own learning. We need to give students our best, b/c we might be the one person who makes a difference for our learners and lifts them up when they need it the most. Most of all we need to lift one another. As educators we need to help each other. We need to support each other. We need to lift one another up. Educators must empower themselves  today, tomorrow, and always. We work in the profession that makes all other professions possible. We make a difference in the lives of the students we teach. Lifting them isn’t always an easy task, but it’s why we all got into this profession in the first place. We make a difference, so start lifting your colleagues as well as your learners.

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Line in the Sand

Change is hard. Change requires people to move outside of their comfort zone, not only move outside of it but hang out there. People willing to change need to commit to not only sticking their toes into the unknown, but agree to marinate in the unexplored, newly implemented, discomfort zone until they become one with the unknown and make it their own.

The definition of change, according to the dictionary is the act, or instance, of making or becoming different. Throughout our careers as educators we have witnessed a lot of change; change in curriculum, standards, best practices, and trends. The one constant has always been that there will be change.

“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” -William Pollard

In society there has been many changes. We embrace changes that allow humans to advance and be treated equally. Why then do we, as educators, resist change that allows our students to advance? The traditional approach is not engaging today’s learners. Our learners live in the personalize generation. Everything from their food, to their music, clothing, and even their phones is a part of their unique brand. They demand to be different and as educators we can’t expect students to embrace the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, lecture. We need to give them variety and choice.”

“Teachers will not be replaced by technology, but teachers who do not use technology will be replaced by those who do.” – Hari Krishna Arya, India

A very wise person once shared the above quote with me. I took it to heart and began my journey towards change. We live and work in an age where everything in public education is uncertain. We need to do our best to give the students in our charge the very best opportunities. What have you done to embrace change this year? Have you tried a new tool? Implemented a new instructional model? Research a new best practice? Or are you using the same bag of tricks you’ve had since student teaching?

Change doesn’t come easy for many. However fighting inevitable change is like trying to push a car up a mountainside in neutral. My first experiences with technology were far from pretty. I had some rough experiences and I learned quickly that failure is to be expected. Do we ever require our students to get content correct prior to studying, practicing, and remediating with their teachers? No! So why is it that educators feel the need to be perfect all the time? We need to embrace a community of learning, not just for our students, but for ourselves as well. We need to encourage everyone to take risks, set goals, and work towards them.

Perhaps we need to stop dragging our toes in the sand, and start blurring those lines as we push off to a new reality.

 

 

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Differentiation by Choice

Students love having a say in their education. One way to offer them some choice in how they learn, and what they produce to share their learning is differentiating by student choice in product. We all know and accept that students have a variety of learning styles and that some prefer one style over another. However, how often do we address this and allow students to pick activities that gravitate towards their strengths?

I planned with a teacher yesterday and today and her eagerness to allow her students to chose the products they wanted to complete to demonstrate their mastery was refreshing. One of the biggest complaints I hear from students is, “School is boring. We all have to do the same things.” Differentiation takes the monotony out of learning and gives students a wide variety of opportunities.

I realize that offering a ton of choices might be overwhelming, hard to grade, and a management nightmare. However if you start small and offer students a menu of choices, it will be much easier to handle student choice in your classroom. The goal for all of these items can be the same, in this case vocabulary acquisition, but the proof of learning and mastery can look unique for each student.

Differention by Product is Made Easy with Tech

“This is easy with Web 2.0 technology tools.  Students do not need to all create the same product, but choices can be given to allow them to choose a method that is more in alignment with their intelligences.  All these tools help students create.  According to the Digital Bloom’s taxonomy – creating is on the high end of the spectrum of critical thinking tools.  You don’t have to be an expert in all of these tools.  Tutorials already exist in Youtube or by talking to other teachers who have the how-to papers ready to go.  Students are ready to learn the program to accomplish the product so let them try!”

Young, Robin. “Technology Tuesday-Supporting Differentiation in the Classroom.” Robins Tech Tips RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

Considering all the tools today’s learners have readily available at the tips of their fingers, I highly recommend giving your learners objectives, or learning goals, and allowing them to choose activities from a menu to complete. Want to give them more of a challenge, differentiate by readiness as well and require your learners to complete a different number of activities based on their understanding during pretests or benchmark testing.

Tic Tac Toe boards, Bingo Boards, and choice menus are easy to construct and give students a say in how they share their newly acquired knowledge. It would be super easy to infuse this type of differentiation into the independent station.

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Tweet-tastic PD

I have advocated for a long time about the importance of differentiated professional development for educators. We know it works for students, so why is it rarely done for the adults that educate them. All teachers come with their own unique bag of tricks, tools, and strengths. I feel that the key to making our teachers stronger is to provide them with differentiated PD that allows them to demonstrate their strengths and train on their weaknesses, or even allow them to set their own learning paths. Teacher buy in would be huge if they could pave their own path. However, I realize that this is a management nightmare and would take a lot of time to implement, track, and provide adequate training.

My hypothesis still stands. When teachers want to learn something, they will and they’ll do it with gusto! This is why I love Twitter. Twitter allows teachers to investigate ideas, find like-minded educators, and exchange ideas 24-7. Nothing else has quite the scope and reach as the professional learning network I have fostered on Twitter.

How in the world does 140 characters enable educators to learn so much? It’s all in who you follow! Follow other professionals and companies that will share information on ideas, topics, and tools you are implementing in your classroom. Have a question, need a resource, want more information on a topic? Send out a tweet and ask for the information you need. You might get a reliable response, or two. However, if you follow an educator whom you know tweets about a certain topic and you mention them (use the @+their username) you will most definitely receive a reply from that particular person.

Better yet, I want a lot of educators to share their particular perspectives on a project, idea, or research I am exploring. If I use hashtags to direct educators’ attention to the purpose of my tweet, I have now gained the attention of a wider audience. If I want an even bigger audience, why not use multiple hashtags to reach educators in multiple groups?

So what if I want to only see tweets from a certain hashtag? Then you can search for that hashtag and see only tweets in which people included that hashtag for which you searched. This makes viewing your interests much easier. Here is a list of 60 popular education hashtags by Catherine Wedgwood. Check it out and search a few of them on Twitter.

If you’ve followed hundreds of people and your feed is overwhelming, why not create a list? Lists allow you to assign tweeters to a subject that they tweet about. For example, the district I work at uses Twitter A LOT. So to make my life easier, I have created a list called WY Tweeters that allows me to see all the tweets about my district in one long list. It really makes it easier for me to sort through all of the tweets I’ve accumulated in one day. So if I were a WYASD employee I might was to subscribe to the list of WY Tweeters that someone has already established. How would I do that? It’s simple:

  1. Click on Lists when viewing someone’s profile.
  2. Select which list you’d like to subscribe to.
  3. From the list page, click Subscribe to follow the list.

Twitter is also a great way to share information with parents, students, and the community. Are you doing great things in your classroom? Are your students celebrating a goal achieved? Do you have some great photos of a pep rally? Why not share them on Twitter? Allowing the community (aka taxpayers) and parents an open view into your classroom events and assignments is always a great idea. As for school events, Twitter is a great way to boost public relations and it all can be done in a short 140 characters or less.

How about a challenge? I challenge you to open a Twitter account and post one tweet about your day with your students. Why not start of the second semester by opening your classroom to the outside world, parents, and students alike? If you open a Twitter account, comment on this blog with your Twitter Handle. Mine is @HalcottMStech. Feel free to follow me. I will follow you back and embrace you as an integral part of my professional learning network.

 

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