Monday, February 23, 2015

Snow Day, Slow Day! My Reflection on Innovation

Due to icy weather in our area, school was closed today and will be closed again tomorrow. For me, this time off meant a "slow day" instead of a "snow day." It allowed me time to reflect, read, reflect some more, watch a webinar, and reflect even more. As I scoured through Twitter, participated in a Voxerchat, caught up on some professional reading and viewed a Future Ready webinar, a recurring theme began to take shape: INNOVATION. The result, my soap box as written below: 

Innovation ensures teaching and learning is never stagnant nor dull. In many cases, technology is the driving force behind the innovation, propelling the learning. We, as educators, need to lead the charge, modeling how technology and innovation can magnify our learning and challenge our thinking. It’s not about the technology tool, but what you do with it that makes it innovative: how it allows you to connect, create, and grow as a learner to be contributing citizen online and face-to-face.

Students need to learn in an environment where innovation is encouraged, where they are comfortable taking risks and learning from their failures. Through this process they problem-solve and take ownership of their learning. Likewise, educators need these same experiences to foster innovation amongst themselves and implement it with their students. We can no longer ask our students questions that have one right answer, after-all, they can find those on Google. We must ask them to create, collaborate, and interact with the content to be contributing citizens. Teacher and Pure Genius authorDonWettricksaid it best, “A commitment to innovation helps keep students engaged because they see how the material and methods can improve or affect their lives.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Take Control of Your Learning

~ Gandhi

Today, in my district and many across the country, students enjoyed a day of no school in honor of President's Day while staff attended Professional Development. For many educators the day consisted of "sitting and getting" information and training over state mandated assessments and/or district initiatives, and possibly time for collaboration and planning. While these are often necessary and even more often they are required, I still hear the low roar of the teachers who want more meaningful and relevant training. Is that true for you? Do you want professional development in which you learn from other educators in areas that matter to you? Would you like to learn something new and be able to apply it immediately in your classroom, on your campus, or in your district? Do you want to hear from like-minded educators who have struggles similar to your situation? If you answered "Yes!" to any, or maybe even all of the above questions, then I have a three-step solution for you.

Take control of your learning! While attending mandated PD sessions is out of your control, you can be in control of what you learn, when you learn, and how you learn it.
  1. Start by creating an account on Twitter. 
  2. Begin building your own Personal Learning Network (PLN) on this social platform.  
    • What is a PLN? Essentially, it's connecting with others to share, collaborate, and learn together about topics of interest to you. 
    • Search Twitter for published educational resources, such as Edutopia.
    • Here's a great list of suggested educators to follow on Twitter. 
  3. Take action! Don't just follow other educational gurus; share your passion, frustrations, experiences, give feedback and ask questions. In other words be a participant in your PLN!
    • One easy way to grow your PLN is to participate in Twitter Chats. Check out the Twitter Chat schedule to find one that interests you. 
    • My 3 favorites: TLAP, TX Ed, and Gueria11Ed!
    • With the right PLN, a little time and minimal effort, you can learn anytime, anywhere!
Earlier tonight I participated in a #TLAP Twitter chat with an international group who read the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. Tonight's topic focused on PD, obviously a topic dear to my heart. Through this chat I "met" other educators who have similar philosophies, gained a TON of ideas to ramp up my own PD sessions, and even incurred many resources to plan future PD opportunities. Why was this chat so beneficial? I CHOSE to participate; it was a topic of INTEREST to me; and I gained ideas and resources that I CAN USE in the very near future! Not to mention, I was at home on my couch in my comfy clothes! 

"Be the CHANGE you wish to see in the world!" Create or add to your PLN and find a Twitter chat to get connected. You'll be so glad you did!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Website of the Week: Google Classroom

Is your school a participant of Google Apps for Education (#GAFE)? Do you use Google Classroom? If you are a member of GAFE, I highly recommend Google Classroom! In my district we are gradually implementing it, but it has been a lot of fun and opened up some great opportunities for the teachers and students who are taking advantage of this great resource!

Over the past couple of weeks, I have helped some teachers get this started with their students. We co-taught the introduction to Google Classroom and allowed the students time to explore the Classroom features. It was a lot of fun hearing the students get excited about this digital classroom portal! One student exclaimed, "This [Classroom Stream] is like Twitter for class! Our teacher is so cool!"

As I worked with these teachers to get Classroom up and going, I made some observations:

  • Classroom Stream: 
    • Be cautious of leaving the Classroom Stream wide-open without any sort of guidance or expectations. (This setting is on the teacher's side under the "students" tab.) In other words, if you allow students to post to the stream, be sure to set expectations and go over them during the initial Google Classroom overview. 
    • Choosing the "Students can only comment" option allows the teacher to post daily/weekly discussion questions to encourage students to delve into the content and participate in online classroom discussions.  
    • Leaving the "Students can post and comment" option open would allow students to post questions for discussion as well as post questions if they are having difficulty understanding a concept. Just be sure to set expectations with your students about posting to the student ahead of time! 
    • Take note, though, that you can "mute" a student if he/she continues to make irrelevant posts on the stream. 
  • Students Joining Your Class: 
    • If you have large classes, it is much easier to use the "Class Code" feature. Students simply type in the code for their class and voila! they are a part of your Classroom roster. This is much faster than having to send an invite to all of your students. 
  • Classroom Set-Up: 
    • If you teach multiple classes/periods in the same subject area, be sure to choose different themes to make it easier for you to identify which class period you are working on. 
    • Also, be sure to include the class period in the class naming convention when you first set up your class. This will also make it easier to identify which class you are posting to, as well as easier to select multiple classes to post the same assignment. It also helps keep your Google Drive organized! Each of your Google Classrooms will have a folder in your Google Drive under the parent "Classroom" folder. 
  • Creating Assignments: 
    • When creating new assignments that you want all of your classes to complete, be sure to include everything in the original posting of the assignment and then choose all of your classes that you want to complete the assignments. Any edits made after the original posting of the assignment will only make changes to the classroom that you are in when changes are made, which means you will then have to go to each classroom to make those additional changes. 
    • Choose the "Make a copy for each student" option if you are using a Google doc, presentation, or sheet that you want to have separate work products for each student. Otherwise, all students will be typing on the same doc, presentation, or sheet that you've included in the assignment. (This is okay when you are wanting students to collaborate and see each other's responses/work.) 
  • Google Classroom app
To get started, watch this excellent tutorial on Google Classroom created by +Amy Mayer