Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Give Yourself The Gift Of Learning This Year

Unless you just haven’t noticed, trees, lights and ornaments are going up on businesses and homes all over the place. Commercials on television highlight sweaters, coffee and fireplaces. It’s hard to ignore we are in the holiday season.

And, if you are like me you mind turns to the long list of things you have to get for everyone in your life. Gifts for kids, family, friends, the mailman, bus driver, front office staff. You can start feel pretty overwhelmed. It's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and forget about that one person on your list that you need to take care of the most.


Educators spend all year taking care of everyone else. Students in the classroom. Leadership in the office. Parents. Community members. It can become physically and mentally demanding. Late December is a great time of year to rest, spend time with family and friends and recharge your educator batteries. It’s important for every educator to take some time to mentally, emotionally and physically reset before you go into the new year.

Here are some ways you can recharge your professional self before the new year starts and give yourself some gifts that really matter.

Anytime Learning
One of the best gifts you can give yourself is the gift of making time for professional learning. Schools and districts just simply don’t have the means to personalize your PD. But you do! There are so many great options out there to take control of you PD and learn what you want and need anytime, anywhere.

Edweb- I’ve said it once and I’ll keep saying it. Edweb is amazing. Free webinars nearly everyday. Archives of everything they’ve done. There is no reason not to be checking out what Edweb has to offer for your professional learning needs.

Classroom 2.0 Live and Archives- Every Saturday there is a free webinar for educators over at Classroom 2.0. They cover all sorts of topics and their archive and resource list is extensive. Best of all you can subscribe to their video podcast feed and never miss an episode.

Edchat Interactive-Most webinars are passive. Sit and get. Edchat Interactive aims to change that. Everyone is on video and you can create small groups to discuss and debate. Check out their archive too. (A little shameless promotion with this one as I am one of the founders.)

I am lucky. Spending lots of time on airplanes (or waiting for delayed planes) gives me lots of time to read. I mix up my reading between the latest educational research and stuff that I just find interesting. Here are 3 books I read this year that are a good escape and can still influence you as an educator.

Confessions of an Advertising Man-It might be unusual for a book about advertising to end up on a list for educators but if you are at all interested in creativity then this book should be at the top of your list.

The Life Changing Magic Of Not Giving A _____ -I know the title of this one will give some pause and even some of the language used in might be offputting to others, this is a book that should be in your personal library. If you want to figure out what really matters in your personal and professional life (and what educator doesn’t?) then definitely pick this one up.

Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder-I am a huge fan of the Little House series and this book was a fascinating read into the reclusive author and why her stories of pioneer life are even more important today.

Here are more books that you might be interested in.

Mindfulness and Reflection
While not new, meditation and taking time to look inward can be one of the best gifts you can give yourself. And it using mindfulness and reflection can also boost learning in the classroom.

Headspace-This is the app I use and works great. It is free to use but you can pay to unlock additional features. Download it to your mobile device to get a little reflection time where ever you are.

Smiling Mind-Here is another app to take a look at as well. What I like about this one is they have a specific series all about how to get started and use mindfulness in the classroom.

TED Talks
A list on gifts to give yourself wouldn’t be complete without some TED Talks. We’ve all probably seen one or several of these but have you sought out the more obscure ones? The funny ones? Sometimes a little humor (and learning) is what we need to get going again.

This Is What Happens When You Reply To Spam Email
The Story Of The 404 Error Page
How To Use A Paper Towel
I Got 99 Problems...And Palsy Is Just One
A Theory Of Everything

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Stop Blaming Social Media

Recently most of the world has become familiar with the term “fake news.” These alternative facts are pervasive and infect all facets of our lives. From our twitter streams to talking heads on television it seems like we can not escape facts being outright fake, or the perception that they are. What’s worse is most students can’t determine whether what they see or read is real or fake.

We can’t blame those that create the facts.

We can’t blame the media that reports them.

We can’t blame social media or the tools used to access them.

We have to blame ourselves.

Social media didn’t create fake facts and the media didn’t invent fake news. Our lack of understanding of the power and reach of all of these is at the root of the problem here. Social media has long been the scapegoat for adults to blame the ills of kids and students on. Kids can’t focus because of social media. Kids stare endlessly at their devices because all they care about is their social status. Kids today won’t know how to engage and communicate because they only can talk in 140 character chunks or 7 seconds of video.

It’s clear social media has the power to engage students in ways adults do not understand. My 8 yr old daughter can watch kids her age go to the water park or visit Disney World for what seems like hours. And she can comment and engage on what seems like something so mundane and useless.

But to her it matters.

And because it matters to them, it should matter to us.

Social media must be embraced by educators and used in the classroom so we aren’t raising a society of users that doesn’t understand the power, potential and reach it has to both be a positive driving force for change and a technology that can divide and change fundamentally who we are. Moreover educators and adults must be fluent in the language of fake news and alternative facts so that our students understand and are aware of what lurks in their streams and posts.

It’s because of the engagement my daughter has with video and other kids have with other social media and most adults lack of understanding why they do what they do with social media we must redouble our efforts to be better knowers of all aspects of digital literacy. We can no longer blame the technology. Just because we don’t know how to use it doesn’t make it bad. All educators and adults need serious help in being digitally literate and identifying fake news and alternative facts.

So let’s stop blaming social media and fake news and alternative facts. Let’s instead work to better understand for ourselves how to spot what’s real and what’s not so that when students come in the classroom and we empower them to use social media to connect, they are being empowered by an adult who understands the power of social media but also helps them distinguish the real from the fake.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Protecting Your Technology Investment With @Rug_Ed

My daughters, Reaghan (8) and Chesney (4) are like your average kids. They love to play and pretend and have all sorts of fun, especially when it comes to technology. And just like your average kids they are hard on the technology they use. Reaghan has had an iPad since she was 2 years old, using it to learn letters and shapes (although these days its for YouTube, coding and Osmo). Yet she is on her third device because she, well, has a tendency to drop them. A lot.

Chesney is the same way. She has an iPad mini that goes with her everywhere so she can practice her reading or be in control of the world in Doc McStuffins. Like her sister, I've had to replace her device as well.

I've spent lots of time, money and frustration trying to find a case that will allow them to do all the things they like to do like Osmo or Sphero or LittleBits without getting in the way, while also providing me the peace of mind that my investment is finally protected.

Then the folks at Rug-Ed reached out to me to see if I would like to try one. They have a case specifically designed for K12 and the way that kids use devices. I was in the market so I thought I would give it try. In the 3 months we've been using them I have been very impressed.

Rug_Ed iPad Case
The case is made of hard plastic but flexible and designed in a way that provides cushioning around the most vulnerable areas, the corners and the sides. A built-in tempered glass screen protector disappears on top of the device while still providing maximum protection.

When I was working in schools one of the challenges we had with cases for tablets was that students often removed them because they needed to position the device in a way that the bulky case wouldn't allow. This then removed the protection we were trying to provide. The Rug-Ed case barely adds any thickness to the devices so it stays out of the way. The case also locks in around the device so it can not be removed. There is a nice carrying handle at the top and you don't notice the weigh because the case is so light. And because the case isn't bulky you wouldn't have to change your configuration in a charging cart or box. They would slide right in.

The cases are only made for iPads and iPad Minis. So there is a drawback if you use another tablet device like an Android or Surface. There is also a stand included which Reaghan said it was a little small and it caused her iPad to tip over the first few times she used it. But once she learned how to position it, she didn't have a problem again.

Overall, I am a fan of these cases. And after having my kids use them for a while I can say they have definitely been put through their paces. If you want to learn more you can visit their website, and if you want to purchase (which you should!) you can use the coupon code "web20classroom" and save 10%.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Creating Learning Centers in a Blended Literacy Classroom

Written with Shaelynn Farnsworth, post is sponsored by ThinkCERCA, an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines.

There has been no greater impact on differentiation and student achievement in recent years than the effective integration of technology in the classroom. Traditionally, literacy educators spent long hours gathering resources, developing tasks and extensions, and reading and analyzing assessment to determine if the instruction was meeting the needs of students. Now imagine doing this same routine 3 or 4 times over to cover all Lexile levels in one classroom; exhausting. Technology has not only provided text access at students’ differing instructional levels, but has streamlined formative assessment, and has given back precious time to teachers to work with small groups and individuals.

The most effective blended learning model that literacy classrooms can utilize to meet the needs of all readers is the “Rotation Model” in which online engagement is embedded within a range of face-to-face forms of instruction. While this blended environment could look many different ways, we believe that the workshop framework provides the instructional vehicle that makes differentiation most successful. Technology or a blended model is not a component of the workshop framework, but utilized by a skilled workshop teacher, platforms such a ThinkCERCA, and an understanding of each student as a reader is when achievement is maximized.

In a workshop framework, there are 3 main components: Mini-lesson, Independent Practice, and the Share. The mini-lesson is whole group instruction. The teacher targets a learning objective, models it with a mentor text, actively engages the students in similar work, and then sends them on their way to apply the new learning to their own independent books. It is during the independent time that teachers experience the greatest challenges as well as the largest gains made by their young readers in the form of conferring. At the end of the time, the whole class is once again gathered to partner share or large group share out the important work they did during the day.

The question we often receive is centered around the Independent Practice. Teachers witness the benefits of small group instruction but are less certain about the learning taking place by the rest of the class. While there are many different ways to implement and manage independent routines, it is here where technology can best support young readers. During the independent time, centers are one way to keep students learning, not just completing busy work. Literacy Centers, infused with a blended environment is an example of rotation model at it’s best.

  1. Student-centered, active inquiry, open-ended
  2. Purpose is to learn, offering opportunities for a variety of levels
  3. Center should be applicable to what you are teaching and what students are learning
  4. Established routines, organized materials, and dedicated space

Managing independent time in the literacy classroom is an area that teachers must address directly. Independent time, centers, or stations should not be busy work or only used sporadically. It does not have to be an either/or in regards to technology, instead, it is BOTH and supports students with all types of reading and writing they will consume and create in their lifetime.  It is a time for students to take ownership in their own learning. Integrating technology into independent time routines or centers is advantageous for both students and teachers and help to move all readers forward.

Want to learn more? Check out the Administrator Guide to Personalizing Literacy Through Blended Learning from ThinkCERCA! There is also a great webinar on crafting Scalable Blended Literacy Programs worth a watch as well.

Blended Learning Models (Friesen, 2012)
Guided Reading, Fountas & Pinnell

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a Digital Literacy Expert in the Iowa. You can follow her on Twitter @shfarnsworth

Steven W. Anderson is a Digital Teaching and Relationship Evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @web20classroom

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

8 Math and Science Simulation Resources For Any Classroom

"Science is fun. Science is curiosity. We all have natural curiosity. Science is a process of investigating. It's posing questions and coming up with a method. It's delving in." -Sally Ride

I was a Middle School Science and Math teacher. When I started in college I didn't set out to teach those subjects but found myself there after discovering my love for both. Science and Math form the foundation of our known knowledge about how the universe works, what happens in nature and why most of what we do every day is the way it is. 

Ask many students and they have a love/hate relationship with Math and Science. My third grade daughter is one of these. She loves math. In her spare time she will sit for hours and hours making up word problems and solving them or looking for math in her world. But sit her in a science classroom and she looses all interest. I tried to teach my students the relationships between science and math and help cultivate, at the very least, an appreciation for them both. 

Math and Science are very concrete subjects, set in laws and theorems and proofs that have stood the test of time. Examining formulas or problems on a page is an important part of the learning process. However, if we want to make science and math more real for our students we need better ways to help visualize science and math in the real world and physical spaces. 

Simulations are a great way to help students conceptualize math and science. The great thing is no matter how old students are there are tons and tons of great sites, apps and resources to choose from to help complex math and science more understandable, and frankly, more fun. 

8 Math and Science Simulation Resources For Any Classroom

PHET Interactive Simulations -The mother of all simulators. There is something here for every science and math content area. On the surface it might look like it's only middle and high school but they have an elementary section that is perfect for our little learners. They also have apps for Apple and Android. 

CK-12 Flexbooks- -One of my favorite resources on this list, these are open source, editable textbooks that come with tons and tons of simulations. You can create your own textbooks and resources or use what they have as a framework. And it's all completely free. 

Molecular Workbench- This is an installed program that is more for the upper high school student but still valuable as a demonstration for lower levels as well. Lots to choose from here. 

Google Sky- -Ever wonder what the stars are in the sky? Or have you wanted to see the planets up close? Google Sky is the place to do it. You can even tour the moon and see the original landing sites of the Apollo missions. Take even Google Sky further but using it inside Google Earth. 

Gizmos- -Another one of my favorites, there are over 400 simulations for math and science at all grade levels. Some are available for free while others due require a paid account. Definitely worth it. 

Virtual Chemistry Simulations- -Looking to see how chemical reactions happen and work without the threat of burning down your classroom? Then this is the place!

NASA Simulations- -This is a collection of apps from NASA for all things science and astronomy. A wonderful collection. 

Visual Fractions- -This site won't win any design awards but does have lots of great simulations and activities for Elementary and Middle School students on all things fractions. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Everything You Wanted To Know About Formative Assessment But Were Afraid To Ask

Recently Shaelynn Farnsworth and I had a great and engaging discussion on the topic of Formative Assessment for ACER Education. Check out what we had to say.

Some of the highlights:

What Is Formative Assessment—As you can tell from our video, there are many ways to describe formative assessment. Simply put, Formative Assessment is taking a pause in learning to ensure students are where they need to be for a particular lesson. The best formative assessments are subtle, giving teachers an overall picture of how students are learning and adapting to their immediate needs. Think of it as a GPS for the teacher—knowing where students are in their learning and where you should head in your teaching.

Formative Assessment could also look like “check-in” questions at the end of a lesson or class, offering valuable information on which direction to head next. Formative Assessments should not be graded assessments. At the end of the day, the goal is to get a pulse on what students know and how effectively the teacher is teaching the material.

But Why Formative Assessment-From the ASCD Book Formative Assessment Strategies for Every Classroom: An ASCD Action Tool, 2nd Edition, Susan Brookhart explains that:

Formative Assessment refers to the ongoing process students and teachers engage in when they:
Focus on learning goals.
Take stock of where current work is in relation to the goal.
Take action to move closer to the goal.

Students and teachers who are engaged in the Formative Assessment process are constantly examining how teaching and learning work as one If we look at Hattie’s Effect Size, or practices that best move student learning forward, Providing Feedback, Providing Formative Evaluation, and Self-Questioning had anywhere from a 0.64 to 0.68 effect size. What do these results show us? These studies show us that students and teachers who engage in the Formative Assessment process learn and retain more information compared to take-home homework.

Low-Tech Formative Assessment- Technology can make the collection of data related to Formative Assessment easier, but it’s not necessary. We’ve seen a variety of different low-tech ways to gauge student understanding. From dry erase boards where students can write the answer to a question, to sticky notes exercises that can act as an open-forum, Formative Assessment does not require a large investment to make a large impact.

Is There Hardware Designed For Formative Assessment? In fact there is. Shaelynn and I are partnering with ACER Education to take a look at their new TravelMate Spin B118. It’s a dynamic, classroom-specific device that was built with Formative Assessment in mind. It comes with their ACER TeachSmart software that makes use of LED lights built into the lid of the device. This allows the teacher to ask Formative Assessment questions in the middle of a lesson and students can change their lights simply and easily. The lights could stand for anything—ABCD, Yes/No, I’ve got it/I don’t understand.

The TravelMate Spin B118 is also equipped with a digital pen and Windows Ink that allows users to sketch, map, annotate, and draw with the ease of a traditional pen and the magic of digital ink. The visual aspect of this tool is not only beneficial for teachers to model skills to students, but students are able to brainstorm, ideate, and prototype during the design process, making this an invaluable tool in the classroom.

Our Favorite Apps and Tools For Formative Assessment We’ve talked about how Formative Assessment can be done without tech. However, when we add that layer into our teaching and learning, we can do so much more. There are many (free!) apps and tools out there that achieve this.

Nearpod— Create lessons and sync them across devices in the classroom, with built in tools for questioning, drawing, audio and video responses.
RecapApp— One of our favorite tools built for Formative Assessment. Available on any device, students can record their thoughts and feelings on any given lesson. There’s also a questions tool where feedback can be posted.
EdPuzzle— Add an interactive layer to YouTube videos. Teachers can build in short questions at various points in the video to ensure students are getting what they need out of it. This is also great for data collection and seeing how students’ progress over time.
Flipgrid— A very cool way to post video questions and gather responses. Videos can be shared so students can see where their peers are in their learning as well.
Padlet—A virtual board for multimodal sticky notes. Great for tickets out the door or reflection activities.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Overcoming The Barriers To Better School:Home Communications

As a teacher, I always looked forward to the first day of school. Getting my room put together, planning new lessons and meeting new faces was something I couldn't wait to do.

As a parent, I dread the first day of school. And this year was no different.

When my newly minted third grader, Reaghan, came home of course I wanted to hear all about how it went, the new friends she made and what her teachers were like. But them came the take-home folder filled to capacity with nearly 50 sheets of paper. Half of them to be filed out and returned to school. The other half were just flyers and information. After getting through a third of the stack my eyes glossed over. Even now I couldn't tell you what half the information she brought home was or even if I filled out the remaining correctly.

This is how its always been done. Why change it?

Because it doesn't work.

School:Home Communications and Relationships are the bedrock of every successful school and district. If we want parents to be involved and be a part of our communities then effective communications and building relationships are a must. Yet an effective communications plan is often missing when I talk to leaders about how they can be better communicators. No plans for phone calls home or what text messages can be used for. No idea how to maintain an effective website. Even worse, no idea if they have good contact data on each and every of their students or not.

Some just shrug off communications as something else to do. However, the leaders that have a solid plan in place are more successful and have better relationships with their communities than the one's that don't. Effective School:Home Communications can't be an after-thought. It must be something that is constantly evaluated and refined to meet the ever-changing needs of a more mobile society.

Often when I look at how a school or district communicates with their parents I try to get at the root of what works but more importantly, what doesn't. Why do emails go unanswered? Why are phone calls not listened to? Why do some parents say their child's school is great at communications, while others, at the same school, say it needs work.

There are multiple different types of barriers to overcome to have strong School:Home Communications and Relationships.

Barrier 1-Bad Data In Means Bad Data Out-Some of those papers I had to fill out at the beginning of the year were the same green sheets my district has been sending home for nearly 15 years. The goal is to collect demographic data on every student. Parent/Guardian Names, Addresses, Phone Numbers, Emails and other information that goes into a large database that the school can use when it needs the information. Many districts do the same thing. Send home the paper, have parents fill it out and send it back. Then it gets entered in. But how do we know if that data is good? When a school needs to send a phone call or an email how do they know if they have the best information?

One of the biggest barriers that schools and districts must overcome with data is when it changes. In my experience, over 5% of the phone numbers and email address sitting in databases right now are incorrect. Sometimes it's due to bad data entry. Other times on those written forms it's tough to decipher what was actually written, so we go off our best guess. Either way 5% is a lot of data to be incorrect.

If you want better data you have to have better processes. Many systems allow for electronic data gathering. It's an investment that will pay off in the end. Giving parents the option to change their contact data is a huge help as well. If a cell phone number changes it's easy for a parent to go in and change it.

The easiest way is to just ask. Several times a year ask parents to make sure they have the best contact information for them. When a student's parent comes to the office to pick them up early ask them to confirm their information while they wait for them to come up to the office. Take an iPad out to the car rider line and make sure everyone there has given the correct information.

Overcoming bad data in and bad data out is sometimes as easy as asking.

Barrier 2-Lack Of Choice-I was in a district a while back looking at how they communicated with parents and found a parent with 6 kids, who, in one week received 88 phone calls from her district. 88! Many were attendance calls. But one one day the school called 4 times with 4 different updates for parents. Oh by the way, we forgot... Oh, and one more thing...Message fatigue is a real thing and many of us have experienced it. An attendance call, low lunch balance call, email from the teacher, flyers and papers home, it adds up.

What parents want, and frankly they need is one place to get all their information and they need choice in how they get that information. There are so many apps and web resources that teachers, schools and districts use to get the word out. Settle on one that does as much as possible. But what's more important, you need one that allows parents to choose how they will get the information. For that parent that was getting 88 phone calls in a week, she didn't have a choice as to turn off the phone and turn on, say a summary email or text message. Just that having that choice makes a difference.

Overcoming the lack of choice is as easy as giving parents that option to customize how they will receive the messages you send.

Barrier 3-This Information Is Awful- That statement has been made to me 100's of times by parents when I ask them about the quality of the information they get from their child's school or district. I will hear stories of phone calls that last 4-5 minutes, emails with one sentence and the desire to get a text message but the district just wont send them.

I often will look and the district calls and emails and texts, uses their website and social media and see simple things that could change. Information quality is a big reason why parents say their district or school is a terrible communicator but it's such an easy thing to fix. For example, phone calls should last no more than 30 seconds. There isn't a parent out there that wants to listen for more than that, let alone who could remember what the call was about the next day. If you need more than 30 seconds use email, (Remember, if you don't have email addresses, just ask for them) or post the information on your website and direct folks there. Parents want text messages. They are great for short bits of information that don't need a lot of explanation.

Also consider using certain modes of communication for particular types of information. Maybe phone calls are just for weather announcements or emergencies. That way when parents see it is the school calling they know it's important. Or maybe text messages are used for lunch balances and overdue books. (Want to make your Media Coordinator happy? Start letting parents know by text message students have overdue books.) Any thing longer than that could be an email or posted to the website.

And don't forget about social media. The reach of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is huge. Those services can quickly get a message out about an event, sports score or reminder, some times faster than a phone call, email or text message.

Overcoming the barrier of low quality information is as easy as asking how parents want to be communicated with, combined with choice and having a plan for what messages need to use which channel.

Barrier 4-Perceived Lack Of Access-Most schools and districts are great at phone calls. Emails are used by many. And a few are using text messages. When I ask why more aren't using email or text messages the answer I almost always get back is "our parents don't have cell phones or email addresses." The fact is that just isn't true and we have the date to prove it.

In 2011 the number of basic cell phones in the U.S out paced the population. With 315 million people living in the U.S. there were 327.6 million cell phones, enough for every man, woman and child. In 2017 the Pew Internet Study found that 77% of the U.S. population had a smartphone. That would break down to 242.5 million active smartphones. Of course there are variations due to different reasons. Some people carry multiple devices and those with low income many not have anything. However, over all access to devices is on the rise and the numbers of those with nothing is on a sharp decline. Schools and districts can no longer use the excuse that their population doesn't have the access because the data just doesn't back it up.

So what can schools and districts do? Part of it goes back to just asking. If you want to start texting odds are you have phone numbers that can already ready receive a text message because over 40% of households are mobile only. If you don't think you have a number that can receive a text message, ask! But remember your purpose. Find a targeted reason to use text messages. Popular ones are for weather announcements rather than phone calls, balance information or sports information.

If lack of email addresses is a problem, again you just need to ask. Since many of us download apps, an email address is needed. Beyond apps, many employers require email address for paycheck or tax information. Even easier is to show parents how to sign up for email. Getting a Gmail account is simple and can be done in minutes. Set up a computer in the front office and invite parents to sign up!

Overcoming the barrier to lack of devices is realizing that most have a device that can do more than receive a phone call and using that to your advantage.

Effective School:Home Communications and Relationships begins with having a plan but also realizing that the barriers you face are the same everywhere and they can be overcome with very little effort. Having good data, providing choice, sending targeted messages and realizing everyone can be communicated with the way they want to be, can go a long way to building those lasting relationships every school and district wants to have.