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. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

5 Easy Ways To Make Your Digital Content Accessible To Everyone

Reaghan is my oldest daughter and about to start third grade. At 2 years of age I noticed she wasn’t talking much and when she did talk you couldn’t really understand what she was trying to say. After talking to her pediatrician it was decided to have her evaluated for her speech. She spent countless hours working with a speech-language pathologist for nearly 5 and half years. She now enters third grade with great speech and more confidence.

While she was in speech therapy she would have to do what other kids in her classroom would have to do. Practice reading out loud. She had tremendous anxiety over that. I knew she was a strong reader but she had a very hard time being understood. Fortunately, she had very understanding teachers and accommodations in place that allowed her to read more one-on-one with the teacher.

As educators we understand that students have a wide range of abilities and disabilities that we must take into account when we teach. For some, we must extend the lesson for students who can go beyond the content. For others we need to differentiate and make the content more accessible to accommodate for a disability.

However, these accommodations must extend beyond the classroom. As classrooms and digital spaces become more ubiquitous educators must understand how the content they create and put in these online spaces must be made accessible for all. And it not just for those students in the classroom. It's for other students, parents and the community as well.

One area I have been working with many districts across the U.S. is accessibility. Specifically website accessibility. There is a movement to ensure that the content that is created by schools and districts can be accessible by anyone, no matter their ability or disability. And the law is on their side. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998 says that schools that receive federal funds must adhere to specific standards of website access.

It is the responsibility of every person who maintains a digital presence for their students and community to ensure that all members of that community can access the content. Not everyone will access that content the same way or complete a task like a form fill the same way. So we have to ensure we have those accommodations are in place to make sure that can be done.

Sure, but you’re an educator doing the best they can to ensure that all students in your classroom learn to the best of your abilities. Now I’m telling you that you have to worry about the content you put on your website must be accessible as well? Forget it you might say. Don’t. Making content accessible for your website is not that difficult. And often there isn’t anything extra you have to do.

5 Easy Ways To Make Your Web Content Accessible For All

Colors and Fonts-The design of our digital spaces help define who we are and the content we are posting. I was a science teacher so I would use more science themed designs on my website. Design is also something important to think about when it comes to accessibility. First with colors, it’s important to look at the colors you use to make sure the contrast between 2 colors isn’t overwhelming or washed out. You want to have a simple contrast that is easy for the viewer to read. Second, let’s talk about fonts. It’s very important to use sans-serif fonts like Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, Georgia and Palatino. Serif fonts like Times New Roman are ok but could cause screen readers to error because of the spacing between the letters. I regularly get asked about Comic Sans. Comic Sans has been shown to help readers with dyslexia. While technically accessible, it should be avoided as it can have irregular spacing which, again can cause screen readers to error.

Tables-When I was a District Instructional Technologist I had to teach teachers how to update their webpages. Many would get frustrated trying to get the content on the page looking perfect. Tables to the rescue! We could create a borderless table and the content would be nice and centered and looking good. The problem with tables is they must have a complete set of labels for every cell, header and row. Well if I am creating a table for my content labeling may not be practical. If you are going to use tables be sure you have a way to add those labels in. And if you don’t have to, it’s best to avoid tables all together.

Alt Text-Go to you class, school, or district home page. Odds are there are many images on those pages. Images help tell stories and are powerful as a communications tool. But imagine for a second you have a visual impairment. Those images shouldn’t be any less impactful because one can’t fully see them. Screen readers are a popular tool for those that have a visual impairment but still need to navigate webpages. Screen readers rely on the HTML that makes up the page to tell it what to say. When it gets to an image the screen reader needs Alt Text to tell the viewer what that image is of. If you put a picture up of a football game and the alt text simply says “football game” that doesn’t help tell the story of that image. Alt Text needs to be descriptive so that the screen reader can fully tell the view what that image is of. Any time you put an image on your site there should be a way to add Alt Text. Don’t just ignore that. Fill it out so you can fully tell the story you want to tell with that image.

Videos And Closed Captioning-Many teachers use video to supplement learning or are using it to flip the classroom. A major consideration for posting videos on a teacher website or other site that parents and/or students are using is they must have closed captioning enabled. No matter if the video content was created by the teacher or pulled from another source, closed captioning must be enabled. This may seem daunting considering the amount of original content that could be created and posted via video but it doesn’t have to be. If you are uploading your videos to YouTube take advantage of their automatic closed captioning. There are also several free services that will caption your videos as well. Either way this is something simple that you can do so that everyone can enjoy your videos.

PDFs-When more and more content was moving to digital formats, PDFs became the defacto way to post documents that allowed them to be view on any device. And it’s true. Pretty much any device (tablet, laptop, mobile phone) can open a PDF. However, PDFs aren’t accessible and there are a lot of them out there posted on class, school and district webpages. Programs like Adobe Acrobat (the full version) can create fully accessible PDFs. Microsoft Word also allows for the saving of documents so that they are accessible. One of the easiest ways to avoid having to create accessible PDFs is to avoid using them all together. Create content so that it appears on the webpage rather than having to be downloaded. This content is much easier to be made accessible. If you must create PDF’s to post download this guide to learn how you can do it easily.

I know Accessibility isn't a new flashy tool or device that folks like to read about. However, it is important to every educator posting digital content that content be made so anyone can access it. We all have a responsibility to ensure the content we post is accessible.

If you want to learn more about accessibility, the laws, and more ideas on making content more accessible check out the SchoolMessenger Accessibility Resource Center.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series-6 Awesome Tools To Try This School Year

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. These posts will take us through Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Next we will examine some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. We will then move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. From there we looked at Formative Assessment and how easy it is to do today. In the last post I gave you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

I’ve done a great deal of traveling this summer, working with districts on School:Home Communications, technology planning and more. And every school and district office I spend time in the scene is the same. Hallways lined with full and empty boxes of new laptops, Chromebooks and iPads that will ultimately end up in the hands of teachers and students.

As students prepare their notebooks and book bags, and teachers prepare their classrooms and lessons, looking at all this new (or existing technology) one could be thinking to themselves what do I do with all this stuff? How do I integrate this technology seamlessly yet effectively to enhance student learning?

There are so many new and exciting tools, apps and sites to discover and use throughout the course of the year. Some, when you look at them, seem great but don’t really offer any substance. While there are many more that go untalked about because they don’t have a large Twitter following or are just brand new. What are the new (or new to you) tools you can use this school year to get the more out of those devices but most importantly, what will impact student learning in positive way?

Here are 6 tools you can use throughout the course of the year to make a difference in your classroom.

I became a fan of Flipgrid after a conference I attended earlier this year used it before the conference to capture what attendees were excited about and afterwards to share what they learned and how they would keep the learning going. Flipgrid is a video capture app that can be used for things like pre-assessment, sharing what we know, formative assessment, and group conversations. Simply create a free teacher account, create a board and invite students to discuss the topic with a recorded video, text or link. No accounts are needed for students as everything is done through a code or link to the board. Here is one I created (that I would love for you to add to) on summer reading. You can also check out this post to learn more about what you can do with Flipgrid.

This is one of those apps that once you use it you will wonder what you did without it. Available as a free app Recap allows students and teachers to simplify the formative assessment process. Students record a short video using their device and then send it to the teacher. The teacher can respond via a video or other comments. Where I think this app really excels is for professional development. Imagine being able to deliver PD and know, in the moment where everyone is in their learning. We can then change instruction on the fly, modeling what we’d do in the classroom. The whole time keeping an evolution of the learning process. I am a proud Recap Pioneer, a program that advocates for the use of the product in schools. Check out this post to see what all is possible with Recap.

I’ve been honest in the past about how I don’t think Flipped Classrooms are necessarily a good idea. That said, using video in the classroom to enhance student learning can be a great idea. Odds are you will assign or use video this year for students. Why not create an interactive lesson with it? That’s where EdPuzzle excels. Content doesn’t have you come from just YouTube. You can use a variety of sources, even uploading your own video. Then you can add check points along the way to ensure students are aligning their learning to your outcomes. As a teacher you can see exactly what student responses are and keep track of everything. It’s a great app to use to do more with those videos we use in the classroom. Here is a great post that outlines how to use it and what you can do with it.

Of all the tools and resources on this list, Book Creator is the newest to me. I was introduced to it by my friend Shaelynn Farnsworth. When she was describing it to me I was getting excited about what could be possible. This app does what it says. It takes the rich content that students create, videos, text, images, and audio to create an interactive book. In the English classroom create a Slam Poetry Book. In the social studies class take that boring report about a country and make an interactive travel book that goes deep. The list is really endless. You could even use it to create a digital portfolio that students can show what they know throughout the school year. Available as an app or a Chrome App you can use Book Creator on nearly any device. Check out this post for more useful ideas and resources.

I’ve been advocating for the use of screen recorded video in the classroom for a long time. The possibilities for students to demonstrate what they know and for educators and leaders to get back time in faculty meetings are truly endless. There have been several programs I have tried and it wasn’t until I landed on Screencastify that I finally found what I was looking for. Available as a Chrome App it’s so easy now to record a webpage for a walkthrough or the desktop for something more. You can even capture your own video and sound. All the recordings go into Google Drive where you can easily share or embed. If you spring for the Pro Plan (which I highly recommend) you can even edit your videos right in Google Drive.

Snapchat is one of those apps that most know about but struggle to find a use in the classroom. I argue is the perfect app to capture those wonderful stories that happen in the classroom everyday. The thing is, not all of those stories need permanency. And since stories in Snapchat only last a short time, it can become a great app for sharing. Using it also helps to show that apps like that can be used for something positive. Using a mix of images and video along with filters and stickers, you can share all those great things that happen every day. Check out this post to see all the other ideas you can use Snapchat for.

I have 2 challenges for you as you start school this year. Commit to trying to use at least one of these apps in your classroom this year. Learn it well, examine the possibilities, try and fail then try again. The second thing is to share your experience. Send a tweet, write a blog post, lead a PLC meeting, share in a faculty meeting. Do whatever you can to share your learning, not only with these apps but everything you learn this year with other educators.

Learn more about being a Tech-Savvy Teacher by reading my post,
6 Areas of Development For Tech-Savvy Teachers.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series: Create Solid School:Home Relationships This Year

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. These posts will take us through Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Next we will examine some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. We will then move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. From there we looked at Formative Assessment and how easy it is to do today. Today I give you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

Solid relationships are built upon strong communications. Whether it’s with a spouse, family member or friend, the ability to communicate well can make or break any relationship. The same is true for our school systems. Students, teachers, staff, parents and the community all need to feel that they have the best information possible and that each is an engaged member of the school community.

An effective School:Home Communications Plan is multifaceted and complex. Ensuring that all stakeholders receive the best, most complete information, on a “channel” that meets their needs can be a challenge. However, no matter the plan, there is always room for improvement.

Here are three ways to improve any communications plan to enhance relationships and build engagement with all.

Be A Storyteller
How many times do we turn on the news and hear another negative story about schools? It seems like almost on a daily basis there is an exposé about failing schools, or how lack of funding is hurting how students learn. For those of us on the inside of schools, it can seem as if no good news is ever told. The reality is that there are amazing things happening in schools everyday. From the small stories that are personal within one particular classroom, to those that can have an impact across communities, these are the stories that need (and deserve) to be told.

There is no question the information that matters to parents and guardians is the critical information related to grades and academics. However, there is something to be said to learn of those great stories that lie just below the surface in every school. The classroom that read the most books in a period or the school that donated food to a local food bank for the Holidays or the student that created Braille Machine out of Legos because his school couldn’t afford it. There are students, teachers, volunteers and community members who are doing amazing things in and for schools every day. Start a blog and tell their stories. Use your weekly email or special section on your website to highlight what’s great about your school or district.

Diversify Through Social Media
Social media is an almost constant part of our daily lives. From checking our likes on Facebook to posting pictures of our amazing meal on Instagram, almost 3/4 of all Americans use social media on a daily basis. We see hashtags on our sports teams’ jerseys and on our favorite television programs.

Schools and districts are also embracing social media as another channel to engage stakeholders. Twitter provides a quick, 140-character way to get the word out. Facebook can engage with more than just parents and guardians. However, if you are limiting yourself to just those 2 channels you are missing out on additional ways to engage with your community.

Even though Twitter and Facebook are now seen as the “traditional” social media channels, it is time to diversify and engage in other spaces. Twitter and Facebook offer both ease of use and quick deployment of message, however, are they the best choices for delivering a multifaceted message?

Take Pinterest for example. The number of Pinterest users continues to grow day after day. Pinterest is a very visual medium and appeals to a great number of people because of that. For school communications, this could be used to share blog posts with images, links to curriculum resources or boards to help parents be more involved in school. The possibilities are really endless and you can engage with the same audience for a different purpose.

Other Social Media And Communication Tools To Investigate:

  • Instagram-Easily share images of the great things happening everyday in schools.
  • Snapchat-Not every image or video deserves permanency. Most are good in the moment and can be replaced the next day. Share using the My Story feature what students are learning or even use it to share with the community the professional development that is happening. 
  • Periscope-Live broadcast meetings or other events for parents/community members who can’t attend. 
  • SchoolMessenger App-This is an easy way to foster simple 2-way communications between teachers and parents. No cellphone needed. Simply sign up, create a class and invite others to join. 
Remember, these are not the only ways to communicate that information, but another way to meet people where they are.

Avoid Message Fatigue
We are bombarded with a tremendous amount of information daily. Each of us has developed our own filters to deal with all the data; letting in the information that matters, and letting go of the information that doesn’t.

As the Father of a Third Grader, I can attest to the barrage of information I get daily. Papers in a daily folder, emails from the school and district, phone calls from the school and district, notifications from the teacher via text message, most of it repeated information three or more times. I once had someone tell me you have to communicate information nine times, nine different ways to ensure that the message gets across. The reality is, who has time for that? When it comes to school communications, sending that many messages, that many different ways, can lead to “Message Fatigue”.

To avoid “Message Fatigue”, begin by taking stock of what messages are sent and how. This needs to be done not only at the classroom and school level, but across the district as well. Some questions to ask:

  • Is there information at the district level that is also duplicated at the school level? The Classroom level?
  • Can information sharing be streamlined so it is coming from one channel? How can the best information come from the best channel?
  • Is there a way to share information with the school community less often, but still ensure that it is timely?
  • What choice are you giving to parents and the community to receive the information when and where they want? 

Next, we need to survey stakeholders to find the preferred communications channels. A recent survey done by Pew Internet of parents of school-aged children found that many parents preferred digital channels to receive information from schools because of the immediacy of the information. While a daily or semi-daily phone call is traditional, is it the way parents and guardians in your school or district want to be contacted? What other, more real time, digital means can you use to get parents and guardians the information they want (and need) in the most appropriate way for them?

Lastly, review reports often. Take a look at all the reports available to determine the effectiveness of your communications. In your phone log, are the calls being partially listened to? That can be a sign of message fatigue. Take a look at your email log. Are they being open and read or just glanced at? In your overall message log, do you have a good variety of communications that matches what your stakeholders want? These reports can provide a treasure-trove of information that can help you stay up-to-date on avoiding message fatigue.

A strong School:Home Communications Plan not only helps to communicate information to the community in a timely manner, it also helps build relationships, establish connections and create a culture that all stakeholders want to be a part of. By being a storyteller, diversifying your use of social media and avoiding message fatigue you can take your school’s home communications to the next level!

Want to learn more? Download my whitepaper with more information. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series-Embracing Formative Assessment

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. These posts will take us through Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Next we will examine some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. We will then move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. From there we will look at Formative Assessment and how easy it is to do today. Then I’ll give you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

This post was written in partnership with Acer Education. 

For me, the beginning of the school year was the best time of year. I always enjoyed getting back into my classroom, setting things up and getting pumped for the journey ahead with my students. The beginning of the year was a good reset. I could reflect back on the previous year, examine what I had learned over the summer and plan for a better year coming up.

One area of improvement still to this day I wish I could go back and improve even more was assessment. Mainly, embracing formative assessment.

In my first year of teaching I taught the way I was taught to teach. Delivering content to my students, assess at the end, remediate if necessary. With that cycle, I always had kids who were behind, who never seemed like they could catch up.

I was talking with a teacher friend the summer after my first year and she suggested something simple. Put a large piece of paper next to the door. Give every student a pack of sticky notes. On the way out the door they could put their thoughts about what they didn't quite get or what they were still having trouble with. They could leave their name or not. Either way it gave valuable insight to how the students were learning but also could help shape the lesson for the next day.

What a difference that made.

The following school years that board became an important place for myself and my students. It provided them a way to tell me what they needed and a place for me to reflect on my teaching and give my students what they needed.

Now, as 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) are taking over our schools, it's becoming even easier to formatively assess what our students know and for our students to leave feedback as to what they need because of this ready access to technology. This evolution should (and is) cause a shift for all teachers to look to formative assessment as the basis for understanding where students are in their learning.

Here are a few of my favorite devices, apps and sites that can help you more easily fit formative assessment into your classroom this school year.

Acer TravelMate B117-If you are looking at an inexpensive, purpose device that can also help with formative assessment then look no further. The Acer TravelMate is a durable student laptop that does what you expect but also has some cool features. One of the best is the incorporation of multicolored lights built into the lid that allow for the teacher to send a quick question to students and they can respond with these lights, simply and easily. Software is also included so both students and teachers can track their progress over time. Like these other tools, it allows for quick feedback to the teacher on understanding but I don't need anything extra like a different website or cards to hold up. The TravelMate 117B does it all for me!

Online Sticky Notes- Just like the physical space in my classroom there are lots of virtual sticky note sites out there. Two of my favorites are Padlet and Lino. These provide a virtual corkboard for students to leave notes or questions or comments on their learning. Both sites are easy to set up and free. Best part, kids don't have to have an account to leave a note and they can do it any time, anywhere. All they need is the address. (So you don't even have to be a 1:1 classroom or BYOD. The kids could do them from home.)

Backchannels- Hugely popular at conferences and other educational gatherings the backchannel provides a way for participants to share in conversation while participating in learning. In the classroom they can be a way for kids to collaborate without shouting across the room. In terms of formative assessments, questions at various points through the lesson could be posted there and kids could respond. My favorite backchannel service is TodaysMeet. Again, simple to set up (all you need is a room name and to decide how long you want the room to be open). Free as well, it's available any time, anywhere.

Plickers- A tech tool for the non-tech classroom students merely need to hold up a card with a QR code on it. Using the free Plickers app, teachers then scan the room. The app reads the QR codes. The way the student is holding the card corresponds to an answer choice or letter or whatever you want that end to represent. Once the teacher scans the room you can see instantly who answered what and respond accordingly. It's a quick and easy way to use the power of technology to formatively assess without all students needing the technology.

Kahoot- Kids love friendly competition. And Kahoot is a formative assessment tool cleverly disguised as a game. Simply enter questions into an easy to use template and then students, either as individuals or as teams can see who can gather the most points by answering the questions as fast as they can. For the teacher there are dashboards that show who answered what and that, along with the instant feedback when the questioned is answered can be a great way to introduce and use formative assessment.

Poll Everywhere- This is another one of my favorites, simply because of the variety of uses and methods of submitting responses. Similar to the others, the teacher can create a simple feedback poll or leave the question open ended. The students can respond via text message, website or even Twitter. Again, the point here is we can capture the feedback from the students using a variety of methods, almost instantly. Another great feature of Poll Everywhere is the data analysis you get. You can export results to create more ways of analyzing data. (Like if the questions are open ended, you could export the results to put them into a Wordle to see what terms are showing up the most.)

Socrative- This one is quickly become a go-to app for formative assessments for educators everywhere. The teacher creates an account and a room (for, you guessed it, free). Then the students go to the site (either through the app or through a browser), enter the room number and they see a question or a open response question to answer. I like this one a lot because of the variety of choices for questions to answer. One is even called Exit Ticket where kids can quickly summarize what they learned and tell you what they need for tomorrow.

Eight different tools that are quick and easy you can use this school year in your classroom to help improve formative assessment.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series: Non-Educational Books To Read...Over and Over

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. These posts will take us through several different ways of extending your learning. We started with Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Then we examined some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. Today move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. Then I’ll give you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

Spending lots of time on airplanes and in airports means I have a great deal of time on my hands. If I’m not prepping for a keynote, working on a presentation or compiling some data I’m reading. I keep a constant supply of books at arms length and believe it or not most of them aren’t educational books. I do find time to read content or theory but I find more and more it’s the non-educational books provide more to my learning because it causes me to reflect on how the subject matter c0uld apply to the work I am doing with administrators and teachers.

There are lots of great list of educational summer reading. This one from ASCD is full of texts I find on my own bookshelf. Here is another one. And another one. Some have lots of value others are just there to push books.

The thing to remember is, just like in the classroom, read what provides value to you. If educational books are your thing, awesome. If you are looking for a good beach read to escape, even better. Whatever you read, do it often. Reading is the foundation of learning and we all should be doing it more.

Here are 5 books that I’ve read recently that have seemingly no connection to education but have had influence on my work and my thinking as an educator and learner.

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are-This book from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a former data scientist at Google writes about how data, specifically Google Trends can tell us a lot about who we are as people and a society. Comparing the answers given to popular surveys Seth concludes that what we say to our friends and ourselves and what we ask Google are two totally different things. Using that data he can predict presidential elections, relationship habits and more. I have been using many of the data points here to talk to administrators about the use of social media and how data can skew what we know about the world.

Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed-This was my most recent read and a great one. Daniel McGinn takes us through all the research around getting prepared for major events in our lives. Giving examples from sports, performance arts, medicine and more we learn that there is scientific evidence to suggest that pep talks don’t work, listening to music while you run or work is about the worst thing you can do and how to overcome a fear or speaking or presenting. I found I was doing a lot of things wrong in my own life and especially with my kids. We have to believe we will do well and data suggests, we will.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right-Suggested to me by a good friend I was skeptical of this one at first. I have tried and failed about 1000 times to get organized and this seemed like another one of these books to tell me what I was doing wrong and how to do it better. And while it was that kind of book, it wasn’t my methods, it was my mindset. Since I’ve read it (twice now in 6 months) I find myself taking lots away each time to help me be more productive and how to shift my mindset on how I am organized. A quick and easy read.

Confessions of an Advertising Man-This one might be the most unusual book on my list but it is hands down my favorite I’ve read in a very long time. With chapters like “How To Start An Advertising Agency” and “How To Get Your First Client” it might not seem like there is anything to learn here unless you want to be in Mad Men. But seriously, if you are interested at all in creativity and leadership, you need this book. First published in 1963 it has long been considered the bible for ad agencies. However for me it was eye opening to see how someone who was once called the most creative man on the planet sought out talent, organized teams and was hyper-focused on tasks at hand. I have already read this one again and constantly keep coming back to parts of it to use in my work with administrators.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy- Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and already an accomplished author. In this book she opens up about the sudden death of her husband and how she found herself a single mother of two children. But she writes of resiliency and how when things don’t always go the way we plan we need to be ready with option b, or c, or whatever. She blends personal story with research on how we all deal with adversity and how it’s a strength we can all build.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series-3 Rules For Attending Any Conference

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. These posts will take us through several different ways of extending your learning. We started with Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Next we will examine some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. We will then move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. Then I’ll give you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

As the end of June approaches that means the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology In Education) Conference is around the corner. ISTE is one of my favorite conferences because I get to catch up face-to-face with those I haven't seen in the past year, I get to learn with some incredible educators and I get to see the latest gadgets and must haves for the classroom.

If you are a social media user or a blog reader you may have seen several posts related to getting more out of ISTE. Many who attend have loads of great ideas to maximizing the impact you have while you are in attendance. Before many conferences, there is advice about how to follow the conference hashtag or to drink lots of water because you’ll do lots of walking. All the advice you hear is great and definitely worth a follow.

But I want to go deeper. When I go to conferences, either as a presenter or a participant, I challenge myself and my audiences each day to get the most out of the conference experience. Many will save all year long to attend or travel a great distance. How can we make the most of the conference learning, but still remembering our purpose to extend the learning for others?

I think there are 3 things to remember, not only for ISTE, but for any conference or learning event you attend.

Put Your Thinking Cap On And Push The Boundaries Of Your Thinking
It is easy to attend conferences like ISTE or any conference and only go to the sessions lead by our friends or go to sessions where we already know a lot about a specific topic. While there isn't anything wrong with that, are you doing the most with your conference experience? Push yourself. I am still a skeptic of flipped classrooms. So I make a point to attend at least one session where it’s discussed so I can widen my perspective. Try to find those gems of sessions that you might just walking away thanking yourself for attending. Make a point to attend at least one session where you disagree or are a skeptic about the topic. Go in with an open mind and make the most of your experience.

Reflect, Often
Because you are going to challenge yourself and your thinking, it will be important for you to reflect on your learning. Review your notes at the end of each day and write down your thoughts. I love Evernote for this. I can compile everything there (notes, drawings, pictures and handouts) and have it on all my devices. Many conferences are also creating shared Google Docs so that anyone can add in their thoughts and reflections collectively. It’s also a good idea at the end of the day, when you are exhausted and walking back to your hotel to just take some time and think. What did you see that challenged you? What do you still have questions about? How can you take what you learned and apply it to your students?

Don't Be A Hoarder, Share Your Learning
Think about if you shared what you learned with 5 people and those 5 people shared with 5 and so on. The learning becomes so much more valuable. Find many ways to share both at the conference (social media is great for that) and when you get back to your school/district. Did you go as a member of team? Have your team take 5 mins and share all the resources with those that couldn't attend. Flying solo? Post your Evernote notebooks to Twitter or to your blog. How ever you decide to share, just be sure to share!

Summer Challenge
  1. Do you have a blog? If you do awesome! If you don’t take attending a conference as an opportunity to start one. Make a post (or your first post) about the top 3 takeaways from the conference. Add in your reflection about how you want to grow from here. 
  2. Did everyone from your school attend the conference? Probably not. Arrange a #CoffeeEDU where you can invite colleagues for a coffee or a lunch and share what you learned. Discuss what you saw and how you can begin to implement what you learned. 
  3. Do you have something to share? Of course you do! Begin thinking about how you can add your voice to the conference next year. Brainstorm session ideas and write them down. Was there something that you went to that you can improve upon or add your own spin? Then you have them ready when the Call for Proposals opens up next year. Presenting and sharing with audiences is a great way to grow yourself and others.