Blended Learning Day Camp 2017

Remember when you were a kid and you went to camp – and it was awesome? Well, last week I got to go to “camp” – and it was awesome! Michigan Virtual University has put on an annual Day Camp for the last three years. Centered around implemented blended learning, the conference features both inspiring speakers as well as examples of teachers implementing blended learning in their classrooms.

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Not only did I get to attend, I was asked to be a Camp Counselor and have my own cabin of campers. Each camper was assigned a cabin (table) and a seat, which was designed to get people out of their comfort zones and to network with others. Our table was split into two cabins – 12A and 12B – and each cabin had a counselor. Most counselors at each table were instructional technology specialists or building leaders. We acted as the moderator to help break the ice with our campers, facilitated some lunchtime discussions around our practice, and helped to manage the GooseChase scavenger hunt.

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And we got some sweet swag! There’s a fanny pack hiding in that coffee mug!

The Keynote speaker for the event was the incredibly inspiring Pernille Ripp. She’s a middle school teacher in Wisconsin who has a really interesting story about how she became a teacher and landed in her school. Aside from the hard work she engages in as a teacher, Pernille also is the founder of the Global Read Aloud, which several teachers in our district have participated in.

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We hear a lot in education about doing what’s best for kids, but we don’t often actually ask kids what it is they want we teachers to do. Pernille does this – and then she makes changes to her instruction and how to interacts with students. Not only does this create an environment where students feel comfortable to contribute to their learning, it also demonstrates to students that their voices are valued and matter. When we think about how we want to teach our students to engage in the world, what better way to model that for our students than to ask them to use their voices and have conversations about those wants.

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I could go on and on about how much what Pernille said resonated with me, but something she has been promoting for a few years is around behavior charts. I couldn’t agree more with her. Whether or not I’m having a bad day should not be public knowledge. Continually publicizing students’ behavior issues really doesn’t seem to make a difference in student behavior. I have seen behavior charts used in classrooms. The well-behaved students continue to behave well. The students who are on “yellow” or lose points become disgruntled or upset and continue to act out, until they go to “red” or lose more points. Of course eventually, those students on “red” lose other privileges. I think about how I would feel if I went to a conference session or a work meeting and was called out for talking or being off task. I certainly wouldn’t engage in the rest of the training with an open mind, and the next time I had to work with that presenter or leader, I’d have an attitude and would have my guard up.  Why would we expect any different from our students?

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There were a few big takeaways from the Blended Learning Day Camp for me. First, I loved the scavenger hunt component using the GooseChase app. GooseChase makes the work of a scavenger hunt super easy. You create a game, others join your game (you can password protect them), and then they complete the various challenges within the game. You can have participants take photo evidence, use GPS location, take a video, or write a text response. I love the multiple modalities incorporated into the app, and it’s so easy to create a game or participate in one. I’m definitely going to incorporate this into some of my day-long trainings this summer.

Another takeaway was the opportunity to get up, network, and play with a small group of teachers. Throughout the day there were multiple times when we were able to stand up, solve a problem, make something, or explore. We had a playground/Makerspace with a variety of “toys” – Spheros, MakeyMakey, Little Bits, BryteBites, etc. There was also a BreakoutEDU game. If you haven’t done one yet, I’d highly encourage you to give it a try. You can order a kit online, or you can make your own. It is a WONDERFUL community-building activity, first week of school, “brain break” activity. It requires students to work together to solve a common problem – with some tension added in as they are fighting against a clock and other teams. The GooseChase game also asked participants to find areas outside of the conference space, so it was fun to get outside and walk around.

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Lastly, I’m excited to participate in a book study with author Liz Kolb, who just published a new book called Learning First, Technology Second. We got to hear about the impetus behind her book and some of the highlights of her research findings. I’m not-so-patiently waiting for my book to arrive from ISTE so I can dive in and really participate in the online book study.

Your Turn: What were some of your favorite summer learning/professional development experiences? What made them so awesome? 

Twitter Chat

On Tuesday, I hosted two Twitter chats as part of the ISTE PLN  – ETCoaches. I have participated in many Twitter chats and always love the energy and excitement of sharing stories, asking questions, getting new ideas, and finding more and more resources to utilize in my practice. Perhaps best of all is the opportunity to connect with other people from across the country. If I stop and think about all the ways technology enhances my ability to connect with others in such an easy way, it really is mind-blowing! I had never actually hosted or moderated a chat, so I was a little nervous about that.

As the chat moderator, I had a little bit of anxiety over hosting! What if no one logs in? What if people don’t engage? What if there’s a disagreement? Instead of falling prey to those anxiety-inducing thoughts, I focused on reflecting on my own answers to the questions. That helped break the ice for some of the other participants. I also wanted to make sure that I personally welcomed each person who chimed in, so I set that as one of my goals. Prior to the chat, I reached out to my own PLN and asked for any tips or tricks they had, so I felt pretty prepared in that sense.

We had two chats on Tuesday; one at 1pm (EST) and another at 8pm (EST). Both sessions really flew by as people engaged and interacted both with me and with one another. I loved the supportive atmosphere many of the Ed Tech coaches created in raising one another up. The end of the school year can be a trying time, so taking a few moments to look back and reflect on those areas of success is critical – not only to our practice but to our morale as well!

In about 3 1/2 weeks, I will be heading to #ISTE2016 in Denver – along with about 15,000 other folks – and I am really excited to hopefully connect face to face with a lot of people I have “met” on Twitter. For me, Twitter helps to break down those barriers and to help people forge gaps because you have some instant connections with people you have never actually met.

Are you going to ISTE? Let’s connect!

Have you ever participated in a Twitter chat? What do you love about it? 

Using KidBlog

Last week I wrote about the introduction of blogging with students using paper and pencil. It was a really powerful lesson that helped students to think about the realities of writing online and that there are real people behind the posts. It also was really engaging for them to see others comment on their posts.

Now, we are moving students into the digital realm and having them blog online using KidBlog. We chose this platform because our students don’t have email addresses or GAFE accounts, so Blogger was out. I have used KidBlog in the past and had a fair amount of success with it. We also liked that the educator version was reasonably priced – $35 for a calendar year – and it came with lesson plans, support, and ideas.

Students have the ability to personalize their blog posts through different backgrounds, images, media, text, and font colors. They also can personalize their blog avatar. These things go a long way in giving students ownership over their learning.

Since we started pretty late in the year, students have not used KidBlog as much as we would like, but they are LOVING it! Ms. Rubio wrote a blog post about why she was out sick from work and gave students an assignment to complete online. She can then interact with the students even while she is out of the classroom. It also helps students to develop empathy and realize that their teacher is a person with challenges and issues outside of the classroom. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that!

Earlier this week, I logged in to KidBlog and commented on several students’ posts. They were so excited to have their posts read and to continue the conversation. Ms. Rubio has already said she wants to start off the school year with her students on KidBlog. It’s such a great way for them to document their learning and growth throughout the year. It also provides a great way for kids to get to know more about their classmates. Students who tend to be shy about speaking up or don’t always have a chance to share in class can now comment and post about their learning and their opinions. IMG_5269 (1)IMG_5270 (1)

Blogging With Students

It can be really hard to get students to write – right? So often students do not resonate with the topic we’re asking them to elaborate on, or there are barriers and challenges that make writing at length difficult for them. One of the schools that I work with has a very large ELL population, and it can be challenging for them to write – they don’t know the English words or they don’t know how to spell them. Writing for a teacher, turning it in, waiting for feedback, then shoving the paper in a folder isn’t always the most meaningful way for students to grow in their writing. Too often the feedback comes at the end – and it only comes from one person.

One of the teachers I work with really understands this struggle and has been working to make writing curriculum more engaging for her kids. We worked through a couple of different platforms and decided on KidBlog. We liked the built in safety features and – because our students don’t have email addresses – it was an easy way to get student accounts without collecting personal information.

Blogging opens up the opportunity for students to share and engage with many other people – whether it’s the other students in the classroom, their friends at another school, or globally. When students know that others are reading their work, they have a higher level of ownership over it. Aside from that, the conversations often continue as others comment and ask questions and the author engages in a dialogue. Students, then, are naturally reading and writing more as they respond to comments and questions on their own blogs as well as interacting with others’ blogs as well.

To get kids excited about blogging, we knew we had to go beyond just “Tell me about your goals” or something similar that kids have been asked to think about many times before. Having attended a session at a conference last summer on introducing blogging to students, I knew one of the best ways to get kids excited about writing was to let them write about anything they wanted – their passion. I wrote a short “post” (on paper) about one of my passions – running. I decorated the paper similar to how you would decorate a blog page, and then read the blog to students.

Students were then given 10 minutes to write about anything they wanted. The only rule was they couldn’t stop writing for the entire 10 minutes. At first they were reluctant and hesitant; many of them didn’t think they could write for 10 minutes about anything. We continued to encourage them to write and write without talking. After a bit, students did settle in and the quiet was really neat – just hearing the sound of pencils on paper. Once students had time to write their post, we discussed commenting. I shared with students how one of the ways blogging is different than just writing something and turning it in, is the opportunity to have communication with others who are reading your blog. We talked about some of the things students might have commented after reading my blog post about running.

A little mini lesson was really all we needed to remind students about writing in complete sentences, using proper grammar and spelling, and writing comments that added to the conversation. We kept comparing it to what you would say if someone told you the story face to face. Most students understood that it would be rude to just say “Cool” to someone’s story. After that, we gave each student 3 sticky notes and had them write their names on each note. Then, students got up and walked around the room, reading other blog posts, writing comments on the sticky notes, and posting them around the edges of the blog. IMG_5254

It was really neat to see kids reading and quiet. Students were on task and engaged. At the end of the commenting period, we asked students to share what they learned, how the comments made them feel, etc. Then, the one student who had been the most reluctant to engage in the lesson at the beginning asked if they could do it again, reading others’ posts. We ended up doing it two more times. One student wanted to read everyone’s post and comment on everyone’s blog. It was awesome!

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Fairview Animal Hospital

As a Biomedical focused STEM school, students at Fairview Elementary utilize Project Based Learning units centered around learning more about their Magnet Theme. Kindergarten, First, Second, and Third grade students participated in an Animal Hospital. Lots and lots of work went in to putting this event together, but the end result was an amazing learning opportunity for these young scholars!

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Through the help of local partnerships with The Red Cross and Wal-Mart,, we were able to transform the library into a medical lab, complete with doctor’s kits, x-rays, and medicine.

Students began their experience with a hands on lesson from the Red Cross on CPR. They had the opportunity to practice on a medical dummy and to ask questions about what the Red Cross does. Then, students were given a stuffed animal and a little story starter about the symptoms of their patient. Students worked with an adult volunteer to diagnose their animal through a series of questions on a Google Form. Once students figured out the diagnosis, they were given directions to X-Ray their patient and what type of medication to distribute. It was really neat to see students talk through what might be wrong with their patient, to ask them questions, and to hear them explain their reasoning for a particular answer to a question.

The Innovator’s Mindset – Week 4 (Chapters 6 & 7)

These two chapters focus on empowering students and what tactics schools and districts can utilize to bring all voices to design empowering opportunities for everyone.

George begins by sharing his focus on engaging students during his first few years of teaching.This was very relatable to me. Knowing that social studies is generally the subject students hate the most, I made it a personal mission to create learning experiences for my students that were filled with passion, energy, and excitement. I was exhausted at the end of every day having expended so much energy helping students learn about why the debate over the Constitution was so meaningful. While I believe that I made learning fun for my students – and they were able to make connections to the world around them – I’m not certain I created empowered learners who found problems and solved them, who questioned in a respectful way, who shared their voices. On page 96, George quotes Bill Ferriter: “Engaging students means getting kids excited about our content, interests, and curricula. [Empowering students] means giving kids the knowledge and skills to pursue their passions, interests, and future.” This really gave me pause. Have I been created engaged learners or empowered learners?

The common thread between these two chapters is the idea of compliance. So often we teach students how to be compliant – follow the rules, do what’s asked of them, not to question. While some routines and procedures are necessary, especially in a lower elementary school classroom, we have to be mindful of what we are asking our students to do. If we want them to have a voice – to feel empowered – we cannot squelch every independent thought or action. Chapter 7 focuses on designing a mission and vision for schools and George uses the example of his school district and how they attempted to get input from all learners in their school community – students, teachers, parents, administration. By teaching students to be compliant, we are teaching them that their voices don’t matter. Conversely, by bringing them in to the conversation to design what’s most important to a school (its mission and vision), students are far more likely to be engaged and committed to what the school is trying to do.

What do you think? Are schools teaching students to be compliant? Why do you feel this way? 

Questions for Discussion (Chapter 6)

  1. How do we create learning opportunities and experiences for students and staff that focus on empowerment as opposed to engagement?
  2. What new statements would you create with the “School vs. Learning” image? Are they on one side of the spectrum, or are these statements closer to the middle? 
  3. How do we create classrooms and schools where students and voices are not only heard but needed?

Questions for Discussion (Chapter 7)

  1. How do you involve the greater community into creating an inspiring vision for learning in your school or organization?
  2. Does your vision (individually and organizationally) reflect the powerful learning opportunities that are available today? Is it compelling and empowering to educators?
  3. What are the small steps along the way that you will need to make the vision a reality?

If…

Reading through the #InnovatorsMindset hashtag on Twitter, I came across this post – If I Could Build a School. Created as part of the Ontario School and System Leaders Edtech MOOC, the post really got me thinking. It’s pretty easy to complain about the things that are wrong with schools, bemoan the many challenges facing teachers and schools, be frustrated with all the things that are seemingly out of our control, etc. However, when thinking about how to change schools, it can be a much more challenging conversation.

If you could design a school from scratch, what would it look like?

My school would be open and welcoming from the very moment you enter – bright colors, soft flooring, lots of seating options and areas for collaboration. There would be student work throughout the school, highlighting the unique learning and various student cultures present in our building.

Our building would not have specific areas for learning specific things – i.e., “technology lab”, “classroom”, etc. Rather, students and teachers would have many areas to take their students to immerse them in learning. When you walked into my school, you would see students working in collaborative spaces throughout the building. iPads and other technologies would be integrated seamlessly into instruction. Students would be documenting and sharing their learning on their personal blogs. There would be many opportunities for formalized sharing – Google Hangouts, Skype with other classrooms, presentations, small group discussion. Makerspaces and “studio” space would be available for students to create and share their learning in myriad ways.

Our focus would be on building relationships and fostering a culture of support and collaboration. Students would feel safe, welcomed, loved, and supported. They would be inspired to learn, to ask questions, to create, and to build. Our school would not have bells and our schedule would not be a strict structure. Inspiration doesn’t happen in neat, hour-long chunks, so why would we force our students to learn and create that way?

Your Turn: If you could design a school from scratch, what would it look like?