Recently, my cohort over at #wsucohort1 has spent a lot of hours planning and implementing a district wide PLN initiative. If you need to learn more about PLNs you can read my blog post on the subject.
We wanted to create a way in which we could spread the joy of Twitter chat discussions, with the powerhouse of strong teachers that is the Byron school district. After much planning, we arrived at a solution which we could aim to improve teacher communication, resources, and bonding. Our 4 week long project centered its weekly topic around the mission statement of the district; Learn, Share, Innovate, Inspire. Each week we offered a series of questions to generate discussion about these aspects, and we archived the discussions as resources for all to have access to. We shared apps, ideas, lesson plans, and generally increased our connectedness between buildings.
Here are my personal thoughts on this project as well as my thoughts on its outcome:
1) Amount of difficulty vs. reward.
Although this task wasn’t a cakewalk, it was completely manageable as our cohort of 9 people shared the work and split up the tasks. As a new teacher, I was not familiar with this sort of activity and level planning it would take to get people on board. Thankfully we had experience in certain areas including design, advertising, assessing, and making it accessible between all of us. If your district does not yet have something like this, I would highly encourage it as the reward certainly justifies the work.
2) Impact on my understanding of learning.
This project showed me several things, namely the amount of diversity among teaching styles, ideas, and content area perspectives. I enjoyed reading the responses to the questions (give link to one) about what I thought would be straightforward and simple answers. For example, a question about innovation in the classroom had such varied responses that I needed to look them up on my own time. I learned more about types of innovative education from my own district than I had from a textbook. It was humbling as well because just when i thought I was starting to understand everything and come up into my own as a teacher, I felt completely green again. It also challenged my assumptions of my coworkers, who proved once again why Byron is an impressive district to work for.
3) Long lasting impact on myself
I cannot speak for the district, or even my cohort, but I can safely say for myself that this sort of activity inspired me as a teacher. I felt reenergized at a time which most teachers feel burnt out. I also felt proud to be part of something never done before, even if just on a small scale. I made connections with more of the teachers I do not usually see, and got to glimpse into their pedagogy and thought processes. As with the twitter chats in which I frequently share lessons, I also felt scared for putting my work out there to be judged by not the world, but even more terrifying, my co-workers (for reasons of having intelligent and advanced staff). This has become easier to do overtime, but is still enough to make me hesitate before I tweet anything out.
Overall, I think this couldn’t have went better thanks to the efforts of my cohort and those that participated. I only contributed a portion of the thoughts and final outcome, and I still feel prideful over being part of this. Thank you to all those that helped make this project a success!
During the "Connected Educator, Connected Classroom" course through Winona State, I was introduced to many Web 2.0 technologies and different online systems that help the science of teaching. Many of the them are geared toward assessment, while others improve collaboration. Some are just for fun (with a learning emphasis). I have played around with, and tested nearly every tool I was exposed to. As a result, I adapted several of them, and discarded others. I decided that I would share this list with you, in hopes that you may also improve your craft as a result of trying them. Please keep in mind that my discipline is Health and PE, so this may be very subjective. I, however tried to pick tools that blend into all academic areas. For the list of Health/PE specific tools, stay posted for the next blog.
Here are my "top" five tools that have helped me to in one way or another become a better teacher:
1) Google Classroom
Pros) Simplistic layout, access from any device, effective sharing and communication, all students have a voice
Cons) "Scroll of death", too "techy" for some students, need to re-upload for every new class/quarter
On almost every aspect, this simple organizational tool has made teaching better for me. I didn't fair so well with Moodle as it has become overly complex for me, so when I was given the chance to try Classroom I took advantage of it and didn't go back. My students and I agree, this is a one stop shop for all things assignments and information. My class layout is much easier to navigate now. Grades are on Infinite Campus, and everything else is on the Classroom. Need a daily question for a bellringer? No problem. It takes a matter of 20 seconds to post something that each student can reply to and comment with each other (if you choose that option). Need to post an assignment so everyone knows where it is, when it is due, and what they need to know for it? No problem. Click on add assignment, upload your rubrics, instructions, links or other information, add a due date and time, and click assign. Each student will instantly have access to this information as well as a place to submit their assignment. Boom.
Need to create an announcement? Simply click on "add an announcement" and all students will be alerted of your information. Need to add your syllabus, or reoccurring tasks such as unit surveys or forms for feedback? Click on "About" and add your information there, off the main page where it will remain untouched by the chronological posting.
Although this all might sounds complex, I assure you it is not. It is such an easy layout, and there are so few options to confuse yourself with. I could and will write another blog post later on about how great this tool is, along with the tricks I have learned from it. For now however, even if you think you have a great system going, I encourage you to check out Google Classroom.
Pros) Works with Youtube and Vimeo, gives specific data from assessment
Cons) Paid version offers better features, free version is limited
If you're like me, and show a lot of online videos in class, Zaption may be a great tool for you! It is according to the website, as follows, "Zaption transforms video-based learning with interactive content and tools that engage learners, deepen understanding, and track progress. Teachers, trainers and instructional designers use Zaption to quickly add images, text, and questions to existing online videos. Share lessons with individuals to watch on their own, or watch together with Zaption Presenter. With Zaption’s Analytics, instructors get immediate feedback on how viewers interact with content and understand key concepts."
In simple terms, you embed assessment questions into the video. Students watch the video, that you can assign as homework or do in class, and the video pauses when you want it to, and gives questions. It is a very straightforward idea, and the website is very easy to use. I use this as a homework supplement every week in my health course. For example, during the mental health unit, I assign a Ted-Talk video about stigma of mental illness. I tell students to watch the video and answer questions, and I immediately have every students answers recorded. It is a great way to give every student a voice without having it take up too much time. Although the paid version offers more features like more questions and more detailed feedback, the free version works great as is. I really have no trouble with this website, and students seem to like it too. For more information, please check out: https://www.zaption.com/
Pros) Best teacher communication tool ever, "subject area and people search engine"
Cons) Anyone can follow you, and you can't control what others post/see
Twitter is definitely the tool I missed out on earlier. I could have used it in college or during student teaching to enhance so many things. I was a dinosaur. Thankfully now I am on twitter, and I haven't wasted any time finding great lessons, resources, motivation, discussions, answers, and people. I once heard that this is the best social media for teachers, and I would not disagree. With an endless amount of great people related to your content area, twitter has to be worth signing up for. Even if you find just one person or idea it is worth it. For me, I use discussions and slow-chats most frequently. For Health and PE teachers, I would recommend the following hashtags:
I also use twitter as a study tool for my students. I have only tested this twice, but so far it's been working really well. I have chats before big quizzes in my class, and I often pose discussion questions in the form of an hour long live chat, or over the course of the day with a slowchat. This helps students study as they can respond to my prompts and one another. Once I add in my feedback, it's a true study session. If you are a teacher, and are on twitter, and haven't yet used a study session, it's time you do!
I'm assuming if you found this blog, you most likely did through twitter, so I won't spend the time telling you how to sign up. Odds are in fact, you probably use the tool better than I do. So it looks like i'm off to learn more about how to improve instruction through this tool.
Pros) Easy sign up, free to use, and interactive for students.
Cons) Save often!
Blendspace is a fun hodgepodge tool that can incorporate several elements into one place. It is great for assigning homework and making quick assessments. You can combine videos, links, slides presentations, PDF's, questions, images, and a load of other elements that can create a lesson about pretty much anything. I would highly recommend this for substituent lessons or for weekend assignments to get caught up. I unfortunately haven't used this tool as much as I should have, however there are always lessons to be built!
5) Any of the google tools with emphasis on assessment and feedback
Pros) They work together.
Cons) Almost too well.
In college I learned about google slides where you could collaborate on projects together, at the same time. In 2011, this was a big deal. Myself and my classmates could work together to share the workload, and collaborate on a single project from anywhere. This changed things for me. It wasn't until I worked for my current district, where it truly came together for me as an educator. All of the Google tools, namely Forms, Sheets, Docs, and Slides have been instrumental with how I instruct. With the addition of Google Classroom, I have reached a level of "teacher techiness" that I didn't think I was capable of. I frequently have students design presentations and complete assignments around these tools, and generally speaking, students enjoy them as well.
The one major downside is that having multiple logins (personal, student, and or professional) can often conflict with itself. You also need to make sure your drive stays organized or things can get messy in no time.
Overall, I am a big fan of these tools, and am very thankful to be working at a district which utilizes them so well. If any of these tools seemed worthwhile to you, please don't hesitate. Try one out!
I am a Health and Physical Education Teacher at Byron High School in Byron, Minnesota.