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!
After several weeks of collaboration with professional individuals and organizations, the students were able to use the information they collected to make a distribute their PSA projects. They sought results, and they delivered.
Any other Health Teacher reading this blog could talk about the importance of advocacy, although I'm not sure how many (myself included until just recently) have felt that their advocacy achieved its goal of, well, advocating. For me and my students that chose the arduous yet rewarding road of doing this project correctly, I feel that their work made and will continue to make a difference. As a teacher, that is one of the best feelings to achieve.
During the course of this assignment, my students were faced with a monster task. I wasn't sure how far they would take the project, and I feared mediocrity. What resulted however, was not. I was very impressed by the amount of detail and diligence the students put forth into their PSAs. I hope you will be too!
Here are the PSAs from 3rd quarter of 2016. I have obtained permission for them to be put forth publicly, and they have also already been shared with the individuals and organizations that helped them along the way. Please enjoy!
"Scarred" - Olivia, Jordan, Owen & Kirsten
"Sexual Assault" - Ella, Kelsey & Benjamin
"Sexual Assault" - Miranda & Rebecca
"Texting While Driving" - Miles, Aren, Carson & Matthew
"Drunk Driving" - Taylor, Emma, & Tessa
I am about to start my first "global lesson" in my advanced health course. It is an upgrade and re-imagining of a lesson I have done in the past. Essentially the project is to design, film, and share a student built PSA about a topic pertaining to drugs, tobacco, or alcohol in a way which encourages and inspires action among youth. In the past, students had to find a fact or statistic about something they wished to teach their classmates about (IE Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year, and cost the U.S. $24 billion in economic costs in 2010.- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and film a dark, comedic, serious, or informative short film. The new concept however, is that students no longer just select a fact, but instead connect to experts locally, national, or globally and perform interviews prior to writing the film script. For example, if students were researching the effects of secondhand smoke, they could contact the Truth campaign and request an interview via email, Skype, or informally using Twitter. They will also ask permission to use data and statistics from the source directly rather than just using search engines. In order develop their PSA, students will have to research, connect to experts, create an outline, film, and eventually share it on social networks. To help them with this progress, students will use the following essential questions:
I am hoping that with the addition of developing video editing skills, my students will also learn the value of netiquette, and connecting to experts for advice/projects. If done correctly this could also help develop their Eportfolios for college as well as assist in building their PLN. See my post about PLNs here!
Not going to lie. In education there are a lot of buzzwords. I bet you know the ones I'm thinking of. Take a minute, let them sink in. Now ask yourself, how much do they impact you personally, professionally, or even in your every day life? Do any of them affect you? Or are they just passing phases meant to spring life back into education. I'm new to education, no doubt. However, it should mean something to you when a novice teacher already knows about the reputation of the buzzword.
It should equally mean something when a novice teacher finds something that actually changes their pedagogy and outlook for the better. Welcome to the PLN (Personal Learning Network). A PLN is defined as an informal learning network which consists of people, tools, and agencies which share educational resources. Now before you click or tap away from this page, let me tell you why I think that this abbreviation is not a buzzword, but rather a concept to truly adapt to.
1) It connects you. Education has changed immensely in the past 10 years. Even more so in the past 5. I know this to be true due to all of the reading I do about education; via Twitter, Facebook, discussion posts and blogs. The ways people connect is changing, for better or for worse. Educators should feel the pressure to keep up with the times and adapt for their students, if not for themselves. Rather than begrudgingly whine about this new way of thinking, why not use it as a tool? Why not take advantage of every resource you have to be a great teacher? Why not connect with other educators, borrow ideas, and collaborate with like-minded individuals who also want to be great? I'm sure most teachers already do this within the walls of their school with co-workers or even within the district. Why stop there? This is the beauty and basis of the PLN. You can connect to others, for any number of reasons, and use it as a tool to improve your own skill set.
2) It's a simple resource. Let's say you want to get some new lesson ideas. What about teaching the classic elements of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. You could look into a curriculum book, or ask a coworker. Both are novel ideas. OR. You could also go to twitter and search #tokillamockingbird and connect to other teachers who are teaching from this book all over the world. You could also reach out to actors and directors who are working on theater adaptations of this classic and try to arrange a class Skype interview. You could go to Youtube or Teachertube and search for videos of class adaptations and ideas, or even create a livestream or your own using Periscope. There are unlimited resources available to you, it's just a matter of using these tools.
3) It helps others. Let's say you don't need any help. Your a skilled teacher who knows everything. Know someone like this? If you have great lessons, enthusiasm, and tricks for the classroom, why not share your wealth of knowledge? You could start blogging, tweeting, posting, and sharing your adventures in the classroom and truly help others. You could even help by flipping aspects of your classroom so that other teachers could use your lectures in their classroom. I think this would be very humbling. Don't be an Island! Even if you have nothing to learn, you certainly have something to share.
4) It makes you a stronger resource for your students. I'm a health teacher. Not a nurse, not a personal trainer, and not certainly the smartest guy in my school. Please don't tell this to my students, but I don't always have the answers. I rely on my tools and connections to give my students the best answers I can. It would be dishonest to do anything less. This doesn't just apply to my discipline. All academic areas are prone to change. Students also learn in various ways and sometimes the way you teach isn't whats best for those who need the information the most. Use your PLN to get the answers you couldn't otherwise.
5) It's fun. Imagine having an open space full of people that you could label as friends, coworkers, mentors, inspirations, or just people you want to surround yourself with. When you build a PLN, you can select all of these people to learn from, even if you don't know them personally. Your connections can be nearly unlimited, or whittled down to the pristine bunch that you rely on the most. You can bounce ideas back and forth on tough lessons, or even share pictures of family with these people. The PLN is what you make of it!
It's 2016. It's about time.
As I start to write this proclamation of technological confession, I begin by looking around me. I have my laptop, Ipad, Iphone, and Bluetooth speaker all within reach. And just beyond that, a slew of other devices I use on a daily basis. I have internet accounts abound, a navigation system built into my car, and a well stocked and color coded Google Drive that many would envy. I'm a young, outspoken guy who grew up in this digital age with novelty 2.0 technologies surrounding me my whole life. Yet for some reason, I have never found the value to share my thoughts online in meaningful way.
Is this because I haven't had time? Motivation? Truth be told, I think it's because until now, I haven't had anything worth blogging about. Now as a teacher, my eyes are open to the benefits of building my network and sharing all the interesting things that happen in this career of chaos. Teachers wear countless hats, and interact with many types of people. In a matter of a few hours they can face the strangest challenges and help others reach extraordinary accomplishments. It's a roller coaster job. And that's why it's worth sharing.
One of my life goals is to become the best teacher I can, and that's no easy task. It also doesn't help that until now I hadn't been sharing my thoughts, experiences or successes with anyone other than my students. It's time to get off that island. As an educator, I have been restricting myself. I had all the tools, and certainly all the material. Now it's just a matter of getting the word, thoughts, and stories out!
I am a Health and Physical Education Teacher at Byron High School in Byron, Minnesota.