Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Teaching Online - What Does it Take?

This week I am hosting guest blog posts. This one is from Nik Peachey. I have been following Nik's work for many years and I was flattered that he wanted to guest post on my little blog.

As the market for online tutoring and particularly for online English lessons continues to grow at rapid pace, it seems inevitable that eventually all teachers will be expected to be able to deliver some elements of their classes online.

This can be intimidating, especially for the less tech savvy teacher, but developing this ability isn’t so difficult and if you can overcome some of the technical obstacles there are many advantages to be able to teach online, not least the fact that, in many cases, you don’t have to leave home to do it and you can have more flexibility to fit your classes around your own schedule.


So what do you need to get started?
Firstly, you’ll need a laptop with a good quality headset and a webcam. Nowadays, the kind of headset you get with the average smartphone will usually be good enough for the job. Don’t be tempted to use the speakers built in to your laptop or desktop computer, this will cause echo for your students and won’t make you a popular teacher.

The next thing you need is a good broadband internet connection. If your home connection struggles, then there are a few things you can do to help it along. Plugging in with an ethernet cable rather than wifi can help, as can rebooting your computer before you start a class and ensuring that you don’t have other browser windows or programs open which could be sucking up your connection in the background.

Once you have the equipment side of things sorted you also need to find a suitable place to do it. This needs to be quiet, well lit and have a suitable looking background. Remember, your students are going to be able to see the room you are in, so make sure you don’t have your washing hanging up in the background. It’s also best to have a light behind your computer screen rather than behind you. This will ensure that you don’t appear as a silhouette. If you have a strong light that’s directional, try to bounce the light off of a wall and onto your face so that it lights your face without dazzling you.

When you set up your webcam try to make sure it is on eye level with your face and you look directly towards it. This will help you make eye contact with your students and also ensure that they aren’t looking up your nose or just the top of your head. Ideally they should be able to see from above your head and down to your elbows. This will give you a reasonable space to work in and help them understand some of the non verbal elements of communication.

One of the hardest challenges most teachers have when moving from the physical classroom to the online classroom, is the lack of visual space. In the classroom we have lots of space to move around play with the proximity to our students, mime, make exaggerated gestures and generally move around. In the online classroom, you are ‘trapped’ within the visual space that your webcam offers. This is limiting, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t still use the space. Practice in front of the camera and see what the best distance away is to give yourself a bit more space. See how you can use hand gestures within that space. Examine the impact that moving in closer to the camera can have, or putting your hands closer to the camera. In time you can develop a whole new repertoire body language and communication gestures.

The other things you need are a platform for the delivery of you courses and some content to deliver. I have been working with the iTeach.world platform for some time and I find it has lots of great features such as document sharing, so that you and students can work on things like Google docs collaboratively, in the classroom. The ability to sync video across the class so that you can watch video from YouTube during the online classes, and it also provides an LMS with content creation tools so you can build in asynchronous elements to your courses for independent study or flipping your online classroom.

The last problem is content. You can’t simply grab a copy of your course book and scan it to use online as that would be violation of copyright, so you may find you have to create your own. I’ve done this using Genially. This is a great tool for creating all kinds of dynamic web-based content. This is an example of one of the lessons I developed using it.



Well, I hope this helps you to get started on your online teaching route and that you enjoy picking up some new skills along the way.

Nik Peachey is an award winning materials writer and course developer. He has been involved in education since 1992 and delivers conference presentations and workshops for teachers all over the world. He also co-founded PeacheyPublications Ltd where he publishes and shares a range of teacher development ebooks and digital classroom materials.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Meaningful Reading Engagement with Quote Cards

This is a guest post from Noah Geisel.
“Quote cards were fun way to be more creative with it and manipulate it instead of just writing it down.” — Cruz, 20.
My Digital Media & Learning class is driven by critical thinking and analysis. There’s a lot of reading and reading reflection, and I wanted students to go deeper than the mindless compliance of writing a few words on an LMS discussion board because they were required to.

Turns out, so did they.

The Quote Card Assignment
It was simple: Do the reading and pull three quotes to make into graphics and add to a collaborative Google Slides deck. During class, I showed exemplars from inspirational Twitter posts and modeled how to use Slides, Adobe Spark, and Canva to make their graphics. I posted additional resources in the LMS.

Lastly, I encouraged them to use Commenting and the Presenter Notes on the slides as they saw fit. If they pulled a quote because it seemed deep and important, perhaps share why in the notes. If they used a line because they had no idea what it’s saying and were hoping someone else would shed a light because it seemed important, consider noting that for peers!

Not every student went above and beyond. Some did. What every student did was produce reflections that went beyond what I am used to seeing in traditional discussion threads.

  • Students mostly chose background images that related to their understanding of the quote, hinting that they probably read at least their own quote.
  • No students repeated the same quotes. So they probably read each others’ slides. One student, Joshua, commented, “Looking at someone else’s highlights helped me know whether I was understanding the same stuff as them from the readings or if I was out in left field.”
  • One student, unprompted, went in before class and organized the slides by page number rather than the chronological order of when students added them. A second student, seeing this, suggested in the next class that we instead organize the quotes thematically around the deeper ideas that emerged from discussion (because class discussion was sparked entirely by the students’ quotes).
  • When asked why we did the reading reflections this way, students pointed out that they had collaboratively pulled quotes and page numbers that were now easily accessible for everyone to use in citing sources on an assigned essay. This produced an ah-ha moment as they realized that, as a group, they had just saved themselves future time and effort.

Beyond these observations, I know the quote graphic activity worked because of this message that one student, Brian, sent me: “I like the quote cards activity a lot. So far, I loved the class. It’s more dynamic than any other class I’ve taken…involving different tools. You are immersing us in things we’ve never done before.” 


Noah Geisel is a World Languages, EdTech and Digital Badges consultant, teacher and speaker who is passionate about helping educators and students make awesome happen. He is a learner, sharer, traveler and giver of high fives. Noah was recognized as the 2013 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year. He is also Education Director at Stackup.net. He blogs at medium.com/@senorg and is on twitter at @SenorG

Great Ideas for Mystery Skype & Hangouts

This week I am welcoming some guest bloggers. This one is from Sarah Fromhold.

Mystery Skype is a concept that first began around 2011. The premise is that students Skype with another class somewhere in the world, and each class tries to guess the location of the schools by asking yes or no questions. When participating in a Mystery Skype, students are hitting three out of the four Cs--collaborating with classmates, communicating with the other school, and critically thinking when figuring out what to ask next based on the previous answer.

Mystery Skype is an amazing opportunity for all students, but it can be difficult to complete with younger grades (K-3). Due to their age, they don’t have a lot of experience with maps and globes, and may not have the schema of major cities other than the one to which they live closest.

If you teach younger students, and want your students to have a similar experience, you may want to consider connecting to guess a mystery number, shape, or animal!

For 1st - 3rd grade
Mystery Number is an excellent way to practice place value and number sense. Each class would apply their knowledge of even and odd, comparison language, skip counting, and the value of each digit in the number.
  • Before the day of the Skype/Hangout, students in Class A and B each choose a number. Depending on the standard and grade, numbers could range from 0 - 100,000.
  • Students in each class work together to list the properties of their number.
  • When the classes connect via Skype or Google Hangouts, Class A begins by asking yes/no questions about Class B’s number. These questions could include:
    • Is your number odd? 
    • Is the value of the digit in the hundreds place greater than 400? 
    • Would we say your number if we were skip counting by 10s? 
    • Is your number less than 275?
  • Each time a question is answered, the choices are narrowed down and numbers are crossed out based on the previous answer.
  • When Class A has guessed Class B’s answer, they switch roles and it’s Class B’s turn to ask questions and guess!
  • At the end of the game, both classes can share information about where they live, the weather in their area, and have the opportunity to ask questions about the other school.
Preschool and kindergarten students can apply knowledge of the physical characteristics of animals by playing Mystery Animal. To play Mystery Shape, the premise is exactly the same, but the students would ask questions about a two-dimensional or three-dimensional shape.

Ready to get started? Here are some tips!
1. You can find classes who are interested in connecting in many ways. You can tweet to the #MysterySkype hashtag, post in the Connected Classrooms or Mystery Hangout Google Plus communities, or reach out to your instructional technology department/campus liaison.

2. Review good questioning strategies before the Skype/Hangout. You might want to create a question bank for the students to reference.

3. This activity can be quite unstructured. If your students require a bit more structure, you can assign a job to each student. Some jobs include, but are not limited to:

  • Greeter - The student who will greet the other class once you are connected. Sometimes the greeters play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to decide who will go first!
  • Question Asker(s) - The student(s) who will ask the questions at the computer. You could have one asker per table group, and each question comes from a different table.
  • Question Answerer(s)
  •  Animal/Shape/Number Narrower(s) - If you have a class chart of animals, shapes, or numbers, these students would cross off items according to how the other class answered the question.
  • Reporter(s) - If you have a way of communicating to parents (class website, email, newsletter, etc), the student(s) would take pictures for the teacher to post later in the day.
  • Sign Holder(s) - It is helpful to have some signage to let the other class know you are thinking or ready for the next question. This student could be in charge of standing in front of the computer holding the appropriate sign.
  • Fact Sharer(s) - At the end of the game, the student(s) could share a little about their school, district, or community.

Last but not least, have fun!!! Your kids will enjoy connecting with someone outside of their community, and won’t even realize they are applying their knowledge and learning!

Sarah Fromhold is a Digital Learning Coach in Frisco, TX. Before moving into this role, she taught kindergarten and 2nd grade. Sarah is a Google Certified Educator Levels 1 & 2 and a Google for Education Certified Trainer. She is a proud member of the #4OCFpln, a Voxer group that started with a book study and has grown into a family. You can find her on Twitter @sew1080 or check out her blog at fromholdsblog.wordpress.com.

Apps Day - A Great Way to Learn About Apps

This week I am welcoming some guest bloggers. This one is from Phil Strunk. 

I am relatively new to the profession -- this is my fourth year of teaching -- and like most teachers around the country, if I had access to computers, it was often in the form of a cart that was reserved almost every day that I wanted them. Then, on the occasion that I would get it on the day I wanted them, something would occur and I would need to give them up to where they were needed. I longed for the day when I could have my own cart of computers for students. I imagined how incredible it could be to have students use the various technology applications to create and innovate.

Think back to your childhood. Do you remember a Christmas, birthday, or another holiday morning where you can remember looking at presents wrapped up? When you see those presents, can you remember thinking “Yes! I got it!” and with great excitement, you ripped through the wrapping paper and joyfully screamed thanks to the gift giver? I had a similar experience last Spring.

It turns out that wishes do indeed come true. Last Spring, my superintendent announced that our division was going to be launching a 1:1 technology initiative. I can remember jumping up, grabbing my phone to call a colleague, and the feelings of elation that occurred when I told my wife when I got home. I was -- and still am -- incredibly excited about being able to design more learning opportunities to prepare my students for their bright futures.

I consider myself a reflective practitioner. The last thing I wanted to do was to simply force technology into a place where it was not necessary. I wanted technology to be used transformatively not haphazardly. Like anything new, I needed to create a foundation of common knowledge to teach my students about the basics of the technology that I would be implementing, so the focus could then be on the learning instead of on the technology.

Over the summer, I worked intentionally to revamp curriculum, this is not unusual for me, I have never quite figured out how to take a summer “off.” I decided before we dove into content, we would first jump into our essential apps to build foundational understanding for my students. I spent several days designing a hyperdoc to allow for self-paced learning of Canva, Screencastify, Flipgrid, and Powtoon and named the project, “Apps Day.” This experience provided an opportunity for students in my classes to learn the foundational technology skills they would need for the remainder of the year.

What is Apps Day?
I implemented Apps Day at the start of the year, and I contacted my school’s Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT), Patrick Hausammann, to see if he could co-teach it with me. He spent four days in the classroom with me as we worked with students to design brilliant products. Apps Day was an exciting change to the start of the school year, students used the various apps to design products to allow me get to know each student a bit more; having students create videos about topics they were excited and nervous for the upcoming year, and designing graphics about their interests. This activity allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of my students. In addition, Apps Day allowed students to see early in the year that it is okay to try and fail at something, as long as we learn from those losses and grow as learners in a class where risk-taking is safe and celebrated.

Hold Your Own Apps Day
Apps Day was not only good for my class. It benefited the school as a whole. I have had multiple teachers mention how nice it has been that students understand how to use the applications from Apps Day. My students can do more than fill in bubbles on a scantron; they can create and innovate. If you are interested in bringing Apps Day to your school, you can copy the Google Doc found here.

Phil Strunk is a sixth and seventh grade US History I&II teacher at Johnson-Williams Middle School in Berryville, Virginia. He is an active member of the Twitter community (@MrPStrunk) and the founder of the “Wins and Losses Ed Chat” #waledchat that meets Thursdays at 9 pm ET. He is a podcaster of the Wins and Losses podcast available on iTunes and on his website, philstrunk.com. Phil also hosts the Youtube show, Edusations, where he speaks with teachers from all over about successful practices they implement in their learning environments.

Monday, November 12, 2018

News Aggregators: Professional Development for the Busy Teacher

This week I am welcoming some guest bloggers. This one is from Rebecca Meeder.

Professional development helps expose teachers to new trends in their field and aids them in growing in their profession. However, with the tremendous amount of work teachers already have, is regularly attending professional development sessions even feasible? Online news aggregators can help ease the problem of teachers needing growth in their profession, but having only a limited amount of time to spend on professional development.

What is a news aggregator?
Imagine having your newspaper or magazines delivered to you, but only the articles you want to read show up in your mailbox. Online news aggregators work in a similar way. News aggregators, such as Feedly or News360, are free online sites or apps anyone can sign up for. They organize all the content that interests you into one single webpage for you to browse through. Often these sites contain articles on the latest trends and practices in the subject area or field that you are interested in.

For example, an English teacher can sign up with Feedly using her Google account or Facebook login. She can then either tell Feedly what content she is interested in, such as blog posts from 9th grade English teachers, or what websites she wants to follow, such as Free Technology for Teachers. After that, every time the teacher visits Feedly, the site will display the latest content from these sites that she shared with it.

Think of news aggregators as short bursts of mini-professional development opportunities. Teachers can browse the aggregators at leisure during lunch or right before they leave the classroom to head to their after school meeting, and have the latest news and findings about their specific subject area or grade level. It is as if they attended a professional development seminar, but within a few short minutes.

A few sites I would recommend following for K-12 educators using news aggregators are:
These are great sites to start with, especially if you are new at using news aggregators. They post new content regularly and enable you to stay on top of the latest trends and practices in K-12 education.

How I Use a News Aggregator
About three years ago, I wrote a post on my blog on how I use Feedly to help me stay “in the know” regarding Educational Technology. While working at a university in the College of Education, I was only able to spend a limited amount of time in the K-12 classroom since I had to focus on teaching Educational Technology classes and managing the college’s online Grow-Your-Own program. Therefore, to stay up-to-date on trends and practices within the field of Educational Technology, I used Feedly every day to catch up on articles featuring strategies and tools teachers were currently using in the classroom. My interests at the time were blogs and news sites that featured topics on technology used in the classroom, but also news sites that featured articles on higher education trends.

I also shared with a few of my colleagues my strategy of using news aggregators as a form of professional development. A few of them were in fields other than education. Yet, they also started using news aggregators to read articles within their own field. What is great about news aggregators is the ability to narrow down and specify which topics you are interested in, so that meaningful content appears in your news feed.

Currently, I work at the Bellevue School District in a more administrative capacity. Even though, I am in a K-12 environment, I still have little interaction with teachers or students in the classroom. However, I use a news aggregator to provide myself with an overall view of what technology teachers are currently using in the classroom and what innovative practices are growing in popularity regarding their use. Some of the sites I regularly follow are The Principal of Change, and a blog by Catlin Tucker, a Honors English Teacher in Sonoma County.

News Aggregators as a Professional Development Solution for Overworked Teachers
I am hoping that educators in the K-12 field take the time to use news aggregators and continue with their professional development, even if it is not in an official capacity. Teachers now more than ever are expected to do more work than they are capable. Instead of pushing more work, such as several face-to-face professional development sessions, onto teachers, we could streamline their work and utilize technology, such as using news aggregators. News aggregators will not completely replace face-to-face professional development sessions, but I believe utilizing tools such as news aggregators can help with keeping our teachers in the field and growing at the same time.

Dr. Rebecca Meeder has worked at various companies and organizations including the University of Hawaii, Nintendo, Ellucian, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and Northwest University. She is currently an Instructional Technology Designer at the Bellevue School District. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @drmeeder.