Wednesday, November 14, 2018

7 Tips for Moving from Decorating to Designing Classrooms

This week I am hosting guest posts. This is a guest post from Dr. Robert Dillon. I have been following Bob's work for the last few years and I am thrilled to host this guest post from him.

The images that we see of many “modern” classroom designs are filled with Pinterest-pretty decorations that aren’t based in the what we know to be brain-friendly learning spaces. Ideally, schools would be taking time to study and design with intention spaces that support excellent learning. Unfortunately, the social pressure to decorate classrooms is strong, and decorating classrooms is an inch deep solution that elicits the dopamine flow that comes with likes on Instagram, Facebook, and Snap. These cute, neat, and fancy solutions rarely equal great learning. As educators, we need to make sure that there is a sync between instructional practices that provide experiential learning, technology tools that support creation, and optimal learning environments. To accomplish this, consider the seven tips below to keep the focus on intentional design.

Know the Verbs
Design requires a human-centered lens that allows you to understand the true purpose of a space. When teachers and leaders know the verbs of their space, they have a deeper level of intentionality. Is your space designed to explore, investigate, and discover? Is your space designed to create, make, and tinker? This clarity makes decoration seem like frosting instead of missional.

Declutter the Parameter
Too many design initiatives move straight to the furniture, but the parameter of the room can have a greater influence on student learning. Posters and clutter can be distracting and lead to less engagement. Students rarely consciously notice the mess, but it impacts their comfort in the space. Having too much in a classroom can limit its flexibility as well. Try removing ten or more items from the space to let it breathe for students and their learning.

Focus on Student Feedback
So many spaces are designed FOR students as opposed to WITH students. Even if students aren’t a part of the initial design, they can be a part of the next iteration. Students need to be asked about the space. What is supporting their learning? What is inhibiting their learning? We often solve for problems that aren’t issues for students, and no matter the age, we have to drive changes into the learning space that are based on feedback.

Create a Maker Culture
If we keep designing makerspaces, isolated from classroom learning, with no plan to close them in lieu of a maker culture, we are building this decade’s computer lab. We need to instead think about creating a culture of making in every classroom. This doesn’t mean that we are putting 3D printers in every classroom, but maybe we are adding cardboard and low-tech creation items in all spaces. Allow students to showcase their learning in a variety of ways. Don’t limit making to space or specific time of the day.

Develop a Color Palette
Research continues to emerge that an intentional color palette enhances learning. Too many spaces look like a bag of skittles exploded with every color of the rainbow represented in the rugs, furniture, and items on the wall. Designers are looking for a base color with a couple of accent colors. Classroom decorators, though, are adding flare and pop, and this rarely helps with the focus or calm of a space.

Provide Choice with Coherence
Twenty-five of anything is the wrong answer. The idea that we would bring 25 yoga balls, 25 pedal bikes, or 25 desks into a modern learning space definitely lacks the level of design that we should be seeking. It is essential that students can choose the seating that meets their learning task and their learning style, but adding neat items to the classroom for novelty will get the undesired effect of students focused on furniture instead of their future.

Mind Brain Research into Space Design
The more decorated classrooms that appear on Instagram and Pinterest as model spaces to pursue for teachers, the more we wander from what we know about best practices in learning. Research may not get us likes and retweets, but it is essential that we are considering the principles of design that promote learning. Only with this information in the forefront of our efforts can we truly build student-friendly spaces.

Dr. Robert Dillon has served as a thought leader in education over the last twenty years as a teacher, principal, and director of innovation. Dr. Dillon has a passion to change the educational landscape by building excellent engaging schools for all students. Dr. Dillon serves on the Leadership Team for Connected Learning, a Saint Louis based organization designed to reshape professional development to meet today's needs. Dr. Dillon has had the opportunity to speak throughout the country at local, state, and national conferences as well as share his thoughts and ideas in a variety of publications. He is the author of four books on best practices in learning, Leading Connected Classrooms Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow's Schools Today, Redesigning Learning Space, and his most recent book on learning space design called The Space: A Guide for Educators.

Dr. Robert Dillon - rdillon25@gmail.com - @drrobertdillon - drrobertdillon.com

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.