Tech Skills for Elementary Students

Removing the “teacher hat” can allow you to reflect and contemplate the varying aspects and teaching methods within your classroom. Being on spring break has allowed me to do just that. What’s working? What would I change? What skills do the students need before the end of the year? How can I integrate technology to enhance student learning? Thinking about the last question led me to contemplate what technology skills students need to have. Is it enough that they can navigate a tablet and create amazing projects? Am I really driving home the concept of their digital footprint and do they truly understand what it means? Do they even need to know how to type effectively in a tablet-based society or is that skill becoming obsolete as well?

The rapidly, ever changing technology has led me to reflect on what exactly students should be learning. Should you be teaching to the present, or attempting at teaching to the future? Are fads in technology here or stay, or simply a fad?

Curious about what other educators thought on this topic, led me to twitter and a chat I participate in tonight, #mdeschat, whose focus was on tech tools in the elementary classroom. Here’s a summary of our discussion and the thoughts around technology and it’s place in the elementary classroom:

Question #1: Thinking about elementary students, what technology skills do you feel our students need these days?

Question #2: Given this wide range of skills students need to be exposed/master, how do we ensure that our schools offer kids experiences?

Question #3: What tech projects/tools have caught your teachers’/students’ interest recently? Where are you experimenting technologically?

Question #4: With so many skills and apps/sites/tools should we try to rein it in and plan an organized tech curriculum in elementary?

Question #5: How do you think elementary schools should be using social media?

Question #6: How can each school train students in DC?

Question #7: What are your top three favourite/recommended technology tools/sites/programs you recommend for everyone else?

When it comes to technology, the answers seem to be endless and ever-changing, but also seem to build on previous skills. I think that in order to be an effective teacher in this day in age, you need to stay on top of the trends, and find the time to experiment. Don’t be scared! Learn from your colleagues and learn from your students. Remember we are all students of technology!

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Creating Comic Masterpieces

Comics are a great way for students to show their learning in a concise manner. They are limited to the speech/thought bubbles, but still allow for creativity and appeal to a variety of learning styles. Today I used Comic Life with my beginner Spanish class, and loved the creations that they came up with. Without being taught explicit instructions, they were able to take pictures, type words, change templates and styles, and create a wonderful, polished product.

Student Spanish Comics Using "Estar."

Student Spanish Comics Using “Estar.”

From this assignment I was able to see who grasped the concepts and who still needed assistance. It provided me with addition information about creativity and knowledge about the students. Due to the ease of use, it allowed me to assist those who needed extra help with the app or with creating Spanish phrases. Additionally, exporting to another platform was easy for the students to do. Comic Life allowed for creativity, knowledge to be shared, engagement with students, and a seamless ability to create projects. My students loved using it!

It made me think about other ways in which it could be used in the classroom. Here were a few examples that I was able to find online:

Math Class

Science Class

Social Studies

The ways in which you can use this app in the classroom are endless. I’m only just scratching the surface!

Here are a few links/tips on using Comic Life in the classroom:
How to Use Comic Life in the Classroom
Comic Life
School Examples

Social Media and the Modern Day Teacher

Within the last year, social media has consumed many parts of my life. I always used it as an outlet to connect with family and friends around the world, mainly for personal purposes. However, this year I have found my use increasing because of professional reasons. Twitter has been an incredible source for growth, knowledge, and professional development. The weekly chats, quick answers and help, and amount of knowledge out in the twitter world has helped me grow more professionally than in my many years prior.

I use twitter for professional purposes only and have found it to be incredibly meaningful, but obviously it can be used for both professional and personal. Should there be a distinction between the two? Is it important to have separate accounts? What would be the reasoning for this? I always remember the phrase that someone said to me once, “If you can’t say it in front of your students, perhaps you shouldn’t be saying it at all.” So what would be the purpose for having separate accounts? Is there something to hide, or is it for privacy reasons? Aren’t educators allowed to have a life outside of work as well? Some good questions to consider and think about.

Tonight’s #edtechchat focused primarily on this: social media for the teacher and in the classroom. It’s interesting to note the various opinions, ideas, and reasons for them. Although there was much more discussed and shared, here’s a quick summary:

Question #1: Do you separate what networks you use based on professional vs personal use? Why/Why not?

Question #2: What are your district policies regarding blogging/social media in the classroom? What’s the impact?

Question #3: Does your district have policies regarding blogging/social media outside the classroom or for personal use? Helpful or not?

Question #4: Should you separate your personal and professional lives on social media/blogging? Why/Why not?

Question #5: Has social media ever caused a problem for you or someone in your district? If so, how?

Question #6: Has tonight’s #edtechchat discussion made you rethink your use of social media (professional or personal)?

After this chat there were a couple things that came to my mind. First, the use of social media, whether as an educator, with your students, or in the classroom will have ups and downs. Unexpected things might happen, but how you deal with them is key. Those are your “teachable” moments and cannot be ignored. Educating students, teachers, and parents about digital citizenship and leaving a footprint behind is crucial and essential. Second, sometimes district policies can be frustrating and challenging. Social media allows for numerous possibilities, but when the media consistently focuses on the negative or “bad” things that happen, it can be challenging for a district to move forward. Just remember that there will always be schools more advanced and embracing social media, as well as schools with strict policies. Change happens slowly, but when it does, you need to be ready for it!

Here are a few resources gathered from the chat:

9 Essential Social Media Tips for Educators
Teachers Owning Their Learning
Personal and Professional vs. Public and Private
6 Most Outrageous Social Media Mistakes by Teachers
3 Mistakes That Parents Make With Technology and Online Safety

The Technology Leader in You

Being a leader in any societal realm requires one to stay current, step outside the box, challenge ideas, and learn. Sometimes it seems that people are stuck in their current state, using the same tools or devices, and unable to grow. Technology can be a difficult area to be a leader in, as current ways are quickly outdated, and things are changing constantly. I always want to be in “the know,” and found that twitter helps with this. My PLN has challenged me in ways I never would have thought of and has allowed me to learn and grow in countless ways. Tonight, #mnlead chat focused on technology leaders and tools/devices that individuals use. It was filled with a plethora of information worthy of sharing.

Question #1: Tell us about a technology tool you use each day in your role and could not live without?

Question #2: In what ways has technology changed your job as a leader?

Question #3: How do you learn about new and relevant technologies to remain current as you lead your program/schools?

Question #4: Tech Slam – What’s your go to tool for:
a. general organization?

b. parent and student communication?

c. engaging presentation?

d. curriculum repository?

Question #5: How do you provide support to teachers or staff to share info about tech practices and concerns?

When you look at the technology tools, apps, and devices that we have available it can be overwhelming. Comparing that to five years ago, it’s obvious that things have changed and will continue to grow and expand. It is our jobs as educators to do the same. Is it our job to become masters in every area? I would argue no, but don’t be resistant to it either. Take baby steps, learn as you go, lean on others for support. Everyone has their skills and everyone has areas for improvement. The goal is to discover this, embrace it, and be that leader that’s inside each and every one of us.

Tellagami: The Voice of Reason

Recently, I had my students use the app Tellagami to complete an assignment and was blown away by their abilities and the ease of use of the app. For those of you who don’t know Tellagami, it’s an app where you create an avatar, design their hair, clothes, etc…, as well as the background. You have the option to type in your text and choose a voice, or can use your own personal voice. Here’s a few reasons why everyone needs this app for their students:

1) It’s free!! It will cost you nothing and the abilities are endless.
2) The ease of use is amazing and is intuitive to the kids. I pulled out the iPads, told my students to click on the app, and the worked away on their assignments.
3) It saves to your camera roll so you can easily upload into another platform, or use in another program.
4) It’s a great way to provide students with a way to express themselves, especially for the more introverted students.
5) Although the app is limited to 30 seconds, it does require the students to be precise in their explainations. They must be straight and to the point!

My student’s assignment was to explain the difference between transparent, translucent, and opaque objects. Here are two examples of the work they completed:

I think this app could be used in a variety of ways in the classroom. Besides having the students explain what they’ve learned in another way, it could be used as an activity it to provide feedback on reading (i.e. if you had them focus on expression), and could also be used to combined several Tellagamis together to create an iMovie. Here’s an example:

If you haven’t checked it out, or are unfamiliar with it, I highly recommend trying Tellagami with your students today, and would love to hear of other ways that you use it in your classroom.

Online, Blended, or Face-to-Face Learning: Which is Best?

Recently, I have been taking some google courses online and have been surprised by my reaction with the way I prefer to learn. I have always considered myself a “text” learner. I love reading and feel that I learn best that way, as I can go back and reread, go at my own pace, and have the ability to take notes as I please. This was the way I learned through university, and always just assumed it was the best way for me. However, through taking these online courses, I have found myself gravitating immediately to the video tutorials, and retaining the information much quicker and easier through watching a video, not reading the exact information in text. It brought me to question my traditions views on my learning style and why it has changed. It also led me to think about my students. Each student has a way they prefer to learn and a way that works best for them. Am I able to fulfill their needs throughout the day? Yes I use a variety of technologies, such as videos, iPads, laptops, as well as texts, and face-to-face interactions, but is this sufficient enough? What works best for them?

Tonight I participate in yet another twitter chat (my new addiction!), #edtechchat, and was excited to hear about the discussion on online, blended, and face-to-face learning. I guess I always assumed that online learning works best with adults/teens, but was shocked to hear it happening in kindergarten classes as well. Our discussion was filled with incredible ideas and opinions on learning in this day in age, and what the best options for our students are. Here’s a summary of our discussion:

Question #1 asked whether teachers worked in schools with online, blended, or face-to-face learning, so I’ll skip that question and jump right into the good stuff! For your reference, f2f means face-to-face.

Question #2: What do we see as primary advantages of online learning over f2f courses?

Question #3: What do we see as the primary advantages of teaching f2f over teaching online?

Question #4: How can blended learning take advantage of opportunities in both online and f2f settings?

Question #5: Teacher PD/training for online and blended courses is paramount… what’s your best resource?

Question #6: For those of you who teach, blended or online… what’s your top piece of advice?

As you can see, this discussion was filled with great ideas, recommendations, and beliefs. I think there were two things that stood out for me the most:
1) Blended learning appears to be the best option for learning. It allows that face-to-face contact, the ability to build those strong relationships with your students, chance to reach all learning styles, and still allows for continual learning and reviewing outside of the classroom. Learning becomes accessible to all students, anywhere. I wonder though how much additional work this requires? In a profession where there never seems to be enough time, it is attainable? Or is it one of those learning curves that takes awhile initially, but once you’ve mastered it, it’s just like typing out a lesson?
2) In our modern world, I believe it is a teacher’s duty to expose and teach kids about technology, the different tools, how to use it, and how it can help them learn. We are educating our students for jobs that we don’t even know will exist, so we need to provide them with the tools to be successful in the future. We must!

Below are a number of resources that were also provided through this chat. Thanks again to everyone for sharing their incredible ideas and knowledge.

10 Promising Free & Inexpensive Products for Blended Learning
37 Blended Learning Resources you can use Tomorrow
Blended Learning Universe
Project 24 – Planning for Progress
Quakertown Community School District – Blended Learning Program
Blended Learning Resource Page

Failure: A Starting Point for Greatness

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, failure is defined as “omission of occurrence or performance” and the “lack of success.” Failure happens when you don’t achieve a desired outcome. Failure is associated with negative words and connotations such as defeat, unsuccessful, ineffectiveness, and set backs. Why does failure have these negative views and how can we change this?

Everyone is subjected to failing and struggling, but it’s how you handle it that makes all the difference. Do you reflect upon what has happened to create the outcome? Do you learn from your mistakes? Do you use your set back as an opportunity for growth? Do you get up and try again?

Tonight, I participated in #mnlead chat on twitter, where an incredible group of educators came together to discuss failure. It was an excellent talk, and from it I learned that educators do believe in the power of failure for growth and learning. Below is a summary of our discussion:

Question #1: What is the value of failure?

Question #2: How can we encourage failure as a good thing and a part of the learning process?

Question #3: What role does failure play in furthering mindset shifts in education?

Question #4: How do you encourage that failure is okay?

Question #5: How do failures in society, business and government affect change in your school/district?

Question #6: What does ‘fail forward’ actually mean?

As educators we need to embrace moments of failure, model, and discuss them with our students and colleagues. We need to show people that it is okay to make mistakes, and look at these as opportunities for learning and growth. We need to encourage others to share their failures, reflect on them, and find ways to improve. We have to develop an understanding of the process and how to persevere. How can you change the negative mindset around failure and adapt a positive outlook to encourage your students to use failure as a starting point for greatness?