The Couch Potato Approach to Educational Technology

Don’t wait for your school to develop your tech skills. Settle into your couch and educate yourself!

I’ve talked before about how teachers need to be given the opportunity to play around with edtech tools in order to be able to envision how they could be used in a classroom. The same goes with students. This could be called edtech sandboxing.

The problem is that not a lot of schools are willing to make time for this extremely important professional development. I’m talking about a faculty meeting entirely dedicated to edtech, and in which the only directions given are a list of apps to play around with. If you’re ever feeling like your school hasn’t developed you enough, I have a solution for you: The Couch Potato Approach to Educational Technology.

What is the Couch Potato Approach?

The Couch Potato Approach is a poorly guarded, super un-secret methodology dating back to the origins of computers. Before teachers were expected by their districts to integrate technology into their lessons, those few teachers that saw value in maximizing learning with technology simply had to other choice but to teach themselves. This involved digging around in handbooks and manuals for dummies, and consulting face-to-face with other like-minded tech teachers.

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As technology has changed from desktop to mobile, and answers to any query can be found in a simple Google search, teachers no longer have to go to tech conferences or resort to digging through outdated manuals. And because many schools nowadays provide their teachers with the same devices that they provide their students, passionate 21C teachers can now simply sit on their couches and create their own edtech sandbox opportunities as they watch T.V. and listen to music.

Where to go to find my answers (while sitting on my couch)?

1. Google and Youtube

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21st Century DIY Professional Development

Most any tech-related question can be found by making a simple Google or Youtube Search. 9 times out of 10 I end up clicking on the first thing that pops up at the top of my search, and it ends up leading me to the right answer. The step-by-step instructional videos that exist out there on Youtube for various edtech questions are particularly useful when you are trying to set up something complex. I usually split-screen the video and my sandbox area (or have the video running on my MacBook while messing around on my iPad) and follow the instructions until I get the desired results.

While I have always found Google and Youtube searches to be the best way to go, I understand that there can be skepticism over this method if you haven’t tried it out yourself. Before you submit another HelpDesk request to your school’s IT department, try Googling your question exactly how it appears in your head. If you remove your fear of clicking into various forums and instructional resources, you’ll very soon find what you’re looking for with a simple Google Search.

2. Twitter and Facebook

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If you’re a teacher and you’re not on Twitter, you really should be. I get probably more than half of my ideas from my Twitter Professional Learning Community (#PLN), and it makes me feel like I am constantly connected to the most current ideas. I treat my Twitter as an education-only center for communicating ideas and networking. It is where I post all of these educationrickshaw.com articles, and where I get into a ton of education-related arguments.

While personally, I treat my Facebook as a personal repository of pictures and comments about life, there are a lot of great Facebook pages out there that I do follow (check out and join Shamelessly Self-promoting Educators). Both Twitter and Facebook are critical for helping me figure out edtech issues and to keep up with the most current uses that teachers have found for various technologies.

3. The Edtech Company’s HelpDesk

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Simply asking a question directly to the creator of the software is surprisingly helpful

If you’re having trouble with a certain tool, just ask the company themselves for help. I’ve found the folks at elink.io and seesaw.me to be particularly helpful. They respond back to any dumb little question I have, and will usually humor me when I suggest a new feature for a future update of their product.

4. Online Forums

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Pretty old-school, I know, but I have found many of my answers to very specific questions about teaching elementary school students with Moodle on the Moodle.org page. If I can’t find what I’m looking for by using, again, Google, I simply start a new discussion and typically I get my question answered within 48 hours or so. And because of the (sometimes) dynamic nature of discussion forums, I end up asking other unrelated questions and getting those answered as well!

5. The App Profile on Your Device

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Notice the couch.

Many schools nowadays provide teachers with a device loaded full of great learning apps and software. Take some time on your couch to familiarize yourself with everything on there. You wouldn’t neglect to bone up on your subject’s required reading, so why would you skip learning about all of the apps that your school is arming you with? While on your couch, be creative. Be fearless. Click into apps that you’ve never checked out before. Add apps based on recommendations from Twitter and Facebook and try those out. Test them out in class and share the results on social media, and in your next faculty meeting. You’ll be an expert in no time!

I hope you enjoyed this and other articles on educationrickshaw.com. Once you’ve gotten your own Twitter (see #2 on this list), be sure to follow me, and check out Stephanie’s Teachers Pay Teachers.

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5 Quick Projects That Make Use of Green Screen

It might come as a surprise to some teachers that all it takes to replicate the green screen effects that we all see in the movies and on the news is a free green screen app and some green butcher paper.

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Green Screen and filming station with tripod in the back corner, next to my DIY idea wall (also white butcher paper)

Once I put up my own DIY green screen in my classroom, my students didn’t have much trouble thinking of fun ways to incorporate it into their lessons and projects. Here are five fun ways to get your students learning and creating with green screen.

#1 Make your own pokemon cards

For the unit Who We Are students began by taking a personality quiz and identifying the traits and “color” that corresponded with their personality type. They then created a pokemon card on mypokecard.com and chose the two traits that best represented them as their attacks. They also identified which color they would have most trouble working with, which led to great conversations about personality clashes at school and in the workplace.

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#2 For Photo Booths and Photo competitions

While student-led conferences are ultimately about learning, that doesn’t mean that they have to be boring. Our students set up a photo booth and showed their parents how it worked before snapping a quick pic in front of their chosen background. They made sure to raid the drama room’s stash of costumes before the event!

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We also had an elementary-wide photo competition during reading week that took advantage of our kids’ savviness with the green screen.

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#3 Make Yourself into an Ordered Pair (Graphing)

One thing that new users to green screen might not know is that with most green screen apps you can play with the size of the photos and even add several actors into the mix. For this mini-project, students took a picture of themselves in front of the green screen, added graph paper as the background and then plotted themselves and their friends into ordered pairs during math.

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#4 For Music Videos and Rap Battles

For one learning engagement this year, students had to use their research papers on a colonial superpower to create rap lyrics. They then put their rap lyrics to a beat using GarageBand. Finally, they took their recorded audio track and created music videos, which of course got enhanced by the use of green screen. It was a fun way to get kids writing, combining and using technology effectively, and blending the disciplines of music, social studies, and language arts.

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#5 Anytime you need the perfect background

For one of our units, students were inquiring about leadership styles. This led to a three day sequence where students experienced what their classroom would look like when transformed into one of the three main leadership styles: Autocratic, Democratic, and Laissez-Faire. Of course, I loved playing the autocratic leader, and in addition to having students sing songs about me and portray me in the history books in a positive light, students created these propaganda pieces – autocratic rule of law with pleasant backgrounds – to share with their parents on Seesaw, who were eager to hear how the day went.

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For any prospective employer, no children were damaged during the staging of these photos, for the record 😅

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I hope these give you some great ideas for how to use green screen to add a fun and engaging element to your classroom. Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, and check out Stephanie’s Teachers Pay Teachers.

5 Easy Ways to Share Learning Experiences with Students

Student Centered

We’ve talked before about how to give your class back to your students. Today, I want to look at a similar idea of how we can create a shared learning environment where the teacher and students are partners in learning.

What the Research Says

We know that students are more successful when they aren’t just asked to absorb information from the teacher, but are a part of the learning process. I recently read an article written about 10 years ago that explained this idea really well. Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game write in The Teacher’s Enthusiasm that

“A good teacher is not one who provides all the energy that a class needs; good teachers are those who allow the production of an energy that is not the teachers and not the students, but shared between them.” See article here.

In my own experience, I’ve found this to be true. When are my students most engaged? When do I see their eyes light up with excitement? It’s not when I’m just giving them the information, but during those times when they are actively sharing new information and creating new meaning by doing things themselves.

To promote this, here are 5 easy practices that you could implement to make learning a shared experience.

1. Read Alouds with Discussions

Students of every age love read alouds. How can we make students active participants in them? Pause in your reading to make time for think-pair-share discussions. First, give students a moment to think, have them share with a partner, and then have a few of the pairs share with everyone. This way, even though you don’t have time for everyone to share with the entire class, everyone still gets an opportunity to think through their ideas and to share with a partner (with the added pressure of not knowing if they’ll be called on or not after). I have two favorite ways of getting my students to really think.

  • Close your eyes and visualize! After reading a particularly funny or thought provoking scene, I have my students visualize what it might have looked like or they would do if they were the character, before sharing with a partner and then the class (this gets lots of laughs).
  • Cover your mouth with your hand and whisper the answer. For answers that require more vocabulary, I often have my students whisper the answer in their hand before sharing. This way, they get practice explaining their thinking twice. For ELL students, it gives them extra time to think of the vocabulary they’d like to use.

2. Let the Students Help Write Math Story Problems

When writing problems on the white board or even when typing up math problems, I love to ask my students for help. They generally make the story problems about themselves or their friends and relish in the idea of doing amazing or silly things. How many cookies did Talya bake in all if she made 7 per day for a week? suddenly makes them giggle and shake their heads as they solve and ask Talya for some cookies at the same time.

3. Let Students be the Teacher

There are so many fun ways to make your students the teacher. This is doubly effective, because they don’t realize how much work they’re doing to set up questions or learning experiences for their peers.

One way I’ve recently done this is on our school’s Moodle page. I set up a forum and had students post a question and then answer someone else’s. Once they saw that someone had answered their original question, they got to go back and see if it was right.

4. Jigsaw Activity

Jigsaw activities are very simple in design. Divide up whatever reading you want your students to learn into parts and give each of those parts to a different group. Then, like a jigsaw puzzle comes together, each group shares what they read to everyone else who was in a different group. The key here for young students is to provide support for them to make quality presentations.

Recently, my students did a jigsaw activity where each group read about a different step archaeologists take to do research. They then made posters and shared their findings and new vocabulary with the class.

5. Impromptu sharing

Not all sharing needs to be planned out. When I see a student do something great, I try like to give them an opportunity to share it – giving them confidence and their peers some great tips/knowledge. Sometimes this sharing is by simply writing a new word they learned on the word wall, or sometimes I have everyone stop what they’re doing and freeze so the student can share right then and there.

 

How do you create opportunities for students to be leaders their learning? Please comment and share below.

By @SGroshell

How Teachers Can Prioritize Building Confidence and Risk-Taking

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Growing up, I was painfully shy. If I ever dared to raise my hand (or got called on without doing so) all of the other students would immediately ask me, “Why is your face so red?” This created a vicious cycle of not wanting to raise my hand because I didn’t want my face to turn red, to loosing confidence because I didn’t have practice speaking up, to turning even more red when I was called on, and so on and so forth.

All of my conferences from elementary through high school were pretty much the same. “Stephanie is always listening, always does her work carefully and on time, but she needs to participate.” Or “I know Stephanie has great ideas in her head, why won’t she share them?”

And (no surprise) although I was slightly better in university, I still rarely shared my thoughts when I wasn’t forced to. As an adult, I am much less withdrawn, but still wonder at my seven-year-old students’ confidence in trying out new ideas, failing, and putting themselves right back out there.

How is it that my school builds confidence so well?

I was chatting with a parent earlier this week who was like me as a student. She is both shocked and incredibly pleased to see her son initiating projects and answering questions in assemblies in front of the entire school. The confidence that our students have is not only going to help them in the future, but makes it so that their self-esteem is through the roof.

Here are the things our school does really well that I think all schools should do (when possible).

1. Have small class sizes

Our school caps classes at 20 students. This not only allows teachers to get more time with each student, but it gives students more opportunities to speak, share, and lead their class members. Allowing students to have so many opportunities to put themselves out there makes it so that what would have petrified me as a child becomes completely normal.

In my class, a math leader leads the rest of the students in correcting the problem of the day every morning. With my tiny class of 12 students, each one gets to be the teacher and call on their peers twice a month. At the beginning of the year, I had a few who were still quite shy, but now they all absolutely love taking the lead!

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2. Give students leadership opportunities

In addition to opportunities for students to be the teacher, our school puts an emphasis on allowing students to take ownership of their learning through

  • group projects and presentations
  • sharing learning by inviting other classes/parents to come see a project they’ve done
  • having classes lead every assembly

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3. Praise students for confidence and risk-taking

One of my favorite parts of the PYP curriculum is the PYP Attitudes and the IB Learner Profile, which are presented to the students as important parts of what makes a good student. One of the PYP Attitudes is “confidence” and one of the IB Learner Profile traits is being a “risk-taker.”

Everyone in the school, then, uses these two words as positive goals to work toward. In fact, when a student shows hesitation to try something new, you’ll hear their friends say, “Just try it! Be a risk-taker.” Or “Be confident, you can do it!”

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Although obviously I have no way of knowing what kind of a student I would have been had I attended a school that prioritized confidence as much as the one I teach at today, I can see the amazing benefits of it in all of my students and hope to see more schools do exactly this.

How do you build confidence in your students? Please share below!

By @SGroshell

A Different Kind of Student-Led Conference

Student-led conferences are all the rage right now, and rightfully so. They provide another opportunity for students to take control of their learning. The thing is, before public, shared, nonlinear digital portfolios, it made a ton of sense to bring parents into the classroom just so they could flip through the pages of their child’s paper portfolio. However, when this model began to be applied to digital portfolios (we use Seesaw), which constantly update parents on new submissions and comments via their phones, I started wondering why we were having these student-led conferences in the first place. After all, the parents had already viewed all of their child’s selected pieces!

This year, I wanted to help the students to make the most out of their student-led conference experience. Here’s what I did.

Students Shared Their Digital Portfolios

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Even though presenting the portfolio isn’t what it used to be due to the fact that every parent has seen almost every piece on their phones, it was still valuable to have parents and students sitting down and talking about the process that went into these learning experiences. My class labeled their portfolio work with a special tab in Seesaw (See 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Seesaw) so that they could filter out pieces that they didn’t want to share, and choose what was most important to share during the student-led conferences.

Students Shared Their Goals

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After students sketchnoted two short term goals for the rest of this year, they did a live drawing of their sketchnotes by recording them into stop motion videos using imotion. These were then shared onto their portfolios, but they were also displayed on an “Our Goals” display during the student-led conferences. Since the conferences, we’ve spread out the sketchnotes a bit on this “Idea Wall” (made from chart paper and plywood to cover the windows), and students have been reflecting on their goals with marker. This has led to some glorious conversations about goal-setting, the most interesting of which has been with my student that chose to give up all unhealthy foods for the rest of the school year!

Students Shared Their Peers’ Compliments

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On their desks (mine are all against the walls to make room for learning) students taped a poster with all of the compliments that their classmates had given them just a few days prior. Revisiting these with the parents was one of the joys of this year’s student-led conferences. I’ve written before about this activity, which I call “Cannon Ball”, where students choose their favorite compliment and shout it as loud as they can outside in “private” as the rest of us listen in.

Students Took Pictures of Their Families in a Green Screen Photobooth

While student-led conferences are ultimately about learning, that doesn’t mean that they have to be boring. Our students set up a green screen (all it takes is green chart paper) and showed their parents how it worked before snapping a quick pic in front of their chosen background. They made sure to raid the drama room’s stash of costumes before the event!

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Students Live-Tweeted the Event

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In my class, we mostly use Seesaw as our main social media platform, but we also use Twitter to connect with a global audience. Afterall, it’s how we found and connected our pen pals to our Seesaw blogs! For the student-led conferences, I borrowed another projector (my first was used to display our Moodle-based BLE) and used Wallrus, a nifty Twitter wall tool that shows all of the tweets as they come in during your event. While my students are not allowed their own Twitter accounts, their iPads are connected to our class Twitter account, and they were able to easily tweet their photos from the camera app and see them appear on this screen. All of the photos in this educationrickshaw.com post were tweeted by students to our school’s hashtag during student-led conferences.

What do you think? Could you use some of these ideas for your next conferences? Please feel free to comment below and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

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“The What” vs. “The How” of Education

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After reading the above tweet, I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea that we may very well spend too much time talking about what we should teach rather than how we should teach. And the more I think about it, the more I crave conversations that concern the how of educationLearning-focused conversation is learner and pedagogy focused – The how not the what. If I had the power to singlehandedly change the conversation in education, I’d ask that we make a shift in the following ways:

Stop Talking So Much About What Curriculum We Should Be Using, and Start Talking About How to Facilitate Learning in the 21st Century.

Since I began teaching only a short time ago, I have seen schools go from local standards, to national standards, to international standards. Never during these changes was I privy to training on how to implement these standards with the best 21C teaching practices. It was always more important to document what I was doing, than how I was doing it. Even the Common Core website seemed to foresee this implementation strategy:

“. . these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.”

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How different things might have been in terms of buy-in by teachers for Common Core if we had known the strategies to implement these standards in the most research-based and pedagogically sound ways?

Stop Talking So Much About What Learning Platform We Should Be Using, and Start Talking About How We Can Redefine the Learning Environment.

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I’ve written before about different tech tools that I have found useful, such as Seesaw for portfolios, and Moodle as a learning platform for my elementary class. But I’ve found that most any tool can be tweaked and modified to fit any purpose; To use some SAMR-speak for a moment, teachers can Substitute with Edmodo just as they can Redefine with Edmodo. It is precisely for this reason that I get so tired of conversations over which learning platform is best. Rather than looking at How blended learning can take place, we are focused on the new-kid technology on the block. Changing from Schoology to Google Classroom will not solve any of a school’s problems, because the entire premise of the conversation is based around what is best rather than how is best.

Stop Talking So Much About What is the Best Device, and Start Talking About How We Can Best Integrate Technology.

It is true that there are downsides to tablets – no keyboard, low memory, etc – but the minute you want kids to take pictures and video you’ll find that there are also downsides to laptops. The same goes for IOS vs. Windows vs. Chrome, and mobile vs. desktop vs. wearables. Next year, it’s entirely possible that the coolest new gadget will come out and completely change the face of education as we know it.

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Rather than focus on the barriers inherent in any one school-adopted device, I’d like to concentrate more on ways to maximize learning in my classroom. How can we change the relationship between the teacher, the student, and their devices? How do we improve outcomes while promoting 21C skills and attitudes? How can I get the most out of my students and the resources that my school has?

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What do you think? The irony is not lost on me that I have just written an entire post which focuses largely on what we should be talking about as educators, and not as much on how we should be talking about it. . .

Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, and please leave a comment or question in the section below!

5 reasons to Drop Math Worksheets and Use “Smart” Online Programs

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To learn a new math skill well, we know that students need to get adequate practice with it – successfully answering a number of problems before considering the skill mastered. Traditionally, students have gotten this practice with photocopied worksheets or a textbook. However, with the technology we now have, online “smart” programs like IXL do the job significantly better than a textbook (or worksheet) ever has. Below I will use my experience with IXL to explain how.

1. Immediate feedback

Giving feedback as quickly as possible is something that’s always on teachers’ minds. We know that immediate feedback is extremely helpful for student learning, but it is impossible in a classroom of more than two or three students to give it to each student during independent practice time.

With IXL, as soon as a student clicks in their answer, there is a little sound (a kind of ding, but surprisingly not an annoying one) and a green bar on top either goes up or down. When students correctly answer questions, the bar will move up and up until it gets to 100% and the child passes. If the answer is incorrect, the bar goes down and an explanation of why appears on the bottom.

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When students get the answer correct, the bar goes up on the top of the screen.

In addition to students being able to learn from their mistakes, feedback is also motivating. Students are proud when they move up. When they move down, they don’t get too frustrated, because it is clear that moving down just means more practice – they can still work to get the certificate.

2. Extra practice on the types of problems students are missing

When a student gets an answer wrong and the bar goes down, more of the same kinds of questions are asked. These same types of problems will continue until the student shows that they now get it, allowing students to get the right amount of extra practice when they need it. No extra copies of revision worksheets are needed.

Additionally, because students are immediately aware that they are having trouble with a certain question type and they are motivated to pass, I’ve found students who are prone to shyness are much more likely to ask for help when they need it.

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Explanation of why answer was wrong

3. Differentiation is seamless

Unlike many online programs, on IXL the teacher doesn’t assign a grade level to the students. Instead, all students have access to all activities. What that means is that if a child is doing extremely well on one topic, they can easily practice one grade level up just for that skill. Likewise, if you notice a student is missing background knowledge for an important subject, you can have them work a grade level down.

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Student view, switching between grade levels

4. Easy to use data to inform your teaching

The Analytics tab on IXL compiles data into the following sections: Trouble Spots, Students, Skills, Scores, Questions Log, Progress and Real Time. My favorite of these is Trouble Spots.

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Easy identification of who might need extra help

Trouble Spots does exactly what the name implies, it looks for areas that you should focus on for small/individual intervention groups. It even chunks the data into groups, for example “Ways to help 5 students at once…” and then tells which kids are missing questions on what skill. To help even more, there are additional questions of the same type for you to use in your small groups. This makes it incredibly easy to give extra help to students who need it while the rest of the class practices independently.

5. The kids LOVE it

I honestly believed that the novelty of the green bar going up and the little ding when you get an answer correct would wear off, but we have just finished the third quarter of the year and my students love IXL as much as they did in the beginning.

Compared to a textbook or practice worksheets, IXL is able to offer the same practice problems, but in such a more effective way.

Has anyone used IXL or another similar online program before? What experiences have you had? Please comment below!

By @SGroshell