EducationRickshaw is going to AEC 2017!

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You may remember last year when both Stephanie and I went to AEC Conference 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. We took some amazing courses by Karen Boyes and Ryan Harwood, tweeted a lot, got our yoga on, and danced, feasted and mingled with some of the best minds in international education.

We at educationrickshaw.com are happy to announce that we will be making our epic return at AEC 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya! We’ll be sure to keep you updated here and on Twitter and if you’re going, be sure to reach out here in the comments below. We’d love to become a part of your PLN!

 

Homework not effective? What about distance learning?

Homework is one of those contentious things that divides teachers as well as parents. John Hattie’s research leads to the conclusion that homework in primary school has an effect of nearly zero.  But the reality is that many schools have policies that require homework to be assigned to students on a daily or weekly basis.

This year, I am experimenting with a theory that primary student achievement can be improved with homework if there is a distance learning tutor available for coaching for every assignment.

What I’m trialing this year:

This year I’ve told all of my students that whenever they need help with their homework, they should shoot me an email. I know, it sounds like a crazy responsibility for me to take on, and I’ll see if I have the stamina to keep up with it throughout the year, but so far it has gone really well!

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“I don’t get this”

Much like my in-class helpdesk, I want my 9-10 year olds to get professional help in a timely and effective manner. I don’t want some parents to help their kids while other kids are left alone to stress about math during their valuable home time. This year, my students were instructed that if they have a problem they should screenshot their math or take a video of the strategies they’ve tried and to send it to me by e-mail. I then respond by either giving them some written or video hints, or by directing them to an available resource such as a Youtube or Khan Academy video.

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“Is this correct?”

 

How’s it going so far?

It has been a very positive experience to start the year off with this model for homework. One thing I have noticed, though, is that the students tend to ask very simple questions without really showing their work or the strategies they tried. I am going to work with students on how to ask for help, and how to get the students helping each other much more often. I am also learning how to give just enough help so as to get the students to figure out the rest of the problems on their own.

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Student created instructional YouTube video on our class channel

I am also incorporating a YouTube channel with student-created instructional videos so that students can refer to a growing library of flipped lessons from their peers. This is in the process of getting put together (so far, we only have three videos) but the students seem very excited about the prospect of sharing their knowledge with each other and the world.

It’s not that much extra work… so far

I am a fan of living a balanced life as a teacher, so taking on a “distance tutoring model” by having kids e-mail me all night long (their limit is 8:00 PM) might sound like a recipe for disaster. But the truth is that I only get a couple of emails per night, and it usually only takes me a few seconds to send back a response with Mark-Up or my laptop’s webcam. Usually just copying and pasting the link to a YouTube video can help them solve their problems. As students become more familiar with this system, and increasingly independent, I hope to teach them to search for their own answers online and to take it upon themselves to offer peer tutoring during the homework hours.


What do you think? Will this strategy help improve achievement, or is it simply homework in sheep’s clothing? Is this plan sustainable, or do you bet I’ll let some student requests fall through the cracks? Comment below! We at educationrickshaw.com would love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

5 Traditional Teaching Practices Enhanced By Technology

For those of you that regularly follow educationrickshaw.com – by the way, we just celebrated our one year anniversary with our most views ever! – you’ll know that we talk a lot about blended learning environments. As I’ve discussed in earlier posts, there is no point in going digital if it is simply a digital substitution of what you always do. These tips will enhance your traditional teaching practices.

Digitize your daily schedule

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I used to write the order of my lessons on the whiteboard everyday before class started. I definitely didn’t do it as creatively as this guy. The kids didn’t tend to read it unless I read it to them, and it wasted a good portion of my whiteboard space.

Instead of doing that now, I use padlet to write up my lessons and part of our morning meeting consists of students looking at the schedules on their iPads. I’ve made a conscious effort to democratize the process so that students have a say in the order, or even the activity, of each class period. I try to change the role of who can edit the schedule every month so that a different student is in charge of getting this ready for our class.

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With padlet, I can include links to different activities (cmd + k) and provide pictures, quotes, memes, tweets, and videos to enrich their schedule with multi-media. It is also always online, right at the front of their BLE courseroom, so parents can check in whenever they want and see what we’re doing at any moment.

Digitize student planners

In the past I’ve used paper planners that students would schlep around everyday with a lot of other wasteful paper resources. Despite my every effort to get the kids to open it, including getting a parent signature every night, I wasn’t so sure how much it helped them keep up with their school responsibilities.

While I’ve used Homework.io in the past, as well as the planners on various BLE platforms such as Edmodo, Moodle, or whatever else, this year we’ve been using the “reminders app” that is native to IOS for my 1:1 iPad classroom. As I’ve argued before, the point is not which technology to use but how the technology is being used.

Students are taking advantage of their digital planner by setting alarms for their responsibilities, getting notifications well in advance for things that are coming up and by using hyperlinks to the various resources that I want them to have access to at home.

Digitize Textbooks

If you have the choice to go with an e-book or go with paper copies during your school’s next round of purchases, go with the digital version. Finding free digital versions is another option. Even if the version of the textbook is not built to be interactive (aka it’s a .PDF), you can make it interactive.

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For my math book, for example, I use .PDF resources combined with the app, Notability. This way, students can annotate directly onto the .PDF with text, drawings, and their own voices. They can easily cut/paste or screenshot parts of their math into other apps, including Explain Everything or Seesaw (see Teacher Toolkit for Seesaw), and manipulate the math in even more ways. Once any resource is digital, you can have students engaging with the material in so many more ways – Green screen? Youtube Channel? Twitter? How about good ol’ AirDrop? The possibilities are endless, unlike the paper version that ends the moment you start writing on it.

Digitize Learning Journals

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While there are many great platforms for student journaling – Class Dojo, Seesaw, and FlipGrid to name a few that I’ve used – I’ve been getting into the idea of the wiki as a journal of late. The possibilities for a wiki (think Wikipedia) are endless, and they provide ways for students to engage in more complex technology skills, such as simple html, embeds, hyperlinking, and much more. I currently use the Moodle wiki for both my reading and writing journals, and it has been such a sight to see these kids creating page after page of learning.

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Putting something online from paper to digital doesn’t make it an authentic learning experience, or a learning experience at all. It just becomes a formality for you and for the student. What makes a digital learning journal so much more effective than the paper/pencil version is the inclusion of multimedia, and the possibilities for peer and teacher feedback. When thoughts are contained in a paper journal, they stay locked there inside the classroom overnight and over the weekend. The only way for students to comment on each other’s learning is by passing around the journals and marking on them. Teachers spend an enormous amount of time saying the exact same thing on 25 – 30 journals instead of using digital features such as immediate and automatic feedback, or copy and paste. Help in the form of student exemplars, rubrics, memes and infographics can be easily shared between all in your learning environment through a digital learning journal.

Digitize Class Communication Channels

All of the students in my class have an e-mail address which they use to contact their teachers and their parents when the need arises. This has cut down immensely on confusion over homework, after school pick ups, and other responsibilities that students have at school.

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In addition to e-mail, I make sure that students have ways to socialize with one another in a safe way, such as with an instant messaging system or chat app. Students often solve their own problems (“When are basketball tryouts?) instead of relying on teachers and parents to do it for them.

When students share their learning with one another, that learning may also be filtered into various public channels such as Twitter and YouTube. This way, I’m not writing a newsletter every week about what we did because there is a student-updated feed of learning going on in our class that parents follow.


We at educationrickshaw.com sincerely hope that you enjoyed this article about traditional teaching practices that can be enhanced by technology. While it is clear that any one of these five tips can be misused so that learning is not maximized, we hope that there was enough included in the article to steer you towards something that you are comfortable trying out in the coming weeks.

Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, a website and blog about international teaching.

 

 

The Jetlagged International Teacher’s Secret Weapon: A Cold Brew Coffee System

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Image from Clipart Library

Every international schoolteacher I’ve asked has been through it. After your long summer holidays spent joyously visiting family and friends, and possibly even traveling around the world, you come back and have to work in a different time zone. Sometimes the time zone of your summer vacation and your work are only a few hours different, and you find yourself either waking up an hour or so before your alarm or waking up extremely sleepy for a week. Other times, the transition can be brutal.

Traveling from the Pacific Northwestern United States to Sudan, we have to adjust to an 11-hour time difference. This is difficult for me to admit, but back in our early twenties it was no big deal. Now, as we’re reaching 30, our internal clocks have become more stubborn and the 2:00 to 3:00 AM wake-up times are lasting longer and longer.

On the positive side of things, waking up at 3:00 in the morning allows you to do lots of unpacking, cook up a delicious, elaborate breakfast, and even read a few chapters of your book before work.

But then about halfway through the day your body realizes that it has been awake for long enough and you crash, unable to concentrate on anything or have a simple discussion without repeating yourself over and over.

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No, I’m not getting paid by anyone for this post, choose whatever brand you want. ☺

Cue the cold brew coffee system. It’s super simple and easy to prep. You just need to fill the mesh strainer with coffee, fill with water, and let seep in the fridge for 12 hours. We have two pitchers, so we make sure we always have one full of coffee and one brewing. As soon as we feel a crash coming on, the coffee is already waiting for us.

And don’t worry, mom, although I am very addicted to coffee, once the jetlag is over I will tone it down.

Some Kids Pet Baby Birds, Some Kids Squash Them.

My first week of teaching this year is officially done. And, like every year, I am overwhelmed by the potential that this year has in store. What’s always amazing is that each class that comes into my care has such a different character profile than the year before. My new students bring with them a certain set of strengths and, of course, areas to grow.

It can be hard to determine what these areas are. Like all teachers, I will sift through the data of the standardized tests, but these will only inform me of their literacy and math achievement, and only indicate a moment in time. What interests me just as much, and maybe more, is the complexity and the nuance of the character of these students. How well do they demonstrate the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes? Are they able to stick to the Essential Agreements that they came up with with me on Day 1?

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As we’re working on implementing a workshop model for reading and writing primary-wide this year, my class created essential agreements based around the three main parts of a workshop: Mini-Lesson, Independent Work, and Sharing. “I will pay attention” was what the students came up with for Mini-Lesson. 

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The essential agreement students came up with for “Independent Work” time during workshop. We’re currently building up to 30 minutes of straight reading and 30 minutes of straight writing. 

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The essential agreement students came up with for “Sharing” time during workshop, as many of my students confessed that they were afraid to share in front of others. 

During a particularly recurrent moment on campus this week (our school has so many birds. . ), a baby bird became the source of excitement for the students at the playground while I was on duty. I snapped the photo above of a few of them trying to “pet without touching”.

If you look at these students only through the lens of math and literacy, you might see a number or a letter floating over each of their heads. I, however, am more intrigued by the instinct of some students to mother a baby bird, while others want to hurt it. Others still want everyone to stand back and leave it alone. Rather than accepting that “kids will be kids”, I am duty-bound to collect data on these children, and to provide the correct interventions to meet their needs. The IB Learner Profile includes Caring for a reason.

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This year, let’s try to see our kids as more than a score for literacy or math. 

I hope that over the next few weeks, I am disciplined enough to collect a ton of meaningful data on all of these students for all areas of development – bird-rearing included! Their social, mental, and physical development is vital to me, and I value the concept of pastoral care. If all teachers, parents, and childcare providers team together to provide the necessary support for our young ones, we might succeed at raising a generation of kids whose first instinct is to protect living things.


Feel free to comment below about how your first weeks have been going, and be sure to keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com. Thanks for visiting!

The Three Rs of Summer Vacation

When I first started my summer vacation in June, I committed to an easy-to-remember regimen of goals that I referred to as “The Three Rs”. These stood for Reading, Writing, and Resume. Now that I am officially back at work, and about ready to set some new goals for the school year, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on how these went.

More on goal setting: A Letter to My Student About Goal Setting, Body Image, and Healthy Living

Goal #1: Reading

I didn’t nearly read as much as I wanted to over the course of this short summer. I expected to begin committing to my reading list the minute I lifted off from Khartoum International Airport, but alas, it wasn’t a particularly good reading holiday. This might have been due to my recent addiction to the Nintendo Switch, or to the epic golf tournament that my brother and I played over this summer, which culminated in a close and contentious battle at the U.S. Open-famed Chambers Bay.

I would like to recommend one book in particular that had an impact on me: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie. 

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Why should teachers read it? While not a book on teaching for teachers (See: 5 Books To Start a Book Club for Teachers), this book can really force one to come to terms with what it means to be raised in America in the absolute poorest of conditions. For me, it brought me back to my first teaching position at a Native American Tribal School in Washington State.

Alexie is from Spokane, not too far from where I’m from, and his powerful prose and verse (the book switches between narrative and poetry frequently), puts you frighteningly close to the horrors that he experienced living on the rez. Stephanie and I live in Africa, and we both are familiar with the reservation community that we worked with 6 years ago, but nothing can prepare a reader for the agonizing and often gut-wrenching experience that is reading You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. If you get the chance to read it for a teacher book club, be sure you’re not in earshot of students and parents – this one’s disturbingly honest and profane.

Goal #2: Writing

I planned to write every week this summer. Even though I wasn’t able to meet that goal perfectly, I am still happy with what I managed to write during what was a busy time. I mean, I traveled to Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, and took trips around the U.S. in my awesome van:

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Honestly, I wanted a rickshaw to travel the U.S., but Stephanie forced us to go with the Ford Transit Connect. Retrofitted with drawers, a bed, blackout curtains, and exhaust fans, it does the trick.

Here is a list of all of the posts I wrote this summer: 

Goal #3: Resume

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The one thing I managed to get done just fine this busy, busy summer was my resume. I did a few versions of it using both Canva and PowerPoint. If you haven’t used Canva before for graphic design, I recommend it. The free version gives you plenty of templates and fonts, and it is nice to have all of your projects saved onto the cloud. It’s also great for creating infographics and memes to post on Twitter about education. I actually made the featured image for this post (Summer goals?) using Canva.

Another thing that I did on a whim was create business cards using Office Depot. For $16.99, you can get 50 cards printed on the same day in color. I think they turned out pretty nice:

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I may have been a bit lazy on achieving my goals, but hey, I’m happy with life right now. Maybe if I had worked out some SMART goals like I do with my students for student led conferences, it would would have worked out better. Either way, I’m not trippin’.

What about you? Did you set some goals in your lives that you’d like to share in the comments below? Were you able to achieve them to some degree? We at educationrickshaw.com would love to hear your experience. Thanks for stopping by.

What Does a 21st Century Classroom Look, Sound, and Feel Like?

Part of a technology coach’s role these days is to convince teachers that their job description has changed. The industrial model of education is well past its expiration date, and the generation of students born today are going to graduate into a world that will look completely different than our own. In order to train 20th century teachers to reach the conceptual understandings required for 21st century education, school leaders and tech coaches need to focus on describing what this could be.

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This article tries to describe how I imagine the 21C classroom and I will try to integrate theory on 21C pedagogy throughout. Edutopia’s 10 signs of a 21st century classroom is a good read, as well this tech4learning’s article. To describe the 21st century here, I’ll divide it up into three categories: What can it potentially look like, sound like, and feel like?

What does the 21st Century-Ready Classroom Look Like?

Imagine what the workplace looks like at one of the more hip startups near you. Is it rows of desks and dividing walls? Is everyone sitting in silence? I was surprised to not see Seattle – the city of my university – in the top five on this Fortune list for startup activity in 2016:

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What I picture is couches, colors, and bright lighting that facilitate the collaboration between professionals. I see devices, headsets, and outlets. Take a look at some of the Google campuses that I googled below:

Clearly these two photos have a very contemporary look, but what’s more important is that the space signals to the professionals at work that their knowledge and skills are better harnessed when shared spontaneously and collaboratively. Every part of the space is purpose-built, and there are fewer barriers between inside spaces and outside spaces than what you’d find in a traditional workspace.

In my classroom (above), the setup has changed many times to fit the purpose of the unit, the activity, or the dynamic of the students in my class. We’ve had weeks of free inquiry where students worked without walls, and once we just needed to read and learn in a fort:

What does the 21st Century-Ready Classroom Sound Like?

I’ve talked before about how noisy classrooms are overrated in my article on growing up the child of a Deaf mom and teacher.  My Twitter Feed is always full of teachers and administrators professing a “new” messy and noisy style of learning. Now, while my classroom will become extremely loud when they put on a cardboard arcade with coded games, or a in the heat of a good debate, you can also find my entire class sitting around with headphones while diligently completing a project.

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From CBC slideshow on 21st Century Jobs

Take a look at the photo above. These “custom implant organ designers”, one of the newest jobs popping up in the world our children are graduating into, are all working mostly in silence. However, there are multiple points of contact for face-to-face interaction; They are not limited in their ability to turn and interact with one another. The point is that sometimes students need quiet time to think, and other times, they just need to dump ice on each other and figure out how things freeze (see below). There are many ways to learn, and it is a teacher’s job to figure out the pedagogy that best matches the circumstance.

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My students making a mess at our class Science Fair

Is my class loud? Sometimes. When they are quiet, is it because I have demanded compliance and they are passively listening to me? Not usually. Perhaps they are fully concentrating as they practice something, or are preparing in silence to teach others. It might be because they are writing, or communicating with others on social media or in our online courseroom, and the language-use is intense, but not loud.

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In general, I try to use what we know about retention, such as the pyramid above, to plan and evaluate how my classroom looks and sounds. Now, onto the touchy-feely stuff.

What does the 21st Century-Ready Classroom Feel Like?

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Via http://www.hrreview.co.uk/

It’s time to face the facts that many of the jobs of today will be gone tomorrow (See: 15 jobs that will be gone in 10 years) – this is just the way of the world. According to some, 47 percent of jobs will disappear over the next 25 years. Computers will simply be able to do things more cheaply and effectively than humans.

The students of today will be designing those computers. This is why, in the classroom of the 21st century, technology should feel ubiquitous; It is just as much a part of learning as pencil and paper and it is omnipresent. I constantly work to hone my technology skills (on my couch while watching T.V.), and I fully embrace the technology that I have available at my school.

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One setup I’ve had in my class – students partnered elbow-to-elbow, teacher is “guide on the side”, students can connect to Apple TV for sharing what’s on their screens

The 21st century-ready classroom feels democratic, and behaves much like a democracy. 21st century skills (see below) cannot be developed in an entirely top-down, authoritarian environment. I don’t imagine that the workplace of the future will behave that way either – remember which jobs are disappearing, and which are being created.

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Companies today want our kids to graduate having mastered the 4Cs of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. A child should feel like their ideas matter in their classroom, much like a professional should feel valued for their ideas in the workplace of the future. It is important to give your class back to your students so that they gain the necessary confidence and perseverance to pursue and communicate their ideas when they enter their future careers. If it were up to me, I’d make it a school-wide rule that every child should have access to snacks, drinks, and bathrooms and should be able to choose their clothes. But alas, that sounds like a whole ‘nother article.


 

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and links that try to describe the 21st century classroom. Be sure to follow me on Twitter, check out more about us, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com for more teaching ideas in motion.