Making Required Homework More Effective: An Experiment in My Class

It is increasingly common knowledge that homework is modestly effective in the upper grades, but barely effective at all in elementary.

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While we all have our own thoughts and opinions on how to empower students to engage in learning activities at home, most schools have specific policies in regards to homework, including how many minutes per night and on which days homework should be assigned. This presents most elementary teachers with a challenge: How do we make these required homework minutes more effective? 

Thanks to the fabulous Karen Boyes from Spectrum Education, I was able to publish a second article in her Teachers Matter Magazine all about my recent experiment with making homework more effective, which started as a blogpost that you can read here. This follows my first article on the arrival of fidget spinners in my school in Sudan.

My plan is to keep contributing as many publications as I can to those who like my ideas and writing, including guest blog posts such as my Guest post: Balancing work and play in the sands of Sudan on Mr. Hill’s Musings. Feel free to contact me if you think my writing can make a difference in the lives of our teachers and students.

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With Karen Boyes at AEC 2017

To read my contributions to Teachers Matter Magazine in PDF form, click on the links below:

Fidget Spinners: Annoying or Cool?

and. .

Making Required Homework More Effective


 

Thank you for visiting educationrickshaw.com, a website by international teaching couple, Stephanie and Zach Groshell. We have plenty of articles on our blogroll that will fit your interests, so feel free to explore and learn more about the international teaching circuit.

– Zach Groshell @mrzachg

That digital program your school bought will never transform learning

It seems like most teachers and students have access to a paid-for digital learning program. You know the kind – RAZ kids, IXL, Spelling City, any one of those listed in the featured image of this article – and they all promise to raise achievement while making learning “fun”. These CAI (computer assisted instruction) programs can be traced back to  when Skinner first created his “teaching machine”, the original solution for replacing the teacher, pictured below.

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Skinner’s Teaching Machine

The thing is, these “learning” programs have not been proven to be as effective as the edtech industry overlords would like us to believe. In fact, the meta-analysis of John Hattie, which was shared with me at AEC 2017 by Dr. Sonny Magana (@sonnymagana), clearly shows that telling a kid to “go do Mathletics” will not make a sizable difference in the learning of our students.

Let me explain the research:

The Bad News: When technology is used to replace a teacher, it has a very small positive effect size on student achievement. Hattie’s research includes studies on the use of CAI programs across curriculum and contexts, as well as other approaches that mistake the transmission of information for authentic knowledge generation (Powerpoint use by teachers, for example). The graph below indicates with a black arrow the average of all of Hattie’s researched initiatives, programs, and strategies in education to be a 0.4 effect size. When we look at the effect size for how technology has been implemented over the last 50 years, including using computers for passive absorption of information transmitted by a CAI teaching robot, it falls below the average at 0.34. In short, Skinner’s Teaching Machine wasn’t particularly effective and neither is your school’s CAI program.

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“Despite the extraordinary developments in computer technology since the Kennedy Administration, not to mention the vast sums of taxpayer money spent on digitizing classrooms since the 1960s, the average effect of computer technology in education has been stuck well below the zone of desired effects. This is hardly cause for celebration.” Dr. Sonny Magana at #AEC2017

The Good News: When technology is used to enhance proven teaching and learning methods, the positive effect size is off the charts. When you compare the status quo, which is a below-average 0.34 effect size on student achievement, and the 1.6 effect size of a framework like the T3 (see below to learn more about this), it is clear that we need to change the way we facilitate learning with technology.

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Edtech models for transformation of learning

Poke around this blog a bit, and you will see several articles we have written on best practice technology integration. I hope that the theme that all of these articles have touched on is that technology should only be used as a tool to transform and maximize learning. Replacing traditional teaching with a computer is not going to ensure achievement for our learners. The use of a CAI like Mathletics or Spelling City to replace teacher and student-led instruction only gives them automated, rote practice. While this is not a bad thing, we need to refocus our planning so that students are spending more time developing their higher-order thinking skills through producing, inquiring and contributing with technology.

Here are some models that can guide the 21st century teacher away from edtech as a direct substitute to edtech as a tool for transformation:

#1 Early Years Blended Learning Development Guide (Zach Groshell et al)

The first model I’ d like to share is a guide that I created last year, in collaboration with Brad Arnold and elementary teachers at my school, which was subsequently implemented in early years classrooms. It uses 5 common and observable student actions (seen on the left column) and the SAMR scale to measure the level of edtech use. When teachers observe student learning that falls under the examples of modification and redefinition of the learning task, we know that instruction is likely going to have a positive effect size on student achievement.

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Click here to see the whole thing

#2 Blended Learning Development Guide (Brad Arnold et al)

This is another blended learning design model that I helped to develop with Brad Arnold (@leybradly), and it is slightly different from the rubric above as it is less focused on observable student actions and more on the traits of the learning environment. The 7 traits of a learning environment are the observable traits of any learning environment, shown in the left column below, and the top row of the rubric includes the SAMR scale to measure the level of edtech use. This guide is best used to facilitate teacher self-reflection on the effect of educational technology on the learning environment.

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Click here to see the whole thing

#3 T3 Framework for Educational Technology Use (Dr. Sonny Magana)

The third and final model I’d like to share for edtech instructional design is the T3 Framework (see video below). Based off of the body of research and implementation by Dr. Sonny Magana, the T3 Framework is designed to disrupt the current narrative about educational technology by contextualizing its use into 3 stages: Translational, Transformational, and Transcendent. Grounded in sound research and theory, the T3 Framework is designed to support how educational systems measure the ways classroom technologies are used to unleash student learning potential. Teachers seeking to base their instruction on the most effective strategies for student achievement should be looking up at the T2 and T3 stages, and pushing themselves to transform education by having students produce and contribute, and to “transcend” by using technology tools to facilitate inquiry and solve world problems that matter.

 


While the edtech companies may not agree that their expensive math and reading programs have limited effect sizes on student achievement, we should be looking closer at the last 50 years of research on this topic and seeking a better way forward when it comes to edtech use in the classroom.

We need to stop:

  • Using CAI technology to replace teacher and student-led instruction
  • Using technology to fill time
  • Calling the use of CAI programs “blended learning”
  • Thinking that a game or a program can teach just as well as a teacher

And start:

  • Looking at student actions through the lens of transformational and transcendent learning.
  • Considering the traits of an effective learning environment and how we know students learn best
  • Seeking to increase moments of “redefined” or “transcendent” learning  in our own practice

 

What do you think? Could this help to improve your teaching? Comment below with your thoughts on blended learning and keep coming back to EducationRickshaw.com.

– Zach Groshell, @mrzachg

When it Comes to PD, Teachers Need Differentiation

In a week or so, I will be presenting at AEC 2017 about blended learning design and evaluation, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to give my thoughts on the enormous responsibility that we have as trainers and presenters to differentiate for the various levels of teachers that exist in our schools.

I am lucky enough to have worked at schools that take professional development seriously. When done right, in-house PD provides a forum for professional discourse on theory and practice. It is varied, active, and differentiated for the needs of all levels of teachers, and intrinsically satisfies an educator’s craving for learning. When done wrong, in-house “PD” and is little more than a few speakers force-feeding teachers information that they could easily obtain by other means (a memo!), aka Death By PowerPoint.

Like students, not all teachers have the same learning needs. What’s the sense in making a teacher with 30 years of IB experience sit in a meeting about the fundamentals of the IB program? While we all need a refresher now and then, meetings that are little more than training or housekeeping disguised as professional development can really hurt the moral of a professional learning community, and contribute to burnout, turnover and widespread apathy among educators. It also just shows a total lack of respect for the teaching profession, as if teachers are not smart enough to make their own decisions about where they are and what they need to learn next.

This is why I like book clubs

I’ve been running book clubs for teachers at my school for three years now, and I find them to be beneficial on so many levels. One of the most popular articles on educationrickshaw.com has been 5 Books To Start a Book Club for Teachers, which tells me that other educators are itchin’ for professional reading as well. Last week, we started up this year’s first book club on “Never Work Harder Than Your Students” by Robyn R. Jackson, inspired in many ways by my course at AEC 2016. The discussion was the highlight of my week.

The thing about book clubs is that it turns PD into an active exercise rather than a passive one. In the book clubs that I have been a part of, teachers read at their own pace while being guided and held accountable by their peers. Teachers choose if and when they want to attend, and are given chances to contribute to the conversation outside of meeting hours through online forums and journals. Good professional book clubs kind of model how I think learning should take place in the classroom; If students don’t deserve an education where they are merely seen as passive receptacles for dry information, then why should teachers?

 

Make in-house PD worthwhile with differentiation

Clearly there are times when a school will need teachers to be all on the same page, especially if there is a sense that the teaching and learning has become off-mission. But, for the most part, beginning teachers have their needs, experienced teachers have their needs, single subject teachers have their needs and generalists have their needs. It is important that we put as much thought into our in-house PD as we put into our lessons for the students. When teachers’ needs are met, and we begin to treat them as responsible, creative, intelligent theorists who are able to grapple with the latest ideas and trends in education, then we will begin to re-professionalize the profession from the ground up.


What do you think? What is in-house PD like at your school? Do you meet just to meet, or do you meet to learn about things that are important to you? Stephanie and I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

– Zach Groshell @MrZachG

Ways to Enhance Reading and Writing Workshop with Technology

Our school recently made the switch to Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Although Stephanie and I received some surface level training on the project in our previous school, this has been the first time that we have been asked to follow the program with a high level of fidelity.

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Like with any program, there are ways to improve outcomes by looking at how best to use technology to maximize learning. We’re all about looking at traditional teaching practices and seeing how they can be improved. The following are some of the things that we have tried in our classrooms to facilitate 21st century learning experiences within the Reading and Writing Workshop model.

Use online forums and chat rooms for class discussions, teacher and peer feedback, and ratings

Class discussions can happen in many ways. When the program asks for reading and writing partners to turn and talk about their thoughts, students can also do so in an online forum. The tool that you use doesn’t matter: This could be on Seesaw, Flipgrid, EasyBlog, Edmodo. . . whatever! I use Moodle for forums, because I find it to be very customizable, but you can have kids discussing on almost any platform. Again, it’s not about the tool, it’s about the learning.

There are inherent benefits to having discussions online. Instead of always communicating in informal language, as is the case with “turn and talk” in class, students are forced to use formalized language. There is a record of what they have said, and teachers can see it, give feedback on which terms they are using correctly, and can have students go back and edit their ideas for clarity. Students can continue the conversation at home, alone or with their parents, and you can always go back to the conversations during your conferencing, which is much harder to do with traditional “turn and talk”.

Use online multimedia journals with links, videos, photos, audio, drawings, table of contents, dictionary and thesaurus

I am a fan of both paper/pencil journals as well as multimedia online journals. While the benefits of the paper/pencil journal are well known, it is sometimes effective to give students the chance to write or write about their reading in an online journal.

In my students’ wiki journals, they are able to create new pages whenever, wherever they feel like. This creates great situations where they can [[link]] to a new page (for example, a character page), and then fill in their ideas there. If they need inspiration for character development, setting, or anything visual, they can pull up images from online and stick them in their journal. If they need to create a quick sketch, they just insert a drawing into their journal, and can move it around as they wish without feeling that they are getting in the way of their writing. When I provide them with materials from the program, they can link to these materials, refer to them, and annotate the parts that they feel they need to work on. By just clicking on a word, they can look up new words in online dictionaries and thesauruses and build their vocabulary . . the multimedia journal creates learning experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible with a 100% paper/pencil workshop.

Give assessments with feedback, rubrics, checklists, infographics, memes, pictures, video, inline editing

I find the assessments in the Reading and Writing Project to be easily convertible into online resources. For the beginning of the year reading assessment, I put all of the questions into an online assignment, and had kids take the test.

After the kids took the assessment, the data came back to me organized by student and question type. I was then able to give students feedback to enhance their learning. I did this in the form of inline editing, inserting the rubrics right into their answers, and providing checklists, infographics, memes, and links to previous discussions and journal entries that they had made. After I helped one student with a certain problem – using pictures, videos, or whatever – I was able to use that same teacher-created resource to help the next student that had the very same problems.

The point is, with technology you can link up all of the resources that you and your students have created – assessments, discussions, journals, rubrics, glossaries, etc –  at any time, so that students are not only making digital connections, but connections in their craniums as well.

Make the Heinemann resources accessible to students online

Instead of printing everything that I’m provided in the Reading and Writing Project from the Heinemann online resources – the sticky notes, the reading logs, the anchor charts, the exemplars, etc – I put them on my class website and into student hands. It saves a tree, and it helps students engage with the materials by actually using them in various ways.

Why not just project the resources? I find that projecting these resources without putting them up on my online courseroom makes it so that I become the “keeper of all resources”. I believe in a student-driven classroom, where information is accessible to all, parents included. By putting the resources up onto our Moodle page, students can not only access them anytime they want, but they can manipulate the content, insert it where they want, and ask questions and post comments about it.

Go nuts combining apps, web tools, social media and productivity tools!

There is so much out there that can help kids think and remove potential barriers for learning the content required in the Reading and Writing Project. I’ve written before about some of my favorite tech tools for getting kids writing, but I really recommend that you go sit on your couch with your device in hand, and explore the unlimited possibilities that exist out there.

Even if the Reading and Writing Project doesn’t explicitly say that you should or could use technology, that doesn’t make it wrong to take advantage of the best tools at your disposal. For me, technology is ubiquitous in the learning process, and learning is non-linear.

So, have kids record podcasts and watch their speaking and listening skills grow as they engage with the Reading and Writing workshop. Put up a green screen in your classroom, and explore the possibilities this has for student learning and engagement. I also believe that learning should be shared and public, and with technology this is possible. Have kids share out their reading and writing on blogs, social media, and e-mail. Get parents engaging with the Reading and Writing Project from their phone.

There are so many ways to make this program more dynamic and better for the learner. So if you’re like me and new to the Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, keep at it. I know I will!


Thanks for coming back again and again to educationrickshaw.com, a website by Stephanie and Zach Groshell. Feel free to comment below!

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Guest Article on TeachersMatterMagazine

Last year around this time, I was invited to the AEC conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I took two institutes that really blew my mind. One of those was led by the fantastic Karen Boyes, and it focused on getting students to do the thinking and take control of their learning. I’m happy to announce that one of our articles was selected for her mag, TeachersMatterMagazine!

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Many thanks to Karen Boyes and all of those that have supported us in our never ending pursuit of excellence in education. Check out the original article here and if you’d like to join my PLN, follow me on Twitter @MrZachG, check out our facebook group, Over Posting Educators, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

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.

 

 

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 Power of Digital Manipulatives

I wanted to share this Infographic by MIND Research Institute today, as it confirms some of my experiences with digital manipulatives in my classroom. My biggest takeaway from the infographic is the idea that you can scaffold the concepts by first starting with physical manipulatives (we do learn with our bodies!), and then transitioning to digital manipulatives to “improve transferability of math concepts”, and then finally representing the concepts with numbers and symbols.

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This webapp allows students to see money with the number blocks of their amounts – from mathlearningcenter.org

In my class, I created an elink of digital manipulatives so that students can have most of the digital manipulatives from mathlearningcenter.org at their disposal. You can download all of these tools as apps, but I found that the webapps were almost just as functional (downloading takes up precious storage on student iPads!). I very much followed a scaffolding strategy similar to what the infographic describes.

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I created an e-link on my Moodle course with links to all of the webapps. For more on elink, see Easy-Peasy Way to Give Great Links to Students)

Good teachers use everything that they have at their disposal, and don’t get caught up in searching for silver bullets. There is a place for physical manipulatives in the 21C classroom, as well as a place for digital ones.

Thank you for visiting educationrickshaw.com! Enjoy!


Digital Manipulatives Infographic

Courtesy of MIND Research Institute. 


What do you think about the role of digital manipulatives? Comment below!

Teacher Gets Through Week of Fidget Spinners Alive

Last week, the writers here at educationrickshaw.com took our school’s swim team to Dubai to compete in a meet with over 800 participants. One of the highlights of the trip (for the kids) has been the visit to the Dubai mall, famous for the Burj Khalifa and its indoor aquarium. Many of the students that attended the meet were from my Year 5 class, and they had told me in the lead-up to the meet that they would all be purchasing fidget spinners, as these are not available yet in Sudan.

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Not only did my kids buy a fidget spinner each, but they made sure to buy a supply of fidget spinners and fidget cubes for the whole year level, and all of their siblings. The fidget phenomenon has officially reached Khartoum.

Now, I feel that I am a pretty patient and tolerant teacher when it comes to students bringing things to school. I hated it when my teachers took my Pokemon cards that I had saved up for and carefully guarded in plastic sleeve protectors. I never wanted to become the teacher that took away toys simply because they distracted ME. Then came these freaking fidget spinners. Really quickly, let me tell you how the first week went with these things.

Every few seconds they fly out of kids’ hands.

The addictive quality of these spinners is that they have the potential to deliver a satisfying spin between your index and forefingers. There is a bit of a risk though; they tend to fly out between a child’s clumsy grip just at the climax of a lesson sequence. Exactly when an “aha!” moment is about to occur, a pesky spinner will fly into the corner of the room, prompting the whole class to turn their heads towards the guilty butterfingers who did it.

They’re not great when you need kids to use their hands

Any time a student is using their iPad, writing with a pencil, or reading a book, these spinners get in the way. It is fun to watch a kid try to keep open a stiffly bound novel with one forearm and their chin as they try to spin a fidget spinner on their thumb, but only if you don’t care about that child’s reading goals. I’ve heard the crack of far too many spinners whacking against the screens of my students’ iPads as well, which goes to show that there may still be things out there more impressive to children than technology.

Even though they can be annoying, they are kind of cool. .

I’m not going to lie. . it is fun to spin a spinner on your fingers, or even on your nose. They fit perfectly in your pocket, and they really don’t do much more damage than a cup and a ball would in a classroom setting. The multitude of colors, styles and types of these fidget devices makes them fun to collect and pass around, and it really made mark on our Dubai trip.

I, myself, am a very fidgety fella, so I was initially curious if somehow these toys could cure my constant need to fuss and fidget. Needless to say, I think I’ll be sticking to flipping pens and markers until this fad dies down. .

Have fidget spinners reached your classroom? How have they impacted learning? Please comment below, and be sure to keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

Why Students Need HelpDesk Too.

Most schools have a HelpDesk system for faculty to get help in a number of ways. My school has one such system, and I am constantly using when I need assistance with maintenance or our school’s IT systems. The reasons for using these HelpDesk systems are obvious: They are a way to organize and timestamp requests based on urgency, location, and other factors that are not possible with a direct e-mail. HelpDesk makes it so that complicated tasks aren’t forgotten, and that nobody can cut in line.

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It recently dawned on me that students and teachers need a similar system for their classrooms. My students are constantly asking for help, but that help is usually poorly recorded and responded to. Requests for help get forgotten, and the loudest, pushiest students are able to cut in line. Using the Moodle Reservations Activity (Also check out: How can Moodle be used in Elementary?), I put together a HelpDesk system for math that has really worked for my students.

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Check out this video for more info:  https://youtu.be/PhsIvwTPFl4

How does it work?

At different times during math, I have students enter into the Math HelpDesk to indicate their needs in a simple note. They are effectively “reserving” a spot on the carpet with me. I take a look at all of their requests and group them according to what they need help in. As a result, my ability to group students by need has been streamlined, and students that are not being helped are always busy working instead of waiting.

HelpDesks for Everything!

I love that these HelpDesks give students agency and voice in their classroom. I am always trying to give my classroom “back to my students”, and this puts the onus to learn and problem-solve their gaps in understanding on the students. So far I have made HelpDesks for math, writing conferences, and for checking in with me about goal-setting after student-led conferences.

Can you think of any more uses for HelpDesk in your classroom? How might you put one together using your school’s LMS and available tools? Comment below, follow me on Twitter, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!