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!

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

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!

How to Set Up a Week of Free Inquiry for Anywhere, Anytime Learning

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When I was just a first year teacher, I placed a lot of value on my ability to control student behaviors. While students were quiet and well-behaved to the passing observer, I could sense that I was not facilitating the kind of learning experiences that I wanted from my teachers during my own education. The relationship between the teacher, the students, and the learning was traditional and strained, and everyday felt like a battle for points and rewards. I felt like I was part drill sergeant, part cheerleader, part disciplinarian, but not at all a teacher.

As my teaching became more and more inquiry based, and more and more student-focused instead of teacher-driven, I began to see that the increased trust that I had for my students did not result in a dramatic increase in unwanted behaviors. In fact, quite the opposite. This year, for the first time, I felt that I had finally built up the structure necessary to facilitate a Week of Free Inquiry, aka a Week Without Walls, or, as my students put it, “College”. For the first time in my career, I had to give up control of movement and control of content as students pursued their own interests wherever and whenever they wanted. Here’s how I did it:

Related: 5 Ways to Give Your Class Back to Your Students

I Organized a Legit Online Learning Environment

When I say legit, I mean legit. There’s no way that you are going to get students to perform at the highest levels in a wall-less physical environment without a dynamic and organized online environment. When my students started the week, they knew how to contact me (e-mail, instant messaging, commenting on assignments) and they knew where and when to find me (in the cafeteria, by online appointment). For weeks I had to build up a wealth of knowledge and skill surrounding the apps on their devices, and I had to foster IT-specific problem-solving skills so that students were able to figure out their IT issues on their own.

I am sure that any robust LMS could be used for a project like this, but I used my class Moodle page (See Moodle in elementary), and students were working on their own school issued iPad throughout the week. Assignments were turned in for review onto their online portfolio (we use Seesaw) and students had their own e-mail addresses. I wish that I had added instant messaging, like WhatsApp or something, to their iPads before the week began, but we communicated fine with just e-mail, Seesaw (see Using Seesaw to Teach Social Media), and the class chat activity on Moodle.

Students Put Together a Game Plan

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As the above sketchnote by @trev_mackenzie suggests, there is indeed a lot of autonomy and independence that comes from true free inquiry. However, even in the illustration we see that there isn’t total, complete freedom. To continue with the pool analogy, the above students may have increased freedom of movement, but they do have to remain in the pool at all times; they are not free to leave the complex without permission. Similarly, they are not allowed to make choices that put others’ safety at risk, or ruin the experience for themselves or others. At all times there is a “guide on the side”, but this guide is much more hands-off than during Guided Inquiry.

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To structure the inquiry I used both of these sketchnotes by @trev_mackenzie. The goal setting (#4) and the calendar (#6) were particularly important in organizing the project.

As students neared their final days of preparation, I had a litany of questions from students to go through, but the main question that kept coming up from my 10 year olds was: Can we do whatever we want? 

I tried to answer this question about the same way every time: This school is a learning space. You can learn whatever you want, however you want, and with whom you want, but you may not choose NO learning. You may take a break whenever you want, but in the end, this project is all about what we can accomplish in one week when we put our minds to it. I think you’ll realize quickly that you’ll need and want every minute that you are given during this special week. 

I Started the Year with a Plan for Gradual Release of Responsibility

There’s no way that a form of learning like this can be possible the first day of school. There are a lot of discussions, mini-lessons and student reflections about how we learn that must take place before a class is ready to embark on a solo journey of this magnitude. Gradual release does ultimately mean giving up the responsibility to the students. I knew my class was ready to take on this project when I felt that they had proven mastery of certain skills at least a few times before in a variety of guided inquiry sequences.

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This one pic says it all about how my class has developed. Idea wall and green screen in the back, flexible seating, blended learning, conferencing, and engagement, engagement, engagement. The students pursuing their own learning is at the center of every experience, not me.

You also have to accept that some students may take longer during the year to get to a point of independence where they will get anything out of a week of free inquiry. For those students, I put them with partners that I knew I could trust to move them along, and I checked in on them more frequently than I did other students. I tried to make sure that their failures at the end were limited to the product rather than the process, i.e. a bad final project, but abundant learning nonetheless.

I Proceeded with the Mantra of “Never Work Harder than Your Students”

After taking attending a workshop at the 2016 Africa Ed Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa by Karen Boyes called Never Work Harder Than Your Students, Let Them Do the Thinking, I began to see how the onus has to be on the student to take responsibility for their learning. When my teaching was teacher-directed, I was doing all of the work, and the students were merely passive consumers of information.

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Why do a song and dance and waste all of your energy while students passively watch the show? Let them do the thinking. Let them plan their path forward. We teachers sometimes just need to get out of the way.

After the workshop, I was very clear with my students about my new expectations: I should never be working harder than any of you! And if I am, then you’re not doing your job right and I’m not doing my job right. This idea of never working harder than your students was critical when I began the Week of Free Inquiry because I had to come to grips with what it meant to release all responsibility to the students as I sat back with a cup of coffee while waiting for my next appointment with a student group.

I Trusted and They Pulled Through

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Our class culture is built around mutual admiration and respect between learning partners. The traditional top-down relationship between teacher and student is virtually gone, replaced with a “learning partnership” model.

In the end of the day, building relationships with students to make them better people is why I became a teacher. I wouldn’t expect a teacher that feels differently and puts less of a value on relationship building to be able to pull off the Week of Free Inquiry. It takes really getting to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses, and really building a culture of trust and a love of learning. Because I trusted them, and they respect me to the point that they will go to the ends of the earth to impress me, they were able to accomplish amazing things during this highly unstructured time.

What do you think? Could your kids pull off a Week of Free Inquiry? Are you ready to tear down the walls and let them be free? Be sure to follow me on Twitter and check out @SGroshell’s Teachers Pay Teachers account.

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How can Moodle be used in Elementary?

My current international school is an extremely forward thinking institution with its heavy emphasis on C21 learning, including blended and personalized learning concepts and ideas. While there are many adopted technologies in our school, such as Seesaw for portfolio and social media use, our school-wide LMS is a Moodle-based platform called KICSLearns. While most people are familiar with Moodle as a learning platform used in universities, there isn’t much out there on using this open-source LMS in elementary schools.

I created a video tour for teachers and parents alike to get a better idea of how Moodle can be used in elementary. I hope you enjoy!

Would this work for your school? As always, thanks for the visit and please keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com! Also, check out our TPT.

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5 Books To Start a Book Club for Teachers

There is something special about book clubs that you don’t get from other forms of teacher PD. I love the feeling of finally being able to share what I’ve read with a group of likeminded individuals, all of whom have a different perspective on the same source material. In book clubs, everyone comes in as an expert (presuming that you’ve read the book), and even when chapters are rushed through or skipped altogether, the main ideas can easily be jigsawed together by a nice bit of conversation with coffee on hand.

The following are 5 books for professional book clubs that I’ve had the pleasure of either facilitating or attending in recent years. I hope you find them useful in starting up a book club in your school or organization.

1. Clever Lands by Lucy Crehan

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This is the most current Book Club selection that we’ve been reading at my school, and it is an easy and important read for our time. As PISA scores continue to influence policy around the world, it’s important to take into account what makes these so-called successful school systems so great, and what makes their contexts unique and inimitable.

The best part of using this book for a book club is that you can frame each meeting as a “journey to a foreign land”, as the book is split evenly between 5 of the top PISA ranking countries: Finland, Japan, Singapore, China (Shanghai), and Canada.

Related:

2. Creative Schools by Sir Ken Robinson

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Creative Schools explores the entire breadth of the philosophy behind Ken Robinson’s famous TedTalks, such as “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”. While his writing isn’t as humorously tangential as his videos, the ideas presented in Creative Schools are equally intriguing. While those box checkers among us may come away feeling desperate for concrete solutions to the industrial model of education, us creative folk cannot help but leave inspired.

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3. Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job by Yong Zhao and Co.

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This book literally kick-started my journey towards a truly blended model of teaching and learning. As the title suggests, Zhao goes into what machines are good for, and what they are limited to (at the moment), but he also helps us to learn from the mistakes of early adopters of educational technology, and to be more intentional in our instructional design when using technology in the classroom.

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4. The First Days of School By Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong

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While not as up-to-date as the previous three books, I never go a year without flipping through a few pages of The First Days of School. Even as my practice has adapted in response to changes in my own life and environment, including the diverse populations that I’m serving, I find solace in the Wongs’ simple charts and graphics that help beginning teachers create an environment that responds to every child’s needs. The idea that every day, especially the day after a bad day, can be reworked into a first day of school, is reason enough for me to keep a copy of it on my shelf.

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5. Trivium by Martin Robinson

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It wouldn’t be a book club if someone came without reading the book, and Trivium was my moment to carry the torch. I guess this book was about where the three divisions of classical education (grammar, rhetoric, logic) meet, and how this conceptual framework can be used to help students today. Basically, I’m just repeating what it says on the cover of the book.

Did I come even though I didn’t read it? Yes. Did I talk about things that I didn’t know much about? Yes. Did I write on some chart paper? Oh yes. At the end of the day, I had a good time and met and talked about my favorite subject in the world while sipping on iced coffees. Totally worth it.

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5 Ways to Give Your Class Back to Your Students

Like many new teachers, I used to be uncomfortable giving up control. I saw a well functioning class as largely teacher-directed, and that if you gave students too many choices they would end up choosing poorly for themselves. How wrong I was.

The following tips are some strategies that I use to make my classroom more student-led. While there’s no perfect model, and gradual experimentation is necessary to find where your students are most comfortable, implementing some or all of these strategies can greatly increase student engagement and buy-in in your classroom.

#1 Put their menu in their hands and let them decide what’s on it

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. I put it in “stream” format 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, that we are going to do during each class period. Padlet makes it easy to do so in that it allows you to add contributors. Just so that I don’t have too many fingers on their class schedule, I give this role out as one of my class jobs.

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Padlet also has the benefit of allowing for multimedia, which comes in handy if you want to give a quote of the day, an “in the news” activity, or a flyer for a school event, for example.

#2 Use an Apple TV for wireless iPad projection

In my 1:1 iPad class, I was constantly changing between my MacBook Connector and my iPad connector to give students the chance to project their work. Because the connectors are the perfect combination of easily-breakable, expensive, and difficult to use for Year 5s, I wasn’t able to let the students connect and disconnect as they wished. I imagined a classroom where the teacher wasn’t in control of the tech, and that the students were freely projecting their work from all parts of the room.

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The solution, I’ve found, has been the use of the AirPlay feature on Apple devices to wirelessly project iPads via Bluetooth to an Apple TV. It has worked with an amazing level of consistency, and students are now completely comfortable with connecting and disconnecting as they wish during lessons. I’m investigating other ways to take better advantage of my Apple TV in the classroom, but just the simple feature of wireless iPad connection has empowered my students to a surprising degree.

#3 Consider Flexible Seating

Students in my class chose their own seating chart, and are very comfortable with suggesting how and where they choose to sit. This can be inside or outside, beanbag, carpet, pillow, chair w/o desk and/or chair with desk, etc. In some cases, as in the picture below, we’ve chosen to eliminate the walls of our classroom in favor of a more free approach when it was necessary. The kids called it “University”, and spent much of their chosen time in the high school meeting rooms in our school.

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This photo actually comes from a “Free Inquiry” experiment that really deserves its own write-up

I’m still not sure what’s in store for this year, but the amazing things that I am seeing on Twitter make me want to experiment more with how students best learn. I’m still not comfortable with giving up desks, as I appreciate their role in developing handwriting and good sitting posture, but who knows what these kids will decide for themselves?

#4 Let them be in control of their own behavior chart

I am a big fan of developing habits of mind, mindset, mindfulness and all of the other “minds” we have in education. It is also important for my students to set goals. While I still see the role of public group contingency plans in some cases, I have been experimenting with keeping these charts private and under the control of the individual student.

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For their charts, I use StarChart.me, which they monitor and update on their iPads

So far, it has been working, and students are motivated to move towards their next goal once they have completed their chart. The only monitoring I do comes in the form of the e-mail that StarChart sends me everyday, but even then I try to put the responsibility on the student to be honest with their awarded stars.

#5 Use whiteboard paint to give students space to display their thinking

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One of the things that we are pushing for in our primary section to be included in our latest round of orders is for every classroom to have an Apple TV, and for every classroom to have a “thinkspace” made from whiteboard paint. I already try to give them as much of the available wall space as possible for posting visual displays of their thinking, but it is hard to match the sheer awesomeness of a full whiteboard wall like my kids are using above.

I’ve also been begging for one of these lego walls (below), but alas, I don’t think it will make the cut. . a858d898f780b4658d0e1786f1da1699

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