Keeping a Window Open: 10 Tips to Keep Up with Education during (Extended) Parental Leave

If you’re pausing your teaching career during parental leave for a few years, we have some ideas to help you keep up with the education world!


#1: Watch for license renewal credits opportunities

When the time comes for you to resume your teaching career, you don’t want to be stuck with retroactively tracking down hours and paperwork!  Develop a professional learning plan now, combing your state or country requirements.  Contact your prior administration for documentation of any accumulated credits during your employment.

#2: Volunteer at your last school

Strap on that Baby Bjorn or occasionally drop off kids with a babysitter to maintain educational ties in your community.  Gauge what’s realistic for your circumstances, though, whether it’s simply to read with students now and then, or to facilitate an extracurricular activity, such as a TED-Ed Club

#3: Volunteer online

Sign up to tutor online! Become a Granny in Sugata Mitra’s “School in the Cloud.”  You can even combine #2 & #3 via interactive platforms like Skype.  For instance, when I was housebound during our school’s annual PYP Exhibition process, I volunteered to mentor a few student groups through weekly Skype “meetings” instead.  The students loved sharing their progress on the webcam, and I loved being involved despite my situation.

#4: Set up a Twitter account!! (and otherwise build/maintain your PLN)

This is probably the best way to keep current: the latest practices, digital tools, and issues are thoroughly shared and discussed on Twitter.  Building your PLN of other passionate teachers around the globe further enhances the professional development potential.  For further convincing, check out Krissy Venosdale’s article, “I’m Not Going to Convince You That You Need a PLN.”

#5: Join webinars & e-courses

Classroom 2.0 LIVE hosts free online shows.  PLP Network offers purchased E-courses (with options for graduate credit, too). And once you’ve established #4, Twitter Chats can be especially helpful–for me, one solid chat usually ends with with about 37 new open tabs of resources.

#6: Organize your old resources

Was packing your classroom materials a whirlwind of items flying into unlabeled boxes?  Then you need to fire up your scanner and read our post on getting organized.  ASAP.  Your sanity will thank you later when you resume teaching.

#7: Organize your new resources

After getting inspired by the 37+ tabs of resources discovered during a Tweet Chat, make sure you can find them again!  Establish a bookmarking system that works for you, be it a Delicious account, or several categorized folders to sort your bookmarks on your browser (Chrome is a great option since it saves your bookmarks across your devices if you’re logged into your Google account).

#8: Develop a Skill

Brush up your old high school Spanish using the free Duolingo app.  Fine-tune your piano playing.  Explore PhotoShop or Prezi.  Anything that you enjoy will enhance your classroom, even if it’s not directly related to your content–after all, your future students need models of adults pursuing passions!

#9: Revamp Your Class Blog!

Browse your favorite class blogs, and then find ways to incorporate your favorite user-friendly features on your own blog!

#10: Re-evaluate your WHY as a Teacher!

Reflect on your previous practices and honestly assess what can be improved or tossed altogether.  Consider how you can return to the educational work-force with an even deeper commitment to authentic learning (on that subject, be sure to check out our tips on becoming a 21st Century teacher)!

And of course, remember to make the most of this precious and swiftly passing time with your little one(s)!

Author
Credit: Mary Wade

Featured Image: Death to the Stock 

How the Digital Age is Altering Education’s Landscape (it’s not the gadgets…)

“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic¹


Drip Effect

Whatever shape our personal digital involvement takes, the above statement has become irrefutable. With an exponential quantity of global interaction on our hands, we can already identify many ways our lives have changed.  However, time has yet to fully reveal the long term and unintended impacts of technology, known as “drip effects” (Peter Skillen gives the example of cars, where their original purpose was to simply transport people places; the unexpected drip effect became the phenomenon of city sprawl and suburban life²).  To us, the most thrilling aspect of this “society wide experiment” lies in education.

Sudden Educational Evolution

For many years, education remained fairly static.  Professors of education could share similar concepts and resources for decades, with little deviation.  Sure, the pendulum would, at times, swing between such matters as phonics vs. whole language, but nothing altered too radically.

Now, all that is changing thanks to technology.  It’s not just social media platforms that create customized professional development for teachers.  It’s not just cloud storage like Google Drive that foster global collaboration.  It’s not even just Youtube videos that provide instant tutorials for every topic under the sun.  It’s a revolutionizing and unexpected drip-effect: the manner in which teachers are pioneering new practices.  Since even those who graduated college 5 years ago were unlikely to have possessed a textbook on the benefits of Twitter in the classroom, teachers are tinkering and experimenting with new resources themselves–learning and growing right alongside their students!

The Counterintuitive Effects of Vulnerability

This kind of pioneering requires teachers to share their personal, authentic, and vulnerable learning processes–the out-loud wondering, the messy brainstorming, the trial and error, the failed projects–all are brought front and center in the classroom.  What is the result when students watch adults experience genuine learning?  In the “Pencil Metaphor” below (as shared in other posts), the erasers, ferrules, and hangers-on may fear that exposing their limitations could result in a loss of respect, productivity, or control.  The the rest are discovering the true results: strengthened relationships as students see their teachers as more human; heightened motivation as students are inspired by what lifelong learning looks like; and abundant empowerment for everyone in an atmosphere where it is safe to experiment, fail, discover, and grow.

Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)
Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)

During the most recent #5thchat (held Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET), Tyson Lane summarized this approach well:

Such common sharing and learning is also reinforced by the findings of vulnerability and shame researcher, Brene Brown, when she describes the necessary shift in education and business alike, “from controlling to engaging with vulnerability–taking risks and cultivating trust”³ (p. 209.  See her terrific manifesto for leaders here).

Walking the Talk

I was always surprised at how much one phrase delighted my students: “I don’t know.”  Giggles and slightly dropped jaws would consistently ensue, followed by profound discussions on whether I should find out myself (while modeling to them), or whether they could help me figure it out.  My most carefully crafted inquiry questions rarely elicited as much engagement from my students as those three words.  Similarly, I once attempted to create a DIY interactive whiteboard with a Wii remote–a venture that ultimately proved completely ineffective.  Though one might expect that students would respond to such failure with scorn, my students were keenly supportive through every step–and in turn, showed increased willingness to try and share new ideas themselves.

Through blogs, Twitter, and more, I have learned from exceptional individuals who are boldly learning with their students. Listed below are a few:

Trying new technology to improve your classroom is risky.  But even if the intended goal fails, the drip effect of being vulnerable with your students and allowing them to watch you authentically learn is priceless.

Sources:

  1. Estrin, J. “The Visual Village.” National Geographic. October 2013. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/digital-village/estrin-text
  2. Skillen, P. “The Drip Effects of Technology.” http://theconstructionzone.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/the-drip-effect-of-technology/
  3. Brown, Brown. Daring Greatly. New York: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.

Featured Image:

Jason Paluck

Closing the Edtech Teacher Gap

The dialogue on “digital divides” is extensive with regards to student learning and accessibility.  But what about digital divides for learning and accessibility among teachers?


No Teacher Left Behind?

When I graduated from college in 2009, I had never heard of concepts like PLN’s, teachers using Twitter professionally, or encouraging elementary students to create digital portfolios with blogs.  When I began teaching at a fairly new school filled with other recently graduated teachers, our video projectors were as high-tech as it got–though most classrooms still had overhead projectors, too.  And when I finally began to explore 21st century educational technology years later (social media in particular), I discovered a rather counterintuitive pattern: despite being raised with the internet, younger teachers as a whole are not the fluent edtech masters one might expect.

Putting the Pieces Together

The more I started to catch up on edtech, the more aware I became of this pattern.  For example, as the Flipped Learning Network has gathered statistics on flipped classrooms, it has shared findings using various Infographics.  The one below states that 85% of teachers flipping their classrooms have at least 7 years of experience; another shows that for 46% of teachers polled, that number jumps up to 16 years!

Source: Flipped Learning Network, retrieved from Edudemic
Source: Flipped Learning Network, retrieved from Edudemic

Additionally, a 2012 report released by the National Association of State Boards of Education points out:

“…the majority of Gen Y teachers grew up using the Internet and technology.  Given this simple fact, it would seem to be only a matter of time before a cohort of tech-savvy, actively tweeting, social media-integrating teachers take over our schools.  The reality, however, is more complicated…being born at this time did not necessarily mean being born into a world of social media…nor did it necessarily mean being educated in a technology-rich learning environment.”

With regards to teacher education, it further states:

“Surprisingly, given that the vast majority of those entering the profession are digital natives, new teachers are no more likely to integrate technology into their practice than their veteran peers.  The research indicates that it is not a lack of access, but primarily lack of knowledge and practice integrating the technology into their instructional pedagogy.”

To an extent, the shortcomings of collegiate teacher prep makes sense.  As a recent Huffington Post article points out, college in 2005 was dramatically different from today (ie, neither MacBook Pros nor Twitter existed yet, and Facebook was still limited to college freshmen).  Even the professors were unfamiliar with rapidly evolving educational technology tools and practices.

Meanwhile, teachers whose careers were already established when such tools debuted became the prime candidates for becoming the digital literates in the field.  Thus, I would contend that older teachers are even more likely than younger ones to integrate technology in their teaching practices and professional development.

Closing the Gap

So how do we close the gap of teachers who do and don’t effectively integrate technology?  The above-mentioned NASBE report cites policy and institution-based solutions such as improving technology instruction at the university level, as well as implementing quality, ongoing professional development and peer mentoring.  While these are sure to help address the issue, we suggest it can also be remedied when teachers take individual action.  With the wealth of free professional development available online (ie, communities of teachers on Twitter that share, discuss, and support), teachers can be quickly brought up to speed on the latest ideas.  Our post on ways to become a 21st century teacher has specific ideas for such action.  Let us endeavor to close any digital divide that arises to strengthen our global community of teachers and learners!

Featured Image Credit:

Earnest C.

10 Teacher Summer Projects to Try

Amid vacations, home projects, and quality family time, here are 10 professional activities to choose from this summer to keep sharp for next year!


#1: Build Your PLN!
Gwyenth Anne Bronwynne Jones
Gwyenth Anne Bronwynne Jones
#2: Explore ONE New Edtech Strategy

Flipped Learning, Student Blogging, BYOD, Mircroblogging with Twitter, etc.

Jeremy Keith
Jeremy Keith
#3: Explore ONE New Tool That Will Genuinely Help Students

(See 3 Tech-Savvy Alternatives to Powerpoint)

Bill Ferriter
Bill Ferriter
#4: Amp Up Your Class Blog’s Usefulness

(See 10 Tips to Increase Class Blog Interest)

DeclanTM
DeclanTM
#5: Scan Your Filing Cabinet

Seriously, it is SO worth the time you waste each year hunting through those metal drawers!  See our tips on teacher organization.

DeathtoStock_Creative Community4 compressed
Death to the Stock Photo
#6: Participate in Webinars, e-Courses, and TweetChats (sort “Topics” by Education)
Joe St. Pierre
Joe St. Pierre
#7: Read Literature on Your Students’ Level!

(See our post on read alouds for upper grades!)

George Thomas
George Thomas
#8: Reevaluate Student Desk Arrangements

We love Edna Sackson’s post on 10 ways to rethink your learning space, particularly because it gets us thinking about how the physical arrangement of a classroom reflects our values as  teachers.

ryuu ji 竜次
ryuu ji 竜次
#9: Honestly Evaluate Where You Stand as a 21st Century Teacher
Denise Krebs
Denise Krebs
#10: Make Enjoyable Summer Memories!

You need rejuvenation, and students need to know you’re not just a educational machine–which pictures help prove.  Win-win!

Death to the Stock Photo
Death to the Stock Photo

If you have a another fantastic project already in mind for this summer, we would love to hear it in the comments! Happy Summer!

Featured Image Credit:

Case Wade (with permission)

10 Tips to Help Your Class Blog Stand Out

No one likes dedicating time to an unproductive, thankless task–especially if you’re a teacher maintaining a class blog that no one checks!  Here are 10 of our time-tested strategies to improve your blog, and to encourage your students and parents to visit.


#1: Consistency

Some teachers see this word and want to run for the hills–after all, the list of educational strategies with this recommendation could probably stretch for miles.  However, the good news is that this doesn’t have to be a time-intensive commitment when you employ one or more of the following tips:

  • Maintain a regular post structure so you don’t need to design a lengthy, creative piece each day.  For instance, start each post with some quick highlights from the day, followed by a list of homework, and ending with upcoming school/class events. See my old class blog for an example.
  • Copy and paste content from the previous day and just make changes as needed.  With the above example, you can just edit the highlights section and update any homework/events.
  • Download the app for your blog’s platform if it’s faster or simpler for you to post from your tablet or smartphone!
  • Use the post scheduling feature (included on both WordPress and Blogger) to publish at an exact time each day (that way, you can prepare it whenever you have a few minutes, but you won’t have to worry about hitting “publish” at a specific time after school).

#2: Use Tags

Add a tag or two to each post to help students and parents easily navigate your archives.  Be sure to remember to add the tag widget to your sidebar as well!

#3: Share Pictures

Nate Edwards
Nate Edwards

Students of every age love seeing their pictures, and parents love seeing their kids in action at school!  The result: an effective way to draw in your audience.  This is where your platform’s app may come in handy as well so you can post directly from the device with which you took pictures.  Of course, you may find you’d prefer to microblog your pictures using Twitter, but you can always also add a Photo Gallery section to your blog for students to explore.  For posts with pictures, remember to add a “pictures” tag!

#4: Have Students Make their Own Blogs!

Not only does this get students excited about the concept of blogging in general, but if you put links to each of their blogs on your homepage sidebar, they will have an added incentive to visit.  Get started using our practical (and teacher-tested) guide to student blogging!

#5: Add Helpful Resources (really)

Creating a few drop-down menus of organized student and parent resources is a fantastic way to increase your blog’s usefulness and traffic!  If you’re an elementary school teacher, you can make one page for each subject area that’s packed with links to relevant games and tools.  However, be sure to screen every link, both for safety and for quality–even young students are tech-savvy enough to see through an arbitrary list of “games” that aren’t actually fun!  Check out our list of student favorites!

#6: Don’t Get Discouraged!

It may take a few months before your class blog catches on with a regular traffic flow.  Just keep looking for ways to make it as useful as possible for your students, soliciting their ideas to find out what resources would help them!

#7: Layout: Go for Simple

Ask yourself: do YOU enjoy looking at busy web pages with patterned wallpapers of dogs or bright bubbles that make the words difficult to discern?  Keep the colors solid behind all words, and play with fonts, sizes, and text colors to ensure easy reading.

#8: Add a Twitter Feed & Some RSS Feeds

If you have a class Twitter account or hashtag, make sure you add a widget to your sidebar that projects that Twitter feed (see our post on unlocking Twitter’s classroom potential).  Also, ask students whether they’d be interested in seeing RSS feeds from sources such as TIME’s picture of the week, NASA’s image of the day, daily science news, or even a daily comic strip.

Mkhmarketing
Mkhmarketing

#9: Add link to your email signature

In all the back-to-school paperwork, be sure to promote your class blog link as much as possible!  Let parents know the link is in your email signature, and remind them as necessary throughout the year!

#10: Throw in Intermittent Rewards

A fun way to encourage visitors is to periodically throw in an incentive.  Give students a “Secret code word” in your post every now and then, telling them to write it on a slip of paper and to covertly hand it in the next day for a treat or bonus.

Photo Credit

niXerKG (featured image)

Nathan Edwards

Mkhmarketing

Top Online Games for Upper Elementary Students

Whether you are looking for games to add to your class blog or to your class computer bookmarks menu, we have compiled ranked lists based on games most visited and praised by 5th graders over several years!  All the games are free and kid tested.  Be sure to check out other ways to improve your classroom blog here(All links last checked for safety and functionality on July 29, 2016).

Continue reading “Top Online Games for Upper Elementary Students”

10 Tips for Teacher Organization

With the relentless waves of worksheets, professional development packets, and IEP paperwork, it can seem impossible to stay ahead of the whirlwind of disorder.  Here are 10 of our tried-and-true tips to make organization a reality!


#1: Get Rid of Your Desk

Karen Cardoza
Karen Cardoza

For one thing, we all know what inexplicable paper-magnets desks are. For another, they often serve as barriers between you and students, especially if you are tempted to grade during the day.  If you have a horseshoe table you use with students, position that in the corner instead.  Otherwise, keep your pens, scissors, and other such necessities in a plastic 3-drawer cart, or in pencil organizers on your mobile tech cart.  Added bonus: you’ll open up the space in your classroom!

#2: Get Rid of Worksheets (as much as possible)

Moving away from worksheets has the mutual benefit of creating less clutter for you and less busy work for your students.  Instead, consider displays of student understanding in the form of project-based learning and other alternatives that place the priority more on learning.

#3: Get Rid of Your Filing Cabinet

Jodimichelle
Jodimichelle

While this is a bigger project to tackle, the payoff is enormous.  Think of all the time you’ve wasted digging through disheveled files to find that one resource, making copies, and then rediscovering its folder to put it away.  Contrast that with performing a simple search of your computer files for the resource, and then printing it!  Go ahead and start scanning items in your filing cabinet, and be sure to keep them organized in digital folders on your computer.  This would be a great task for parent volunteers or the school copy aide if you have one!

#4: Get Rid of Student Portfolio Binders or Files

If you keep bulky binders of student work in your classroom, consider teaching students how to keep their work digitally on individual blogs!  Some benefits of keeping portfolios digitally include: increased practicality for students to keep and access their work in the long-term, more varied options for work sample types (including voice recordings, videos, etc.), and preparation for students to utilize 21st century tools and skills.  Check out our post for student blogging ideas to get started!

#5: Get Rid of CD’s & More

Make a search for the obsolete in your classroom.  CD’s that can be ripped, posters that can be scanned–pare down any items that could be replaced with your smartphone or tablet.

#6: Go Mobile for Student Paperwork

Dazed81
Dazed81

Once you’ve gotten rid of your filing cabinet, there will doubtless still be a few items you need to keep on file, including confidential student paperwork and forms.  Keep these instead in a space-effective accordion file folder or a small filing box.  You may find the ability to move these papers around with you to be a more convenient option, as well!

#7: Adopt Apps that Will Work for You

Get rid of that giant desk calendar (which will be necessary if you did #1 anyway)!  Experiment with various apps to find out what will best meet your needs.  Evernote is one option for keeping notes and schedules organized, and Confer is perfect for keeping anecdotal notes from guided reading to math!

#8: Adopt Google Drive

Instead of opening multiple programs to access your files, move everything over to Google Drive!  Only uploaded or synced files count against your 15 GB of free storage, too, which means anything you create in Drive is free storage!  Additionally, you will be poised to more easily collaborate as you share resources with your colleagues.  Tip to remember: Download the desktop version of Google Drive so you can still access your resources during offline occurrences!

#9: Enlist Student Help

Especially if you keep some kind of classroom economy or class jobs, make sure you add student jobs that will help keep up classroom organization!  Some that I’ve loved have included organization experts, who dust and otherwise straighten up, and sanitation specialists, who wield Clorox wipes on every possible surface!

#10: Make a Display Wall

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Ali Edwards

This can be as simple as pinning up a few strands of yarn and attaching some clothes pins, or perhaps hanging up a few clipboards.  Not only is it a great way to display reminders, flyers, student drawings, and personal inspiration, but it’s perfect to keep it all off work-surfaces.  If you are interested in using your wall space in an even craftier way, the ideas are pretty much endless on Pinterest!

What about you?  Do you have other strategies to share that have helped you stay organized?  Please share in the comments!

Photo Credits: