Teaching & Learning

Yellowstone Virtual Field Trip with Skype

This fall my 7th grade students have been studying planet science, specifically geology and plate motion. We have discussed how the channels on Mars were formed, did they form from water or lava? As our studies continue, we’re investigating geology on Earth, thinking about the connections between fossils, earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate motion.

Yellowstone Ranger Brian

Yellowstone Ranger Brian was awesome!

Last week we had the opportunity to chat via Skype with Yellowstone Park Rangers about the geology of our first national park. My three 7th grade earth science classes were fortunate enough to chat with and learn from a different Yellowstone Ranger for each class. During our chats my students took digital ink notes in OneNote, focusing on important points the Rangers talked about regarding Yellowstone’s history, geology, wildlife, and ecology. Sometimes it is easy to forget how effortlessly technology can bring our world closer. Each Ranger talked to just us, our chat was not a prerecorded video, and were essentially our own personal tour guides for the Park. They shared how the geology and ecology of Yellowstone are interconnected and we learned how the wolves in Yellowstone help to maintain the ecological balance of wildlife and plant life throughout the seasons. We discovered that Yellowstone is really a very large volcano and that geothermal vents provide the evidence of the magma chamber underneath. My students asked questions, lots of questions, and our Rangers answered each and every one.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am reminded how thankful I am for our classroom technology, my students who want to learn, our Ranger tour guides who share their knowledge, and the forward-thinking visionaries who preserved the treasure of Yellowstone as a national park. My gratitude is plentiful.

As a teacher, I am delighted to share how easy it was to set up our Virtual Field Trip through Skype in the Classroom using the Microsoft Educator Community. I requested three sessions and the Rangers very quickly emailed to confirm times and asked me the desired focus of our chats. I am looking forward to future Skypes in the Classroom; I have already requested chats with other scientists and we have been invited to a “Mystery Skype” with students in Asia. I can’t wait for my students to learn with and from others all over the world.

Mobile Skype Station

A mobile Skype station makes it easy

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Mindshift, Embrace, Imagine – Flipgrid

Classroom Mindshift

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the educational shifts happening in our classrooms, reflecting on how to foster the growth we want to see in our students. Although sometimes “old school” still has its merits, old school style classrooms should truly be a thing of the past. I was recently listening to the Mindshift podcast– Be the Change You Want to See, where the teachers were flipping how student work is evaluated. In this podcast, students were an integral part of driving what they were learning in their integrated English class. They were also front and center in evaluating their own work, reflecting and rating the quality of their work. My focus in this blog is not about evaluating student work, but rather the shift in our classrooms to foster student academic understanding, and later their reflection and review of their work.

Embracing the New

While preparing for a Microsoft Education TweetMeet about STEM topics, I had a conversation with a few innovative thinkers, the types who seek to embrace the new. Feeling inspired, I was left with two key ideas:

  1. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to be willing to try something new
  2. If you’re a little freaked out to do something new but also excited to try, then you’re good to go

Listening to their stories, I learned about their perspective and the challenges they have overcome. As I think about our students, I also realize they have stories to share, perspectives that can help us to understand their thinking and point of view. These two key ideas apply to all of us, students and teachers alike. If we update our classroom modes of teaching, it can freak us out, it is new. For our students, it is comfortable to be passive learners, and it is scary if the classroom style changes. If we’re willing to be the change, we change how we become an expert and this is exciting.

Igniting Imagination

As educators, we must be willing to embrace the new, shift our mindset to foster student conversations and reflection about the quality of their work and hence their own understanding. As we change our classrooms to fit a more modern style of education, it will look different, it will be noisier and more chaotic. This “new school” classroom is more reflective of the future world our students will be entering. If we want our students to embrace innovative ideas we must provide a venue for students to try, to fail, to try again, ask questions, and ultimately learn. We must ignite imagination, both as teachers and students. We need to reimagine our classroom teaching style as well as helping our students ignite their own imagination to be their own learners. As teachers, we can facilitate, monitor, and jump in with direct instruction, when needed, to help our students understand content, as it is applicable to the learning. We also need to support our students to become their own best teacher.

Innovative Ideas and Conversations

My 6th graders recently finished a fantastic egg experiment, where they learned how water passes through the cell membrane. They initially observed how vinegar dissolves the egg-shell, and then how the egg changed size when placed in a container of different liquids. Students recorded their observations and posted egg “selfies” in OneNote over a course of a week. In class, we discussed and asked questions about what they observed. After the experiment, I provided direct instruction about diffusion and osmosis, to better explain what they observed happening with their egg. The overall goal of the experiment is for my students to apply their new-found observational knowledge to understanding human body systems. The egg experiment is a bit “old school,” as they followed directions and observed what happen. The change will come when my students begin applying what they observed in another scientific context. The exciting (and sometimes scary) part comes in when my students share their observations and experimental questions in a Flipgrid conversation. Utilizing new technology to reflect and explain their understanding in a video response is the first step in becoming a confident science student. While we may not become experts, and we don’t have to (yet), we just need students willing to learn and share what they learned with others. Sharing the learning often leads to questions with innovative ideas. We want the willingness to try innovative ideas.Flipgrid Egg Exp

Next Steps

As I reflect on my more noisier and wonderfully chaotic science classroom, I think “how can I apply what I have learned and become the change I want to see?” Flipgrid is one tool, of many, that allows for this change to begin, a change in conversation of me talking about the science to my students talking about the science they learned. Part of the change might be for educators to listen more and let students do more of the talking.

Cape Leader Roles

Trying something new this week, harnessing the power of purple capes to motivate leadership roles in my science classes. Since I teach middle school, I have a bit of latitude to be silly and hence make use of a super hero themes. The idea is to utilize a purple OneNote cape to designate student “Cape Leader” status. I instructed each lab group to nominate a team leader who could help with technology and learning questions. I told them to nominate someone who could help lead discussions, at their lab table, about our science topic for the class period. And if they nominated more than one individual who met the qualifications, then they would need to solve it scientifically. They asked “how?” I answered with the only reasonable decision maker solution known, by rock, paper, scissors, of course. Once newly elected, the Cape Leaders garnered the coveted purple cape. To set expectations, we discussed the leadership responsibility that comes with the cape. We talked about how the group can also help support their Cape Leader as well, that leadership is a two-way street. We also discussed the safety considerations about wearing a cape and acknowledged the wisdom of Edna Mode, from the Incredibles, about flying too close to jet engines. We agreed we would stay inside the classroom to alleviate this risk.Call Super Hero

The first trial of Cape Leaders was a success, the last class of the day agreed they wanted to continue the opportunity to nominate a new cadre of Cape Leaders next week. It was obvious watching the faces and animated conversations that students were having fun having caped leaders in class, but I also watched how many of the Cape Leaders embrace the leadership role. In our 6th grade class, the Cape Leaders were the team leaders who received clarifying instructions about the cellular metabolism whole classroom model. These leaders helped their group members understand how the molecules would need to move to the various body systems to demonstrate a functioning healthy body. In 7th grade, the Cape Leaders assisted leading group members with a vocabulary review. They led their team to discuss how geology terms could be broken down so an elementary student could understand how to use the academic science word in context with their plate boundary map analysis work.purple capes.jpg

Teaching middle school science is not always about teaching science content. Sometimes teaching science means providing opportunities for students to practice leadership skills, even if its cloaked in a cape. Science in the classroom is also about making scientific thinking visible to others, sharing ideas, revising ideas, and demonstrating how to understand a scientific process. I don’t think we would want to have Cape Leaders every day, but if well timed, the power of the purple cape portends potential for prevailing positive effects.

ISTE ’17 Reflections – behind the scenes

I just attended, and presented, at my first International Society for Technology in Education conference, or ISTE for short, in San Antonio.  It was a Texas-sized conference with a ginormous amount of educational technology connections, learning opportunities, and inspiration. Because educators are passionate people, when we all gather in one place to celebrate learning we also inspire others to do more. It was an intensely energizing experience.

Now that it is done, it is time to decompress, unwind, and reflect on all the learning and all I have to share. My ponderings of ISTE begin with the following;

  • Presenting and what I learned about confidence, trial, and error
  • Conferences are a confluence of being hungry, having to pee, and google maps, while pressing through it all to learn
  • Being in tune with the mantra of “My Tribe” and “Teachers are wizards and ISTE is Hogwarts”
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Ready for ISTE!

Sunday Teach Meet

One of the cool things about being part of an educator network is learning about opportunities to both present and learn. One such opportunity was the “Teach Meet” on pre-conference Sunday. It was set up in a relaxed format of 2, 7, and 20-minute teacher-driven presentations on a variety of topics. All were informative, insightful, and relevant. It felt like a teacher learning oasis before the all-encompassing chaotic din of professional learning.

ISTE Teach Meet

I presented my science classes’ work with “Cubes in Space” in a 2-minute spot and it was amazing. I could share what the “Cubes” program is and how my students have a participated this past year. It was an awesome ISTE icebreaker for me.

Later, when I sat in the audience, I picked up some cool tech tips and tools, all low pressure and teacher-tested and applicable to me. I was encouraged to “tell our story” as a school with social media, because if we don’t, who will? I heard about the ed-tech classroom goodness of Flipgrid and Lifeliqe, both of which I have used in my classroom this year, confirming how awesome these tools are with students. In addition, I met some good “table neighbor” teachers from Ohio to California and in our short chats we all shared the same passion and excitement to learn more so as to help our students learn more. I will most definitely consider adding future Teach Meets to any future conference agendas.

Microsoft Partner App Facebook Live

Since my colleague and I were presenting Class Policy, a Microsoft partner application, we were invited to participate in a Facebook Live interview with Anthony Salcito, VP of Worldwide Education at Microsoft. It was fascinating to watch the preparation and planning necessary to highlight a variety of applications including Ohbot, Lego Robotics, Class Policy, and Lifeliqe, among others. Truthfully, it was a bit stressful to be on “live,” especially when the network feed dropped and we needed to record our interview a second time. Overall, it was an honor to be on the Expo floor discussing Class Policy, an absolutely indispensable 1 to 1 device classroom management technology tool.

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Chatting about Class Policy with Anthony Salcito

Microsoft Education Partner App Live

Connected Classroom poster session

In every conference, there are a variety of methods to disseminate information. At ISTE we were fortunate to have a poster session for our “Connected Classroom” presentation on the benefits of being connected with both Microsoft Teams and Class Policy. My colleague, Tamara Traux, and I divided and conquered the two tools, presenting and answering a myriad of questions from grateful teachers and administrators from all over the country. Some needed to know the basics of using OneNote and others needed to pick our brains about how best to maximize Teams to promote class collaboration and conversations. Meanwhile, others wanted to understand how best to manage students being on task with Class Policy and facilitating within a 1 to 1 device environment. It was an intense 2 hours of talking, but I absolutely loved the real-time interactions of sharing classroom technology.

ISTE Resources – Connected Classroom

Hack the Classroom

Microsoft Education hosted an online event to showcase a variety of the latest technology in the classroom where short “ignite” style presentations on topics such as Minecraft Education, Code Builder, and Paint 3D were streamed live. Participating as a live audience was pretty cool. Again, I find the behind the scenes fascinating, but realizing how truly authentic, caring, and empowering these educators are to their students was awe-inspiring. I loved Cathy Cheo-Isaacs’ authentic talk about using Minecraft Education and Code Builder with younger students to help build their understanding of computational thinking. I giggled with her obvious love of Hello Kitty and using the code builder agent to quickly build within a student Minecraft world. I was also inspired by Paul Kercal, the creator and artist behind Paint 3D. To build a tool that allows a student to visualize, think and create in 3 dimensions is mind boggling. He said it well, when he said, “I stepped back and let students be brilliant.” That is the essence of a master teacher, especially one teaching with technology.

Hack the Classroom Live

1 in 3 ISTE session

In this “listen and learn” session, teachers sharing their best technology integration moments in a quick 3 minutes, my colleague, Tamara Truax, was inspired to share her student’s journey project. She promoted the idea that they could and should amplify their family’s migration stories. Tamara shared how teachers can help students amplify their voices through technology. I was proud to be the support system to help amplify this teacher’s voice to encourage other teachers to do the same for their students’ voices.

Connections

 Finally, it was the connections at ISTE that made ISTE so valuable. Conferences are an excellent opportunity to foster a professional network as there so many passionate educators to share ideas and stories with and make those connections. I am fortunate to be part of an awesome educator network in the Microsoft Innovated Educator Experts or #MIEExperts. We use social media to stay connected regularly, but meeting in person and catching up is electrifying. We are extremely passionate about teaching, technology, and advancing student learning and voice and our conversations stem from wanting to hear about new teaching techniques, tools and tips. We are nerds, geeks, and wizards. The keynote by Jennie Magiera, chief innovation officer at Des Plaines Public Schools in Chicago, was spot-on when she said, “teachers are wizards and ISTE is Hogwarts.” A teacher’s PLC, or professional learning network, is their tribe, the people who get “it,” the passionate drive to promote what is best for student learning. They invigorate and energize us. We need them and ISTE is our gathering place. I am so glad I went and I look forward to returning in the future. ISTE was my Hogwarts and though I’m now on summer break, I am also so ready to return to school in the fall.