Fourteenth Day of Tech-mas - Twitter for PLN

The last 14 days leading up to the Holiday break has flown by. I’ve truly enjoyed some of my favorite tech tools and apps with you. I hope you give some of them a try because they really can make a difference in assisting or accelerating learning. After all, as the title of my blog states, it is the Learning that Matters Most.

Build a PLN Today!

A PLN stands for a Personal Learning Network. It is different than a PLC. Here is how:

Professional Learning Community

Lorraine Boulos shares the following in her blog, Making Shift Happen. It seems to me the "PLC" has become synonymous with Professional Development and often, it is the principal, consultant, coach, or whomever the "Instructional Leader" is in the building, that decides what everyone needs to learn about.  How and why does this happen?  These instructional leaders are not just being arbitrary. They are looking at student results, looking at the gaps, and then they are using professional resources to determine what is the best strategy to meet the needs to close those gaps.

Personal Learning Network

Jamie Ceruti-Stacy shares the following in her blog, The Left Handed Administrator. From what I can best gather, a PLC is goal and data driven - within the field of education, that goal is usually student academic success. A PLC is basically designed to function for the good of the group. A PLN, however, is designed by the individual, and its purpose doesn't necessarily have to be aligned to that of your school or organization. A PLN is broad, and it doesn't share the constraints of time or location usually placed upon a PLC.

The Key component to a PLN is that it is Personal.

You can make it what YOU want and use it how YOU need. You can add the people YOU want and take for yourself their best ideas. You can access your PLN on YOUR time, not only on specific Tuesday mornings when your administrator sets aside time.

Use Twitter for your PLN

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I’m sure some of you have a Twitter account. It may be dormant, or you thought it was only useful for keeping up with celebrities, athletes and politicians. While those are things you can find on Twitter, if that is something you are Personally interested in, that is not it’s only purpose. Twitter is thriving in the Educational world. I use Twitter for my PLN quite frequently (as you can see in the example below), and I think you should too.

  • If you need ideas for a 3rd grade phy ed lesson, they can be found on Twitter.

  • If you need a suggestion for a chemistry experiment, you can ask your PLN on Twitter.

  • If you are looking for ideas for editing photos and creating collages on a Chromebook, you can get tips from your PLN on Twitter in less than an hour.

  • What is also cool is that your PLN includes others who have their own PLNs. When someone can’t help you but they know who can, they are able to access their network to help, further spreading the web

Recent Twitter exchange across my Twitter PLN

Recent Twitter exchange across my Twitter PLN

How to get started with Twitter

Go to twitter.com and create an account (if you don’t already have one).

  1. Follow me, Follow each other, Follow the school, Follow other educators, Follow your interests.

    • @MilacaWolvesHS

    • @MilacaSchools

    • @JeremyMikla

  2. Search and Connect with #’s (that’s a Hashtag, not a pound sign). There are many hashtags that deal with content across all disciplines and grade levels.

  3. If you are looking for more of the details on how to use Twitter, check out Kathy Shrock’s Guide to Everything

Create a FlexPD plan

While you are away this holiday break, build a PLN on Twitter and I am certain you will come away with ideas you can use to create a FlexPD plan and get the professional development you want from the people you want to receive it from. Twitter also provides an excellent and immediate platform for you to share and collaborate with.

Happy Holidays!

Thanks for hanging with me through the 14 Days of Tech-mas. (click to see the calendar of all 14 days)

Be sure to check out the special Holiday bonus… A blog post by Richard Byrne (Free Tech for Teachers) called 21 Places to Find Media for Classroom Projects

Thirteenth Day of Tech-mas - Google Shortcuts

Yes! Google can make some tasks even easier.

Have you ever been surfing around in your Chrome browser and thought, “man, I wish I could just open a doc right from here, rather than going to my google drive, hitting the create button and then selecting google docs.”

Guess What? YOU CAN! In the url…

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Type - docs.new and you will get a blank google doc

Or type - slides.new and you will get a blank google slides

Or type - sheets.new and you will get a blank google spreadsheet

Or type - forms.new and you will get a blank google form

Want some other shortcuts for using Google Chrome on your Mac? Try these.

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If that still isn’t enough…

Head over to Katie Bell’s Shake Up Learning blog and read her post 45+ Google Tips for Teachers and Students. Guess what you will get? More than 45 tips and tricks using google!

How about one more parting shortcut?

Want to force someone to make their own copy of a document you own, so that they can’t accidently edit yours?

Change where it says “edit” in the url of your google doc to “copy” - See example:

Copy and Share the new link with those you want to Force a Copy with

Copy and Share the new link with those you want to Force a Copy with

Be sure to check out the other Tech-mas Treats.

Twelfth Day of Tech-mas - Clips

Leave it to Apple to make simple filming, editing, and sharing soooooo EASY

Answering the Question: Where are you going?

My simple example of the features in Clips

I bet most of haven’t noticed the “Clips” app on your iPhones and iPads, but now is the time you should. It can be used to create, edit and share short video clips in a matter of seconds or minutes. According to Apple, “Clips is an iOS app for making and sharing fun videos with text, effects, graphics, and more.” It also has several educational applications.

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Want some footage of students working on a project to share with parents (perhaps via Seesaw)?

Use Clips

Want to have students reflect on an assignment or discussion?

Use Clips

Want to incorporate something unique, fun, and creative into an assignment or lesson?

Use Clips

Want to have students video experiments in a science or foods lab?

Use Clips

Want students to demonstrate a new task and have the text appear on the screen as they speak?

Use Clips

Want to record short clips of students singing or performing?

Use Clips

Want to know more about Clips from Apple? Click here.

How does it work?

After opening the app, find what you want to film (either outward facing or selfie), press and hold the record button until you are finished. You can even string several clips together. If you would like you can add clips or pictures from your photos. You can even set a theme using posters. Once your clip is filmed, you can edit it with the effects tools: add a filter, paste labels or emojis, you can add cool animated stickers (like from star wars!). You can add live titles so that the text appears on the screen as something is said. You can add background music from your iTunes library. If you need, you can trim a part of a clip out. When you are finished you can share your video any way you choose, including to your camera roll.

Need to know more? The best thing to do is to try it out yourself.

If you liked the 12th day of Tech-mas be sure to check out the other days. Also there are only 2 days left!

Eleventh Day of Tech-mas - GimKit

Welcome to Guest Blogger - Josh Franklin

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I have looked into GimKit, but Josh has actually used it with his students. I will let Josh take over from here.

What is GimKit?

Do you remember when everyone was playing Kahoot! It was so fun, you told yourself you would use it everyday? Then you got tired of it and you discovered Quizlet, and Quizlet Live. It was so entertaining to watch your students collaborate to answer questions and make learning fun. Then you got tired of it and found Quizizz and the pattern continued. Welcome to GimKit. It might be the next fad in formative assessment gamification, but if used alternately with the other games mentioned above, it could lead to increased student engagement and promote mastery of content.

A new game called Gimkit, which plays like a Kahoot, has students answer questions to earn (in-game) money. Players in Gimkit can then use that money to buy upgrades and Powerups. This game was created in 2017 by a group of high school students in Seattle that wanted an alternative to Kahoot. I would say they hit the mark because my students loved playing the game and were so excited to see who could earn the most money.

As a teacher, the website is very easy to navigate and finding a kit that fit my classroom only took a few minutes. The free version does limit the number of kits you can create, but I was able to find lots of kits others created that I can use in my class. If you use Kahoot, Quizlet Live or Quizizz you really need to check this game out.

How Does GimKit Work?

Check out the video by Jeremy’s friend, Glen Irvin (from Sauk Rapids - also will be the Keynote at Lake ECMECC 2019)

Do you want an awesome alternative to Kahoot and Quizlet live??? - Try GimKit out!!

Some features

  • After every game, Gimkit generates a report detailing what your class needs help on. Individual reports allow you to help specific students.

  • Gimkit isn't only used in a live class setting. You can use Gimkit for homework assignments which are graded automatically.

  • KitCollab allows students to take charge of their own learning! Your class builds the Kit by each student contributing a question.

  • Import any of the existing 200 million Quizlet sets with only a few clicks. Or search and reuse Kits made by other Gimkit users.

Check out some of the other days of Tech-mas on the December Calendar

Tenth Day of Tech-mas - 3 for 1 Deal

What a way to celebrate the 10th Day of Tech-mas

It has been 2 solid weeks of sharing some of my favorite Tech Tools for Schools and Teachers. So I thought, why not give a treat!

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Three Tech Tools shared in one post!!

That’s correct. I couldn’t just pick one to share today.

The Tools today are ones I can’t live without! They help make tasks I do more efficient. Here’s what you will get:

  • 2 Chrome Extensions

  • 1 Email Add-on

Wait - What is a Chrome Extension?

Extensions are add on tools to your Chrome Browser that allow you to perform a specific task. You can search and add extensions to your Chrome browser using the 9 colored dots icon at the top left of the Chrome browser (near the back arrow).

One Tab Extension

One Tab Extension allows you to take all the tabs open on your Chrome browser and consolidate them into 1 tab, which allows you to see them all, and choose the ones you wish to work on without losing the rest. I describe how to use One Tab in the video below.

Dualless Extension

Dualless Extension allows you to split your browser so that you can have two tabs open at the same time, side-by-side. I use this all the time when entering google classroom grades into synergy. Check out the video on how to use Dualless below

Boomerang Add-on

Boomerang Gmail Add-on is a tool for your gmail that helps you in at least 3 different ways.

  • Schedule Email for a later date/time

  • Return an unopened email back to your inbox to open at a later time

  • Send a website address to your inbox to open at a later time

You can see how Boomerang is used in the video below.

Have a great weekend. Check out some of the other days of Tech-mas on the December Calendar

Ninth Day of Tech-mas - Pear Deck

Today’s Tech-mas post is a “Guest Blog” from Mora Teacher, and Pear Deck Expert User, Jackie Stevens. Many of you may have seen her sessions at Lake ECMECC this past summer. ENJOY!

Do you get evidence of learning from 100% of your students DURING your lesson?  It’s possible with Pear Deck!

Pear Deck is a Google Slides Add-on with a “freemium” model (basic level is free, but premium features are available for a cost).  After launching the add-on in a Google Slides presentation, click on “Present with Pear Deck.” A code will pop up for students to enter.  With its most basic usage, Pear Deck will bring your presentation to the students’ screens. As you progress through the presentation, it moves the slides forward on the students’ screens as well.  

However, the real power comes when you add interactive elements to your Google Slides presentations.  These elements include the following:

  • Text - Students provide short answer or paragraph-length responses.

Short Answer Response

Short Answer Response

  • Choice - Students respond to a multiple choice question about your content.

Multiple Choice Response

Multiple Choice Response

  • Number - Students answer a question with a number.

  • Website - Students’ screen enter a split mode with the presentation on one side and a website to explore on the other side.

Website Link

Website Link

  • Drawing (premium) - Students draw on a slide image of your choice.

Drawing Response

Drawing Response

  • Draggable (premium) - Students move an object (e.g. dot, line, math symbol, punctuation) around a document.

Draggable Response

Draggable Response

You can see how all of your students responded to the questions and project a summary of their responses.

By being able to see students’ responses during a lesson, you can easily recognize when reteaching is needed, or when it’s time to move on.  And because the add-on works seamlessly with Google Slides, it is easy to use and add to presentations you already have made!


Special Thanks to Jackie Stevens for her guest blog post!

Eighth Day of Tech-mas Seesaw

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Seesaw has been around for a few years now. I bet many elementary teachers are already familiar with it, even if they aren’t using it. I like to think of Seesaw as the digital version of posting the pieces of work you create at school on the refrigerator at home, but Seesaw actually does much more than that. Check out all the cool things about Seesaw!

Encourage Student Engagement

Seesaw has great annotation tools that allow students to draw over the top of images they take or upload. They can also add links to their images and voice over descriptions of what people are seeing. Additionally, students can also record video demonstrating a new process or describing something new they have learned. All these items are saved in the individual student’s portfolio.

Easy to manage Security and Privacy

Seesaw allows the teacher to decide who gets to see the student created work. They can allow it to share to everyone in the class (and allow for comments/kudos from other students which can be moderated before they are allowed to appear). They can have it shared to just the students parents. With a special code/invite parents can be notified when something new is placed in their child’s portfolio. They even have the option of providing instant comments or feedback: “Way to Go Buddy! That looks awesome! I’m so proud of you!” (See the refrigerator scenario play out here?)

Activity Library

Seesaw contains many premade activities that can save teachers time. They are organized by grade level and subject. You can also search for activities.

Free vs. Paid Versions

The free version of Seesaw allows teachers and students to use all of the basic features you see in the chart below. Seesaw Plus users get all the basics, plus many advanced features which can be found at this link:https://web.seesaw.me/pricing/

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Easy for Students and Teachers to Use

Check out these video to see how Seesaw is being used:

Encouraging Student Ownership https://youtu.be/wFBwSLHIh98

How Students Use Seesaw https://youtu.be/GJ6Bn1wbA0o

Promoting School-Home Connections: https://youtu.be/GJ6Bn1wbA0o

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the 14 Days of Tech-mas by clicking on the links once they become active.

Seventh Day of Tech-mas - Bit.ly

Customize Shareable Links

How many of you have ever clicked on a bit.ly link? Odds are most of you have. How many of you have created a bit.ly link to quickly share with others a webpage, video, or other file? It is super easy to do and with a free account, you can customize the link you create to make it even easier to share with others. Check out the video below (2:30) to see how bit.ly is used.

Seventh Day of Tech-mas (2:30 video)

Remember to check out the other great Tech-mas treats at: https://jeremymikla.com/

Sixth Day of Tech-mas - Adobe Spark

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If you are looking to give your students a powerful creation tool, definitely check out Adobe Spark for Education! I have been using it for a couple of years. Infact, it is what I use to advertise and market my FlexPD courses that I offer. To see what it looks like, you can check out the page again here: https://spark.adobe.com/page/S9DxYmQoPS6YD/ (if you are interested, you can view the FlexPD classes and let me know if you would like to sign up for one:) )

There are 3 iPad Adobe Apps:

  • Adobe Video: allows you to produce great videos which can be downloaded or used in social media or websites

  • Adobe Post: allows you to create beautiful eye-catching graphics

  • Adobe Page: allows you to create simple, visually appealing websites (Like the one created for my FlexPd classes).

Adobe Spark's tools allow teachers and students to create websites, digital stories and videos, and images & graphics. Adobe Spark offers templates for those who are unsure where to start. Here are just a few of the cool things you can do with Adobe Spark:

  • Upload your own images

  • Search within their platform and freely use the images you find

  • Start with a template and customize it from there

  • Editing capabilities with photos

  • Good amount of fonts and formatting options to make the page visually appealing

  • You can embed buttons to take you to other links

  • It incredibly easy to use! I think even younger students would create amazing things using Adobe Spark.

There's NO limit to what you and your students can do with these tools ... and remember, they are FREE!

Fourth Day of Tech-mas - Science Journal

First off, a special bit of thanks to Sarah Kiefer (@kiefersj) for the idea on this one. Sarah is doing something similar to Tech-mas with her 15 Days of Tech You Can Do (check out the link to her blog). I’m not a “science guy” but there are aspects of this tool that get me excited for authentic learning. I mean, how cool would it be for a track coach to measure how fast an athlete can run?

Science Journal by Google seeks to “transforms your device into a pocket-size science tool that encourages students to explore their world. As they conduct eye-opening experiments, they’ll record observations and make new, exciting discoveries.” Check out their 1 minute video below to get an idea of the possibilities of using your iOS device (student iPad) to gather and report data.

Science Journal by Google is available on all types of devices.

Science Journal by Google is available on all types of devices.

The Science Journal website has over 70 different experiment ideas organized by level, equipment, duration and features.

There is also a iOS app for use by students on their iPads. The app capitalizes on the microphone, the compass, the sensors of mobile devices to allow students to use an:

  • Accelerometer X, Y, & Z (in m/s^2)

  • Barometer (hPa)

  • Brightness (EV)

  • Compass (degrees)

  • Linear accelerometer (m/s^2)

  • Magnetometer (uT)

  • Pitch (Hz)

  • Sound intensity (db)

If you like this resource, don’t forget to check out the other tools shared in the 14 Days of Tech-mas.

Third Day of Tech-mas - Edji

If you have students read content from online articles, and have wanted a way to embed questions and record student responses right in the article, then Edji is something you should try. I heard about Edji last year, forgot about it for awhile, then returned to it this school year because of our Social Department’s PLC focus on Literacy this year. Check out this video from Edji’s founder (a Minnesota guy) to see what Edji looks like - it is less than 3 minutes long.

Will shows you how to create your first reading on Edji! Make reading engagement visible, with Edji. http://edji.it/ For additional info on using Edji in the classroom, check out our guides: http://guide.edji.it If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out! support@edji.it

Edji is unique in that it allows for student responses to be text, audio, or emoji (might be helpful for emerging readers, or just something different for high schoolers). I think if you take a look at it, you could find a useful way to incorporate into lessons which involve independent reading. There is a free version of Edji, which just got better. Here is what I received in a recent email:

“Edji has always been a free tool, and that isn't going to change, however, we will be tweaking how the free readings will be delivered. Free users will now have access to most 'Hero' features, including questions, instructions, and comment replies!”

These features will be available for free to everyone starting in 2019. Hero is the paid version of Edji. It costs $5/mo. The social studies department is discussing purchasing this for the remainder of the school year.

You can also see the many great lesson ideas that edji has to offer here:

Click on the image above to see some of the many lesson ideas that Edji has to offer.

Click on the image above to see some of the many lesson ideas that Edji has to offer.

If you have any questions about Edji or how to use it, please let me know.

If you missed any days of Tech-mas you can catch up here: 14 Days of Tech-mas

First Day of Tech-Mas - Edpuzzle

Monday, December 3

Edpuzzle is a fantastic FREE web/app based tool to use to turn videos into engaging assessments. Edpuzzle allows the teacher to take a video (YouTube, Khan Academy, Crash Course, TED talks, etc.), embed questions, comments, and links into the video, and record the responses of students for feedback or grading.

I have used Edpuzzle for the last 3 years, and it keeps getting easier to use, and the pre-made content library keeps expanding. Edpuzzle will take your roster from Google Classroom so that students simply have to log in with their school google accounts. It works well on an iPad in the Edpuzzle app, and also on the web in a chromebook or laptop.

Examples of content from CrashCourse

Examples of content from CrashCourse

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Edpuzzle also lets you use pre-made content in the shared Edpuzzle library. Most videos I would like to use have already been used by another educator and shared to the public library. I can then edit the questions from ones already created so they fit what I would like to assess. In Edpuzzle you can create both multiple choice and short answer questions. The multiple choice ones are automatically graded for you.

There is also a gradebook, which can be used to show the scores of students. It doesn’t let me export directly to Google Classroom… yet (think growth mindset :) ).

Snapshot of a gradebook without the student names.

Snapshot of a gradebook without the student names.

In the words of Edpuzzle: “Use Edpuzzle to make any video your lesson, engage your students to learn in a 21st century tool. Try it today!” I’d have to agree. If you have any questions about getting started or how to use it, let me know. I used it so much that I was invited to become an Edpuzzle Coach. Be sure to check it out here: https://edpuzzle.com/

Be sure to check out the other days in the 14 Days of Tech-mas

14 Days of Tech-Mas

I have been re-inspired to create the 14 Days of Tech-Mas for teachers at Milaca Public Schools. Each school day leading up the the Holiday break, I will share 1 technology tool with some insight on how to use it in the classroom. I’m not expecting them to be used everyday, nor am I expecting everyone to use them all. I hope that by the time we leave for break, that you have explored a couple of them and have given some consideration to how you could use them with students. Hope you enjoy! Use this link to check out the days so far: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1SB_7ukY1AlLhCI9l50Yzp11dvR54fGlQ3xLbCzI9GMg/present?slide=id.p

Changing the Learned Helplessness of Educators

This post is the third in a series for the #IMMOOC book study on Katie Martin’s book, Learner Centered Innovation. This week the focus is on changing traditions that don’t work anymore.

Professional development in many schools, including Milaca, traditionally have taken the form of one-and-done, sit-and-get workshops. We have brought in many “experts” who came to share their ideas about what should be done in the classroom. In the past 19 years, very few of these have stuck.

One of the first I remember was on standards assessments for the Minnesota Profiles of Learning. We were trained for three hours about what represented a 4, 3, 2, or 1. Then we broke for lunch and in the afternoon met with department members so we could practice assessing using the new scale. These assessments were never discussed again after this day and the Profiles were scrapped after my first year of teaching.

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Another training was called CARS, which stood for Content Area Reading Strategies. Honestly the name is all I remember from that training. The biggest problem was that it was a three hour guilt-trip about how it is not just English Language Arts teachers that are responsible for teaching and developing readers. It’s too bad, because improving reading strategies in the classes I teach is now something I would like to improve on, and I think that workshop could have helped.

The tradition of the one-and-done, sit-and-get, and one-size-fits-all professional development for teachers has come and gone and needs to be limited or eliminated from education. This has a direct impact on the learning experiences we give our students because if teachers are expected to learn in that style, they will expect the same to work for their students (see my post Teachers Create What They Experience).

Despite this, there are many teachers, some of whom I work with, that want the path of least resistance; they want the easy road; they want to be left alone; they want to return to their rooms to grade papers, prep a new unit, or create elaborate bulletin boards. While each of these have their place in a teacher’s workday, they can also get in the way of providing the teachers with their own authentic learning opportunities.

The worst part of the traditional professional development is that it creates a culture for educators of “learned helplessness.” According to Katie Martin in her book Learner Centered Innovation, “Too many kids put in little effort and just wait to be guided, which is also known as “learned helplessness” (p. 135). Replace the word “kids” with “learners” and you could just as easily be referring to teachers. Without buying in to the goals of the training, teachers withdraw. Their minds wander. They begin thinking about all those other things they could be doing.

“If we want to close the gap between how we say we want learning to look in schools and how it actually looks, we must change how we design learning experiences for students and educators” (#LCInnovation, p. 137). Allowing for teachers to engage in their own personal learning experiences to further develop their strengths, or find other areas in which to grow, will provide opportunities for teachers to #ChaseCuriosity. Teachers will then encourage personal learning for their students, which will allow them to #ChaseCuriosity also.

Applying Katie’s 8 Questions to Create Personal Learning Experiences (#LCInnovation, p. 147-149) to the learning of teachers can help us create innovative, new Professional Development. We need to start by recognizing that each teacher is an individual, with individual needs. Then we need to allow teachers to develop and own their own professional learning goals. Providing necessary support to teachers is essential. This can be done by participating in Professional Learning Communities, working with an Instructional Coach, or seeking out other resources they may need. Finally, making learning visible is essential in this type of professional development. If we don’t share what we learn with others, do we really learn anything?

Not all of the responsibility for changing professional development lies in the hands of teachers. Our schools and administrators have perpetuated the traditional model because it serves some of the needs they have to make sure all teachers get the same messages. In this way, they encourage the “learned helplessness” of teachers. This helps to explain Katie’s message that, “the reason we don’t see more schools devoted to meeting the unique needs of each learner is that we are still operating in systems where standardization is deeply ingrained in our procedures and policies” (#LCInnovation, p. 149). Changing the culture of a school is no simple thing, but there are other ways to spread a consistent message, while at the same time allow for individual personal opportunities. Flipping a staff meeting is one that comes to mind.

Jennifer Gonzalez, in her Cult of Pedagogy blog post called, OMG Becky. PD is Getting So Much Better!!, lists suggestions for schools to try if they wish to change the traditional model of professional development. I would add to this one other suggestion, which we are currently using in Milaca, the FlexPD model. Flex PD is an opportunity for teachers to personalize their professional development. Teachers are given 15 hours, two contracted days, to engage in growth opportunities in areas of interest and need. If interested, I describe this in detail in another post called The FlexPD Project.

I think all of these suggestions would help alleviate the “Learned Helplessness” of teachers and lead to empowering opportunities for professional growth where Learning Matters Most.

Instilling Pride and Achieving Excellence

This post is the second in a series for the #IMMOOC book study on Katie Martin’s book, Learner Centered Innovation.

Most districts have a vision statement, but few know what it is or use it to guide their work.
— #LCInnovation p. 97

I remember a couple of years ago, our Superintendent formed a committee and hired some consultants to help formulate both a Mission and Vision Statement for our school. At the time I was aware of both. Since that time, I had forgotten the Mission Statement, however, I am daily reminded of the Vision Statement: “Instilling Pride and Achieving Excellence.” See this picutre? That’s the classroom I use everyday. I do love the classroom; the wall of windows is amazing.

Outside of Room 218 at Milaca High School

Outside of Room 218 at Milaca High School

We also have a district Mission Statement. I’ll be honest, I had to look it up on the school website:

Mission Statement:

To educate, empower, and engage all students to become caring and responsible citizens who will succeed in an ever-changing world.

Do the decisions made at district, building, or classroom levels align with our mission and vision statements? Or have they just become words that look nice painted on a wall in the new addition of the school?

I really don’t think there is anything wrong with the statements themselves. They were developed in a very collaborative process which included students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. They set a purpose and include goals of what we want for our students when they leave the school after 13+ years of education. However, I don’t feel we live up to these standards we set for ourselves. I’m certain that Milaca isn’t the only district not to live up to these standards, so while I might be directly discussing my school, this shouldn’t be viewed as an indictment of Milaca alone.

In her book, Learner Centered Innovation, Katie Martin discusses 3 common themes for why districts don’t fully live out the visions they create: No Buy-In, Multiple Visions, and a misalignment of Accountability Focus.

The first is a lack of buy-in. Either decision makers (includes: administrator and teachers) don’t know what the vision or mission statements are, or they have no connection to them. Either way, the vision will not be seen in the decisions made which impact student learning. The fact I had to look up what the mission statement was is a testament to the fact that there is little buy-in. I’m certain I am not the only member of our staff who would struggle with that one. Also, even though the words of the Vision Statement are painted for all to see everyday, how much thought has really been given to what the words mean, let alone, pondering how we can create opportunities to put these visions into practice?

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The second problem faced has to do with having multiple and competing visions. I don’t feel having both a Mission and a Vision Statement is causing identity issues for Milaca. I think what has failed to happen however, is what Katie suggests must take place: “Each school, team, and department should take time to define what the vision means for them and how their work is guided by it.” In Milaca, there is not clear consensus exists on what “Instilling Pride and Achieving Excellence” means. I fear the decisions we are making, and the actions we are taking, are instead “Instilling Compliance and Achieving Conformity.” Each month we have a High School Staff Council meeting that turns into a place for others to air their grievances, and it’s not even Festivus (see the Seinfeld reference there).

  • Do students need a make-up slip when they were absent?
  • What about cell phones?
  • Should kids be allowed to wear hats?
  • Can kids carry backpacks? - By the way, the handbook says “no” to backpacks. My response to kids is to tell teachers it’s a purse; they’re not banned by the handbook.

The message each of these sends could have something to do with Pride - if the message was delivered correctly, but the message which is received being received by students is about compliance. We could engage kids in conversations about signs of respect and that wearing a hat in a building is a sign of disrespect, but instead what we do is yell at kids to “Take that off!” - hardly a prideful response.

The third problem schools face when aligning decisions to their mission and vision statements has to do with accountability. Schools put admirable and desirable goals into their statements, but then hold people accountable in ways that don’t align with the intended mission or vision. Our Mission in Milaca includes empowering students to be caring and responsible students who will succeed in the world of the future. I really like this part of the statement. However, there is a disconnect between what we say and what we do. Students are prepared for passing state mandated tests, using curriculum designed to give them the skills to pass the test. Teachers hold fast to countless standards prescribed by the state of Minnesota as benchmarks they cover. Very little is being done to empower teachers, and as a result, even less is being done to empower students.

As I said above, I like our Vision and Mission Statements. I don’t think the problem lies in what they say or the goals we should strive for. Where we fail is in the implementation and application of those in driving the decisions that are made. Not only can we do better, but we MUST do better. As a classroom teacher, I should be asking myself with each lesson, if this is something that will educate, empower, and engage my students. If I am honest and answer no, they I must adapt the lesson to align with the Mission, or I must scrap it and replace it with something that does. #ChaseCuriosity. As a Technology Integration Coach, am I locating and providing the tools which will help teachers accelerate the learning of students? If not, what sort of help or assistance can I provide to empower teachers? If I were a principal and running a staff council meeting that is turning into a gripe (replace this word if you wish) session, I must redirect the group and remind them of our vision, so that the focus shifts to those ideas that will Instill Pride and Achieve Excellence. #LearningMattersMost

The question I keep coming back to is this:

Are your systems designed for people to comply and implement your programs and policies, or are your systems designed to empower people to learn, improve, and innovate?
— #LCInnovate p. 57

This isn’t a unique struggle to Milaca, it is one that permeates our educational system. I know it can’t be fixed overnight, but beginning to move our decision-making into alignment with our Mission and Vision is a step we can all take in the right direction.

Teachers Create What They Experience

Recently I began season 4 of the #IMMOOC experience. If you haven’t checked it out before you should. This is my third time participating in the Innovation Journey with thousands of other educators across the world. It is some of the most energizing professional development I do all year. This year, as part of the program I am reading and reflecting on the book, Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin. Each week contains a choice of different blog prompts. This week, I chose: Why is it critical to spark curiosity and ignite passions in learners?

In the introductory chapter, called What If?, Katie says, “If we want to change how students learn, we must change how teachers learn.” This really connected with me because I often work with teachers as part of being a technology integration coach. I see some fantastic teachers who really find ways to connect their content with kids. They are creative and innovative and I really admire them. I also see teachers that are stuck. They are afraid to evolve. They resist challenges to try something different because it was “not they way they learned.” As Katie puts it, “Many teachers rely on the models of how they have always taught, despite the resources at their fingertips or those of their students.” Teachers create what they experience.

This is a part of education that we need to change. To change it, we need to change the way teachers learn.

Our students need empowering and authentic learning experiences which stretch their thinking and promote creative solutions. Students become passionate learners when they are given the opportunity to #ChaseCuriosity. Teachers become important to these learners not because they are the holders of some special content which is release in small doses, but because they are the ones who guide students to ask critical questions, then assist them along the path of discovery as solutions are sought to real-life problems. To get to the point where students are given this voice and choice, we must first allow teachers to have the same experiences with their own learning that we want for the students. Teachers create what they experience.

We need our teachers to have empowering and authentic learning experiences that stretch their thinking and promote creative solutions. We need to empower teachers to be part of the problem/solution process with innovations that must take place in order for student learning to flourish. Teachers need opportunities to explore their own curiosities and find ways to bring their passions into the classroom. After all, what good does it do the world if you keep the best ideas for yourself. Teachers must feel supported to take risks. Some may need to see the safety net; some may be ready to jump in head first, but they will all need to know someone will be there to help them if they need it. These same things are needed from our students. If teachers experience them first, they will recognize the benefits and begin to expect them from our students. Teachers create what they experience.

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Every teacher is different. They teach different ages or levels of kids. They have different areas of content specialties. They have different areas of need and different areas of strengths. Therefore teachers need personalization of learning as much as students do. They need to be offered choice and voice in their professional learning opportunities. Give them the chance to explore their strengths even deeper and the learn ways to grow in their areas of weakness. Flexibility in the when, where, and how teachers learn should be the guiding principle. At Milaca Public Schools, we have taken two days of the calendar that teachers no longer need to show up for work. Instead, teachers to create their own learning plans for professional growth and development. They do two days of learning when they want, where they want, and how they want. If you are interested in the FlexPD model, please check out my earlier post about how we have instituted this at Milaca Public Schools. Teachers create what they experience.

What a perfect heading that Katie Martin uses on page 8 of Learner Centered Innovation. She also has a great TEDx Talk on it. Teachers DO create what they experience. As Katie says, we have not just an opportunity, but rather an obligation to change how students learn. If we are serious about what to change how students learn, then we must first change how teachers learn. If we want to spark curiosity and ignite passion in students, teachers must be the ones that first #ChaseCuriosity and model that #LearningMattersMost.

Flipping the Roles of Student and Teacher

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher asked if I would take over his 8th grade class to introduce iMovie and the features it has so that they can use them for a video project they will create over the next few days. At first I was pretty worried and I was ready to have a conversation with him about how it shouldn’t just be all about the app and that you must start with a curricular goal, then find the best tool to meet the learning objective in the most engaging way possible. I didn’t say that right away, instead I listened to what his objectives were, and I had to agree that using iMovie would be a very creative and unique way for students to demonstrate the learning he wanted. I then said I would be happy to lead a student training on the use of iMovie.

As I started to prepare to lead a lesson for 8th graders, which is pretty scary when you are used to working with seniors, I was inspired by a story told by Carl Hooker in his book, Mobile Learning Mindset: The Coach’s Guide to Implementation. He recounts going into a First Grade Classroom where the teacher had asked him to teach kids to use an app called Chalkboard. Carl had never used the app before this and had never even heard of the app. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to disappoint the teacher and the class, so he began with an “exploratory” period, where students just played around with the app. Pretty soon, there were some students who started “getting it” and began showing off the features of the app to their friends and neighbors. Some students were becoming frustrated because they didn’t understand, and soon they were being helped by the emerging student experts. Near the end of the exploring period, Carl started asking kids questions about Bats: what they looked like and where they lived. Kids were then encouraged to draw a bat and a cave, using the new app they just taught each other how to use. Carl describes,

In the period of 30 minutes, the class had gone from an exploratory lesson, to one with some direction, to one where the students were the lead learners (and teachers)
— p. 54

What Carl was demonstrating and describing was that,

Empowering learning moments happen for everyone when the roles of student and teacher become reversed.

This was the experience I wanted the kids to have while learning iMovie. Knowing that they would have enough class time to work on their project for the teacher later, I thought they would have more fun trying to learn something new, something most of them wouldn’t know how to do, juggle. I put 3 objectives on the board as we began: 1) Learn how to juggle, 2) Document your learning process using the iPad, and 3) Play around with the app, iMovie.

The students partnered off and began to work. I provided each pair with 3 kleenexes and instructed them to document their learning process by having a partner videotape them. Students played around with this for a good 10 minutes, taking turns behind and in front of the camera. They had a blast. They laughed, they struggled, and even one was able to conquer!

By the time 10 minutes was up, there was some frustration, so I asked students, where do you go for help when you don’t understand something. “A teacher” was the quick answer, but then I pressed for more. Eventually we got to YouTube and then searched for videos about learning how to juggle. Students were then sent off again for more exploration, more practicing, and more filming.

After about 10 more minutes we then had plenty of footage to begin playing around with to utilize the features of the app. I spent about 5 minutes demonstrating how to add clips, cut clips, trim clips, add voice-over audio, and add text titles. The final 20 minutes of class was spent editing their new videos documented how they learned, or failed to learn, how to juggle. I also encouraged students to continue exploring other features of the app and if they found something “new” to call myself or their teacher over to show us and explain how to use it. We would then announce it for the class and students then began checking that out too. My favorite one was when one girl called me over and said, “LOOK! It has FILTERS. It’s just like Instagram.”

Overall, it was really amazing to watch the students really get into it. After the class was over, the teacher came up to me and said, “This was perfect. I can’t believe how much I learned and how much the kids showed me what to do.”

Empowering learning moments happen for everyone when the roles of student and teacher become reversed.

Epilogue moment: I dropped in on the class today as they were beginning work on their actual project and 100% of the kids were not just engaged, but 100% of the kids were innovating in their own ways, ways I hadn’t even considered.

Creating the Class I Want to be a Student In

In the past I have written about two of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. Check out my post about What is Resiliency and How Collaborations Have Made Me a Better Teacher. Recently, I have been coming back to a third of those characteristics: Creation. The inspiration to write on this topic came from the Week 2 of Season 3 Innovator’s Mindset #IMMOOC blog post ideas.

Part of the 8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset by George Couros

Part of the 8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset by George Couros

Innovators design, they iterate, they build/experiment, they redesign, they iterate again, and they rebuild/re-experiment. It is an essential part of the learning process. We need to view ourselves and our students as Innovators, as people who want to create new and better learning experiences. These creations aren’t just physical products, but they can also be new and better ways of thinking, mental models, processes, systems, or a variety of other things.

As teachers, one thing we NEED to create is the type of classroom that we would like to a student in. This becomes a central theme for George Couros in his book, Innovator’s Mindset. Couros highlights a passage from the Center for Accelerated Learning, “Learning is creation, not consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates… Learning is literally a matter of creating new meanings…” These new meanings are created by making connections. Connecting previously learned material with new in ways that personalize learning for students fosters deeper learning.

As a Technology Integrationist, I believe tech will most definitely help students make these connections. If I were a student in my class, I would expect the teacher to effectively integrate technology in (almost) EVERY lesson. To leverage technology in meaningful ways however, teachers need to push themselves and their students to get beyond just consuming and regurgitating content they find online or in digital sources. Think of how many digital worksheets we have students complete. How is a student supposed to personalize this and create new and more meaningful learning? I’m just as guilty of using these digital worksheets as anyone. There is a time and place for such low-level SAMR substitution, but there needs to be the realization that it isn’t leveraging technology to its fullest possibilities to increase learning. These moments should be chosen carefully and cautiously. Would I want to be in a student that only used their technology for guided reading? NO.

If I were a student in my class, I would expect Voice and Choice. I would expect the teacher would create opportunities for me to find my own path toward learning. Allowing students the opportunities to choose their own ways to demonstrate and express learning in meaningful ways is accelerated through the use of technology. 1:1 devices (we currently use iPads in Milaca) are full of creation apps, video and photograph tools, and recording possibilities. These tools allow for students to express themselves in their own “voice.” Allowing students to choose the best ways to share their learning experience while also empowering them to work through the creative and innovative process of design, iterate, build/experiment, redesign, iterate again, and rebuild/re-experiment.

Would I want to be a student in a classroom where I am able to creatively express my learning and use it to spark new ways to #ChaseCuriosity? Most Definitely.