Bring the World to Your Classroom: Videoconferencing

By Bryan A. Upshaw

My worst grade in high school was in Spanish I. Our teacher was tough, and the pace was blistering. I struggled to learn the vocab, grammar, and odd verb conjugation charts. I found the culture interesting, but the rest of the class was just frustrating and seemingly pointless to my future. Guess what subject I mainly teach now? That’s right – Spanish. What turned my worst grade and most frustrating class into my career?

Getting to see the world outside my little East Tennessee community and building relationships with people who at first seemed so different from me changed the way I saw the world. I was inspired to travel abroad, learn a language, join a local Hispanic church, and live with an undocumented family my last semester of college. Those relationships and experiences made language learning fun and transformed pointless grammar exercises into real-world challenges that unlocked boundaries that separated people.

How can I show them the world when we can’t leave our classroom?

I share my stories with my students and perhaps it inspires some to consider traveling one day, but how can I motivate students right now? How can I show them the world when we can’t leave our classroom? In my opinion, one of the most underused tools in education is videoconferencing. While expensive systems with fancy cameras and monitors can make it seamless, most teachers already have the resources to videoconference. If they have a smartphone, tablet,  or computer, then they probably have everything they need!

As a foreign language teacher, I use videoconferencing in my classroom in many different ways. For example, my friend in Nicaragua, Emanuel, converses with my students. My sister shares stories about her semesters abroad in Nicaragua and Honduras. Another friend, Garret, has talked from Germany about his year abroad in Argentina and how it helped him to learn German and get a job with BMW. My students love hearing stories from guest speakers projected in the front of the classroom. They have fun asking questions and always learn something new. Continue reading

5 Back-to-School Teacher Tips for a Brilliant Year

By Angel Rutledge
CMO and COO of SignUpGenius

With young minds to inspire and lessons to plan, every moment in your day is valuable. As you prepare to welcome your new students, plan ahead for the year. By tackling organization before classes begin, you’ll ace the back-to-school transition and be ready for what’s next. Check out these tips to save time and stave off stress, and you’ll get the year off to a genius start.

1. Think Beyond Back-to-School

Sounds simple enough, but planning ahead can help you focus on the things that matter most throughout the year. Create a back-to-school checklist for the first month of school and a master calendar with holidays, vacations and important dates such as parent-teacher conferences, field trips, teacher training and early release days. Plan your curriculum around the calendar, and jot down ideas for classroom décor, bulletin boards, and fun activities.

Don’t wait until the sniffles strike to prepare for a substitute. Get a general plan together so things will run smoothly if you’re out sick. Include a few ideas for icebreakers, books for story time, and some games to review previous lessons.

2. Start Out with Strong Parent-Teacher Communication

Building trust with your parents is key to a successful year. Reach out to parents the first week of school to encourage questions and share your preferred method of communication. Invite your room parent for coffee, discuss a plan to accomplish your goals and ideas for the year, and communicate needs such as classroom volunteers.

When creating a wish list of classroom essentials or scheduling parent teacher conferences, forget the chain of reply-all emails. Instead, use an online sign-up service. That way you won’t have to worry about whether parents saw an email and the sign-up can be updated in real time as time slots are taken and lists are filled.  Continue reading

‘A Child’s Relationships with Technology’

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Students Visit Other Countries – Without Leaving NZ from RNZ, 23 June 2017

High school students in New Zealand are piloting a virtual reality foreign language app. They can visit other countries and learn languages without leaving New Zealand.

When ELA Tools Can’t Adapt to Students’ Native Language by Jen Curtis, EdSurge, 29 June 2017

Curtis looks at some of the issues involved in creating translated online materials for English language learners. She focuses on Spanish/English and the difficulties of translation between these two linguistically different languages. Edtech companies are trying a variety of solutions, but even with good translations, there can be problems. Sometimes the level in the translated version may be beyond that of the original English text. Another issue is that some learners may not be literate in Spanish despite being Spanish speakers. Some online platforms have decided that good support in English is more useful than translations that may not be accessible to learners.

Navigation of Computer-Based Tests Matters for Young Students, Study Finds by Benjamin Herold, Education Week, 30 Apr. 2017

Herold reports on a research study conducted by American Association for the Advancement of Science, which found that while high school and college students showed no significant difference, elementary and middle school learners did not perform as well on computer-based tests that did not allow them to “skip, review and change previous responses” as they did on computer-based tests that do allow this and on paper-pencil tests.

The Role of Relationships in Children’s Use of Technology by Jeremy Boyle, The Fred Rogers Center, 23 Feb. 2017

Boyle looks at how the conversation about children and technology has shifted from whether children should use it to how they use it. Since the Fred Rogers Center focuses on relationships, Boyle makes the connection to a child’s relationships with technology and with other people.

3 Reasons Apps Foster Effective Learning

By Marie Mérouze
Founder and CEO of Marbotic

As technology continues to evolve, it’s not surprising that apps are starting to be incorporated into daily classroom activities. With more than 80,000 apps considered “educational” in Apple’s app store, educators will never have a shortage of applications to use with students while teaching various lessons.

And, while most educators welcome the regular use of applications in classrooms, some educators and even parents are hesitant to leverage technology to support curricula. However, when used in the right way, apps can complement lessons and help teachers. A recent study found that the use of tablets and apps improved both classroom learning and engagement. There are many reasons, and here are three:

Enjoyment

It’s been proven that the release of dopamine has an effect on students’ desire to learn. Dopamine is released when students are engaged in an activity they enjoy. For example, when they play an app that is fun, the released dopamine encourages them to keep learning to maintain the level of enjoyment. When learning feels like a chore, many students lose interest in the lesson. With apps designed as games, learning is no longer a chore but, rather, a fun activity.

In order to avoid apps that are solely for entertainment, I recommend apps that are not distracting to the learning environment. When classroom apps are carefully reviewed, students will have fun and look forward to playing games while learning at the same time.

Diversity

These days, educators are stretched thin. They’re working to provide the best possible classroom learning experiences for children, but the problem is that students learn in different ways. What works best for some children might not work for others. Thus, the introduction of a variety of applications provides different ways for students to learn.

Some students learn best by writing things down. Others, with visual games. Still others, with tactile activities. Because apps are so versatile, they can address various learning styles without the need for educators to print a wide range of worksheets.

Repetition

Repetition is not only a key component of learning, but it reinforces it. Contrary to popular belief, repetition doesn’t have to mean doing the exact same exercises again and again but, rather, engaging in practices that work the same skill group.

On the one hand, while worksheets are a prime practice tool for lessons, they’re typically a “one and done” activity. On the other hand, apps are meant to engage students again and again. Beyond being environmentally friendly, apps provide reinforcement each time they’re played – especially apps that automatically adjust difficulty levels to match ability. Quality apps for the classroom usually incorporate a wide range of activities for different levels, providing fun, new ways for students to grow again and again.

At the end of the day, apps aren’t solely about entertainment. They can be helpful in the classroom, too! When looking for complementary activities to support lesson plans, don’t forget to consider apps and how they can positively enhance the learning environment.

Computational Thinking, LiuLiShuo & Audiobooks

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Why Computer Science Education in K-12 Settings Is Becoming Increasingly Essential by Mehran Sahami, The Huffington Post, 14 Sep. 2016.

Is computer science for everybody? In this blog post, the author reminds us that in today’s world, computer science goes beyond programming for programmers. It is more and more part of our everyday lives. The author asserts, “This is the reason we don’t talk about teaching CS as just teaching ‘programming,’ but rather as a means for students to develop ‘computational thinking’ skills.”

Ex-Google Guy Builds English Teaching App That Adapts to Student by Selina Wang, Bloomberg Technology, 13 Sep. 2016.

Chinese parents spend quite a bit of money for English lessons for their children, then find out that their children don’t speak English very well. In steps LiuLiShuo, which means “speaking fluently,” an app which incorporates gaming and social media into English learning. While it has its critics, it also has 30 million (yes, million) users.

Audiobooks Can Support K-12 Readers in the Classroom by Kate Stoltzfus, Education Week, 19 Sep. 2016.

Audiobooks have been around for quite a while, and their usefulness for struggling readers has been supported by research. With the growth of digital media, audiobooks are becoming even more important as a tool for learners, especially students who have trouble reading. A study by the American Association of Schools Libraries in 2012, which focused on elementary students, found that “audiobooks improved students’ reading scores, increased students’ positive attitudes about their reading ability, and offered students more personal choice in what they read.”

NZ Education Minister Proposes Reform to Launch Schools Into the 21st Century

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

It was just a matter of time, and it’s now finally happening. The online revolution is breaching the walls of K-12 schools. New Zealand Education Minister Hekia Parata is behind an Education Amendment Bill, introduced in Parliament this week, that will make it possible for “school-aged children…to do all their learning online.”1

“The fact of the matter is,” says Parata, “young people now operate in a world where technology and being connected is a norm for them. We want to make sure our legislation going forward provides for those options.” She adds, “Because this is the 21st century we want to make sure New Zealand kids are digitally fluent and they can take advantage of technology.”

Parata and Sewell

Hekia Parata, New Zealand Education Minister, and Karen Sewell, Te Kura board of trustees chair.

Karen Sewell, Te Kura board of trustees chair, strongly supports the amendment. She says, “Students could choose to learn online or face-to-face, or a mix of both, and have access to a much broader range of subjects regardless of the size and type of school they’re attending.”

Needless to say, many in the traditional school establishment are alarmed and up in arms. Angela Roberts, Post-Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) president, says, “There are two wildly incorrect assumptions that underpin this idea. One is that online learning can substitute for face-to-face, and the other is that a more competitive market in education is going to lead to better results. Both of these fly in the face of all the evidence.”

The outcome of this bill is yet to be decided, but I’ll be watching its progress closely. At this point in time, whether it passes or not is not as significant as the fact that the process of online reform has begun at the national level in a noteworthy school system.

Vigorous opposition from the status quo is to be expected, but the world is changing rapidly and traditional classroom-based models are becoming increasingly difficult to justify for a school-age population that’s been immersed in technology from birth.

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1 All quotes in this post are from Jo Moir’s “Government Education Reform Focuses on School-aged Children Learning from Home,” Stuff, 23 Aug. 2016.

80 Percent of K-12 Schools Now Using Digital Content

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

A study by ASCD and Overdrive, Inc.,1 is being released today (1 April 2016). Digital Content Goes to School: Trends in K–12 Classroom E-Learning is available for download here. Here are some of the highlights:

1. More than 80 percent of K-12 schools and districts are now using some form of digital content — including eBooks, audiobooks and digital textbooks — in the classroom.

2. Of the 80 percent of respondents who report using digital content in their schools or districts, four out of 10 are using it as part of their curriculum.

3. Devices used for digital content: laptops (75 percent), tablets (62 percent), personal computers (49 percent), and smartphones (17 percent).

4. Contributors to this growth include recognized benefits such as the ability to deliver individualized instruction, allowing students to practice independently, and greater student attention/engagement.

5. As digital content continues to transform the classroom, the concept of a personalized, individualized model of schooling becomes more feasible, according to the report.

6. “Devices bring more knowledge to students’ fingertips than the teacher can give, so the traditional lecture model is no longer applicable. We want content that will engage students and the ability to introduce flipped classrooms with content that students can access at any time, at any place” (Kahle Charles, executive director of curriculum, St. Vrain Valley Schools, Longmont, Colorado).

7. The two issues cited most often were equity concerns about lack of Internet access at home and the fear of teachers not wanting to go digital, including teachers not comfortable or effective with digital learning.

8. Across the board, teachers most desire English/Language Arts (ELA) content in digital format (74 percent), followed by science (62 percent), math (61 percent) and social studies (56 percent).

9. Survey respondents report that digital content currently occupies about one-third of the instructional materials budget and the use of digital content continues to grow.

10. This report is based on a survey of more than 2,000 administrators at the school or district level in the U.S.

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1 Overdrive, Inc., is a provider of eBook and audiobook platforms for schools.