Join Us in Celebrating Digital Learning Day on February 5th!

Can you imagine education without technology?  In order to prepare the next generation for college and for their place in the workforce, it is very important that students and teachers embrace the benefits that modern instructional tools can provide.

This is why thousands of educators answer the “call to action” and join the celebration of Digital Learning Day each February.  A national event designed to allow educators to gather virtually to share and discuss the successes and challenges that they are experiencing with integrating digital tools in their classrooms.

To help build this awareness and to promote enhanced instruction with modern technology tools, join us by participating in national Digital Learning Day which is scheduled for February 5, 2014!  The online event will feature demonstrations, interactive lessons, presentations, resource sharing, tips, and even tricks designed for classroom educators that possess a passion for incorporating powerful digital tools into their lessons.

Here are some ways you can participate…

I hope to see you participating and making a difference with digital learning on Digital Learning Day!

-Doug Caldwell, EdS, is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

Comedians and Life Lesson’s

Life lessons and aha moments come at unexpected times. Yesterday, as I ate lunch, I watched the first episode in Jerry Seinfeld’s newest project called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I loved the Seinfeld show and continue to try and see Jerry Seinfeld in action.

Click image for source.

Click image for source.

The gist of this new show is that Jerry selects a car based on his “guest”, picks them up, they travel around catching up, and eventually stop for coffee. In this episode, he was catching up with his Seinfeld show friend, Michael Richards. As I listened, they began talking about the success of the show and their craft. At that point in the conversation Michael started to cut himself down saying he studied too hard and should have been more relaxed about preparing. He implied that others had fun and he didn’t because he felt that preparing took so much practice. Immediately, Jerry stopped him and said, “I don’t accept the judging of process.” He continued by stating, “we are all trying to get to the same island.” He then finished with, “what matters is when the red light comes on” … “our job is to make sure they enjoy it”. Jerry and Michael go on to talk about how it’s about working selflessly not selfishly and the importance in remembering that.

That is teaching in a nutshell…selfless not selfish. Our goal, as teachers, is to leave kids in a better place than when we get them. Each teacher has to prepare in the way that makes him or her feel ready to “perform”, to put on the best show possible. As I have reflected back on what I heard them say, I have wondered…in what ways might we support our-self and others in doing just that? And more importantly, how can we build each other up and not tear each other down with judgment as we all work to achieve that same goal? How can we be a positive influence and not a negative influence?

What I choose to take from this conversation is this: we each have to do what we feel we have to do to prepare, we must respect that in ourselves and others, and we must presume positive intentions of others, because we all have the same audience and the same goal. That audience, those kids, deserve our very best. Parents, communities, and the world are depending on us. We are all here for the same reason doing what we can. As Maya Angelou said, “When we know better we do better.” We are all doing best we know how.

So as many of you, my friends, go back to begin a new year with students, my hope is that you take care of yourself, you take care of each other, and give the kids the best experience possible. Make sure they enjoy the journey you get to share with them.

*Coincidentally, I heard about Comedians in Cars Having Coffee on NPR as I drove home from some class visits last spring, and yes, it took me this long to get back to it. I will be watching the rest of the episodes. Who knows what else I might learn.

Brooke Higgins, occasional blogger, is an eIS for the eMINTS National Center working with eMINTS teachers. All of her posts, including this one, can be found at The Higgins Helps blog.

HD_Links: Classroom Management

Central School classroom, interior, with students and teacher, Auburn, October 29, 1909

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As the fall moves along, students become comfortable with their new classrooms, teachers, and schedules. Teachers, lulled into asleep by a relatively easy start to the school year, begin to let norms and procedures to slip. The result is a sudden influx in disruptive behavior. This causes teachers to revisit their classroom management. Sometimes it’s just a matter of needing a change and other times it’s a moment to get back to basics.

For those looking for classroom management answers in the middle of October, we have a list of resources for you to check out…

Alfie Kohn is a leading expert in behavior management and educational policy. His website is loaded with excerpts from his many books on these subjects. Order his books from his site or simply follow him on Twitter for some insight into what research says about child development and behavior.

At Teacher Reboot Camp, guest author Alexander Marchuk proposes that the answer to managing behavior (among other factors) is to search out new ways to involve parents. Instead of simply blaming parents, Marchuk offers examples of how increased parental involvement has resulted in better student performance and behavior. When we look for management solutions, we often look at the student and our own teaching practices, but we forget the power that involved parents hold.

David Altshuler wonders if a student’s behavior is more likely tied to the richness of curriculum than to other factors within the student. This post is mostly intended for parents, but it provides a good framework for teachers to assess their curriculum and instructional practices. Are we engaging students enough to hold their interest so that they don’t act out?

NT&L favorite Larry Ferlazzo offers a couple of good resources for answering the classroom management question. On the Classroom Q&A blog for Education Week, Larry gives several valuable tips for addressing disruptive or “unpredictable” student behaviors. This is extremely valuable as every management system breaks down now and again. We need strategies to deal with such behaviors immediately.

The second piece from Larry is on his Website of the Day… blog. Here, he points to an article on how Steve Jobs changed his management style in order to allow his company to thrive. Jobs relinquished some control in order to involve his subordinates. Maybe giving up some of your own control will allow students to become more involved in how their classroom community functions effectively.

NT&L contributor Krissy Venosdale has an interesting post on rewarding gifted students. Although not specifically about classroom management, it addresses the idea that teaching is about addressing individual needs, not seeing how many races can be won or hoops can be cleared. We all know that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that students can’t attend to academics until their basic needs are met.What needs do disruptive students have? How can we address those needs so that they can concentrate on learning?

How do you manage your classroom so that students can learn in your classroom? What are you doing to readjust your management to meet evolving student needs? How are the norms holding up that you established with your students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

4ALL: The Respect Issue

BMS classrooms

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eLearning online course designer Candy Lindsey shared this article from Educational Leadership and had this to say:

All teachers as some point in time feel that respect is an issue in their classroom.  An article in Education Leadership shares stories about when disrespect turned into respect.

The stories shared in the article are encouraging anecdotes of educators turning the tables on disrespectful behavior. Suggestions given include keeping one’s cool, focusing on kindness, and never giving up. Each anecdote is short but powerful in demonstrating just how teachers can take back some power in those situations where parents and/or students feel it’s okay to show disrespect.

An example of the kinds of stories is below:

Show How Respect Looks

During my last year working in an elementary school, I worked with a 6th grade teacher to address her students’ blatant disrespect. We began by focusing on body language. We practiced “poses” and discussed what each one conveyed. I would ask for a specific attitude, such as “bored,” and the class would show it by how they sat or slouched in their seats. We agreed that slumped stature and rolling eyes were not ways to show respect. We then discussed word choice and tone. Combining their knowledge of body language, tone, and word choice, the students worked in groups to produce two skits for different scenarios. One skit showed how it looks when a person does not show respect; the second demonstrated how different the situation can be if a person does show respect. The students enjoyed the experience, and expressions of disrespect decreased in the classroom.

—Liz Shockey, literacy specialist, Smekens Education Solutions, Warren, Indiana

Although the seasons have changed, it is not too late to foster an environment of respect in your classroom. Read the stories in this article and search for ideas that will work in your classroom. There is so much good information straight from educators that it’s hard to imagine there’s not something in there that can help any teacher struggling with a disrespect issue.

What are practices you employ to institute respect among your students? What part does classroom community play in improving respect? Which anecdote is most helpful to you?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center and he can always count on Candy for some good teaching resources.

Tuesday’s Tool: Online Tool Roundup

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This busy week has caused me to fall behind with the posts. So, for the online tool feature, I will give you five six for the price of one. Enjoy…

Students have a difficult time putting into context statistics involving large numbers of people. The BBC now offers How Many Really?, an online tool that allows one to put historical and current statistics in a context students can better understand. There are options for using Facebook or Twitter lists for comparisons, but one can also enter their own number of people (maybe a classroom’s worth) in order to see how these statistics would play out in a smaller, more manageable context. One could visualize how many of their Facebook friends would have died at Gettysburg or how many would be homeowners.  via Larry Ferlazzo,  via Infosthetics)

SafeShare is the tool for which schools weary of questionable YouTube content have been searching. With SafeShare, teachers can enter a YouTube URL and the tool will filter out ads, related videos, and comments. This makes YouTube a much safer resource for the classroom.

WikiHow has always been a fantastic resource for the how-to’s for almost anything. WH’s list of commonly misused words is just one example of how this site can be used as a help tool for your students. The list links to easy-to-understand anecdotes and definitions that explain when and where a word is best used. Now, there’s a simple way to explain the difference between “affect” and “effect.” (via EdGalaxy)

Chrome Experiments brings us the Web GL Globe, a tool that allows us to visualize world data in a prety slick, 3-D image of the earth. There are a few globes already submitted on the site, but it is easy to grab the Java Script and insert your own data sets.

Moritz Stefaner has created a fantastic real-time visualization tool of Twitter content. Simply enter any topic and the tool demonstrates what’s being said on Twitter in a constantly-updated timeline. It’s easy to keep up with nearly any trending topic with this tool.

Over the last few days, new tool to help with classroom management has been floating around the eMINTS discussion list. Class Dojo is an online tool that allows teachers to keep track of both positive and negative behaviors during class. Students might be rewarded for participation or helping others. Conversely, a teacher can track negative behaviors such as disruptions or missing homework. Data is collected in nice inforgraphics for the entire class as well as individual students. This data can then be easily shared with stakeholders for each student. One can even remotely record data with a smart phone, although no app seems to be available at the moment.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

HD_Links: Teaching Students How

Train-classroom

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Much of what we teach students at the beginning of the school year consists of simply teaching them how to do things. This week’s list of links will help you access some resources for such activities.

Larry Ferlazzo does a guest post at Education Week Teacher on how to teach your students to listen, probably the most important skill they’ll learn in school. As is typical a Larry Ferlazzo post, there are lots of links to additional resources to help you with this important endeavor.

When using online tools, it’s important to explain what the tools are and how they work. The Common Craft YouTube channel contains a large number of pertinent and timely videos that explain everything from right-clicking to blogs to Google Docs. Also, all of it is done in “plain English.” Check out the fun video they did on surviving Zombies below…

Need to create effective tutorials? Tildee is an online tool that can help you create online tutorials with screenshots for various projects. This might be an excellent resource for that WebQuest you’ve been working on that needs tutorials for the more technical aspects of your project. Click over to EdTech Toolbox‘s site for a more detailed explanation as to how Tildee can help you guide your students through technical tasks.

Whether you use Facebook or not with your students, it’s important to teach them about privacy and safety issues, especially for those students 13 years or older. All Facebook shares an up-to-date list of privacy features every student (and maybe a few teachers) should have in his or her back pocket. (H/T Teach Paperless)

Whatever you plan to do with your students this year, the important thing to remember is that you’ll have to teach them how to do it. A recent study by Robert Marzano suggests that “unassisted discovery learning” is an ineffective instructional approach. However, the same study suggests that “enhanced discovery learning” is very beneficial. Unassisted discovery learning would be an approach where students are given a scenario to study while given very little or no content and no guiding process. An enhanced learning discovery lesson involves preparation and providing guidance along the way. In other words, students perform better with guidance or being taught how a process or tool works. (H/T Larry Ferlazzo)

What are the important “how to’s” you plan to teach students in the early days of the school year? How do you teach your students to follow procedures? What are the best ways to guide students to reach their goals?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Friday 4ALL: Build Your Community Now

Teaching is a hard, hard job. After a teacher has completed paperwork, planned lessons, taken attendance, greeted parents dropping off their children, made phone calls, sent book orders, put up bulletin boards, updated websites, organized manipulatives… she still has many other responsibilities not specifically cited in her contract. This is why spending the extra time to build community is so important.

Building classroom community is as important as passing out text books and assigning seats, maybe even more important than those processes. A strong classroom community allows a teacher to be able to try cooperative learning structures, creates an atmosphere of success, and often helps in lowering the instances of misbehavior. More can be accomplished when the students have a good relationship with their teachers and each other.

Community building can be accomplished in several ways. First, there needs to be a concerted effort for students and teachers to get to know each other. We tend to work better with those we know as compared to strangers. Ways in which this can be accomplished is through get-to-know-you games and displays that introduce students to their community.

Collaboratively creating classroom norms and procedures is a second way to build your classroom community. Not only will students have a clear understanding of classroom expectations, they will also feel ownership in how the class operates. This can be done at the beginning of the year with the understanding that revisions can be made to fit every situation.

Team building is a close cousin to community building. Whenever we place learners in small groups, it’s best to do something to help them build rapport and teamwork. There are hundreds of team building games all over the internet. Use one every time you divide into teams as an ice-breaker.

Whatever you do this school year, remember that building a strong community will make your job easier in the long-run. It’s never too late to build community, but it gets harder as the year goes by. So, do something today to build your classroom community!

What do you do to insure a strong classroom community? What have you done today to build classroom community?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Create Norms with Your Students

On quarter of the eMINTS instructional model is dedicated to building classroom community. One way in which we do that at the very beginning of our training sessions is to allow our participants to set our community norms. The expectation is that these participants will turn around and do the same with their own classrooms. Create community or group norms is a way in insure that students feel some ownership in how their classroom operates.

I recently stumbled upon a blog post by Krissy Venosdale, an eMINTS teacher from Hillsboro R-3 (MO), who follows and believes in this approach. She moved from setting her own list of rules as a beginning teacher to letting the students help her make the rules. Eventually, with the help of her eMINTS training, she made the shift to norms and created the eye-catching and inspirational poster you see below.

In Our Classroom

The biggest difference between rules and norms is how they inform our behavior. Rules tell us what not to do and is why they normally come from a place of authority. Norms tell what to do and are agreed upon by a community. The focus moves from restrictions to possibilities and from teacher-centered to student-centered.

There are many ways to create your classroom norms, but I have a few suggestions to get you started:

  1. Ask students: What kinds of behaviors will help us make our classroom an efficient learning environment?
  2. Have students brainstorm a list of possible norms.
  3. Together, you and your students can look for commonalities in pairing the list down to something more manageable, like six or fewer norms.
  4. I like to provide one norm that is important to me as a way to demonstrate my expectations for norms.
  5. Norms should be written as things people do in order to be successful, not the things they won’t do.

Take a moment and think about how instituting norms in your classroom can have a positive impact on your learning environment.

What are some ways in which you have utilized norms in your classroom? When are rules more appropriate than norms? How have you come up with norms with your students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. His favorite norm for his teachers is for them to “be present.”

Tuesday’s Tool: Classroom Architect

As the year winds down, many teachers are already thinking about next year and planning the space their new community will fill. They may be moving to a new classroom, getting an eMINTS classroom, or just looking into creating a new feel in their current classroom. Classroom Architect might be the tool to help create a new classroom environment.

The Classroom Architect tool from 4Teachers.org offers a simple interface to help teachers create an online floor plan of their classroom.  Before beginning, measure the room and take inventory of the items you would like to arrange. Then visit the Classroom Architect site, plug in the dimensions, and start dragging and dropping items on the grid. Additional items and labels can be added using the draw feature.  When it’s finished, print the diagram and start moving furniture.

Get students in on the planning and teach measurement, map scale, grids, along with 21st Century Skills in Learning and Innovation or Life and Career Skills areas, and technology standards such as having students use technology tools to use critical thinking skills to solve problems and make informed decisions.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog. A big “thank you” goes out to Diane McCormack, a PD4ETS Graduate and Instructional Technology Facilitator with the Affton Public Schools, for sharing this great resource.