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Thursday, April 30, 2015

5 things I have learned in last 5 months since starting at UEN

I got hired at the Utah Education Network on Halloween of 2014, I started working in December. The past five months have been a fantastic ride in which I have learned a lot about so many different aspects of education. It has been neat to be able to go to different districts around the state and meet hundreds of dedicated educators making a difference to their students daily. It is interesting to see how the different districts handle the intricacies and evolving technologies and overall landscape of education. It has been refreshing to see different and creative approaches to solving the complexities that come with education.

Here are the top five things I wish I had known before I started at UEN:

1. Network of teachers
2. Noodle Tools/Pioneer Library
3. Culturegrams
4. World Book Encyclopedia maps
5. Canvas modules

Teaching is tough, for so many reasons. Just knowing what is effective, what is a good use of time, what is free, what is worthwhile, is important in not only planning but actual implementation of everything you do. Sometimes the four walls in your class seem like they block you out of everything going on in the outside world, and your class feels isolated, withdrawn, and disconnected. Knowing that there are others with your same struggles outside your class and school walls is invigorating and helps you feel connected. One thing I have definitely felt is the vast web of educators, especially in Utah that are doing all they can to be the best they can be. I don't mean for that to sound cliche or even trite, I love working with educators and find them to be thoughtful, determined, and compassionate. There is a weekly forum for Utah educators to connect, share, and meet other like minded individuals from around the state and even nation. Wednesdays at 9 pm using the Twitter hashtag #UTedchat educators from around the state connect and have a weekly topic that drives discussion. The UCET conference is another great opportunity for Utah educators to share ideas and connect with other Utah teachers. Held annually around spring break this conference focuses on effectively using technology in the class. I always get a lot of great ideas, but perhaps more important is the network of educators the conference connects. I have met many great teachers from around the state at UCET. Another option is taking professional development courses and signing up for other conferences. I would encourage anyone to do so not just for the knowledge, but for the opportunity to meet other people as well. There are many ways to connect with other teachers. Find a way that works for you, and remember while it might be okay for you to be a hermit its not okay to disconnect your class from the outside world. Get connected and you will find that there is a fantastic web of educators in your own backyard.

Free tools are great, really good free ones are even better. Pioneer library and Noodle Tools are two such options that I wish I had known more about. It's funny, now I can't really imagine doing a research project without using either. Pioneer library has many great resources, among the free tools are databases for research. Rather than have your students do a Google search and either pick the first site, or look up Wikipedia, Pioneer has easy to use academic articles that are easy to cite and include in research. Honestly there is no need to have students search out there on the world wide web when the state has such a great free resource in Pioneer. Among the tools is one called Noodle Tools which helps students organize, cite, research, and write their own paper. This is the tool I wish I had known about. It's intuitive and easy to use and will change the way you and your students use the internet for information.

Culturegrams is a fabulous part of the Pioneer family. It is social studies based and has so many great capabilities for any age student. You can look up any country and get information and then compare that with other countries. One of my favorite uses is to have students make and compare their own graphs and tables. Just about any data you are after is available for comparison. If you are having students learn about particular places or compare and contrast places, this is the place to go for information.

When I was much younger my parents bought a set of encyclopedias for our family. I would use them for reference or just to learn about stuff. However they were static and limited. To stay relevant encyclopedia companies have had to adapt to the changing landscape. I like the a lot of the features in World Book, but my favorite and the one I so wish I had known about was the outline maps. Most maps I had were from the text book company and all of them were limited in some way. The last textbook the district purchased had the worst maps of any book we had ever used. World Book offers the ability to print your own outline maps, which is really nice. What is even better is that they are high quality and just what you want. You also have the option to have them include the names of places or not.

I started using Canvas three years ago. At that time I was figuring it out and trying stuff here and there, I liked it, but didn't see it for all that it could do for me and my classes. Over the past couple years I blended more and more of my class, and really liked the results. One thing always bugged me though and that was it always felt chaotic and messy. Since coming to UEN I have realized how much modules can help not only organize, but declutter and arrange your Canvas in an orderly and clean fashion. As much as I like having a cleaner Canvas, students really like the look and feel and organization of modules. As the teacher you can lock modules until a certain date or upon completion of certain assignments. I always felt like my Canvas looked like a messy desk with folders and paper all over. Modules have helped me organize the material and arrange my class in way that is clean looking and easy to navigate. If you don't use modules, you should, I guarantee that you will like it and your students will too.

There are plenty of other things I have learned over past months but these are the top 5, if you aren't using them I suggest you investigate and learn more about the free tools that are there for you and your students to use. If you feel like you need some help getting started, feel free to contact me or the UEN professional development department, after all this is what I do now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Augmented Reality in Education

If you haven't heard of augmented reality, here is a quick video:

When I first downloaded the Aurasma app and pulled out a $20 I thought this was as cool as anything I'd seen. I remember the Harry Potter movies with the moving pictures and thought well now there's an app for that. There was a lot of wow factor with apps like Aurasma, but I didn't really know how to make this work in my class. Sure it was cool, but that's not really a reason to use it in class. There has to be educational value other than the cool factor. I was interested, but I had a lot on my plate and didn't really have time to play around with an app and try to figure out some way to make it educational. The UCET conference was at the start of April and is always a great time for new ideas. I saw a class on the agenda about augmented reality and thought that it was time for me to take a more in depth look at augmented reality and see how other teachers were using it in the class. You can guess that since I'm writing this post that I found what I was looking for.

What I was after was practical application and use of the app. The cool factor makes augmented reality unique, but there has to be educational value in using it. After UCET I did a lot of research on my own and have come up with the following list of ideas. There are two lists one for the school as a whole and one for individual classrooms. This list is by no means comprehensive and I have taken many ideas from other sites and compiled them here. If you have other ways to use augmented reality in the class, feel free to comment to add to the lists.

For the school:
Faculty Pictures: Tag the faculty pictures with teachers introducing themselves. You could have them tell the school what book they are reading among other interesting topics.
How to videos: Create how to videos like opening a locker or how to navigate the lunch line. Set these up at back to school night so that parents and students get to know more about the school.
Library Book Reviews: Create a section in the library where students can find books in which other students have given reviews. This would work as a great way to get rid of the traditional book report and give students an authentic audience to share their book review again and again.
Student of the Month Showcase: Students could record video and tell the student body about their favorite things.
Yearbooks: Parts of the yearbook are brought to life with video from actual events. Remember when the girls volleyball team won the championship? Now you can relive it again and again.
Deaf and hearing impaired: What a great way to have your deaf students express themselves. Lots of possibilities with augmented reality.
Staff Meeting Agendas: Quite a few ideas here, you can tag items on the agenda or have an item on each table with the agenda.
Back to School Night: What a great way to get students/parents excited about school. You could have a scavenger hunt, school tours, how to videos, interesting school facts. Endless amount of options.

For the teacher/student/class:
Word Walls: this is a nice starting point for using A.R. in the class. Take the vocabulary words (this will work in any class, not just English) and have your students make each word into an aura. Great way for your students to learn the vocabulary without realizing they are learning.
Reports: Students research and write a report about a topic they then record some highlights about their topic and make their report much more interactive. You can have your students researching, storyboarding, making a video, doing voice overs, and finally creating an A.R. moment to go with their report. Sometimes projects can drag, but by having it broken into bite size parts and having a carrot at the end of the stick (the A.R.) they will work through the drudgery to get the carrot.
All About Me/Meet the Class: I have seen this assignment in every grade K-12 and with A.R. it can really come to life and add a personal touch you wouldn't get any other way.
Virtual Field Trip: There are so many options with this activity: you could print off pictures of a place and have students create an A.R. for each picture/place, you could link video to each picture that gives background information to preview a book or topic, really you could use this in just about any way you wanted.
Flashcards: I'm not sure there is a more practical way for students to get engaged in studying and learning the material than creating interactive flashcards.
Homework with mini lesson. Teachers make the actual assignment into an A.R. You could give a brief explanation/summarize the assignment and/or show how to do a few of the problems. Students would be able to watch the A.R. over and over until they understood it.
Rubrics embedded on the assignment: You could link the rubric to the assignment and then students would be able to have the rubric with them and view it as many times as needed.
Scavenger Hunt: I loved creating and doing scavenger hunts with my class, especially in the spring when the weather was nice and testing was over. The problem I always had was things got lost throughout the day, misplaced, or even stolen. Being able to tag and object with a clue would be such a great way to have your students complete the scavenger hunt.
Preview material and give extra commentary: You could find places in the text that you want to highlight with either more commentary or give essential background information. This is a great way to have your textbook come to life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

5 thoughts to be more positive: The thin line between venting and negativity

We've all been there; had a bad day, students didn't listen, lesson didn't go well, students misbehaved, trouble on the home front, seems like nothing will go right, etc... Sometimes we have to talk about it, or vent. There is something to be said about talking about our problems. Somehow it gives us some control back, even when it feels like things are spinning out of control. There is a relief that comes with this, our problems can be reduced and managed by talking about them. We gain some semblance of peace back in our lives.

Then there are those days when we have to do more than vent. We complain and we belittle. We twist the notion of venting and turn it into a pity session. We seek relief by tearing down others. We get to the point where we need things to go wrong to validate our negativity. Instead of venting and releasing some frustration for how our day went, we pour more fuel on the fire and aren't satisfied until we burn others in the flames.

We have to be careful that we don't allow ourselves to get to point that we are becoming the problem. Negativity can and will tear you down. Bitterness and anger will lead to misery. Our attitude about a situation is probably more important than the actual event itself. Many people have come from tough circumstances and made a great life and are happy despite dealing with less than desirable events. Other people spend their entire life miserably hung up with every little thing that goes wrong. Its the classic glass half empty and half full way of looking at life.

None of that is really news, an important reminder, yes, but nothing new. But here's where I worry. When we begin to be negative about our job, or students, or other staff it will become very hard to look at things objectively. If I am upset about a student and talk about how much they annoy me, it becomes increasingly harder for me to effectively work with them. Sure this student can be a problem, but my attitude about them can make things worse. If the faculty room has become a place where venting has turned into venom it may be time for a change of scenery and attitude.

Being a teacher is tough, dealing with people all day is never easy. However, if we look negatively at students and other staff members we will actually make our job harder. How can you really help out a needy student if you continually complain about them? End of the year is tough and some of those things our students say and do become more and more frustrating. If we talk poorly about them, there is no way that it won't affect the way we treat them and work with them. Our venting session can become a bastion of negativity and affect our performance with not only a particular student, but every student as well. We must make sure we don't cross that line.

One of the things that has helped me over the years are a few thoughts I was lucky enough to pick up early in my career. These sayings/philosophies have helped not to get to the point of negativity:

1. Treat every student like they are your favorite. This thought alone is transformational and solves many problems before they exist. Think about the effect if every student really believed that they were your favorite. Not only would they try to live up to that expectation, but you would see much more of the good in them than the not so good.

2. My grandmother was a songwriter/musician. One of my favorite songs that she wrote was called "Make it a good day" The overall message is the same as what is stated in the title in that you have some say into whether it will be a bad or a good day, so do what is necessary to make it a good day.

3. Never have two bad days in a row. One of my core thoughts was that I would never allow two bad days in a row. I found that when I changed what I did, how I interacted, my attitude, the lesson, how I handled situations; I was able to solve most things myself. Sometimes though I needed to get after a student and help them fix themselves, every once in a while this might extend to the whole class.

4. "How can I help this young man/young woman out?" The first job I had was with an extremely difficult population to work with. One of the staff was always able to help calm down the mood when people were getting negative. If you have this thought when talking about difficult people (or just any person) it will help you see them as a person and you will be much more likely to see past faults.

5. Forgive. One of the most powerful things you can do for yourself is to forgive. We all make mistakes. None of us wants to have every misdeed we have done held over our head. We hope that others would forgive us when we fail to live up to expectations. We can give ourselves a great gift by doing the same for others when they let us down or make mistakes. Education is as much about helping people pick themselves up after failing as anything else we do. Forgiveness is powerful and creates an atmosphere of improvement, not one of punishment.

End of the year can be tough, don't make it tougher by being negative. Choose to be positive and lead by example. Your students and fellow staff will appreciate the guidance and try harder to live up your example.