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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in your class seem like they block you out of everything going on in the outside world, and your class feels isolated, withdrawn, and disconnected.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.

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