Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Tools to Personalize Learning

Check out a few other posts about personalizing learning. Personalized Learning: Before you Begin & Personalized Learning in Action 

The means to personalize education for students drastically changes with access to technology. I wanted to share some tools I love to use to personalize learning in the classroom.

Before I jump into the tools, I wanted to point out a few things.

  1. The tools themselves do not personalize learning. What's important is the opportunities created by the tools. These tools give pathways for students to access content and express their learning.
  2. Start with what you have and see if it will meet the students' needs before signing them up for another account or downloading another app.
  3. Introduce the tools slowly and give the students sandbox time to play before adding content. You don't want the tool to get in the way of student learning.

All of the tools listed below will help students access the content and can be used on any device.

Power My Learning allows teachers to explore content to make playlists for students. Resources come from reliable sources like TED-Ed, Library of Congress, Scholastic, National Geographic and many more. When working with iPads, you can select a search option that only shows iPad compatible content.

Classkick is a whiteboard app that allows the teacher to see the students screen in the dashboard. The major bonus is that the teacher can put feedback on the screen in real time. Students can also raise a virtual hand to get help from the teacher or others in the class. It is a great app to allows students to be working at their own pace while still tracking their understanding.

Blendspace allows teachers to create a variety of activities that can be housed in one place to create a complete learning experience. Students can easily move through a variety of activities to meet their learning style and allow them choices in how they access content.

PlayPosit or Edupuzzle are similar platforms. They allow you to edit videos, insert checks for understanding, and track student progress. These are great tools to use along with flipped videos made by the teacher. They also work great with other programs like Blendspace to create a complete learning experience.  

  • Forms- Create a form using data validation to allow students to assess their learning to see if they are reaching targeted goals. 
  • Docs, Sheets, Slides - Students can collaborate together using these tools and the teacher can add in feedback and track progress. 
  • Hyperdocs- Use Hyperdocs to create an interactive lesson using the components of the 4Cs to allow students to explore and engage in the content. 
By using these resources, it will give the teacher the ability to get appropriate resources to students to give them independence and choice in their learning, while still keeping them accountable and providing guidance and feedback.  

Monday, May 7, 2018

Next Year Will Be Better

As the year is coming to a close, I have been reflecting with many teachers. One common idea that tends to come up with teachers is that this will be easier next year. I don’t want to burst their bubble, but it won’t be. Next year will be different. Your students will have different needs, you will have different initiatives to put in place, different materials to work with, and different strategies to implement. 

This quote is from Autumn Calabrese on a beach body workout video, but it completely applies here. When you are on a weight loss journey, you have to work hard, but once you have reached your goal, the work doesn’t stop. You need to maintain and adjust when it is not working. This is the same with teaching. You should constantly be trying to find that perfect balance of strategies to meet your students' needs, then maintain it once you have found it, adjust when needed. So the work we do as educators will not get easier, but have the power and believe in yourself that you will get better. You will get better in implementing district initiatives, you will get better at developing new strategies, you will get better at seeking support, and you will get better at meeting your students needs to help them succeed. Next year will be better!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Kicking Off A Month of #TECHinELA tips

I have been looking for a way to share and archive ideas on ways to enhance reading and writing through technology.  I have been inspired by Megan Ryder's "365 days of EDU Coaching" and Leah ODonnell's "25 days of Classrooms" about a variety of classrooms implementing exceptional teaching practices. I have learned so much from these posts. So starting today, I am kicking off a tip a day on using technology to enhance concepts in English Langage Arts. I am using the hashtag #TechInELA on twitter to tweet out one idea each day in the month of January. I will also be using my blog hashtag #TeachingandLearningRedefined and #NowClassrooms, so you can follow in a variety of places. Each week of tips will focus on a different broader concept, which are reading comprehension, writing & publishing, communication & feedback, speaking & presentations, and listening, to help organize and give a focus for the 31 days of tips.  The tips are meant to enhance ELA instruction and many will improve media literacy, however, these tips and resources can be used across most subject areas and a wide range of grade levels. These tips are stemming from ideas I have used or seen in action in classrooms which I work.

As the month goes along, please share ways you have used the tips or other ideas that you have. It would be great to see these ideas start conversations about how simple practices can enhance learning for students. I'm excited to share for the next month and I hope it enhances your instruction!

Jenny Lehotsky

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Kicking Off Innovative Thinking with BreakoutEDU

Our school district is entering our sixth year in our 1:1 Apple device program. That means the students in 5th-grade were in Kindergarten during our first year in the program. They entered the public school system with a smartboard in their classrooms and a device in their hands. 

One of these 5th-grade teachers, Lori Horne, wanted to use Breakout EDU to help build community at the beginning of the school year. After looking over a few, we both just loved the "Totally Radical 80s Time Travel Adventure," mostly for our own nostalgic reasons. Who wouldn't want a reason to dust off the overhead projector and dig the floppy disks out of that storage closet!        

Cassette tapes, overhead projector, and Oregon Trail clues for 80s Breakout EDU

The purpose was to build community with the activity, but as her class embarked on the Breakout EDU adventure, it did more than just build community. The premise was Carmen San Diego snuck into the classroom over lunch, stole the iPads and replaced them with 80s technology. Now the class of "gumshoes" has to use the clues to solve the mystery and save their iPads! Students discovered how to use an overhead, had to figure out the name of floppy disks, and explored music on cassette tapes. It was like watching scientists discover a new species as they studied each object with wonder. As we had fun watching them discover what once was considered innovative, this also set the stage for a conversation about past, present, and future technology to get the students thinking.   

Student discovering an overhead projector, and even trying to insert a disk into it!

The activity was a great opportunity to show the students the technology that was innovative early in our teaching careers. The conversation after the activity held the real power. The students were able to reflect on the growth of technology in the last 30+ years. As they look at the technology they have today, some may think that this is the best it can be, others will think, there has to be a better way. These are the innovators of the future. The students sitting in front of us are the generation that will take it even further. To do this, coding, engineering, and computer science are essential skills to keep our society moving forward. Students need to have the mindset to solve problems that we don't even know are problems yet.

In Lori's class, she is setting the stage for the year and creating innovative thinkers. In her class, these students will experience design thinking, coding, and STEM activities design to get them to analyze the world around them. I am grateful we have the resources to supply them with these activities and teachers that have the capacity to do so.   

It makes me wonder about schools where this type of retro technology is still the norm. Cassette players with books on tape, overhead projectors, and TVs on carts. Is this the environment that is going to prepare the next generation of innovators?       

We left the students with the thought that the iPad in their hand today is the worst technology that they will have available to them. George Couros shared this idea as he spoke at iEngage Berwyn in 2016. Technology is only going to get better. It is up to them to solve problems that we didn't know were problems and get them thinking about the world around them so they can make it better. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Start Right Now - Know the Way

Welcome to the second post of the #D100BloggerPD book study of Start. Right. Now. Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. Over the next few weeks, bloggers from Berwyn South School District 100 will reflect on chapters of the book. This is leading up to our iEngage Berwyn Edtech Conference, where Jimmy Casas will be one of the fantastic keynote speakers. If you missed it, check out the first post for chapter one on the fabulous Kristen Richey's blog Reading and Owl the Above. Let's get started!


I had to laugh as I read Kristen's reflection on chapter one because I had already written a very similar paragraph about the enthusiasm of the authors. I agree that immediately as I read this, I can't help but envision Jeff and Jimmy speaking with enthusiasm on these topics since I have had the pleasure of seeing them speak. In the hour I have seen, they were very motivating and that comes through in the words of this book. I also envision many of the administrators in my district embodying many of these principles.

The second chapter is appropriately titled "Know The Way" and revolves around the immense focus and knowledge strong leaders possess. Great leaders, not only admin but teacher leaders too, are truly special people that share certain qualities. The authors explain that they know that excellence is a blend of the art and science of teaching.

This chapter explains that leaders bud from people that "know their stuff" and are masters of their craft and that is evident to others. This is out of a commitment to ongoing learning. They start with the "Why?" and steer the ship in the direction of "Where?" keeping what's best for students in their focus. Not only do excellent leaders know their stuff, but they know themselves. They know when to ask for feedback, when to make adjustments, and how they are perceived, but they know they don't know it all.  They have a confidence without being cocky and build up others as they build themselves. They clearly communicate their non-negotiables and know when to say no, if a task doesn't align with their focus.

Another interesting point that struck me was the fact that we have the same amount of time. It is a common complaint amongst educators that there is never enough time, but how we effectively use it is another key to excellence.

As I read, one thing is obvious. Great leadership takes time to cultivate and patience to develop. It takes commitment and hard work for the long hall to plan for success.

Above all, excellent leaders, truly care and believe in the work they are doing down to their core. It is hard. It is exhausting. It is worth it. I found these messages inspiring, positive and motivating.

At the end of each chapter, there is a section that highlights 4 teachers and 4 leaders modeling these principles and 4 resources to explore. I have had the pleasure of learning in person from Kirk Humphreys and Maureen Miller and they are great examples to illustrate various qualities in this chapter.

Reading this makes me reflect on my father-in-law, Bill Lehotsky, Sr. Bill was the assistant principal of Riverside Brookfield High School. He passed 9 years ago and retired 14 years ago. He was retired by the time I came into the family, however, his love for education was still evident and his legacy still lives strong in the RB community. I can't go far without someone recognizing my last name and associating it with him. In the last few weeks alone, two people have referenced Bill's impact on them. Why? It is because Bill knew his stuff, he knew himself, and most importantly he knew the people and put them first. He was an excellent educator that still affects the lives of those he touched and that is clear in conversations with students he had over 40 years ago that still talk about him today. THAT is an excellent leader.

And with that, I am off to build my confidence, learn more about my craft and build relationships.

Check out the posts for chapter three from two strong, proud leaders Sue Butler (iShift) and Jordan Garrett (iLearn) on April 4th.  Join the conversation in the comments below or on twitter at #D100BloggerPD and #StartRightNow.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Earning a Learning Permit for Social Media

I was having a conversation over twitter with a colleague the other day about the limits of social media use for students under 13 years old. The mindset is often that since they can't have an account, they can't do anything with social media.  Students absorb so much from seeing something done, but social media can be invisible to a child when it's on a device and often it is deliberately kept away from them.

From a very young age, children are exposed to the role of driving a car. By the time they get their license, a large majority of children have been riding in a car for over 16 years. At 3 years old, my daughter understood the meaning of the red, yellow, and green stoplight and likes to remind me from the backseat. We need to find ways to expose students to social media before they are able to create their own accounts, just like they are exposed to driving before they get their license.

Listening to Jennifer Casa-Todd speak on George Couros's podcast, I was reminded of the importance of showing students the right path in social media and allowing it to set the tone for a positive extension of themselves. At 15, her daughter was in a job interview for a part time job and was asked what could be learned about her from social media. We don't want that answer to be negative or nothing at all. Geroge and Jennifer have both been inspirations to create digital leaders. Jennifer has a new book coming out soon called "Digital Leadia" and I'm excited to check it out soon.

So, how do we prepare students for social media before they can get their own account?

1. Post as a class account. Students under the age of 13 can use a google form to share tweet ideas with the teacher, then the teacher can tweet them out. Annie Forest used twitter in her sixth grade math classroom after being inspired by Alice Keeler to use a google form to allow students to send her tweets to add to the class account. Check out her blog post about it.

2. Show students the class twitter account. This step may seem obvious, but can be easily over looked. The connection needs to be made between information they are giving the teacher to post and how it is impacting others. Pull up the feed daily and explore what other classrooms are doing on twitter regularly.

3. Have online discussions in a student friendly platform. Using the discussion platform in class learning management system or google classroom is a safe place for students to practice sharing ideas with others online. They can see how their words can reach an audience. It gives them a feel for online interactions and a new platform to share their thinking.

4. Get started with blogs. Blogging is a thoughtful way to get students to start to build their online presence while experiencing sharing to a global audience. The key here is sharing. Share out student blogs on your class social media page to actually give the students the audience they are looking for. Encourage them to share their blogs with others.

5. Teach and model what to do when you come across inappropriate comments on social media. Is this someone you know? Would it make the situation better or worse to respond? Would sending a private message to the person be appropriate? When is it time to tell an adult? Explore these situations with students to help them problem solve issues that they may come across with social media.

So, let students be the backseat drivers of social media before they get their 'license.'

Monday, March 27, 2017

Try it! You just might like it.

Innovative ideas often get written off out of fear. Fear of doing it wrong, failing, or that it won't impact student learning. Or maybe because it is an idea that seems old or been done, or the examples you saw didn't seem that impactful. It is easy to write off an idea that you have never tried.

Just like getting children to eat a new food, try it and you might like it. I have had a few conversations recently about different innovative practices in the classroom.  I am in two book studies right now and we are using sketchnoting as a tool. Drawing for me is uncomfortable. It is a skill I have plenty of room for growth. I learned about sketchnoting last year and thought that looks amazing, for people that can do it. The more I learned about it from watching others like Leah O'Donnell, the more I wanted to try it, so I pushed myself to start "sketching" at conferences. I put it in quotes because it was more writing scribbling than sketching.     

My First Sketchnote

Fast forward to this year and I have 36 sketches in my Paper 53 app from conferences and books. Now, I get it. I see the power of how ideas can be synthesized and I often look back at my sketchnotes to refresh my mind on the topic. In the past, I would rarely go back to my notes or highlights in a book. The quality of my drawing isn't the point. I often find myself thinking deeper about the content and visualizing it to deepen my learning. It is improving my thinking and that's powerful. 

My Lastest Sketchnote

We were recently having a meeting on a book we are reading with the coaches across the district. Many were hesitant and felt vulnerable to sketchnote, as I had felt last year. I got a few compliments on my sketch and had to laugh because I didn't realize how I had grown as a sketchnoter. I reminded a colleague that we ask students to do things every day that are uncomfortable for them. There is a lot of power in the strategy, encouraging her to try it. Well, this morning she copied me on an email to her entire building sharing her sketchnote and offering to help them implement it in the classroom after seeing its power.  This shows the immense power of our ideas, how they can spread, and the importance of trying a practice for ourselves.  

Now this example was about sketchnoting, but that is just one example of something that we can't see the power until we try it. Think about something that you may have written off that keeps creeping back into your mind. Give it a shot. You may just find the power within it to redefine learning for you or your students.  You don't have to be better than the person next to you, just be better than before.