With every new January comes new hopes, new resolutions, and new cars in my gym parking lot. Seriously. One gym I belonged to actually had valet parking to accommodate the rush of eager exercisers after the new year hit.
This weekend, as I tried to stick with to my own fitness goals for 2017, I was struck with just how much the gym actually mirrors what we do in the classroom. Every day we walk through the door, we push ourselves to be the best that we can be in order to see results. But, in the classroom, gains are not measured on a scale or in a gym selfie. They’re measured in the smiles of our students.
So, here’s my thought. For the rest of the year, let’s all be like a gym in January. Let’s catch the excitement that a new year brings and generate the same enthusiasm in our students. Let’s harness the promise of possibility and apply it to our lessons. In other words... let’s take what we do in the weight room and make it work in the classroom.
10 Lessons from the Gym We Can Bring to Our Classrooms:
My First SketchNotE!
I’m an avid reader. In fact, I read so much that there are times when I pick up a book to read only to realize I’ve read it before. It’s like deja vu. Only with books. Deja book.
So earlier this year, I started a note in Google Keep and started adding the books that I finished. A couple of my teacher-friends were interested in the list, so I shared the note with them, and they started adding their own books. Now, we have a pretty big list of books we can refer to when it comes to choosing the next title or when recommending favorites to fellow readers.
I guess you could say that I am a fan of one-stop-shopping. (Amazon Prime--I’m looking at you.)
So, on Day 2 of the ISTE #ETCoaches Winter 2017 Book Study, it was easy to see why I became overwhelmed with the sheer number of blogs and websites that were shared by my fellow edtech coaches. I tried to keep up (come on, it was supposed to be a slow Twitter chat after all), but the posts were coming at me fast and I felt like I was missing out on some great resources by some great educators. (I should probably mention that, in addition to having a love of one-stop-shopping, I also have a major Fear of Missing Out. Yes, my name is Jennifer, and I have FOMO. More on that in a later post.)
With my FOMO in full gear, I decided to put together a Google Sheet as a way to collect all of the amazing blogs and websites that were being shared by my fellow edtech coaches. The result? A one-stop shop of #EdTech Awesomeness. And the best part? You can revisit it again and again. It’s like deja vu. Only better.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what do you think a video is worth? I’m no math teacher, but I’m pretty sure that it would be a really big number.
But, honestly, the answer is even greater than numbers. Think about it. Imagine having the power to listen--really listen--to the thoughts and ideas of every student in your classroom. Imagine empowering even your shyest student to share his thinking without the fear of taking center stage. Imagine giving each and every student the chance to know that his or her voice really matters.
That’s the worth of Flipgrid.
Flipgrid allows teachers to create simple grids, post a prompt, and empower students to share their ideas with the power of VIDEO. But the magic doesn't stop there. Once a student posts a video, other students in the class can respond to the video reflections--get this--using video. Think about the virtual conversations that can be opened beyond the four walls of the classrooms. Flipgrid can give students a voice across grade levels, across buildings, heck, even across countries. (Check out Flipgrid’s Voices with Antarctica if you don’t believe me.)
With Flipgrid, we get to meet our students where they are. Hey, I have a twelve year old son. When he’s not on YouTube watching epic fail compilations, he is outside with his buddies recording videos of their trick shots, bottle flips (I cannot wait until this fad is over), and wipe-outs. Creating videos is just a natural part of what our kids and our students do. With Flipgrid, we get the chance to bring this same excitement into our classrooms by putting the power of video into their hands. And, we get to do it in a way that is fun, meaningful, and relevant.
Now you tell me. What is a video worth? Why not give your students the chance to show you.
You probably won’t believe me when I tell you this, but Public Enemy has guided many of the major decisions in my life. It’s true. Their mantra, “Don’t Believe the Hype,” is one of the main reasons that I have steered clear of embarrassing fashion trends and questionable choices throughout my adult life. All that I need to do is close my eyes, channel my inner Chuck D, and I know that I will make the right decision. Here’s how it works:
MySpace? Don’t believe the hype.
Crocs? Don’t believe the hype.
Hatchimals? Don’t believe the hype.
Hyperdocs? Don’t...well.. wait a minute.
Sorry, Mr. Flav. This is the exception to the rule. Believe the hype. And believe it now.
I first happened across Hyperdocs while reading Alice Keeler’s latest book, 50 Things to go Further with Google Classroom. From there, my eyes were opened to the work of the Hyperdoc Girls and...BOOM. I was hooked. (If you haven’t checked out their amazing resources, click HERE. You’re welcome.)
These hyperdocs have helped to change the way I approach learning and...ready for this? They have actually changed the way I approach professional development in my district. Rather than approaching PD as a one-size-fits-all session, Hyperdocs allow me to customize an experience that is right for everyone. Here’s why: by putting all of the resources needed in one place, I am able to get learners to investigate, connect, discover, and create at a pace that’s just right for them. With a Hyperdoc-driven professional development session, I am able to move beyond slideshows and truly become more of a facilitator of fun. That's because Hyperdocs allow me to:
And the best part? Hyperdocs allow me to do all of this and more, in a way that is fun, innovative, and pleasing to the eye. It’s like creating a perfect one-stop-shop for all of your learner’s needs. Want to see more about how I have used Hyperdocs to anchor my professional development sessions? Check out some of my latest resources (Thank you to the HyperDoc Girls for sharing the templates!)
Sorry, PE. This time is different.
For the past few months, every time I log onto Facebook or Instagram, I find myself staring at photos of my friends escaping. And before you jump to any colorful conclusions about my inner circle, no, my friends are not felons. (Well...most aren’t, anyway.) Instead, it seems like many people featured in my social media world have bought-into the whole Escape Room craze that is sweeping trendy towns all around the region. (Red Bank, New Jersey, I’m looking at you!) In a nutshell, Escape Rooms happen when a team of people willingly signs up to be locked in a room in order to find clues and solve puzzles to complete a given mission and find the key to escape.
And now I notice that when I log onto Twitter, I see that in the world of education, escaping is at the center of countless conversations! In school buildings everywhere, teams of students are working together to solve complex problems in order to “Escape their Classrooms.” Even better, platforms like Breakout Edu provide teachers with amazing ideas and options for gamifying their classrooms that are literally ready-to use. (Be sure to check out the Breakout Edu Sandbox options for digital games HERE!)
And while these pre-made games are fun and challenging, many of the teachers I talk to really want to create games that are tailored specifically to their needs and subject-areas. Most have an overall game idea in mind, but when it comes to creating the clues, they are at a loss. So here is the challenge: How can teachers create breakout clues that are relevant to what students are learning in their classrooms and connect these clues to the different types of locks? So, I think I may have locked into something: a list of ideas for creating clues and challenges that can work in any subject area, with any unit, and most importantly...with any lock:
SIMPLE NUMBER LOTS
Do you have any other ideas for creating clues that can work in a classroom escape game? Please tweet me @JenFischer18 and I will include them in this post!
It’s the beginning of a new unit and you created a Google Form to collect information about what the students already know about a topic. You step back and take a look at your masterpiece, and realize that this Form is just too good not to share. You add your department friends as collaborators to the Form (because sharing is caring!), shoot them a quick email, and ask them to make a copy before distributing the link. Feeling proud, you share the link to the form with your students and watch as they jump on to give you the information you need. This is going to revolutionize your instruction!
At the end of the day, you go to the Form results excited to look at the fruits of your labor. You stare at the page completely dumbfounded. Names of students who are not in your class taunt you from the page. Your spreadsheet is a complete and total mess. How did this happen? Your friends were supposed to make a copy before distributing the link! Surely they didn’t post your link to their own Classrooms... Oh, no...
Sound familiar? Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way to send a form to a friend and force him to make his own copy to avoid the dreaded spreadsheet highjack? With this simple hack, you can feel safe to share with friends and keep your results private and meaningful. Click HERE for the complete tutorial.
With everything in life, in order to get better you’ve got to practice. Whether you’re trying your hand at a new sport, a new hobby, or a new skill, you are never going to improve without putting in the time. I’ve come to realize that blogging is no different. If I want my words to have reach and to make a real difference, I’ve got to practice. I’ve got to put myself out there. Simply put, I’ve got to blog.
As this challenge ends, I am making a pact with myself. I am not going to set limits or impose weekly deadlines. I am not going to apply monthly quotas or force myself to write when I am feeling uninspired. My pact with myself is straightforward: I’m going to blog. Whether I’m blogging to reflect or blogging to share ideas, my mission remains the same: I’m simply going to blog. And I'm going to blog hard.
Blogging has opened the door to a new world of passionate educators and exciting resources that I look forward to sharing with others. And... share I will. In fact, I actually am launching a district professional development opportunity on the topic. I really enjoyed the format of the #ETCoaches challenge, and have decided to bring the idea to Edison as a way to get teachers and students blogging. In my session, Blogging is the New Black, (Hehe. I crack myself up!), I am calling for teachers to take a risk, start a blog, and get writing. This experience has been so meaningful to me both personally and professionally, and I am hoping that I can ignite a similar passion in the teachers who are willing to open their minds (and laptops) to the amazing possibilities blogging has to offer.
For challenge number four of the #ETCoaches Blogging Challenge, I have been asked to reflect on how the reading of blogs has helped to influence me as an educator. As a lifelong learner, I have found that reading blogs written by teachers for teachers has been a great way to personalize my own professional development. I am always looking for new ideas and strategies for making learning fun and meaningful, and reading blogs has given me access to multiple perspectives on a given topic and has helped me to explore new ways of approaching instruction.
Reading blogs seems much more personal than just reading a text or article written on the same topic. Blogs are casual. The writing, more informal. Reading a blog seems more like an intimate conversation between the reader and the writer. Think about it: the reader is accessing an open window into the raw thoughts and reflections of the writer. For most bloggers (and when I say most bloggers, I’m not talking about bloggers who are paid to write--I’m referring to bloggers like me. The ones who do it merely for the love of writing and reflecting) there is no editor, no army of publicists making sure that every word is carefully chosen. What could be more real than that? It takes a lot of guts to share your innermost thoughts, especially when the writer is revealing a personal struggle or challenge. It is comforting when we learn that others are muddling through the same issues and it is refreshing to learn that you are not alone in your plight to make a difference. As a new trainer, I have found a lot of comfort in the blogs written by PD trainers who have been in the trenches longer. Their raw honesty about overcoming obstacles has helped me to feel like I am a part of something bigger. Teaching and learning shouldn’t be done in isolation. There is a certain power to togetherness.
This challenge has also opened my ideas to the benefits of using an RSS feed. Although I am new to the idea, I have already found that using Feedly has been a great way to collect new resources in one place and to truly personalize my PD. I now have a one-stop location for topics that interest me, and I appreciate the fact that I can visit and revisit the posts at my own pace and at my own time.
As teachers, it is important to realize that there is no one best way of doing things and that it is OK to make mistakes along the way. Reading blogs has been a great reminder to consider multiple perspectives, to take risks, and to evolve. To inspire, one must be inspired. Thank you to the many bloggers who have helped to open my mind and show me the way.
As a staff development trainer in a 1:1 school district in New Jersey, one question that I field almost daily can be summed up in three little words: How Do I…? With so many resources and applications available, it’s no wonder teachers have trouble keeping track of the best tools for transforming instruction. This obvious teacher need became my call-to-action.
When I first took on the challenge of creating a catalogue of digital platforms, I turned to Google Docs to help me create a simple chart that would help teachers take the guesswork out of planning and doing. I received a lot of positive feedback from the teachers about having this “one stop” list of tools to help them transform learning. But, why stop there? While the Google Doc was informative, it lacked the “special something” of the other resources out there. (Seriously...have you ever seen the stuff created by Kasey Bell?) I found that using a creation tool like Piktochart could make even a simple list truly jump off the page. My end result? An eye-pleasing infographic to take the guesswork out of tech tools. Please feel free to share!
Ask any teacher. As soon as they enter their pre-service training, there is one message that resounds the loudest: in order to be a good teacher, you need to be reflective. You need to take the time to think about what works and what doesn’t work, and, most importantly, what you can do next time to improve your instruction in the best interest of your students.
I guess the same thing goes for being a coach. How can one get better without reflection? Let's take football for example. Are the greatest coaches of the National Football League able to push their teams forward without reflecting on what they could have done differently in Monday night's devastating loss? I highly doubt it. Moving forward without reflection is, well, impossible.
As an instructional coach, I always begin my post-conference meetings with teachers using questions designed to prompt their own reflection: What did you like about your lesson? What don’t you think went well? If you could teach the lesson again, what would you do differently?
It’s funny, really. I find myself asking the teachers with whom I work to reflect, but upon reflection (ironic, huh?) I realize that I take very little time to reflect on my own work with the same individuals I am coaching. Of course I think about the teachers I work with after a coaching visit. I think about the great lessons I saw, the enthusiastic students who hung on their teacher’s every word. But...do I really take the time to reflect on my role in the cycle? Was I an effective listener? Did I provide meaningful and relevant feedback? What could I have done better? Am I really making a difference?
At this point in my career, I think I know what my strengths are, and I hope that I’ve learned how to capitalize on them during formal professional development sessions and workshops. But, to move forward, I realize that I’ve got to make reflection more of a priority. Because, unlike the NFL and Monday Night Football, our students just can’t afford even one devastating loss.
Jennifer Fischer is a former middle school English teacher, full-time instructional coach, and part-time edtech nerd, who strives to help next JENeration educators transform learning for all students.