How to improve…Practice!

Want to get better at something? Then practice it! Been feeling a bit frustrated that some educators and parents seem to think that students will improve in reading just because we are assessing their reading skills. No. Some think that students will improve their individual reading skills because they are reading short passages in an anthology once or twice a week. No. Just like all skills, reading must be consistently practiced.

That is not to say that there are not other factors that contribute to reading development. Having plenty of books available for our readers is one. Modeling good fluency and reading comprehension when reading aloud is another. Making personal connections to the story. And there are abundant articles for parents and entire books written to support reading instruction in the classroom.

The bottom line…all the articles, books, and advice have one thing in common. One must read to get better at reading. Set aside reading times in class and at home.

A basketball player is not going to have a consistent 3-point shot without hours of practice. A dancer will not learn a new routine or a new dance move without practicing. A pianist must practice to grow into move difficult arrangements. Gamers practice their digital prowess.

So let’s talk with our reluctant readers about topics they like and show them book after book till they find one they enjoy. Let’s do book talks to introduce new genres and titles to all our readers. Let’s DEAR. Let’s integrate science and social studies into our Language Arts classes through novels. Let’s use picture books to introduce a STEAM challenge. Let’s fill our classroom and school libraries with books!

Mostly, let’s have the students read!!

How are you encouraging reading in your classroom or school? Reach out with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com

Originally posted on Thursday, 27 December 2018.

Loving Legos Again

So let’s be honest, I have always loved Legos! When I say that I am loving Legos again, it is because I have started writing some new Lego Challenges for the schools that I am working with. I am also curating some fun new ones from Pinterest. I will share some of my new ones when I finish creating this batch. No sense in not sharing and using social media for good contributions!

What made me love Legos again? A trip to Legoland-Florida with my nephew and husband. Who can’t be inspired by all the awesome Lego creations through out the park! 

 So, I came home from Legoland and decided that one of my client schools could benefit from Lego Challenges. What are the benefits to Lego Challenges? According to The Scots College in Australia, there are eight important benefits to using Legos in the classroom, https://www.tsc.nsw.edu.au/tscnews/eight-educational-benefits-of-playing-with-lego.For me the three that stand out are Lego develops problem solving and mathematical thinking, creativity, and communication skills. Using the directions supports attention to detail while giving no directions or minimum parameters allows for practice with problem solving. When students are teamed for a Lego challenge, the opportunity to communicate postively and collaborate on a solution is seamlessly integrated in the activity.

And the benefits are not just for elementary students, but for preschool through adulthood. The same advantages to building with Legos that pertain to kids, also applies to adults. What a great way to model positve collaboration than to get involved with solving the Lego challenge with your students. Or invite your parents in for an evening of Lego building.

How to start using Legos effectively as a teaching tool? For me, it begins with creating Lego boxes. On the left are the boxes I put together for a client school. On the right is the set that was put together for a different school. This second school also has a huge bin available for students to use for free builds and for exchanging bricks. 

After the boxes are ready, let the fun begin! Check out Pinterest for some great challenge ideas. Here are some I have adapted from Pinterest and ones I have come up with on my own (determine which grade levels these most apply to in your class/school):

  • Create a musical note.
  • Create a catapult.
  • Create a LEGO sculpture then write a LEGO instruction booklet for others to create your design.
  • Create a helicopter.
  • You were just made ruler over your own country. Design a flag for your new land.
  • Build a bridge out of Legos! Challenge is to build a bridge that can support the weight of 100 pennies in a small cup.
  • What can you build with ___________bricks? (change the amounts to add difficulty)

So start loving Legos again too! Reach out with your Lego Challenge ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Friday, 30 November 2018.

What is your Objective?

Several years ago, I was conferencing with a teacher. She said that she did not have enough time to do all the activities she had for her unit. In fact she had a wonderful new activity she wanted to add to to the unit plan. I stopped her and asked, “What is your Objective?” She then told me what the objective was for that unit and I asked if all the activities were necessary to address the objective. That made her pause for a moment and she answered ‘but all the activities are so fun.’ We then looked at all the activities and decided which ones directly moved the students towards mastering the objective, which allowed for addressing differentiated learning styles, and which gave the opportunity for critical thinking. After this joint review, the teacher had a more manageable and effective set of learning opportunities for this objective. Further, we had identified which of the discarded activities could replace a chosen one in the future for variety (for the teacher).

As I write this post, I reminded myself of a similar post I have written entitled Intentionshttps://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/intentions. In that post, I was more focused on the too frequent use of technology for tech’s sake. I was encouraging educators to decide on their learning objectives and integrate technology resources that align with the objectives. Recently at a Teacher Innovation Day I led, the teachers and I discussed this idea relating it to the SAMR Framework (substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition) of technology integration. It was a wonderful discussion involving the teachers looking at their own tech integrated lessons and how these fit into the SAMR Framework. Yet, one teacher then told me that she had changed how she wanted to culminate an upcoming unit with students creating a diorama. But she was also going to have them video themselves explaining each panel of the diorama. I asked her why the video, and she said it was because she wanted to integrate technology. We discussed how a diorama and a video could both be a culminating presentation that can assess their understanding of the unit. Having the students do both is an example of tech for tech’s sake. She came to the conclusion that she would have the students do one presentation method for this unit and the other for the next, to give the students a variety of strategies for demonstrating their learning. She took it a step further saying that their next teachers could have the students choose which presentation method to use since they would have been introduced to several.

When you begin planning with an objective in mind, you then have the ability to differentiate for your students’ needs. You can identify ways to address their academic differences, their social-emotional readiness, and even how to include their interests into the plan. An objective lets you decide what content and how much content to introduce. An objective will guide you incorporating varying teaching styles to adjust to learning styles. Without an objective, there can be no adjustments to the lessons as these lessons are just activities with no framework.

Starting with the objective should be the guiding force behind unit and lesson planning. How that objective will be met by the students is then decided by choosing the most effective, appropriate resources and activities. Reach out with your thoughts via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 07 November 2018.

Intentional Add-On

 I have been working on a workshop presentation, Digital Citizenship, How Am I Supposed To Teach This? As I work through the segment as to why you should teach Digital Citizenship, I have found myself saying that teaching Digital Citizenship should not be done as add-on lessons but rather integrated into the curriculum. In fact it should and can be integrated into all areas of the curriculum. But… maybe there are times when it is appropriate for Digital Citizenship be an add-on.

Could Digital Citizenship lessons be an add-on, just like mini-lessons about going on a filed trip. Don’t you incorporate a few mini-lessons on how to behave on a field trip prior to going? Reminders to stay with the group and chaperones, to be mindful of the other patrons of the museum (theater, park, supermarket, add your field trip place here), the connection to the curriculum, maybe directions for the activity planned for the field trip. These field trip lessons are add-ons but the field trip is integrated with the curriculum. The lessons are important safety/social-emotional lessons as well. Aren’t mini-lessons about a new website also important safety/social-emotional lessons add-ons.While the actual Digital Citizenship lessons about what information to share on the website and how to navigate to and within the website are not curriculum related, the website was chosen for its ability to enhance the curriculum.

What about lessons on Digital Health? This is related to concerns over screen time and digital addiction. These issues are at the forefront of a lot of parental debate about teens using digital resources in school and out. Is it not a worthy add-on in middle and high school classes? Don’t these types of discussions have potential long range effects on students’ digital lives? So isn’t it worth the class time to make the students aware of their current digital habits and how to manage their future digital habits?

As I have written in a previous blog post, Not Just One Week (https://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/not-just-one-week), Digital Citizenship can not be a once a year set of lessons. To guide students into consistently using the skills and ideas of Digital Citizenship will require practice and feedback over time. By finding ways to “hack the standards” as described by Kirsten Mattson in her book, Digital Citizenship in Action, Empowering Students to Engage in Online Communities, teachers can incorporate Digital Citizenship into the curriculum they are already teaching. When you are using a new anchor chart that you discovered on Pinterest, let the students know that you found this idea in an online community. Teach Keyword searches for a report or presentation research, just as you would explain how to find information in the school library. Give students the choice to create a digital infographic to express their understanding of topic.

Are you integrating Digital Citizenship into your classroom? Would love to hear how you are doing this. Looking for more ways? Reach out via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Thursday, 27 September 2018.

Celebrate the Good

The world seems so much smaller these days because of social media and the ability to contact people anytime anywhere. But walking in schools, I still get the feeling sometimes that classrooms are each in their own silo. Reaching out within a school does not often seem to happen as much as reaching out on Twitter or Facebook. Maybe it is because we are more concerned with having our teaching styles judged by those we see daily? But to build a cohesive culture within our schools we need to reach out to each other for support, encouragement and celebrations.

With this goal in mind, I started adding a new piece in my weekly emails toa school I consult with. I now include a celebration segment. This could be a photo or video or just a description of something that was great or a lesson that went better than expected, or small measure of joyfulness in a classroom during the past week. I am hoping to generate a culture that sees the process and the excitement of learning as a reason to celebrate.

In my former role as Principal in my daily emails to faculty, I would often thank teachers for programs they put on with their students. I felt it that just like students, hearing appreciation out loud should happen frequently. Real praise that states what is being appreciated resonates beyond the moment into those times that we need to remember that we are capable and accomplished.

I have learned that the small successes are what life is built upon. I also tried to encourage the teachers to visit other classrooms to see how certain things were being accomplished. This way I was not the only “coach/expert” in the school. Encouraging teachers to talk about their classrooms with each other made the walls disappear and cultivated not just a feeling of congeniality among the teachers but substantial support for teachers who needed a lift, idea or just a smile.

How do you celebrate achievements or ‘good tries?’ Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter or Instagram, @edtechease. 

Orginally posted on Thursday, 13 September 2018.

Percolating Time

So, when I decided to write a blog, I envisioned myself sitting down at my kitchen table and spending an hour here, an afternoon there, writing. Well, I was wrong. Well mostly wrong. Often I start a blog that way. Maybe a paragraph or just a sentence. But I have learned from writing letters to parents or articles for school newsletters, that I need to think through an idea in my head and then let it flow. So it is with my blog posts. I often find myself getting out of bed and heading to the kitchen and standing at my counter and letting my thoughts push out of my fingers onto my keyboard. Why am I telling you all this? Because I think sometimes we expect our students to be given assignments and expect them to get right down to it, particularly with our writing assignments.

As we get ready to start a new school year, I think we need to take this idea into consideration. How do we include percolating time into our school day? How can we let students create connections to new ideas, concepts, math procedures before they are expected to construct an assignment?

Could you add a minute or two the lesson at the end, just to think about what was just taught, discussed, introduced? Now, you may be saying that the students may not actually think about the lesson. You may be right but giving them a “brain break” may actually give them time to process the information. Eric Jensen suggests “do what you can to give students a way to let the content settle. Ideas include taking time for breaks…” (Teaching with the Brain in Mind, 2005).

What about a “brain dump?” Letting the students write down everything they remember about the lesson.

When it comes to writing, give the topic or the writing genre ahead of time. Maybe include the writing assignment in a Morning Message (for all of you Responsive Classroom teachers). This way the students have time to think about what they want to write about for the assignment. Thinking maps are a great way to get the ideas out there before actually writing. Maybe that could be the homework for the night, just writing down ideas. You have then given them time to process the assignment and time to think of ideas in the privacy of their home. For those who get frustrated with classmates who can get right to work, this eliminates one element of frustration.

When I taught Kindergarten, I soon learned which students needed me to do a mental 3-5 count before I prompted their answer. They truly need to process their responses and when rushed to answer immediately when I called on them meant I received no answer or a poor one. This was not an accurate measure of what they knew nor the quality answer they were capable of giving. We need to remember that a “3-5 count” is needed at other times as well.

So after several starts and stops, this blog post is done. How do you let ideas or lessons percolate for students? Share your thoughts (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/ or on Instagram (edtechease). 

Originally posted on  Thursday, 16 August 2018.

Freedom

This week is July 4th week. Freedom is the idea running around in mind this week. What is freedom? So I posted the following on Twitter: 

Been writing a new blog post & July 4th has been on my mind. So I started to write a list of what FREEDOM is then I realized, I would like to ask others what FREEDOM is. So I am asking… some of the answers will be in my next post. 

Here are some of the answers:

FREEDOM to write what you think.

FREEDOM to fail and try, try again.

FREEDOM to disagree.

FREEDOM to be more similar than different.

FREEDOM to be what you are.

FREEDOM to carve out your place.

FREEDOM to impress ourselves.

FREEDOM to educate our kids in ways that suit them.

Here are a few more: 

I finished gathering quotes for this post while watching the Macy’s 4th of July program. So some of the answers came from people interviewed. Thoughts on freedom were chosen with positive in mind. Thanks to all those who helped me write this blog! Share your thoughts on the idea of freedom (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/). 

Originally posted on Friday, 06 July 2018.

Let the Creativity Flow

These days as a consultant, my students are the teachers and administrators in my client schools. So when I have the opportunity to meet with students and model some of the ideas that I am discussing with the faculty, I jump at the chance.

This occurred recently on a consultation in North Carolina. I was demonstrating the ease of use of a fun little robot called Evo by Ozobot (https://ozobot.com/products). I had brought Evo with me to demonstrate how even our littlest learners could code with colors but also how older learners can get really creative with their coding. So, as two administrators and I were “playing,” two middle school girls wandered in the room and instantly became fascinated with the Evo. 

We put a parameter on the tracks that each end had to go to the edge of the paper so that we could connect the tracks.

Listening to the collaboration of each group was a great way for the teacher to get some insight into their problem solving strategies. But the best part for me was the conversations that erupted when we put the tracks together. What their thoughts were when Evo had trouble maneuvering the tracks and when it went smoothly. The ideas for revamping the tracks and of course the pleas for the teacher/admin to buy these for the school so they could do this more.

When students are given the opportunity to let their creativity flow, the learning is not something that can be found in a textbook.

Share your thoughts. (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/)

Originally posted on Thursday, 21 June 2018.

Voices

As schools are ending or have ended, that brings graduations and moving up ceremonies. With this in mind, I am sharing a modified version of the 5th grade graduation talk I gave last year.

I am a country music person. Several months ago I was walking, listening to my walking playlist and the song Voices by Chris Young came on. Now normally hearing voices in your head is not considered a good thing. But this song takes another path about hearing voices. It is about hearing… really listening… to important family members. Listening to the advice they have spouted to you now and will continue to spout over and over to you as you move through your teenage years, college and beyond.

I am not talking about your parents reminding you to put away your laundry or to do your homework. But the life lessons that your parents (and teachers) have and will try to impart. The lessons about conducting yourself in difficult situations and just in everyday circumstances. It is the lessons about consequences and knowing what they are before making a decision. Lessons about the kind of person you wan to be.

Through the next few years and beyond, you are going to roll your eyes at many things that adults in your life will say. It is those very things that you will “hear” later.

So if you can do just one thing, the next time you want to roll your eyes, just listen a bit. Take a breath and focus on what your parents, grandparents, or teachers are trying to express.

Each of you will have an envelope with your Certificate that is from your parents. Inside are some words that your parents want you to really hear. Don’t open it right now, wait till you decide that you want to hear their words. Next week is too soon, in fact the first time you think of opening the envelope is too soon. Maybe the fifth time.

Finally, as you go through life, maybe you will hear my voice. I hope you hear me say: Mistakes are opportunities, Opportunities to learn, Opportunities to know it is ok to change your mind.

To quote another country song, may you also hear these words… stay Humble and Kind. Congratulations to our rising 6th graders and your parents!

Shari Wladis
Voices
by, Chris Young

You could say I'm a little bit crazy
You could call me insane
Walkin' 'round with all these whisper
Runnin' 'round here in my brain
I just can't help but hear ‘em
Man, I can't avoid it
I hear voices
I hear voices like

My dad sayin', "Work that job
But don't work your life away”
And mama tellin' me to drop some cash
In the offerin' plate on Sunday
And granddad sayin', "You can have a few
But don't ever cross that line”

Yeah, I hear voices all the time
Turns out I'm pretty dang lucky
For all that good advice
Those hard-to-find words of wisdom
Holed up here in my mind
And just when I've lost my way
Or I've got too many choices


I hear voices
I hear voices like
My dad sayin', "Quit that team
And you'd be a quitter for the rest of your life”
And mama tellin' me to say a prayer
Every time I lay down at night
And grandma sayin', "If you find the one
You better treat her right”

Yeah, I hear voices all the time
Sometimes I try to ignore ‘em
But I thank God for ‘em
Cause they made me who I am

My dad sayin', "Work that job
But don't work your life away”
And mama tellin' me to drop some cash
In the offerin' plate on Sunday
And granddad sayin', "You can have a few
But don't ever cross that line”

Yeah, I hear voices all the time
Yeah, I hear voices all the time
All the time

Originally posted on  Thursday, 07 June 2018.

Happy Endings?

Over Mother’s Day weekend, I went to see Avengers -Infinity War. For many Mother’s Days, my family takes me to see the new superhero movie. I like superhero movies, to the joy of my three sons. So even though my youngest son was home from college and had seen the movie, and my older two were not home, I asked my husband to take me. As we left, we discussed the ending of the movie (so if you have not seen Avengers -Infinity War and plan to, STOP reading and come back after seeing the movie).

We enjoyed he humor in the movie and I thought the multiple storylines was interesting. But as I texted my oldest son:

“Not sure how I feel about the movie. I like happier endings.”

My husband is not sure he wants to see the next one (he will). He was upset that some of his favorite heroes were disintegrated (told you to stop reading). Let’s be honest, we don’t go to see superhero movies because they will lose. For me, I like that at the end of a superhero movie, the good guys win and the bad guys don’t. It is nice to suspend everyday life in favor of a comic book life. At least the comic books I read. My youngest is a comic book aficionado and has informed me that comic books are not always happy worlds. And I do know this from watching the Netflix series, Daredevil, as well as others. But to be honest, I still go to superhero movies expecting a happy ending.

Well, that has not been the case lately. Superman died in a recent one, but came back in the next one. In a previous Avengers, the heroes fought each other.

So where is this post going? Well, while I like a typical superhero happy ending, we know life is not that way. Yet, too may of our parents are trying to take out the “difficult” or fix any obstacles for them. So maybe we need less perfect happy endings and more realistic happy endings as models for today’s students.

Our plans for lessons, events, life in general for the most part go well. But they rarely go like planned. So maybe if in the Avengers -Infinity War, the world is saved but some heroes do not make it (again, told you to see the movie then read this), maybe that is a better reflection of life. Things work out, but not always as we planned or hoped. Is this something we should repeat (consistently or constantly)? Should we be setting the example that we try to do our best, fix what we can, and learn that the world is not perfect?

I will go and see the next Avengers movie, my son says it will be out in 2019. I will hope that there is a way for the lost heroes to miraculously return (it is a fantasy movie after all). But I will also keep in mind that maybe my definition of a happy ending needs to be a bit revised.

Share your thoughts. (@edtechease on Twitter and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/).

Originally posted on  Thursday, 24 May 2018.