Friday, January 29, 2021

A Pandemic Letter to my Colleagues

How we doin', Fort Thomas? 

We're coming up on a year of teaching through a pandemic, and the journey has been the greatest test of our careers. We can compare most years to a marathon: a race to the finish, that we're prepared for, and can find ourselves looking up and enjoying the downhills and the crowds. 

Photo by Artem Verbo on Unsplash
This year is more like one of those ultra triathlons, and at times, you might feel like you're swimming through shark infested waters, barely coming up for breath. And, remarkably, when I look around at what is happening in the world, I know you are in the lead. You have found strength inside of yourselves you might not know existed and have treaded through impossible waters to reach kids.

Disillusionment to Rejuvenation

In a traditional year, according to the book Mentoring Matters, February and March are a time for "rejuvenation". We've spent some long months in disillusionment, and we're cruising downhill on our year, and feeling anticipation for what is at the end. We start planning for the future, planning fun things for our students after testing, and looking forward to a break in the action.

This year, in particular, it may be difficult to tap into that feeling of rejuvenation, and we may feel that our resilience is being tested. I don't have the answers for getting out of the feeling of disillusionment, and I wish there was a magic recipe for success In the book Onward by Elena Aguilar, she points to the idea of cultivating resilience though learning, playing and creating. Playing and creating have always been a big part of the way I deal with stress. I tap into my primary "Love Language" through "Acts of Service", and I also dig into new learning. For me, learning through play and creating is a huge deal. I bought a Cricut and made a bunch of tshirts for my sisters and nieces, I make a pot of tea (an art form I have been learning about) and I throw myself into a maker project, or I take on a new academic focus, or I cook a giant pot of soup and drop off containers to people I know can use a little lift. It helps me climb out of the rut.

This winter, to fuel my need to learn and grow, I decided to take part in the "Winter Explorations and Connections" NextGen series. The explorations are a series of conversations facilitated by Tom Welch, and have been one of those things that my education "tuning fork" needed to get back into a bias towards action.

Embracing The Fire

Photo by Josh Berendes on Unsplash
In our first conversation, Tom shared an analogy, in which he compared the pandemic to a prairie fire. For centuries, prairie fires, were used to encourage the growth of tender grasses that bison preferred. The fires also contributed to a nutrient dense soil for successful farming and naturally kept the prairies from turning into forest. These fires, now done in a controlled way, contribute to the diversity of the ecosystem, burning away old growth and making room for new.

Through our discussion last week, Tom asked us to consider how the prairie fire is like the pandemic in education. What if we could treat the pandemic like an opportunity to burn away practices that are no longer useful to us and cultivate a richer learning community? What would that look like?

I am often drawn to fire imagery and the archetypal concept of regrowth through fire, so this discussion has really stuck with me. 

I keep wondering: "What if we are so worried about stamping out the fire, that we are missing the opportunity to grow?"

Photo by Alexandru Tudorache on Unsplash
I wonder what we need, in this moment, to be able to pause and look around and recognize that we are on the downhill part of our year? How might we get through the shark infested water and step out onto a land that has survived a burn and is fertile for new planting? How might we embrace the fire that is this pandemic and come out on the other side stronger?

We survived the Fall, and we are making it through the Winter and are on the cusp of Spring. How might we prepare our classroom landscapes for new opportunities through reflection? What, in our control, do we want to leave behind so that we can move forward?

It might not feel that way right now, but we are surrounded by the opportunities and the right people to get things done. Land is in sight, the fire is doing its work to create an earth ripe for new growth, the nature around us is preparing the way for when we're ready for the changes we need. 

You've got this.

I'm here when you need me, Fort Thomas. 

- Heidi

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Inspiring Creativity through Digital Storytelling

In his book On Writing, Stephen King says "Let's get one thing clear, now shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Best Sellers; good story ideas seem to come from literally nowhere, sailing right at you out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up."

Helping students to connect to storytelling and recognize those ideas sailing at them through digital means could be a very powerful experience.

Presentation Resource


Get your own copy of the presentation here.

An Invitation to Create

In the book Tinkerlab: A Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors, Rachelle Doorley points to the idea of creating invitations to creativity for learners. As an educator and Digital Learning Coach, this idea has stuck with me as I try to help learners to engage in the learning process. We can use traditional and digital prompts to invite students to write creatively.

Three resources to develop an Invitation to Create

Green Screen by DoInk is a really flexible app that you can use with a green screen and without. It is a paid app that you can use on your phone or tablet. Here are some basics of creating a layered video:

Anything you record on a green background, including videos just made in front of the green screen or videos created through app smashing with a green photo inserted and animated graphics recorded over top, can be used as a visual prompt. Record your class ahead of time with a dancing pirate or with cuddly monsters hanging out overhead, or your miniature clone and then invite them to write about the problem in the room.

The Creativity Project is a great book put together by Colby Sharp. The book, a collection of writing prompts by famous authors, includes imaginative responses by other famous writers. Consider giving your class a prompt - which is sometimes written and sometimes visual and have them respond, then read the or see how that prompt was imagined by a published author. Consider using a Google Slide deck and collecting all student responses in one space or encourage students to use digital or paper/pen sketchnotes to respond.

Augmented Reality is all the rage right now - and the Merge Cube is a hot item. You can use free apps like Th!ngs (Free) and encourage students to use the record feature to tell a story about one of the augmented reality prompts.

Craft of Writing

Once you get students hooked and creatively thinking, it's time to help them go back through their prompts to discover something they want to develop more into a story. There are many digital tools students can use to help develop their writing - everything from Google docs to add-ons to subscription services. Here are a few of my favorite ways to help students stay on track:

Learn about writing from the experts in Khan Academy's Pixar in a Box: the Art of Storytelling. The module includes a series of videos that feature people who work and create for Pixar with activities students can do to help them develop ideas. Seeing real world people talk about their work lends a sense of authenticity to the writing that students might connect to as a possible future career.

Interactive Notebooks are a great way to help organize the entire writing process into one resource. Make use of Google Slides or PowerPoint for this type of tool to mimic the effect of a book and help students easily access different pages.

Get your own copy of a Digital Story interactive notebook here.

Manage Writing and interact with students to help give students feedback and help them edit using Google Classroom or a Learning Management System like Schoology.

Publishing Writing

With all the digital tools available to students, it would be a waste to leave that writing piece in a folder. Help students publish their work to the world using any number of tools. These are three device agnostic tools for creating dynamic published work.

Adobe Spark with the free education edition and a little help from your IT department you can have students create visually engaging pieces as a written publication, video or webpage. 

Adobe Post

Adobe Video

Book Creator  is a great tool that you can access through Google Chrome and for fee have 1 library with 40 books. Although the iPad app is paid, it is well worth the investment as you can create amazing multimedia texts that include video, audio, and images. Get tons of ideas on their blog.

CoSpacesEDU is another favorite tool that includes the ability to create original 360 degree, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality content. The free version will allow a teacher 1 class with limited access, but there is still a lot that can be created with the free version! Under Resources they have ideas for getting started, lesson plans and more.

While there are countless ways to help students publish writing these days, I think these three places provide students with enough variety to get started and hooked on digital storytelling. 

What are some of your favorite strategies or tools for digital storytelling?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Shadowing a Student: A Walk in their Shoes

Who are you?

You fill the seats of our classrooms every day.

I am told, you are “neurologically processing information in a fundamentally different way than the “older generations”.

I am “paper trained”
left to right,
top to bottom,
beginning to end.

You are "media trained"VISUALnonlinearTRANSFLUENTscrollingHYPERLINKED.

In the last year - as of today at about 1pm -  there were well over 300 BILLION mobile YouTube view

You were watching a lot of those --

Over 30 billion photos were added to Instagram

You posted a lot of those photos --

In the month of August alone there were almost 80 million of you playing Fortnite
And let’s not forget the videos you are watching about it
and the dances you were practicing from it
and the conversations you were having about it.

You love with your whole heart, so we see that we must protect it.

You put your everything into your day, and we push you beyond even that.
You want to feel accepted, and we try to listen.
You want to share your knowledge, and we are helping to build that platform.
You take risks that make our heart stop.
You will change the world.

Who are you? How can we discover you?

Any meaningful change begins with empathy: the ability to understand.

A Walk in their Shoes

On September 25, I ditched my cell phone and laptop and donned my Chuck Taylors and iPad and headed back to school. 5th grade to be exact. 

As part of the #FTPolaris19 Design Thinking process this year, I had challenged participants to shadow a student, and for my part, I knew I had to do it too. This year, I decided I wanted to find out what it felt like to be a 5th grader, and some 20 days later, I'm still processing the experience. 

Throughout my day shadowing a 5th grade boy, I discovered I was part of a a classroom culture that fostered empathy amongst students, a place where movement was built in to the day with students self selecting to stand if they needed to or sit in a direction that suited their needs. A place where energy was high as students eagerly and collaboratively worked together towards learning targets, and where they managed to hold it together and comply with respect during the times when they had to be on the receiving end of a lot of information. At the end of the day I felt a good tired and a positive energy that carried me into the evening.

As a group #FTPolaris19 found students to shadow from first to twelfth grades. There were striking similarities in our experiences and even more striking differences in the stories we told from our days as students.

As I have reflected on my personal experience and the discussion the #FTPolaris19 group had about the similarities and differences in our days as students, I keep coming back to a number of themes that I think will guide my work in the near future and might be interesting for teachers at every grade level to consider.

In no particular order, these are some of my persistent thoughts on my experience as a 5th grader:

1. Culture is Indeed King (or Queen depending on your preference)

Spending the time to build a positive classroom culture can completely influence the dynamic of a day. It is important to invest that time so that students know each other at deep levels and can show empathy towards one another. Investing time to build a place where the class is a family and where students know each other and include each other with respect is well worth it when it comes time to do group work. In this environment students are more likely to listen to the ideas of others, work effectively and take responsibility.

The "morning meeting" concept is a fantastic step towards developing this kind of culture. This video shows what the process might look like:

Imagine how powerful the school experience - at any grade level- would be if time was dedicated weekly for team building activities and for conversations that led to a deeper understanding of each other on a personal level. The 5th grade class I was part of used a similar approach to the one above and I loved the connections and genuine interest students showed for each others' lives.

2. Flexibility of Space Could be a Dynamic Process

Elementary students in particular have a lot of pent up energy, they fidget and tap their fingers and need to stand up and move - a lot. But our middle and high school students would benefit from more freedom to move. 

We see a lot of trends in flexible seating in classrooms today. These classrooms look to not only provide options when it comes to movement, but also look to improve a feeling of comfort that will lead to developing places where students can work in an environment that works for their needs. 

One thing I believe we should make an effort to build into our regular reflective practice is to ask students if the classroom (even the flexible ones) are meeting their needs. Asking students if furniture is placed in a way that allows them a quality learning experience, giving them permission to choose to stand if they need to, and asking them to identify things that might be distracting could go far in supporting a positive classroom culture. It's possible that are efforts to engage with heavy decorating, could actually be disrupting concentration, and that place we found to hang that cute anchor chart isn't actually in the most useful spot for students to view the information. 

Imagine what it would be like to pick a different area of the classroom each month an ask students to review for you or if you challenged students to provide you with suggestions that would improve their experience.

3. What if We Ditched that Textbook?

I shadowed one student, but the class took me on like I was their own (by that I mean I was starting to feel a bit like a class pet lol). One thing I heard from the 5th graders over and over is that they really - I mean really - dislike working straight from a textbook (or workbook). 

What if we Matt Miller-ed things every now and then and found a way to Ditch the Textbook and discovered new ways to, as Miller discusses, incorporate a "Different, Innovative, Tech-laden, Creative and Hands-on" experience for kids?

I'm not saying textbooks are bad - but maybe we don't always use them the way we could. 
It is funny to note that despite the 5th graders very vocal distaste for learning from a book, their favorite learning opportunity of the day had them up and moving and working in a group and hunting for answers in a - you guessed it - textbook. 

Which leads me to my next big aha moment...

4. The 4Cs Rock the Day

I cannot explain how the energy level in a class completely changed when they were engaged in work that incorporated the 4Cs (Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication). 

It's noticeable, and contagious. And I might want to drink that instead of coffee all day.

Just working in the area of critical thinking was not enough to engage students. Pair that critical thinking with a creative aspect or with collaboration and it took things to a whole new level. I participated and felt the energy as students enthusiastically tested their claims about materials and boat design in tubs of water, as they engaged in an online discussion for the first time and tested out their communication skills, and as they talked about a novel they were studying with great detail. I also saw the times where we only focused on critical thinking how the energy faded, how the students looked like they were checking out some - I felt myself struggle to hold on and not think about what I was missing on my email. 

I should note: It wasn't that those lessons or moments were "bad", or that they weren't absolutely necessary (I learned a TON from those lessons) - it's just that the way the students approached the learning changed. 

I see why our teachers spend so much time carefully constructing the time in class to keep kids moving, working together when possible and communicating. 

When the kids have their energy up - everything feels like it moves at a pace that means something more, the senses are more engaged distractions face away and the colors in the room seem brighter. 

5. The Impact of Technology is Profound

I think this is why we see students gravitate towards the video product. But what if we also taught them how to engage an audience in a TED style talk with well chosen images and a succinct message about content? What if we delivered the occasional TED style talk to our class to hook them and model for them good speaking skills? What if they created their own Digital Breakouts around traditional content that their classmates got to figure out?

In our reflective discussion the #FTPolaris19 group shared lots of different opinions about the use of technology and the impact it had on the classroom student experience. Technology can be a major distractor, it can be boring, it can also be the vehicle to helping achieve authenticity.

For my part, I can see that I have a duty to help educate our staff and students about the use of technology as a way to measure self worth - and the danger in that. In one activity students were more interested in getting "likes" on their discussion post than they were in actually sharing quality ideas. How might we create an environment where a student's sense of self worth isn't elevated or destroyed by a "Like" button?

How do we leverage the use of technology to help students create real-world products? Research tells us that students today are visual learners. They learn first from images and video and then supplement with text, they prefer instant gratification and gamification - which is polar opposite of how I learned (Reinventing Learning for the Always On Generation). 

Students also expressed wanting choice and control. In discussion with 5th graders I asked them if they liked taking hand written notes or if they wanted to type. It was totally based on individual preference. Many students said they felt they needed to write to remember, but many others said they would like the option to type so that they would be able to read it later and stay organized. 

This particular group also discussed how if given the choice, they would pick a tool that gave them more variety in options and was maybe harder to use, than the one that was easier with fewer choices. 

Today, we can use technology to empower students with a pause button. The absolute, most calm students were all day was when they put their earbuds in and watched a video. I couldn't believe how they went from fidgeting and tapping and bouncing to absolutely still with the press of a play button. They were watching, taking notes, pausing, rewinding, scrubbing forward, they were in absolute control of the content. What if these types of videos were assigned for homework (to avoid the inevitable bandwidth drain) and students were able to come to class ready for that hands on activity? There is indeed something to that Flipped Classroom concept.

Not the End of the Exercise

As I continue my work this year, I plan to use the feedback I received and the experience I had to help guide my own work. I want to make sure that I share those important observations and continue to look at learning from the point of view of a student as I consider best ideas and strategies to share with teachers. When I walk into a classroom, I want to make sure I'm getting down into the seats with the kids and understanding what they are interested in and what they dislike, in addition to what they find easy or what they are struggling with so that I can better help them.

With certainty I can say that being a student is hard work, BUT I am fortunate to work with some of the most talented, caring, amazing educators in the world - and I am not even being bias.
I highly encourage shadowing a student as a professional learning opportunity. If you want to learn more, the resources at Shadow a Student Challenge are incredibly helpful. When we find ourselves empathizing with our students and understanding the perspective of school from their point of view, then we can begin to identify and define quality areas of change and work towards improvements at a deep and meaningful level.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Inspiring Creativity with Animated Sketchnotes in Keynote

Post also appears on FTISEdTech

Last night I participated in an #AppleEDUChat for Animated Sketchnoting and the learning was too good not to share right away.

I have long seen the value in using Sketchnoting as a strategy for engaging learners in summarizing, visualizing and remembering content. There are lots of apps you might use with your class to encourage this activity including: Jamboard, Paper 53, most of our Microsoft Apps (PowerPoint, Word, OneNote) include a drawing tab, and Sketches for School shows some promise. 

Last night, however, I was completely blown away by the use of Keynote as a sketchnoting and animation tool. What on the surface looks like just another presentation tool, is in reality a seriously robust application that we have not been using to its potential. at all.

In just a few minutes I was playing and learning new strategies as the chat happened.

How It's Done

Challenge to 3-5th grade students

I was so inspired by my own learning last night, I threw out a Fall Break Curious and Critical Thinking challenge to 3-5th graders on Schoology. The first three students to share an animated sketchnote using Keynote on Schoology will receive a small prize, with bonus for kids who share a "How To". I encouraged them to do what I do, Google directions. 

When we get back from break, you might encourage your class to try this and show them the video - or better yet, let them discover the strategies for themselves by googling, playing and sharing with each other. 

I'm also available to come and help your students learn this fascinating skill!

Twitter Chats

You can learn so much from joining in on a Twitter chat like last night's #AppleEDUChat. If you would like to learn more about participating in a chat like that, let me know, I can help you out. 

Here are some of my favorite tweets from last night!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Digital Tools to Help Build a Culture of Readers

Post first published on FTEdTech

If you were lucky enough to hear Donalyn Miller speak this week you might be feeling inspired to work on building a culture of readers that are engaged and intrinsically motivated through strategies like the 40 Book Challenge.

Not sure what I'm talking about? You can get the gist of the what the 40 book challenge is about here, and you might modify it to match the number of weeks we have left in the year:

I would also suggest before you get started, that you might want to check out Miller's 40 Book Challenge Revisited post.

Getting Started Right Now with Small Shifts

You don't have to wait until the beginning of next year to get started with something like the 40 Book Challenge. We can start making small shifts in practice to encourage wider reading.

Use your School Library

First, you don't have to worry about the size of your classroom library. Our school libraries are stacked with tons of amazing books, and our librarians are working on building e-book content that students can use 24/7. Consider a small shift that would include encouraging your students to visit the school library more frequently at appropriate times. Work with your librarian and our public library to make sure all students are set up with ebook accounts, and review with your librarian the ebook resources we have available like Epic, Pebble GO, PebbleGo Next and OverDrive.

Check out FTReads

A second small shift would be to ditch outdated practices for some more modern practices. In the Book Whisperer Miller includes many practical strategies and resources for making book recommendations for students, building that classroom library with a variety of books and getting kids writing and sharing their reading. My favorite chapter is Chapter 6: "Cutting the Teacher Strings". In this chapter Miller outlines a number of "traditional practices" with alternatives. She encourages the use of book commercials, book talks, and encouraging the idea that reading is its own incentive.

You could easily capitalize on our own FTReads and the resources there to help your students create their very own book talks and trailers. Send me or your school's librarian your favorite student projects and we can add them to the FTReads site for other students to see.

Use #FTReads when you're tweeting and share what your kids love with all of our schools.

Share Book Projects

Another simple shift that goes along with this is to create a media album in Schoology. With the media album, students can add their own book trailers, posters in PicCollage or book talks and upload to share. If students are given commenting privileges, and use Schoology through Safari (instead of the app) they will be able to interact and encourage each other using good Digital Citizenship skills.

The same type of sharing can be created using other tools like Seesaw and Flipgrid.

Use Reader's Notebooks Instead of Logs

Are you ready to ditch the reading log? Consider using the approach that Miller describes in the Book Whisperer with the idea of a Reader's Notebook that includes letters written back and forth between the student and teacher. You can grab a copy of a digital version of a notebook here

The benefit of using this in the digital form is that if you distribute it through Schoology as a Google or Microsoft Assignment, both you and your students can have access to it when needed. As a teacher, with this format, you have editing privileges and can add slides to respond to your students' letters. Students can also use this notebook to add pictures from the books with their own annotations. If they use post-it notes while reading, they can take pictures of the post-its and add as a reflection. They could also hand write their letters and take pictures of their handwritten work.

Try out Bilbionasium the Goodreads for Kids

You can expand the reader's notebook type of activity and manage the challenge through your school's access to Biblionasium (the Goodreads for kids) through your library's Destiny accounts.

Check out this introduction to Biblionasium and work with your librarian to get things started for your class:

You can run your entire challenge from Biblionasium and build a culture of reading by encouraging students to share reviews and make recommendations. This is a fantastic alternative to incentive based programs we have typically used.

Biblionasium is a fairly new tool for us. You will want to work closely with your librarian to test it out.

Model Global Communication

Many of you are just beginning to use Twitter to share what you are doing in your classrooms. Twitter is the perfect place to connect with authors and other readers. If your students make a cool project or want to share what they love about a book, look to see if the author is on Twitter, by searching for them, and tag them in a tweet.

You can also follow some role model readers and check in on their tweets periodically to see if there's something you can share with your class.

Some of my favorites on Twitter are:
Hashtags - search use these hashtags to connect, share and learn from others

  • Nerdy Book Club - here you have a tremendous resource and online community of readers sharing reviews and ideas.
  • KBA - this is the site for the Kentucky Book Awards - get your students interested in what other kids in our state are reading
  • Global Read Aloud - get really global and connect with other classes for the Global Read Aloud, happening in October
  • FTReads Day - Created by librarian Jason Gay - be on the lookout for this in March

You might even consider taking this all a step further and creating your own class blog or website that you use to share student work. If you do, make sure you send me a link so I can add it to FTReads!