Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How To Take the "Guess Work" Out of "Group Work" to Encourage Project Based Learning

Collaborative Project Based Learning with Analytics 
I firmly believe each teacher must start integrating technology at the point where he or she is most comfortable.  I'm often asked, "How I do it all."  My answer is simple: I start small.  I think that translates to the success of my blog along with the workshops I do across the country.  During my speaking engagements, I disclose my fear of technology.  While I'm intrigued by all there is to offer, I'm terrified to use many sites and devices.  However, it is this very fear that forces me to embrace these opportunities for children.  After all, how can I expect my students to take risks if I'm not willing to do so myself?

By "starting small," I give myself permission to only focus on two or three new apps, gadgets, websites, etc. at a time.  That's it.  I focus on learning those resources inside and out.  This way, I can integrate each one into all of our curriculum.  The students become creative and collaborative, and I become more comfortable.  But because I "start small," it is imperative I select quality resources.  If I'm only going to use two or three new tools, I want to make sure they're versatile enough to be applied in a variety of creative ways.  I also want to be sure they're not going to simply be a substitute for something we could have done without technology.  We should never use technology for the sake of using it.  We should utilize these powerful tools to enable our students to do work that couldn't have been done without the integration of such resources.

This year, I'm excited to start using Ignite Teaching with my class.  This is one tool I know we can use throughout the year, across all subjects, in a variety of creative ways.  Any tool that allows students to create, collaborate, and share is always a favorite in our class.  One of my favorite parts is that I will also be able to see their work in progress as they collaborate with one another, and I'll be able to offer feedback along the way.  

Students Working Together 

The Ignite Teaching page spotlights sever examples of student's projects; however, I've been thinking of other creative ways to utilize the platform as well.  While I appreciate the end products children can create together, I value their process.  Luckily, as a teacher using Ignite Teaching, I can see this process.  Ignite Teaching allows me to view exactly which student contributed each part for the project.  This is valuable for me so that I can hop on at any point and see if someone is not contributing as much as the other members.  I can intervene if needed and offer support to scaffold that child's understanding of the content or how to work more collaboratively, a life skill much needed for today.  

This year, I even plan to use Ignite Teaching not only to have my students work on the completion of projects but also to demonstrate their understanding during math workshop.  As my small groups rotate in stations during math, each group can work on problems together.  Students can each have their own device and be working on the same project together - amazing!  I love this idea because even though I may not be with that group, I can still have insight into what they're working on and how they're processing the skill or concept.  This information will be instrumental as I move forward with planning for each group's personalized learning path.  

As a teacher, be able to see who contributed which part of the project. 
5 Key Parts I Love About Ignite Teaching
  1. Collaborative PBL: The perfect tool for collaborative Project Based Learning through digital projects. Finally, a digital storytelling platform made for any K12 classroom.
  2. Analytics: In addition to editing tools that rival the likes of Google Slides and PowerpointIgnite Teaching's analytics is where it truly shines. Finally, you can take the guesswork out of group work and see qualitative and quantitative individual contributions in a group project.
  3. Storytelling: Ignite Teaching is a great tool for digital storytelling.  Here's an elementary school in Portugal that uses us pretty heavily. https://igniteteaching.wordpress.com/2015/06/03/school-spotlight-o-parque-libson-bilingual-school/
  4. Simple Subscription Model:  Ignite Teaching's editing tool will stay free for both teachers and students. However, access to Analytics and My Students (the ability to organize student projects into folders) will expired after 30 days. After which, you can sign up for two simple teacher subscription plans . $3 per month recurring or $25.00 annual recurring. Unlike other subscriptions plans out there, we don't limit student seats per license, so no need to worry about calculating student licenses. We also make it easy for your department head, EdTech department and/or administration to pay on your behalf. Just give them the email you used to register. Pricing model will be introduced Fall 2015.
  5. BYOD-friendly: Available now in the App Store for your iPad or through the web on any major browser.

Try Ignite Teaching Today
click the button below

 photo ignite teaching.gif
“Disclosure of Material Connection: This post is sponsored by Ignite Teaching. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Keep Organized w/ Awesome Planners from @ErinCondren Designs! Built w/ Teachers in Mind!

Teacher Lesson Planners: Custom Built Just for You!

By best friend and colleague, Cierra, couldn't believe when I told her that I had never heard of Erin Condren.  She told me I had to go home that night and check out her designs.  She even text me that evening to make sure I'd remember.  Cierra knows me well - even my obsessive compulsive tendencies.  That's why she found it so hard to believe that I had never stumbled upon this resource, especially considering how much time I spend online and on Pinterest.  

Finding the Perfect Planner:

Well, I'm now the proud owner of an awesome Erin Condren teaching planner.  I couldn't be more in love with a planner.  People often ask how I balance being a mom, teaching, eduBlogger for Kleinspiration and Scholastic along with several other sites I guest post for, presenter, author (I'm currently working on two books to be published next year), and owner of four super cute pets!  My blessing and my curse is my diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I'm the girl that makes to-do lists for my to-do lists.  I can also tell if anything in my home or classroom has ever been touched for everything is on exact parallel lines with the objects that share the same plane.  My husband jokes with me because he thinks it's funny that I still use a paper planner for as techy as I am.  As much as I try to explain, he doesn't seem to understand that I have to 'see my items' and be able to scratch them off, move sticky notes around, and stuff papers in certain places.  A few of my friends thought it was hilarious this year at ISTE when they saw the planner I put together made from a composition notebook.  I couldn't find a planner that worked for me, so I made one.  It took way too long and didn't look that great.  Thankfully, Cierra introduced me to Erin Condren Designs.  

Reviewing the Erin Condren Teaching Planner:

I reached out to Erin Condren through her site asking if I could review a planner in exchange for one to trial.  They gifted me a certificate so that I could build my own planner through their site.  I went all out.  I added extra pages, more checklists, additional clear sleeves, an extra notepad and more.  Needless to mention, the price tag was costly.  However, in my opinion, one can't put a price on organization.  For me, I'd pay a fortune to keep my mind at peace and stay organized.  It is the difference for me being sane and not.  I'll admit though, with the high price tag, I'm not sure (without seeing the planner first) that I'd spend my own money for as picky as I am about planners.  That's why I'm glad I got to test one out through a review before deciding to spend my own money on one.  I can honestly say that each year, I wouldn't hesitate to spend my own money to purchase a planner.  I'm quite happy with the product I received.  Please watch my full video review below to see the entire planner.  

My Favorite Parts and my Wishes:

In past years, I had a planner for home and a planner for teaching.  I'd get frustrated when I would leave one at school or at home.  That was one more reason my husband would tell me that I needed to go digital.  I tried, but I just couldn't make it work.  Now, I keep my entire life in this one planner.  I use the calendar pages for my family planning and the lesson pages for my school planning.

Now that my planner is set up, life is good.  It did take me a while to enter the dates I needed.  As I've started using it more, I wish that the lesson planner pages went beyond the M-F spots.  As you can see above, there is an area for you to write in each day of the five day week.  However, I do a lot of my planning on the weekends.  I also tutor on the weekends.  So, it would be nice, in my opinion, to have a smaller M-F space but to add a Saturday and Sunday row.  I'm sure one would tell me that I could use the calendar pages in the front for that, but again... I'm picky.  I like keeping the calendar pages strictly for family obligations.  

My favorite parts are the year at a glance pages up front, the clear sleeves in the back, and the folder pockets in the back.  With other planners, I'd have pages sticking out and falling out.  Now, I can keep everything contained and neat.  It makes me very happy!  I also have a lot of travel obligations.  I use the "Year at a Glance" pages to track all of my professional development.  I really appreciate being able to just flip to this section and see all of my PD spread over the two pages in an organized way.  Of course, you could use these pages for anything.  I actually wish there were two sets of year at a glance pages.  I would use one for my PD and one for the special reoccurring events that happen within our school year (like field trips, assemblies, activities, and projects).  However, now, I'm using the graph paper to tract the yearly activities within our school.  So, I sort of made my own... but it's not as pretty as I'd like.  

Overall, I encourage you to watch the full video above to see if this is a tool that would work for your organization and planning.  I love my new planner.  I've chatted with several friends on Twitter that also use Erin Condren planners.  They have all been very happy with theirs as well.

The Planners are for EVERYONE!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Beyond "Ditching the Desks," 9 Creative Ways to Avoid "The Cemetery Effect"

Avoiding “The Cemetery Effect”
a collaborative post via Thomas Murray and Erin Klein

- click here to download Erin's FREE 18 page eBook with images, templates, printables, and more -
This first segment reads from the Voice of Thomas Murray: State and District Digital Learning Director for the Alliance of Excellent Education, Washington D.C.

A few months ago while driving through back roads in Pennsylvania, I came across a carefully laid out cemetery. Each stone was equidistant from the other. Rows were impeccably aligned, all seemingly facing the same direction. The plot of land was a perfect rectangle. With the exception of some updated landscaping, the space remained seemingly untouched for a number of decades.

My heart sunk when I thought about how this space - a cemetery - resembled the first classroom learning environment that I had created for my first class of fourth graders. No, the students weren’t zombies, nor were my thoughts morbid. The physical environment - the learning space - that I created early on as a teacher, would have looked almost identical to the cemetery if drawn on a map. Add some tennis balls to the bottom of the stones, a large, oversized, wooden teacher desk in the corner, an interactive white board and American flag on the front wall, and not only does one have the first classroom environment that I created; but an environment that resembles many of today’s classrooms. These classrooms are seemingly suffering from what I’ll coin, “The Cemetery Effect”.

Spaces like the one in a country field in Pennsylvania are not the only thing that have remained virtually the same for decades or longer. Side-by-side images of classrooms from 1915 and ones from 2015 yield eerie similarities, even after 100-years of life changing research and innovation.

1915 Image Credit: www.clevelandfoundation100.org (via Google Images); 2015 Image Credit: www.wskg.org (via Google Images)

During the industrial era where students were essentially trained to work in factories, “career readiness” meant preparing for jobs where a worker would spend hours a day performing the same task, often even spending his/her entire career at the same company. The one-size-fits-all, sit and get instructional model where the ability to regurgitate was the key to success, was a sufficient paradigm for that world of work.

But that world of work no longer exists in our nation.

With such changes, the need to redesign our students’ learning environments becomes not simply an idea from the latest Pinterest board, but one of necessity. How can schools and classrooms transform from an industrial era model yielding teacher-centric environments with desks in rows and all students facing forward, to ones that are student-centered, personalized, and leverage the power of technology?

Freebie for Kleinspiration Readers...
Simply Hop on Over to Tom's Blog to Download
My Free 18 Page eBook with Printables, Classroom Photos, and More!

Classroom design consultant and Classroom Cribs co-founder, Erin Klein, shares the following tips to help educators avoid “The Cemetery Effect”. Thank you - Tom Murray

9 Creative Ways to Avoid "The Cemetery Effect" For All Classrooms

Being a current elementary teacher, I strive to create an environment that is highly engaging and interactive for my students.  The last thing I’d ever wish for  is to cultivate a class culture that supported a factory-based instructional model where students sat in desks in rows, answered only when called upon via raised hands, and where I was the sole delivery method of content.   Instead, together, we aim to develop a space that is different each year: one that suits the needs of each class.  Because the class is different each year, the space must be flexible enough to adapt to the users of the environment with each changing year.  

During our first few days together, we sit together to think about what would work best for our learning objectives.  We discuss the value in creating a space where all voices are equal and sharing is an organic process: not one that happens only when we are asked to “turn and talk” at designated times during the lesson.   My second grader’s voice is instrumental in the design process.  After all, they are the ones who will be utilizing the square footage, so it only makes sense to consult with them regarding their ideas.  They understand that in order to have the level of collaboration we want, we need to design a space that not only encourages conversation but allows for it.  

As educators, we must realize that our traditional spaces will only continue to reinforce traditional teaching and learning.   We have an opportunity to transform teaching and learning within the confines of our classroom spaces.  What type of learning space would you want to learn in?  What would you want for your own son or daughter?

Prior to becoming a teacher, I studied Interior Design for a number of years.  As a designer, I’ve learned the importance of satisfying your customer's vision.  We all have unique styles; however, what makes one successful is when he or she can translate that customer vision into a shared, tangible idea which can be observed and felt.  Stated differently, how can we take the ideas of our children and help them come to life in our schools?  

The following tips are successful and simple ideas I’ve curated from students and educators over the years working to transform learning environments and enhance student engagement.

  • Incorporate the Student Voice
Think about your space.  What is your student to teacher ratio?  Who do we ask to do most of the work within this particular space?  I start each presentation I give explaining how becoming a mother changed the way I teach.  I paraphrase the famous quote, “Everyone in my classroom is someone else’s entire world.”  It is important for me to let others know the reasons behind the decisions I make in my classroom.  Parents send me their most precious joys each day, trusting that I will make the best decisions for their child throughout the year.  I promise to be the type of teacher that I’d want for my own Jacob and Riley.  That means I vow to give my students my very best each day; however, part of what I’ve come to realize is that sometimes (most times)... it’s not actually about me at all - it’s about the kids.  

Before I was a parent, I was the teacher who had “the perfect classroom:” all set up and ready to go weeks before the first day.  Name tags were on desks.  Desks were perfectly organized into rows or small groups.  Posters were laminated and displayed on every wall.  Copies were made weeks in advance.  Lesson plans were written for at least the first month.  And… my name was proudly displayed outside of my classroom door.  Now, I cringe at how I launched those early days of my career.  

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m an advocate for being prepared, planning ahead, and taking pride in one’s work.  Being clinically diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it’s in my nature to be such teacher.  However, the day my son came home from school so excited about being able to pick his own seat, add his art to the classroom wall, receive a “cool, meaningful, authentic” classroom job, and being used as a model for good ideas shared during a class discussion was the day I began to think differently about my practice as a classroom teacher.  Thank you Mrs. Fleer!

Jacob has had many wonderful and inspiring educators in his early years of school, but what Mrs. Fleer did for him was give him voice.  His ideas mattered.  It wasn’t “her classroom;” it was their classroom.  This was evident.  

I encourage you to hold off on finishing your classroom library.  Allow your students to help separate the books into genres.  I bet they’ll be more willing to put the books back in the correct spots.  How about leaving some walls blank, encouraging a space for students to add their contributions.  What if we didn’t have name tags on desks on the first day of school?  Instead… students picked up their nametag and selected a spot around the room where they felt comfortable - whether in a desk, rocking chair, or cozy nook in the corner.  What if students got to share their learning goals on the first day of school instead of “being taught the classroom expectations” or “putting their names on their supplies and finding out where you want them to go?” How would those small changes set the stage for the remainder of the year?  

Ann Landers once said,
“It’s not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”

  • Ditch the Desks
I’ve written a lot about removing the desks from our classroom.  Our space use to be a music room.  The room is long and narrow.  No matter how I arranged the desks, I could never navigate my way to certain areas.  Thus, some students naturally received less personalized support.  Once we received a cart of iPads, it became logistically impossible to encourage learners to collaborate and share since the furniture inhibited the ability to be flexible within the space.  That’s when I knew I had to not only “ditch the student desks” but I had to remove my massive desk that was merely a counter to hold our computer, printer, document camera, and stacks of papers.  Doing so allowed for increased flexibility when working together, in small groups, or independently.  

  • Redesign for a Brain and Budget Friendly Space
Vast amounts of research has went into determining what sort of design works best for learning in various settings.  My favorite research supports what I believe “just makes sense” for kids.  

  • Carefully select colors and patterns
Creating a space that is gender neutral is important.  Boys and girls alike should feel welcomed in their space.  As tempted as we may be to outfit our rooms in hot pink chevron patterns, we must be cognizant of the student’s needs and level of comfort.  Patterns should also be minimal in effort to not distract student’s attention from the content displayed.  

  • Save energy and headaches with lighting choices
When possible, eliminate the use of harsh fluorescent lighting.  A darker room will not only reduce the glare on your boards but may also be a more relaxing space to focus.  Natural light is best.  However, incandescent lighting (lamps) are easier on the eyes than bright overheads.  

  • Eye level displays
Who loves to sit at the theater - front row, neck stretched, objects distorted?  When we place items, like number lines, to border our ceilings (and laminate them) not only does a massive glare prevent us from seeing the resource, but the height makes the information inaccessible for learning.  Bringing objects eye level allows students to touch, see, and use the materials to support their understanding.  

  • Indulge their senses
Prior to having a son with a sensory disorder, I may not have paid much attention to this tip.  But think about it… when you go to the spa, how are you able to relax?  How does the environment affect the way you feel?  When you walk into a children’s play facility like Chuck e Cheese, how does the environment change your actions?  What colors do you see?  What sounds do you hear?  How does it smell?  If you walk into the children’s corner of a Barnes and Noble, what does it look like?  What is the clear focus of the space?  Can you tell what is valued in the space?  How is the environment setup?  What are children doing?  

  • Declutter.
Our classrooms aren’t a storage space for teacher supplies.  They are a workshop for student learning and should reflect such.  If there are more teacher files and binders seen in the classroom than games, manuplatives, and work areas for kids to create, collaborate, and share, what message does that say about what we deem valuable for that space?  Whose space is it?

  • Flexible seating
Not just children, but all people, enjoy choice and comfort.  Because students are spending a significant amount of their day in our schools, they should be afforded the opportunity to be comfortable as they learn.  How do you focus best?  What does your “just-right” work-space look like?  feel like? Do you naturally gravitate towards blue, plastic chairs tucked tightly under a hard, small rectangular surface with limited space for your belongings?  

  • Continue Professional Learning
As students suggest ideas, it’s up to us to have a professional toolbox comprehensive enough to know how to transfer their creative ideas into tangible applications to enhance curriculum and instruction.  

How do we continue to learn professionally when time is a factor?  We are all very busy.  How do we attend various conferences or continue to learn when budget resources are limited?  

What about once you’ve overcome the time and budget factors, how do you decide what conference to attend or even once there - which presenters to see or sessions to go to with so many choices?

These are questions I’m often asked by fellow educators across the country.  I always start by recommending their state reading association conference or state technology association conference.  I also recommend attending an unConference like an EdCamp which is free and led by the participants who attend.  Then I share a few of my favorites like Miami Device in November or one I’m excited about such as the What Great Educators Do Differently conference coming up in October.  As far as which presenters to see once at a conference, I start by recommending  sessions led by actual classroom teachers.  This way, you’re more likely to see examples of what’s actually happening daily for kids in order to elevate their understanding and engagement.  I also enjoy sessions by members of the National Writing Project because they tend to be more demonstration based on strong pedagogy and less tool or device focused.  Lastly, my “must-attend sessions” always include my favorite authors.  I’ve learned so much from attending sessions by incredible authors like Donalyn Miller, Troy Hicks, and Kristen Ziempke.  But above all, it’s important for educators to know that now more than ever professional learning can happen anytime, anywhere.

  • Anytime/Anywhere Professional Learning
    • Books - an oldie but goodie
Some of my favorite titles that have changed the way I teach or impacted me professional are:

  • Twitter - check out this full list of Twitter chats and times
Some of my favorite chats are: #edchat, #edtechchat, #miched, and #ntchat

  • Periscope - watch educators share conference highlights, classroom practices, and teacher tips live
Here are some great educators to follow on PeriscopeYou can find me @KleinErin on Periscope.
What’s Periscope?  You can click here to read more - awesome post and beautifully illustrated through images!

  • TED Talks - sit back, relax, listen, learn, and enjoy!
A few of my favorite Talks include:

If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.

-Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Estrada
How will you decide to teach your children this year?  What will your learning space look like?  How will you continue to model lifelong learning?

Connect with Erin and Tom Throughout the Year

As Tom and I travel the country, presenting, consulting, and coaching, we will share insights from inside classroom spaces along with what leadership teams and fellow educators are doing to transform their learning spaces for teaching and learning.  Be sure to also connect with our two Classroom Cribs co-Founders: AJ Juliani and Ben Gilpin.  If you're interested in contacting us for any speaking engagements or consulting work, please reach out to either of us via the contact pages on our blogs.  We'd love to work with your school or district!

Lead Image Credit:
Cemetery Effect Images: www.istockphoto.com (via subscription), altered

Thursday, July 30, 2015

14 Ways to Make Teachers, Students, AND Parents Happy with Just One Tool!

Finally a Tool and Resource to Fit Everyone's Needs

click here to get started

As a classroom teacher, I'm always on the look out for resources that will help my students in class and support the work they do at home as well.  Over the years, I've gathered binders full of information, computer files full of information, and now Pinterest boards full of information.  I'm over the moon the FINALLY have a resource where I can curate ALL of my content under ONE place: appoLearning Collections.  

What Are appoLearning Collections?
~ one spot to save ALL your favorites ~ 

Imagine a space where you could find standards aligned, developmentally appropriate, engaging content all in one place... like a filtered Google Search just for Education.  Collections are a space where you can save all your favorite items, like bookmarks.  Yes, you can save them as public or private.  I love Collections because I can save more than just links!!!  I can save files, iTunes apps, videos, PDFs, images, and more - all in one, single, organized spot.  With just a click, I can share with parents, students, or colleagues!  You can read more about appoLearning in this post I did earlier this month.  

What Makes appoLearning Collections Great?
~ They simplify accessing and saving great content for everyone! ~

Can I See What A Collection Looks Like?

Sure!  I made a math collection to for my measurement unit on capacity.  I opened up my favorite resources that I had saved in several different locations.  I had many links saved on my math Pinterest board.  Some files were saved on my computer's hard drive.  Finally I opened my iPad to see which apps I used to reinforce the learning for this unit of study.  

To see the "Elementary Math: Measurement and Capacity Collection" that I made, simply click the image above or click here.  Because I had most of these resources already, all I had to do was save them to the collection.  It was easy!  However, because appoLearning has so much more to offer, I was also able to search for great capacity ideas right within the website.... amazing!

How Can I make My Own Collection?

Making a Collection is quite simple... trust me.  It took me about four minutes to create the one above for math.  After one is created, you'll feel so good knowing you are that much more organized.  I love getting ready for "Back to School Time," but I tend to stress myself out a bit because I want everything to be "just-right."  Thankfully, this tool and resource will help me keep my planning organized.  I know it will save me a ton of time now and in the upcoming years.  I'll be able easily add and omit resources as the years pass so that my students always have access to the best content.

Step 1: Search for great content or if you know what you'd like to add... get started!

Step 2: Set up your Collection (give it a name and description)

Step 3: Start saving your favorite content (videos, apps, websites, files, and more!)

Really... this is Free?  How do I start?

You can sign up right away... it's very simple (and fun!) 

click this image to start
If you make a Collection, please be sure to share it on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or your favorite social media site so others can see the awesome content you've curated.  Together - we all learn more!  I can't wait to see what my friends come up with... please share your Collections with me!  

What Collection will you make first?  Ohhhhh.... I just thought of a great one - how about a Collection of book ideas to read to your students on the first day of school?!?  You could include activities, ice-breakers, games, and more that all compliment the books within the Collection - how fun!

“Disclosure of Material Connection: This post is sponsored by appoLearning. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”