Monday, March 31, 2014

Check out Blendspace!

I recently was introduced to Blendspace by a colleague, and I have fallen in love with this resource.  There are so many different ways to utilize this website in your classroom.  

1.  Curate resources for students on a specific topic.  You can compile resources from just about anywhere on the web into a Blendspace.  You can embed Youtube and TeacherTube videos, Google Docs, Educreations tutorials, links to websites, text documents, presentations, just to name a few.  Students can then decide which of the resources to learn from depending on their personal preferences.  You can also embed your Blendspace on your website, or learning management system!

2.  Create an account, and then create a class.  As long as you create the accounts for your students, the Terms of Use allow for students under the age of 13 to access this tool as long as you have parental consent first.  Students can then create their own lessons, and demonstrate their own learning of a given topic.  If you have a Youtube channel, your students can even include their own videos uploaded to the youtube channel.  (They can also directly upload their own videos to the website.)

3.  After creating your class, you can create a quiz for your students to take after viewing the information contained in the Blendspace.  This is a good way for your students to work at their own pace, and for you to get an idea of how well they are learning the information.

Below is an example of a Blendspace that I created for my teachers during professional development.  You can view it as is, or click on the Open in Blendspace link in the upper right corner.

What are some other ideas for using this in the classroom?  Please share in the comments section.

Happy Learning!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Who Am I?

This was an assignment for my Aspiring Leaders Cohort class.  Writing a 'Who Am I' story was a great experience for me, as it really helped me pinpoint my core values, and identify where they may have originated.  This type of story is ever-evolving, and it will be great for me to come back to this in a few years and compare it to where I am at that point of my career.

Who Am I

I am my mother’s son, a product of learning early on the importance of, “it’s not what happens to you, but how you handle it that counts”.  My mom frequently explained to me that the ‘what’ is often beyond our control, while the reaction to it is completely ours to own.  Because of this mantra, I try to focus on what I can control in all areas of my life.  The things that are beyond my control are left to the side, not to be focused on during my day. 

I am a product of a single mother trying to raise three boys.  I learned the importance of never making excuses and always pitching in to help others.  My mother never allowed us to make excuses for life’s events, that was not being productive.  Productivity looked like searching for solutions and finding a way, regardless of circumstance.  Similarly, turning our backs on others was frowned upon.  In order to make it, my mother reluctantly accepted the help of others  and passed that kindness along when and where she could.  She instilled in us the belief that it is both important and beneficial to help one another—no excuses.

In losing both parents by the age of eighteen, I learned early of the frailties in life..  From this experience, I have gleaned the importance of making each day count.  Living in the moment and enjoying what it has to offer is more productive than waiting for the “right” moment;  for, as I have learned, that moment may never arrive.

I am a product of becoming a father while still young—some would argue, too young..  During my college years, I learned how to put the needs of others in front of my own.  I discovered the joy I received from seeing others grow and achieve new heights.  I enjoy those successes as much, if not more, than my own.

I am a product of a family of educators.  My father was an educator; I had aunts and uncles who were also compelled to serve in this noble profession.  My own interest in education began during a service-learning project in high school.  During this project, I worked at a day care for children with special needs and realized that I had an innate ability to interact well and enjoy working with young children.  I experienced the joys of helping children be successful and continue to revel in that realization today.  The image of success looked different for each child in that day care and the idea that the definition of success is unique for each child remains with me today.

I am a product of wanting to make my parents proud.  While my parents were not here to see me succeed during and after college, I strive each and every day to show them how much they prepared me for life, in spite of the limited time that I had with  them. .

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Letting Go

In my role as an Instructional Technology Specialist, I am frequently stopped by teachers and asked how to integrate technology better in the classroom.  My first response to these teachers often stuns them.  Instead of getting all technical and rattling off apps and websites, I inquire about how  they  structure their class.  Do the teachers believe that they are the holders of all information?  That they are where the focus should be in the class?  Or, are the teachers the facilitators of learning by the students?  Are the students allowed the opportunity to discover the learning by doing instead of receiving?
The concept of Letting Go is difficult for many educators because we were trained to be the experts in our classroom, told to be in control of what is happening in our classroom at all times.  After all, if we are to be evaluated by our administrators, shouldn't we make sure that we script each and every minute to ensure our observations run smoothly?  I say this in jest, because I feel there is another way.  It is not an easy way, nor is it neat and tidy.  But it is possible, and achievable by simply shifting your mindset.  When we began our careers, it was because of the children, right?  If that is true, then allow the kids to be your focus, or more specifically, allow what is best for kids to be your focus.

Let's face it, we all know that the world our students are growing up in is vastly different from the one that we knew as children.  These students have the world at their fingertips, literally!  Instead of acting as the gatekeeper of knowledge, empower your students by giving them the freedom to find the information on their own.  Instead of utilizing stand and deliver instruction, allow your students to construct their own knowledge.

As I mentioned earlier, this is not an easy shift to make, nor should it be done all at once.  Instead, focus on one area of instruction.  Beginning with one unit, incorporate the use of guiding questions for your students.  Rather than giving them the information that you want them to learn, utilize specific questions that will guide them to the learning on their own.  Then, after they have learned the information, allow them to become the teacher and present their findings to others.

The presentation piece will provide another opportunity for you to let go.  Instead of deciding how the students share their information, introduce a rubric to the students that details what they need to demonstrate.  Focus on the content of the product, not the product itself.  By using guiding questions and allowing the students the freedom to choose how to best share their content, you are taking the first steps in letting go.

Have you seen this in action in your school?  What are some other ways that teachers can begin to let go?