May GTL Edition; Play, Plan, Focus: Reflect and Prepare to Launch Your Next School Year

what’s the buzz?

When my sister and I were kids (her in primary school and I as a toddler), our parents would often take us to the nearby nature preserve. There are VHS tapes of us peering into the dark water of the ponds, my mother slyly holding the bottom of my t-shirt as I inched forward. My sister and I especially enjoyed tossing food pellets to the various wildlife of those ponds – snapping turtles, Trout, ducks, and the occasional hissing Canada Geese. The experience never got old and the squeals of delight continued for years. Walking past the ponds and over a wooden bridge, we would find ourselves on a path towards the Visitor’s Center.

In all my years of visiting, I find comfort in the fact that the Center itself remains mostly unchanged. The main level of the building houses my favorite exhibit,“Mammals of New York State”, complete with taxidermied animals of all sizes and an impressive bird collection. Upon entering this particular exhibit, visitors encounter a dull buzzing, which appears to be coming from the corner of the room. As a child, I wanted nothing to do with the buzzing, but as I grew, I found myself drawn towards it, sliding open a wooden panel to reveal a fully active bee hive.

The honeybees enter the hive through a series of PVC pipes, which lead safely in and out of the building’s window. Visitors can watch the bees crawling over the honeycombs, so tightly pressed together they barely squeeze by each other. I will never forget the feeling of the dull buzzing in my chest, a tangible reminder of the intense energy generated by their hundreds of wings.

 

gift of wings

Ask anyone who was at the May edition of GTL and they would agree that the room was buzzing. Participants flew from one exhibit to the next, in search of the best edtech to fit their needs. They had the opportunity to “play” with the new tech and take part in demonstrations which featured effective implementation. The demonstrations were led by those who had experienced success while utilizing the tools and truly believed in their worth. Access to these “experts” reassured even the most hesitant of participants and provided them with the necessary support to try something new.

The buzzing grew louder as participants began to narrow their focus to the tools they liked most. They sat down in groups with other teachers to brainstorm ways in which each tool could improve their instruction and their students’ learning. Instructional technology coaches connected people with similar interests in order for them to better explore the logistics of the programs, predict implementation challenges, draft info letters for parent night, etc. Some participants even went so far as to plan a trial run of the program during the remaining months of the school year. The energy in the room was palpable.

 

creating a hive

I walked out of this particular event feeling much like I did when leaving the Visitor’s Center at the nature preserve. I felt invigorated (which says a lot for the third week in May as an educator). Empowered by the passion and knowledge of those around me, I was ready to become a transformative force in education. It got me thinking.

How can we harness this “buzz” as educators and create hives of our own? How can we transform our classrooms into hives of creativity and collaboration?

Here are a few elements from this event which may help you to create a hive of your own:

  • Avoid being the “keeper of knowledge”. (Great wisdom once imparted on me by a professor in grad school). Allow the free flow of information. Never hold back on making a resource accessible to your students, whether online or from a book. Instead, teach them to judge their resources accordingly.
  • Boost collaboration. Set up your classroom in a way that encourages students to collaborate. Utilize tables whenever possible (as opposed to single desks), or set up your desks in groups. Talking is ok, as long as it’s productive.
  • Allow time for play. Students will be more invested and energized when given time for play and discovery. When you’re introducing a new tool – a math manipulative, a new book, a new program – allow students a specified amount of time to explore on their own. You’d be surprised how quickly they learn!
  • Work towards a common goal. Although each bee has its own purpose, they are all working towards the goal of collecting nectar to survive. Your students could be working towards the goal of gaining a better understanding of the world around them. Try and connect to this common goal even when you are cramming for those state tests.

Not quite feeling the buzz in your classroom yet?

Check out some of these great resources from the GTL May Edition;

Play, Plan, Focus: Reflect and Prepare to Launch your Next School Year

Written by Emily Kirsch, @Ed_Tech_Em

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GTL April Edition, Let Our Powers Combine: An EdTech Think Tank

riding a bike

There is a saying that goes, “Being a teacher is easy. It’s like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire. You’re on fire. Everything is on fire.” It paints quite the picture. Even someone who has never set foot in the classroom can picture the chaos of this image. The saying is meant to be somewhat comical, but there is an ounce of truth in it. For instance, just as you ride a bike, you never forget what it means to be a teacher.  Throw a former teacher into a classroom full of chaos and she/he will have the students working together and learning within the first 15 minutes. It just feels natural. That same teacher will go home at the end of the day (probably hours after the school bell has rang) and want to collapse on the couch. Teaching is the opposite of easy; it’s hard and it’s exhausting.

I saw a interesting infographic recently, which stated that teachers make an average of 1,500 educational decisions every day. Educational decisions. That number doesn’t include the emotional decisions teachers make for the well-being of their students, nor the professional decisions teachers make in attempt to balance their work lives with their personal lives. And it certainly doesn’t include the vast number of decisions teachers make around the integration of technology in the classroom. I don’t know about you, but the chaos in that original image has seemingly become a reality.

 

“let our powers combine”

I wish I could tell you there is “one size fits all” solution to this chaos – Maybe a magical bean for a teacher to plant, to aide in her escape through the classroom window? Unfortunately, while I haven’t tried that one myself, I have a hunch that it wouldn’t do the trick. However, I can tell you that it doesn’t have to be quite that chaotic.

You deserve support. You deserve to be surrounded by a community of educators whom you can lean on when you need them most. In short, you deserve your own version of the Planeteers. In the midst of the chaos, it is important to remember the wise words of Captain Planet and, “Let our powers combine.” After all, who knows the challenges of teaching better than a fellow teacher?

Here are some practical (and efficient) ways to form your Planeteers:

  1. Start up a group text with your friends from work (FFW). I can’t tell you the number of times that my own FFW chat thread has saved not only my sanity, but usually hours of Googling the problems that I personally don’t know how to solve.
  2. Join a Professional Learning Community (PLC). Google+ is a great platform for online communities and an easy way to connect with others, ask them your questions or share your own expertise. Google Educator Group (GEG) NYC is  a good place to start. Google+ not your thing? Facebook has some good teacher groups, too; Teachers Helping Teachers Grow is on my personal newsfeed.
  3. Jump on Twitter. Create a snazzy handle for yourself and start reading tips from the educational greats; I recommend searching out lists which include multiple educators, such as “Influential Educators v2” by Edbaria. New to Twitter? Check out this intro video.

 

they’re among us

If it were up to me, each teacher would have their own educational guru. This guru would sit in the back of the classroom each and every day, waiting to answer any and all questions the teacher may have without judgement. During an observation, the guru would make sure all technology worked appropriately and all students had a pencil that was sharpened prior to the lesson. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, it sort of is, but if this GTL event taught me anything, it’s that the experts are among us.

 

As a teacher, we are surrounded by others who face the same challenges and concerns we do on a daily basis. They may not be teaching directly next door, but they are there. I promise. Perhaps these other teachers have discovered an innovative way to keep students on task when using technology. Maybe they even have some tips on how to scaffold technology for younger students. I won’t know until I ask.

 

 

Ask on your FFW text thread, or your PLC, or even on Twitter. All it takes is a simple sentence: “Hey, I could use some tips on…” and maybe, just maybe someone will show up with a bucket of water.

 

Feeling a little shy? Here are some freebie-tips!

Click to access a summary of the edtech issues and solutions from,

Let Our Powers Combine: An EdTech Think Tank

 

Written by Emily Kirsch, @Ed_Tech_Em

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GTL March Edition, Breaking out of the Box: Students as Innovators

diy

After months of dealing with an ever-dying battery, blurry classroom pictures, and limited hard drive space, I gave in and bought a new Android. It always amazes me to see just how quickly technology advances itself and this phone has been no exception. The first time I scrolled through the Facebook app, I was instantly mesmerized by the videos which automatically began to play. As much as I hate to admit it, I must have watched at least 10 clips of recipes and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects that first day.

When watching these videos, one cannot help but adopt a DIY attitude – an inner voice that claims, “I could totally do that.” Some people adopt a DIY attitude to save money, others simply enjoy the opportunity to flex their creative muscles. Even as I write this, I have a DIYer friend who is beginning the stages of building his own dining table. And, why not? In this day in age, with easy access to resources and experts (in person or virtually), more and more people are exploring the world of DIY.

“every child has a genius”

One fascinating thing about DIY is that it gives people the time and space to explore skills they would not necessarily use on a daily basis. It requires them to think outside the box and to stay motivated, even as unexpected challenges arise. During our March GTL event, Breaking out of the Box: Students as Innovators, we explored the work of a true DIY educator, Steven Levy, author of Starting from Scratch: One Classroom Builds Its Own Curriculum.

Famous for his innovative nature, Levy offered his students in Massachusetts the tremendous opportunity of designing their own curriculum. He even identified his “ideal classroom” as one that was completely empty on the first day of school. He wanted to allow his students to create a space that fit their needs. Why was Levy such a strong believer in “starting from scratch”? He understood the unique power of innovation. Levy recognized that when you give students the time and space to explore, you will begin to discover that “…every child has a genius”. Although this idea is not new to me, I cannot help but smile and nod agreement. As young as Kindergarten, students begin to realize their strengths and weaknesses. Michelle knows she is good with numbers and John knows he is a better reader, but what about the skills not found in a textbook?

“Brian’s” genius was professional wrestling. He wasn’t interested in learning to be a better reader. In fact, he struggled to write more than three words in his writer’s notebook. (Anyone out there find this familiar?) So, I did what any teacher would do, I begged him to write more. When that didn’t work (of course it didn’t), I knew I had to change something. I hopped online and began to teach myself all I could about professional wrestling. I read articles and watched videos, familiarizing myself with the “pros” and began to surprise Brian with wrestling-related questions in his notebook. His three words turned into a sentence and before I knew it Brian was writing a paragraph. Turns out, all I needed to do was ask the right questions.

Are you using innovation to support your students in discovering their “genius”?

Interested in learning more about Steven Levy? Check out his book (one of my personal favorites)!

 

small steps = big innovation

During this edition of Google Teachers’ Lounge (GTL), participants explored ways in which they can build innovative practices into their instruction. From discussing flexible classroom seating to learning about digital makerspaces, teachers figured out what worked best for them. One of the best takeaways of the evening was that innovation does not have to mean “starting from scratch”. There is no need to throw away those boxes of curriculum that are in your closet; instead, start small.

Build in innovation by offering students a menu of options. Let students choose how they want to show their understanding of a concept. A Google Slides presentation that includes graphics? A letter written from a character’s point of view? Maybe they could even record their thinking when solving a math problem. Offering these options allows students to draw from their “genius”, while still providing adequate data for a teacher. Most importantly, it allows students to become DIYers, while staying within the confines of that pesky pacing calendar.

Ready to break outside of the box and take on the attitude of a DIYer?!

…Because you can “totally do this” – Check out our full list of resources here!

Written by Emily Kirsch, @Ed_Tech_Em

GTL February Edition, Secret Agents: Students as Self-Directed Learners


the first day

This last September, I received a text from my sister on the first day of school. It wasn’t unlike her to send a morning text, but this day was different. It was the day my nephew would begin Kindergarten. As his Auntie Em, I was feeling a mix of emotions that morning – nervousness for him to be away from his younger brother, nostalgia for the days that I remember walking with him in the front pack – but most of all, excitement. I was sure he would love his teacher and, like all kindergarteners, blissfully squeal at the first sight of the playground.

The phone buzzed and a notification appeared on the screen. I tapped to open it, revealing a sunny video of a school bus pulling up to the curb. The bus slowed and there was my nephew, backpack securely on his shoulders, lunch pail in hand. As the door opened, he looked up at the bus driver who invited him on. I couldn’t help but to get choked up as I watched him climb the steps. Reaching the top, he turned to smile at my sister and then made his way to his seat behind the driver.

what we hope for

My sister and I talk regularly and our conversations over these past few months often come back to my nephew’s experiences at school. At first, we spoke of things in an “I hope he…” way. “I hope he goes to the nurse if he doesn’t feel good.” “I hope he knows that he can buy milk in the cafeteria.” “I hope he tells his teacher if someone is bothering him”. When it came down to it, what we were really hoping for was that he realized he had the power to advocate for himself. He had the power to take charge of his learning environment. Using current jargon, we wanted him to have “agency”. Agency is similar to autonomy, but it goes one step further; it is the feeling of empowerment that one must have in order to take charge and make choices.

As an Auntie, there is not much I can do about ensuring my nephew’s agency in school. I can talk about with him and give him examples. I can even point it out when I see it in others, but once he walks through those doors, I can only cross my fingers. When in school, it becomes the responsibility of his teachers to provide him and his classmates with a sense of agency.

students as self-directed learners

During this edition of Google Teachers’ Lounge (GTL), participants explored ways in which they can provide their own students with a sense of agency. We worked together to find opportunities in learning for student autonomy: choice in resources, place, time, pace, content, or presentation. Then, with these in mind, participants took an in-depth look at a variety of instructional approaches which promoted student agency. The mentors from Educate and the NYC DOE provided guidance in how technology may be effectively integrated within each of these approaches. Breakout groups during this session included: Blended Station Rotation Learning, Flipped Classrooms, Student Self-Assessment, Executive Functioning Skills, and Back to the Basics (a group focused on the basics of utilizing the Google Suite). Sound intriguing? If you have 5 minutes, give this a try: How will you empower your students during your next lesson? One easy way to promote agency is by offering students a choice in how to present their learning. (i.e. Allow students to choose between summarizing their knowledge in a Google Doc or by creating a Google Drawing). 


Although each breakout group offered unique experiences and resources, each participant was able to walk away from the evening with an actionable step. Some shared these steps – things they were going to change tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. – in the Google Educator Group for NYC DOE (GEG NYC DOE). This public acknowledgement of their next steps allowed participants to offer each other support, both in “real time” and virtually. The enthusiastic camaraderie filled the room; I was even lucky enough to witness a last
minute exchange of contact information between two acquaintances.

 

creating a love of learning

It’s now almost April and my nephew has learned a variety of sight words, how to create number bonds, and has a 100th day celebration under his belt. His teacher has designated him as a classroom leader and he works hard at his job of making sure others are organized and their materials are kept  tidy. He loves to go to school and gets upset when not assigned homework.

How do we keep this love for learning alive? By creating an atmosphere where children feel empowered to make choices, where resources are abundant, and teachers walk alongside, rather than standing before their students.

 

Are you leaving room for agency in your classroom?

Check out the link below for resources from this edition of GTL!

Resources for Secret Agents: Students as Self-Directed Learners

Written by Emily Kirsch, @Ed_Tech_Em

 

GTL, January Edition, Finding Our Focus

picture this

There I sat, my toes in the sand, the sound of the waves soothing my pre-state-test nerves down to a soft murmur.  Looking to my right, I could see other teachers from my grade level, sipping from icy glasses of lemonade. In front of us stood our principal, our very own fearless leader, providing a training that was directly connected to our teaching.

Does this sound like your last professional development (PD) opportunity? Probably not. This next one may sound a bit more familiar.

Sweat dripping from my brow as I hoisted my over-sized teacher bag from one shoulder to the other, I ran through the parking lot into the middle school cafeteria. I scanned  the room for an empty chair and found one that seemed to be a universe away from my own grade level colleagues. Shrugging, I began the trek and couldn’t help but think about my growing “to-do” list.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? As teachers, our lives can be marked by the papers we carry in our bags, the random objects that we collect from our students, and those PD hours…

a better way

It is my privilege to share with you today what I would consider a revolution in professional development. As an instructional technology coach at Educate LLC, my colleagues and I came together with experts at Google for Edu and the NYCDOE to host our first event. It was a learning opportunity, which we are affectionately calling Google Teachers’ Lounge (GTL). An opportunity like no other, GTL brought teachers together into an official Google space in Chelsea Market. Teachers of varying backgrounds, each with a unique perspective, gathered together, connected by their propensity for innovation in education.

A stark contrast to the usual PD experience, GTL began with an assortment of food provided graciously by Google (worlds better than the typical snacks I find squished in the bottom of my teacher bag). Our own fearless leaders, Becca Garrison and Kyle Liao, then kicked off the evening with words of inspiration. They ensured teachers that the event was designed with them in mind. Teachers would walk away from this first GTL with an actionable step. How refreshing – to actually walk away from a PD experience with something you want to try.

take advantage

By the end of the the evening, I came to the conclusion that GTL offers three great advantages over your typical PD experience:

  • GTL offers authentic “facetime” with other teachers. It gives teachers the opportunity to exchange and explore fresh ideas with others outside of their direct school community. If for nothing else, come to recharge your batteries!  
  • GTL offers professionals the chance to…be professional! The self-directed, “ed-camp” format allows teachers to explore what is relevant to them and their students at that very moment in time.
  • GTL offers teachers a supportive learning community. With all of the “extras” expected of teachers in these modern days, it has become increasingly difficult for them to experiment with new instructional practices. Mentors from Educate as well as the NYCDOE provided guidance and facilitation, in at most a 1:10 ratio with participants. Coming together with other educators in this environment offers support and encouragement to take risks and try something new! 

 

As LeVar Burton would say, “…but you don’t have to take my word for it.” Come and check out GTL for yourself at our next event:

Secret Agents: Students as Self-Directed Learners

Thursday, February 23rd, from 4:30 – 7:00pm

GWB Tech Talk (Use Google entrance next to USPS on 9th Ave)

76 9th Avenue

New York, NY 10011

Click here to be added to the waiting list!

 

Can’t make it? Be sure to keep an eye out for another GTL blog entry, February Edition, highlighting some of those fresh ideas!

By Emily Kirsch @Ed_Tech_Em