Thursday, March 31, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: #Collaboration

Collaboration - an education buzz word that gets thrown around as much as a baseball at spring training.  But what happens when we ignore the buzz and truly reflect on what it means to collaborate as educators and to promote true collaboration with our students?  Our next guest blogger, Malena Schrauben - Central Middle School, Science and Computer Science - reflects on those very questions after her MACUL 2016 experience.
“How many of you can tell me the first four presidents of the United States? Not many right? But, if I gave you 30 seconds to collaborate all of you could do it.” -Jaime Casap, Google 
These words, from the opening keynote of MACUL ‘16, really hit home for me. I promote a blended learning classroom, and I am constantly looking for ways to make the most of my learning environment.  Learning in isolation is a thing of the past and does not promote an environment where our children will exist in the future. With our transition to 1-1 technology in Portage we have an amazing opportunity to cater to all learning styles in a collaborative manner. I’ve often thought of these words, “If my students can Google it, then why am I teaching it?” Teaching is transforming into providing students with the opportunity to think creatively and collaboratively. Instead of identifying the answer, let’s solve the problem, better yet let’s find the problem to be solved! We live in a world of opportunity where our students have the power to define the future! And, we, the classroom teachers,  have the power to show them how to do that within our classroom walls. Teachers are just as important now as they have ever been. Blended learning takes the best of two worlds and provides engaging, productive, and collaborative learning to all students! #happyblending ~Malena Schrauben, Central Middle School
So, the questions remains, how will you promote collaboration in your classroom?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: A first-timers perspective

Whenever you go to a conference you have not attended before, you never know what you are going to get.  Will it be beneficial, or a waste of your time?  Will you walk away wondering if anything you learned will be implemented in your district, or will you rush back energized to try new things?  The MACUL conference is a big investment in a teachers time and energy.  It is a two-day conference that will require the teachers to be away from their students and families for that time.  It means preparing two days of sub-plans, crossing your fingers that they find a sub for your class for both days,   organizing transportation, and figuring out what exactly you want to focus on at a conference with more choices of sessions to attend than you could ever imagine.  It is an investment in time and energy, so I am always curious to hear what our "first-timers" think when they return.  Our next guest blogger is Michal Vandenberg.  She is a third grade teacher at Lake Center Elementary in Portage and MACUL 2016 was her first MACUL conference.
This was my first time going to MACUL and it was incredible!  It was so inspiring to hear from other educators who are doing amazing things in their classrooms.  Not only did the conference help me continue to wrap my mind around the concept of blended learning, but it also introduced me to some new ideas that I could take back and implement immediately.   I found myself overwhelmed with resources that I can save and revisit as I continue to create my blended classroom.    
Two things that I’m excited to try are Mystery Skype and BreakoutEDU.  I love the idea of expanding our walls and connecting with other classrooms around the country through Skype or Hangouts.  BreakoutEDU will be a fantastic way to help my students build collaboration and critical thinking skills.  I plan to use these challenges as a way to either introduce a new unit to my students or as a culmination activity for a unit.   
MACUL was such an energizing, eye-opening experience and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to go!  ~Michal Vandenberg - Third Grade, Lake Center
Thank you, Michal for sharing your MACUL take aways.  I love the enthusiasm you are bringing back to your third graders, and look forward to watching your Genius Hour and BreakoutEDU sessions evolve.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: Tech in the Classroom - It's Elementary!

When we talk about blended learning, many elementary teachers believe we are referring to something that can only be done at the middle and high schools.  This, however, is not the case.  Whether you are hosting a discussion in Google classroom or administering formative assessments on the fly, blending is for everyone, K-12!  Our next guest blogger, Todd Heerlyn - Third grade teacher at Moorsbridge, shares some of the wonderful elementary resources he discovered at MACUL.

MACUL was a really good experience! I was completely amazed at what was out there in the world of technology. There are so many opportunities to use technology in any subject in the classroom. I'm really excited and completely overwhelmed to go back to the classroom and start using some of the things that I picked up there.  
I started to learn more about the online formative assessment tools (kahoot,,, Google Forms, etc.).  I'm hoping to utilize more of this in my classroom in the next few weeks.    
One session that I really liked was an elementary school teacher sharing all her tech ideas that she uses in her classroom. There was so much that she was doing with technology, it was completely overwhelming.  But she did a great job reassuring everyone that this took her years to put together, doing one thing at a time.  If you'd like the list, please let me know. 
I've been able to work with Google Classroom, having the students use the Q and A feature successfully.  
Overall, it was a great experience! I was very thankful to have the chance to attend. Thank you again to the tech department for all their help and support!  ~Todd Heerlyn -3rd Grade, Moorsbridge.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: Coding and Blending

We have been focusing a lot on Blended Learning here at Portage Public Schools, and each day we continue to introduce new teachers to the concept of Blended Learning.  It is always great when teachers are able to go to a conference and explore the topic you have been investigating from another district's or teacherss perspective.  Today's guest blogger, Ally Leverett - fourth grade teacher at Lake Center Elementary, was able to learn how to incorporate aspects of coding and blended learning into her classroom thanks to the MACUL conference.

"Well...there are so many things that intrigued me at MACUL that it was hard to choose just one "big idea" I walked away with. However, since the conference I have showed my students the Scratch website, as well as the 21Things4Students website. They were so excited to be able to code and I actually have some coding experts in my room that I didn't even know about! Those students are now the "go to" references when it comes to coding since I do not consider myself an expert in this area at all!  
Another big idea that I walked away still thinking about was the idea of blended learning as a whole and what that looks and sounds like in my classroom. There was one session I attended where the presenter (a former teacher) showed videos/pictures of her classroom to display what blended learning looks like in action. She converted her classroom into a comfortable learning environment where children were free to choose their own spots to work. I loved this idea! She also really emphasized self-pacing and allowing students to choose what to work on during work time. I actually tested this idea in my classroom this week. I had a handful of students working on their writing, while others were completing spelling work, and then a group who were on Zearn and then completing their problem set. This gave the opportunity to work with students who really needed my help. I saw my students were more motivated to complete their work since it was a choice they had made. They were engaged the entire work time and I felt more accessible to students for help. I was acting more like a sideline coach rather than taking up the whole time talking in front of them. This is something I really would like to start doing more often and I know it will more doable with 1-to-1 technology next year. I'm really looking forward to that!" ~Ally Leverett - Lake Center Elementary - 4th Grade

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Preparing for Blended Learning, Student Preparation (Part 4.1 of 6)

When I first started in my role as a Technology Integration Specialist four years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the Flipped Classroom and shortly after, Blended Learning. What I heard and read about each of these ideas piqued my interest and I had to know more. Subsequently, as more teachers and administrators within our district heard about the possibilities with Blended Learning, we began exploring what this model might look like in our classrooms. This six-part series will discuss what we have found Blended Learning to be and lays the foundation for Blended Learning that we use to train our teachers.

In my last article, we explored the Keys for Success. In this series of sub-articles, we will look into what it takes to Prepare for Blended Learning. Today, we will focus on Student Preparation.

Disclaimer: Yeah, so about that whole “Part X of 6” thing… Well, um, I could have stuck to that formula, but these articles need to be digestible and, well, as I was writing this piece I realized you would need a fork and knife. Therefore, I have divided my original article and you are now reading Part 4.1 of 6. Expect 4.2 and 4.3 in the following weeks. Thanks for hanging with me!

Photo Credit: LucĂ©lia Ribeiro
Any teacher that has been in the classroom for any length of time knows that a successful lesson requires an adequate level of preparation. We plan for warm up activities that help to focus students on the topic at hand. We plan challenging exercises for students who “get it” and less complex examples for students working to assimilate new information. We plan for questions that may arise. We plan (or should plan) for when technology takes a vacation and doesn’t want to be our friend that day. We try to think of everything that could go wrong, so that when it does, we are able to switch gears and minimize the interruption to our students’ focus on learning. We plan.

So, if we are going to work towards changing the very foundation of how we deliver content and foster learning in our classroom, should we prepare for it? You bet we should! Well, then, okay, what do we prepare for? Answering that question is the focus of our next three articles. I cannot possibly cover every detail that may need to be considered in your classroom in the space we have here. However, I certainly can provide you some foundational questions to ask yourself as you plan. I may even be able to provide you a few suggestions as well. Even as you take all that into consideration, remember this, your classroom is living, breathing, and unique. Use these suggestions as a gentle push towards the questions you may need to ask yourself as you consider your classroom needs.

So, how do we prepare our students? What do they really need to be prepared for? Chances are that your classroom may be the first experience your students have had with blended learning. As time passes, hopefully, that is not the case; however, until we know better what skills our students possess in this area we must assume they have come from a more traditional learning experience. Blended learning affords us the ability to individualize learning opportunities, to allow students to be more self-directed, and allow us to meet with individual students, or groups of learners, more frequently. Many of our students are not familiar with a learning environment designed to foster individual growth. Students who “do school” really well are going to begin struggling. Others have been waiting for this moment their whole career. Both types of student will ask the same question, “What do you mean I can work more independently and make choices about how much time I spend where?” The possibilities of a student’s growth from this point forward depends on the student’s perspective while answering that question. Is he a self-starter? Can he think for himself, or does he need someone to tell him what direction to move in and in what order to do so? Students who have never had a choice in life are going to struggle. You will need to build their capacity to make decisions. Khan Academy has some great information on Blended Learning, specifically on our current topic, How To Prepare Students To Thrive In A Blended-Learning Environment. The previously linked video is about six (6) minutes in length and if you feel so inclined, there are two more following it on Khan. From the first video, hopefully, you heard that most of the conversations revolve around building a student’s capacity to be self-directed. Again, many of our students will struggle here, so it’s important to be intentional about focusing on developing this skill.

Visit this Blended Learning Handbook from Aspire Public Schools, a charter management organization with 38 locations and 15,000 students. Starting on page 12, teachers are provided an overview of how to create a proper blended environment through student preparation. Much of its pages cover the same “building capacity” ideals as the video above.

Caitlin Tucker, a teacher/blogger/author from Sonoma County, California, speaks in this article, Build an Online Community to Complement Your in Class Community, about building an online community by establishing expectations, allowing time for practice, and correcting missteps online. By allowing time for students to practice using web tools in a non-threatening environment, we, again, are working to build the capacity of our students to function independently.

Here are a few “take aways” our pilot teachers garnered from these resources on Student Preparation.
  • Create a “What to do when you get stuck” checklist to help students troubleshoot 
  • Take the first 2-3 weeks at the start of the year to set up the expectations and procedures for this new way of learning 
  • Foster a Positive Online Community (as you would your classroom) 
  • Develop a set of “code words” for student routines 
  • “tuck ‘em in” means close your laptop screen 
  • “wake ‘em up” means open your screen and log in 
  • Develop or provide time management tools and techniques for students (ex: checklists, table of contents, time sheets) 
Please note: The younger the grade level, the less traditional training that may need to be overcome; however, though your preparation may look different, going through this process is still necessary.

See you next time as we discuss Instructional Time and how that aspect of your classroom might change.

Until then...



Related Articles

What is Blended Learning? (Part 1 of 6)
What Blended Learning is Not (Part 2 of 6)
The Keys for Success with Blended Learning (Part 3 of 6)


Khan Academy, Silicon Schools Fund and the Clayton Christensen Institute

How To Prepare Students To Thrive In A Blended-Learning Environment

Aspire Public Schools, Charter Management Organization

Aspire Public Schools, Blended Learning Handbook

Caitlin Tucker, Teacher/Blogger/Author

Build an Online Community to Complement Your in Class Community

Friday, March 25, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: MACUL - More than just a "Tech" Conference

I have been attending MACUL now for five years and each year I notice that the conference morphs more and more from a solely technology-focused event to a conference that focused on teaching and learning with technology.   I see this as a valuable transformation.  Our next guest blogger, Kevin Luteyn - Fourth Grade teacher at Moorsbridge Elementary in Portage, models this blended focus on instruction and technology with his takeaways from his second MACUL experience.
"This year was another great year at MACUL.  There was yet again so many different ideas on ways to incorporate technology into the classroom.  What I thought was most intriguing was the fact that most of the sessions were not total technology-based.  They shared ideas that they used for learning and showed how you could use technology to enhance the learning, which is exactly what needs to be done.  It really felt like the main idea is still that technology doesn't replace teaching, it is used to offer alternate avenues of learning when applicable.  I had a few sessions that really peaked my interest. 
I went to MACUL with a goal of working on setting up a Genius Hour.  I wanted to pick up some ideas of how to use technology to help present information for the projects that the students would work on.  I attended a session or two that gave several different ideas for presenting work digitally. I didn't get to see some of these sites in action, but I figure I can give some a try.  I would like to try Seesaw which allows you make videos to present.  They also mentioned screencastify which is another video website.  IMovie was mentioned, as well, but may require other technology, like an IPad.  These tools, at least, gave me a direction to work with.  There are also web creation sites like weebly, sway, and that students can use.  I also learned about several sites for digital storytelling that students could use for book reports or whatever else that is needed.  Those were Photopeach, animoto, and storybird.  If you want cartoons, you could try Powtoon, wideo, or makebeliefscomix.  I felt I came away with some ideas to try with the students.   
I also attended a genius hour session to see how another person set it up in their classroom.  It looks like it will take some time to create the atmosphere and expectations, but the students love the freedom.  I put some notes in the MACUL share folder about the set up that that particular teacher uses for his hour.  I think that will be a good project for next year.   
I saw a blended learning session where two teachers described their switch.  They used youtube to create videos for lessons, which allowed them to be available to move around the room during their blending learning activities so it was more student driven.  They did not have 1-to-1 tech, however, so they had to think outside the box for their time.
One other session which I was impressed with was BreakoutEDU.  This is a fantastic way to promote teamwork and problem solving in the class all while covering benchmark material.  It is based around solving puzzles to unlock other puzzles to get to the end.  Moorsbridge is already in the process of gathering up our breakout boxes and kits so we can start next year with some games.   
In all, another great conference that makes your head spin with information and ideas.  Thank you tech team for allowing us to attend again on the district dime so that we can better incorporate the tech that we have access to.  I can't wait to try some of these new ideas!" ~Kevin Luteyn
Thank you for sharing, Kevin!  I look forward to coming over and problem-solving with you and your students!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: Don't wait to try something new!

March is a hard time to try something new in your classroom.  You already have your routines set, your expenctations are crystal clear, and your curriculum is rolling along at a steady pace.  Breaking that flow and trying something new can not only be challenging, but also intimidating.  Our next guest blogger, Kitty Broderick - Third Grade teacher at Woodland Elementary in Portage Public Schools, shows us all why it's okay to make the leap in March and try something new... your students will thank you!
"This year at MACUL I was ready to take something back and implement it right away!  That was my goal.  No longer would I say, "Oh that's a great website.  I'll plan on starting it next school year.  I don't think I have time for it in my schedule at this point in the school year."
Starting something new in March is hard (for teachers).  We already have a set routine, students know the expectations for each part of the day, and teachers are busy trying to get in assessments (dare I say,"M-STEP") and papers/projects completed before the end of the year.  Adding something new as we are gearing up for spring break and the end of the year sounds like a lot of work, right?  WRONG!  What I added into my schedule has actually made things easier for me!
For 30 minutes of the day, students have PAW reading time (may be referred to as WIN (What I Need - Tier 2 Intervention) time in other buildings).  I have 10 students in my room who I often have reading a National Geographic magazine and responding to questions in their journal during this time.  While I love these nonfiction articles and the kids enjoy learning about tornadoes, wolf packs, and different types of pollinators, we needed a change of pace.  Enter:   Google Classroom and DOGOnews.
This match up has been a breath of fresh spring air in my classroom.  I have only been using it a week and the kids love it.  Not only do the 10 students from the one group I introduced it to love it, the other students in my room kept coming up to me and asking if they could do it when they were done with their own work.  All I had to do was give them the Google Classroom code and they picked it up in no time.
Google Classroom was something I wanted to do.  Let's face it, I was the only one in my Chromebook Pilot 1-1 Teaching Group NOT using it.  I felt that with the group of third grade kiddos I had this year, it would be too much.  I was wrong.  
DOGO news is a website where students can read up on current events in a kid friendly manner.  A little bit of text, a related video, plus short answer questions ALREADY made up for students to answer.  This is great practice for students to work on their RACE strategy for short answer questions.  Not to mention, you can share all of this directly to your google classroom!  My students have done NEWSELA, as well as ReadTheory, but this ranks right up there with them.  
Here's how I do itAlthough you can find an article quickly and easily on DOGO news and share it immediately to your Google Classroom, I found that it was too much text within the assignment description.  Also, I wasn't sure if my 3rd graders were going to respond to the questions as a comment, or did I want them to create their own Google Doc and copy and paste the questions into it?  
To make it a little easier on them, I first  copy and paste the questions from the article into my own Google Document and increase the font size so it's more third grade friendly.  I then creat an assignment in my Google Classroom, attach the google doc I just created and make sure to have it make a copy for each student.  Finally, I copy and paste the link from the DOGOnews article to my assignment as well.  This takes me all of 5 minutes (tops!).
So what are you waiting for?  Go try it out!  Or you can wait until the beginning of the next school year. ;-)" ~ Kitty Broderick

Thank you, Kitty, for inspiring us all to jump in and try something new with our students!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: The World is Our Classrooms

There are certain learning opportunities that, as an ed-tech educator, I look forward to each year.  The MACUL Conference is one of those.  I love learning new instructional techniques, tools, and tips that I can use with my students and pass on to my fellow teachers here at PPS.  I love the energy of the conference and the way I come back rejuvinated and ready to race to the end of the school year.  This year the MACUL (Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning) Conference took place March 9-11th in Grand Rapids.  Portage was able to bring around 50 excited educators and administrators to the conference this year.  We also had numerous staff members who presented at the conference on topics that ranged from Modern Media Centers to Blended Learning.  I had so many "proud parent" moments watching our teachers and students present, share, collaborate, network, and learn together.  I feel very blessed to work with such an amazing group of educators.

As a way to reach out to those who were not able to come with us to the conference this year, our participants have volunteered to be guest bloggers and share their experiences.  Our first guest blogger is Maria White.  She is a fifth grade teacher at Lake Center and is just beginning to explore the role technology can play in her classroom.  I hope you enjoy learning from her as much as I did!
"The MACUL conference was appropriately titled Engage Learning.  This conference highlighted for me how both students and teachers can be more engaged in learning through the use of technology.  The opening keynote speaker was forward thinking and inspiring.  He inspired us to think of our students and the jobs they will hold.  His main message was that we need to make them efficient and innovative problem solvers.  His message was followed up with the Keynote speaker the second morning who challenged us to drop the negative stigma surrounding social media and instead think of it as a way to help reach our students and connect them more globally with the world.  Every session of this conference provided another way to make teaching and learning a far more active process than so many of us are used to using.  Whether you try Google Classroom for the first time, add a genius hour to your week, or make a makerspace; the idea is to try it.  See where it takes you and your students.  Our classrooms now reach beyond our building, city, state, or country.  The world is literally our classroom if we learn to use it.  That one student you just don’t think you can inspire is only waiting for you to discover the thing in the world that makes him/her want to be a problem solver." ~Maria White
Thank you, Maria!  I look forward to watching you inspire your students to take on the world and be the best they can be!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Keys for Success with Blended Learning (Part 3 of 6)

When I first started in my role as a Technology Integration Specialist four years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the Flipped Classroom and shortly after, Blended Learning. What I heard and read about each of these ideas piqued my interest and I had to know more. Subsequently, as more teachers and administrators within our district heard about the possibilities with Blended Learning, we began exploring what this model might look like in our classrooms. This six-part series will discuss what we have found Blended Learning to be and lays the foundation for Blended Learning that we use to train our teachers. 

In my last article, we explored What Blended Learning is Not. In this article, we will look into the Keys for Success with Blended Learning.

[Photo credit: Got Credit]
Let’s be real. The shift to Blended Learning in your classroom is going to require an investment of time and resources in order to be successful. Any shift in instructional style or model of teaching would. Most blended teachers will tell you the process is ongoing as you learn and adjust; however, 2-4 years is the average time one can expect to move fully into the blended realm. Even though that time frame may seem daunting, just keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish, completely re-envision how learning takes place in your classroom. That’s no easy task; however, it will be highly rewarding. I have personally witnessed teachers’ passions for teaching re-ignite and burn more brightly than before, even after only a matter of months.

So, as you embark on this adventure I recommend holding dearly to these two words, start small. That is the first key to success. Focus on that one place where you feel confident in the content, the course, the students, and your ability to change gears on the fly. I always recommend beginning with the material you know best and with the group of students that you believe can handle the bumps and bruises of your learning. Choose your favorite lesson. Choose one lesson each month in one class. I mean it, start small. As you grow comfortable with the changes you are making and your students begin to adapt, then go ahead and add more. Tweak, stretch, explore, retool, dream, and expand, but start small.

The next three keys for success…
  • expectations
  • engagement
  • management

As you look at that list, what do you notice? Take a minute. Look again. Yep, that’s it. Those three words are the exact same skills possessed by any good teacher. You already have the skills you need in order to be successful. The skills are yours. Take one more look at those words and know that you will be successful. Now, let’s talk a little about each.

We know that our expectations of students influence how they perform in the classroom. Setting high expectations in the blended classroom will do just as much to further learning as in a traditional classroom. These expectations are going to be different from classroom to classroom, and will now need to involve the use of technology; such as, how to handle the device, how to respond to distractions, what to do with the device when it’s not in use, etc. The key is to set your expectations and allow them to grow as you and your students do.

In my last article, I mentioned that student engagement with technology does not equate to learning. The word engage has multiple meanings. In order to engage our students properly, I recommend focusing on this definition, to occupy the attention or efforts of. Now, design your students’ time with the devices in a way that encourages engagement with the content and learning as opposed to the device itself. The reason I chose this particular definition is that it includes both the words attention and efforts. I believe it is important that we grab students’ attention, but that we help them take action through their efforts. Learning is about doing. A television is effective in occupying our attention, but not as effective in causing any type of action. We must do our best to avoid technology and websites that merely entertain.

Management. How do we tackle management? Managing devices in the classroom is interesting. Let us consider a question. If a student is passing a note in class, should the teacher remove from that student all access to paper and pencil? No, of course not. How would that student write, process information, and learn? Pencil and paper are tools for learning. We should focus on the action of the student, not the tool itself. Do you see where I am headed here? If a student is using a device to message other students in a way that does not foster learning, we do not remove the learning tool, instead, we must focus on building the student’s understanding of how to use the tool for learning, and then monitor that use. The basic skills needed to manage blended learning in the classroom are not much different from the skills possessed by teachers in the traditional classroom. The management just feels different. We need to identify the root cause of the behavior instead of focusing on the technology.

The last key that I have for you today is preparation. Preparing your students, adjusting your instructional time, and understanding how your classroom management may change, are not tasks that you tackle overnight. You are not going to jump into class tomorrow ready to blend. (Okay, well maybe some of you are going to try… but you shouldn’t.) I believe we need to take a little more time to plan in those areas. That is why my next article will deal with those issues more directly.

Until then…



Top 10 Reasons that Blended Learning is Worth the Hype!

Teachers' Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform

How to Determine if Student Engagement is Leading to Learning

Definition: Engage