Learning vs. School

When we think about school, we usually think that students come to school ready to learn. We imagine that students walk through the doors, sit in class and learn what is being taught. I think that today, schools are no longer set up to help students learn, school is set up to feed and deliver information to students. This information may not be important, interesting or make an impact on our students lives, but for some reason they HAVE to learn it.

Today, amazingly enough, our students DON'T NEED SCHOOL TO LEARN! There are so many different, MORE EXCITING ways for students to learn where they are able to find something that is personal to them and can help them reach their personal goals. I reflect on my classroom often and it hits me every day - my students just don't have a passion to learn about early American History! This has to change! I need to find their passions and find ways for them to bring their passions into our daily learning.

After studying and agonizing this image, my charge for this post hit me. As educators, we need to step up and create a school or classroom environment that allows for personal, individualized blended learning! This is more important now than ever before. When we allow for our students to come to an environment where they can LEARN something that they are passionate about, we will change how our students view school and we can bring their passions into the classroom.


Risk does not equal Danger it equals Reward.

After another week of #IMMOOC, again I find myself inspired by the chat, blogs of other educators, the dialogue throughout social media and of course the book that started it all! It has been outstanding to see so many educators share their passions, fears, questions and ideas about what Innovation is and how they plan to bring this thoughts into their classrooms and schools. 

I decided to use the "8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset" as my reflection for Week 2, with my major area of focus on taking RISKS!! I chose this because I feel like this topic is something that we all want to do, but so many of us are filled some type of fear when it comes to taking a risk. I wrote a post 2 years ago about Leaving Your Comfort Zone, where I discuss the different ways I had taken risks at that time. When I reread that post I remember how afraid I was to take those risks and try new things, but I do not plan to stop anytime soon. 

As defined, Risk Taking means: To be willing to take risky action in the hope of a desired result. In our classrooms it is important for us to be able to take risks. As educators we should be taking risks with the content that we teach, the lessons that we deliver to our students but most importantly, we should be modeling the risks that we take so that our students follow our lead. In our classrooms and schools, we are their role models, we are the ones that have to show students what taking risks lead to and what the benefit will be when we do take specific risks. By teaching our students how to take risks, we will see them open up more, try new things and build a new trust with other educators. 

In my classroom this year, my students took a risk by embracing technology in their learning. Our 8th graders have gone 1:1 with the use of Chromebooks and while this doesn't seem like something that is so tough for students today, my students, had never really used much technology prior to this year. My 8th graders did not took a risk by trying new things such as Google Classroom, GSuite and other tech tools, but they took a risk by becoming more creative, opening their minds to new ways of learning and working collaboratively with their classmates. My students don't think anything of this, but when I look at how they are changing their learning and trying new things, I am proud of their achievements. It is my hope that this one small change in their learning has opened up a newfound love of learning and something that they will take with them as they move throughout High School and College. 
" Risk does not equal danger, Risk equals reward!"  

Do Something AMAZING!

"Change is an opportunity to do something amazing." 

For many people change is an extremely scary word however, the idea of change is something that has always been fascinating to me. Change is something that allows us to reflect on our practice, improve our actions and make us become something that we never thought we could become. I am excited by change and try to bring that excitement to my classroom each and every day. 

In our schools and classrooms, change may not be something that many educators are willing to embrace, but as connected educators it is our duty to show others how much change can improve us. We must be able to push others so that they break out of our their comfort zones and embrace new ideas. We are the teachers, leaders and change agents that must show the power of opening new doors for our colleagues and most importantly our students. 

Our students come to school and not only do they need to learn, but they need to be entertained. We need to be able to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary and give our students something that they never expected. We can incorporate all the technology tools and websites into our lessons, and if our students are not excited or walking away wanting to learn more, we are not doing what we need to do to bring about positive change. We have to continue to ask ourselves two things every day; First, what do we expect of ourselves as educators? Second, if we had the ability would we want to be part of our classroom?  With these questions in mind, we can change our classrooms for the better and create an amazing experience for our students. 

There is a scene in The Incredibles, where a kid on a bike watches "Mr. Incredible" every day. Mr. Incredible asks "Well, what are you waiting for?", and the little guy replies "I don't know, something AMAZING I guess!". Each and every day, I think about that interaction between these characters as my students come through my door. I want their experiences in my class to be amazing, and for me the only way for that to happen is to continue to change, learn new methods and allow them to explore. I reflect on my practice often and I think about when I first started teaching, if I never made the change from year 1 to today, I would not have found the things that I am so passionate about today.  


Formative Assessment Tools That Work!

Formative Assessment That Works!
A Post by AJ and Jamie Bianco 

In a time where our students are constantly being assessed, teachers and students often times avoid the new “A” word at all costs. It takes up valuable class time and often the results come too late to provide intervention to students in need. However, Formative Assessment is valuable, does provide timely feedback and is fun and easy for students and teachers.

What is Formative Assessment?
Formative Assessment is one of those “buzzwords” in education that cannot be ignored. When used as a tool, Formative Assessment provides teachers with valuable feedback and allows the teacher to assess the understanding of their students before the final test. These tools gives students the opportunity to show what they know before it’s too late to receive intervention. As teachers, it drives us to do better for our students and, if used correctly, will help our students have fun in class while still effectively learning the content that is being delivered. It has the ability to turn a mundane classroom into a class full of intrigue, excitement, and of course a little competition.

Why is Formative Assessment important?
While we constantly throw this term around, many people are still not exactly sure what Formative Assessment is and how we should use it in our classrooms. Formative Assessment should take place during the learning process so that teachers are able to monitor their students’ learning, and to provide feedback that will not only improve how they teach, but also how their students learn. When used correctly, teachers are able to work with their students so that they can take time to answer questions, review content that is hard to understand or to add new concepts on top of what was previously learned.

Educators have to understand that Formative Assessment focuses on our students’ at various points throughout the learning process, and because of this, the results often times should not be graded. By using Formative Assessment tools, we are allowing students the opportunity to show what they know, and have the confidence to say they don’t understand before the consequences of a final grade or project. When we show our students that we are interested in what they know early on, we give them the power to ask for help and place value on their effort throughout the learning process. Summative Assessments are to be used at the end of topics, chapters, or units, when teachers want an overall view of how well their students understand something as a whole.

High-Tech vs Low-Tech
While we always are looking for the newest and greatest tech available to use in our classrooms, we have to remember that not every school has the technology available to students on a daily basis. In addition, the technology based Formative Assessment tools often take time to setup and Formative Assessment can, and often should be a quick tool. It is because of this that we have included some incredible and easy-to-use non-tech tools, which are just as effective as any technology you can use.

Our Favorite Tools
Poll Everywhere - A great tool where you can set up different questions for students or participants to answer about a topic. This is an excellent way to start or end class. Participants can text in their responses or enter their answers via a user specific website, which is through Poll Everywhere. The results show up on the screen in real time and students get excited when they see their responses pop up on the screen.

Readiness Cups - This is a great low-tech tool to use with any age group. As students are working in groups, using Readiness Cups allows teachers to see how students are progressing through the given activity. All that is needed for this to be incorporated in your classroom is three different colored solo cups. The three cups will help you identify whether students are working well, have a question or are struggling.

Google Forms - We love Google Forms! Creating a form is easy and it can be used in so many different ways. Teachers can create surveys, exit cards, short answer responses or multiple choice questions. Using Google Forms helps teachers gather specific information about what their students know and where they need improvement.

Doodle It - Have students take a few minutes to draw what they know about the topic that you are learning about. Students can get specific, in depth or can be very basic. By having your students “doodle” what they know, they are able to open their minds and enhance their creativity.  

Kahoot! - This high-tech tool is a favorite among many teachers. By using Kahoot, students are able to compete against each other to show what they know. Students will answer the questions, and the quicker they answer, the more points that they receive. Teachers can create their own questions, or feel free to dip into the public Kahoots that are available.

Heads-Down, Eyes Closed - One of the fastest tools and most honest! Students put their heads down and close their eyes. The teacher asks students, “If I were to give you a quiz right now, how would you do? One finger = A, two fingers = B, etc. This FA tool asks students to evaluate themselves without the pressure of other students seeing their responses.

Think-Pair-Share - An oldie but goodie. Students have the chance to think about a question that is asked, turn to a partner or partners, and share what they are thinking. This is great for collaboration and allows students to listen to different points of view about different ideas. Teachers can use this to start their classes or after a concept has been learned, to check understanding and give students time to hold a small group discussion.

In Closing
Not all Formative Assessment tools work for all teachers, students or subjects, but each of these tools mentioned can become a valuable part of your teacher toolbox. They can add variety to your typical day and assist you in making informed decisions about what to do next. They are the “diamond in the assessment rough” and should be used to help benefit teachers and students alike. So now, thumbs up, thumbs down - Are you ready to make Formative Assessments fun?

A Review: BCASA/EdSurge Tech for Schools Summit

There is such a wide array of educational conferences available that you never know what to expect when you walk through the door. Some conferences are filled with "Sit and Get" PD for educators, some are un-conferences where you can choose what you want to learn throughout the day, and some highlight best practices in schools.

On Friday, February 26th, teacher leaders, school leaders and superintendents from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, gathered together at Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ. At this event, we were able to look at educational technology that could immediately benefit our students, classrooms and schools.

As educators, we want to be on the cutting edge of what is best for our students. Over the past few years, the focus has been on technology integration and the tools that we can use to allow our students to find success. The problem however becomes filtering out what is best for our students since there are so many amazing tools available.

At the Tech for Schools Summit, we had the opportunity to meet a variety of vendors and choose tools we were most interested in. This is different from other conferences because the vendors were there for us to meet with, explore their product and learn about what makes them standout from the crowd.

Here are some highlights from this outstanding day of learning:

1. Tech for Schools - While other EdTech conferences have a lot of technology represented throughout the day, many attendees don't choose to meet with the vendors. At the Tech for Schools Summit, the goal was to walk around and find the tech that best fits your classrooms and your schools. As attendees of the conference, we chose the technology that we were interested in and had the opportunity to meet with vendors to hear more about their product.

I was impressed with a variety of the ideas that were shared between the vendors. There were a number of vendors at the conference who were demonstrating technology for the math classroom, improving the writing process, bringing an interest to reading with new techniques, and individualized professional development. As I walked around, I wanted to make sure that I met with a variety of the tech vendors so that I could find something that I would use in my classroom, or find ideas that I think would benefit other teachers within my building, district and online learning community.

My favorites for the day: Kids Discover - teachers can find and share non-fiction reading materials to use in their classroom. The best part about this service is that you can find a number of great titles and change the reading levels based on your grade or student needs. Kyte Learning - an online service where you can find Professional Development that is interesting to you. Kyte Learning is adding new material quickly and the best part is, you can complete different programs at your own pace. Turnitin:Revision Assistant - students are given a writing prompt through Turnitin and as students write, they can turn in their work and have the revision assistant check over their work to match it to specialized rubrics for the prompts they are working with.

2. Student Involvement - The best part of the day was absolutely the Student Panel. We had the opportunity to listen to a variety of high school students from various Bergen County schools discuss their passion for tech, how they use technology in their lives and what is happening within their classrooms. The students were taking questions from the crowd and were very truthful and straightforward with their responses.

What made this special was the fact that the students were helping the teachers and school leaders better understand what they expect with technology. As educators, we think that just by putting technology in our students hands they are happy, however what our students want is for us to use the technology better. Students don't want the tech to replace the teacher and they don't want the tech to be the center of the lesson. Students were saying how much they enjoy using the tech for different learning experiences, but there are too many times when the tech becomes too much of the focus and the content is missing.

3. Creative Conversations - As an educator, we need to be able to meet, collaborate and share ideas about what we do in our classrooms and schools. We had several opportunities throughout the conference to meet with people from different districts to discuss what works for our teachers and what we could do to better support them. It was the amazing conversations that left people excited to get back to their schools, and share the new ideas that they learned.

While technology is great and will help improve instruction, it is the collaboration that occurs between educators that makes the tech integration more meaningful for our students. Putting technology in their fingertips is only half of the excitement. The other half is seeing what our teachers can do with it. It is the passions that our teachers are sharing and their new experiences with the technology that makes their teaching more effective.

I am already looking forward to next year's Tech for Schools Summit, where we will have the opportunity to learn about more technology and listening to the success stories from our students and teachers.  Additionally, the opportunity to collaborate with teachers and school leaders, so that I can learn new and exciting ways to bring innovation to my students and school has me counting down the days.