The next thing you need in your teacher tool kit is a way to deliver content. Even though there is a variety of strategies out there to deliver content outside of the teacher, straight up direct instruction is still incredibly valuable. Many students learn better that way, and students who have seen that direct instruction approach through their days of school are so trained in it that changing is incredibly tough. The challenge for any teacher in doing direct instruction is to make it engaging.
Direct instruction is actually the way schooling has gone for years. The teacher takes the content, splits it into chunks, presents it, and the kids take notes on it. Through the years, things have shifted to most of the visual cues with this being in a presentation rather than a chalkboard, but overall things have not changed much. The challenge with this approach though is that lack of engagement.
As students take direct instruction, it’s easy to get bored. It’s easy to not really know what you are writing down. It’s easy for things to get tedious. How do we change that? It is possible, but the challenge is that many teachers don’t know how. The two tools in this post work to change that, and they are incredibly easy to implement. It’s just a matter of moving past that initial fear.
Nearpod and Pear Deck work to make presentations more interactive. The basic idea behind them is that you take the presentations and put them on the screen in front of the student. Then as the teacher moves the presentation it moves on the students screens as well which makes it inherently more personal.
That personalized learning is a huge plus, but what brings up the engagement is all of the activities that you can intersperse in them. You can add things like questions, response boards, website, VR, simulations, and more. It means that as students are taking in the content they also have to apply it making that learning stick just a bit more.
Both of these platforms are fairly easy to use. It just takes adding your existing presentation slides to them and then interspersing the activities in between the content. That ease of use means anyone can do it, and it also makes it a great entry point for most teachers (and a good starting place for tech coaches.) Nearpod even has pre existing slides to get you started, and Pear Decks Google slide integration makes converting those decks easy.
` Are there other ways to present content? Yes, but none go as easy as these too. These are both platforms that any teacher can use. They also have the added benefit of being able to run in a student mode at home. I highly recommend adding one of them to your toolkit!
It’s time for us to start a new series since the school year is back in, and I thought what better one then building the ultimate teacher tool kit. The whole idea here is to give you 12 tools (or sets if two are popular), that you need to get started in making your class an amazing, creative, interactive place, and the first one in the series varies widely by what your district requires. That requirement brings mixed emotions in my eyes, but we all know teachers need a digital platform so let's talk about it.
Districts know digital platforms are important. Most have either purchased one or aligned with one from the major players in technology (Google, Microsoft.) I however would prefer to build my own website. Why would I want to do that? Well to start, I was doing this before LMS systems were really a thing. I had to design my own out of pure necessity. That necessity brought possibilities though. When I designed my own website, I could also design the flow and learning experience which meant I could be creative with it. It was what drove my ability to create a historical newsroom as my class experience. It could have a theme.
From a website standpoint, I think there are two ways to go. You can go all in on something like Weebly or you can use something like Google sites. I personally prefer Weebly and have been using it for years. I just think it is a little more feature heavy than something Google Sites and it gives me that added flexibility. They are however discontinuing their education version so you would need to build it in the commercial version. If that makes you nervous, just use Google Sites which is available in every school district that has Google enabled.
As you think about a website, also think about how building one can be a great activity for students, Google Site is free available to the students too. This allows you to design scenarios where they build the site of a literary, historical, or scientific organization to show what they know in your class. You could also make that organization a little more imaginary if you teach something abstract like math.
Building your own site may be next to impossible in your district though. They may have spent a ton of money on something like Canvas or Schoology, and they expect you to use it. If that’s the case, you could always build a site that has supplemental learning journeys in your class or you could be extremely careful with organization to send students down a path. For example, topics in Google Classroom could be used creatively to tell kids where to go.
Whether it’s a website or an LMS, in the long run does not matter. You just need to come up with a creative organization structure that can make your classroom expansive and creative. Your site or LMS is the base for that, and that’s why it is the first tool on our list. The next one will dive straight into delivering content!
Innovation is the lifeblood of the business world and American society as a whole. It’s what keeps the US ahead of the competition and makes business both grow and change. The problem is we don’t see it in school enough, and one of the ways we can make US schools different is to add innovation there. There are schools and models that are doing it, we just have to nurture them, duplicate them, and help them grow.
As you look at innovative practice, this definition is incredibly broad, and it is generally easy to move anything into the bucket of innovative practice even though it may not be. Just think of STEM schools. While some are doing it well, there are others who take that title because they pass every student through a STEM class not because all of their teachers are participating. When we think of these innovative life changing practices, they should be an all school movement. It should permeate what every class is doing.
There is an easy way to start here too. Just make creation the overarching theme. Can students create to show what they know? This should be the question that comes up in every class because it can drive that innovation. That creative attitude can come in different shapes and forms, but as long as it’s there you know the students are doing something different and what they are creating will often be an innovative way of publishing your standard content.
So, what can this look like? It could be in the models of PBL, cross curricular projects, or just designing great scenarios that are up to you as the teacher. It’s whatever brings creation to the classroom, and you could even mix strategies just by giving students the choice in creating items to show what they know. By including these strategies, you can also give students practice in future ready skills like coding and video production. Bringing those practices to any class is truly innovative.
From a school perspective, this can get even more creative because the idea of a standards based content does not necessarily apply. You can add innovative practices that support what teachers are doing and that whole idea of creativity, but they can be more creative ways to build students up to where you want them to go. Things like maker spaces, internships, speciality labs, and anything else that fits both the school persona and that creativity atmosphere are incredibly valuable. Almost all of them can also be funded by grants or reorienting a school to that specific purpose.
No matter what you do, the key is imagination and creativity. If you are implementing a schedule and a mindset where students have to be creative you are innovating. If you are Imagining innovative approaches for the school and strategies, you are innovating. Students deserve that innovation because it will be what prepares them best for the future, and hopefully you can give them some future ready skills along the way.
As we continue to look at ways to make US schools better, we have inevitably come to the time to chat about teacher training. At their core, teachers should be lifelong learners. They should be people who are constantly looking for new practice and want to find new ways to better engage students. It means teacher development and training will always have a place, but unfortunately because of the way it is constructed in most places, most teachers have a negative view on it. Let’s change that.
For positive change in this realm we need to keep two things in mind: incentives and finding tribes. To make PD and training really count, we need to incentivize teachers to do it. It should come as something naturally, but just like the kids, teachers have often been beat down with the poor experiences that they have had. Whether it be paid time or perks come with implementing strategies successfully, those incentives will bring a simple reason for teachers to join and may even bring some joy back to what they are doing.
The second big change drives more to the heart of the problem. Professional Development and training has been a one size fits all approach for years, and we have to change that by letting teachers find their tribe. What I mean by that, is you have to let them go in a strategy and pedagogy direction that fits them. If they are great at technology and that makes their class different, let them go that route. If they work well in collaborative planning, let them work on strategies to make that better. If they are PBL based, let them go with that tribe. Basically, if you let teachers go the way they are interested (and don’t force them), they are much more likely to take to that Professional Development and it does not feel like a chore. We should center things around that.
Of course with all of this, it does take a financial piece, and you have to look out for that return on investment. You have to make sure that teachers are partaking in things that will actually make them better. Why not make this return on investment goal longer term? Can we move past expecting things to change tomorrow or having teachers summarize what they learned, and can we have them reevaluate the experience in a year to see what actually made its way into their classroom pedagogy?
As you build out new plans for training and development just remember those two main things to drive to: incentivizing and finding their tribe. If you do that, you can make almost any PD work out for the better. Teachers are just like students so that everyone does the same thing and force just does not work. It’s time to think differently.