“I’m Just One of Them”

The future of education is just next door

The world is changing every day at the speed of light and technology is one of the biggest catalysts of this process. Therefore, education has to change as well, however, this process is pretty slow because of too many participants included in it – teachers, students, parents, governments.  It is a huge change requiring a lot of effort from everyone. The change is difficult, but possible. It is a long path full of mistakes that leads to a huge success.

“One of the biggest systemic challenges to the spread of the new pedagogies is that they are not yet being measured in any coherent way. Unfortunately, most systems that we have seen simply do not yet have ways to measure the new pedagogies and deep learning outcomes.” A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning

I really love Finland’s model of education, as well as their vision of an effective education, that emphasizes students getting real-world happiness every day by learning from solving real-life problems. It provides so much freedom for thoughts and experiments in the environment where human connections are the most powerful teaching method and sharing real-life experience is essential. I, personally, see their education model as one of the prospective models of future education, since it already has lots of  New Pedagogy model attributes. Moreover, its foundation is trust and collaboration among teachers, students, parents, and even school administration, which makes it a great example of Learning Partnership. Several years ago I had an opportunity to attend TEDxVilniusED 2017 conference, during which Dr Marjo Kyllönen (acting head of the basic education division in the city of Helsinki) gave a really inspiring and motivating speech about future education, or… education today (in some countries).

New Pedagogy and Deep learning

Reading this week’s material on the New Pedagogies and Deep Learning A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning reminded me of the educational model I’ve read about in one of our COETAIL’er Cindy’s blog post Studio 5 at ISHCMC, where students are taking ownership of their learning process and results, while teachers are their mentors, who provide relevant information and help students learn as well as motivate them for further progress. The school I’m working at is also currently going through some internal changes of the educational system, that’s why during our in-service week we all went to “Most Likely to Succeed”  movie screening. It is also a great example of a New Pedagogy model that we all are hoping to be moving towards in the nearest future.

According to Michael Fullan (Professor Emeritus OISE University of Toronto), New Pedagogy and  New Learning is more about the relationship among teachers, students, and families. In order to succeed as a learner in a complex world, students have to understand and learn the 6 c’s character education, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. The relationship is a key element for any learner. Only by learning together and from each other, the highest goals will be achieved. During the COVID19 pandemic Learning together proved to be successful when teachers were teaching online and provided necessary information and resources, while students learning from home took the responsibility of their learning process in their own hands, and, with the parents’ support, succeeded in reaching pretty good results. Of course, all of this would be impossible without technology.

“The goals of deep learning are that students will gain the competencies and dispositions that will prepare them to be creative, connected, and collaborative life-long problem solvers and to be healthy, holistic human beings who not only contribute to but also create the common good in today’s knowledge-based, creative, interdependent world.” A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Michael Fullan also emphasizes students’ need for change and students as the most important character in education who will sooner or later ask for change, because of the constantly changing world around us, that is really much related to technology. If technology is all around us, then why do we still have to learn it as a separate subject? According to the research by Shannon Doak (Emerging Theories of Learning and the Role of Technology ) students are facing an entirely different world than the generations before. (Fouts, 2000) and the fact that virtually all segments of society have changed dramatically by information technologies and will continue to change in the future cannot be ignored. Schools must be a part of these changes and research should proceed with the assumption that technology is and will continue to be a growing element within the schools (Fouts, 2000). All of the students at my school have access to good quality internet as well as at least one or more devices at home. Moreover, students from Kindergarten to Grade 5 have a device provided by the school and are successfully using it during the learning process every day. They also have an opportunity to use a 3D printer, various programmable robots, and other STEM equipment (Spheroes, ProBots, Cubelets, Microbits, Beebots, MergeCubes, etc.) in our Tech Lab. Last school year we had a few hour PD session for teachers in a form of a Tech Fair, during which teachers from different divisions could come and see, learn, and try different pieces of technology. As an outcome, more integrated projects followed after this PD. Our presentation of opportunities to create different technology-rich learning environments has enriched the teaching curriculum of other educators. Therefore, more opportunities for students to experience deep learning has occurred after this teachers’ collaboration.

One of the favorite parts of my job is being in a role of co-teacher in classes with other teachers. This is a great model, that shows students how all of the subjects are related and how much easier the learning process becomes with this understanding. The co-teaching process might require more preparation and research, but it is much more effective. In similar situations, technologically rich environments are necessary for students in order to develop organizational, problem-solving, inquiry, and collaboration skills, that are urgent to any successful learner of the 21st century. It enriches the learning content with valuable material as well as possible practical applications.  Technology integration allows a deeper exploration as well as easier communication between students and teachers.

Inquiry

Our school is using various inquiry-based learning activities that very often include technology tools such as Padlet, or Fliprgrid used to share thoughts between students, teachers, and sometimes the school community. I find Inquiry-based activities a powerful tool for developing critical thinking as well as a method to push students’ away from understanding that teachers must provide all the necessary concept related material and students just have to “swallow” it. I, personally, love when students show, that they know a better solution than is proposed by the teacher (yes, it happens) and then students become co-teacher. By getting an opportunity and responsibility for participation in the teaching process, students become better learners.

“I’m just one of them” Neil Lyons, 8th Grade Teacher, WG Davis School, Canada

This way we also are building learning partnerships between teachers and students. I have to admit that when I was a young and inexperienced teacher, I was afraid of students who might know more than I. Now, I am happy when I get a chance to see those small gems approaching during my classes – it really nurtures our collaborative learning process.

“When students are given a legitimate voice in decision-making, and learn how to use that voice effectively, they start on the path towards becoming leaders of their own learning.” A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning

Learning Theories

Research by Shannon Doak emphasizes several learning theories:

  • Situated cognition: Learning community or community of practice, where the learners take an active role in the learning community, it builds learner relationships within the learner community.
  • Socially shared cognition: In Socially-Shared Cognition learners are participants in a community where the cognition is shared between the participants, the artifacts and tools they are using and the social institutions in which the learning occurs (Brown & Cole, 2000).
  • Distributed cognition: Student-centered approach to learning where the learners participate in a systematically designed learning environment that supports interaction amongst its participants.

All of these learning theories support the model of new pedagogy as well as deep learning.

PBL

Project-Based Learning is one more concept of the New Pedagogies which is directly connected to deep learning.

For example, students learn a new concept about energy and the ways it can be produced by exploring it through research. Technology integration is very important in this process since it helps effectively gather and process big amount of information required for the research, which is one of the deep learning tasks. Moreover, there are many good examples of learning partnerships in PBL, for example, students discussing the real-life problem they are working on with their peers, their teachers, and even their parents, who might have a certain level of specialized knowledge in the area of research.

My Goal

My goal for deepening learning partnerships in my school is to find even more safe ways for students to learn not only from each other, but from other learners around the world, as well as foster communication and develop stronger digital safety skills. I want my students to realize, how close valuable connections can be and how valuable is the role of technology for a successful learner.

Frameworks for learning and Learning Partnerships

Frameworks for learning are supported by learning partnerships and theories because all of the frameworks are based on teacher and student relationship in learning and integrating technology. Frameworks for learning help teacher plan the technology integration stages depending on students cognition stage, by leading students to successful utilization of technology for learning in order to develop necessary skills of a 21st-century learner such 6 C’s emphasized by Michael Fullan – character education, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

Some More Changes Towards the Deep Learning

Since Course 1, Week 5 I made myself see other ways of technology use in my classes as well as integrated classes. I began looking for a better way of integrating my teaching subjects such as design, research, and digital citizenship instead of just teaching or integrating a single concept at the time. Using ideas, learned from this week, I will think of other effective ways of giving students more responsibilities for their learning process. It will not be easy, but sometimes new methods seem to be surprisingly effective.

Every year I organize a coding week which gathers students from different grade levels for pair coding activity. Students from grade 5 are sharing their coding experience with Kindergarten and the opposite. Other grade levels are being mixed up in a similar manner. They explore opportunities for coding various robots using different coding languages and accepting coding challenges or passing obstacle courses, etc. This time this week’s reading encouraged me to think differently. My shift would be from in-person knowledge transfer to virtual learning together. Classes might do their coding activity and connect via Google Meet for the Class session and share their creations with other grade levels. Students coding Scratch will make their own games and will exchange with other students in order to be able to play each other games. Received feedback will motivate students for further exploration and even collaboration on programming a game together.

“The heart of a good teacher is the student – what the student needs to learn. When teachers see that a new way of teaching or new tools spark engagement and learning, they naturally gravitate towards these new pedagogies.” (Tan Chen Kee, a principal in Singapore)

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SAMR, TPACK or TIM?

Technology integration

Technology integration is the use of technology resources — computers, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, digital cameras, social media platforms and networks, software applications, the Internet, etc. — in daily classroom practices, and in the management of a school. (Edutopia. November 5, 2007)

I find Technology integration an opportunity to combine two or more subjects, materials, make connections, and effectively learn new concepts. By teaching together, teachers can provide much more relevant information as well as different kinds of support, necessary to any student. Technology integration to me is an effective collaboration process that helps students learn. I was very happy with my role transition from the “computers’ teacher” to an educator of technology integration because I didn’t have to think about the teaching content anymore (besides mine of course :)), but could simply concentrate on providing the best tech tools in order to help learn other relevant subject content easier and more effectively. Today, our students have a “one on one” technology model in each class and it provides wider opportunities for technology usage in order to support students’ needs, foster motivation, creativity, independent work (as necessary), etc.

“I firmly believe that technology is best taught within the context of the core curriculum”(We Are All Technology Teachers (Kim Cofino))

On the other hand, more and more educators are becoming technology experts and it is really great! But I also agree with Kim saying that it is less likely to be true that we will ever get to the point where schools will no longer need some sort of pedagogical support in the technology field. Therefore, every educator is an expert of a teaching subject as well as an educator of technology integration.

Maybe now it’s time to say “we are all technology teachers.” (We Are All Technology Teachers (Kim Cofino))

Technology Integration Matrix and Bloom’s Taxonomy

My very first experience of developing technology integration at my school led me to a Technology Integration Matrix. This was my first framework to explore. However, later I found an alignment of the technology integration matrix with Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s taxonomy is a model of thinking skills from lower-order to higher-order (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating). Therefore, I found combination of these two models worth attention, because of their simple and similar structure that allows educator understand the connection between cognitive skills and technology integration levels.

 

SAMR

The SAMR framework (developed by Dr. Ruben Puntedura) categorizes four different degrees of classroom technology integration. The letters “SAMR” stand for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. (Schoology blog. October 30, 2017)

After deeper exploration, I’ve noticed, that SAMR has similarities to TIM (Technology Integration Matrix), mainly by its purpose. Both frameworks categorize different stages of technology integration in the classroom in order to help educators to be able to use tech tools to effectively meet students’ needs that are directly related to the level of their cognition. That’s why these two models are very often combined with Bloom’s taxonomy, which emphasizes levels of students’ cognition. These two frameworks help teachers apply an appropriate technology integration level in order to support teachers and students.

https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/samr-and-blooms-taxonomy-assembling-the-puzzle

TPACK

This framework is different from TIM (Technology Integration Matrix) and SAMR frameworks. It emphasizes teacher knowledge categories, that are necessary for technology integration development in the classroom.

TPACK, or Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge, is a model that helps teachers consider how their knowledge domains intersect in order to effectively teach and engage students with technology. (Commonsense Media TPACK)

Individual teachers, grade-level, school-specific factors, demographics, culture, and other factors ensure that every situation is unique, and no single combination of content, technology, and pedagogy will apply for every teacher, every course, or every view of teaching. (The TPACK Framework)

The TPACK Image – http://tpack.org/

ISTE

ISTE (The International Society for Technology in Education) standards have defined clear expectations for teachers as well as students for a successful implementation of technology in the classroom. It’s a great collection of traits/standards that includes very basic skills as well as high-level efficiency requiring skills such as communication, collaboration, designing, thinking, constructing, and learning skills, that transfer to the traits of Global educator,  Empowered Learner, Digital Citizen, Knowledge Constructor, Innovative Designer, Computational Thinker, and Global Collaborator. Our school is widely using these standards as the best collection of technology standards for the successful development of technology integration.

The ISTE Standards are a framework for innovation in education. These standards help educators and education leaders worldwide prepare learners to thrive in work and life. (https://www.iste.org)

21st-Century Teaching

​The words of a former colleague of mine who was still teaching at the age of 70 were: “Technology is inevitably coming to the education world – you learn it and continue teaching or you don’t.” She was stubborn and passionate about learning new things and I am sure she still is. I could learn from her so much and she was the one who showed how powerful collaboration can be. Being an expert in both – teaching subject and technology is great, but collaboration can be even more effective. Therefore, for example, learning about the planets and their rotation around the sun by creating projects based on augmented reality can be so much fun and it makes the learning process way more attractive (instead of just reading a book and looking at the images). Another great example – designing 3D prototype of race car, printing it out using 3D printer, assembling it and testing its speed to analyze and understand physics laws, and most probably.. comparing your model’s performance with one of you classmate’s – all of this raises students’ motivation really high. This is a time- and effort-consuming process but it gives a lot of benefits.

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COETAIL Course #3 Final Project – Building a Virtual Library

This time we’ve teamed up via the Twitter chat – me (Julija Balčiūnė), Shalene Huth, and Simon Dobson. We have agreed on a real-time communication through WhatsApp in order to arrange virtual meeting details. We accepted the time difference challenge, which wasn’t a challenge for participants in Lithuania and Russia, however, required some calculations for the participant from China 🙂

Here are the Ubd planner and the Slide Deck of our project, which we worked on together, as a team.

Photo by Mike Swigunski on Unsplash

Online Collaboration

We held 4 virtual meetings via Zoom. Firstly, we defined our goals and agreed upon the tech tools we are going to use. We’ve added all this information to a shared planning document, that all of us could access any time to check some details or add necessary updates for the group communication. Then, we all dug into an exploration of digital tools that would be used in this project – Write Reader, Book Creator, ThingLink, Flipgrid, and Pear Deck. After that, we filled out the Ubd planner in order to come up with a clear scaffold of a structure of a more detailed unit plan. Finally, we all collaborated on filling in our slide deck.

Goals

Our main idea was to create a virtual library on ThingLink with students’ designed digital books created using online book creation tools – Write Reader and Book Creator. The books include personal narratives written by students and also voice records which reflect reading fluency progress made by students. After that, unit students would have to develop a higher reading fluency, manage to create a digital book design, create a narrative using all the necessary literary elements (character, plot, setting, problem, sequence, theme, solution, etc.) and share their creation as well as a reflection of their learning experience online.

Project Choice

Our project choice was the first one – creating a Ubd unit planner based on the enduring understandings of this course that support students in becoming Creative Communicators and Global Collaborators (ISTE Standards for Students 6 and 7). We all agreed on this choice since our previous projects were related to options 2 and 3.

The Topic

The design experience for students that supplements topic of this project came to my mind, while thinking about the concept of week #3. It inspired me to teach a book design by following the most important rules and teaching about the utilization of all necessary visual elements in order to support personal narratives written as text. However, very often students add too many elements to their slides, digital books, posters, infographics, etc. Design Secrets Revealed (Keri-Lee Beasley) has been a great resource for the design ideas of digital books, that students create in the classroom.
The ISTE standard for educators that I focused on was 6.d. Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge, or connections.

My Takeaways 

My biggest take away from this collaboration process is trust between the team members, responsibility, flexibility, active participation, and respect. My role in this teamwork was more of a collaborator and the values that I’ve mentioned are significantly supporting the process of any collaboration. During Zoom meetings we managed to work together on checking the slides and the Ubd planner which allowed us to find the gaps to be filled very effectively. Therefore, the final result of the project was generated very quickly. A positive attitude towards each other helped us hear each other’s ideas and agree on our main goal. All of us had clearly defined different roles and this was the biggest advantage that led us to succeed. My growth with this experience is valuable because I’ve improved my collaboration skills that allowed to develop ideas and find solutions, that would fulfill the vision of the project.

This project is different from my other learning experience, mostly, because of the effective collaboration via virtual calls, that improve the creation process. Moreover, the slide deck we came up with is not only the structure of the plan on the steps of the unit, but it also includes samples of interactive slides generated using a Pear Deck add-on that effectively supplements the teaching as well as learning content.

The process of collaboration might seem to be challenging, but the final result is rewarding most of the time. Learning from each other is one of the best experiences in this COETAIL journey and my experience has been really pleasant so far. During both collaboration project form courses 2 and 3 I was lucky to work with kind and professional educators 🙂 I hope you had this experience as well…

 

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Sharing the World

Reading the material of this week reminds me of one famous and very old song, one of my favorite songs, that encourages all of us to go away from the stereotypes.

Smells like wind

“Immediately upon our birth we begin to be socialized by the people we love and trust the most, our families or the adults who are raising us.” (Cycle of Socialization)

Babies are the innocent part of our community, their eyes are always clear, trusting and very honest. By growing, people are losing this attribute. The words of one Lithuanian writer (Gendrutis Morkūnas) will always stay in my memory – “children smell like a wind when they are born, unfortunately, the more they grow the more that smell goes away”. I like this metaphor because wind means freedom of thought, actions, freedom from boundaries, stereotypes, rules, and much more. You can always find a child who will smile at you or start a conversation without even knowing you. Let’s learn from children until they get spoiled by the impact of the adult world and the community surrounding them. They don’t care what your skin color, gender, or religious beliefs are.

Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

“…human beings are different from each other in many ways based upon gender, ethnicity skin color, first language, age, ability status, religion, sexual orientation, and economic class.”  (Cycle of Socialization)

According to the Cycle of Socialization article, many factors such as Television, Internet, advertising, newspapers, and radio make a huge impact on forming our world view as well as stereotypes. What we wear, what we eat, what we consume, and the worst – how much we consume, how we act, who we communicate with. To be honest, the more I live, the more I realize, that there are no common rules for everyone, just like the fact, that there is no unified truth that everyone would agree on. It is all relative.  The world around us is the reflection of our thoughts.

Equity

Equity – I first heard this term from Tara Linney at the Learning2 conference. She was talking about equity vs equality and the importance of equity in the educational systems. Students should get equal opportunities for education and the right for demonstrating gained knowledge in the classroom, school community, any educational institution, and finally real life. The stereotype such as talented students/”smarter” students get to talk more often during the lesson than others are disappearing just like the fact that only men being programmers.

Flipgrid and reflection

Flipgrid is one of my favorite tools. It is an amazing reflection tool and many of the teachers at my school love it and use it. They are using it for the book talks, video reflections, persuasive speeches, etc. Flipgrid is great for its feature that allows students to see each other records, explore, comment, and the most important – learn from each other.

Here is my Flipgrid reflection on the reading of this week’s material –

Part 1Community Text Rendering

Part 2 – Community Discussion

This Flipgrid experience was slightly different from the one I am used to. First of all, I had to make a video record of myself which is challenging. I am used to speaking to a group of students, but reflecting on colleagues is way different. However, this is a great experience of wearing the shoes of our students. I like the structure of the Text Rendering Protocol, which encourages digging deeper for a better reflection on reading material. This is a great method on gathering students’ reflections as well as initiating discussions between students all around the world, and it doesn’t require a real-time discussion. Gathering insights of other participants made me rethink the concept, just because of the variety of observations of other people, this way deepening my understanding of the material we’ve read. But even more I loved the ability to see and hear all of the other participants of our cohort. It feels like we are getting to know each other more and more by participating in our collaborative projects and activities like this one on Flipgrid. This proves the fact why students love watching each other video reflections – it happens all the time between my students who are doing that on Seesaw. Therefore, similar discussions between students around the world would be even more effective. This is a great way to foster communication regarding essential world discussions and real-world problems.

 

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Art of Communication

Default PowerPoint Templates – Presentation of the Past?

In the past, I strongly believed that a PowerPoint presentation is a plan for your presentation with a clearly defined template. Traditional single title slide followed by a bunch of other slides with elements listed out as bulleted points and a picture representing content in a slide is appreciated. You have a list of templates with text boxes, text fonts, and size adjusted, so just go ahead and add your content. However, it appeared that those default presentation templates and not as effective and as helpful as they seemed to be from the first sight.

However… The big motivator of successful learning for our brain is visual aids. Our brain is too lazy to accept any textual information when it can see an attractive image displayed on the same slide. But is that enough?

I must admit it isn’t that easy to create a good presentation design for everyone’s needs. “Simplicity is an important design principle. But simplicity in design is as much art (small “a”) as science.” According to the article about Presentation Zen, the essential factors of a successful presentation are full knowledge of the context and circumstances. It also depends on how much is the audience hungry for information.

What makes a presentation successful?

David JP Phillips in his TED talk How to avoid Death By PowerPoint emphasized six elements of the effective delivery of your content via presentation:

  • One message per slide
  • Contrasting elements by size
  • Contrasting elements by color
  • Avoid sentences
  • Dark background of the slide
  • No more than six elements per slide

More ideas on how to build a successful presentation can be found in the presentation by  Kery Lee Beasley. Her simple and great advice are the key to success of your presentation for your class (and not only class) and even more – for better communication of your ideas. Check it out – Presentation Design for Kids 

Presentation theme also matters – slidesgo and slidescarnival are amazing resources for an attractive theme of your presentation via PowerPoint, Google Slides, or even Keynote on your Mac.

I found the message from Mark Robinson meaningful – “Even with the great content you can destroy your message simply by the way you are presenting” (How to present to keep your audience’s attention – TEDxEindhoven). I wonder how many times I have done that with my presentations or other visual aid…  It’s time for some changes 🙂

I’m not using presentations in my classes very often, but still have some from this school year and therefore, I looked through my presentations and realized that most of them have to be changed according to the essential elements of a successful presentation that I’ve reviewed. However, my recent experience was a successful utilization of the educational material for a Digital Citizenship topic from Common Sence Media, which also contains lesson slides that include all the necessary teaching material. These presentations as well as videos and posters are really worth attention. Moreover, visual aid like that has significantly increased students’ understanding of the Digital Citizenship topic. Students from K-3 grade levels were attracted by images, videos, and the main characters while students from grades 4-5 got interested in relevant questions, raised in slides, and surely visuals that attract students’ attention as wells as increased motivation for learning.

Design Solutions

I’ve chosen a visual aid that I am using with my students  – a ChromeBook label/nametag. I think this is one of the most important visual aid since students can see it every time when they are using their devices. Here are some changes, that I’ve done to upgrade the label/nametag. First of all, I decided to slightly challenge myself and try a new digital design tool – Piktochart. I loved it very much, its interface is really well built and it took me less than 15 min to learn how to navigate it. The navigation menu has a similar structure to Canva. First of all, I’ve decreased the amount of text as well as the number of elements in the label and organized them in a clear order. The selection of matching colors supplements this visual aid even more by making it more attractive to students’ eyes. In addition, I’ve made the label look similar to a browser window by adding minimize, expand, and close icons in the corner in order to help students learn how to optimize the window on a device.

 

After that, I’ve shown both visual aids to my students, and the new one was a pleasant surprise to them 🙂 This raised their level of curiosity about online digital design tools. We had a short discussion about a variety of visual aids they get to see every day at school. This was a short brainstorm that led us to an activity during which I’ve implemented one of the protocols from the nsrfharmony.org list – Chalk Talk to gather feedback from my students.

Grade 5 Students were split into groups and each group received a big piece of paper and color markers/pencils. While remaining silent, students had to write 1 thought about visual aids and how do they help learn on that piece of paper. After writing their own ideas, students had to check out their groupmates’ ideas and if they agreed with them – draw the line from their own idea to the groupmate’s idea. I have to be honest – this was a challenge to my students since they got used to working in groups using verbal communication for finding solutions in order to complete the task. I think that next time giving one huge piece of paper to all students to share might be a better solution than splitting them into groups, however, take a look at what they have come up with.

After the activity, we all looked at the results and had a short discussion. Students agreed that visual aid is always more appreciated than just a handout with plain text. Colors, pictures, favorite characters in the same visual aid encourage to pay better attention. This proves that any visual aid develops better communication as well as facilitates a more efficient understanding of the ideas while teaching and learning.

 

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More Visuals – Less Text, Please!

The History of Infographics

The fact mentioned in the brief history of infographics by article (InfoGraphic Designs: Overview, Examples, and Best Practices) that early humans created the very first type of graphical information attracted my attention. Thanks to those pieces of art in the caves, we know so much more about human life during that period. People didn’t have any writing skills, but they could use drawing to tell a story.  It’s incredible how powerful visual information can be – psychologists can define the condition of our mental health by analyzing our drawings. Humans at the very early developing stage such as childhood are mostly learning from images. It is amazing how much non-verbal communication happens between a baby and a mom by expressing feelings, emotions or requests by mimics.

Infographics are traditionally viewed as visual elements such as signs, charts, maps, or diagrams that aid comprehension of given text-based content ()

Even more fascinating facts about infographics history can be found in this TED Talk by Tommy McCall.

Design Journey

I had some design experience before, such as creating yearbook pages using Photoshop and I can tell that it was easy to learn how to use the tools. However, once I got to the creation of the actual design stage, I realized that I lack experimenting in my design process – as the result the designs I came up with were very similar. Later, I have assigned this job to my students and introduced the most important tools and features of the Photoshop. Students didn’t get to see many examples of possible designs so they began experimenting with passion! Oh… I can’t even tell how much I love this process! I saw so many more design options, just because students weren’t afraid to experiment and their surrounding world was different from mine. Success! Later I got an amazing opportunity to participate in a workshop led by Keri-Lee Beasley at one conference. She explained some simple ways of how to see the various elements around us and use them in the design process. We were looking for elements, lines, repetitions, colors, sizes, angles, etc. This was a really great experience. We were experimenting with all of these elements in order to make our own infographics.

My infographic

I evaluate my design skills very carefully. From time to time I have to create my own infographics such as posters, name tags, etc. Many times Canva was my lifesaver.

I’ve made this infographic for a really important purpose. I was thinking about the research unit, which I’m teaching my students from grades 4&5 every school year. This resource will be shared with the students as a PDF file, which contains all the necessary links to the online resources. The purpose of this infographic is to make a research process easier to understand for students. I strongly believe that this visual resource will improve both teaching and learning process.

Icons and Sequence

I’ve emphasized the essential steps of online research and described them using images. My idea was to use as little text as possible and explain the concept by using images and icons. Pictures can say more than words. Canva is a really great tool for that. I could find all the necessary icons and elements in it. I personally like a certain sequence of any online resource which makes navigation easier, therefore, I organized the infographic as a list of steps to follow in order to make effective online research. I also thought that the combination and set of colours is essential in any design and this time I would like to say compliments to canva.com again, because it pulls out/generates all the colours already used in the design which allows to easily pick similar colours and maintain integrity of the design.

I love creating infographics, since the process itself is fun, especially once the final result is ready and it is pleasant to your eyes. Using Canva, I’ve made some of my other posters and I like using my own designs because it allows me to add more relevant details, which other posters don’t contain.

My youngest students love exploring icons, so for their Chromebook labels, I’ve created special name labels earlier. I’ve added all the relevant icons for any tool navigation. Students can explore the labels and find the icons of existing digital tools and learn more about them with teacher. You can see an example of it. I made these labels for teaching students the icons of any digital tool. I think introducing icons is essential because many times we explain, that for example the Play button looks like a triangle, and it really looks the same on any digital tools. I believe, that this visual resource on their devices will attract students’ eyes and motivate them for further exploration.

As a teacher of early years age students, I can tell how powerful the visual resources are for students learning. Young students especially love visuals and I strongly believe that successful students’ learning will happen only in a visually well-prepared classroom fulfilled with many visual resources. Visuals engage and motivate students to learn.

Information is beautiful

And yes… Information is beautiful. Check this out! Even the scariest information can be beautiful on the well-designed infographic. I hope someday I will be able to create something similar 🙂

Do you like it as well?

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

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The Power of Collaboration

Collaboration in the Classroom

I was always finding this fact that all of us are different, one the most exciting, especially while working in an educational environment. It is amazing, how differently we can see the world around us. This is especially powerful in any collaboration process.

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”Charles Darwin

Why collaboration?

Collaborative learning can occur peer-to-peer or in larger groups. Research shows, that through peer instruction, students teach each other by addressing misunderstandings and clarifying misconceptions (Collaborative Learning – Cornell University)

Collaborative learning has a significant impact on students’ communication and collaboration skills development. Durin collaborative learning students increase the quality of thinking, oral communication, self-management, leadership, self-esteem, responsibility, etc. They develop a higher quality of their social communication which has a big impact on their future life and employment success. (Collaborative Learning – Cornell University) 

Building Collaboration

This time the group of my choice for facilitating a collaboration process was a group of 5 years old students.

Building collaboration in the classroom takes a lot of steps to plan. First of all, we worked on establishing group work rules. We all agreed that being kind to each other is essential in this process. But what does it mean to be kind while working in a group?

We all talked about possible values of our group work. The ideas we all came up with were:

  • all of us are different and can learn new things from each other;
  • some of us might have a better understanding of the concept we are about to learn and can be really good helpers to others;
  • some of us are better experts in using technology and will be able to assist during the lesson.

After talking about the possible values of group work, we all came up with the roles:

  • Technology expert;
  • Timekeeper;
  • Ipad monitor;
  • Class library assistant;
  • Teacher assistant.

Students got a feeling of responsibility right after they got their roles assigned. Of course, some of the roles required explanation for better understanding.

The goal of the class was to explore a new tech tool – Write Reader – a digital online book creator. Digital book creation is already motivating students by its format. As the final result, the book itself looks more like a real book – it contains all the necessary parts – book cover, title, author, page numbers, pictures, labels, etc. Moreover, students can access each other’s book library, see and read each other’s books. This also might be a great way for students to introduce each other culture of their origin – creating and sharing a book about the home country and culture of each student. After the books are printed, students would go to different grade levels to present their books and read them with their buddies. However, this year, with all the COVID limitations, the presentation will most possibly turn into a virtual meeting. However, this process contains a lot of collaboration and communication between students, which is fun and effective.

The main focus was on the following ISTE standards for students:

1d. Students understand the fundamental concepts of technology operations, demonstrate the ability to choose, use and troubleshoot current technologies, and are able to transfer their knowledge to explore emerging technologies.
3d. Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
4b. Students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.

 

The first step of the digital-book creation process was managing student groups. Students were split into groups of 5 students. Students were informed, that during this class each group will be able to request teachers’ help only once. Students were really surprised after they heard this fact, they were all used to get teacher’s assistance at all times. Right before the activity, we discussed the idea of how can students learn without teachers’ constant instructions/reminders during class time? I could see how sharp their minds became, once they realized that after the tool exploration with teacher’s assistance they will have to work only by themselves and learn together with classmates only. We all looked at the new tool, talked about the features and, most importantly about icons, which help us navigate the digital book creator. During the class, I was only reminding, that they can ask groupmates for help.  All groups had to work on the creation of a book title page. Students of each group could share their knowledge and insights on the digital tool navigation. All three groups had to include a different type of animals in their books. One group was exploring animals living in the desert, other groups worked with ocean animals and the last one had to think about animals in the sky. Students had different areas of explorations and according to the type of animal habitat each group had to come up with a certain book design – book color, image, text, etc.

Groupwork outcomes

At the end of the class, we took a moment to discuss what value working in groups gave them? Students explained that they didn’t need teacher’s assistance since they could receive help from their friends, therefore, they didn’t have to wait so much for a teacher’s attention, because their friends could assist sooner. They could share the experience of the icons they’ve explored on WriteReader. Also, a fun part was searching for pictures and sharing with friends in the group.

For planing this group activity I was following most of the recommended steps from 10 Strategies to Build on Student Collaboration in the Classroom article (George Washington University). Such steps like organizing the groups for maximum effectiveness, teaching students listening to each other, or making goals, and expectations, assigning roles, or using real-world problems are key components in any group work. Applying these elements in planning and organizing the student’s group work raised the effectiveness of the process at least more than twice.

Thinking routines

My next step with this group is to organize an activity of thinking routines. First of all, Flipgrid videos with students’ reflection will be really valuable, especially, knowing the fact that students will be able to see each other’s video reflection on the group work experience. This activity includes students’ concerns, which will lead to a further discussion of teamwork values and challenges. I personally find value in using a Mind Map in order to make my thinking visible. This tool is really effective to start learning a new concept and organizing thoughts. I think this might be a great tool to record the student’s reflection on groupwork insights.

Project Zero’s Thinking Routines Toolbox has also caught my attention. One of the routines I liked a lot is “See Think Wonder”. This routine encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry. It will perfectly enrich my book creation activity. In this case, this Digital Book creator tool successfully supplements any curriculum. In addition, another similar tool is Book Creator – a digital tool that allows more editing opportunities and more flexible tools to unleash the creativity and design skills of your students. My 5 years old students will explore it later in the year.

For more digital tools for thinking routines check out the Tech Tools to Try (with Thinking Routines) in 2020 article. Some additional great activities/protocols for students’ learning can be found here – Critical Friends Group Protocols. This one has a big list of activities and icebreakers for students for middle and high school, however, it is worth attention and better exploration, because some of the activities can be adapted to younger age students.

It is amazing how valuable technology is for educators, especially thinking about the amount of all that information and opportunities to share and exchange. However, we are getting more and more addicted to it. You probably know that disappointing and frustrating feeling of the lost wifi connection during your school day. I strongly believe that all talented educators can teach without technology, but I have to admit, that it is essential to have it right now.

 

 

 

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Eyes Don’t Lie

Visual Literacy

All of us have our own understanding of aesthetics. In Lithuania, we say that you never argue about a personal understanding of aesthetics. We all see the world in different colors, however, our brains have some similarities, the way they accept the information and all the visuals around us. It is a matter of seconds whether the reader will stay and continue reading your website or will skip to another one.

It is incredible, how successful can your website design be if it was built following some basic rules. The essential rules of design can be found in the Design Secrets Revealed e-book by Keri-Lee Beasley. Therefore, visitors/readers can be easily attracted by building a well looking visual design for a website, poster, blog page, article, brochure, etc. I personally love websites, where the essential information is displayed clearly and conveniently for my eyes. Who doesn’t? Most people are too busy to spend additional time looking for relevant information, moreover, there are loads of other online resources. Looking for an alternative online resource very often is more efficient.

Any creative and successful educator understands the role of aesthetics in education, starting from classroom preparation – themed decorations always make students feel cozy and convenient. Worksheets, posters, newsletters to parents, which most often are in form of a website – a really great tool for communication.

My very fresh experience has shown the value of aesthetics combined with technology. Our school has been releasing a weekly newsletter as a several page PDF file, attached to an email. This year we decided to make a transition to Google Sites. It was unbelievable, how happy our community was. Even a simple interactive design has increased the number of community members who began reading a newsletter just because of a more convenient and visually attractive format.

Visual Hierarchy

I found hierarchy as a visual design principle pretty interesting and important. According to the article I found at the Interaction Design Foundation website. Designers use visual design to emphasize each page/screen’s contents. They focus on the following characteristics:

Size – Users notice larger elements more easily.

Color – Bright colors typically attract more attention than muted ones.

Contrast – Dramatically contrasted colors are more eye-catching.

Alignment – Out-of-alignment elements stand out over aligned ones.

Repetition – Repeating styles can suggest content is related.

Proximity – Closely placed elements seem related.

Whitespace – More space around elements draws the eye towards them.

Texture and Style– Richer textures stand out over flat ones.

When I looked at my COETAIL blog page, I wasn’t really sure about the changes I would like to make. However, I decided to focus on the characteristics above and change my Blog page accordingly. This time I decided to change a layout and to play with colors. I’ve used the same blog image and added it as a background image. Also, I’ve repeated the colors from the background image in my header and titles on my blog posts by adding some integrity to my blog, however, I feel, that I will experiment using different colors in my further blog design stages. I would like to use more visuals such as images, infographics, etc., for my future posts since they always attracting readers’ eyes.

BEFORE
AFTER

Like a deliciously decadent mud cake that hasn’t been beautifully decorated, our writing needs to be pleasing to our eyes for our minds to fully appreciate the goodness within. (“How we read online…” Cynthia Marinakos)

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It is all about Empathy. The Course #2 Final Project

Our Course #2 final project goal was to create a collection of resources that would help educators teach … Empathy. Empathy was one of the key elements of this COETAIL course. Our main focus was the ISTE standard for Educators 3.a. Create experiences for learners to make positive, socially responsible contributions and exhibit empathetic behavior online that builds relationships and community.
Our group (Simona Schultz, Christel Toilier, Paul Mooney, Luis Moreno, and myself) gathered to create a collection of great resources for other teachers. As our team consists of 5 participants, we came up with the title Hi 5! Resources. “Hi 5!” shout out itself sounds very positive and friendly.

A Better World – YouTube

All of us tried to look at teaching empathy from our own perspectives. I’ve developed a unit plan on teaching empathy through online digital tools, empowering students for online communication and collaboration by writing reflective blog posts. By sharing their posts, students could also contribute to the school community. Simona, as an artist, decided to spread kindness teaching empathy through the art lessons and uploaded her lesson plans accompanied by visual materials, created by herself. Paul decided to make his contribution to our website as an IB teacher and relate an empathy topic with his TOK lessons. Luis works as an Educational Technology Coordinator and Christel is Teacher-Librarian at the MHS Library decided to share even more exciting ways to teach empathy.
This collaboration project made us know each other better. Our first communication was via email, however, we came up with a common decision that Twitter Chat would be more efficient for quick and effective communication. One of the collaboration challenges was getting to live communication knowing the fact about the different tines zones we all live at the moment – South Korea, Brussels, Panama, Lithuania…

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

During the Course #2 I was greatly excited and pleased by opportunities of global collaboration. I’ve familiarized myself with such projects as Ematico and PenPal Schools. These resources inspired me for global communication even more. Even after a great experience of 7 Traveling Tales 🙂 Participation in similar projects is very effective while teaching empathy – you can see it grow with the involvement of every additional school and student from somewhere out there in the wide world.

Working on this project I felt even more nostalgic about our school. This school year we are not coming back to school because of the pandemic, even though it has passed it’s highest peak in our country. I feel that mostly I would like to come back to school and teach the unit about empathy as well as empower students’ communication and contribution to our small school community. Can’t wait to test it out 🙂

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Empower to Foster Contribution

“Dos” and “Don’ts”

My biggest take away from the University was: “We have to keep telling our children what to do, but not what not to do”.
This is a common mistake all adults make. They are afraid that children (or students) will take risks and “burn their fingers”. They always say: “Don’t touch!”, “Don’t share your private information online!”, “Don’t visit untrusted websites!”. Don’t….. Don’t….. Don’t…… and many more “DON’TS”.
Meanwhile, what’s happening in the child’s head? – “Hmm…What should I do then?”
My biggest belief is that we have to take our children and students to that dark forest of what should be done and what shouldn’t together and explain all the dangers and advantages of doing something, let them try, let them explore. It is their life and they have to be ready for their future life. How else can children learn and satisfy their curiosity? How will they know, that oven might be hot if they have never touched it?
Students need their own real-life experiences, good or bad. It is amazing, how many new fantastic ideas students come up with when they are allowed to use the online environment and explore/try its opportunities. I found this TedTalk really powerful: Extracurricular empowerment (McLeod, TEDxDesMoines).

Most schools have technology Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) which contain lots of negative phrases. How about an Empowered Use Policy (EUP) instead? In other words, instead of saying “NO, NO, NO!” all the time, how about saying yes? Scott Mcleod (http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/)
I personally agree with this statement. Students got used to hearing restrictions quite often at school. When I ask my students about internet safety they usually begin a sentence from a word don’t. Then, I ask them to paraphrase – “What should we do?” For example: If I can’t share my password with anyone, what should I do with my password? Students get confused, but sooner or later they give me a positive statement, and eventually, they learn it.

Contribution Wanted

Technology is a powerful tool and I can only imagine how this COVID-19 pandemic situation would affect education without all the technology tools. Online communication skills are extremely valuable at the moment. They are very useful during all the collaborative projects with between various grade levels, other local schools, or even schools all over the world.

Over the past several years, our school has been participating in the creation of 7 Travelling Tales. The purpose of Travelling Tales is to raise one or more Global Goals related problems, that, through the digital storytelling, is then developed in the tale, as well as solved at the end. Five different schools around the world collaborate on the creation of one tale. It takes about 6-7 weeks for the tale to be completed. I have to warn you – this project is contagious. Once we tried participating in it and now we can’t stop. It has some great advantages like – teamwork in the classroom. Everyone is involved in the process, everyone takes turns in order to suggest his/her own contribution. Students are so engaged in this project. They take Global Goals for Sustainable Development very seriously. Thanks to the Travelling Tale projects, almost all of our elementary students know almost all Global Goals for sustainable development. Travelling Tale is also a great tool for teaching empathy. I can only imagine, how many more students around the world found out the same generally relevant and valuable information.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=id3w0IA81cA

One day colleague of mine – a Russian teacher – asked me about her students’ (Russian learners) participation in this project. Joel Bevans was happy to hear about our idea and gave us all permissions, as well as necessary online tools in order to help us make our tale come true. We made it happen and I value this experience even more. This time, I was searching for possible participants, and this way I could make new great connections with teachers in our country. It wasn’t easy, but definitely worth it 🙂 Can’t wait to do it again.
I often remember our first TT, which included 4 different continents. Incredible and so simple as well. We all have connections and it is so powerful when we all come together for the same generous purpose.
Participation in this project really pushes students to think about other people around the world, living without food in poverty, nature, and animals that are killed just because of our constant need for convenience. This way students become more empathetic regarding all those global problems. Empathy is a key factor in this project.

“We aren’t destroying the biosphere because we are selfish. We are doing it simply because we are unaware.”
– Greta Tunberg (Gowthaman, 29th Sep 2019)

It is amazing, how huge is the impact of Greta Tunberg’s ideas on many of us. Personally, I think that children’s strong voice can be heard even better, compared to any adult. We all are more sensitive about children and awareness raised by them sounds more important. Being part of participatory culture, youth often contributes to spreading a word and raising awareness about global issues by communicating through social media.

While writing this post I’ve found several great resources, which I will try using in the future while teaching Empathy and help students become more connected with other students all over the world:

Empatico – Communicating with another class on the other side of the globe is a great way of exchanging all kinds of experience – from personal thoughts to academic knowledge. While using this platform, students’ motivation to learn raises nearly 100%! I found this really useful while teaching geography, cultural facts and of course, empathy. Here is one of the examples of how this kind of project can be very successful.

PenPal schools is another online collaboration project, which has really caught my eye. This great tool/project allows communication between students all over the world with teacher support and assistance. PenPal Schools connects half a million students from 150 countries to practice writing, create original projects, and make friends from around the world. This is a great way of learning proper online communication. The world is so close to us now 🙂

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