Category Archives: Teachers

Collaboration is an Essential Skill for Students – Embrace its Challenges

When I am asked “What is the most important skill for students to learn these days” I always answer “The ability to effectively collaborate.” This answer often surprises people; as an ed tech director, they assume I am going to talk about programming

group work

Courtesy of www.lumaxart.com

or STEM-centric topics. However, if my students leave my classroom having learned one thing, I want them to come away knowing how to collaborate effectively with others.

 

When we talk about schools preparing children for college and career, we often think about course contentwhen in reality we should think about what we want them to be able to do. Think about what you do in your job and career. Is it done in isolation? Your greatest achievements, were they obtained solo? For most of us, the answer is no! We often work in teams, sometimes with people in our office as peers, superiors, and/or subordinates; we may also collaborate with people outside of workplace. However, we almost never work in isolation. Therefore, the most essential “soft” skill for success is the ability to play well with others.

However, engaging in “group work” is often loathed by students and teachers. Why? Because someone often feels saddled with the  bulk of the work, students may not get along with their team-mates, it can be a challenge to navigate calendars or delegate tasks, as well as numerous other hurdles. All of these are true, even when group work is done “right.” However, these challenges are exactly why students should be tackling group assignments and projects; they need to learn how to navigate these problems in order to effectively tackle them in life. For example, have you had to have a challenging conversation with a colleague? How did you deal with someone on your team who couldn’t meet deadlines? What do you do to find time for working effectively both as a team and on your own? Like any other skill (playing the piano, running the mile, or learning a new language), learning how to engage in collaborative work takes practice and experience. By exposing children to engage in these dynamics throughout their academic careers, we prepare students to tackle them as they progress in their academic studies and their careers. So embrace “group work” and all of its messiness!

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The Importance of Rest & Recovery

Last September, I had my third knee surgery. Two ACL surgeries in my late teens/early twenties had resulted in some degenerative knee problems that I could no longer ignore. So, I went under the knife for a third time. Now, a little more than six months out, I’m almost back. It’s been an exercise in frustration and patience. However, it has also been a good reminder that rest is as important as action. You see, I’m really good at sticking to my physical therapy regimen… a little too good. I’ll push myself too hard and work through the pain (something that got me under the knife a couple of times). What I had to learn this time, is that rest is just as important as action. So some days (more than I would like), I have to skip the gym and rest.

So, what does this have to do with education? Today is the last day before Spring Break. I can feel the mental and physical exhaustion not only in myself, but all over campus. I need to unplug, and so do my students. Taking a break to rest and recharge is vital not only for our physical selves, but mental and emotional selves as well. As educators, we put far more emotionally into our jobs than many other professions. That’s why it’s important to take some time for self care. If you’ve ever read a book by Stephen Covey (especially his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), then you’ve likely heard his parable of why we all must “sharpen the saw.” You cannot effectively cut down trees all day without taking breaks to sharpen your saw.

sharpen the saw

Sharpen the Saw via Stephen Covey

While I won’t be doing a big trip on this break (just an overnight on Key West), I’ll be spending some time sleeping in, reading non-work related books, wandering some museums, and slathered in sunscreen while on the beach. So to all of the other educators, whether you are on break or just looking at a short weekend, be sure to take some time to rest, relax, and sharpen the saw!

Stay on Top of your News with Feedly

I read a lot of news, blogs, and magazines… a lot. People often ask me: “how did you find this?” or “how do you stay on top of it all?” Well, I cheat. Well, it’s not really cheating. I use an RSS reader. My favorite is feedly. Feedly helps me to organize all of my news feeds by category; for me, those categories include: Hard News (NYTimes, Washington Post, etc), Lite News (think HuffPo), Education, Technology, Social Studies, etc. I don’t need to hunt around the newspapers for relevant content. Rather, they show right up in my feed.

feedly

Courtesy of blog.feedly.com

Feedly has some great free features, namely up to 100 feeds, easy organization into three (3) categories, and mobile & desktop access. You can also share stories directly from the preview pane via Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and email. However, it also has some pretty powerful “pro” and “team” features. For a small fee you have unlimited feeds, unlimited categories, clip from Feedly directly into notebooks like Evernote or OneNote, annotation and highlighting, sharing to WordPress (great for bloggers), and an overall faster interface.

If, like me, you’re an avid reader and need some help staying on top of it all, check out Feedly!

Free Meditation & Mindfulness Tool for Teachers

Mindfulness meditation is enjoying a moment in education. If you’re unfamiliar with the practice, mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique” and is often paired with meditation practices. Once viewed as a new-age fad, the benefits of mindfulness and meditation have be backed by science, which have found that it helps reduce stress and provides relief for a variety of ailments from insomnia to pain relief. You can find some peer-reviewed studies from the National Institute of Health. Additionally, Harvard recently published findings that brain scans show that the brains of meditators have more gray matter (linked to enhanced senses, increased memory, and executive decision making). 

Dharma_Primary_School_-_Children_Meditating_2015

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With these findings, it’s no surprise that meditation and mindfulness are enjoying some attention in the education. KQED Mind|Shift has published a series of articles on the benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation practices in schools for both students and teachers. Also, Edutopia has published a series of articles to help introduce these tools in classrooms. Many educators are implementing these exercises to help students manage stress and anxiety, improve memory, and address behavior in their schools.

Several years ago, I came across mindfulness and meditation practices in a few educational conferences. It wasn’t until I had a series of stressful events that I listened to my friend Larry Kahn and decided to give it a try myself. It has now become a regular practice for me and I can attest to its benefits. Recently, I learned that one of my very apps (I am a paid subscriber), Calm, has implemented The Calm Classroom Initiative to help bring meditation and mindfulness to classroom across america.

After you are accepted into the Calm Classroom Initiative, they will send you “tips, suggestions, and best practices to introduce mindfulness to your classroom and get your students excited about meditation.” This is a great way to bring these resources for both you and your students. Please note that Calm has in no way provided me incentives (financial or otherwise) to promote their program. This is a personal attestation to the value of their tool.

Apple Introduces Apple Teacher Learning Center

In case you weren’t paying attention, yesterday Apple held an event and launched the iPhone 7. However, September 7th also saw the launch of a great new resource for educators: the Apple Teacher Learning Center.

business-925900_1280This free new program allows educators to access training resources for using Mac, iPad, and their built in apps to build creative and engaging lessons. The resources in the Apple Teacher Learning Center can help you to build personal learning environments, harness accessibility tools to empower students who learn differently, redefine assessment, and enhance the tools in your classroom.

The Apple Teacher Learning Center awards badges after you have mastered various tools and stages. Once you have completed all of them, you earn the ultimate Apple Teacher logo badge to proudly display on your blog or print out and post it in your office! Sign up today!

Common Sense Media – Free Digital Citizenship Curriculum (Limited Time)

Common Sense Media has just announced that it’s Digital Citizenship textbooks are currently free via iBooks until September 30, 2016. After September 30th, the iBooks will go to $8.99 per device for the teacher edition and $1.99 per device for the student workbooks.

You can download the books via the iTunes store here.

Must Read Educational Sites for Summer

This is reblogged from my post on FreeTech4Teachers

There are a lot of resources on the web for educators, and it can be challenging to sort through all of that information to find those hidden gems. Here are a few of the websites and blogs that I recommend to educators looking to get started. Some are on the general topic of education while others focus on specific themes or topics. Check out this list and add your own in the comments below!

General Education Topics

Edutopia – Edutopia was founded by the George Lucas Education Foundation to provide a place to share evidence-based practices and programs that help students learn. They cover topics from professional development to digital citizenship initiatives.

EdWeek – Education Week covers topics in education around the country, including public, charter, and independent schools. They report on current events, publish articles, and touch on pedagogical practice. Some parts of EdWeek are free but note that others are paid.

Huffington Post Education – The Huffington Post Education section includes a curated list of stories and blog posts on education. They may cover school policies, digital equity, or teacher pay disparities. This is a great resource for educators who want to keep the pulse of topics in education.

NPR Education – National Public Radio reports on education topics at the national, state, and local level. Always a great resource, NPR reports on topics such as chronic absenteeism or violence in schools.

MindShift KQED – MindShift focuses on innovative practices in teaching and learning. They cover both theory and practice in a way that is both academically sophisticated and accessible in short bites.

Educational Technology

To read the complete list, visit FreeTech4Teachers