Recently I received several questions from a reader. My last post answered the first half of these questions, while this post answers the second half.
4. What would your top 5 “tools” be to ensure lessons are engaging and interactive?
Up until now I have purposefully avoided mentioning technology, for the most part, as I believe teachers must have a firm grasp of best practice before they could possibly attempt to mask any potential shortcoming with “technology pizzaz.” Nevertheless, technology can help in making lessons engaging and interactive. So, here is a list of my top five educational technology tools, in no particular order. Also, I will avoid hardware, such as the MacBook, iPad, Chromebook, etc.
- Google Apps for Education – In my opinion nothing comes close. When it came to word processing, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint-like presentations, my fourth graders had not opened up Microsoft Office in roughly five years. All work is automatically saved to the cloud, students and staff can access their work from any device, and anyone shared on a document can synchronously work along with any other collaborators. This suite is a must have for any school district.
- iMovie, or another video editing software – These tools are so flexible in that video production is something that can encompass pretty much any subject area or topic. With a little creative thinking, students could potentially create a video for just about anything. Furthermore, websites such as YouTube allow for students to easily publish their work for a public audience.
- Kidblog – All students should be blogging. While websites such as WordPress and Blogger are more authentic, Kidblog is ideal for school in that a teacher could select almost any type of permission level for his/her class. For example, my students’ work was made public, but only the students had the ability to comment. Blogs can be made as public or as private as a teacher chooses.
- Twitter – Although students might not be the ones interacting with the program, teachers can use Twitter to connect with other educators and/or discover countless resources. Social media can help to ensure that professional development is ongoing, rather than only taking place on “professional development days.”
- A technology-based ecosystem – All teachers should have a “one stop shop” that contains student resources, study materials/games, a way for students to collaborate with one another and with the teacher, etc. My ecosystem was a classroom website that contained links to student blogs, our two learning management systems (Moodle and Schoology), student photographs and videos, curriculum-related materials, and more.
5. Could you describe your creative process of designing engaging lessons? Do you have a database of these maybe you could share?
My database of lessons would be this digital hub. While it does not contain everything that my students and I have done, it is the place where the most of our content can be found (aside from my MacBook’s hard drive).
Here is a brief outline of what my creative process might look like for a particular lesson or project. Please keep in mind that this process is always subject to change depending on what I am working.
- Start with the enduring understandings – Of what should my students possess a deeper understanding at the end of the project?
- Brainstorm “cool” ideas – Not only must an idea be engaging, but it must also “fit” with the enduring understandings and any standards that would be encompassed by the project. Ideas may or may not involve technology integration.
- Enabling knowledge – What must my students know in order to (1) develop these deeper understandings, and (2) “create” a successful project that demonstrates these understandings? Also, how will I deliver this content to my students?
- Assessments, formative and summative – Assessments should mirror the rigor of the instruction. In order for students to prove their deeper understandings they should be grappling with questions and information in somewhat unfamiliar contexts (transfer of knowledge).
6. What resources would you recommend someone wanting to become the best teacher they can be?
- Your colleagues – Colleagues can include other teachers and administrators in your building or district, your students, parents, community members, etc. Remember to keep on asking questions, even as you become a veteran.
- Amazon.com – I am of the belief that with a little bit of research on Amazon, you can find the definitive book on pretty much any topic. Do not wait for the professional development to come to you!
- Twitter – I cannot stress enough the importance of “getting connected.”
- Yourself – This may sound silly, but remember it is so important to be self-aware. Take the time to reflect upon your practice, be critical of yourself, and constantly try to improve across all areas. If you feel overwhelmed, drill down and work on bettering yourself one area at a time.
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