Category Archives: Weekly Blog Posts

Assistive Technology Tools to Empower Students in Online Learning

Technology gives us the ability to reach our goals, to complete tasks, and to succeed in ways that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. Assistive Technology (AT) is what makes a lot of this possible. Assistive Technology is “any device, software, or equipment that helps people work around challenges so they can learn, communicate, and function better.” In education, it has opened doors and broken down barriers so that learning is more accessible for students.

During our ECI 833 class last week, Kalyn, Megan, Leigh, and Jenny highlighted the 3 categories that Assistive Technology can fall into: Low Tech, Mid Tech, and High Tech.

Melissa Finch gives an extensive list of the 3 types of AT in her blog post “Low Tech, Mid Tech and High Tech Assistive Technology” and outlines some of the examples in the photos below.

Low Tech: Equipment or devices that do not have electronic features, can be easier to use, and are usually less expensive. This type of Assistive Technology is frequent in the physical classroom and is often used by teachers in their daily lessons and activities.

Mid Tech: These devices or equipment are harder to come by. They can be battery operated and are usually more complex to use.

High Tech: These devices are digital or electronic, are usually the most expensive, and can be the most complex type of Assistive Technology. This type of Assistive Technology is used most often in an online classroom environment.

As I reflected on the different types of Assistive Technology, it got me thinking about the difference between the physical classroom and an online classroom environment. Both types of learning experiences require Assistive Technology in order for students to succeed. There are AT tools that can be used in both types of classrooms, but over the past couple months, I have seen how specific tools can benefit teachers and students during their online learning experience.

Reading Rockets calls attention to 5 categories that AT can help with. I have decided to round up some of my favourite Assistive Technology tools that can be used by both students and teachers within these categories. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but rather a starting point.

Listening

Google Meet Closed Captioning

Google Meet has a feature that captures what the speaker is saying by typing it on the screen. This allows teachers and students to read what is being said, which can remove a barrier if someone struggles with hearing. All you have to do is click the Closed Caption button.

Math

EquatIO

I have mentioned this math tool before in a previous blog post about Google Chrome Extensions. This is an Assistive Tech tool because it has a calculator built into the extension. It also has a “Screenshot Reader” that allows you to select an equation and then it reads it out loud for the user. It creates an accessible math experience for both teachers and students.

Organization and Memory

Evernote

Evernote (@evernote) | Twitter

This has been one of my favourite tools lately! I recently transitioned into a new position at work, which required a lot of learning and taking notes. Instead of writing my notes out, I kept everything organized with Evernote. It allows you to keep your notes in “Notebooks”, which are like categories. Within each note, you can add text, links, charts, sketches, photos, attachments, and even Google Drive documents. You have the ability to copy templates of calendars or schedules, and you can even share your note with others. This is a great Assistive Technology tool to help remember important notes and stay organized.

Reading & Writing

Google Read & Write

Google Chrome Read&Write

This is a dynamic Assistive Technology tool that can assist students and teachers in many areas. With its tools like “Text to Speech,” “Talking Dictionary,” and “Screenshot Reader,” it can drastically assist students with their reading activities and assignments. It assists in the area of writing with the “Word Prediction,” and “Speech Input” tools as well.

There are so many possibilities with this tool. If you are interested in using it but don’t know where to start, this “Read & Write for Google Chrome Quick Reference Guide” describes each tool in detail.

Areas to Consider

Before implementing each and every Assistive Technology tool possible, it’s important to recognize what’s needed, especially if you are teaching in an online learning environment. It’s not as simple or straightforward in an online classroom.

It takes a lot of communication with the child and family to find out what they need at home in order for them to access their learning. The number one priority is making sure they have access to technology and the internet so that other online tools can be accessed and implemented. Above all, building relationships with the child and family before embarking on the learning journey is what’s needed first and foremost.

Technology not only gives us the ability to assist our students, but also empower them. It’s crucial that we strive to get the right technology tools into the hands of our students so that they can learn and succeed in whatever learning environment they are in.

-Amanda

Edpuzzle: An A+ Assessment Tool for Distance Learning

Assessment is an integral part of education. It can be used to evaluate progress, determine next steps, and monitor the learning that is taking place. The definition can differ from person to person, but the goal of assessment should always keep the child at the center of the process. There are two types of assessment that stand out:

Summative Assessment:
-It assesses the learning at the end of a unit or lesson to evaluate the product.
-This type of assessment is usually completed for grades or marks.

Formative Assessment
-It evaluates the process of learning.
-This type of assessment is used to provide feedback to improve the learning and checks for understanding.

The big difference is that formative assessment is all about “discovering what students know while they’re still in the process of learning,” as Laura Thomas says. This type of assessment is imperative for learning, but can be seen as a challenge when it comes to distance learning. Even though distance learning is facilitated through a screen, there are still strategic ways to check for understanding and use formative assessment.

Distance learning is unique because it allows students to learn at an asynchronous pace in their own home. Providing self-paced instruction through videos and online activities is an important way to engage students in their learning. However, you might be wondering… “how do I assess their learning if I am not with them?”

Fortunately, there are many online tools that allow for formative assessment, as MattTrevor and Dalton outlined so well in their presentation about Assessment Technologies last week. Common Sense Education has a list of the “Top Tech Tools for Formative Assessment.” One of the tools that stood out to me was Edpuzzle, an online tool that allows teachers to create or customize videos for their students to interact and engage with.

Before I even got started with Edpuzzle, I was able to read more about it through the Common Sense review site. They break down different areas, such as:

  • Learning Rating
  • Community Rating
  • Privacy Rating
  • Subject and Skills
  • Pros and Cons
  • Tips for Teaching with the Tool

Edpuzzle passed their review with a 4 star learning rating, 5 star community rating, and an 88% privacy rating, as you can see below.

I dove into the Common Sense Privacy Evaluation to get more information on Edpuzzle’s stand on data collection, security, rights, and safety. Even though I felt confident about using the tool after reading the privacy ratings and reviews, I will always check my school’s approved technology list before implementing a new tool with my students. Before you use a site, platform, or app with your class, it’s important to make sure the data, security, and privacy rules line up with your school division’s policies. The tool is not worth using if your student’s privacy is at stake.

Based on the customer reviews, it was clear that Edpuzzle is innovative, efficient, and effective. The platform explains how it works in 3 steps:

  1. Find a video on YouTube, upload your own or re-use a video lesson created by another teacher.”
  2. “Then, edit the video to create your lesson. Record your voice to personalize it, and hold your students accountable by embedding questions in the video.”
  3. Assign the video to your students and check their progress in real time while they learn at their own pace.”

I wanted to get a better idea of how the tool worked, so I signed up for the Edpuzzle “Self-Paced Classroom” course that was created in collaboration with the Modern Classrooms Project. It allowed me to use Edpuzzle while learning more about the topic of self-paced learning. It was a great experience!

Here are some Edpuzzle features I loved:

  • There are notifications to remind you what assignments need to be worked on and completed.
  • It saves all your progress in the “in progress” section.
  • There are checkpoints throughout the video to ask questions and keep you engaged.
  • The checkpoints can be true or false questions, multiple choice, or even just a “note” to further your learning or give you a link to another site.
  • It shows your results at the end of the video assignment.

There’s no doubt about it, this course on Edpuzzle was engaging and informative! I learned so much about the tool itself while hearing a unique perspective on self-paced learning in an online environment.

If you are interested in receiving professional development through Edpuzzle, check out a list of their online courses! Some of their courses include: “Privacy and Security”, “Google Tools”, “Diversity and Inclusion”, and “Tech Integration.” Through their course, I was able to gain valuable insight into Edpuzzle as a formative assessment tool. I encourage you to join me in completing an Edpuzzle course so that you can learn more about it too. You can even get a certificate of completion and a shiny new badge like I did!

It’s important to recognize that formative assessment is still attainable during distance learning, especially with tools like Edpuzzle. Andrew Miller leaves us with these 7 strategies for implementing formative assessment in an online environment:

  1. Know your purpose
  2. Collect data over time
  3. Focus on feedback
  4. You can check for understanding in synchronous sessions
  5. Leverage personal conversations
  6. Check in on students’ well-being
  7. Make it useful

Formative assessment is an essential piece of distance learning. It may work differently than in the classroom, but in both circumstances it’s important to remember, the student is always at the center.

-Amanda

Social Media, the Social Dilemma, and Break Ups

The Social Dilemma, a documentary about the impact of social media on society, has made waves since it premiered this year. The film has caused people to think through their online actions and has even influenced people to delete their social media accounts altogether. It exposes some of the challenges that have emerged with the development of Web 2.0.

The Dilemma of Web 2.0

Daniel Nations says that Web 2.0 “marked an era where we weren’t just using the internet as a tool anymore—we were becoming a part of it.” This is something that was reiterated in The Social Dilemma. Everything we do online is an extension of ourselves. The digital world affects our day to day life, especially with the use of social media.

The movie sheds light on several issues that can arise from social media, such as mental health struggles, lack of productivity, and the spreading of false information. However, the topic that seemed most alarming was the privacy and security issues that arise with Web 2.0. In the film, they say that “every single action you take (online) is monitored and recorded.” The interesting part about that is, it is not monitored by people but rather powered by algorithms. These algorithms are used to predict the functions of the user for 3 main goals:

  1. engagement
  2. growth
  3. advertisement

Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, says that the companies who rely on these algorithms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are fighting for your attention because “their business model is to keep people engaged on the screen.” This might seem like a harmless idea… but when tech companies are in “the business of selling their users,” then it’s our security, privacy, and data at stake. The documentary brings up the interesting point that:

“…if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

When you hear all of this information from the Social Dilemma, it sounds like our world is doomed. However, both Leigh and Tracy remind us that these arguments can be one-sided.

Is Social Media All Bad?

If our privacy is at risk and social media causes a long list of problems, should you get rid of it for good? I would argue no.

In The Social Dilemma, Tim Kendall talks about the initial reasons for creating social media and how it has positively impacted the world. He says:

“It’s easy today to lose sight of the fact that these tools actually have created some wonderful things in the world. They’ve reunited lost family members. They’ve found organ donors. There were meaningful, systemic changes happening around the world because of these platforms… I think we were naive about the flip side of that coin.”

Kendall reminds us of the value that social media can bring to our world. It allows us to connect with others in an instant and gives us opportunities that would otherwise not be possible. However, it’s critical that we do understand “the flip side of that coin.” If we engage in the online world. then we need to be equipped.

Instead of deleting all your social media apps right now, do some research about how you can better protect your online privacy and data. Instead of telling your kids that Tik Tok or Instagram is bad for you, have an open dialogue with them about the benefits, but also bring awareness to what they need to be careful of. Rather than getting scared about using the internet, learn the importance of digital citizenship, and read up on the 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship. It’s important that we look at both sides of the coin.

At the end of The Social Dilemma, Jonathan Haidt suggests 3 tips for helping your kids with social media balance.

  1. All devices out of the bedroom at a fixed time every night.
  2. No social media until high school.
  3. Work out a “time budget” with your kids. Talk to them and ask how many hours a day they want to spend on their device. Have an open conversation about it.

When I heard the rules that Jonathon Haidt suggested for social media use, it reminded me of a book I read this summer.

Should I Break Up With My Phone?

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Over the summer, I started reading a book called “How to Break Up With Your Phone.” I thought it was the perfect time to take a break from social media and work on my “digital well-being.” The first half of the book is all about the impacts of social media on our bodies, brain, and our society as a whole. Again, it was another one-sided perspective with similar information to The Social Dilemma. What makes this book unique though, is that it gives a 30 Day Challenge in order to have a better relationship with your phone. It does not suggest giving up your phone altogether because it would not be sustainable or effective. Instead, Catherine Price says in the book, the goal “isn’t abstinence, it’s consciousness.”

I attempted the 30 Day Challenge in the summer, and during the first week, I was asked to respond to some prompts so that I could determine my purpose for the challenge. Here are some of my responses:

What do you love about your phone?
-escape
-connection to others
-stay “in the know”
-“information + accessibility
-texting
-photos/camera
-social media
-music

What don’t you love?
-comparison
-waste of time
-feel down
-too much noise/ overstimulated
-overwhelms me

These responses show that there are both good and bad characteristics of our phones. I wanted to complete the challenge so that I could balance out the good and bad. The funny thing about this challenge is that I didn’t actually complete it. I gave up after week 1 because I fell into old patterns and habits.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

After reading Catherine’s post this week, she inspired others to join her in a phone challenge. I reached out to her and asked if she wanted to try the 30 Day Challenge from “How to Break Up With Your Phone” so that we could do it together and keep each other accountable. The book actually suggests inviting friends or family to join so that you have someone to keep you on track. We are now taking part in the challenge and I’m glad that I can finally have a do-over! If you’re like me and want a better relationship with your phone, but don’t want to give it up altogether, join us in our phone challenge!

Instead of breaking up with my phone, I’m going to declare it a “break.” I want to have a healthy relationship and balance with social media and my device, but I also value the important role technology has in my life. I’m ready for a challenge, but not a breakup. Besides, I don’t know what my life would be like without memes or cooking videos.

-Amanda

A Day in the Life of Distance Learning

This post was a collaboration between Catherine Ready and Amanda Brace.

With any school experience, tools are needed in order for students to succeed. When it comes to an online learning environment, there are many online tools, apps, and sites that can support and facilitate learning. With the recent events of COVID-19, education has shifted. In the spring, teachers quickly moved to teaching supplemental learning online as an emergency response. Now that a new school year has begun, many schools have changed the way the classroom functions, with some schools even taking their schooling online with hybrid models or with distance education. In Regina Public, eSchool was created to accommodate students “who require an alternative way of learning outside of a school classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  Since both of us have recently started working at eSchool, we wanted to share the online tools and platforms that have been most utilized during this time. 

4 Tools for Online Learning

Moodle 

Every online learning environment functions in their own unique way, but it’s crucial that they all have a platform for organization and learning, otherwise known as, a Learning Management System. A Learning Management System (LMS) is “a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation and delivery of educational courses.” Every LMS has different features and functions, and there are many different options to choose from, such as Schoology, Canvas, and Blackboard

The LMS that Regina Public eSchool uses is called Moodle. It allows teachers to create content and assess learning in a functional way. It gives students the chance to demonstrate learning and interact with their teachers and peers in both synchronous and asynchronous time. Moodle also provides a safe learning environment with their commitment to “safeguarding data security and user privacy.” There are many tools and features in Moodle that make this LMS stand out among the others. The chart titled “Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers and Educators,” gives information and tips about the tools that can be embedded in the platform. From this user guide, here is a breakdown of our favourite plugins and tools on Moodle. 

Label: Insert Text and Multimedia

We use this tool for organizing our classroom homepage in a variety of ways. It can be used as a header for assignments, links, and activities so that it improves the layout of the page. It also has the ability to embed videos and photos right into the page. Moodle states that “labels are very versatile and can help to improve the appearance of a course if used thoughtfully.”

Assignment: Use to Collect, Assess, and Provide Feedback on Assignments

A lot of teachers at eSchool use the Assignment tool for their day-to-day activities and assignments. It allows students to add files, photos, and videos. In addition to inputting grades, teachers can also give written feedback as well as audio feedback when they use the microphone tool. 

Chat: Hold real-time text chat discussions

This tool is a great way to communicate with students. With its instant messaging abilities, it gives teachers the opportunity to send group messages or communicate with individual students with the private message feature.

Feedback: Gather data from students on any topic

The feedback tool allows teachers to create custom surveys and quizzes for students so that feedback can be collected. The questions can be presented as multiple choice, yes or no, or with text. At eSchool, the feedback tool has been useful for anonymous surveys and for students to respond to lessons.

Scheduler: Book a time with your teacher

This tool has been a life saver during online learning! Teachers can create multiple time slots so that students can book an appointment. We have been using this feature for booking individual Google Meet times with our students and families. Moodle also sends out automatic reminders so that students are notified about their time. It’s a great way to manage communication and keep everyone organized! 

With just a small preview of the tools and features Moodle provides, it’s evident that this LMS is effective and versatile. Moodle continues to give students, teachers, and families at eSchool an organized learning platform that promotes communication and collaboration. With Moodle as the homebase for our online school, it makes other digital platforms and tools, such as Seesaw, G Suite, and WeVideo, easy to access and utilize. 

WeVideo

WeVideo is a “cloud-based editing platform” that can be used for screen recording and producing video content. This tool is essential for online learning as it allows for teachers to create asynchronous instructional videos. It can also be used by individual students or for group projects since there is a sharing setting that allows for collaboration among multiple editors. 

Many teachers at eSchool use WeVideo for adding a unique and creative element to their virtual classroom. Add multiple video or audio tracks, input sound effects or music, and add creative backgrounds or text. The easy-to-use green screen tool can create any type of background for the video or picture. As you can see in the video below, WeVideo is a platform that can be used to teach lessons and deliver content that is both engaging and informative for students. 

G Suite for Education 

Many divisions use the G Suite for Education as a tool to “collaborate anywhere, communicate your way, manage your classroom simply, organize your tasks and administer confidently”.  

Communicate 

All students in our division have a school email address that is accessed through Gmail. This email address provides students with login information for a variety of integrated apps and allows for quick and easy communication between student and teacher. 

For synchronous meetings, we use Google Meet for individual student meetings and whole group class meetings a few times a week. It is important to note that eSchool is an asynchronous learning design. We use Meets as opportunities to build relationships with our students and clarify any questions or concerns with learning activities, so that learning is accessible for students.

In Google Meets, the screen sharing function is an excellent way to share information with students using Slides. An example is going over examples with students or guided reading with individual students. The chat function can be turned on or off and gives students an opportunity to ask questions and participate in discussions if they do not feel comfortable using their mic to speak.

Collaborate

Through Google Drive, we share folders and files with our teaching teams and students that can be accessed from any mobile device, tablet or computer. You can store any file type in Google Drive and it also integrates seamlessly with Slides, Docs, Sheets, Forms and Jamboard.  

There are a variety of sharing settings that include sharing the file or folder with select users, only users in your organization or to anyone with the link. Furthermore, there is the ability to change the settings to make the users “viewers” or “editors” for more control of your files. Also, if you want to share a file with students but do not want everyone to edit the same file, you can change the settings to force the students to “Make a Copy” that will allow for individual editing. 

Google Drive has been an integral part of the sharing and collaboration process as we are able to work on documents together at the same time. For example, we have a document that outlines our weekly plans and each team member can contribute to it on their own time throughout the week, but we can be assured that every team member has the most recent update. We also enjoy the ability to access Google Drive through the app on our phones. 

Organize

Scheduling individual meetings with students is a simple process through Calendar, as you can select a start and end time, add Google Meet conferencing and send invitations to student emails (which they access through Gmail). This is useful when scheduling multiple meetings in advance and saves time as all the details are organized in one place. You can also add reminders and alerts and can be notified when an attendee “accepts” the meeting invitation. The automation of these steps means the teacher can focus more on the meeting and less on the logistical details. 

Engage
One of our favourite tools to engage students is through the use of Jamboard, an interactive whiteboard tool. You can use the tool in a synchronous environment, like during a Google Meet, or as an asynchronous tool, like posting a daily question or morning message that students can access on their own time. Similar to a classic classroom whiteboard, students can add or erase, use their finger or stylus pen if using a tablet or phone and collaborate with their classmates at any time. 

A note on privacy

Like all technology tools, it is important to understand the privacy and safety implications of using the tools with students. Most organizations have strict guidelines on the type of information that can be collected and stored on cloud-based storage solutions. From a productivity and organizational standpoint, Google Drive is an excellent tool that integrates very well with other apps, but it’s critical to have an understanding of the security and privacy before using them. 

Seesaw

Seesaw is a “platform for student engagement” and allows teachers to “empower students to create, reflect, share, and collaborate.” (Seesaw) There are many ways that Seesaw Stands Out, but here are some typical uses at eSchool.

Activity Library
Teachers can create their own activity, assign an existing activity from a large Seesaw community library, or copy and edit an existing activity to suit their needs. Teachers can include templates, voice instructions, links and examples for students to complete the activities.

Schedule Activities
Teachers schedule activities in advance and can also select if they want to assign to the entire class or particular students.

Post Approval and Commenting
There is a setting which requires posts to be approved before they are posted to a student journal. Teachers can provide comments (written or voice), “like” a post or go in a directly edit on a post before approving.

Folders
Teachers and students can sort activities into folders, like “Math, ELA, Science” for easy organization and later access.

Announcements
Teachers can send announcements to students and/or their family members that are connected using the Seesaw Family app.

Pin to Top
This tool allows teachers to pin a post to the top of a student journal for easy access. Some examples include a daily message, weekly plan or Google Meet information.

Seesaw is an amazing tool to engage with students and families and build relationships.  It is very easy for students to record themselves reading or explaining an answer to a question which makes for a more personal online learning experience.  The Seesaw Family App allows family members to be connected to their student’s journal and is an easy way to communicate questions about activities.  Seesaw will also translate notes, comments, captions, announcements and messages to over 55 different languages.  The family engagement keeps students motivated to learn in a distance learning environment. 

From a teacher perspective, there is a very welcoming Seesaw community of educators through Facebook Groups, Instagram, Twitter and training programs. This includes the Seesaw Pioneer  program followed with the Seesaw Ambassador program to help connect like-minded educators around the world that are using Seesaw. For example, this October 2020 challenge is to “Treat Yourself to 5 New Ideas” and share how you are using the ideas with the educator community.  

Honourable Mentions 

There are many other tools and platforms that are used during a “Day in the Life” of an eSchool teacher, but the four tools listed above are some that we could not live without. Some of the “honourable mentions” that could have made that list are:

If you find yourself venturing into the world of online learning like we did, we hope our list of tools gave you some insight and inspiration. We also want to leave you with some tips for success in an online learning environment.

  1. Have a growth mindset and be open minded
  2. Communication is key 
  3. Have flexibility and grace for yourself and others
  4. Keep it simple

And remember… have fun! 

@Catherine_Ready and @amandajebrace

Stop Multitasking and Quit Typing: Some Thoughts on Productivity

Productivity.

It’s a loaded word. It means different things to different people. I have always thought of productivity as having the motivation and the efficiency to get tasks done effectively and quickly. However, as I thought more about what productivity means to me and what it means to our society, my perspective started to shift.

In a video called “Single-Tasking is the New Multitasking”, James Hamblin says, “if you asked me the last time I did a thing and just did it and wasn’t also trying to do something else… I wouldn’t be able to tell you.”

These words resonated with me on a whole new level. I want you to ask yourself a similar question…

When was the last time you solely focused on one task?

The older and busier I get, the harder it is for me to focus on one task at a time. This is especially true when I use technology. I started using technology for productivity. I still use it for that very reason, but I wonder if my ability to multi-task with technology actually slows me down and hinders my productivity. Sometimes I find myself using technology tools like Google Docs and Google Slides for the purpose of productivity, but when I am using all of these technology tools at once, it can actually slow me down. The idea of multitasking and pursuing productivity is not only apparent when I use technology, but also in my personal life.

I have always been a multitasker. I like to do multiple things in a short amount of time. I am constantly busy, I have a hard time slowing down, and I have difficulty saying no. I have always thought those were good qualities to have. There is actually a big difference between being busy and being productive, as you can see in the sketch note by John Spencer. As time goes on, I realize that my ability to multitask can actually take away the quality of the task and the completion of the activity.

In March, I ruptured my Achilles tendon. If you need something to slow you down and stop you in your tracks, this is it. Before the injury happened, I remember thinking to myself that I need to slow down because I had too much on my plate. Lo and behold, the injury happened. I had to stop everything. Teaching, extracurricular activities, and my social life all came to a halt. Quickly after I was injured, the pandemic hit, which meant everything else shut down around me too. I was forced to slow down in a way that I’ve never done before. Through that experience, I was able to do one task at a time, at my own pace. No more multitasking needed! I was happier, healthier, and had more energy and motivation in life.

Now that I am back to teaching and taking another class, I am quickly finding that my old habits of multi-tasking and moving at a busy pace are back. I thought the lessons that I learned during my time of slowing down would stick with me today. Unfortunately, I am finding myself at that same point before I got injured, and that’s on the path to burn out.

The idea of productivity and multitasking has been on my mind a lot this week. With assignments due, deadlines coming up, and priorities and commitments in my personal life, I have been busier than ever. I haven’t been slowing down or resting, which has actually hindered my productivity. I am less alert, more tired, and very overwhelmed. This brings me back to the idea of what it means to be productive. I’m realizing that a lot of the expectations that we have for ourselves and others are not sustainable or healthy. Productivity should mean achieving our goals and getting tasks done in ways that allow us to be our best selves. The idea of multitasking is impossible, and our expectations of productivity need to change.

I recently listened to a podcast by Hope and Wade King called, “The New Edu”. They talked all about productivity and completing tasks. One of the ideas they suggest is starting your morning in a way that benefits you. They talk about how introverts and extroverts gain energy in different ways, and if we start our day in a way that suits our personality, it can set us up for success. They also suggest that we “Eat the Frog” by getting the big tasks done first. When we accomplish the most intimidating and time-consuming tasks early on in the day, then we feel less overwhelmed for the remaining tasks. It helps to know that conversations surrounding health and productivity are happening with other educators. Sometimes we all need a reminder to slow down in order to pursue true productivity.

Emily Bonnie, suggests “44 Productivity Hacks to Turn Procrastination Into Action” that fall under four categories: Focus, Save Time, Prioritize, and Get Motivated. Here are some of her suggestions that I want to put into action:

  1. Write distractions down.
  2. Delegate whenever possible.
  3. Pick 3 “Most Important” tasks to complete.
  4. Break big tasks into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Stop multitasking.

As you can see, there are many ways for us to boost our productivity without multitasking and adding more to our plate. There are many ways for us to slow down, yet stay productive. I want to make it a priority to stay productive without burning out.

In Emily Bonnie’s list of 44 Productivity Hacks, she also says Quit Typing and “try speech dictation software to get your thoughts down faster”. So that’s exactly what I did this week. I wrote this entire blog post with the speech to text feature on my phone. Productivity at it’s finest!

Moving forward, I want to follow in the footsteps of Emily Bonnie. I want to find new ways to stay productive, yet healthy and happy. So, who’s with me? Let’s remember to Stop Multitasking and Quit Typing.

-Amanda

What We Can Still Learn From Sesame Street

“…We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.” – Neil Postman (1985)

When I think back to my own schooling experience, I remember moments of engagement, moments of excitement, and moments of disinterest. The years that I remember the most always had to do with the teacher and the type of learning that was taking place. It also had to do with the amount of ownership and participation that I was involved in. The lessons that impacted me were rarely done through traditional schooling methods, like taking notes or reading textbooks. Instead, I was moved by real-world lessons and assignments that gave us the opportunity to look beyond ourselves.

When I think about my own schooling expereince, it brings me to this quote by Neil Postman (1985) when he says “…We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.” I grew up craving non-traditional learning experiences, similar to the type of learning that Sesame Street presents. Why is Sesame Street seen as a different learning experience? Well, first of all, they were always ahead of their time… pushing the boundaries so that each child felt seen and heard. They also moved beyond the idea of “traditional schooling” because their content was delivered through a unique approach… through television and AV technology.

AV Technology in Education

AV technology is “electronic media possessing both a sound and a visual component”, such as movies, television, and projectors. It has been around for quite some time, as you can see in the “Then VS Now” infographic. AV technology has especially been utilized in education, which has changed the traditional model of teaching. Ever since AV technology has been incorporated into education, there has been a shift in the way learning has been facilitated. Educational Technology has changed the way “schooling” happens. Tablets, computers, and interactive whiteboards have all played an important role in education over the last decade. However, the traditional ways of schooling are still the norm in many classrooms, but is it the most effective?

The idea of using Educational Technology in teaching, specifically AV technology, reminds me of my experience in a P3 school. I first applied to work in one of these schools because of the open-concept classrooms, the push for collaboration, and the opportunities for 21st-century learning. The interactive projectors, audio tools, and captivating technology had also motivated me to apply. During my experience in this type of learning environment, I pushed myself to use technology in new ways so that my students were further engaged and excited to take ownership of their learning. I wanted to emulate the type of teacher that I remembered and respected in my own schooling journey. However, if I didn’t have that passion or drive to integrate the technology tools in creative and authentic ways in my classroom, then the learning would have fallen flat. As educators, if we don’t lead our learning with purpose or meaning, then the technology is useless. Dean brings up this point in his post when he says, “it’s not about the technology, it is about the learner experience and technology should be a tool not an ends to a means.” 

The lessons that I remember from school growing up impacted me because they were meaningful and were facilitated in authentic ways. Educators need to facilitate learning that is meaningful. It doesn’t always matter what mode we use to get there, but we need to give students the opportunity to think deeper and learn in new ways, just like Sesame Street does.

Moving Forward with Meaning

It is evident that Sesame Street is seen as a different learning experience that “undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents”, but is that a bad thing? It’s not seen as a different way of schooling just because the program is delivered through television. It undermines the traditional way of schooling because it goes beyond the standard subjects of reading and writing. It represents something bigger.

NPR says that “…Sesame Street has proven for 40 years, sometimes a show is more than just a show.” It’s a platform to reach kids in a tangible way. A show that isn’t afraid to bring up controversial topics and big ideas, which isn’t always the case in the classroom.

If you explore the Sesame Street website, they have a list of “Tool Kits” to help kids understand difficult subjects. The show has a “history of explaining the world to children” in hopes of bringing up topics such as divorce, substance abuse, and grief. In their newest season, they are airing an episode called “The Power of We” to discuss racism. They are tackling real-world issues head-on so that families and children can be a part of these conversations together.

Was Postman right in saying that Sesame Street differs from what the traditional idea of schooling represents? Yes. However, I choose to look at that in a positive way. I think we can all learn a thing or two from Sesame Street and move forward with education in a non-traditional way.

-Amanda

My Take on Chrome Extensions

What’s your choice of browser?

Maybe it’s Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge, or maybe even…. dare I say it… Internet Explorer? When it comes to a web browser, everyone has their personal preference. My personal choice of browser? Google Chrome.

Steve Johns says that Chrome “allows its users to customize and control their user experience to a degree most other browsers don’t.” One of the other benefits of using Google Chrome is accessing the Chrome Extensions. If you are a Google Chrome user, you have probably had your fair share of using the extensions. Extensions are applications that can be added to your personal Chrome browser to increase accessibility and performance. In order to download a Chrome Extension, you need to:

1. Open up your Chrome browser.
2. Go to the Chrome Extension Store.


3. Search for the extension you want to add to your browser.
4. Click “Add to Chrome”.

5. Read and approve the security settings.
6. Access the extension in the browser toolbar after it’s downloaded.

There are endless amounts of Chrome Extensions to choose from to serve whatever purpose you need. For example, in order to add the photos that I used in the instructions above, I used the Chrome Extension called Lightshot– a screenshot tool. It allows you to screenshot the selected area and save to it to your computer and social networks. It also has a drawing and shape tool to add to your picture before you save it.

Along with Lightshot, there are many other extensions that are useful for educators and students. Here are some extensions that I have enjoyed using during my time of online teaching:

Screencastify:
A video screen recorder

Features:

  • It can capture a screen recording of a single tab or your whole screen.
  • You can show your face with the embedded camera, or you can simply narrate with your microphone.
  • It has a drawing tool and a highlighter when the mouse is clicked.
  • It automatically saves to your Google Drive, but it can also be easily downloaded.

Setbacks:

  • The free version only saves a 5 minute video.
  • The video can only be trimmed from the beginning or end. As soon as you want to add more editing to the video, you need to purchase the paid version.
Bitmoji app icon | Bitmoji app, App, Emoji

Bitmoji:
An extension that connects to your Bitmoji character… because who doesn’t love using them in every lesson possible.

Features:

  • You can easily insert your Bitmoji into Google Docs and Slides.
  • Conveniently search for a specific theme or picture to insert into your document.
  • You can simply copy and paste your Bitmoji so that you can easily transfer it.

Setbacks:

Google Meet Grid View:
It shows every participant with video in your Google Meet in grid-like squares.

Features:

  • Once the extension is downloaded, it automatically shows up in your Google Meet settings.
  • The extension says that it “does not track any user data”, something that is rare for a Chrome Extension.

Setbacks:

  • Honestly… it’s a very glitchy extension. There were times that the extension would stop working and I would have to re-install it. However, it’s difficult to host successful Google Meets without it!
  • The Chrome store has multiple extensions called Grid View, so make sure you download the correct one.

New Chrome Extensions

Math in GSuite with EquatIO and EquatIO mathspace – EdTech Awesomeness
EdTech Awesomeness

I wanted to try out a few new extensions to add to my repertoire. Recently, someone told me about the digital math extension called Equatio. I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with it and can see how it benefits educators and students! Have you ever tried to write a math equation on a Google Doc or Form? It’s not fun! This extension allows you to add complex math symbols into your Google documents seamlessly. You can add your math equations into the “Equation Editor” and even create symbols to add to your documents, as seen in the video below (that I created using Screencastify). This numeracy extension is incredibly convenient to have for teaching and creating math lessons!

Another Chrome Extension that I tried out is called Noisli. I was interested in this extension because it can help with productivity for educators and students. Ever since I started teaching online, I have difficulty remembering to take breaks during the day because I get so focused on the task at hand. With this extension, you can set a timer for yourself and break up your work day. The extension creates nature background “noise” for a calming work environment. The downfall with this extension is that there are limited sounds with the free version. If nature noises help you focus, then the paid Noisli extension might be worth it!

Is It Worth the Risk?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When all is said and done, are Chrome Extensions worth the security risk? That’s something that I ask myself quite often. Every time you download an extension, you have to “agree” to the Terms and Conditions… and sometimes those conditions have to do with tracking your personal data. There are risks to weigh when it comes to using online applications, downloading plug ins and extensions, and browsing on the web. It’s crucial that we focus on not only protecting our own privacy and data, but our students privacy and data as well. Curtis brought up the importance of “getting our students to consent to where their data is going” so that they understand how their information is being used online.

So what now? Should we continue to download Chrome Extensions? In my opinion, yes.

As educators, it’s important that we recognize how much education has changed. Students are primarily online, which means that we need to meet them where they are at. We have the opportunity to make our online teaching experience easier, and make their learning experience more accessible and enjoyable. Chrome Extensions are a great way to engage students and accommodate learning needs. However, instead of downloading every Chrome Extension we come across, let’s remember to read up on the Privacy Policy first so that we know how our data is being stored and used. And let’s continue to make security a priority as we manage this digital world.

-Amanda

A Look into Learning Theories

Learning is something that sustains our society and drives our world. It is integrated into every facet of our lives. Are you curious how to bake bread? Are you interested in becoming a skilled guitar player? Do you want to know how to solve an intricate math problem? You can learn it! You can learn through storytelling, reading books, researching online, or through experience.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The list is endless.

If you’re like me, however, you are probably unaware of the theories that are behind this driving force of learning. Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism… these are all learning theories that have been established over time. Little did I know, these theories (and more) have been interwoven in my teaching practices throughout the past seven years. Paul Stevens-Fulbrook does a great job of breaking down the meaning of each theory in regards to education.

Behaviorism:

“Behaviourism is based on the idea that knowledge is independent and on the exterior of the learner. In a behaviourist’s mind, the learner is a blank slate that should be provided with the information to be learnt.”

This theory is about repeating certain actions and then receiving a reward or consequence based on that action.

Cognitivism:

“Cognitivism focuses on the idea that students process information they receive rather than just responding to a stimulus.”

This theory allows the student to reorganize information with their past knowledge, process it, and then apply it to their own world. In the article, “Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism: Comparing Critical Features From an Instructional Design Perspective”, Peggy A. Ertmer and Timothy J. Newby state that “when a learner understands how to apply knowledge in different contexts, then transfer has occurred.”

Constructivism

“Constructivism is based on the premise that we construct learning new ideas based on our own prior knowledge and experiences. Learning, therefore, is unique to the individual learner. “

The theory of constructivism is not about facts or memorization, but instead, it allows the learner to gain knowledge based on interactions and experiences.

Theories in my Teaching

All three of these theories have showed up in my classroom in various ways. They have even played a part in my pedagogy, and some currently still do.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am intentional about cultivating deep discussions with my students, using real-world examples in my lessons, and encouraging problem solving in learning… which all resonate with cognitivism. I have facilitated inquiry based learning, group collaboration, and research projects in my grade 3 classroom… which all fall under the theory of constructivism. However, the theory that I connect with the least is behaviorism.

When I first started teaching, I didn’t understand the negative connotations that this “action and reward” theory can have in education. I am guilty of using it in the past for different activities in my classroom, such as classroom incentives, student behaviour charts, and positive feedback or reward for good behaviour. I now realize that when the theory of behaviorism is used in this way, it has the potential to cause shame and guilt within our students. Like I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, specifically about Class Dojo, it “can create a negative label for students at a young age and wrongfully gives teachers the opportunity to present their own biases towards certain children.”

My Connection to Connectivism

Photo by Junior Teixeira on Pexels.com

As I evolve and grow as an educator, especially as an educator who uses EdTech, so do my theories and educational practices. I have never been able to put a name to my current educational pedagogy, but through our readings this week, connectivism resonated with me. This theory has been established within the internet era, unlike the three other theories mentioned above. I appreciate the modern take on learning that connectivism brings. In an article called “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”, George Siemens reminds us that “over the last twenty years, technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn”, and “learning now occurs in a variety of ways – through communities of practice, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks.” The theory of connectivism gives freedom to the individual to learn in their own way and to seek knowledge through different avenues. Learning doesn’t necessarily have a start and an end.

As I look forward in my teaching career, my desire is to give ownership to the students in their learning process so that they learn the skills necessary to “flourish in a digital era”. My pedagogy and practice may continue to change over time, but my desire to instill a love for learning in my students will stay the same. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?

-Amanda Brace

The Deeper Definition of EdTech

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

Technology has been a part of my classroom ever since I started teaching. Over the years, I’ve developed a passion for using technology in education, but my definition of Educational Technology, otherwise known as EdTech, has evolved and changed over time. There are many ways to describe EdTech, but according to Wikipedia, it’s “the combined use of computer hardware, software, and educational theory and practice to facilitate learning” and “improve user academic performance.” If I were to critically examine this definition of EdTech, I would say it’s lacking some substance. If I looked at this definition when I first became familiar with EdTech seven years ago, I would have simply agreed with it.

When I first started teaching, I was eager to use technology in my new grade 3 classroom. I didn’t have a lot of experience with it, but I was creative, ambitious, and willing to experiment through trial and error. However, when I first began, I used EdTech for the sole purpose of using EdTech. It was for the image and the anticipation of the “cool” tricks I could perform in my classroom. I didn’t think about the purpose, the repercussions, and most importantly, the privacy or protection of my students. I was unaware that with the use of EdTech comes responsibility to do my research.

Neil Postman, an American author, educator, and critic of media and culture, wrote an article that analyzes and critiques modern advancements and change in technology. He reminds us that “we need to proceed with our
eyes wide open so that we may use technology rather than be used by it.” This is something I didn’t consider when I first started my journey with EdTech as a first year teacher. Postman lists “5 Things We Need To Know About Technological Change.” The ideas can be summed up like this:

  1. “For every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage.” Lisa talks more about this idea in her recent post, “The Price of Technology.”

  2. “The advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population.” He suggests that we ask ourselves important questions when we use technology and media, such as:

    Why do you do this?
    What interests do you represent?
    To whom are you hoping to give power?
    From whom will you be withholding power?

    As educators, it’s absolutely critical that we ask these questions.

  3. “Every technology has a prejudice.” Postman goes on to say that technology and media have biases. He reminds us that “it predisposes us to favor and value certain perspectives and accomplishments.”

  4. “We must be cautious about technological innovation” because “the consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible.”

  5. “When a technology becomes mythic, it is always dangerous because it is then accepted as it is, and is therefore not easily susceptible to modification or control.” Postman means that when we think of technology as the “be-all and end-all”, then there is no room to be critical and conscious of what we are using or promoting. He encourages us to ” view technology as a strange intruder.”
Fractus Learning (Mike Ribble’s 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship)

I still have a long way to go, but with the knowledge and insight I’ve gained through my teaching experience and my Master’s classes, I have come to realize that EdTech has multiple layers. These layers include digital access, security and privacy, equality and diversity, digital citizenship… a lot of which are included in Mike Ribble’s “9 Elements of Digital Citizenship.” It is not just about the “cool” tricks I can do in my classroom. EdTech needs to have deeper meaning and purpose, because at the end of the day, EdTech is not the teacher. So what does a deeper definition of EdTech look like? Here is what I would include in my definition today:

Educational Technology: “Using technology purposefully in education to enhance learning, empower students, provide access, establish protection and security, critically analyze media and news, and give equal opportunity.”

What does your deeper definition of EdTech look like?

-Amanda Brace

Back to the Blogging World

After a whole summer off, I am back to the blogging world. It’s hard to believe that 2 months have come and gone, but here we are… ready for another semester. I accomplished a lot this summer, but more importantly, I rested and took a break. After rupturing my Achilles tendon, navigating the world of online teaching, and isolating for months due to COVID-19, I was ready for a summer of relaxation.

Instead of travelling to Europe like I had originally planned, I spent the summer at my cabin enjoying time with family. I read books, slept in, and worked on a building project with my dad. I tried things this summer that I have never had the time for in the past (did I mention that I dyed my hair pink?) I could finally slow down and enjoy what was in front of me.

Now that I had my time of rest and rehab, I am ready for another Master’s class and year of teaching. I am looking forward to learning more about the foundations of EdTech so that I have a better understanding of the online tools and platforms that I use in my own life and with my students.

Even though I am excited to learn about the content in this class, it’s really the people that make it worthwhile. I don’t know about you, but my favourite part about these online classes is the community that we build. I can’t wait to connect with each of you on Twitter, through blogging, and in our weekly night classes. So here’s to another semester… let’s do this!

-Amanda