Is it possible to show what we know and think through play? It is, it is! But, when and how?

While we play we make..this is the reoccurring theme in my readings this week. So, what we make is in fact proof that we know how to do something. And that knowledge may have come from reading or from just old-fashioned creation!

A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a creative reworking of the impressions he has acquired. – Vygotsky, psychologist 

I feel like my students use a decent amount of class time playing. But after my experience playing, and then reading and watching videos makes me think that they aren’t “reworking,” but they are indeed reproducing. I’m not really sure. They play vocabulary games like ¡Pesca! (Go Fish!) and different types of verb conjugation games. I rarely give students anything open-ended or unstructured. I have also created so many manipulatives that require students to put a puzzle together using grammar and vocabulary, construct logical sentences using different cards, even create a tower of legos matching subjects with verb conjugations. So..are they reproducing the information I have taught or are they using their knowledge and understanding creatively reworking it?!

This week quickly reminded me of the love of had (and still have) for video games. Any game, really. I used to love anything from Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario Kart, Oregon Trail and absolutely any board game. I actually played, at least once, all of the games that as a graduate student I was encouraged to play! YES! I played games for grad school, how cool right? I really got sucked into playing a few games on Games for Change, like The Foos and Immigration Nation. I was having fun and demonstrating knowledge. I decided not to read any directions and just started playing. Similar to James Paul Gee’s approach to playing. Would reading the directions help me succeed/win, sure why not. But am I also capable of succeeding/winning through investigation, absolutely. I have background knowledge to do so. It was surprising rewarding to succeed by trusting my instincts and exploring in order to seek understanding of the game. Another game that I focused on investigating was Five Card Flickr. Watch my screen cast here to hear/see my review. I found this particular game to be really relevant in my content area of teaching. And here is my story La rana…pobrecita! This game came easy to me. Write a story. Whether I was writing in English or Spanish, I knew how to write. While the writing demonstrated grammatical rules, it was fun and it was a worksheet. It required me to be creative.

Now, some questions arise. When playing in the classroom, do teachers really just say, “Okay kids, it’s time to play!” And then they play? I really want to know more! Is it after teacher-led instruction that they then create? This unknown is what gives me anxiety about providing my students with this freedom…to play.

I had fun playing this week. There was a different tone, a different atmosphere. But now, I feel eager to allow more play, but apprehensive because I don’t know how to get them to play, the right way..

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Working towards understanding and implementing equity…here we go!

This week’s discussion came at a really good time! The word equity has, embarrassingly, confused me. Dictionary.com, defines the word as “the quality of being fair.” Easy enough. And then I reflect, do I usually practice fair practices, at work and at home? I try..I believe my school district tries…I feel like I try…

My first focus is on exploring option 1: what teachers are doing to design connected learning opportunities for their students. The LNRG Innovation Challenge is pretty awesome to read about. The several articles I read have done a nice job of displaying the student-driven work and the positive outcomes and creations are really amazing. The idea behind these passion projects is cool. Student engagement, learning and FUN is present! Schools are connecting learners of all ages and it’s working! They plan together,  create together, test together and make a difference together. And what’s really breathtaking is that Liberty Elementary School, located in California and highlighted in the article above admits that there are obstacles and challenges, but focus on their motto, “No Excuses University.” They thrive amidst their limitations. WOW! They are seeking equity, fairness. They are finding and utilizing resource effectively, which is leading them to create and learn. Way to go! But, some questions to arise from my discovery of these passion projects…

  • Passion projects are student-centered/student-driven, but are teachers modelling how to create? If so, is that then teacher-driven?
  • Are teachers teaching about these concepts in science, math and other curriculum and then encouraging students to create or is it like here is the content and available tools, now learn??

I truly gravitated towards the article, Linking Communities with STEM Puts Compassion and Service Into Practice. This here is what interested me growing up and even now. Volunteering in my community and then in other communities did help me evolve with society. My service made me aware of the fact that we need to rely on each other in order to grow. Students and teachers in the Pittsburgh area have created a community of empathy, excitement and passionate learning and all for others, while including science, engineering, creativity and caring. Together they are finding ways to minimize food waste, increase food accessibility and educating the community about these resources. A retired teacher used to head a sustainability club that provided service to the community and raised awareness about Water for Waslala. This is a project that I could reinvent. It is relevant, after all I am a Spanish teacher in a populated Hispanic community. There is a also a local food bank already established in the community and it is used, very used. An opportunity for students to help their community even more would be great. But… unsteadiness and insecurity about starting from scratch seem to get in the way, which brings up some questions for the teachers in Pittsburgh…

  • How do you get started?
  • How do you present this idea to the students and then encourage to elaborate and make it attainable for the community?
  • How do you keep them motivated and driven?
  • How do you get someone to help you get started if you have nothing to start with?

I’ll end my first area of focus with this… collective wisdom and knowledge is connected learning. I like that thought!

My second focus this week is on technology and equity. I am fortunate to work in a district that does have a grant issuing an iPad to each student in grades 7-12 (if they pay a $50 technology fee). Therefore, before reading, I assumed there was equity in my school considering all, well most, students have an iPad and internet, well when they are in school. I quickly discovered that my thought isn’t all that right. Smart Tech 4 Equity poses a strong question: Does this use of tech help support the full human talent development of every student and all groups of students? Or not?

This is something that I really need to reflect on. I use quite a bit of technology in the classroom including websites like Quizlet, Conjuguemos and FluentU.  But are these resources effective for all of my students? DOUBT IT! While I do know that what I am doing with technology is relevant and aiding some students, it’s not helping all, therefore equity is not occurring. I think that I am able to find and then create authentic uses for technology through more investigation, which will include trial and error. I have technology goals, but I also have excuses for not implementing them into my classroom. I don’t want to make excuses, but sometimes when I look into a sea of 30 students in my room I am overwhelmed and concerned about failure of whatever it is that I am technologically implementing…

As a teacher I want to explore and assess. I need to. One of my goals is to implement live chatting with Spanish-language learners in other districts. I have established relationships with other language teachers in surrounding districts, so the idea is accessible. I would love to see students of different cultures connect and share ideas. So, some questions I present here is:

  • What if the technology does not help the student(s)?
  • Do we give up on implementing it for that particular student?
  • Will all students thrive when utilizing technology?

As for now, I will continue working towards understanding and implementing (through technology and creation) equity…

 

Revisiting intuitions of the past…

At a glance, I thought, “1907? A speech by John Dewey from 1907?” how can this be relevant to connected learning in 2017?? After getting through the speech, that was somewhat overwhelming because of the length and language, I am feeling confident that I now understand the importance of this reading. Is it possible that what we as educators are trying to achieve through connected learning is what John Dewey was expressing over 100 years ago? It is! I am drawn to his thought that school and education need to evolve with society. While Dewey wasn’t the first to formulate this thought behind “hands-on” activities, he was right in pursuing it! Like Dewey and the educators before him, I feel that teachers now want to teach their students how to live and to learn. And how do you accomplish this? WE CONNECT! There is this drive to attain social significance. What does this mean? Showing our learners that there are connections between their classroom activities and what is going on in the world outside of school. I’m still a little mind-blown that so many years ago the same ideas were occurring. Thinking back to last week’s reading, I see a lot of relevant connections. “Young people today have the world at their fingertips in ways that were unimaginable just a generation ago” (Connected Learning: an agenda for research and design). This quote from last week’s reading pairs well with this week’s reading. We are embracing the intuitions, of educators, from years ago with the right tools!

After reading this speech I started thinking about my workplace. I teach in a small, rural school district in Chester County. In the Jr. High School there are not many electives available for students; therefore a lot of students are not engaged in some classes like Spanish, French, art and music. As a Spanish teacher, it sometimes feels like my room can be a dumping area. I want to be, and most years I think I win over most, the teacher that breaks the disengagement and shows them how real-world this course can be! Fortunately, all of my students are issued an iPad, so technology helps me help them connect their hobbies and interests to the target language. Another concern/obstacle I observe in the district is a lack of resources/funds in order to establish a makerspace. Some classes, specifically science, are utilizing the idea of a makerspace in their classroom and are doing excellent things with it. I ultimately consider this to be an equity issue, that our district is not as financially well-off as others, but I will address this concern later on. AND ANOTHER thought after finishing this reading was that so many classes are now geared towards testing. And as much as I don’t want to bring this up…isn’t that the direction of society now? So, is society evolving towards test-driven practices or towards equity in creation and invention or both? Are we creating connections between classroom activities and what is happening around us and is what is happening around us testing??… I don’t know…

Okay, that last part was kind of gloomy. I really enjoyed watching John Seely Brown’s speech, The Global One-Room Schoolhouse.  I was really engaged due to the presentation of his knowledge! It was interesting to revisit the one room schoolhouse establishment. The role of the educator, back then, was to act as a coach, coordinator, mentor as well as the one responsible for transferring knowledge. I thinks it’s really important to provide these aids for our students, and we CAN DO all of these roles as long as we stay connected. I am eager to explore John Seely Brown’s idea of “A Global One Room Schoolhouse.” With society evolving and lingering interest, like Harry Potter (referenced by John Seely Brown), these movements can engage and motivate students to produce. So, this whole Harry Potter movement has kids writing, which is fantastic! They are demonstrating that their knowledge is productive. Alongside the Harry Potter movement is the obvious connection to gaming. Kids are creating through a game like Minecraft. One of my colleagues created an assignment using Minecraft. They had just finished a cultural unit about architecture in Spanish-speaking countries, which they then expanded and invented more. They used their knowledge of what ruins looked liked and created more!

So, to end with a thought also brought up in this week’s reading…How do we use the word play? I think that this is worth exploring! When we play we are hooked! We are motivated! We have the drive! So, let’s play! 🙂

#ED677: The past is helping me create today!

As a young person I had MANY interests. I played 3 different sports, spent a lot of time with friends and focused big time on school. While sports were fun and spending time with friends in and outside of school was the BEST, I found a way to do all of that and give back to my community. In high school, community service was a requirement. I started completing hours here and there just to get it done. I eventually starting volunteering through a mentor/mentee program and loved it! I committed to this program for three years. I was able to help a young child with school work and social skills, all while playing sports and creating! I think seeing the joy in this young child as he got to have one-on-one attention and do all that he loved to do is definitely what piqued my interest in volunteer/community service work.

I continue to reflect upon my community service then. This experience led me to volunteer in Mexico when I studied abroad as well as throughout my four years in college. I always felt so fortunate for my experiences and wanted to help others. My parents and friends always supported me. In fact, I feel like most of volunteer experiences became social because my friends wanted to experience what I talked so much about!

My service to communities all over started as a requirement, but quickly became an interest and passion. I would like to think that eventually I would have put myself out there in different communities in order to help, but I don’t know if I would have done any of this if it weren’t for school. And unfortunately, I have become disconnected from a lot of volunteer opportunities since starting graduate school, working, getting married and having kids.

As a junior high/high school Spanish teacher, I want to  become more involved in the community where I work. There are already programs established with the community that are always seeking volunteers. A goal for the near future is to bring my students into the Hispanic community and volunteer. In our area there are several community centers who need eager and enthusiastic volunteers to help their members with daily routine in their native language. I think an opportunity like this, for me and my students, would be memorable and meaningful!

Investigation is no longer just an assignment.

In the past when given an assignment to research a teacher network I would have cringed. Ugh, more reading and investigating. BUT, NOW…I am more aware and eager to explore the resources provided by all teacher networks available! I was going to write about the rich knowledge that the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) provides for world language teachers, but I decided to highlight a different network.  English language learners (ELL’s) are a growing population, but also a population that school districts still know so little about.

I am currently working towards my M Ed. in Literacy with a concentration in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and technology.  The TESOL courses require 12 hours of field work. The field work can be intimidating, especially when working with novice/beginner student. While preparing lessons for ELL tutoring I discovered ¡Colorín Colorado!  ¡Colorín Colorado!  is a FREE, bilingual, national website serving educators and families of ELL’s.  The organization provides a newsletter, webcasts and can be followed on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Google + and YouTube.  The webcasts mimic a traditional reading conference led by experts who study ELL’s and suggest readings and provide discussion questions.  ¡Colorín Colorado!  is a bilingual site, Spanish and English, that supply toolkits that include lesson plans, activities and resources for non-native speaking parents and/or guardians.  Due to a lack of professional developments provided by school districts on ELL’s I find these toolkits to be very useful.  Maintaining parental contact is a struggle for me.  Now, while communicating with Spanish-speaking parents is achievable for me, I believe this site is a beneficial tool for educators and administrators lacking the means of communication with non-native speaking families.

All of the resources on the site can be shared and printed for FREE! In the past few weeks I have been following ¡Colorín Colorado!  on Twitter and their blog.  Dr. Diane Straehr Fenner is contributor to their blog.  She recently wrote about Common Core and ELL’s.  Again, this is a great way for educators who have ELL’s in their class to get supplemental materials and ideas in order to better accommodate their students.  Some recent Twitter discussions have included recent accomplishments with ELL’s in school districts, booklists for ELL’s and administrative action taken in order to strengthen ELL programs.

Investigating teaching networks is now an exciting time in my teaching career. The resources and discussions available to educators are beneficial, motivating, but more importantly obtainable!!!

My JUNIOR supporter!

According to dictionary.com, a mentor is an influential senior sponsor or supporter…

This week I decided to highlight a friend at work, who also plays the role as one of my mentors.  I will admit that sometimes I laugh at myself for calling her one of my mentors.  Now, it’s obviously not due to her expertise (because it is evident that she must provide some sort of knowledge and aid if I can call her a mentor). I laugh because she is 6 years younger than me.  Until this course, I always related the word mentor to an older, veteran teacher.  Amanda has been and will continue to be a wonderful asset to the world language department as well as to my professional development.  Her knowledge in technology and motivation to utilize it in a meaningful way is intriguing.  I pick her brain as often as possible and strive to implement her advice. If I am unsuccessful when implementing technology instead of feeling defeating I run to Amanda and she redirects me.  In a recent discussion, in grad class, I stated that I didn’t feel like others in my department were givers, only takers, but taker does not describe Amanda. She has been a successful matcher.  Amanda spends her morning teaching levels II and IV of Spanish. After lunch, from 12 noon- 3 PM, she is in her classroom, but serves as a cyber school instructor. I’m constantly asking Amanda about her Cyber School experience.  Becoming a part of the Cyber School community has come up in discussion during department meetings. I have some hesitation when going in that direction, which is due to my lack of knowledge of what can truly be accomplished. I have taken on the role as a traditional teacher and find it scary to stray from that path.  This week’s entry will highlight some aspects of her job and what she does to make her classroom, both cyber and traditional, as well as her students successful!

If you could re-design the world language department what would it look like?

The world language department would be based on a Flipped Mastery style curriculum. Students would have certain standards that they must master in order to pass the course and a set of additional standards for students who are more motivated or move quicker. All lessons would be videos/presentations that students would watch at home, and class work would be speaking-based or project-based, but moving at the pace of the individual student. When a student feels ready to take an assessment, they would be able to do that at any time, and once they complete the assessment with the appropriate proficiency, they can move onto the next topic/standard, regardless of where the rest of the class is. The teacher would be available in the class to work with students on a deeper, more individualized level, because he/she would be freed up from doing the whole-group teaching, as that would be done in the form of videos.

Do you attempt to merge what you do in the cyber classroom with what you do in the regular classroom?  What does that look like?

Yes, I do. This year Oct moved to the use of Schoology, which was very easy to adapt to activities and lessons I already had made for the Cyber School. It is not the same learning management system, but because I was familiar enough with online teaching from the Cyber School, it has been much easier adapting lessons and activities from Oct to work online. I also think that the manipulatives and group work that I can do with my Oct students, influences my cyber teaching – I see the benefit of these activities in the traditional classroom, and then go to my computer and try to make something similar for my cyber students.

How do you implement iPad usage into your daily lesson planning?

I often record videos of my lessons for my students and then create a tasked-based lesson plan. As the students come into the room they have a group activity that gets them thinking about whatever concept we are covering that day. After that, they are given their task list for the day – assignments, lessons and practice they have to complete in order to get class participation points. They are allowed to work individually or with partners to watch their video lesson on their iPad. They often have drills or practices that are manually graded either by an app or Schoology, so I can monitor how much they have practiced, but do not have to grade every students practice sheets. They are able to get immediate feedback this way. I have also tried to incorporate more games because of the iPads, using websites like Kahoot.it for review games, and Duolingo as an accelerated learning strategy.

Pros/Cons of Cyber School

Intrinsically motivated students are able to move at their own pace and be in control of their education. They have access to their teachers whenever they needs, and are able to finish schooling earlier than their peers, and focus their education on their own interests, while learning digital literacy. Teachers are able to focus their attention on the students who are actively looking for help/guidance while also improving their digital illiteracy skills.

One con of cyber school is that not all students are created equally, and they do not all have the same home-background. When students come into a traditional classroom, you *usually* have their attention for 50+ minutes. With cyber school where students are working from home, the teacher has no idea what other things may be happening at the moment you are speaking with the student. Because you are not looking at their faces, it can sometimes be harder to form a bond with a student you have only have “texted” with. Students who are not intrinsically motivated sometimes do worse in a cyber school because they do not have that direct interaction with their teachers in a school setting each day, and struggle with time-management and good choices.

Pros/Cons of traditional classroom setting 

A pro of the classroom setting is that you are physically meeting with your students every day. There is something to be said for the small talk that you are able to have with the students before the bell rings. The students are removed from their homes and put in a designated “learning” environment, so I think it helps the students who are less motivated to focus on their classes more (think about the student who does work in your class each day, but never does homework – how would they do if their whole class was to be done at home?).

A con of a traditional classroom setting is that if the class is not based on ability (and even if it is), the teacher often is stuck teaching to the middle of the class- there are always students who need more time or more practice, and always some who are finished before the directions have even been fully explained. A traditional setting with a high ratio of students to teachers does not allow for much individualized instruction. Both groups of students who fall above or below the “mid-range” do not get the type of education they deserve.

The mentors in my life.

I have now taught in two different school districts.  On the first day of my first year, in both districts, I was giving a “mentor.” That mentor was the person responsible for giving me the logistics I needed in order to provide a safe environment of my students.  Those logistics included hall passes, discipline referral forms and the list of phone numbers for the office and classrooms.  After reading the first chapter of the book, Thrive, I became aware of what exactly one seeks for in a mentor. So, after reading I spent time reflecting about who I call my mentor.  I am fortunate to still call my designated mentors my mentors. My first year of teaching was tough. I taught in a high school that followed block scheduling.  I had two different levels of Spanish as well as an ESL classroom with 25 students from 10 different countries.  I needed a mentor and I needed one fast.  She was the French teacher and had been teaching for 20 years.  She provided me with comfort and a plethora of ideas that could be used in both of my classroom settings.  She was fantastic! My designated mentor this year, a high school English teacher, has been everything and more! We can relate to each other on a professional level, but more importantly a personal level.  This year is also my first year back in the classroom after 3 years of staying home with my children.  So, the first day of this school year is one I will never forget. As I was setting up my classroom, my mentor, came to me and said “As long as nobody hugs you will be fine.” And she was right! I was so fragile. I stayed in room during my planning and lunch time. I avoided the hallways and interaction with my colleagues.  She truly brought me out of my shell and has exposed me to so many resources in our buildings.  She shared her experiences with me: returning to work after kids and maintaining a successful work and home career.  She also gave me a card with words of encouragement and when I am having one of those days I often read it.  Her heart and my heart were in the right place and I feel fortunate to have her and a positive story to tell about my mentor-mentee experience.  Again, after reading the first chapter, I have compiled a list of other mentors.  These mentors are colleagues, and some are in different departments than me.  One provides technological resources, another is the one I collaborate with often and the other provides me with my interest in building literacy in both a students native and second language.  I feel lucky to have support by these mentors and feel honored to call them my mentors!

The culture that is in your backyard…

Oh wow, I’m blogging! As my school year is coming to an end and my graduate summer course, “Teacher Practice in a Connected World” is getting started, I find it beneficial to use this blog to reflect.  This is my 6th year of teaching, but my first year in the Octorara Area School District.  I am fortunate to instruct grades 7 through 12 in the Spanish language.  And absolutely LOVE when I am asked the question, “Why are we learning Spanish?” Now, for the 7th and 8th graders the answer is easy, “because all 7th and 8th graders are required to study a language.” Answering the high school-aged students is much more exciting! So, I encourage them to close their eyes and visualize their favorite places to visit.  While they are visualizing and brainstorming their favorite places: restaurants, amusement parks, the beach, the mountains, the mall and many more, I pose the questions, “Who do you see there?,” What do they look like?,” What are they wearing?,” What are they saying?” Some are hesitant to respond.  Others eagerly participate and elaborate on the different cultures present in their daily lives. I strive to make my language learning classroom culturally enriched.  Not only is it my goal for my students to develop basic conversational skills and an understanding of grammatical points, but to also raise awareness of who and what is around us. I also start the year by displaying the fact that English is not the official language of the United States, which creates a jaw-dropping reaction from most of them.

Each student at the Jr. and Sr. High level is given an iPad for a $50 technology fee.  This makes lesson planning so exciting! I am constantly researching as well as receiving suggestions for different apps for them to use with different grammar, vocabulary and cultural topics.  On their iPads, individually or together, we can explore a variety of historical attractions from our seats! The often utilize a drawing app, of their choice, to take whole group comprehension checks.  I implement Schoology, which is a learning management system, into our daily lessons.  On Schoology, I upload worksheets to eliminate paper as well as post videos or questions that require them to respond in the form of a discussion board.  My use of technology is improving day by day, but also causing me to reflect. I feel like I run into the same problem often.  After utilizing some applications I feel like I no longer have a use for them.  My technological goal is learn more about applications and focus on not just moving from app to app, but finding ways to implement technology in a more meaningful way.