Wednesday, May 30, 2018

It’s PD Time! Summer School for Teachers

Image Credit: Maria Nancy Ballesteros / Public Domain
What does the word “summer” mean to you as an educator? Maybe it means teaching summer school or working another job. Perhaps it might include days lounging by the water, binge-watching favorite shows or squeezing in a vacation.
However, if you’re like most educators I know, we also take this time to reflect on the past school year, plan for the next one, and seek professional development opportunities to improve our teaching. In other words, it means attending teacher summer school. For those who are ready to dive back into school as a student, I’ve curated a number of awesome learning opportunities for you to consider.

Casual Attire Only

With an Internet connection, there’s no need to dress up when you’re seeking professional development from the comfort of your own home.

KQED Teach: This is the place to go if you want to amp up your presentation design, start blogging, create infographics, build interactive maps and learn many other terrific media-making skills. KQED Teach offers free online courses to help you acquire new skills or improve existing one.

Google for Education Training Center: Want to really become a G Suite expert, learn more about digital citizenship or reach learners of all ability levels? Google’s got you covered with its free online resources. This training center has self-pacing courses for educators of all ability levels. After completing the Fundamental Training or Advanced Training courses, you can also prove your proficiency and become a Google Certified Educator after passing their exam.

Twitter: Sometimes you need professional learning in small bursts, and Twitter is the perfect online space for this purpose. Twitter isn’t just for celebrities. It’s the social media platform of choice for many educators who want to learn, grow, and connect with others. The key to making Twitter work for you is to create a network of like-mind professionals who you respect and to seek out topics (which are organized by hashtags) that interest you. To learn how to get started, read my post “How Sharing on Social Media Helped Me Become a Better Educator.”

California Dreamin’

If you’re based in California, or just want to spend some time in our lovely golden state, then there are a few outstanding conferences from which to choose.

Arcadia Innovation Summit: If you’re planning to be in SoCal on June 22, then you don’t want to miss this fantastic free conference. Hosted by Arcadia Unified School District — where they passionately believe that collaboration and sharing benefits everyone — they have opened up their doors to anyone who wishes to come together and learn. Sessions are led by educators who willingly and voluntarily share their best practices.

California Teachers Summit: On July 27, thousands of educators from across the state of California will join together to learn and network with each other. Best of all, you don’t have to go far to find the venue closest to you. With over 30+ locations to choose from, no other conference has this much reach and convenience. This year’s theme is “Meeting the Needs of Every Student.”

CUE Rock Star Camps: This is probably the only professional learning event you can attend this summer where each session is designed to have an average number of ten participants. Purposely kept small to foster camaraderie and encourage networking, this hands-on “make it, take it” camp will leave your head spinning with powerful ideas that you can’t wait to implement in the coming school year.

Global Reach

Below are two great options for those who want to meet and learn from educators from across the country and even across the globe.

EdTechTeam Summits: These conferences focus on how to use G Suite for Education and other Google Tools to inspire learning in students. Each one is a high-energy, two-day event that will challenge you to grow as an educator and electrify your teaching skills. It won’t be difficult to find a global summit near you, no matter where you are around the world.

ISTE: ISTE describes their annual conference as the “Epicenter of EdTech,” and they aren’t exaggerating. Last year, ISTE had “over 20,000 people from 72 countries” attend this mind-blowing event. This year, they’ve scheduled almost 1,200 sessions, and you will leave with your head full of ideas and your heart full of inspiration. The dates for this conference is June 24–27.

However, if you can’t attend ISTE, don’t despair. Every year, educators who attend the conference post what they’ve learned on Twitter using the hashtag for that particular year. So keep your eye on #ISTE18 once the event takes off. Additionally, those who aren’t at ISTE also join the online conversation from home and gladly share their ideas with this alternative hashtag #notatiste.

Recess Time

Regardless of which learning opportunities you pursue, do take the time to reflect and recharge your batteries.

Have a wonderful summer break, and I hope to connect with you on Twitter or at one of the conferences listed above!

Originally published on my KQED's "In the Classroom" blog. Reproduced courtesy of KQED.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

How to Foster Empathy in Students Using Project Based Learning in an ELA Classroom.

Image Credit: Pixabay User fancycrave1 / Public Domain
Noisy and energetic like any scene during lunch, my students can be found sprawled throughout my classroom, intent on seizing the coveted title: Inventors of the Year.
Though my story may be seem to be specific to my English language arts classroom, I think there are larger implications of the importance of incorporating empathy with project based learning. In this instance, every year, my students read Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon,” a fictional story about a man’s extreme quest for intelligence and his willingness to undergo a radical surgery to increase his mental abilities. My students are always fascinated by this story, and they enjoy debating the merits of the operation. They write reflections, engage in discussions, and compose essays during this unit – all classically rigorous activities that require critical thinking skills. However, I wanted my students to do more than just study the story from an academic perspective. I wanted them to not just appreciate their natural-born abilities but for them to realize and explore what it would be like to live with a disability, hopefully leading to an empathic understanding that will last a lifetime.
An Invention for People with a Disability
As I pondered this one night well over 10 years ago, I did what I always do when coming up with lesson ideas. I asked myself how I could design an assignment that could simulate real experiences, a life outside the walls of a classroom and the world in which we lived. Then inspiration hit. I could ask them to become scientific inventors and imagine the impossible.
My students were challenged with creating a product that will improve the life of someone with a disability, in essence, an Invention of the Year.  The product must be a device that people with disabilities can use in their daily lives, and it cannot be a miracle drug or an operation that will magically conjure away the disability.
First, each team had to choose a disability to research and were directed to medical websites to learn about their topic. We talked about the importance of credible web resources and how to find experts on any given research topic. At the time when I first conceived of this project years ago, the Common Core State Standards had not yet been introduced to schools. What inspired this idea was my long-standing belief that real-world applications should be at the core of all my lessons. Therefore, using informational texts like medical articles fit in perfectly with the adoption of a CCSS curriculum.
When doing their research, students brainstormed many different ways they could help someone with the disability. Then they created three final works: a prototype sketch of their invention, a product description for the purpose of "selling" their invention, and a user guide. To guide them, I shared examples of product descriptions from online vendors like Amazon, which they examined and emulated. I also shared examples of user manuals from real products we use in our lives. With these professional examples as their model, my students were practicing writing skills beyond those required in a traditional English language arts classroom.
The Culminating Expo
The culminating activity in this project was to debut students’ products at the Invention of the Year Expo. Over the years, I was able to convince the other language arts teachers who also taught this story to join me in this endeavor. My colleagues liked the idea of incorporating more informational texts and taking PBL approach to this curriculum unit. As a result of this collaboration, we decided to hold an expo where all our students would showcase their inventions in the multipurpose room and present their ideas to each other.
Anxious and yet excited, the entire eighth grade met during their language arts period throughout the day to show off their inventions or to learn new ideas from their peers. By the end of the school day, they saw some amazing inventions such as computerized glasses that speak and project holograms (this example is from many years ago, before anyone had even heard of Google Glass). Other creative projects include a GPS-equipped walking cane with self-defense mechanism for the blind and surgically implantable microchips that moderated electrical signals in the brain (which I later discovered is not too far from the impossible as a few companies are currently trying to develop this technology to measure electrical brain activity to predict epileptic seizures). In the end, our expo was a success, and students talked about it for days afterwards.
After completing this project, my students wrote blog posts about what they learned, and they published their projects and reflections on their own individual blogs. Because my students are connected with other classrooms around the country, they received many compliments on their work from peers outside our school. In the end, this project gave my students a greater appreciation for people with disabilities, and they were able to share their epiphanies with an authentic audience through their blogs.

This post is also published on the Buck Institute for Education PBL Blog