Are your students podcasting yet?!

Podcasts and collaborative audio projects are becoming more prevalent in the classroom, thanks to technology that is constantly improving and the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices. Kids are learning on the go, and these evolving opportunities must meet them where they live—on the devices that are always at their fingertips.

Today’s recording technology makes it easy to collaborate. This feature wasn’t available until recently, and it gives educators a unique tool to improve creativity with project-based learning that empowers, engages, and excites students.

Kids love making podcasts because they love to make. Period. Whether it’s a project proposal, a presentation, or a piece of art, they want to be creators. They don’t want to merely consume, and podcasts are an awesome outlet for their original compositions. By giving our kids an even greater voice in driving their own education, we change the way we teach and personalize the way they learn.

After spending over a decade in classrooms teaching music and technology, I know the importance of taking a thoughtful approach to this rich medium. To proceed strategically, we first must understand why and how audio-recording projects benefit our kids. Here is why I recommend podcasting and audio recording in the classroom:

  • Clarification and confidence. As your students listen closely to their tone, they learn to include appropriate pauses and master their speaking through repetition. This helps them clarify their personal voice and become more confident speakers.
  • Reflection and discussion. Working with recorded audio offers students an alternative place to reflect on their thinking and engage in candid discussions about their work. These discussions are wonderful opportunities to construct new ideas and improve existing ones.
  • Read, revise, practice, and present. When students record themselves reading their writing, they get a new perspective on the written word and an alternative method for revision. Further, as they read and revise their writing, they practice before making the oral presentation to peers. This combination of writing and presenting is authentic practice for what they must master when they enter higher education and/or the workforce.
  • Assessment without anxiety. If our task is to assess our learners’ understanding rather than their writing, we can now lower their blood pressure by giving them an alternative space to explain themselves that eliminates worrying about spelling errors or sentence structure.

How to get started

One of the more effective audio-recording technologies for the classroom is Soundtrap, an online collaborative digital podcast and audio recording studio that accommodates all devices. This is an important feature for many schools because students often times bring in their own devices. An added benefit: Kids can collaborate on their projects at home—on their own time. The Soundtrap platform resembles a Google Drive file storage system for audio files, only it’s easier to use and more creative.

The following steps can help you execute a beginner podcast project effectively and inspire your classroom to collaborate on projects that excite and educate.

  • Plan thoroughly. Spend some time listening to high-quality podcasts to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Next, outline your goals and identify the audience. Decide on a topic and format. Determine the length of each episode and the frequency of their release.
  • Pre-production. Identify a name for the podcast and select a host. Determine who will be heard in the recording, and if you will bring in guests for interviews. Decide how long your podcast will run. (Recommended running time is 3-5 minutes.)
  • Record. Do this with short portions of audio at a time, making sure to save often. It sounds backwards, but I recommend recording the introduction last. That way, students have a better understanding of the entire podcast and can more easily sum up its theme.
  • Post-production. This is where you edit and refine the audio. Add music, ambience, and sound effects, making sure to properly credit the artists that are featured in your podcast. You’ll find that these nuances really enhance your production. Export the file as an mp3 or upload to the proper social medial channels.
  • Publish. Link your audio file to Twitter, Facebook, web pages, and other online platforms. Share and promote the podcast to the appropriate audiences.
    Inspiring ideas to get you started

If you need some audio-recording ideas, here are some of my favorite projects, lesson plans, and ideas from educators across the globe.

  • Use podcast creation in conjunction with Google Tour Builder to create virtual field trips with student-recorded tour guide voiceovers.
  • Build an original soundtrack that complements a novel’s rising action, climax, and resolution.
  • Create a “day in the life” documentary that describes the sights, sounds, and activities in an ancient metropolis.
  • On a field trip, ask students to use a voice recorder (such as the one in the Soundtrap app) to capture notes and then compile them into a podcast that touches on highlights or instructional outcomes.
  • When used correctly, podcasts and other audio projects engender collaboration, improve listening and comprehension skills, encourage critical thinking, and inspire creativity. Happy podcasting!

This was originally posted by eSchool News.

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6 Emerging Technologies Supporting Personalized Learning

This a follow up to 4 Iowa Schools Getting Personalized Learning Right.

Dee Lanier, an amazing and inspiring educator, has recently challenged my thinking about how important it is to “vet” the technology I am using. Educators, administrators and technology directors/coordinators should be fastidious about what programs they are purchasing and supporting for use in their institutions. What does this mean? There needs to be serious reflection and many conversations before clicking “purchase.” A superb resource for technology evaluation and reflection is TRUDACOT, a discussion protocol intended to help facilitate educator conversations about deeper learning, student agency, authentic work, and technology integration (credit to the creators, who–full disclosure–are dear friends and previous colleagues Scott McLeod & Julie Graber). When vetting school or classroom technology, there are many key factors (see this great podcast series on designing pilot programs for EdTech and personalized learning). As a starting point, here are three questions you must consider:

  1. Does the technology overshadow, mask, or otherwise draw the focus away from important learning?
  2. Does the technology add value so that students can do their work in better or different ways?
  3. Are digital technologies utilized by students in both appropriate and empowering ways?

If your answers are “no,” “yes,” and “yes,” you’re off to a great start. Below are a few technology platforms that I support wholeheartedly, which tick each box above. My considerations are usually focused around a few questions. I like to ask: How does this tool lower the floor for young, emerging learners? Can the roof be raised easily for our high-flyers? What is the potential for personalization?

6 Tech Tools to Support Personalized Learning

  • Seesaw: A student-driven digital portfolio that documents student learning with built-in creative tools and provides an authentic audience for student work.
  • Soundtrap: A cloud-based recording studio that harnesses critical thinking and communication skills through collaborative, creative audio recording projects and bridges the necessary skills for preparing our 21st century learners for a global, connected world.
  • WeVideo: A cloud-based video editing and digital storytelling platform.
  • ExplainEverything: A cloud collaboration platform built on the learning technology of tomorrow that helps students and teachers tell their unique story.
  • Code.org: Their vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science. They provide open-ended programs, tutorials, and full curriculum to support this cause.
  • Minecraft: Empowers unique and creative learning experiences for educators and students by providing an open-world game which promotes creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving in an immersive environment where the only limit is your imagination.

How do we get there?

In my previous post, I discussed four rural Iowa schools doing personalized learning right. How do schools who may be dozens or even hundreds of miles away from the nearest music store or science center implement technology with such expertise? For one, rural schools and communities are usually strong and tight-knit. There are close relationships that can be tapped into for support. These relationships can help reinforce personalized learning models in their schools. According to A Guidebook for Success: Strategies for Implementing Personalized Learning in Rural Schools, personalized learning is essential for rural schools because it “provides opportunities for students that often are not available in many rural districts. With its focus on individual learning and the use of emerging technologies, personalized learning helps to transcend many of the limitations confronting rural students, such as geography and limited course opportunity and access.”

Yes! Bingo.

Ok, now that we know what successful personalized learning looks like in schools and we understand the urgency of providing these opportunities to our learners, we need to start the engine. Future Ready Schools has a great guidebook designed just for this process which has a 5 step planning process and focuses on these categories (keep in mind this is geared for district-wide adoption):

  1. Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment: Teachers customize instruction, content, and assessment on a student-to-student basis to ensure mastery.
  2. Personalized Professional Learning: Through technology and digital learning, educators access professional resources and learning opportunities that can lead to improvements in their students’ academic success.
  3. Budget and Resources: Districts align their budgets with personalized learning priorities including ongoing support for quality technology and infrastructure.
  4. Community Partnerships: Schools and districts partner with local businesses and industries to advance the school’s learning goals.
  5. Data and Privacy: Districts and schools establish policies and procedures for collecting, analyzing, storing, and reporting student data that ensure student privacy and data security.
  6. Robust Infrastructure: Teachers embrace technology and online platforms to access tools, resources, data, and systems necessary to tailor student learning.
  7. Use of Space and Time: Through technology and a new approach to classroom structure, teachers and schools leverage in-school and out-of-school time to meet the needs of individual learners.

These steps are intense but imperative to shift teaching and learning for our students’ global success. Let’s roll up our sleeves and start this important work!

This was originally posted by Getting Smart.

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Four Iowa Schools Getting Personalized Learning Right

I am a mother, wife, and teacher who lives in rural Iowa. The closest music store is 35 miles away, the closest art museum is 106 miles away, and the closest science center is 152 miles away, but we nonetheless manage. Interestingly, Iowa even happens to be quite the leader in “outside of the box” educational institutions, in spite of many of its schools’ remote locations–how is that possible?

Personalized learning.

What does that look like for Iowa, how can others get there, and what emerging technologies support us?

Today, I’d like to showcase a few Iowa schools that I think are absolute gems of personalized learning, with some key takeaways for educators and administrators implementing personalized learning in their own classroom, school or district.

Waukee Apex

I had the opportunity to visit Waukee Apex in Des Moines, Iowa. At the time, I wrote about my experience, but the long and short of my takeaways is that through inquiry-based learning and authentic experiences driven by their interests, students build skills in key areas: productivity, accountability, complex communication, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, flexibility and adaptability.

Take Away – When considering your course design and/or offerings, think about how you can allow your students’ to bring their own interests into their learning (check out what APEX offers).

Iowa BIG

Head east a couple of hours to Cedar Rapids and you’ll hear the Iowa BIG Co-Creator & Associate Superintendent Trace Pickering evangelizing for personalized learning: “Let your passions drive you to do something great and be open to building authentic relationships and teams.” I was lucky enough to visit this learning space a couple of years ago, which shares a space in a co-op building with many local start-ups. Their model is competency-based with deep roots in personalizing the educational experience to honor student interests and goals. It started (by accident!) when the founders started evaluating the current K-12 model and wanted to #makeitbetter.

Take Away – Have a conversation. How does your classroom/school score with shifting from our traditional model? (This is a great starting conversation piece with your leaders).

Iowa BIG North

A few schools a couple hours north wanted to adapt a version of BIG for their rural area, and did just that with Iowa BIG North. Four districts came together and embraced the same pedagogical foundation of personalized, passion-based learning, but did so while facing a different set of challenges and opportunities given the location and community sizes. They are doing this beautifully with their program, helping businesses in their communities finding solutions to real problems. The students and businesses work on authentic problems together.  Students from participating schools work as one across district lines on their initiatives.

Take Away – What challenges are your community facing, and how can your young learners help solve them? Check out the current initiatives going on in Iowa BIG North’s small communities for inspiration.

Van Meter Schools

And last, head back to the west-central part of the state to Van Meter Schools (student enrollment 500), which was one of the first districts in the state to implement a 1:1 student computing initiative, and also one of the first districts in Iowa to be named an Apple Distinguished School. That being said, their more recent work on project-based learning, standards-based grading, competency-based education and flexible schedules where students have voice and choice in how much time they need to spend on their learning is very inspiring. Not to mention, the voice/choice has bled into the teacher professional learning. Rarely do the teachers learn in whole-school scenarios…instead, they identify the skills they have and need, then personalize their learning for professional growth. Simple yet genius!

Take Away – After you and your colleagues feel somewhat comfortable with the idea of shifting towards more personalized learning – do it. Dive in head first and turn your classrooms into a personalized learning environment!

Any time you’re using technology in the classroom, whether to personalize learning or otherwise, you must keep the tech relevant to the goal. I also encourage you to consider creation tools versus productivity tools (some my favorites are WeVideoSoundtrapExplainEverythingMinecraftCode.org and Seesaw – stay tuned for a follow-up piece on these!). Most of all, have fun and get creative, and it will be contagious for your learners!

This was originally posted by Getting Smart.

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4 Benefits of Classroom Podcasting and 4 Ideas to Try Today

“In humans, as in songbirds, the sounds produced by the individuals are essential for normal vocal development.” – Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2000

Podcasts…the not-so-latest buzzword going around in education circles. This is an exciting medium for adding to our teaching toolkit but, as educators, we of course benefit from taking a thoughtful approach. There are many rich reasons why we should integrate audio recording, including podcasts, into the classroom. My suggestion? Get some great implementation ideas from your peers and then, by all means, JUMP!

4 Student Benefits to Understand

When you understand some of the powerful ways audio recording in the classroom can benefit student learning, it will be easy to make a strong case to your administrators, your peers, and, not least of all, to yourself! There are numerous tools that make podcasting and media-making simple for teacher and student alike, but using technology without understanding the specific student needs in play, and why it effectively addresses them, isn’t strategic. Here are some of the important student benefits that are helpful for each of us to understand, to look out for when evaluating our use of recorded audio in the classroom, and to be able to explain to others:

  1. Clarification and Confidence – As your learners listen closely to their tone, learn to include appropriate pauses, and master their speaking through repetition, they will clarify their personal voice and become more confident speakers.
  2. Reflection and Discussion – Working with recorded audio offers students an alternative place and space to reflect on their thinking and engage in candid discussions about their work. These discussions lead students toward the opportunity to construct new and improved ideas.
  3. Read, Revise, Practice, and Present – When your learners record themselves reading their writing, it gives them a new perspective on the written word and an alternative method for revision. Further, as students read and revise their writing, they are engaging in much-needed practice before making the oral presentation to peers. The combination of writing and presenting is authentic practice for what students will have to master when they enter higher education and the workforce.
  4. Assessment Minus Anxiety – If the task at hand is to assess our learners’ understanding, rather than their writing, we can now lower their blood pressure by giving them an alternative space to explain themselves that doesn’t include worrying about spelling errors or sentence structure.

6 Phases of Incorporating Audio Recording

A while back I came across integration coach Corey Holmer’s presentation “Broadcasting Your Story: Podcasting with Chromebooks” and was immediately a) inspired, b) grateful for the work he had already done, and c) excited to share with my teaching peers. He very simply breaks down the podcasting process into six phases for teachers who are interested in incorporating audio recording in the classroom:

  1. Goal Determination
  2. Scripting
  3. Software Acclimation
  4. Planning & Implementing Recording
  5. Editing
  6. Publishing

In addition to explaining each of the steps in detail, Holmer also provided his audience a Podcasting Project Guide. Although this was originally created for a workshop session of educators, it can be easily adapted for any classroom. Even if you have little or no personal experience with podcast creation in the classroom, no problem – I find Mr. Holmer’s explanation easy to understand and a fantastic place to start!

4 Ideas (And Many More) to Try Now!

Need more inspiration on audio recording ideas? Check out the classroom projects, lesson plans and ideas I have compiled here from various educators across the globe. Here are just some of my favorites:

  1. Use podcasts in conjunction with Google Tour Builder to create virtual field trips with student recorded tour guide voice overs.
  2. Build an original soundtrack that compliments the rising action, climax, and resolution of a novel.
  3. Create a “day in the life” documentary that describes the sights, sounds and activities in an ancient metropolis.
  4. On a field trip, students use a voice recorder, such as the one available through the Soundtrap app, to take notes and a digital camera to take photos.

This was published by ASCD and cross-posted here: http://inservice.ascd.org/4-benefits-of-classroom-podcasting-and-4-ideas-to-try-today/.

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Student Radio at The Pingry School in Short Hills, New Jersey

Written by Meredith Allen, Soundtrap Educational Ambassador
Cross posted at: http://edublog.soundtrap.com/2017/04/05/student-radio-at-the-pingry-school-in-short-hills-new-jersey/

I recently met Mr. Thomas Berdos at the Texas Music Education Association annual convention in San Antonio. Mr. Berdos is an 18+ year music educator at The Pingry School in Short Hills, New Jersey. We chatted about a recent cross-curricular project he and his colleague, Jill Driscoll, had been working on.

This particular project which spans grades and ties together numerous classrooms and subjects, relies heavily on Soundtrap for audio capture and execution.  I knew as soon as I heard about the magic that was happening at Pingry I needed (and wanted) to share it with other educators asap!

Project: WSHR Radio was created when Music, Library, Language Arts and Technology classes were combined in a unit for the Pingry 5th graders.  Students listen critically and research pieces of music. They write and record a narrative, splice the commentary with important parts of their chosen music and celebrate the created audio files by having their radio segments played over the PA in the hallways of the lower elementary at the start of each day.  These fantastic 5th grade students have now shared their knowledge & interest of music with the rest of the school, leveraging technology in a really awesome way while connecting to their language arts and library classes. I decided to ask Mr. Berdos a few questions about his and the student’s experience thus far.

Meredith: What motivated you to organize this student project?
Mr. Berdos: I have always wanted to find ways for students to see music through the filter of other disciplines. One day on the way to work I was listening to my favorite classical station in the car. As I entered the building, I thought it would have been nice to hear the last selection I heard in the car playing in the hallways of the school, along with the show host’s commentary. It came to me that we could do this with students doing the commentary. Our radio station, WSHR, was born.

Meredith: How did the other teachers in your district react to this project?
Mr. Berdos: Very enthusiastically! Pingry is an independent, private school with a unique and successful learning culture. The faculty members are encouraged to collaborate. So the collaboration of the WSHR unit between numerous disciplines was natural and easily gained traction.

Meredith: Did you encounter any roadblocks?
Mr. Berdos: When we started the WSHR unit, we broadcasted with a small bluetooth speaker on top of a cabinet in the hallway. We have “graduated” to a state-of-the-art bluetooth sound system installed in the ceiling of the hallways, which makes for wonderful sound fidelity. We originally used Audacity for the tech piece of the project. It was more complex than our students needed and we found Soundtrap to have the right mix of capability and user-friendliness. Switching to Soundtrap proved to be the right way to go forward.

Meredith: How did the students react to this project?
Mr. Berdos: Students are very interested in doing the project. All students in the school hear the music in the mornings. The fourth graders look forward to “next year” when they do the broadcasting. Students enjoy being assigned pieces of music, and learn not only about the music, but about their own capacity to appreciate new styles of music. Recently I heard from a student who was in our program a number of years ago, and he still remembers and enjoys his WSHR assigned piece. So the program has a lasting value on our students.

Meredith: How did Soundtrap aid with completion and success of these student projects?
Mr. Berdos: We could not do the unit without a program like Soundtrap. The fifth-grade students can record their own voices and also splice in their music all with little trouble. The recording part of the WSHR unit brings all the learning to life.

Meredith: Did using Soundtrap inspire you, or other content teachers in your building, to attempt or plan to attempt another outside-the-box student project using collaborative audio recording?
Mr. Berdos: I know that since we started using Soundtrap for the WSHR unit, the foreign language department has used Soundtrap for their recording needs.

Lesson & Class Details:

  • General Music – Students learn the skills necessary for listening critically to music and to make observations on the musical characteristics of the piece.
  • Library – Students research their assigned musical selections. They gather information about the piece: when it was composed, for what occasion was it composed, how it fits into the music of its time period, etc. They also gather information about the composers: when/where they lived, and interesting highlights of their lives.
  • Language Arts – Students create narratives based on their research. In addition to standard rules of grammar and punctuation, they learn the skills necessary to quote musical examples, italicize foreign language words, etc.
  • Technology Class – Students learn to use the online digital audio workstation Soundtrap to edit recordings. After their narratives are written, they record them and insert their recordings into the audio project of their piece. The finished product is a narrated mp3 to broadcast which includes the research, in their own voices, to share with the Pingry community.

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In Sync With Soundtrap

How is it possible that I haven’t blogged about Soundtrap yet?! Anyone that personally knows me will understand the ridiculousness of this fact.  I’m here to remedy this absolute travesty. 🙂


Soundtrap was first created by musicians for musicians in Stockholm, Sweden circa 2012. Increased classroom practices using this DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) has now transcended to all content areas, abilities and locations….what is this and why would we be using it in schools?!  Soundtrap is an easy-to-use, online recording studio that can be used across any device to create audio without the necessity of being in the same physical space as your collaborator(s). No more anechoic rooms, mixing consoles, orientation
sessions or booking appointments.

That’s all fine and good for musicians and music producers, but what about this “across-content” classroom business I spoke of earlier that is influencing our schools at exponential rates in 2017?  Now that Soundtrap has put these once-complicated, hard-to-obtain tools in the hands of babes, babes can now benefit for the first time – from their phones, Chromebooks, computers or tablets.  And those same babes can create in minutes (it’s that easy!) and invite other babes (from other schools, states, countries!) to collaborate on their project – in real, friggin’ time. I know, it’s incredible.

Basically this is a Google Doc for audio recording.  It has never been done and is now being done beautifully by Soundtrap.

What does this mean for our schools?

  • School districts can now connect and create with other school districts. Think about how impactful this could be to our rural districts.
  • Students can keep creating outside of the 45-minute class period – on their own phone or at home…as long as they have an internet connection. Heck, they could even work on their project from their dentist’s computer if it was online (and said dentist was ok with their computer being hijacked:-)
  • Budding musicians and music producers now have access to a very robust platform, bridging the gap between secondary and post-secondary school programs which will continue to cultivate their passions through school.
  • Speech Language Pathologists have an easy-to-use tool to capture and archive student progress, as well as have an opportunity to invite parents and teachers to access their audio growth portfolio.
  • Foreign language teachers have a slick way of recording their voice (or student’s voice) and inviting collaborators to add comments and/or edit in real time or asynchronously.
  • Countless uses in music classrooms…rehearsal recordings to evaluate and reflect on, practice tool using accompaniments, audition recordings, composition projects, playing assessments, etc.
  • Interviews, podcasts, commercials….the list just keeps going on.


Soundtrap is about all about creating and connecting.  It is simple yet monumental, and this is the time to take hold and experience.  The most recent
NMC/CoSN Report: 2016 K-12 Edition, which examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in schools, understands the importance.  This report charts the horizon for emerging technologies in school communities across the globe by an organization that has the world’s longest-running exploration of technology trends in education.  One major mid-term trend from this report that focuses on driving EdTech adoption in the next 3-5 years…..yep, you called it: Collaborative Learning.  This social construct places the learner at the center, encourages interaction, group work and develops solutions to actual, real-world problems.

When applied in the spirit of deeper collaboration, technology can unite students around big ideas and projects, while integrating web-based resources that will expand their learning. Digital tools are fundamental ingredients in the facilitation of collaborative learning approaches, offering platforms for communication and activities in synchronous as well as asynchronous environments. Cloud computing has been particularly lauded for its role in bolstering collaboration as it instills unlimited potential for teacher, student, and parent communication.  People can easily access and share learning materials with each other, making updates in real time….[encouraging] increased student achievement, discussion, confidence, and active learning. (NMC/CoSN Horizon Report, 2016, p. 12)

There it is.

And that, my dear friends, is why I shout Soundtrap from the rooftops.  


This post was republished by EdCircuit on 1.12.17

NMC/CoSN Horizon Report. (2016). 2016 K-12 Edition. Retrieved from https://www.nmc.org/publication/nmc-cosn-horizon-report-2016-k-12-edition/

 

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Check Yourself

I recently had an opportunity to listen to Mr. Kevin Brookhouser’s speak on the 20time Project at the Toronto GAFE Summit. His message: teachers who offer choice can meet learning goals while creating powerful experiences that lead to increased motivation, creativity and divergent critical thinking. Simple yet very profound. I wrote the following thoughts while on my plane ride home.

My teaching career started when I was in high school during a job shadowing experience.  A real-world learning experience inspired me as opposed to memorizing facts and figures in my core subjects…who knew!  Imagine 16-year-old me, I liked music, I was pretty good at it, the music rooms were my second home. When I had the opportunity to mentor someone, it just seemed natural to shadow my band director.  I had my “lightbulb” a-ha moment when I was presented with an opportunity to teach a rhythm lesson to 10-year-old budding percussionist. I helped her through grasping a concept and when she got it, I got it…I want to teach. 

Little did I know, that moment would lead me down a very interesting path in education.  It has been a path that has engrossed me, a path that is unfinished, a path that if you squint hard enough drops off to…where?  

Prior to seeing clarity with the scary (yet awesome) realization that our 21st century educational thoroughfare is being built as we travel it, I taught instrumental music in a very rural and high-poverty school for almost a decade.  I loved it, was good at it, and kids usually liked coming to my class.  Naïve-me thought their engagement in my class was a reflection on my teaching – ha!  I eventually figured out they liked coming to the band room for the same reasons I liked it when I was in high school – they enjoy music, they like playing an instrument, and my classroom felt safe.  One could argue that none of those reasons are because of me.  This is where my mother’s voice pipes up and says, “Now Meredith, they feel safe and secure in your room because you fostered that. They love music because you have inspired them. Etc., etc., etc.” Ok Mom, I’ll take a tiny bit of it but it really comes down to the fact that they felt empowered in my classroom. 

Learners felt safe – check.
Learners felt supported – check.
Learners were given autonomy – check.
Learners were given an authentic audience – check.
Learners were passionate and interested in the content – check.
Learners saw a potential future with the work they completed – check. 

Here’s the kicker – my learners chose to be in my class.  That’s huge. It wasn’t until I was out of the classroom teaching teachers, facilitating professional learning, presenting to all content area educators that I realized most educators don’t get to experience the luxury of being an elective teacher and how absolute key that was to my (accidental) classroom success. 

Now and probably for the rest of my time on this earth, I will encourage all educators (and leaders!) to pattern after or emulate an elective class by giving student voice, choice, and ownership on their learning while also providing some authentic audience and networking outside of the classroom walls.  Technology obviously provides an accessible avenue to achieve this work.

I’ll sign off by asking one simple question: Do you want to take your class?

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364 Days Ago

“You need to start blogging.” These wise words, casually mentioned to me last summer, helped kickstart my documentation of an amazing year that has been filled with gains, losses, surprises and most of all – pushed me to reflect on my work (something I am finding is absolutely imperative to the learning process). Thank you Scott for mentioning it nonchalantly last year at ISTE on our walk to the MLTS screening. Thank you Tim for reading my drafts and providing very helpful feedback (you are so smart).  And thank you subscribers for reading my two cents every so often.

On June 26th, 2015 I bought msmeredithallen.org, subscribed to WordPress (a program I have spent countless hours you-tubing tutorials and learning more code I care to admit) and started my blogging adventure.  Originally I thought my blogging would be for others (naive thought – I know!) but blogging turned into something beautiful for me.  It is now a meditative exercise (although, like most exercise regimens, my consistency and discipline could be improved;-). I highly recommend this exercise and would encourage all educators to have students blogging about what is happening in the classroom, their process throughout a project, their reading journal, whatever – expand outside the spiral notebook or Friday Folder. As a mother of two elementary kids, please. Please digitize more – less paper in my house would be fantastic and I would love to share my children’s gains, losses, surprises, etc. with family and friends electronically.

One lesson learned fairly quickly – if you want people to read what you write, you need to promote your posts. The avenue in which I promoted depended on who my intended audience was.  I am sure the social media promenade will eventually change to some other awesome program(s) but for now I use Facebook for more personal posts and Twitter for professional posts. And then there are the posts that have never left draft form…and never will.  They are equally important (albeit one might argue more important) but not to be shared publicly. What I am getting at: I could do whatever I wanted in whatever way I needed. It is the beauty of creating original works. I own my writing….it only took 33 years to figure that out. Ouch.

364 days ago I started something that should have been encouraged, cultivated and fostered 10,585 days ago. One might argue that the technology was not available for teachers and students 10,585 days ago.  Ok, I will give them that but lack of technological opportunity does not apply to the here and now.

Ready? Set? Blog.

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“Saved the Day”

I put this title in quotations because 6 people think I saved their day from 4,057 miles away….Instead, I did what any high school (maybe even middle school) student could, would, and should do if given the access and reason.

Back story: Meet my parents – Robin and Steve.  My mom is a retired English teacher and my dad is a farmer that will never retire. In 2011 they went on their first international trip to the UK.  That was the first of many.  My role has been their travel agent, something I quite enjoy.  I get to surf the Internet for cool B&B’s, make reservations, map out pretty and practical routes and then live vicariously through them via their agenda and Facebook posts.  They just returned from their 5th trip, (this time going with 4 friends) which I had the pleasure of planning.

Break to: SUPERMAN JUMPS OUT OF THE PHONE BOOTH!!!  Or, rather, Meredith answers a panicked FaceTime call over the noon hour.

Robin: “Meredith, we have a problem. This B&B only has one room available for tomorrow night, we need three!” (First thought, uh-oh I messed up…mom assured me not, their mixup, blah, blah….second thought, maps.google.com).
Me: “Hang on mom, we’ll get it figured out – no worries.”
Robin: “Steve, look how cute she is when she’s concentrating.” (Remember, this was FaceTime, I was on a mission and these are my parents)
Me: “Mother. ” You get the idea of how the rest of the conversation might have went between a daughter and her parents…

Fast-forward 15 minutes: I had done a quick online search of the area they were traveling, found the desired route for their next booked B&B (taking into consideration the roads my dad felt comfortable driving on), split the difference of mileage (based on how much drive time they wanted to get done the next day), clicked my favorite “Hotels Nearby” button, cross-referenced that list with tripadvisor.com (over 320 million user reviews of anything travel related-seriously, check it out), found two possible B&B contenders, viewed their respective websites, read reviews, made a decision, called the winner (using my computer I’ll have you know) and made the reservation with a very nice English-accented woman named Vanessa, whom the traveling party met the next day and adored!

Did  I remember the date of the signing of Magna Carta?  No. (June 19, 1215)
Did I remember the name of the current Prime Minister? No. (David Cameron)
Did I do a crazy algebraic equation to get my mileage? Nope.

What I did do was:

  • Apply critical reading and thinking strategies.
  • Determine importance of information and its relevance to essential questions.
  • Separate information and ideas into component parts.
  • Make inferences, identify trends, and interpret data.
  • Separate information and ideas into component parts.
  • Exercise flexibility in information seeking and collaborated with peers.

In shorter terms, I analyzed, evaluated, interpreted, and inferred. All wonderful, great skills we want our bright, 21st century learners to be practicing and applying. I used what resources I had to solve a problem, a real problem. It wasn’t rocket science and it wasn’t fancy-dancy Academia stuff but those 15 minutes of clicking and surfing “saved the day” for 6 people on vacation. It put their minds at ease and I played a role with that, which makes me feel good.  

I want students to feel good about the work they are doing in schools. Are they helping someone or something? Are they solving a a real problem? What work are they doing in school to be part of a solution? What are you doing to be part of a solution?

 

 

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Playing With Circuitry

Math and Science were not my strong subjects in school. I gravitated more towards English, Social Studies and, of course, Band. Why do certain subjects resonate more with some students than others? Multiple intelligences, right vs. left brain dominance, disengaging or un-relatable instruction? Any, all, and other factors probably play a mix of roles with children leaning toward particular subjects throughout their schooling. Regardless, I do consider myself a life-long learner and have had some amazing opportunities to do just that through my position as an Instructional Technology Consultant for Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency.

One such opportunity to learn has been through recent circuitry “toys” and the amazing and incredible process of making the light light up or the fan to whir.  My first experience was with littleBits (more to come on that later) at TICL last June and the list grows every day.  I decided to offer a quick synopsis of each one I have had contact with so far.  I tried to list them in a chronological order by grade level but quickly realized that one “toy” can be easily adaptable to a wide range of ages, depending on the activity/learning goal.  Here goes…

  • littleBits – These Bits snap together with magnets, no soldering, no wiring, no programming.  Color coded (Blue=power, Green=output, Pink=input, Orange=expands) modules lend for hours of exploration and limitless possibilities.
  • Snap Circuits – These components snap together instead of magnetize. Color coded as well but create circuit boards just like the ones found in electronic devices.  The sets come with a project manual but the real fun comes when the user gets comfortable enough to deviate from the manual and make their own creations.
  • Makey Makey – This video [2:12] captures the Makey Makey capabilities much better than I could – super cool.
  • Squishy Circuits – Using two different doughs (which the user gets to make!) as circuit building materials to connect the components (buzzer, LEDs, motor). Engineering students from the University of St. Thomas started this program and include lots of videos for classroom use here.
    • Ages: “Allows kids of all ages to create circuits and explore electronics.”
    • Classroom Ideas
  • Arduino – A bit different than the above mentioned but still requires a shout out. This is an open-source prototyping platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software (I even managed to get the light to light up!) Users can study the hardware to understand how it works and make changes to it. The company encourages users to share under their Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License.
    • Ages:”The 10 year old me would have been all over this!”
    • Classroom Ideas

It’s not about the “toy”…tool, program, app, whatever. It’s about the magic that happens when a student is allowed the freedom to explore, create, problem-solve, make something work, and relate it to the real world.

First step teachers: eliminate that worksheet activity you have done every year that’s getting stale. Instead, have your students “play” with a “toy.” I recommend having your students reflect, document their learning/failing process and celebrate by sharing their learning/failing through your school website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc.

Enjoy the mind shift I promise you will witness and experience!

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