Creating 24/7 Learning Experiences for Teachers

My district, Leander ISD, is in process of going 1:1 for all 6th-12th grade students. With the new onset of devices being put into the hands of the students there had to be a push to educate the teachers on digital tools.

With the new rollout, I received the chance to work two days a week at one of our middle schools. My role on campus was to help prepare and train the teachers on digital tools. My problem was that I am only there twice a week. I knew I had to do something different to make sure that the teachers had plenty of learning experiences. I asked myself, how can you reach teachers 24/7 and ensure that they have the resources available regardless of your physical presence. My answer was online self-guided learning experiences

I took the idea to the principal back in November and she was on board. This post is going to show you how I set up the learning opportunities and website. Keep in mind that it is a work in progress. 

"Leveled" Categories
We always talk about how professional development is not differentiated enough for teachers. I knew that I had to do something different because there are teachers of various technology proficiency levels at the school. While I could have done beginning, intermediate, and advanced learning opportunities, I didn't really like the way that it sounded. Being a student who grew up struggling with reading I hate labels, so I didn't want to put those labels on the teachers. Not being technology savvy doesn't mean you are an inadequate teacher, it just means you need more time and practice than others to catch up to the digital times. 

The more I thought about how educators learn new tools the easier it was for me to figure out how I was going to differentiate the learning. I came up with three categories to tag the learning opportunities: self, class, and student. 

Self denotes that the teacher is going to be learning about a new digital tool for their own personal growth. Examples of self experiences would be learning how to use Google Drive, building a practice Google Classroom to get comfortable with the features, using a new tool to curate digital resources, etc. 

Learning opportunities tagged as Class mean that the teacher is learning a new tool while creating something to share with the class (or students). The teacher is the one doing the creating. Examples of class experiences would be creating a Padlet for students to collaborate with one another, creating a custom search engine for students to use during research, creating a video to showcase a concept, etc. 

The last type is Student, where the teacher gives the student the resources needed to create something using a digital tool. Examples of student experiences would be teachers providing differentiated opportunities in Google Classroom, students creating an animated dictionary, podcast, video, e-portfolio, etc. While I don't like labels, I think many will agree that Student is the category we want most teachers to reach. 

Function Categories
Once I had my three types of learning opportunities, I created the different categories you would use to describe digital tools. This led me to the function of the tool and not the actual tool itself. I don't care about the tool. I care about what the tool allows teachers and students to do. Digital tools come and go, but the function will never die. To date, the learning opportunities fall under one or more of these categories. 

Learning Experiences
Now that I had my types and function, it was time to start building the learning experiences. This will always be a work in progress. I am constantly thinking and receiving feedback on new ways to improve. Sometimes I highlight one specific digital tool, while other times I give several options and allow the teachers to choose the one that fits best for them. Again, it comes down to the function of the tool and whether or not there multiple tools that fit that particular function at the moment. 

Here is how I have chosen to structure the learning experiences:

As I mentioned prior, some of the learning opportunities focus on a specific tool and the function that tool provides, while others provide choice in tools to try. As in the example above, Padlet is the tool and the function is communication, collaboration, assessment of/for learning, curation. Here is an example of when I suggested various tools to try.

Once I had several learning opportunities developed it was time to build the website. I chose a Google Sites for a couple options. 

  1. I know Google Sites like the back of my hand.
  2. Awesome Tables scripts works with Google Sites. 
  3. We are a Google for Education district and I wanted to model for the teachers something they could use (awesome table) on their website. 

If you have never heard of or seen Awesome Tables you are in for a treat. I used the 'cards' tool to create the interactive piece on the main page of the website. The teachers could then sort by function or type to choose the learning opportunity they want to focus on at that moment. The cards show the name of the learning experience, the badge they will earn (more about badging in a future blog post), and a summary of the experience. When they click on the experience that interests them, they are taken to the document with all of the information. 

I am not going to lie, this was and is a lot of work. But it is work that I felt was necessary in order to provide the 24/7 learning experiences that the teachers need in order to help create a digital classroom. My next challenge, as I am moving to the Instruction and Professional Learning Department next school year, is how to make this district wide. 

New Q&A Feature for Google Slides

One day after announcing that you can now schedule posts in Google Classroom, Google comes out with another great new feature. This time the update comes to the almost always neglected Google Slides. Google's new announcement is a Q&A feature, which will allow your audience to ask questions and vote on other people's questions. This is great news for those of us that were a little sad when Google Moderator was put to rest.

Please note, if you are in a Google for Education district, this feature might not have hit your domain yet. But it is active in your personal Google account. Here is a quick run down on how it works. 

To access the feature, click on the drop down next to present and select 'Presenter view.'

Next, click on 'Start new.'

Presenter's Screen

The presenter will get a pop-up window that shows the audience tools. You are able to switch back and forth with your speaker notes. When your presentation is being displayed, each slide will have a header added showcasing the question URL. After the presentation, you have the ability to turn off the Q&A feature. Upon enabling it again, you will be prompted to continue or reset (for next presentation). 

Presenter's Screen

Displayed Presentation

When your participants go to the provided URL, they are allowed to ask a question and vote on other people's questions. Each time a question gets a 'thumbs up' it moves up the list to be ranked higher, while a 'thumbs down' moves the question farther down the list. This is a great feature for when the presenter is only able to answer a certain number of questions. This ensures that the top ranking questions are asked first. 

Audience's Screen

As a presenter, you can present the question to the audience while you are answering it. After answering the question, hit the 'hide' button on the question and answer pop-up and it will return back to your presentation. 

Presenter's Screen

Displayed Question

I love this new feature, as it opens the door to allow everyone in the room a voice to ask questions. Best part is that you don't have to switch back and forth from one tool to another. Thanks, Google!

Exploring the World Through Virtual Field Trips

One of my favorite things to do is go to places I have never been. While I have been to 25 different countries so far, there is so much of the world that I still need to explore. With the technology available today, I am able to explore a dream location without leaving my house. While this might not be as fun, I will take this type of trip over never exploring it at all. 

In schools, students get on a bus once a year to take a class field trip. Unfortunately, the majority of the time the trip lands them in a location that is near where they currently live. While this can be a great learning experience, it generally happens once a year. With virtual field trips you can take students to locations around the world whenever you want. The students can go scuba diving in Australia, climb to the top of Machu Picchu, explore the International Space Station, hike Mount Everest, wander around a museum in London, and so much more. 

Here is my Exploring the World Around Us Through Virtual Field Trip presentation. It showcases over 15 different virtual field trips students can take, with example activities that accompany the location. This is a work in progress, so please leave a comment if you know of a resource I should include. 

One of my favorite trips is scuba diving in exotic places around the world. Close the blinds, turn off the lights, put on ocean sounds and let the students dive into the ocean to explore a shipwreck, swim with sharks, or examine the coral reefs.