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Engaging Students and Enhancing Learning Outcomes With Instructional Technologies and Active Learning
Updated: 1 hour 6 min ago

Towards Compliant Instant Messaging in the Classroom

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 12:46pm

Instant messaging has become a big part of classroom life for many, and for a number of good reasons. 

It allows a more immediate, two-way communication between students and teachers, both in terms of operational matters (class feedback, due dates, class cancellations, or urgent notices), as well as co-learning. 

Plus, it helps keep the classroom atmosphere alive, which is a good way to preserve camaraderie when students are not physically in the same location, as has been the case in the last couple of months. 

But despite the benefits that instant messaging brings, it can easily turn into a minefield, where messages get piled atop each other, without any meaningful communication and plenty of difficulties to track what’s going on. And worse, schools can easily fall into the non-compliance trap, leaving theirs and their students’ privacy up for grabs.

Here are the key rules schools and teachers need to follow to make sure that they use instant messaging in the classroom properly and safely.

1. Use only approved educational software

Under FERPA, teachers are not allowed to use educational software (which includes instant messaging tools) for which the school doesn’t have the vendor contract. 

So in case you discover a piece of software that might suit your class nicely, it’s best you check with the school administration whether they have a vendor agreement in place.

In addition, it’s also important to check which instant messaging apps your school approves and adhere to the list of only those tools that have been vetted as safe. Otherwise, you’re risking to expose your and your students’ data. 

2. Ask for consent before using social networks

FERPA also introduces the rule under which schools need to get parents’ permission for underage students to use social networks and tools and connect them to classroom pages. 

Similar applies to students who are above the legal age: you need to get their consent before you can start using a platform for school-related matters.

Make sure you receive consent before adding any new social networks to your teaching arsenal, as it’s the safest way to avoid fines and repercussions for non-compliance.

3. Preserve information exchanged via instant messaging  

Instant messaging content is considered to be official business records, the same as email. This means that in case a student or parent files a FOIA request under which they ask for your school to disclose all records that pertain to the student, you would need to also make available the content the student exchanged from instant messaging software used for class purposes.

Given the unstructured nature and volume of this data, it’s impossible to do this manually, so in order to stay compliant with the regulations, your school’s tech team should investigate how this information capturing can be preserved automatically. 

For example, if you use tools such as WhatsApp to exchange class information, then it’s wise to have a dedicated archiving tool that can keep your WhatsApp archive running in the background. That way, in case there is a FOIA request, you can easily extract all the content related to the request and provide it to the party asking for information.

4. Use only business emails and accounts

When it comes to protecting students and school data, it’s safest to refrain from using personal emails for those purposes, no matter how inconvenient that might sometimes be (for instance if you don’t have remote access to your email from home or your personal device). 

Most schools have archiving tools in place that keep track of all communication between schools and teachers and third parties. That way, all official business records are safely stored and encrypted and can be reproduced in case of an emergency. 

But if you choose to use your personal emails or social media accounts, you might leave the data vulnerable to cyber-attacks and data thefts, with little to no chance of retrieving the data.

5. Use only trusted networks

To access your instant messaging tools you might need to log in using a network that’s not safe and with the potential for your messages to be stolen and your data exposed. Check with your school’s tech department for specific cyber security guidelines on which type of networks you should use and how to detect harmful ones.

6. Follow communication policies

The final step towards compliant instant messaging in the classroom is to create, or if there is one, to consistently implement existing communication policies. This means that no personal information or personal messages should be exchanged between teachers and students, and communication should take place only in designated and approved venues.

It’s important to mention this as sometimes, no matter how versed we are in following the rules, we might take a wrong step, and distribute information that we should not have exposed. This can then make us exposed to fines and penalties for non-compliance with current regulations. 

So, set clear guidelines and make sure everyone follows them consistently. Finally, instant messaging is likely to take up an even bigger part of communication in a school setting, so it’s key that we set it on the right footing from the get-go. 


Picking A Corporate Learning Management System : Features You Should Compare

Tue, 11/10/2020 - 9:56am

Those of us working education can easily forget the we're not the only ones who use Learning Management Systems. Though this guest post might be helpful to anyone in the corporate world looking to produce an LMS to help support employee learning during these unusual times. – KW

A company invests in the career growth of its employees by offering workplace learning opportunities, thus equipping them with the knowledge they need to perform their jobs better. Workplace learning/training is also essential for improving employee retention rates. But training employees comes with a host of responsibilities and you need to be well aware of a lot of important factors like:

  • What are your business training goals?
  • What concepts do you want to cover in the training sessions?
  • What is the best platform to help you achieve the desired training goals?

Knowing exactly what you want to achieve from this training is possible by making a list of your core L&D goals. When it comes to picking the best platform for training, top eLearning experts suggest using a Learning Management System(LMS) for streamlining the delivery of training material.

An LMS is a digital tool that comes as an all-inclusive solution for all your L&D needs. It is a cloud-based platform that allows you to execute, document, track, deploy and deliver training programs.

Picking the ideal LMS for training your employees can get a little unnerving considering there so many LMSs on the eLearning market out there. This makes it necessary to know exactly what you need to achieve with it and then compare the relevant LMS options before picking “the one”. For example, when you compare Mindflash LMS with Violet LMS, you’ll realize it offers the option of a free trial, which is an important aspect to consider.

To help you find out how to choose an LMS that matches your needs, we have compiled a list of features that you should compare before finalizing one for your organization:

  • User friendly interface: It is important for an LMS to enable effective building of training material with an easy-to-use interface. If the overall experience is tedious and takes a lot of maneuvers, it doesn’t prove to be a worthwhile investment. Therefore, you should verify during the free trial whether it is easy to navigate or not.
  • Seamless integration with important platforms: It is essential for the LMS to be capable of integrating with all the major platforms as well as the current technologies your company uses for smooth functioning. This saves you the trouble of manually updating employee data as it will automatically sync all the existing data with your platform.
  • Flexible tracking and reporting: It is important to train employees, but it is equally important to keep track of their training progress. An LMS should provide dashboards to track course completion and reflect pending elements. To assess how impactful the training is, an LMS must also have flexible reporting capabilities. Reports help you track performance and allocate resources accordingly.
  • Collaboration tools: Engagement with peers for group projects, online discussions and other team activities prove to be highly beneficial in aiding team building. It also leads to a better team learning experience. An LMS must offer various collaboration tools to allow employees to communicate with ease. Failing to do so may lead to an additional expense of incorporating external tools to meet these needs.
  • Gamification tools: Gamification is a technique that encourages learning through competition by use of fun game principles. It increases user engagement in eLearning by providing rewards based on assessment results. It has been proven that since such tools ensure a high rate of information retention.
  • Mobile learning: This is a must-have LMS feature considering it makes learning very convenient. An LMS featuring mobile capabilities allows users to participate from anywhere across the globe and via any mobile device they possess. It also allows them to have full control over their pace of learning.


The above mentioned features should save you a lot of valuable time while selecting an LMS that's best suited for your organization. For optimal results, keep a list of your company’s unique needs in mind while making the selection.


NoRedInk: Meeting Grade Level Writing Skills During Challenging Times

Thu, 11/05/2020 - 8:55am

Dr. Anita De La Isla and the Director of Language And Literacy at Coppell Independent School District in Coppell, Texas. CISD uses NoRedInk, an online writing platform designed to build strong writers through interest-based curricula, adaptive exercises, and actionaable data.

Dr. De La Isla was kind enough to answer some questions about the challenge students and educators are facing in these pandemic times, and the role NoRedInk is playing in keeping student actively engaged and evolving as writers.

Can you discuss some of the challenges you’re seeing at your school as students struggle to meet grade-level writing standards amid the pandemic?

As public educators, we find ourselves immersed in a great time of change as our schools are faced with new and difficult challenges. This experience brings opportunity for growth and our current situation is no exception. One of the greatest challenges we've encountered is being able to maintain stability and meet the individual social, emotional, and educational needs of learners while balancing all the chaos and uncertainty that a pandemic brings. Additionally, the pandemic has continued to stretch educators’ time, resulting in even less one-on-one instruction for students than before. I believe teachers across the nation are going to be crunched to ensure every student is meeting their learning targets.

None of us has experienced anything like this in our lifetimes. We are learning and adapting. Our students are learning and adapting. It's a continuous ebb and flow. I've learned to give an abundance of grace and know that I've also needed to be the recipient of an abundance of grace. The beauty of all of this is that writing is therapeutic. We've seen some of the most beautiful writing emerge because of the pandemic.

Do you think the pandemic is exacerbating the current achievement gaps? How?

Absolutely, particularly as it relates to distance learning and students in low-income households or rural communities not having proper access to adequate computer devices and stable internet. This disparity between those students as compared to students in more affluent, urban areas is widening the gap.

Why is student engagement and student voice critical to boosting writing skills and bridging the achievement gap?

In Coppell ISD we are committed to transforming our classrooms into enriching literacy environments.  We strongly believe that students should be immersed in a community of writers where their voice, ideas and opinions are valued. NoRedInk equips us with a writing curriculum that is based on our students’ interests. We’ve seen that when our students write about what they know and are passionate about, their engagement in the writing experience increases. And when student engagement increases, student writing improves. We also believe in giving our students multiple opportunities to practice writing daily. We are committed to growing the writer, not just in improving a single piece of writing. Each writing piece should be an opportunity for reflection and growth in the transferable skills that can be applied across genres.

What is technology's role in education?

Technology should leverage the instruction. In other words, Edtech should offer enhancements that otherwise would not have been possible without it. Right now, there’s no question that technology is the lifeline of all education amid the pandemic. All of these tools make it easier for educators to monitor, assess and provide feedback to learners. With so many teachers tasked with ensuring their students remain focused and engaged from afar, Edtech platforms like NoRedInk empower teachers to gauge student strengths and weaknesses, personalize instruction, and provide frequent feedback. The platform also tracks progress in near real-time for students in the classroom or at home.

Can you highlight some of the ways you’re using NoRedInk right now?

The beauty of being in our second year of implementation of NoRedInk is that the transition to remote instruction was near flawless. Our learners were used to using the platform and didn't skip a beat. It also allowed us to deliver equitable instruction and provide just-in-time feedback to our learners regardless of whether they were learning in person or virtually. NoRedInk has allowed us to align pre-assessments to our High Priority Learning Standards so that we can progress monitor our students on the standards that are most essential to each grade level. We also plan on having students submit a minimum of 1 writing piece per grading period through NoRedInk so that teachers can provide clear goals and feedback when conferring with students. We love how the writing process has been scaffolded for learners on NoRedInk. Students have access to explicit instruction and examples all along the way so that if they get stuck, they have immediate built-in feedback and support.

Do you have tips for school leaders regarding how they can inspire, empower, and challenge all students as critical thinkers, readers, writers, and communicators amid the pandemic? 

My greatest advice would again be to give an abundance of grace, remove barriers, give readers and writers the opportunity to grow their wings and then step back and watch them soar. They will exceed your expectations every single time. We as teachers may not always know what is going on at home and it might be impacting their learning and performance. Therefore, every student needs a little more engagement and a little extra wiggle room. So, make sure to utilize educational tools that strengthen student engagement and allow for more positive feedback.


12 Expert Tips for Creating a Successful Learn-from-Home Space

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 9:19am
Learn how to create a comfortable and productive learning space at home! 

Do you have children at home who engaged in remote learning? Are you worried about how to organize a learning space? If your answers are affirmative then, you are in the right place!

The pandemic that began in March this year found many of us in a state of utter shock. The restrictions, followed by complete lockdowns, were something none of us experienced before, and consequently, many started to panic. As it was not enough, we had to deal with the whole new organization of life – children suddenly need to study, and we had to work from home. 

Many have hoped that this situation will be over quickly. Nevertheless, with the new school year, a lot of children and parents found themselves in a similar situation. Alright, for the moment, we don't have new lockdowns, but many schools are giving recommendations for remote learning when it is possible. 

Unlike in the beginning, when we, and let alone kids knew what exactly we are doing, this time, we had some time to gather our thoughts and organize our lives better, or at least think about it. Nonetheless, sometimes, and especially when you have more kids or a small flat, it can be a challenge to create an efficient learning space for your children. If your kid is among those who are again advised to attend school remotely and you need some learning space ideas, this is the right text for you. We consulted psychologists as well as interior design experts to help you out, and we believe you will like what we found.

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How To Create an Effective Learning Space Create a Separate Learning Space

This situation in which school and home are in the same place can be quite confusing for kids since they are used to the fact that these aspects of their lives are separated. Not only that, it is perplexing, but a lot of kids may run into difficulties when they need to focus on schoolwork. That is why it is better to think of a learning space design, no matter how small.  Experts from home maker say this space needs to be only for studying and nothing else.

Ask Kids for Their Opinion

This is pretty straightforward, isn’t it?! Imagine working in an office that some decorated fully for you but without consulting you. In case you don’t want something like that for yourself, surely you understand that your kids won't be happy about it either. On the other hand, if they have a say about the appearance of their learning space, they will be much more motivated to learn.

Get Adequate Furniture

If you, like us, never thought about homeschooling your kids before, it is unlikely that you have the best furniture for this situation. Sure many kids have a good desk and chair in their bedroom, but when they need to spend all day long sitting like that, they start to complain. But you don’t have to run to the shop and buy new furniture – things like poofs, exercise balls and pillows can be a convenient alternative to uncomfortable chairs.

Use Props and Other Stimuli

When you are making learning space remote, you have to think about how to motivate children to work, especially if they are younger. Kids who are only learning to read and write will appreciate it if you decorate the space with colorful letters and numbers. Older kids will be happy if you buy a globe or paste a big world map on the wall.  

Encourage Your Child to Keep their Learning Space Organized

Nobody manages to concentrate in a chaotic environment! However, it is not always simple to explain to children why they need to take care of the learning space.  One thing you can try is to offer them some sort of incentive for keeping things tidy and organized.

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Think About Your Child’s Position

Believe it or not but, only sitting can be considered as a learning space smart position. Many people think that it is okay to let their children lay in bed while they are learning from home. However, the same as us, children associate bed with relaxation and sleeping and can have a lot of trouble focusing on their work. Moreover, they may doze off during a class. 

Make Sure That There is Enough Light

As adults, we have different habits – some people work perfectly during the day, while some feel more productive at night. Kids, however, should study during the day and sleep at night. Therefore when you are creating a learning space, make sure there is enough daylight.  

Create Separate Space for Each Child

If you have two or more kids, this can be challenging. But, as kids can distract each other easily, it is often necessary. You can divide a bedroom with a screen or create a learning space library for one kid and living room for another.

Go Outside

A lot of schools decided to do part of their program outside whenever weather conditions allow for it. It not only decreases the risks of infection but also allows kids to learn on a more practical level. If there is a forest or even a park in your neighborhood, you can plan to make a day trip. 

Limit the Digital Learning

Nowadays, kids love to spend time playing with their electronic gadgets much more than being outside or reading books. In a regular situation a lot of parents do whatever possible to limit the time a child is going to spend in front of the computer. However, remote learning interferes with this as for many tasks kids need computers and other gadgets. But, you can try to introduce other things, books, sketchbooks, etc. to their learning space. 

Create a Clear Structure

Keep in mind that even we as adults need to have clearly defined what our day is going to look like, let alone kids. Now when they are learning remotely, you need to create clear plans and schedule to give your kid directions on how to behave and what to expect. If it is possible, try to organize schedules similar to those they had in school.

Know Your Kid

People tend to think that there are some standard rules we can apply to every kid. In reality, though, it is not like that. Each kid is specific and has different kinds of needs to be able to work well in general. And imagine in these chaotic times! Make sure that you know your child and also talk and take into consideration what they have to say.


Here we are at the end of our journey through what you need for an effective learning space for your children!  Keep in mind that one of the most important things is to include kids in the planning – this will indeed increase their motivation as they will feel their opinions count. Have you already created your kid's study space? 


Teaching Critical Thinking with Education Technology

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 8:12am

Image Source: Julia M Cameron from Pexels

Advanced technology is now available to students at a moment's notice. From smartphones to augmented reality, education is embracing the use of technology at all levels. Though its initial applications were used to reduce pressure on teachers, it has now spread into lesson plans and student activities.

The educational applications of artificial intelligence and advanced technology initially focused on alleviating repetitive tasks for teachers. Computer programs are increasingly used to grade increasingly complex tests and soon entire papers will be graded this way. Technology has learned to react to student input and learning styles, creating new classroom opportunities and challenges.

Teachers have been talking for years about how to teach certain skills by utilizing technology that is available to us. Critical analysis of supposedly valid information is necessary now more than ever. To create the next generation of users and employees that thinks critically about what they consume, what are some ways that teachers can teach critical thinking skills to their students?

Increase Collaboration and Engagement

The development of critical thinking skills is one of the most important skills for students at all levels. Analyzing and synthesizing a variety of critical thinking in adults. One way to foster this in your classroom is to use free collaborative resources through websites like google and Strawpoll.

Assignments to poll classmates, analyze the results, and draw conclusions engage students in data collection. This can be used for many subjects and can help students connect with the people and communities that contribute to data collection. Use it in English classes, for example, to analyze how different groups respond to themes in a book. In an environmental sciences class, show how different groups interact with their ecosystems.

Gamified learning is another opportunity for teachers to create fun, effective activities. While technology is not a prerequisite for gamifying your classroom, it greatly assists the process. Many tutoring programs work on these principles, and critical thinking skills are built by the puzzle and reward aspect of games. Gamification reinforces the information learned on a psychological level through repeated reward systems. Students learn that independent acquisition of information and its application are their own rewards.

Take Your Students Out of the Classroom

Similarly, you can capitalize on the technology that students carry with them as a matter of routine. Geocaching can increase teamwork and develop critical thinking skills. By engaging students outside the walls of the classroom, you can teach them to find their own resources and draw their own conclusions.

Virtual reality systems can help teachers expand their curriculums. They can take class field trips without ever having to leave their seats, and engage students more actively in their learning by utilizing technology that makes knowledge centers more accessible and allows students to gather first-hand information. You can use this technology to take a class on a field trip, and have them gather information from the exhibits. Blend technology with traditional fact-finding games to engage them even further.


Applications of virtual and augmented reality in education gained notoriety early on. Virtual reality requires specialized equipment to create a 360-degree interactive environment for students, while augmented reality (AR) utilizes much simpler technology. Students use their phone and an app to interact with information, games, and data that is projected into their physical environment in real-time. This can help students learn about data collection, and to gamify their learning.

Direct Resources

A key opportunity that technology affords us is connection. Bring experts into your classroom and teach students the value of learning directly from a source. Build your students’ confidence in interacting with and questioning how experts present information by encouraging your students to ask questions. This can also lead to extensive research seeking out differing opinions and methods of research or process.


Classroom technology can also let you display many approaches to the same problems through the use of smart boards and interactive activities. This fosters greater engagement by helping students find methodologies that work best for them, while actively analyzing processes. You can instill critical thinking when it comes to data analysis and gathering, as well as the statements that are drawn from it.


Another critical way that you can get students engaged is by soliciting their feedback. Use surveys and polls to gather information from your students, giving them a direct impact on their education. You can also illustrate the differences in how data is interpreted, and teach students about the manipulation of data. Teach students how to accurately represent their data, and how others may manipulate it, to teach them to be critical of supposedly well-researched claims.

The use of technology is a growing topic as the resources available to us continue to expand. By using these tools to engage your students, you can help them find their way of learning and can instill life-long critical thinking skills. Using team and community-oriented tactics, you can teach your students the proper way to present information. You can also teach them that information can be manipulated, and to be critical of both how information has been gathered and the conclusions that are drawn from it. With these tools, you can help create future adults who can critically evaluate anything that crosses their path.


3D Printing Gains Momentum in the Online Classroom

Thu, 10/15/2020 - 8:13am

The year 2020 has been synonymous with the word change. We've had so many pivotal moments in 2020, including an abrupt and revolutionary change in our corporate and educational landscapes. The institutions that we had come to think of as unchanging, the classroom, the corporate headquarters, in an instant, were changed, possibly forever.  This year, so many of us have had to adjust to working from home and what's been extremely challenging is educating our children from home. The change has been sudden, and even with the summer that has passed, there has been little time to prepare longitudinal lesson plans covering a topic thoroughly. In this article, we take a look at how 3D printing supports remote teaching and learning.

A new normal

As a result of the pandemic, educators across the globe have taken on the mantel of teaching a remote classroom. It didn't come with an instruction manual, and it hasn't been easy. The traditional classroom is in flux, and as some students went back to school this fall, hybrid classroom and online classroom models are the expected offering, unthinkable this time a year ago. The constant in all of this learning has been a sharp increase in the use of technology to support remote teaching models. If the steep learning curve of mastering technology has not been enough, educators are forced with the added challenge of creating engaging lesson plans for their remote students, ensuring that they are as supported and learning as much as possible.

3D online learning online

On the same timeline, 3D printing has gained momentum in the new online classroom. 3D printing as a delivery method for teaching critical STEAM subjects is hands-on and encourages learning. Using a 3D printer is a great way to inspire the inventors and creative thinkers of tomorrow by bringing complex subjects to life. 3D printing assists in the development of critical skills, such as problem-solving, communication, and having the ability to research. The Y Soft BE3D eDee 3D printing solution was designed specifically for use in education, created to encourage self-motivation in learning. It is safe and easy to use and perfect for the classroom.

The quandary is – with 3D printers located inside schools with students learning from home- how do teachers bring the benefit of 3D printing to their students?

Easy and Fun

3D printing lessons and plans can sometimes be complicated to execute in the classroom and especially with students online. Creating engaging 3D printing materials can be difficult and time-consuming, and educators have lived through the hardship of what to do and how to do it over this past year. Schools worldwide have said that as they developed lessons that could be delivered online, 3D lessons gained in popularity and importance. 3D printing with accompanying lesson plans quickly became a resource for teachers in many different subject areas.

3D lesson plans designed especially for educators bring all sorts of subject matter, including STEAM subject matters to life through various teaching aids, such as 3D model files, videos, student worksheets, and presentations to introduce projects to students. 3D printing options are entirely available online to both teachers and students.

The various resources available in 3D printing offerings help teachers build lesson plans to be delivered remotely. At the same time, students can develop their own 3D skills from home by taking advantage of the easy-to-use, free resources, and platforms. These lessons and materials keep the educational experience flowing and enable teaching STEAM classes using 3D from home. Premium lessons are available, as well.

When the pandemic first hit, 3D printing and attached lesson plans were available to help plug the gaps in resources that were identified by teachers looking for alternative solutions. Even those who have never before used a 3D printer were able to run remote 3D lessons and learned how to be adept at it quite quickly. Students can send their completed model files to be printed on 3D printers in the classroom by the teacher, and teachers can allow students to pick up the files later or send them to their student's homes.

The future is now

Investing in 3D printing not only prepares your school for today’s changed and future learning paradigms, but it also provides an additional resource from which to provide inspiration and support in teaching. The shift in education that has taken place in 2020, from the traditional classroom to online to hybrid to whatever the future holds, should not mean degradation in the amount and level of learning for a student.  Instead, it should mean we have ushered in a new era of creativity and growth for the student learning experience. Teaching remotely with 3D printing is investing not only in your students’ future, but the future of education, as we embark on new, hybrid classroom models.


Building Respectful Relationships by Knowing Your Students More

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 8:29am

I am proud of maintaining my enthusiasm to teach and inspire students even after 25 years of teaching. In fact, I am comfortable writing that I am enthusiastic to promote a love for learning more than ever. 

The majority of my teaching career has centered around teaching Mathematics, Science, Health and Physical Education. I am currently a Year 7 homeroom teacher at Saint Ignatius College Geelong, a co-educational Catholic School in the Ignatian tradition, with over 1300 wonderful students. I am also the College’s Director of Sport. A position I have held at Saint Ignatius for the past ten years.

I have witnessed and worked alongside many successful teachers in my 25 years. All of them have one thing in common. They have the ability to maximise the learning potential of their students in their class by developing positive relationships. Developing positive relationships between a teacher and student is a fundamental aspect of quality teaching and student learning. Positive teacher-student relationships promote a sense of school belonging and encourage students to participate cooperatively. Students develop confidence to experiment and succeed in an environment where they are not restricted by fear of failure. Teachers are able to assist students with motivation and goal setting, and students can turn to them for advice and guidance.

In 2015, probably the most well-known educational researcher in Australia, John Hattie, identified a number of influences relating to effective learning and achievement. Some of these influences included teaching strategies, classroom discussion, classroom cohesion, teacher expectation, teacher credibility and effective classroom behavior. Establishing a positive and supportive classroom environment, combined with productive relationships between teachers and their students, will provide a platform in which students are encouraged and motivated to grow both academically and personally.

Hattie noted in his study that a harmonious classroom can assist with the development of creativity as well as reduce anxiety levels amongst students.

Loop has helped create a more harmonious classroom

It was a random app search on the internet that had me land on the Loop website. It was two weeks out from the start of a new year as a Year Seven homeroom teacher. Experience had taught me that establishing positive relationships with students very early in the year is the key to a harmonious beginning, especially when these students are beginning their first year of secondary schooling.

I needed an all-in-one place to collect information about what these students need easily, via a range of flexible response types. Using Loop in those first few weeks of the school year enabled me to:

  1. Provide a safe place for students to tell me very early in the year how best they learn.
  2. Provide a safe place for students to tell me what classroom environment suits them to learn to their best potential.
  3. Provide a safe place for students to share with me the challenges they have faced in the past so I can quickly adapt my teaching approach so that their learning experiences from day one are valued and appreciated.

As those vital connections are made with students and they begin to think ‘Hey this teacher really values me as a student because the changes he is making are from what we have shared with him.’

The problem solving ability of Loop means that teachers have direction from students with regard to decisions that are made about the day-to-day running of a classroom. This important process helps to develop cohesion, and a sense of harmony. For example, see below a result from students where the following question was asked:

How would you like Mr Philp to organize who sits where?

Note: A Random Wheel requires the teacher to spin a wheel with everyone’s name on it. Whose ever name comes up sits in the allocated seat.

This quick and easy survey certainly altered my thinking when organizing my seating chart. Without Loop I would have normally just thought to myself ‘this is what I think is best and this will be my decision.’ This gave the students a safe opportunity to voice their preference without drawing attention to themselves. This is vital. I know only too well that many students’ choices are made because they feel uneasy making a choice that may not be what other students have chosen.

Probably one of the most powerful pieces of feedback I received from a Loop question was regarding student wellbeing. For the past two years, on a daily basis, I ask students to write down in a journal four things:

  1. What went well for you today? (To practice Gratitude)
  2. What kind act will you do for somebody today? (To practice Empathy)
  3. What are you most looking forward to about tomorrow? (To give hope and practice gratitude)
  4. How are you feeling ‘right’ now and why? (To practice Mindfulness – living in the now)

Loop gave me incredible insight to whether this GEM Project (practicing Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness) was improving the wellbeing of my students. I knew in my heart that my students are genuinely happy, always smiling and calm, but I wanted evidence. The results were:

In my 25 years of teaching there have been a great many changes. Whilst my belief in the importance of understanding student wellbeing hasn’t changed, using Loop has certainly made it easier. I have issued hundreds of Loop questions to students to gauge what they learned at the end of every lesson. These ‘exit tickets’ take less than a minute to set up and organize and the student’s individual answer is recorded immediately. My high response rate shows me that my students feel safe using Loop, and gives me incredible insight to build teacher and student relationships and then improve the learning outcomes of my students.

Asking daily wellbeing questions on Loop has helped me create positive relationships with students early in the year and to empower students to have a voice in their education. Support tools such as Loop help make it quicker and easier than ever to connect with and engage students to strengthen those relationships.


Genially: A Fun New Tool For Distance Learning Projects

Mon, 10/05/2020 - 9:03am

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

As distance learning becomes part of our “new normal”, teachers are working harder than ever to implement effective online teaching methods and to make good use of tools for online learning. It can be hard to decide which new tools, if any, are worth investing time in, and time is of the essence.

Today, I’ll be sharing my favorite tried and true distance learning projects with Genially, an all-in-one tool for creating interactive and animated presentations, quizzes, interactive images, escape games, infographics and more. The major advantages of this freemium tool are that it allows students and teachers to make an unlimited number of creations and the same tool can be used to make almost anything, allowing you to save on time. 

Plus, external content such as Youtube videos, audios, Google documents, maps, images, widgets, social media posts, gifs, etc. can be painlessly inserted into anything you make. The ability to insert just about anything allows students to quickly embellish creations. 

Three types of projects my students make with Genially

As promised, here are my big 3 for student projects:

1. Class Newspaper: I’ve tried every version of this project, and my students always love it. I’ve had each student focus on a certain month of WWII, an animal, stage in photosynthesis and events revolving around a specific character from a book we’ve read. Here’s a short example of a newspaper with three events from the beginning of June 1944 of WWII: https://view.genial.ly/5f587ce6fb459312f090388c.

You can find the newspaper template in Genially’s Presentation category.

2. Interactive Research Poster: My students jump at the chance to use Genially for their presentations and posters. They get a kick out of animating elements and adding in videos to show me and their classmates. Again, I’ve had students make interactive posters when studying different countries, species, places, books, landforms… you name it. Check out these examples:

While you can use tons of templates for these, many of my students choose the Interactive Image format where they choose a single background image which they add buttons to.

3. Review Zoo: I always reserve some class time for students to add to the “Review Zoo”, which is a Google doc where students can paste links to resources that have helped them review class topics. By the second half of the year, I ask them to make their own creations to help classmates review a section of what we’ve learned that they’ve chosen to be Experts in. I’ve been blown away by what they’ve made: everything from escape games to infographics to video presentations. For example: https://view.genial.ly/5f50db6145f5d40d66ce5b1d.

Taking Your First Steps with Genially

In order to introduce Genially to the classroom, I suggest learning how to create an interactive image yourself and then walking students through the process and asking them to create one on the topic of their choice. This can be a fun activity for the start of the school year and gives students a chance to share a bit of who they are. They pick things up quickly from there. 

For your own first steps, here’s a full tutorial on making interactive images. You can consult the Help Center as needed. If you’re looking to learn more, check out the Genially Academy, a platform filled with free online courses on topics ranging from the Genially basics to more advanced topics like learning landscapes and visual storytelling.

When I’m learning to use new tools in the classroom, I remind myself to start small and build from there, and I’d encourage you to do the same by investing a little bit of time in the tools you think are most likely to add value to your lessons. As always, I hope these ideas help you in your teaching. 


Testing-Optional College Admissions and UC California Ruling

Thu, 09/24/2020 - 8:43am

My daughter is in her senior year in high school this year and this “test optional” situation has certainly caused her, and my wife and I, some confusion. I'd been meaning to look into it further and this guest post from Matt Larriva helped me get my head around it, and prompted me to share it here. Personally, I think test optional is fine, but have to agree that simply not allowing schools to these tests at all (as California has done) is a step too far. That being said, another issue we are facing along these lines is the repeated cancellation this year of SAT testing here in Dutchess County, NY, making it increasingly difficult for my daughter to take the test at all. That is certainly unfair and I'd like to know what the College Board is doing to resolve this.
– KW

University of California Case Ruling

Recently, the University of California was ordered to stop using SAT and ACT test scores in admissions, and while the case involves students with disabilities, the judge’s ruling extends to all prospective students. While the UC system has been ordered to go test blind, ignoring test scores for admissions and scholarships completely, more schools are moving toward the testing-optional trend. What does the University of California ruling mean for the state of standardized testing for students in and outside the state?

In the case of the recent University of California case ruling, what we saw here was a legitimate complaint handled in an absurd manner. Because some students are unable to receive adequate access to test locations during COVID, the decision was made to outlaw the UC system from considering any applicant's test scores.

The court’s intent here is clearly to level the playing field, but it is a sledgehammer when a scalpel would do for test taking standards.

It should go without saying that protected groups deserve appropriate opportunities and accommodations in order to ensure equal access to educational opportunities. To achieve this by the abrupt prohibition of the review of tests because they may favor some groups over others opens a Pandora's box of issues.

A practical solution of requiring [that the College Board provide] suitable testing environments, as would be the case with other access constraints, would have resulted in one fewer measure of chaos in an already chaotic time. We do not have a perfect system, but in what other field does less information result in a better decision?

So, I Don’t Have to Take the ACT/SAT?

First of all, if possible, students should still be taking the ACT and SAT, even if the college admission process does not require test scores to be submitted. Schools that are test-optional don’t require students to submit their scores. They may submit their scores, but they will not be penalized in the review process if they don’t.

When considering the goals of your college application, remember that you are working to put your best foot forward and show your interest and talent in academic and extracurricular pursuits. For most cases, taking the ACT or SAT, even if your school does not require scores for the admissions process, shows that you are inline with this goal.

It also demonstrates that you are able to perform in stressful situations and have mastery over basic concepts expected of a college student. Most importantly, it proves to the admission board that you are willing to go above and beyond the minimum requirements for your commitment to education.

For a full review of the test-optional trend, check out Does ‘Testing-Optional Mean Optional for Me?

How Should I Prepare for the ACT/SAT?

While preparation for admission exams may seem expensive, there are several options, no matter your socioeconomic status. If you have limited time and resources, head to your local library and check out a test prep book. You can also find free online sources to help prepare. The SAT and ACT also offer waivers for low-income students to take the test for free. Furthermore, private tutoring and preparation groups can help boost test scores.

Many schools are making the transition to testing-optional, especially in the time of limited testing during the pandemic. Having an understanding of why submitting test scores can strengthen and benefit your application can greatly improve your chances of admission.


Here’s Why Video Content and Education are Closer Than Ever

Mon, 09/21/2020 - 8:21am

After advocating for video as a tool in the flipped classroom for many years now, I feel like this guest post by Victor Blasco may seem a little redundant. But he covers a lot of ground here, and with the pandemic still upon us, this may be more useful and thought provoking than ever, especially for those who remain skepitcal. – KW

It’s no news that our 21st-century attention spans can’t keep up with the current education system – or maybe that the current education system can’t keep up with our short attention spans. And notice that with “current,” I'm referring to a model that stems from centuries ago!

You know what I’m talking about: a superior figure giving students lectures that usually last too long and engage too little, and pairing these lessons with a big dose of texts that, in most cases, students never get around to read entirely.

Information Technology has brought so many changes to our everyday lives that it’s simply staggering that something as vital as education remains, for the most part, essentially unchanged.

Fortunately, new resources and methods are starting to be applied in the educational arena in recent years.

One of those resources is educational video content, which has been blossoming in the academic field for a while and has undoubtedly become vital during the current pandemic.

Let’s analyze why and how videos are a great addition to any educational effort to glean how to make the most out of the medium.

Why Are Videos Important in Education?

Why using video in education? The question should rather be, “Why not?”

Video provides a multisensory experience, engaging both sight and hearing. This not only offers students a more comprehensive explanation of a subject, but it’s also more likely to grab their attention and capture their interest.

And I guess there’s no need to tell you how much students love videos: who didn’t use to get excited when the teacher brought the TV into the classroom? Considering the other options were a lecture or a text, watching an entertaining, educational video was – and still is – nothing short of refreshing.

What you may not know is that the enjoyment that comes with videos has a strong pedagogical value. That’s right: people learn and remember lessons best when they are having fun.

Moreover, when the educational piece is shared on the web or through an e-learning platform, this lesson becomes available for a huge number of people. We are still not ready to say “for everyonethere are many communities with no access to clean water, let alone to the internet – but still, online educational videos open many doors to those who wouldn’t be able to learn certain topics otherwise, and therefore, allowing them to have better job opportunities.

With video, a lesson no longer has to be limited to the number of students that fits inside a classroom; instead, it can be available to millions of people – even from future generations – who are eager to learn.

Uses of Video Content in Education

Educational institutions can leverage video content for different purposes:

  • To present and promote the school to potential students.
  • To welcome new students and explain to them the basic rules and particularities of the institution.
  • To keep the student body updated.
  • To include as a complementary resource to lessons.
  • To introduce new concepts in a compelling way.
  • To replace lessons.

Of all these possible uses, the last item is probably the one that calls your attention the most. I know it sounds a bit… dehumanizing, like replacing a person’s job with a video. But, just like Salman Khan stated in his celebrated Ted Talk, it’s actually all the contrary.

By using short, engaging videos that can be watched at home instead of a lecture and a whiteboard, teachers can use classroom time – once the lockdown is over – to help students put into practice the concepts that the video explained, allowing them to interact with their peers and teachers.

This not only helps reinforcing theory with practice, but it also stimulates Higher-Order Thinking Skills, such as problem-solving, evaluation, and critical thinking, among others. Bringing down the common practice of memorizing a lesson by heart instead of actually learning it.

Benefits of Including Videos in Education

We have already mentioned some benefits that educational video content brings to the table, namely:

  • It piques the students’ interest.
  • Students learn best since they are enjoying themselves.
  • It makes a lesson available for a wider range of people.
  • It can give students time to interact with each other.
  • It can help incentivize Higher-Order Thinking Skills.

However, this type of educational content brings even more benefits to both students and teachers. Let's go through them thoroughly:

Advantages for Students
  • Videos are impactful and easy to understand.

Educational video companies resort to different resources to break down a topic, such as visuals, sounds, music, and a compelling script. This makes any kind of explanation, storytelling, metaphors, analogies, and the like, be more impactful and understandable than if they were in a written text.

  • Videos are great for learning complex topics.

Since video content can boil down a subject beyond what words can describe, it’s ideal for explaining particularly complex topics – doubly so when these require visual demonstrations, such as math formulas or practical procedures.

  • Students can watch the videos at their own convenience.

Students can watch, pause, or rewatch educational videos in their own time and terms, being able to go over anything they couldn’t grasp or that they simply want to brush up.

This is excellent for those students who are embarrassed or afraid of asking questions in class. More importantly, it helps students develop auto-learning skills.

  • Videos are better suited to our short attention spans and hectic lifestyles.

Students tend to struggle with long texts, whether because they have trouble understanding them or because they don’t get around to read them.

Video comes as the perfect solution, as you can condense or segment a large amount of information in pieces of 5 to 10 minutes.

  • Videos increase their digital literacy.

Students need to access, watch, and interact with the educational videos digitally. This forces them to practice and enhance their digital skills, which are becoming more valuable every day in the job market.

Advantages for Teachers
  • Teachers can track the students’ interaction with the video.

Some video hosting platforms allow teachers to monitor if students have finished watching a particular video and how much of it they have watched. That way, educators can know how effective a video was – and how dutiful their students were.

  • Having a more motivated student body.

This is not a minor thing. Addressing a class that is keen to learn more and likely to pay attention and work is basically every teacher's dream.

  • Video helps teachers save time (and burdens).

Remember what I have said about video content being great for those shy students who don't dare ask questions in class? That's also advantageous for teachers, as they don’t have to answer the same questions again and again.

  • Video provides better results.

This advantage comes as a consequence of how beneficial video is for students. Since they are more engaged with a particular topic and have learned it better, their marks and results are bound to be higher. Ultimately, this also benefits the teacher’s reputation.

Parting Thoughts

Video content is becoming one of the most beloved educational tools of both teachers and students alike. There are, however, a few detractors: people who mistakenly think that video has come to replace teachers.

On the contrary, this type of content is meant to complement their work, even to enhance it, as it brings about better results in terms of a more educated and involved student body.

The role of the teacher will definitely change once video starts dominating the educational scene, but thinking it'd disappear would be absurd. After all, video content is excellent to transmit theoretical knowledge, but it's a limited resource when it comes to putting it into practice. Students will still need a knowledgeable figure to supervise them and help them put what they have learned through video into action.

If anything, this makes the teacher’s role more valuable, as they would be performing an indispensable task instead of providing information that can be learned through other means, giving teachers more time to stimulate Higher-Order Thinking Skills.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.” Without a doubt, we could say that video is here to teach students, but educators, are here to involve them.


Problem Based Learning: Med School Lessons

Thu, 08/27/2020 - 1:57pm

There are as many ways to learn as there are learners in the world. Though several tried and true techniques are emulated or replicated by students worldwide, and while certain curricula or professors require certain areas of focus and/or methodologies when it comes to learning, the method (or rather, combination of methods) that best help a student learn varies from student to student. The time it takes for students to grasp certain concepts varies; their preferred study techniques vary; the content itself varies; and the difficulty of the content varies from person to person.

For medical students, what they’re learning has a direct impact on the lives of others – their future patients. Thus, it is particularly important that medical students learn not only the foundational sciences, but how to properly care for a patient.

Before medical students even step foot in a hospital for their first rotations, they all have to build up a solid foundation. It is one thing to memorize human anatomy or which drugs treat which issues, but it is another to be able to apply that knowledge to real-world situations and to improvise when a patient doesn’t respond in a standard way. Though exams such as the USMLE® or COMLEX-USA® seek to test students on standardized patient care, there is always room for variation. One important element of both of these examinations, as well as on licensing exams from around the world, is related directly to patient care and patient interactions. It is for this part of medical studies (and future practice) that one particular learning approach is very well-suited: problem-based learning.

What is problem-based learning?

Problem-based learning, or PBL, is a learning and teaching method which approaches information first from a problem. Rather than simply teaching what the students need to know and subsequently hoping that they can translate this information into practice, problem-based learning starts with a question (or in this situation, most likely a clinical case). In a traditional classroom setting, students are then encouraged to consider the potential outcomes, then proceed with the course as usual (with the question in the back of their minds or as part of the course “road map”) to learn information related to the case, and end the class period by answering the question. Alternatively, the question could be assigned as homework in advance of the next course, so that students have a chance to work on it on their own and later contribute to a class discussion.

How does problem-based learning relate to studying?

Problem-based learning isn’t just reserved for classroom use: students can also utilize PBL on their own time, in order to review concepts learned in classes or through their own reading/studying. On examinations such as the USMLE or COMLEX, students are tested on multiple choice questions centered around patient vignettes. Students can use a Qbank like a study guide via problem-based learning. How? It’s simple:

  • Start a Qbank practice test on your preferred learning platform
  • Do the test as a test (even if you get the answers wrong, keep going)
  • Take a short break and prepare yourself for a few hours of focus
  • Spend 2-3 hours reviewing your Qbank questions (both correctly and incorrectly answered questions), noting which concepts you didn’t fully understand or didn’t pick up on for answering the questions and reviewing them as well
  • Make a list of questions you still have about the content – perhaps a study buddy, tutor, or professor can help clarify these points for you
  • Make a list of content you need to review in your next study session

Instead of just studying information without context, you’re studying the concepts you need to know as they relate to real-world situations you might someday encounter as a practicing physician.

Why use problem-based learning in your studies?

In elementary school, or for standardized tests, you might have learned that it is important to read the question first before reading through a text so you know what content or information you need to find to answer the question. Using problem-based learning for medical school isn’t all that different – of course, you’ll need a solid foundation of medical knowledge first, but then you can get started applying that knowledge.

Using a Qbank to study, not just prepare for exams, is one way to use PBL in your individual studies. Another way to bring problem-based learning into your study routine is to create your own questions as you’re learning material. As you learn and study (especially newer) material, write down quiz questions that you might think would be asked to test said material. When you’re reviewing later, you’ll already have a set of questions prepared to test your knowledge or at least focus your review.


As everyone studies differently, problem-based learning might not be your favorite study technique. But as you continue your career in medicine, you’ll come to find that problem-based learning is the basis for much of patient care. Starting now with PBL will only help you when the time comes to trade in the simulation for a real patient with a problem you must solve.