Saturday, November 5, 2016

Gamification through Quizlet Live

Many educators have discovered the Quizlet website/app as a learning tool for their students.  If you're unfamiliar, Quizlet launched in 2007 and has since grown into one of the top 50 educational websites in the US.  Quizlet allows users the ability to create "study sets" for student consumption.  Study sets can be applied to any content area and implemented in the form of digital flashcards, short answer questions, and educational games.  In my classes, I’ve found great value in using Quizlet as a tool for review and reinforcement.  I’ve written this blog post to spread the word about Quizlet Live, an interactive new addition to the Quizlet website that students will love.

As teachers, we all have a unit of study our students are not intrinsically motivated to learn about.  As a music educator, that unit has always been classical music history.  I’ve explored a variety of instructional techniques over the years that have been somewhat effective.  My latest and greatest pedagogical approach includes the use of Quizlet Live.

At its core Quizlet Live is an immersive, collaborative game that requires soft skills such as communication and teamwork in order to win.  It’s an ideal example of 21st-century education that allows teachers to become facilitators and students to become active learners.  After all, learning should not be a spectator sport.    

My students have played Quizlet Live on multiple occasions and continue to ask for more; more of a subject they do not generally enjoy.  I have at least one student ask me to play almost every day.  The game has become a powerful motivational tool that increases retention and is often used as a reward.  As a teacher, uttering the phrase “this concept will be included in our next Quizlet Live game” has become an instant hook to engage my middle school students.   If you're looking to revitalize an outdated lesson plan and create student excitement this is worth your time.  

How to get started with Quizlet Live
  • Create your account by clicking sign up HERE.  Educators that already have a Quizlet account can use their pre-existing study sets.
  • For more information about the gameplay itself check out THIS VIDEO
Please note:  I am in no way endorsed by or affiliated with Quizlet LLC.  

Are you or your colleagues already using Quizlet? 
What educational games are most utilized in your schools?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

5 Tips to Building Rapport


a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other's feelings or ideas and communicate well.

As an educator, building rapport with students is essential.  A healthy rapport will lead to student buy-in and create a positive classroom environment.  Here is a list of my top 5 tips to help build rapport with your classes.

1. Get to know your students

I’ve listed this tip first because it is paramount to relationship building.  The first step in establishing rapport is learning the names and interests of your students.  This gesture shows that you care about who they are.  Students need to know you care!  Any master teacher makes it their business to learn their students’ likes, dislikes, hobbies and favorite sports teams.  Teachers can then leverage this information to increase engagement throughout the year.  For instance, if you have a handful of soccer players in your class, connect an analogy about soccer to your content and they will be instantly hooked.  Use the information to sustain rapport.   

2. Set the tone before class begins

There are many ways to create student excitement during your course, but have you ever tried doing so before class begins?  Two of my favorite “tone setting” techniques are greeting students at the door and playing music as they enter the room.  The first can be achieved by standing outside your classroom, greeting students with a smile and a simple question such as  “hello _____ how are you today?"  This will instantly connect you with individual students.  As teachers, it’s not always practical to conversate with every student every day. Trust me, students will appreciate the effort.  

The technique of playing music on a stereo or performing live (for the musically inclined) can be used while preparing for a lesson as students enter the room.  Music is a powerful tool that will relax your students and simultaneously buy you some time while gathering your thoughts, lesson materials or connecting your iPad to a projector.  It’s a win-win!  Believe it or not, you can even influence student mood by the genre of music you play.  If you have a shy class, try playing something upbeat to break them out of their shells or vice versa.  Students will love entering your room!

3. Communication is key

Always over-communicate expectations with your students. At the beginning of each course, I inform my students that it's possible for every one of them to achieve the grade of an “A+” in my class.  I also tell them I am rooting for them to get that “A+” and do everything in my power to help them along their journey. Students appreciate that I am “on their side”.  As the year progresses teachers must provide students with a clear pathway to success.  When assigning projects, always give detailed instructions and provide scoring rubrics in advance.  In regards to assessment, always give students time to prepare.  I suggest a minimum of three days advanced notice before testing.  On the day before the test, communicate where and how they should be studying to achieve that “A+”.  When you create your assessment, make sure it’s possible to achieve a perfect score by doing what you asked of them!  Nothing frustrates students more than a teacher with unpredictable tests.  Students respect the transparency and they will respect you for it.  Again, always over-communicate expectations with your students.  See what I did there?     

4. Pick your battles (Kids will be kids)

We’ve all heard the age old expression “boys will be boys”.  Well, in the field of education I always say, “kids will be kids”.  Students are going to be energetic, social and rambunctious at times.  That is what they do.  An exceptional teacher can channel that energy into something wonderful and use it to build rapport. Many new teachers feel the need to maintain control of their class 100% of the time.  However, I tend to enjoy a bit of chaotic energy from time to time.  Teachers must pick our battles wisely.  In my experience, I’ve found that students are aware of behavioral boundaries within a school setting.  The next time you see a student fooling around before class, just observe.  Sit back and let it happen.  In most cases, students will not take things too far (there are exceptions).  Do not micro-manage student behavior.  Do set clear behavioral boundaries and make students aware of them, your class will respect you and appreciate your trust.  You can also gain points this way and build a reputation of being the “cool” teacher.  

5. Empower your students

Last but not least, empowerment.  Providing your students with opportunities to help make decisions about curriculum will go a long way in building rapport.  In practice, I implement surveys and use survey results to guide instruction.  I believe it’s important to share survey results and let students know their input makes a difference!  In my classes, I announce survey results.  I might say “It seems most of you want to learn about “X”, so at some point we will incorporate that into our course this year.”  Students need to know their opinions matter to their teacher.

If you’ve enjoyed this post and would like to read more “Top Five Educational Blog Lists” written by gifted professionals check out the #sunchatbloggers hashtag on Twitter!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

What is EdCamp?

Last April I created a twitter account and began growing my professional learning network.  As a newly connected educator, I noticed a substantial amount of tweets on the topic of EdCamp.  My curiosity peaked over time as people from all over the nation tweeted and blogged about this innovative conference style.  On October 1, 2016, I attended the third annual EdCamp Long Island. 

For those that are unfamiliar, EdCamp is a participant-driven professional development model.  I’ve also heard EdCamps referred to as “unconferences”.  Unlike formal conferences where all speakers and workshop session presenters are selected months in advance, EdCamp presenters are unknown to the participants until the day of the conference.  Upon arriving at an EdCamp, participants are given a physical (left) program containing a QR code.  This code links to a Google Sheet where conference sessions are compiled live as presenters arrive.  There is something alluring about “not knowing” what you're going to learn about or discuss beforehand.  For passionate educators, this ignites that same feeling you get when unwrapping a birthday present.  You can feel the positive energy in the building as soon as you walk in.

If my EdCamp experience was any indicator of the range of session topics EdCamps generally offer, I can safely type that there is a something for everyone.  I attended four sessions on the topics of Aspiring Administrators, Women in Leadership, Collaborative Gaming and Creating a Reading Culture.  During these sessions the presenters acted more like moderators than typical clinicians.  In order to effectively run an EdCamp session presenters will ask thought provoking questions of their participants and let the magic happen.  These questions lead to spontaneous discussion amongst professionals.  The presenters talk less and facilitate more.   

There are direct correlations between EdCamp sessions and twitter chats.  For anyone well versed in twitter chats, EdCamp sessions are essentially face-to-face twitter chats.  In both instances you are gathered in a room (albeit online or in person) with like-minded professionals discussing topics that resonate with you.  These discussions lead to networking opportunities and create connections.  EdCamp granted me the opportunity to convert some of my online connections to real life relationships.  It was great to meet some of the brilliant educators I’ve interacted with previously online.  

All in all, I recommend attending a nearby EdCamp to anyone looking to enrich his or her knowledge of education as a whole.  EdCamps are usually FREE of charge and you can log the hours as professional development.  If that is not enticing to you, you may be in the wrong profession. 

What is your favorite aspect of the EdCamp model?


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Google Certified Educator Exam Tips

The collaborative and creative nature of Google Apps For Education has transformed the manner in which I deliver instruction to my students.  I find myself using Google Drive, Docs, Forms and Classroom with my students daily and thoroughly enjoy exploring these tools.  If you’re as passionate about educational technology as I am, chances are you’ve considered becoming a Google certified educator.  As an individual that recently attained their level 1 and 2 certifications, I've written this post to provide future Google certified educators with the information I wish someone had given me beforehand.


During the registration process, you will notice a third party company called Kryterion and be prompted to create a Webassessor testing account.  Your registration confirmation e-mail will come from this company, not Google!  It is easy to misplace this e-mail and mistake it for spam.  Unfortunately, I accidently deleted this e-mail and had to wait an additional week to take my level 1 certification.  It was an unnecessary headache that is easily avoidable.  

Once you've registered for your exam there will be a brief wait period (24 hours or so) before your exam is ready.  Thereafter, you will have approximately 1 week to complete the exam.

Studying for the Exam

There are two ways to approach the preparation process.  You can either register for a Google Training Bootcamp with a certified trainer or study for the test independently like I did.  If you choose the latter, I suggest taking advantage of the Google for Education Training Center.  Here you will find everything you need in order to pass both exams.  The exam prep materials are organized in separate categories and specific units.  You can complete each unit at your own pace and track of your study progress through your Google account.  I also suggest implementing the apps into your lessons on a regular basis to deepen your understanding of the software.  Although there are 30 multiple choice questions on each exam, the majority of each exam is comprised of practical “in-app” tasks.    

Suggested Level 1 Preparation

If you already incorporate the Google Apps for Education tools into your everyday teaching practices then chances are the Level 1 certification will be relatively straightforward.  However, it will still take an average of 10-15 hours to complete the fundamental training course for the level 1 certification exam.   For me, studying 30-45 minutes a day for one week was enough to pass the exam in one try.  I made a personal goal to complete one or two units each day.  Perhaps you'd like to set a similar goal to establish consistent study habits?  

Suggested Level 2 Preparation

The Advanced Training skills are significantly more difficult to master.  I suggest studying for this test 60-90 minutes a day for two weeks before attempting to take this exam.  This is a rigorous test.  I cannot stress the importance of studying every day.  The first time I took this exam I failed by two points and had to wait two weeks before registering again (Google policy).  During that waiting period, I forgot a small percentage of what I had initially learned and had to study all the information a second time.  In hindsight the extra studying forced me to master the content, but, it was not fun.  My best advice is to over-prepare for level 2 and complete all the “in app” tasks that are covered in the training center. 

Other Test Taking Tips
  • Sleep well the night before (8 hours if possible).
  • Eat a healthy meal beforehand as each exam is three hours in length.  You cannot pause the timer once an exam session has begun. 
  • Make sure your internet connection is reliable and that your webcam is working.
  • Use the internet to your advantage!  Google is essentially giving a high-tech “open notebook” test so take advantage of it.  
  • Bookmark relevant websites and resources as you study.  These will come in handy during the exam.
  • Once your exam has begun, flag any challenging questions and come back to them at the end of the test.  This will help you efficiently manage your time.

Good luck on your Google journey!  Please enhance this post by commenting below with other test taking tips or questions you have about the certification process.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Challenges of a "First-Year" Teacher

For the past three years I was a full-time music educator in a public high school.  For a variety of reasons, including but not limited to budget constraints, my teaching position recently changed.  I am now split between two buildings and spend the majority of my day working at the middle school level.  The opening two weeks of school have given me a renewed sense of how difficult it is being a first-year teacher.  In this post I’ll share some of the challenges I’ve faced in my new role thus far.

New Surroundings:  Walking into a new building for the first time felt surreal.  I had grown so accustomed to knowing the familiar halls of my high school that I took it for granted.  I visited the middle school over the summer to meet my department chair and spent time in the building during our non-instructional first day.  One might think this would be enough to become somewhat acclimated to my new surroundings.  However, once classes began it was a whole new ballgame.  In many ways I felt like a sixth-grade student; a slightly anxious yet excited 34-year-old sixth-grade student. I’m not ashamed to admit that locating my classrooms during the first two days in less than three minutes was a little scary.  I felt my heart beat a little faster every time the bell rang and I had to ask for directions at almost every turn.  Even basic tasks like making photocopies, utilizing classroom projectors and finding the bathroom were intimidating.  

Workload:  Veteran teachers often forget how demanding the first year of teaching truly is.  In my new role, I’ve spent an average of 3-4 hours after school every day to keep up with my classes.  First-year teachers cannot opt to take the weekend off or leave work early on a whim, that luxury comes over time.  I’m a firm believer that teachers should consistently reflect on best practices and strive to improve pedagogy, but, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few units that I tend to teach the same way year in and year out.  New teachers have a responsibility to create innovative curricula and deliver new lessons 180 straight days.    

Fitting in:  The social aspect of working in a new building can also be stressful for a first-year teacher.  It’s intimidating to walk into a situation where everyone knows one another as the outsider.  On the first day of school I knew a total of four people.  Now that a few weeks have passed, I’ve begun friendships within my department and had the pleasure of attending a social committee event with new colleagues; but it was difficult.  The best advice I have for new teachers on the subject is to smile often and be yourself.

What challenges can you recall from your first year teaching?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Powerful Paperless Handout

Over the last few years, many school districts have urged teachers to create digital copies of course material for their students.  Although some teachers feel intimidated by this 21st-century task, it’s not as difficult to implement as it seems.  In fact, once you begin the creative process of enhancing your handouts with technology, it’s actually kind of fun!  Here are a few advantages I’ve discovered while creating paperless handouts for my students:

Students will never misplace their paperless handouts.  Storing a handout in the digital realm makes it easy to find.  Students won't have to worry about placing a sheet of paper in the wrong folder or accidentally leaving it in class when the bell rings.  This also increases the accountability of students, as they are no longer able to lean on the age-old “my dog ate it” excuse. 

Teachers will never have to photocopy a document more than once.  We’ve all been there; giving students an IMPORTANT document and begging them to keep it in a safe place.  Fast forward a few weeks (or days) and multiple students will lose the physical handout, making the teacher’s job unnecessarily inconvenient.  Having a digital version of the same document can make a teacher’s job easier.  Once a document becomes paperless students will always have access.  Gone are the days of having to make photocopies of the same document over and over again throughout the school year. 

Digital handouts are more functional than physical handouts.  When teachers create a physical handout and give it to their students they are somewhat limited to the words/images on the page.  But, with a little imagination, digital handouts can foster an interactive experience for all students.  In my classes, I’ve used links to incorporate websites, pictures, surveys, videos and much more.  This may be the largest advantage of a paperless handout.  

Creating a paperless handout is easier than you think.  As a Google Certified Educator, Docs is my application of choice for this task.  However, you can also use Microsoft Word or any other word processor for that matter (just remember to save as a PDF).  To begin enhancing your document go to the “insert” menu.  From there will you'll be able to bring in images, hyperlinks, tables and/or anything else you'd like.  The key is creativity.  To get started, take a handout that already exists and ask yourself "how can I improve this by making it digital?"  Once your document is complete you will need to share it with your students.  There are a number of ways to do this including a class Website, Google Classroom, Dropbox, and/or through e-mail.  Speak with your building technology support staff to figure out what will work best for you. 

Every teacher has a few reliable handouts they use year after year.  I challenge YOU to take one of these handouts and make it digital this year!