Tuesday, August 25, 2020

"Teaching & Learning in the Pandemic: Helpful Tech Tips! See My "Digital Interactive Notebook" Ideas for Students! - Ellen Schafer (Middle School Science STEAM Teacher)


"Teaching & Learning in the Pandemic: Helpful Tech Tips! See My "Digital Interactive Notebook" Ideas for Students! - By Ellen Schafer 

RE@L-logo_Corp_TM_New-Tag_8-15-17_CMYK-300x127What’s on every teacher’s mind these days? You won’t need three guesses, will you?

97072893_10158262815607692_3850258341993381888_nGuest Blogger and middle-school teacher, Ellen Schafer, has many useful tips to help both teachers and students (and families) during these difficult and challenging pandemic times. Read on:

If you were a teacher in the 2019-2020 school year, then you would have discovered that it is very hard to teach in a pandemic. None of us had done it before and we were all given a few days notice to flip our classroom around from in-person to virtual.

I was given two days to get ready. Some teachers were given three weeks. It still wasn’t enough. Either way, teaching in a pandemic is hard and no one I know wants to do it again. Fast-forward now through summer 2020 and COVID-19 is still here and school is starting again. Many districts are doing something different this school-year. It’s likely many of us will be using online-virtual instruction during this coming school year.

imagesIf you think teaching virtually is hard, imagine how learning virtually can affect our students. Some students were excited to be able to sleep in and learn at their own pace. But, as the pandemic continued, that excitement wore off, and sad to say, so did their motivation to learn.

Students found it difficult and tiring sitting in front of a computer or tablet every day, and now unable to socialize with friends.  Many found that learning this way proved far less effective without interaction with other students.

In our new world of teaching and learning, we were turned upside down!

IMG_4448Summer has given me time to think about and learn new ways to engage my students. Perhaps, others can use these tips this fall with their students, whether learning in school or at home. I hope that, if you are teaching and learning virtually like me, these ideas will help keep students engaged…. and also having fun while learning!

Here’s what I look forward to doing this fall with my students: we will implement Digital Interactive Notebooks or DINs in my classes this year. I’m surprised that I haven’t been using DINs for years, but new ways require new tools. These interactive notebooks are a catalyst to better learning and to better teaching. Why? Students play a major role in their own learning. 

I believe DINs are creative, engaging, and fun for students to create and to interact with others, while learning needed content. Teachers can create these DINs using Google Slides, Microsoft OneNote, Canvas, PowerPoint or any other interactive learning platform that your school/district may use.

Screen Shot 2020-08-14 at 3.17.32 PMI have created my DINs on Google Slides and will be able to share the DINs through Google Classroom. Each student will get a copy from my master version. With an extension called “Slip-In-Slide” from Google Suite, I can push out new slides to the end of their DIN. This timely input helps their notebook continue to grow.

Here’s a sample of what a DIN looks like. With their own personal DIN, my students can:

  • Click on links to helpful articles or videos,
  • Create “thinking maps” using Google Draw
  • Drag objects around for a vocabulary matching activity,
  • Take their own notes after reading a passage in whatever color and font choice they want,
  • Decorate their pages with school and age appropriate stickers pulled from the internet and so much more.


  • The best part is since it is all online in their Google Classroom™ account, I can check their progress simultaneously as they are working. I can provide feedback and answer questions before they complete their finished product. 
  • DINs also eliminate the risk of COVID because I don’t need to stand right next to them completing their notes or collecting their physical notebooks to grade them.

Want to try DINs with your students? There are helpful YouTube tutorials online, and other websites on how to make one. Search “Digital Interactive Notebooks” and you’ll find multiple options to choose from. (Click on the graphic to the left for some useful videos). I also recommend joining a DIN group on Facebook. Within those DIN Facebook groups are subgroups related to specific subjects if you only teach one subject or need something specific. Here’s a helpful Facebook DIN link: click here.

The camaraderie of teachers working together virtually to create these DINs is spectacular to witness. Most teachers who join these online teacher communities are sharing their creations for free…if you just ask for it. 

If you are looking for DIN tips, start with your own school and find like-minded teachers who want to spread their DIN tips. If you’re tight on time (who isn’t?), your school may allow you to purchase a pre-made DIN set on “Teachers Pay Teachers,” and other teacher resource sites.

imageMy school year is starting in-person, masked-face-to-face. Families will have the option to keep their children home for whatever reason.That’s where their DIN comes in!  This new tech tool allows students not in my classroom to learn along with their classmates who are.

No matter what we do and what we try, teaching and learning during a pandemic is an unwelcome challenge. Let’s work together. Let’s stay in touch. We will all need to work together as a virtual team. You will find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @the_makerspace_maker. 

TMMfinalV1In closing, I will also be launching my brand new blog at themakerspacemaker.com on Labor Day. See my link by clicking the graphic at the left. Please Note: the link above is not “live” until Monday, September 7! Come and join me then. There, I will be sharing my new lab ideas on makerspaces and STEAM content. 

I do enjoy teaching middle school science and engineering, so I look forward to exchanging my new DIN ideas with you and interested others. 

So, let’s share our ideas as a Virtual Tech Team! I’ll be ready! I hope you will be too. Please, pass it on to others!

Let’s work together this school year! In the meantime, let’s enjoy what’s left of our summers!”

Screen Shot 2020-08-17 at 10.38.35 AM

Ellen Schafer
 Middle School Science and Engineering Teacher, St. Joseph’s School-WSP

Thank you, Ellen Schafer, for your many helpful tips and your pictorial story on “What I Did with My Summer!” Yes, for some teachers, summer is already over!Teachers everywhere will soon see and hear their students’ stories of summer.  May this challenging school year be filled with their DINs of Learning!

Readers! Want to help teachers with YOUR comments? Click HERE . 


Monday, August 19, 2019

From MECC's "Oregon Trail" to RE@L's "Know Smoking" - New Vistas of Love for Learning

Click here! A blast from our RE@L past worth watching!

WCCO-TV reporter, John Lauritsen, along with MECC Founder, Dale LaFrenz, tells viewers the story of Oregon Trail™ and how it "immersed" K12 learners back in those bygone days. Click on the arrow above.

Students who played Oregon Trail™ on their computers learned how to survive and make it all the way to their Oregon goal. They loved playing the game, and many still play it:

The good news is that RE@L will release a new learning product this year that puts students in charge of a far better understanding of what "Know Smoking" means. Vaping too.

More RE@L STEM-based learning products coming soon to schools near you!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Horace Mann! Where Art Thou? Thy Nation's Learners Need New Ways To Learn!

Quoting Wikipedia: 

"No one did more than Horace Mann to establish in the minds of the American people the conception that education should be universal, non-sectarian and free.

Furthermore he held that its aims should be "social efficiency, civic virtue, and character," rather than mere learning or the advancement of sectarian ends.

Arguing that universal public education was the best way to educate unruly American children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens, Horace Mann won the approval of modernizers.....for building public schools. Most states adopted a version of the system Mann established in Massachusetts. Educational historians credit Horace Mann as father of the Common School Movement."

What would YOU do today to improve K12 learning? Let's say you're on Horace Mann's Revision Committee for K12 Reform. From what you know and experienced, how would you design effective new learning and helps us forget schooling as we now know it?  Would you keep grouping learners by age instead of by their needs? In other words, how can you find a way to educate students so that "More May Learn More." Socrates had the same goal thousands of years ago. We're still far, far from making it happen.
Horace Mann was born on May 4, 1796. His father was a farmer without much money. From ten years of age to twenty, he had no more than six weeks' schooling during any year,[4] but he made use of the town library. At the age of 20, he enrolled at Brown University and graduated in three years[5] as valedictorian (1819). The theme of his oration was "The Progressive Character of the Human Race."[6]
It was not until he was appointed secretary in 1837 of the newly created board of education of Massachusetts (the first such position in the United States) that he began the work which was to place him in the foremost rank of American educators. Previously, he had not shown any special interest in education. He was encouraged to take the job only because it was a paid office position established by the legislature. He began as secretary of the board. On entering on his duties, he withdrew from all other professional or business engagements and from politics.
This led him to become the most prominent national spokesman for that position. He held this position, and worked with a remarkable intensity, holding teachers' conventions, delivering numerous lectures and addresses, carrying on an extensive correspondence, and introducing numerous reforms.
In 1838, he founded and edited The Common School Journal. In this journal, Mann targeted the public school and its problems. His six main principles were: (1) the public should no longer remain ignorant; (2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public; (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds; (4) that this education must be non-sectarian; (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society; and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers. Mann worked for more and better equipped school houses, longer school years (until 16 years old), higher pay for teachers, and a wider curriculum.
Mann hoped that by bringing all children of all classes together, they could have a common learning experience. This would also give an opportunity to the less fortunate to advance in the social scale and education would "equalize the conditions of men." Moreover, it was viewed also as a road to social advancement by the early labor movement and as a goal of having common schools. Mann also suggested that by having schools it would help those students who did not have appropriate discipline in the home. 
Building a person's character was just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. Instilling values such as obedience to authority, promptness in attendance, and organizing the time according to bell ringing helped students prepare for future employment. Mann faced some resistance from parents who did not want to give up the moral education to teachers and bureaucrats. The normal schools trained mostly women, giving them new career opportunities as teachers.[12]
The practical result of Mann's work was a revolution in the approach used in the common school system of Massachusetts, which in turn influenced the direction of other states. In carrying out his work, Mann met with bitter opposition by some Boston schoolmasters who strongly disapproved of his innovative pedagogical ideas,[13] and by various religious sectarians, who contended against the exclusion of all sectarian instruction from the schools. Mann is often called "the father of American public education."

“If any man seeks for greatness, let him forget greatness 
and ask for truth, and he will find both.” 

“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”

Education...beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men --the balance wheel of the social machinery.”

“Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen.”

Great editorial in the NYTimes today (Jan 17, 2019) by David Brooks and well worth your reading:

Students Learn From People They Love: David Brooks

Putting relationship quality at the center of education.

Damon Winter/The New York Times
A few years ago, when I was teaching at Yale, I made an announcement to my class. I said that I was going to have to cancel office hours that day because I was dealing with some personal issues and a friend was coming up to help me sort through them.
I was no more specific than that, but that evening 10 or 15 students emailed me to say they were thinking of me or praying for me. For the rest of the term the tenor of that seminar was different. We were closer. That one tiny whiff of vulnerability meant that I wasn’t aloof Professor Brooks, I was just another schmo trying to get through life.
That unplanned moment illustrated for me the connection between emotional relationships and learning. We used to have this top-down notion that reason was on a teeter-totter with emotion. If you wanted to be rational and think well, you had to suppress those primitive gremlins, the emotions. Teaching consisted of dispassionately downloading knowledge into students’ brains.
Then work by cognitive scientists like Antonio Damasio showed us that emotion is not the opposite of reason; it’s essential to reason. Emotions assign value to things. If you don’t know what you want, you can’t make good decisions.
Furthermore, emotions tell you what to pay attention to, care about and remember. It’s hard to work through difficulty if your emotions aren’t engaged. Information is plentiful, but motivation is scarce.
That early neuroscience breakthrough reminded us that a key job of a school is to give students new things to love — an exciting field of study, new friends. It reminded us that what teachers really teach is themselves — their contagious passion for their subjects and students. It reminded us that children learn from people they love, and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person.
Over the last several years our understanding of the relationship between emotion and learning has taken off. My impression is that neuroscientists today spend less time trying to locate exactly where in the brain things happen and more time trying to understand the different neural networks and what activates them.
Everything is integrated. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California shows that even “sophisticated” emotions like moral admiration are experienced partly by the same “primitive” parts of the brain that monitor internal organs and the viscera. Our emotions literally affect us in the gut.
Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington has shown that the social brain pervades every learning process. She gave infants Chinese lessons. Some infants took face-to-face lessons with a tutor. Their social brain was activated through direct eye contact and such, and they learned Chinese sounds at an amazing clip. Others watched the same lessons through a video screen. They paid rapt attention, but learned nothing.

Extreme negative emotions, like fear, can have a devastating effect on a student’s ability to learn. Fear amps up threat perception and aggression. It can also subsequently make it hard for children to understand causal relationships, or to change their mind as context changes. 

Even when conditions are ideal, think of all the emotions that are involved in mastering a hard subject like algebra: curiosity, excitement, frustration, confusion, dread, delight, worry and, hopefully, perseverance and joy. You’ve got to have an educated emotional vocabulary to maneuver through all those stages.

And students have got to have a good relationship with teachers. Suzanne Dikker of New York University has shown that when classes are going well, the student brain activity synchronizes with the teacher’s brain activity. In good times and bad, good teachers and good students co-regulate each other.

The bottom line is this, a defining question for any school or company is: What is the quality of the emotional relationships here?

And yet think about your own school or organization. Do you have a metric for measuring relationship quality? Do you have teams reviewing relationship quality? Do you know where relationships are good and where they are bad? How many recent ed reform trends have been about relationship-building?

We focus on all the wrong things because we have an outmoded conception of how thinking really works.

The good news is the social and emotional learning movement has been steadily gaining strength. This week the Aspen Institute (where I lead a program) published a national commission report called “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope.” Social and emotional learning is not an add-on curriculum; one educator said at the report’s launch, “It’s the way we do school.” Some schools, for example, do no academic instruction the first week. To start, everybody just gets to know one another. Other schools replaced the cops at the door with security officers who could also serve as student coaches.

When you start thinking this way it opens up the wide possibilities for change. How would you design a school if you wanted to put relationship quality at the core? Come to think of it, how would you design a Congress?

 My ICOSE Commentary:

David Brooks' insights today make a major contribution to our better understanding of how learning happens, and what needs to be done to keep it happening.

There is a great difference between ignorant and unlearned. The learner has a choice to leave ignorant or remain unlearned. Poverty, when I was teaching at an inner-city school back in the early 60's, was a major motivator for students to learn. We teachers led them to drink the waters of knowledge by "salting their hay," as that saying goes. 

We brought students our own passions to learn and shared them, while listening more carefully to their dreams and nightmares. It seems those visions are in shorter supplies these days, and much more difficult to cause. Basic needs are often good enough, and for many young learners, social media and gangs take over where family relationships fail to engage.

Take another look at the photograph that introduces Mr. Brooks helpful column today. If you are a leader, whether teacher, parent, or someone who cares about learning, shout out loud enough to be heard by all, "Have I got a good story for you!" 

Brooks helps with some rubrics for your story...."think of all the emotions that are involved in mastering a hard subject....: curiosity, excitement, frustration, confusion, dread, delight, worry and, hopefully, perseverance and joy. " If you can stand up and share your dreams, your students may share theirs, and the dialogue of learning begins again. 

Take a deep breath, smile and share!

Note the advice of our founder, Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living. 
And my coda: "The examined life is why we're here! 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Thoughtful Student Teaches a President

"A Thoughtful Student Teaches a President About New Ways to Learn" 

Courtesy of Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 22, 1991

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

REPOST FROM RE@L BLOG™: Happy-End-of-The-School-Year to All You Terrific Teachers Everywhere! Another Year Well Done! Next Fall Is Another Chance to Do It Even Better! So Rest Up

Repost of RE@L Blog:

RE@L wants to pause for a moment in our day’s occupations of teaching all those dear students out there who depend on us whether they know it or not.
BoredTeachersMany kids do know it, of course, witness this letter we found on Facebook today, published on a great website called “Bored Teachers.” It’s a blogsite worth your bookmarking and following. Just click on the graphic to the right to see their site.
Happy-Last-Day-of-School---Colorful---Women-s     Today’s offering on their site was written by teacher Andy McCall and is called: “Hilarious Letter From Teacher to Students On the Last Day Will Make You Laugh Out Loud.” Indeed it does, so don’t read this while you still have students in the room.
     Here’s the link to his letter. Read his entire letter to the kids he has taught and loved this year….every last one of them. You’ll see it’s true, and you’ll likely be shaking your heard up and down recalling your own similar stories.
     Here’s a few excerpts from Andy’s letter that stood out for us: 
     “We’ve spent almost 180 days together. It seems like only yesterday, I was introducing myself and trying to figure out which one was Dan and the other Don. I still mess it up, but you understand. I just wanted to give you a few words of wisdom before you leave for summer and forget pretty much everything that came out of my mouth….
“Just to clear it up, yes you still need to learn your multiplication facts and how to regroup in subtraction because I don’t have the patience much longer to stand in line for 15 minutes at Food city again because this little girl can’t figure out how to make change when the computer goes down…
“Read something. I don’t care what it is but don’t lose everything we worked for. This might help when you go to the beach and the sign says “NO SWIMMING” and you read “GO SWIMMING”…”
We thought about excerpting his #10 in the last line, but it’s so touching we thought it best if you read it on your own, just in case it brings a tear to your eyes. CLICK ON THE LINK ABOVE.
Have a wonderful summer all you good and caring teachers, replete with rest, relaxation and a very occasional lesson plan idea for next year.For all those mindless folks who think you get summers off, just remind them of your many long hours, including weekends, and ensuing need to recharge the batteries. Not to hurt anyone’s feelings but most folks couldn’t and wouldn’t do your job. You’ve earned your time off.
RE@L says that: “Next to parenthood, teaching is the most important career there is!” Why? Because both callings are essential for the passing on of our culture and the sharing of our collective wisdom. It is said that teachers are there in place of the parent, and these days, far too often, you’re the last line of defense against ignorance and lassitude.

real logo hi res         27323523-Carpe-Diem-Word-Cloud-Concept-in-black-and-white-with-great-terms-such-as-love-seize-the-day-and-mor-Stock-Photo

So, RE@L says it once again: “Happy Last Day of School!”

Be sure to “carpe” all the “diems” of summer that you can.
Be ready and rested for next fall, when, once again, you have another chance to do it even better!
We know you will do it better!