Teach Empathy and the SDGs By Connecting With A Partner Classroom

I’ve become incredibly passionate about connecting students globally using technology. I’ve seen the impacts of what this can do for students and the profound impact it can make on these little human beings that we teach!

When our students are able to meet students that look, learn, and live differently than they do, eyes open and perspectives change. They find so much in common, but also celebrate and appreciate differences. They marvel at new information and new ways of thinking. They feel pride in sharing about their communities and schools. The shy kids become a little less shy when they have the chance to speak and share in the comfort of their classroom but the “safety” of just using video to communicate. They feel validated and uplifted when a class across the country or halfway across the world acknowledges “Yes, we hear you and we feel that way too!” Students find their voices, and often find so much more.

If we as teachers embrace and unleash the potential of these connections, we can take students far beyond the introductory stuff (How long is your recess? What books are you reading? How cold/hot is it where you live? Whoa…you like Fortnite, too?) and we can eventually structure these video chats around some serious global issues! We can use this technology to communicate and collaborate with other classes to teach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and inspire our students to action!

I created the chart above to show how that progression – that deepening of purpose – can happen.

We have free and brilliant technology tools to make these connections possible. My three favorites are:

  • Empatico – for elementary schools, you enter your grade level, location, availability, and activity choices (they have 9 so far) and Empatico magically finds you a partner classroom with the same interests! You are matched with another class somewhere in the world, and when you are ready, you launch the video chat right within the website – it couldn’t be easier! My entire school district is using Empatico in our 175+ elementary classrooms and it has truly brought the world to our students.
  • Skype in the Classroom – If you haven’t checked out the Skype in the Classroom site, please click on the link! In addition to virtual field trips and guest speakers, you can always find classes, teachers, and projects. There are so many choices and connections from all over the world, and Skype in the Classroom is always adding new things! Oh, and follow them on Facebook too – they have a thriving community of educators who are always reaching out and looking for unique connections.
  • Flipgrid (Grid Pals) – The amazing and wildly popular Flipgrid is widely known for its power to amplify student voice by allowing students to create video responses to prompts or topics – and kids LOVE it! Well, Flipgrid has a unique use that you may not have considered. It can basically work as an asynchronous option to connect and communicate with classes in time zones with which you wouldn’t typically be able to connect! They have a whole section on their website that explains how to use something called GridPals to find connections.

As an ambassador and enthusiast, I’d be happy to help you learn how to use any of these sites, or give you more resources to teach the SDGs, or put you in touch with others who are really passionate about this work, too! Let’s do this together. Share the chart above and linked resources with colleagues. Then, let’s all give our students the greatest gift of all – exposure to global classrooms and global issues that inspire action – and empathy.

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The Designer Donut Club 😔

Once upon a time….I attended one of my very first education conferences.  It was my second one, to be honest.  It was one of the free ones, open to everyone, widely publicized, and with a whole host of excellent sessions from which to choose.  I was a total newbie to this scene – and I was awestruck by how this whole world seemed to exist without me ever having known about it.  I had learned about it via Twitter, and I was still pretty new at that, too.

I was so exited to attend this big event that I drove about 75 minutes and arrived super early!  People in matching logo shirts greeted attendees enthusiastically at the high school’s front door, and they directed me to find my way to the big cafeteria in the back of the building.  I went to this event alone, I didn’t know anyone in the cafeteria, and I was still so new to this whole conference thing that I didn’t know anyone who would be at this event at all.  I was eager to learn, watch, and soak it all in, so I sat at one of those big round cafeteria tables that was right up front near the stage.  I sat alone for a few minutes, just looking around as people started to fill the space, wondering if anyone would sit at the table with me or if most people attended these things in groups with friends and fellow teachers.  In time, I got up and strolled over to the refreshment table to grab a bagel and a cup of coffee, smiling and saying hello to other people along the way.  I returned to my table, and soon another “solo” attendee joined me.  We  introduced ourselves, struck up a conversation, and I’m still friendly and connected with her to this day.  I was happy to learn that lots of people go to these things alone, and others soon joined us at our table.

The story I want to tell here is about The Designer Donut Club.  As I said, I was new, and so impressed with this whole culture, and eager to embrace it as a part of this remarkable community.  While I sat with my new acquaintances, making small talk as we got to know each other, I noticed that there was a group forming at a table that was front and center….right up at the stage.  There were about 10-12 people who obviously knew each other – they were smiling and laughing and well, sharing these two huge boxes of designer donuts that one of them had brought just for the people in this group. Now, I’m a grown-up and something like that probably shouldn’t have affected me in the way that it did, but I somehow sat there thinking, “those are the cool kids. They bring Designer Donuts just for their group”, and I just knew that it was an exclusive club. There were tables FULL of breakfast goodies set out by the event organizers, but this club stayed front and center, shared their Designer Donuts amongst themselves, and most definitely enjoyed being recognized by others.

This is a true story. It happened a few years ago, but obviously the memory and the feelings have stayed with me. And it’s metaphorically still happening at other conferences and ed events I attend.

In a time where we do so much discussion with our students about how to be inclusive, it bothers me that there are a actually EDUCATORS who don’t walk the walk, and who and continue to be clique-y, elitist, and exclusive.

I started this blog as a draft several months ago when I was upset because I had seen some of this behavior again at a workshop I attended this summer. I’m finishing this blog today, because I was at an amazing conference last week and I just witnessed the same type of thing once again. I am so bothered by the fact that educators actually act this way. If, by any chance, you happen to become an “educator with influence “, please, please, please don’t become a Designer Donut person. When you go to conference, or even an edcamp, don’t sit at the front with all of your buddies. Don’t make it a point to hobnob with the “in crowd” and “be seen” as one of them. Sit in the middle of the room and make friends with people who happen to be sitting alone. Share a hello and a hug with the newbies or the shy people in the room. Branch off from the people that you know and make new friends from the people who are really just there to learn. Follow them on Twitter and retweet them. Ask THEM if you could have the honor of getting a selfie with THEM! Make everyone feel welcome and special!

I know that there are some people have been told that they are “edu-rockstars” for so long that it’s gone to their heads. Here’s the deal – even actual rock stars lose their fan base if they’re not approachable, sincere, and humble. Exclusivity has no place in our world in which we educators so often preach about spreading kindness and putting a stop to bullying.

I recently gave a presentation about how we can help students develop empathy through global connectedness. This was my favorite slide from that presentation:

bridges walls

As educators, role models, and human beings, it is my sincere hope that within our amazing community we all strive to put up fewer walls and build more bridges.


 

I always love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and reactions, so please feel free to comment on this blog post here on WordPress, or you can always find me on Twitter as @kerszi.  I also run a Facebook page called Integration Innovation.  

The Kid Should See This

First, watch this video called One Small Step – an animated short film with a message about never giving up on a dream! Warning: Tears may flow….

Then, you might want to consider subscribing to this website called TheKidShouldSeeThis.com. The site curates videos that are perfect to ignite discussion, promote empathy, and bring meaningful conversations to your classroom.

Remember that videos can be added as topics in Flipgrid! Wouldn’t it be great to just post videos like this one and then just listen to what your students have to say????

OneNote As A #OneWord Journal

Like so many people across the country, especially educators, I made the decision a few years ago to forego making a New Year’s resolution and instead choose a #OneWord.

If you haven’t heard of #OneWord before, it’s not a specific goal like a resolution might be, but rather it is a mindset to guide a person toward some sort of self-improvement throughout the year. It’s a focus word, a personal challenge word, a #OneWord.

I’ve seen hundreds of incredible and inspiring #OneWord examples on Twitter. Just search the hashtag, and even add the year (#OneWord2019) to see examples from people all over the world! Last year, I chose the word BETTER, and I truly did focus on achieving that word in a variety of ways. I came back to that word often throughout the year to ground myself and be mindful of exactly what it was I wanted to accomplish. On December 31, I sat down and reflected on ways I accomplished my #OneWord. It took me several hours to go back through my calendars, tweets, blog posts, photos, Facebook posts, etc. to try to form a timeline or list of ways I had achieved BETTER – and I was pretty astounded when I was finished! It was a laborious process, but it was really personally rewarding.

This year, I chose CREATE as my #OneWord. Like many others, I created a graphic as my inspiration, and I even went so far as to explain exactly what I hope to accomplish by focusing on the word CREATE .

Without going into too much detail, last year I felt like I spent most of my energy on learning and consuming knowledge. This year, I really want to be more mindful about actively creating. I feel like it will not only engage me in a different way, but also give me a chance to be more of a giver than a taker…and that’s important to me.

For 2019, I decided to use OneNote to help me document my #OneWord progress. I’m all about keeping it simple, so I just titled my OneNote Notebook “CREATE”. I made a section for each month, and I’ll add a page for each day that I feel that I’ve created something.

I set up all my sections as the months of the year. I LOVE using emojis to make my notebooks look awesome!


The pages from my January section. I already know that there won’t be one for every day, and that’s fine. I don’t want this to become an unattainable #OneWord by putting too much pressure on myself.


This is a screenshot of my page for January 2nd. In OneNote, I am able to add text, a link, and even a photo to document whatever I’ve created!

Some days, I already know that I will create and write notes on a dated page in advance – a way of pre-planning or outlining a particular goal or project to work on for that day.

Lastly, I want to point out that I used my OneNote iPhone app to do create all of my entries so far. I love the ease of having the handy app in my mobile phone, and also the fact that I can take photos and add them directly from my phone. When I’m on my laptop, I generally use the Windows10 OneNote app, because I totally love how many choices I have for page color in the app, and I can also have the most fun with digital inking. I could always use my desktop OneNote 2016 or even OneNote Online, too. So many choices!

December 31, 2019 is going to be really fun. When I’m ready to sit down and reflect on the year, every single thing will be organized and chronicled in my OneNote CREATE Notebook!

I hope this gives you an idea or two about how you could use OneNote as a journal – either for your own #OneWord or whatever else inspires you!

PS – Blogging is creating, so I’m adding this very blog post to the OneNote!


I would absolutely LOVE to hear if you’ve learned or incorporated any of these ideas into your own practices! You can always reach me on Twitter as @kerszi or on my Facebook page Integration Innovation.

What Are The Non-negotiable Traits For A “Teacher of the Year”?

I’m sitting here ready to write my annual recommendation for someone who I really feel exemplifies a “Teacher of the Year”. I don’t take this lightly at all. I probably put more thought into this than most people, but if it is to be an authentic honor that maintains a reputation of respectability, then it SHOULD be given great consideration.

Just think about the very words: Teacher Of The YEAR! OF THE YEAR! The number one, best, most outstanding and deserving person in an entire SCHOOL? What would be the traits and the accomplishments of someone who deserves this recognition over ALL of the OTHER teachers in a school or district?

Wow. If every person REALLY weighs these lofty and noble considerations before writing a recommendation, then it will be clear that a Teacher of the Year is someone who goes WAY above and beyond and is a shining example of excellence in teaching, leadership, selflessness, and professional learning. It’s not a popularity contest and it can’t be a consolation prize. Awarding this honor for any of the wrong reasons “dumbs down” the award – and everyone in the organization will not only know it, but lose respect and hope for the very title of Teacher of The Year. The legitimacy will remain tarnished for years. So choose wisely, young Jedi.

If you’re writing a recommendation for someone, or if you’re on some sort of evaluative team that considers nominations, I beseech you to look deep and be intensely respectful of the title Teacher of The Year. It’s our collective responsibility to keep the integrity of this honor intact.

  • Above and Beyond: This is a person who volunteers and shows up for all kinds of things. He is at the fundraisers and the pep rallies. She volunteers to lead workshops or coordinate assemblies. He comes up with new programs or ideas that benefit the whole school or organization – and then leads that charge to fruition. This person does education things during non-contract time (YES, even weekends and summers) because teaching is her PASSION….and everyone knows it.
  • Team Player: You’ll see this person spreading positivity with a can-do attitude! Someone who is the Teacher Of The Year strives to lift others up, builds the capacity of other teachers, and shares recognition for team accomplishments. This person shares – a lot! He joins committees willingly and everyone can attest to the fact that he is an enthusiastic participant. She invites others into decision-making. He is a cheerleader for his colleagues. She feels more successful when the department/ team/grade achieves goals than when she achieves them alone.
  • Lifelong Learner: Without a doubt, this is a non-negotiable necessity for ANYONE I ever nominate for Teacher of the Year. You cannot be an outstanding educator if you’re not continually updating your own learning. And I don’t mean those things your district provides. It’s got to go beyond the mandatory stuff, because a truly deserving teacher OF THE YEAR (think about the weight of those words again) is that person in school who finds the optional, on-your-own-time, just-because-you-really-❤️-education kind of learning. A REAL Teacher of The Year seeks out his own PD – college classes, conferences, edcamps, webinars, professional organizations, educator blogs, cultivates a PLN, and more. Most importantly – he or she is a CONNECTED educator…one who frequently communicates and collaborates with many other educators outside of the district.
  • Leadership: This person volunteers for committees. This person signs up to mentor new teachers. Other people go to this teacher to learn how to do new things. This teacher tries to stay cutting edge with technology and current best practices – and then teaches those things to his peers. This person takes advantage of every “optional” opportunity and then has a way of persuading others to join, too.
  • Innovation: A worthy Teacher of the Year candidate is widely known throughout the school as someone who oozes creativity. Very literally, he or she innovates. She finds new ideas at workshops or on social media, modifies it so it works for her school, and takes a leap of faith to implement something new! He is a risk-taker, a trier of new things, a go-getter, and an idea guy. She has crazy ideas at all hours of the night and comes to school having formulated highly-detailed plans to make it all work. He eagerly puts ideas into practice. She braves new worlds and has an adventurous spirit. Others in the school frequently comment about how clever or creative she is and ask, “How does she even have time to THINK of all this stuff?” He is transformational and a change-maker.

As I said at the beginning, I take this Teacher of the Year business seriously. It matters to the future of the profession and certainly to the future of this distinction. When you sit down to write a nomination this year for a TRULY worthy and deserving person, I hope that you’ll remember this post and my list of non-negotiables. I hope you reflect and add a few other criteria of your own. I’d love it if you would share them with me. I’ll look forward to your comments, thoughts, suggestions, and stories.

Ozobots: A Recommendation

A friend recently asked me to share some of my thoughts about why Ozobots are a worthy purchase for her school.   As a long-time OzoFanGirl, the following recommendation and overview is what I sent to her.  I sure hope that it persuades her administrators to put a bunch of Ozobots in the budget!

ozobots

Ozobots have been a wonderfully popular item in my STEAMmakers Club and with students from grades K-5 in my schools.  They are a relatively inexpensive way to get students introduced to coding, and there are a multitude of ways to differentiate lessons so that the user experience is always evolving.  All materials related to Ozobots are free!  There are free iPad apps, a free website on which to code, and free fun printables and lesson plans on the Ozobot site.

     Kindergarteners and first graders are first introduced to Ozobots as cute little robots that know how to follow trails.  I teach them terms like SENSORS (on the bottom), PATTERNS, and CODE.  After they explore how Ozobots work on many of the free printables available on the site, I have them begin to draw trails on paper.  Lessons in line thickness and curves vs. angles ensue, and even line thickness is a challenge as students begin to understand that coding is a precise thing!  Students add in colors and begin to dabble in drawing their own Ozocodes correctly (it’s a challenge!)  Students at this age also really like to use the iPad apps with the Ozobots because the lines are already drawn for them, the Ozobots can “dance”, and it just adds another layer of engagement.

     Second and third graders get pretty good at creating trails that include drawn codes.  Precision is key when making these trails with markers, and students refer to the Ozocodes sheets to begin to draw more and more complex routes for their robots to travel.  Teachers can issue challenges in which certain codes must be incorporated. Students often start making costumes for their Ozobots that relate to different literature stories they read and programming Ozobots to travel paths related to stories.  (Try Goldilocks or Three Billy Goat’s Gruff.)  Again, the free iPad apps continue to motivate this age group because Ozocodes can easily be dragged in and there are some fun contests/games to play with peers.  Students who are emerging coders can start to explore the Ozoblockly games on the website.

     By fourth and fifth grades, it’s a great time to really introduce blockly coding.  This works with the Ozobot Bits and the Evo.  With the Evo, students now can create programs on the computer, hold the Ozobot to the screen, and the program is downloaded directly to the Ozobot!  When it doesn’t work as planned, students go back in and debug.  Many teachers are doing amazing interdisciplinary integration with coding Ozobots.  Some great examples include: Solve a multi-step word problem with a number line that the Ozobot travels, navigating through a large map to given destinations (I’ve seen a great lesson with the NYC New Year’s parade route!), have students design a 9-hole miniature golf course with challenges that the Ozobot must be programmed to navigate…there are options for every subject and every ability level.

     There are all sorts of games and challenges in the user portal on the website!  I have one posted there that is a serious timing challenge and can be aligned with the literacy idea of revising/editing:  https://portal.ozobot.com/lessons/detail/cube-challenges .

    I hope this is helpful.  I’m obviously a big fan of Ozobots and know that I haven’t even scratched the surface of their potential.  The online community keeps growing and growing, and educators continue to share resources.  This isn’t a fad – I got my first Ozobots four years ago and the company continues to thrive, improve, and develop new resources all the time.  At almost every Ed Tech conference and edcamp, you can find people who are still inventing new uses, challenges, and integrations.  I would highly recommend Ozobots for any teacher, school, or district that is looking for an affordable way to integrate STEM and coding into their programs.