March 2020 Newsletter
The world seems very different as I write this newsletter than it did a month ago. At the school where I spend the most time, we have spent many days preparing for a possible switch to online instruction should the spread of the coronavirus require us to stay home. And then it did.
I’ll start this newsletter with a little more on that front, but do know that we also have contest deadlines approaching and a trove of great resources to share. Please read on, and (in the spirit of keeping as much normal going as possible,) may this be your month for a gift from our caffeine card giveaway!
In the early 00’s, I was principal of an online high school during a state pilot program designed to figure out what such schools could be. We learned tons about what worked and didn’t in our model. With the range of resources and tools that are available now, our work would have been far easier!
After discussions with friends at schools in China and Japan, I prepared a rough guide for how to think about switching to online instruction and posted it at the beginning of March. It’s not simply a collection of links; rather, it is designed to help you think about how to care for your students, their learning, your colleagues, and yourself in the face of an emergency that shutters schools.
If your school or district is also exploring whether to prepare for online instruction, you are welcome to contact me about having your school’s leaders engage in a short video conference together. It’s part of the mission of my nonprofit and free to anyone who receives this newsletter.
You can also join one of the three free webinars I will run this Wednesday (1p Pacific/4p Eastern, and 4p Pacific/7p Eastern) and Friday (10a Pacific/1p Eastern). These will not cover a list of tools for online instruction (here’s a great one of those from Richard Byrne), but rather, how to think about the larger situation and preparing your team for the kinds of changes the spread of the coronavirus may inflict on us.
Know that these conversations can strengthen your team, even if you never need to engage in a move to online instruction. Readers of my books know that this is my focus: use every opportunity to build your team, because doing so will help every teacher increase their chances of reaching that next child.
If you want to enter one of our contests but don’t think there is time to try implementing a class-wide project, consider giving some of your students the chance to do this as an extra credit/learning opportunity. Not only might they bring great attention to your school, but you’ll learn valuable things about having students do video projects.
I’ve heard a student say that the video project he did in my class was his favorite part of high school. Whatever level you teach, the creative teamwork and exploration that a strong video project offers can make for memorable learning, and also be huge for academic and personal confidence.
If you need advice, you are always welcome to reach out. We’re happy to help!
At times when things seem especially stressful, it can be a good move to take a moment and watch a short, inspiring story.
Over the years I’ve run Next Vista for Learning, I’ve been collecting all sorts of good video stories to share as part of the Worth the Watch section of the newsletter. The best of those find their way into Sources of Inspiration, one of the five categories in the Next Vista Resources section of our website.
Here is one from our library and two from the Sources of Inspiration section, just in case your stress level requires all of them for proper re-balancing!
Carry Someone’s Problems
from Grace Lyimo, Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)
What are you dedicated to making happen?
Kid President’s 20 Things We Should Say More Often
from the good folks at Soul Pancake
Discuss this at your next staff meeting!
Kylie and Liza
from the good folks at Mutual Rescue
This is a powerful one, and good for re-orienting you emotionally.
If you’d like to enter this month’s drawing, watch one or more of the inspirational videos above. Write us to let us know what you think, and your name will go in the hat once for each video you watch and tell us about. Given how good the stories are, you can’t lose!
Strengthening the Team
We are sometimes asked where the money comes from that has run our little save-the-world program for the last fifteen years. It comes from the work Rushton does helping schools and districts find ways to make what they do better, to tell the stories of their successes in their communities, and to build ever-stronger teams. If any of this sounds helpful to where you are, feel free to pass this newsletter along to your professional development person, and he or she can contact us about a conversation. We’d be happy to help, and along the way, to take what we do to more schools where it’s needed.
Why are you in education? Feel free to reply and share your story. Thinking through a few sentences on that front may be exactly what you need to unleash ideas for how to reach one of your students.
We certainly hope the resources below will unleash plenty of ideas for you, and we pass along our standard wish: may you inspire, and be inspired, each and every day.
Rushton and the Next Vista team
We love sharing cool free stuff, and invite you to help us out. You can find the best of what we’ve gathered over the years on the Next Vista Resources pages, but if there is something free and powerful you love that you don’t find there, let us know about it using our resources submission form.
Images in the freebies section are screenshots from videos or web pages unless otherwise noted.
Worth the Watch
* Imagine a child hearing a teacher say, “You’re the reason I come to school.” Now, imagine a school working with its teachers to give that message to lots of students who might benefit from knowing it. Now, watch recordings of that school’s teachers telling the students this simple but powerful message. Thanks to Steve Saint-Coeur for sharing this video, and getting the permission of the students to share, as well. Warning: you’ll need tissues for this one. (6:34)
* How many of us have something inside that needs to find expression, but it takes someone, some teacher, with a special insight to help us discover it? This video from inspirational speaker Clint Pulver is called Be a Mr Jensen, and it’s about the teacher who helped him learn something important about himself. Thanks to TCEA Monday Motivational for the share. (3:12)
* The SoulPancake folks (same crowd that helped launch Kid President) created this video several years ago to highlight the difference between students with and without internet access. They include in the title the term “homework gap,” though it’s much more about that within the larger issue of digital equity. It’s a good video, though the message is somewhat weakened by the lack of creativity in what the students on stage are doing. Thanks to Torrey Trust of ISTE for sharing this. (4:14)
* There are all kinds of interesting variations with languages. I’m into languages and am a former language teacher, and I didn’t know until watching this video about a language made entirely of whistling. Thanks to Great Big Story for this! (2:40)
* Your students who like beats and rhyme may enjoy another piece from Great Big Story called In Azerbaijan, Battling It Out With Poetry. There is a long history of the freestyle poetry competition called meykhana there, and the emphasis on vocabulary and history within this one is intriguing. (2:22)
* Timelapse photography at a beach in a remote part of Australia is not only powerful for its great views of the stars, but in the opening sequence in this BBC video, you can even see bioluminescence in the waves at the beach. Beautiful. (1:47)
Worth the Read
* The opening line in this post at Medium is “In an era of better technology, we are all being rewired to do more to the detriment of our brains.” Titled “7 Modern Life Habits That Can Be Incredibly Bad For Your Brain Health,” Thomas Oppong’s piece gives some strong advice on ways to address all sorts of problems, from simple inactivity, to flawed thinking about multitasking, to how you use headphones.
* Children in the foster system live lives challenged in ways that are hard for those who grew up in “normal” families to understand. As teachers, though, we should do everything we can to learn about the circumstances that affect the attention and hopes of our students in foster care. This summary from the Pew Charitable Trusts on foster care adoptions is a quick read that gives good news regarding an increase in moving foster children into adoptive homes in the U.S., and also gives important background as to what also has driven a rise in kids entering the foster system.
* That lots of people procrastinate is probably not news to you. That there are a complex array of reasons for it might be, though. In this Edutopia article, Youki Terada discusses the reasons and explores strategies for helping students minimize tendencies to procrastinate.
* Another strong Edutopia post from February was this one from Joe Mullikin about using data effectively. I particularly liked how his team works to enhance professional collaboration to explore points of emphasis, rather than simply identifying levels of performance.
* This piece by Derek Davidson at Education Post is a sobering reflection on the worst moment of his teaching career. He describes a conflict with a student, and understands that there were so many things he could have done better. He describes the many things he did not know at the time. The story is a great read for those seeking ideas for getting better at what they do as educators.
* An interesting addition to the efforts to help students strengthen their memorization skills is Stanford’s QuizBot. This article looks at how it combines flash cards with chatbot technology, and claims to help “students retain 25 percent more information.” While the percentage is surely a function (as with traditional flash cards) of how students choose to use the tool, it’s an interesting idea in the adaptive tutoring realm, and hopefully we’ll be able to try this ourselves sometime soon.
* Michael Linsin has a blog called Smart Classroom Management, and an early-March post on a simple statement to make classes calmer and less likely to be settings for bullying is one of the best I’ve read from him.
* Another good one from Linsen is this piece, called How To Handle Students Who Make Classmates Laugh, which he posted in January.
* And while we’re singing Linsen’s praises, you might look at this item on his blog called Why Your Best Students Need Strict Accountability. It’s a great exploration of the dangers of favoritism for the best students, for everyone else in the class, and for you.
* Here’s a cool STEM thought: giant turtles with 10-foot long shells. Need I say more?
Worth the Try
* Long-time readers of my newsletter will know that one of my favorite sources for learning about new tools is Richard Byrne’s Practical Ed Tech for Teachers newsletter. Recently he posted about Timelinely, a free tool now in beta that allows you to annotate online videos with timelines, which includes adding info (text, images, or even other videos) to appear at specific points along the video.
* Brainstorming tools such as mind maps are good for helping some students begin to organize their ideas for their writing and projects. With the free version of Coggle, you can create an unlimited number of public diagrams, along with up to three private ones. It works with Google Drive, has a revision history, and allows one to download as an image or a PDF.
* Book Creator is one of my favorite tools for getting students to convey their learning using various forms of media. This year they have introduced a range of accessibility tools and improvements to existing ones that include automatically generated video captions, dictation support for 120 languages, and transcripts for audio pieces.
* John Sowash has a podcast focused on using Chromebooks, and a recent episode focuses on recording video. He covers some technical specifications and then looks at several apps for working with video on Chromebooks.
* For years, I couldn’t keep in mind whether the rules related to having an account in the U.S. applied to those 13 and under, or those under 13. Turns out it’s the latter, and this page from Google includes that and the legal ages for accounts for many countries around the world.
Worth the Look
* The Smithsonian has released almost three million 2D and 3D images into the public domain through the Smithsonian Open Access initiative, “from all of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, and archives (including from the National Zoo); from portraits of historic American figures to 3D scans of dinosaur skeletons.”
* The Natural History Museum of London runs an annual contest called “Wildlife Photographer of the Year,” and this year’s top images will take your breath away. This article in Forbes includes many stunning shots, including the first one on the page they subtitle “The surrogate mother,” which is as beautiful a nature image as I’ve seen in a while.
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Perhaps this is what your staff room should look like. Can I get an amen?
Stay healthy, and we’ll see you next month!