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Laura Blanco


Caracas, Venezuela



Live Curious, Go Beyond the classroom...


As a teacher, I like to Live Curious and Go Beyond by finding opportunities for students to interact with technology in meaningful ways that enhance their learning. I'm also passionate about finding ways to open kids' eyes to the power of technology to connect them to the world and give them a voice in the global community.


Areas of expertise: Formative Response Tools, Prezi,

                               Explain Everything, iMovie, KidBlog

     Twitter Handle: @LauraPBlancoV

              Website:


Blogging in the Classroom

posted Nov 2, 2015, 6:20 PM by Laura Blanco   [ updated Nov 3, 2015, 6:39 AM by Brian Hamm ]

Last year, when my class started working on a PBL project about community action and leadership, I decided to have them blog about their experience. Blogging was new for all of us and, while a bit overwhelming at first, it was a really great experience. I found that by having the students blog, I was able to do more than just keep up with the progress on their projects and give them a way to share their ideas with each other. Blogging also provided a great way to model digital etiquette, refine kids' writing skills in shorter, more informal pieces and it gave me a lot of insight into what they were thinking about the whole process. 

I will definitely use blogging again with my class. Below are some tips from what worked well in my class and some goals I have to improve next time. Enjoy!



WHAT WORKED WELL...

Have clear expectations for blog posts
My kids were excited about blogging but also a bit intimidated. They were used to writing in response to very clear expectations and my “write about your experience” prompt was a bit too broad for some. In order to make blogging an active part of our project, I gave students time to write in class and also assigned some posts for homework. The expectation was that they would need to blog after every step of the project and the format would be: summary of their progress + reflection.


Teach kids about blogging

Some of my students had experience reading blogs, but most needed to be introduced to this as a new genre. In order to help them out with this and make sure they were writing interesting and attractive posts that others would want to read, I modeled blogging myself. One of the posts I wrote included tips for a better blog such as adding images and videos, limiting the number of fonts and colors, asking your readers questions, etc. I also found some blogging resources that could help them if they wanted to explore on their own.


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For homework, all kids had to read the post and comment saying one thing that they were going to try out.



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Make commenting mandatory

In addition to their weekly posts, students had to write at least 5 comments every week. This way I could make sure that they were actually reading each other’s posts and getting ideas for their projects and it was exciting for the kids posting to get direct feedback from their readers. This was also a great time to talk about digital etiquette - comments had to be appropriate, helpful and show that you actually read the post by referencing something specific.



Set blog settings to “pre-approve” at first

I used kidblog.org to host our classroom blog. For the first couple of weeks, I had the kids' posts and comments set to “pre-approve”, which meant posts would not be published before I read and approved them. This allowed me to supervise content and format until I was sure the kids had gotten a hang of it. After I removed this setting, I was still checking their posts regularly and monitoring their comments.



FOR NEXT TIME...


Set realistic expectations for yourself

I wanted to read and comment on every single post for every single kid. For the first couple of weeks, I managed to do it. However, as it became harder to manage I would just read some of them and I ended up focusing on checking the ones I knew might have some spelling issues. This year, after checking in the first couple of weeks, I will make a schedule to check in with a few blogs a week and make sure I go through every student.


Bring the blog posts into the classroom

I think that to make the blogging portion of the project more meaningful and relevant, it would have been good to bring the blogs into the classroom. This year I think I will choose a couple of posts a week to briefly discuss in the classroom and use as a jumping off point for the next step of the project.


Open the blog to the public

To really give the students an authentic audience, I want to open the blog to people outside our classroom. I plan to start with other classes and teachers, the kids’ parents and then perhaps find a classroom in another school to share with.


If you would like to set up a blog with your class, I recommend using kidblog.org. It is safe and easy to use with kids and they have a lot of tutorials and help online.

If you would like to check out some of my students' posts from last year, you can take a look here!




Making class more active and reaching more kids with Blended Learning!

posted Oct 14, 2015, 9:49 PM by Laura Blanco   [ updated Oct 15, 2015, 9:59 AM ]


    This year I have a fidgety class. Keeping their attention on the carpet for longer than 10-15 minutes starts to become painful for all of us. Movement and variety have become my goals, particularly in Math class, where certain concepts can take a while to cover. The unit that we are currently working on, requires students to know about 8 different algorithms and methods of computation for addition, subtraction and multiplication. While some of my students were more familiar with certain methods, our pretest revealed that the whole class needed more practice and exposure. Having them all sit while I explained these methods was not going to be an option.
    I decided that I would use Haiku to give students access to a range of tutorial videos for the algorithms that they would need to learn. Students worked in partners and were assigned an algorithm, which they would need to learn well enough to explain it to another student.


As I watched students working, I noticed with excitement that now 100% of my class was fully engaged. Working with one other person and having control over the content in front of them, they could go at their own pace, stop the video, talk about it, ask each other questions and re-watch certain parts. They recorded their learning and came up with new examples in their notebooks, and they practiced explaining the algorithm to each other. During this time, I was able to walk around and listen to students, ask them questions, get a feel for their understanding, clear misconceptions and push the more advanced students by giving them more difficult problems.

After a while, we switched partners and kids were now matched with someone who had learned a method different from theirs. For this second round, they were no longer learning from the videos but from each other (though they still had the computers to double-check) and I again walked around listening and helping. By the end of the class period, students had been exposed to two or three different methods, which we returned to throughout the unit. We repeated this format again two more times in the unit so that we could cover all the methods they needed to learn.




As I approach the end of this unit, I have noticed that my students feel more secure with these algorithms than they have in past years. I really believe that giving them accountability and control over their learning highly increased their buy-in and engagement and helped their understanding of the subject matter.

When I was planning these lessons and later reflecting on them, I remembered something that Jeff Utecht shared with us during his visit. He said that through blended learning, we can have the students access content on their own and we can then use our time with them to provide context for this content, clear up misconceptions and develop skills. By finding a different way to deliver the math content in these lessons (videos), I was free to walk around, listen to all students, support the ones that were struggling and push the ones that were ready for a challenge - and they didn't have to sit still for any of it! I am excited to continue exploring how Blended Learning can enhance the learning experiences in my classroom, help me reach more students and also empower them to use the tools at their disposal to take control of their own learning.

  
      


Building Independence Through Technology

posted Sep 8, 2015, 3:17 PM by Laura Blanco   [ updated Sep 8, 2015, 3:26 PM ]

Last year, I had my students involved in a Math extension activity where they created video tutorials of the different strategies and algorithms we learned in our unit. As is often the case, I had students who had already mastered these concepts and were ready to be challenged, and I had students that still needed to review them more times in order to feel comfortable. In the same way, all my students were in different places in terms of their knowledge and comfort with the tools that we would be using (Explain Everything, Youtube, etc). I knew that for this to be a successful and productive activity, I needed to differentiate both the Math and the Technology components.


I decided that the best way to do this was to design a way for each student to be able to get the tools they need and work at their own pace. As I was planning this, I became more and more interested in seeing how much the students could figure out and problem solve on their own when given a few resources as a starting point. I wanted students to be able to realize their own ability to figure things out, teach themselves through trial and error, and search for answers and tutorials online. Our students have so much technology available, both at school and at home, but sometimes they still fail to recognize that they have a powerful tool right in front of them that can give them all the information they want!




Thinglink provided a great platform to give the students a starting point for this work. I created an image with the instructions and added the resources as links on top of the image. Each student had a laptop to access the Thinglink image and to research and an iPad to execute their video.


Students could use the resources I gave them if they felt like they needed them, or find others on their own. Some students felt comfortable with Explain Everything, so they jumped straight to the Math, while other students watched the entire tutorial, and followed along on their iPads to familiarize themselves with the tool before starting.




It was very exciting to watch them work as they figured out what their needs were and how they could find resources online to answer their questions (both for Math and technology). If they didn’t know how to add images on Explain Everything - they found a tutorial for that! If they needed to review the partial products method before doing their video, they looked it up! Part of the 'challenge' was for them to be very independent with this, both the math part and the technology, and the kids were able to go with it, recognize their needs, find answers to their questions and then create their own videos.


Designing learning experiences like these can be a bit scary, particularly when we are not familiar with the tools ourselves. This is where promoting independence and problem solving in the students really pays off. I did not have to be an expert using the app - they could learn more about it on their own!


Enjoy this video Doug made of the whole experience!

YouTube Video


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