X-tra Special Summer X-periences

Many (many) months ago, I thought it might be a fun challenge to create blog post titles using the first letters of the alphabet, not knowing it would take so long to complete 26 posts. Now that I'm so close to finishing the pattern, 🤓I'm taking creative liberties with my spelling. But I did want to share what I learned from a few special summer experiences.

Don't forget about conference Poster Sessions and Playgrounds!

At this summer's ISTE conference, my colleague and I "presented" during the ISTE Administrator Playground, and it was so fun! I loved the opportunities to visit with people, share our work, and have face-to-face conversations. It wasn't nearly the pressure/prep of a full-scale presentation, and it was a fantastic way to network. We used our online book study example (I've mentioned The New Pillars in several posts) as a way to design professional learning to empower others. (Here's the document we shared.)
Ashley and I are ready to share at the ISTE Admin Playground!
Because we were presenting during one of the Playgrounds, I made a special point of attending as many of these types of "sessions" as possible. What I learned: Posters and Playgrounds may be one of my new favorite ways to conference! In the past, I did not participate too much with these types of sessions, but this summer, I was much more strategic about how I visited, and I loved this format.

With Poster sessions, you can wander around and do a bit of window shopping and eavesdropping, or you can find the 4-5 tables that truly interest you and have wonderful conversations with the table hosts. If you're strategic about your timing, you may also have the opportunity to engage in discussions with others and learn a lot in a short amount of time. OR if you're feeling introverted, or if it's too crowded, you may just smile, grab the information link, and move on. I will definitely check out future Playgrounds/Poster sessions at upcoming conferences, and I feel these types of sessions allow much more personal interactions...and because of the ability to have these up-close conversations, it brings me to the next extra-special experience...

Let others know you appreciate them.

At mega-events like ISTE, there are more opportunities for "fan-girl" moments when you see those you admire. So this year, I decided to actually share my appreciation and thanks to those I don't know IRL. And for the most part, people seemed genuinely happy and appreciative that I spoke to them. And because I found these educators during Poster/Playground sessions, we had time for more than a few seconds of conversation. 

I stopped a couple other people and just said, "Thanks for your work and what you share with educators," and that always resulted in hugs. Most people want to know that you appreciate their work, so my lesson is to tell them!

Step outside your comfort zone.

Several colleagues from my former district created EdChange Global, which is a 24-hour online learning experience. When they asked if I wanted to be on the organizing team, I agreed and helped plan the event. But the giant step outside of my comfort zone was to go to ECG "Headquarters" to help facilitate everything the day of the event. I flew to Scottsdale, AZ, for a quick weekend of work, and wow, what a learning experience. (Everyone said to visit Arizona in January, not July!) I had not spent much time with the people from my former district, I had never been to Arizona, and I only knew the location host from Zoom meetings and emails. 
The event was exhilarating (and exhausting.) Participating allowed me to connect with people from all over the globe and to expand my PLN. I discovered some best webinar practices. I helped connect others. I better understand the ins-and-outs of leadership and teams.

At about 20-hours into the event! 😴😴
The downside of this experience was that it occurred during the busiest part of my summer. It took about two weeks for me to be able to catch up on sleep and work. If the event is at the same time next year, I doubt if I will participate in the same manner, but I'm very glad I stepped outside of my comfort zone and tried something new with a different group of educators.

Prepping for the closing session of EdChange Global
As a consultant, I spend my summer facilitating learning experiences for educators. Now that school is in session, I have a bit more time to think, reflect, and unwind. It was fun to remember these extra special summer moments and to consider how these experiences helped me learn and grow.

Always learning, even during hectic work times!

Wondering in the Windy City

Even though the conference was a couple months ago, I wanted to share a bit about this summer's ISTE Chicago experience.

I'm still processing and working through ideas, but here are a few key takeaways from my day 1:

Ken Shelton's Designing Culturally Relevant Learning Experiences session:
  • A something-to-think about quote was “If you don’t have the technology to hear from every student every day, that’s not an equitable classroom.” I'm wondering: how many of our districts practice this kind of "techquity?" (his word) Our districts are all over the place with access and use of devices. What can our team do to help facilitate more techquity in our region?
  • We tried several culturally relevant icebreaker activities during this presentation. One I adapted and played in several of my subsequent sessions this summer was Game of Phones. Click through the slides to see additional resources and ideas. The idea from this activity: most of our students use Snapchat or Instagram, so how can I take advantage of those platforms in the context of learning environments? Students use visuals and imagery, so why don’t we? (If our students don't have phones, use a computer to look up a relevant image.)
Tony Vincent's An Emoji Education:
  • I waited outside the room for an hour to ensure I had a seat in this session. I participated in two of Tony's online courses and learned so much from him, so I really wanted to meet him face-to-face. I appreciated my colleague Ashley for waiting with me, and we both wanted to see him present. And side-note: I know the long lines cause some grumbling, but that's part of the conference experience, and that's where great conversations happen, too.
    • Tony's session was fantastic and fun. He was engaging, the ideas were easy to implement and relevant, and he shared many tools and resources. 
    • One of my favorite moments of the session was that Tony recognized me in the audience...even though we had never met face-to-face! After I recovered from the excitement of his simple, "Oh hey, Kathryn," I reflected on the importance of names, acknowledging others, and making connections. How often do I call others by their names during my sessions or even in the hallways at work? (Not enough!) After this huge reminder, I worked during the rest of my summer sessions to learn as many names as possible, even if I was with the educators for only 1 hour. If I knew anyone in the audience, I wanted to make certain I said something to them personally. How many opportunities have I missed when working with teachers? I think I did a much better job when working with students, but this personal experience made me realize that "I see you" is just as important for adults.
    • As Ashley and I reflected that evening, we brought up the possibility/need of offering more online courses in our work. We both mentioned that a problem with online courses was the lack of community and collaboration...but then Ashley said WAIT, Tony created an amazing community of learners in his courses, so it can be done. I experienced it myself, as did apparently most people in the room and in line in the hallway. As soon as Tony started walking toward his presentation room, the energy seriously changed in the waiting area. When he mentioned #ClassyGraphics or #ClassyVideos during his session, the room erupted with applause! Tony created this terrific community of learners, all within the confines of an online platform, so it was a reminder of the power of virtual collaboration. So the big question for us is how can we replicate a similar sense of community for online courses we develop?
Revisiting my notes and reflections from ISTE day 1 has given me plenty of things to wonder about. My theme from this day (and probably the conference) was connections. It's so important to find ways to make connections with our students and the adults we serve. What can I do connect with others in more meaningful ways?

Wondering and learning...


Voice and Choice

My teammates and I facilitate a session called Designing Instruction in the Digital Age, and as I updated my work this summer, I found it interesting how all of my "favorite instructional worlds" kept colliding.

Three summers ago, one version of this session was called Flipped Learning. The next summer, the session became Blended Instruction. We now take the foundations of the new pillars and add bits of thinking from differentiated instruction to create the current iteration of this session. Bottom line: it's all about voice and choice. (I know, that's almost a buzzword, but it's certainly my focus now!)

Here's what we say about voice:
Student voice includes creating content to demonstrate their learning and sharing their voice with others through discussions, backchannels and possibly social media.
Our definition of choice:
Student choice means students choose how they learn something, how they demonstrate their learning and, possibly, what they learn.
Here's one slide from the presentation, and I use exactly the same wording whenever I discuss differentiated instruction.
What choice to students have in choice of content, process, product, environment?
from Courageous Edventures, Jennie Magiera

In The New Pillars of Modern Teaching, the first pillar is design. Dr. Allen describes the four elements of powerful learning design as time, place, medium, and socialness. We want to provide voice and choice as we're designing instruction (or helping our students design their own learning experiences.)

In the professional learning sessions I facilitate, I feel like I'm doing a decent job with the choice part of the workshop or training. I provide a variety of mediums for participants to access the content. I typically allow time for educators time to pick-and-choose articles, tools, or resources to explore. For the voice part, I'm looking for additional ideas. We usually have a backchannel for the session, and we encourage participants to share their reflections using a common hashtag...but what else? What kind of voice and choice do educators need for their own professional learning?

I plan to ask these questions in upcoming sessions, and I hope I'll receive some audio clips to create a small podcast about this content. If you would like to try out the Anchor and record a message (that might be included here!) the instructions are below:
  • Download the Anchor app.
  • Search for Kathryn Laster.
  • Click on the episode and “send a message.”
  • Respond to any of the questions: What does voice or choice mean to you? What kind of voice and choice do educators need for their own professional learning? How do you provide voice and choice in your own classrooms? Include your name and role, and then share your ideas. (You have 1 minute.)
  • Type your name as the title and send.

Thinking a lot about voice and choice, and my journey of differentiated instruction, the new pillars, and now designing instruction in the digital age.
Always learning...


A bit of voice and choice...

I update this blog sporadically, at best, and I know I never wake up in the middle of the night excited to write a blog post. This morning, I started brainstorming a bit and I thought that adding a little bit of audio might motivate me to become unstuck about my blogging.

I was working on an upcoming session about podcasting, and I wanted to try the Anchor app. The website declares, "It's the easiest way to start a podcast. Ever." I knew other educators used Anchor for their podcasts, so I wanted to include this tool in my session. I decided as a model, I could try Anchor for this blog post.

In our sessions, we share the importance of providing voice and choice: to allow students to access the content or to share their work through audio, video, or text or a variety of mediums. We provide a plethora of sources and allow participants time to explore the readings and tools of their choice. That's what led me to wonder: is there a way I can add a little bit of choice on this blog? Would this choice in platform help me become unstuck with my blogging efforts?

It took me a little bit of time to create a logo for Anchor, and it's not great, but if I wanted to create audio connected to my blog, at least I already had a name and colors. Since my colleagues and I already create our Digital Learning Radio podcast, I was at least somewhat familiar with the other podcast requirements.

We'll see how this works and how often I include a little bit of audio on the posts...but for now, this idea inspired me to jump out of bed on a summer Saturday morning. I'm a little less stuck now, and I am motivated to try something new, to explore new tools, and to share content in new ways.

Thanks for listening! 


Takeaways from Episode Three

As I mentioned at the end of this post, my work team and I host a podcast called Digital Learning Radio. In our podcast, we discuss ideas for implementing technology, interview guests, and share some of our favorite things.

This year, we are working our way through the ISTE Educator Standards, and we're talking to leaders in the field as we take a deep-dive into each one of the standards. For Standard 4, Collaborator, we had the privilege of interviewing Gary Hirsch, who is a Portland artist, botjoy creator, and co-founder of On Your Feet. I shared how I discovered his work in this post about Joy Bots, but participating in this conversation with him was one of the highlights of my year!

As we were getting ready to publish this episode, my colleague Ashley asked if I would create a sketchnote to illustrate a portion of the interview. Gary talked a lot about letting going and the power of risk-taking, so even though I'm still working on my sketchnotes, I thought I could take a risk and share this one (in honor of the interview!)

Used for the thumbnail in the podcast excerpt
Listen to Gary discuss risk-taking:

I originally created this sketchnote for Gary's TEDx talkwhich is all about the power of collaboration...and it's what prompted us to reach out to him to discuss ISTE Educator Standard 4.

After posting these sketches, I decided to really take a risk, so I sketched one of my favorite quotes from this episode. I also created a sketchnote of 5 of my favorite takeaways from our conversation.

Listen to the entire episode here, and enjoy.

Google Hangout with the DL Team and Gary Hirsh

I'm always learning...and thanks to this inspiring interview, I'm learning to take more risks!


Screencasting for Teaching and Learning

With devices in the hands of so many students and teachers, I don't think screencasting and webcam recordings receive the credit these strategies deserve. In this post, I share a few favorite tools and how they can be used for both teaching and learning.

How can we use screencasts for teaching?

When I started creating videos for my classes, I only had an iPad. I found Show Me, which was an easy way to create tutorials, plus the videos could be viewed on various devices.

I didn't have the time to "flip" my entire class, so I started by creating tutorial videos for concepts where I knew the kids struggled. (After teaching the same subject for many years, you know the difficult topics!)

It took a while for me to get the hang of speaking and writing (and listening to the sound of my voice). I had to let go of the idea of perfect, beautiful videos...because they were not! But I soon achieved my goal of a 3-minute video taking no more than 5-minutes to record. The students appreciated the tutorials, and they seemed to prefer my videos over ones they found elsewhere online. 

(By the way, you can now record screencasts on your iPad using iOS 11, so an app may not even be necessary.)

For my work today, I could probably utilize screencasts in every single professional learning session. Content delivery can all be done with a video. (Same is true for classrooms, right?)

I'm slowly (eek!) adding a bit of webcam to my screencasts, and there are several easy tools for these videos.

I discovered the Soapbox Chrome Extension during an edcamp, and it allows you to switch between your webcam, screen, or both.

I shared Loom (and WebCam Record) in this post about Quick Wins. All of these tools require very little set-up, and the free plans are sufficient for my needs.

When beginning your screencast journey, start small and go for the product, rather than perfection. Get a video or screencast out there to help students, rather than spending too much time editing, doing re-takes, creating graphics and transitions.

How can we use screen-recordings for students and learning? 

Instead of standing up giving full presentations, students could record screencasts of their work, and partners could provide feedback on each other's work before it is submitted to the teacher. (Save class time!)

Students could explain (justify, question) anything on a webpage...vocabulary, steps for solving a problem, what a particular reading passage means...

Teachers could provide slides (information) and students could create a screencast to develop predictions, make inferences, or draw conclusions about the content.
  • In a math session, I provided about 15 slides with different graphs, charts, and data points, and I asked the teachers to choose 2-3 slides to discuss. See my samples below. I used Screencastify and Nimbus for the recording tools.

I know a lot of people love using Screencastify because it saves to Google Drive; however, it requires quite a bit of set-up.

You really don't need any fancy tools or programs, and if students have a device with a camera, they can take a video of them talking about their work or project. Keep it simple!

If you have Chromebooks, check out this post from Richard Byrne and Free Tech For Teachers where he shares 7 screencasting tools that work on Chromebooks. (Soapbox, Loom, Screencastify, and Nimbus are all included.)

Do you have any favorite tools or suggestions for screencasts? How can you use screencasts for teaching and learning?


Retrieval Practice

When I first joined Twitter, I dipped my toes into Twitter chats by participating in #eduread. This small group of math teachers shared and discussed educational books and articles, and although some resources were content specific, most books focused on great educational practices.

Right before I changed jobs, our summer book was Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Because I was in a career transition, I did not participate in the chat, but I did read and study the book. (This new phase in my life coincided with my beginning of listening to podcasts. I discovered The Cult of Pedagogy blog/podcast with this episode, where Jennifer Gonzales interviewed Peter C. Brown, the author of Make It Stick.) Because I was teaching adults, rather than children, I wasn't able to try any of the strategies from the book with my own students, so I only occassionally grabbed the book to review and share a learning strategy.

Fast forward a couple years, and another Cult of Pedagogy podcast episode grabbed my attention, and this time, I am determined to make it stick. In this episode, Gonzales interviewed Dr. Pooja Agarwal about the power of retrieval practice, and the research and the implications on learning blew me away. Even better, Dr. Agarwal shares many ideas you can try tomorrow in your classroom, and they require very little prep or materials.

I started practicing retrieval in my PD sessions by changing one slide. For extended trainings (all day or mult-day) I typically provide a bullet-pointed list of "Remember, here's what we covered earlier." This information puts information into participants' heads.
From this slide...

Here's how I changed my slide to pull information out of participants' heads to provide the exercise of retrieval.

...to this one!
Notice the "Without peeking" part of the instructions!

This very minor tweak allows me to demonstrate retrieval, and then start our conversation about how it could look in classrooms.

Dr. Agarwal founded retrievalpractice.org, and her site contains resources, research, and ideas...but at the very least, sign up for her newsletter. You can also glance at the newsletter archives to see all the learning goodness she shares. Her work is definitely relevant and classroom friendly. (You may have seen Dr. Agarwal's interview during the Ditch Summit, but unfortunately, that video is no longer available.)

This information and research is so important, so I'm trying to share her work with as many people as possible. I even brought up the idea at my dinner group (all teachers, so school talk is the norm) which led to a fun follow-up. One of my friends reached out to a former student who is now a cognitive scientist, and this was her viewpoint:

One last related resource: The Learning Scientists are contributors to the Retrieval Practice site, but they also have their own podcast and resources. They're working their way through the Six Strategies of Effective Learning, and they have two podcast episodes per strategy.

Have you read and applied the work from Made to Stick? What are you doing to improve learning in your work?

I'm always learning (and working to make it stick!)


Quick Wins

One of our vendors (Clarity BrightBytes) calls strategies "Quick Wins" and "Game Changers,"  and my teammates and I enjoy using those same phrases in our work. Colleagues request my go-to tools, so I started a list of my own quick wins. These ideas require only one-click, little set-up, or very low prep.

You can use four out of five of these quick wins for feedback or formative assessment. Three of these tools allow you to include video responses in your work.


I shared this strategy in an earlier post, and now I discovered that using this non-verbal assessment is as effective with adults. As shared in this video, educators can use fist-to-five for both social and academic check-ins, pre-assessments, quick exit polls, etc. My usual questions are:

  • How are you feeling today? (0 - 5 = worst day ever --> lovin' life!)
  • How do you feel about technology in general? (what's a smartphone --> I love all gadgets)
  • For Google training: How do you feel about Google apps?
  • What do you know about differentiated instruction?
When using fist-to-five with my students, 5 = I can teach someone else. After a few uses of this strategy, the kids start using the same language to assess themselves. Win!

As with all formative assessments, the key is to use the "data" to make instructional decisions. When my training session consists of participants who rate themselves as 4-5 with technology, I can move a little more quickly with the tech. The session attendees are more likely to click and experiment with the tools with very little prompting.

First-to-five is a quick win because it requires no prep, it can be used at any time, it's low risk, and it provides me with good information.

Google Docs Quick Create

This Chrome Extension allows you to create a new Google Doc, Sheet, Presentation, Drawing, or Form with a single click. I don't need to go to my Drive or type anything in the Omnibox...simply click and start a new document. One click is definitely a quick win!

WebCam Record

Alice Keeler shares a lot of information about the importance of immediate, specific feedback. She created this Chrome Extension for video feedback, and her tools are so efficient! Click the extension, click start, and the video immediately begins recording. You may record up to 90-seconds. Once you stop recording, the video saves in a folder in your Google Drive, and the video's shortened URL is automatically copied to your clipboard. Here's my sample video, and here are Alice's posts and suggestions about using her Webcam Record Chrome Extension. One-click + an efficient feedback tool = quick win! 


If you need longer videos, check out Loom. There are a lot of screencasting tools available, but this (new-to-me) Chrome Extension takes one click to start and stop, requires very little set-up, and includes these extra features:
  • You can add timestamps.
  • There is a text box underneath your video.
  • You can add comments that are time stamped.
  • You can set permissions for viewing the video (with a password or with a link).
  • You can choose where to position your webcam "circle," the size of the video-cam, or to have no video at all!
I used Loom for this quick screencast about another tool, but if you watch on Loom (click the icon in the upper right corner) you can see the video, comments, and text box.


Last year's tool with the most buzz was Flipgrid. With their amount of social media interactions and responses to this product, the company built an enthusiastic community of educators. There are now more features and options for set-up, but Flipgrid is definitely a quick win because it is so easy for the user; click the green button and start recording! Flipgrid has a large number of possibilities for classroom and school use, such as introductions, reflections, and formative assessments. A colleague has used Flipgrid with the littles (PK-K students) and I ask even the most tech-timid to try Flipgrid...and all groups experience success with this tool.

Time is a precious resource for educators, so I'm always eager to share ways we can save even a few seconds. When a simple strategy or tool provides a lot of bang for your buck, it definitely needs to be shared! What are your favorite quick-wins?

Always learning...

Podcast Love

I'm kind of a podcast rookie (I missed the whole Serial excitement) but now that my work often includes quality time in my car, listening may be one of my favorite ways to learn. I recently noticed how often "I heard in a podcast..." creeps into my conversations!

I used to watch the news before work, but now I keep a podcast playing during my morning routines. I know listening and learning is a much more positive way to begin the day! At home, I sometimes use a small Bluetooth speaker that connects to my phone; otherwise, I prop up my phone in the kitchen window and listen while preparing meals or doing chores.

I subscribe to a lot of podcasts, and I keep others in my feed in case I run out of content. My rule is to stop listening if I'm not enjoying the episode. (I often feel like I have to finish that book, but it's easy for me to delete a podcast that I'm not enjoying!)

My favorite, non-educator specific podcasts:

  • For positivity and self-improvement, my top choice is Happier by Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen and her sister Liz Craft co-host this podcast, and I love their conversations, the podcast structure, their rapport, and even their word choices! (You can tell they're both writers!) The length of time is perfect for me (30 - 45 minutes) and I know I can finish an episode before I leave for work. It makes me happier to wake up on Wednesday mornings and anticipate a new episode! And understanding Gretchen's Four Tendencies framework is so useful for working with students and colleagues.
  • Gayle Allen's interviews on Curious Minds are thought-provoking and interesting. I want to know more, read the author's works, and keep learning! I realize I'm already biased because I'm such a fan of Dr. Allen's book, The New Pillars of Modern Teaching (see my post about it) but she is an incredible interviewer, and she is so knowledgeable about her subject's work; you can tell all parties enjoy the conversations.
  • Note to Self, "the tech show about being human," is relevant to my job, since I'm a Digital Learning Consultant, but the host Manoush Zomorodi provides us with information and ideas to help us control our technology, rather than the other way around. She creates one big listener challenge a year and follows up with research, solutions, and predictions. The results from her Bored and Brilliant project even became a TED talk and a book!
  • One of the reasons that I enjoy Pop Culture Happy Hour is that it is pure brain candy. The roundtable discussions are lively, fun, and interesting, and I hear a lot of fantastic book, TV, and movie recommendations...but I doubt I'll use this information during one of my PD sessions. 
For educator specific, my go-to's are these very popular podcasts: Cult of Pedagogy, Google Teacher Tribe, and 10-Minute Teacher with Vicki Davis. I also can't leave out my team's podcast, Digital Learning Radio! (Check out this episode where we interview Gayle Allen.)

For those who don't (YET) listen to podcasts, this video with Ira Glass and his friend Mary is priceless! They share and show how to listen to a podcast:

Of course, This American Life is the premier podcast, and I bet many podcast hosts secretly aspire to be like Ira. :)

For listening, I use the Overcast app, and I like how easy it is to share an episode at a particular minute.

I know audio isn't for everyone, but I find that podcasts meet my learning preferences and they're easy to share. For my professional learning sessions, I try to play at least a minute or two of audio, and I now add podcasts (or particular episodes) to my resource pages.

I'm always on the lookout for recommendations, so what are your favorite podcasts? Do you use podcasts for learning?