Sunday, March 30, 2014

Are You Engaging or Disengaging Your Students?

When you teach your students, do you find that they are engaged or disengaged in your lesson content? Does it depend on who the students are?  Does it depend on the subject or skills you are teaching?  No matter how boring or complicated the lesson content is, you have the power to engage your students.  Not only will engaging your students help in earning their respect, but it will also lead to them being successful, independent learners.  Before we discuss ways to engage our students, we need to understand exactly what engagement is.  When our students are present in our classrooms during our lessons, they have two options: they can either engage themselves or disengage themselves in the lesson content.  Engagement refers to the students participating in the lesson because they want to.  When students are disengaged, the learning process is merely work; they work because they have to.  Here are some tips that I have found to be very useful to keep my students engaged in the lesson content.

Make the lesson content meaningful and relevant to the students.  Our students will not merely accept that the content that is being taught is of value to them.  On the contrary, in order for them to engage in the lesson content, they need to understand that what is being taught will be useful to them in the future. It is important to include real world applications.

Foster creativity skills.  There is a much greater chance that your students will be engaged in your lessons if you afford your students opportunities to be creative.  When students are creative, they are using their psychological and emotional abilities.  There is no right or wrong answer.  This instills within them a sense of purpose and confidence.  When students are confident of their abilities, they are more likely to engage in the content and succeed.

Lesson content should be exciting.  Your lesson content should engage your students.  If you are excited when you develop your lesson content, then most likely your students will be excited and enthusiastic when learning it.  They will be engaged to learn it and it will not be a chore.  Learning should be fun; we want our students to enjoy their learning.

Develop lesson content that is interactive.  It is important that your students are able to interact with the lesson content - whether you use technology or not.  Providing an interactive, multi-sensory approach to learning is going to afford your students multiple opportunities to interact with lesson content.  The more students interact with lesson content, the greater chance that they will be engaged and will retain the material being taught.

Develop lessons that include authentic learning.  Including authentic learning methods such as project based learning, affords your students multiple opportunities to become immersed in the lesson content.  Through project based learning, students take ownership of their learning and conduct research.  At the same time, their learning is enhanced and they are highly engaged.

I have found the above five tips to creating engaging lessons to be very beneficial in my classroom.  Although I taught lower elementary students, when it comes to engaging your students, age does not matter.  Whether you are teaching preschool, elementary, middle school, high school students or beyond, engaging your students is the key to not only their success, but to your success as an educator as well.

This post was written for a competition held by The Bloggers Lounge and World Class Teachers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My SMART Breakthrough Moment - A Video

SMART SEE Summit Video Application 1 from Rebecca Penina Simon on Vimeo.

Learn how SMART Technologies has changed the way I teach.

"It's not about the's about the pedagogy these new technologies facilitate," Kirsti Lonka.

To watch my video, enter the following password: seesummit

Monday, March 17, 2014

Teaching the SMART Way - The Secret to My Success

In October 2012, I came across the blog post entitled "20/20 Technology Vision" (
written by Nicholas Provenzano. (You can find him on Twitter at In a nutshell, this blog changed my life for the better.

Reading this blog post, I came to realize that having a proper technology vision is crucial to succeed in the classroom. A classroom can have all of the technology in the world, but without a proper vision and plan for technology integration, it’s just not going to enhance the students’ level of learning. After reading Nicholas Provenzano’s blog post, I started questioning my own vision and realized that I did not have one. I made it a point to develop my own plan for technology integration. Soon after becoming a SMART Certified Trainer in Notebook and Response and a SMART Exemplary Educator, I took courses from SMART Technologies to become a SMART Certified Lesson Developer. I learned about the TPACK model and creating a balance between content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology in order to support my students’ learning. Not only was I now well versed in SMART Notebook Tools, but I was able to use them effectively as I focused on my learning objectives. SMART Technologies has made a world of a difference in my teaching career and professional growth.

To further my professional growth, I reached out to my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and took additional courses from Teq ( on technology integration in education. I wanted to be the best teacher that I could be; one who is always continuing to learn and grow in order to best support my students’ learning. Since I am very tech savvy, I used SMART Technologies products to reach my academic objectives and goals. I have used other educational technology products in my classes, but SMART most definitely takes the cake. Between SMART’s product durability, ease of use, and their level of technical support, they have supported me through each and every step. I probably called SMART Technologies so many times over the years that I should have my very own VIP line.

When developing my lessons, I focused on the skills that I learned from the TPACK and SAMR models of technology integration. I then revamped my entire year of lessons in order to teach in ways that were engaging, interactive, and also challenged my students to think critically. I also used methods of instruction such as the concept discovery method of learning so that my students could become independent learners. I can proudly say that my lessons went from the substitution level of the SAMR model to the highest level of SAMR which is redefinition. This means that the SMART Notebook lesson activities that I created could not have been implemented without technology. In addition, I empowered my students by providing them with lesson activities through which they had opportunities to discover their learning. I acted as a facilitator in my classroom, acting as the “guide on the side,” and not as the “sage on the stage,” which I used to do previously. Not only was this an amazing feeling for me, but it also instilled so much confidence within my own students.

I also made a point to include a multi-sensory approach to learning, as I taught students who learned in different ways. I then created a “Flipped Classroom Model” of learning by sharing my lessons via Google Drive with parents of students who needed extra support. This was an amazing experience. Although I had a limited amount of SMART products in my classroom, I did my best to inspire collaboration among my students. I can honestly say that my hard work has paid off. But it didn’t end there…...I continued to innovate with my class. As the unofficial education technology teacher leader in my school, I became a resource to those teachers in my school, community, and even across the world. I then realized that I was ready to move on to a position through which I would be able to have a greater impact on student learning by coaching teachers on proper educational technology integration. When searching for a job, I knew that I would be only working in a school that used SMART Technologies to support student learning. SMART Technologies products have enabled me to redefine my instruction and become a much better teacher; there wasn’t any way I was going to give up all that I had worked so hard for.

At ISTE 2013 in San Antonio, I had the pleasure of meeting Nicholas Provenzano in person. I told him how much his blog post “20/20 Technology Vision” inspired me to create my own technology vision, which led to even more professional growth. I gave Nicholas a big hug and I said to him, “You saved my life!”

Teach Your Students Technology Skills and They'll Learn Much More

Our children spend much of their days in school and we hope that they are receiving a high quality education.  Gaining proficiency in reading, math, science and social studies are all important to a child's academic growth,  but that's not all.  Equal in importance - or even more so, is the social and emotional development of our children.  Teaching critical thinking skills, the ability to adapt, to be creative, and such character traits as honesty are not found in any textbook that I have ever seen. So, how do we instill these abilities within our children?  By teaching them technology skills and enabling them to integrate technology into their education.  How is that possible?  Let's go through this one step at a time.

Honesty simply means the ability to tell the truth.  But if we dig deeper than that, it also entails that one can decipher between what is morally right and wrong.  Through teaching our students Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship skills, they will know how to use the Internet in a productive manner. This is imperative nowadays as we are constantly surrounded by technology.    There is nothing better than having a face to face conversation with a friend; yet as we are bombarded by e-mails, texts, instant messaging, blogs, social media and the like, we need to understand that it's just not the same.  Therefore, we need to know how to conduct ourselves in a responsible appropriate manner when communicating with others online.  In addition, through learning Digital Literacy skills, students will be able to "read a news article and determine if there is bias and if it’s truthful. They then need to learn how to read the comment sections of online news articles and respond appropriately with a well thought-out comment.” —Sandy Harty, Salt Lake City.  There are many who state that "blogging is the new persuasive essay."  Our students need to understand that just because it's found online, it doesn't mean that it's true.  They need to be able to judge the quality and hidden influences of content that they encounter in the online world.

Critical thinking skills.  As much as we associate these skills with academia in the classroom, it doesn't end there.  Our students need critical thinking skills in their daily lives.  Not everything is black and white - there are many shades of gray.  As much as technology is immersed in our everyday lives, our students need to learn how to use it responsibly "from not texting while driving … to understanding the difference between face time and screen time … to employing sound thinking and decision making in each tech area and with each decision. You might find a wife, job, or car on Google, but you still have to nurture the relationship, show up with clean pants, and put oil in the thing; the skill, the tool, the ‘app’  aren’t the final destination.” —Ed McManis, head of school, Sterne School, San Francisco, Calif.

“It is using technology in the questioning of what is known and unknown; developing new facts or theories from what is known; questioning assumptions and fact with new knowledge and facts. These are the skills needed, not an office suite or set of things.” —Dr. Neil Schaal, director of grants management, EAGLE-Net Alliance.

“The most important technology skill that students need to learn in the 21st century is learning how to learn. When students are equipped with this skill, they will know what resources to seek out and what methods to apply to help them gain the knowledge and skills they need.” —Mamzelle Adolphine.

Creativity.  Many of us are well-versed in the theories of left brain vs. right brain psychology.  Unfortunately, I'm not a psychologist so I am not going to take a stance on this issue.  What I can honestly tell you is that there are many students who have a difficult time learning their general curriculum in their classrooms, yet when it comes to the science behind technology, they are the ones who shine.  Some of these students might even be found on the autism spectrum.  We need to teach our students technology skills - not just about hardware and software, but what it takes to make the hardware and software.  This involves learning programming skills.  You never know - you might be teaching some future app developers!

Adaptability.  Many of us take the ability to transition from one situation to the next for granted.  We know many of us also just don't like change.  It forces us to think "outside the box" as it opens up new ideas and  a multi-faceted world of possibilities.  Unfortunately - and maybe even fortunately, depending on how one looks at it, change is unavoidable.  “I believe that having enough resourcefulness, initiative, risk-taking, and creativity to learn and master any technology is necessary, as we actually cannot predict what technology 10 years from now will look like.” —Jane Cacacho

Courage.  “I think a great skill to have is fearlessness: Being able to experiment with a technology or software and not worry if you’re using it ‘correctly.’  It’s important to remember that technology is there to bend to your will, not the other way around. Students are usually great about this, and we as adults need to let them explore their natural tech curiosities and just have fun.” —Anonymous  

With regards to courage, I often find that students are not afraid to experiment with technology and try new things.  Why then is it that many adults (myself included) do not share the same experience?  Unfortunately, I would rather procrastinate and not try to attempt the given task at all than to try and fail.  As adults, we are more resistant to change and to try new things; whereas our students jump at the opportunity to do so.  We need to remind our students and ourselves, that it's ok to fail.  Failure is the first step of learning.  FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.

It is my goal this year to educate my students in technology skills that they will not only use with their devices, but they will use these skills to succeed in life.  

Several quotes from this article were originally featured in an article by eSchool News entitled, "Five technology skills every student should learn," and was published on September 4, 2012.  You can find the original article at the following link:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Designing Effective Digital Lessons

When designing effective digital lessons and content for education, it is definitely more time consuming than people realize.  Not only do educators have to create the  pedagogy and lesson content, but they have to put in additional time and effort in order to make the digital content attractive.  The layout and design of the website is just as important as the course content itself.  The digital lessons need to be easy to navigate for the students.  

Over the past couple of years, I have had plenty of opportunities to design effective digital lessons for my students.  My first opportunity was to participate in a certification program to become a SMART Technologies Certified Lesson Developer.  I took the lessons that I learned and I applied them to the lessons that I was designing for my second grade students.  There were several students in my class who needed additional time to practice and learn the content that I created.   This was the perfect opportunity to implement a Blended/Online Learning experience.   These students could not keep up with the pace of the class as they needed additional reinforcement in order to master the skills of the curriculum.  I therefore used Google Drive in order to share my lessons with parents.  

This year, I am building a Blended/Online Learning course using Moodle as my platform.  Not only does this entail designing effective lessons, but it is also crucial to design a website that is inviting and attractive to my students.  I want my students to feel welcomed in their online learning environment.  When creating digital content, it is important to use text, icons, tabs, and other cues to communicate specific intentions throughout the lessons and the website.  Second, the website and lessons need to be easy to navigate by including recognizable icons, links, and other interactive elements.  Third, it is beneficial to provide a consistent layout from page to page by considering colors, object placement, fonts, and themes.   

In order to ensure that my lessons are easy to navigate, I make sure to keep the following in mind when creating my digital lessons, content, and website.  The online course design is just as important as the course content itself.  Therefore, it is important that the course design supports and enhances the delivery of my course content.  When planning the website page layout, it is important to consider visual esthetics such as emphasis, color, media quality, and visual simplicity.  Using more than three fonts and more objects than necessary on the page is visually distracting as can be using too many colors and icons.  I need to ensure that the size and position of objects is appropriate for student interaction.  I need my students to focus on the content, as opposed to becoming distracted by it.  

"It's not about the's about the pedagogy these new technologies facilitate." 

To sum it up, here are some best practices that I use as a guide when developing digital content.

1) Consider technology as a means to support pedagogy and the curriculum
       When developing my lessons, I planned to integrate technology to support my curriculum content.  I started with the curriculum content and the learning context first, and then I considered how to use technology to help enhance the lesson design and delivery.  

2) Design my lessons for responsive, student-centered delivery
     When designing my lessons, I always kept in mind all of the available tools to help adapt my instruction according to the changing needs of my students.  We all know that no two students are alike; students learn differently and it is up to us to create lessons that will motivate them to become independent learners.  Creating digital lessons opens up many new doors and possibilities; it is a great way to teach using a multi-sensory approach.  When designing my lessons, I would constantly ask myself whether or not my students would enjoy this, would it challenge them, and would it enhance their learning.  Last but not least, it was important that my lessons included opportunities for formative and summative assessment.  

3) Identify my intentions
    I ensured that I provided lesson instructions and cues for myself, substitute teachers, and students.  Being that students will be using the digital content at home, the instructions must be clear and explicit.  Providing a transparent design concept and organizing my lesson also helped me to base the lesson in good pedagogy.  

If I am excited to view and interact with my online course content, then hopefully my students will be just as excited to interact with it.