Thursday, November 19, 2015

5 Reasons Why You Need To Be Using Pear Deck

As a Social Studies teacher, I consistently struggle with how to make my content exciting during those direct instruction days that seem to drag on. My first encounter with Pear Deck was at the EdTechNJ conference last year after a long day of various ‘sit and get’ style sessions. I loved the opportunity to participate and make my learning a truly fun and interactive experience. When I introduced my students to PearDeck, they had the exact same reactions!

What is Pear Deck?
Pear Deck is a GAFE integrated formative assessment tool that combines a presentation (Slides, PDF or PowerPoint) with various styles of assessment questions - Multiple choice, text, or really awesome and creative options to drag a bullet or icon to choose an answer.

The platform requires a 1:1 or BYOD environment and while most of my students have smartphones, they opted to use either an iPad or Chromebook for the larger screen. Students can either go to and type in a five letter code (which Pear Deck helps you to remember with a hilarious and adorable phrase) or you can invite students directly from Google Classroom. After students log in, that’s when the fun begins! *Note: Pear Deck was kind enough to give me a Premium account for one year, so all experiences are based on my useage of the paid version. However, I absolutely plan on purchasing the Premium version on my own after the year is up!

5 Reasons Why You Need To Be Using Pear Deck
  1. Seamless integration with GAFE tools. This is a huge time saver that makes using Pear Deck quick, efficient, and easy from login to completion of each session. One of the most awesome features is the capability to share the results of each student’s progress with them individually via the ‘Share To Classroom’ extension.  
  2. Student voice. Many of my Special Ed students are hesitant to participate in class whether due to anxiety, lack of confidence/motivation, or other reasons. Pear Deck gives even the quietest student a voice and holds them accountable for their learning. Furthermore, students take pride in seeing their answers displayed on the projector - A definite win for everyone! Aside from the fact that all answers are displayed anonymously, you have the option to choose which specific student responses are shown.
  3. Instant data. Built in opportunities for flexibility, adaptability and scaffolding using the ‘Ask A Quick Question?’ feature are huge for gathering authentic and real-time data about student understanding - and for all students, not just the ones that volunteer and raise their hand. Teachers also have the ability to lock the student’s Pear Deck screen (you’ll almost always hear a ‘Nooooo! Come on!’ at that point because they <i>love</i> playing with the different pointers and bullet marks) to maintain focus and bring the attention back to the lesson.
  4. Gamification. Competition breeds excitement. Any day when there is that tangible buzz in class is a great day, which is exactly what happens on Pear Deck days! Even though there aren’t prizes, students love being able to interact with the information being presented in an active way that feels competitive, collaborative and fun.
  5. Increased motivation and engagement. By the end of the period students are always begging me to use Pear Deck with every presentation that we do. They loved the interactive nature of the lessons and I never have behavior issues on Pear Deck days. I find that Pear Deck enhances student focused and most certainly energizes my students, just adding to the least of reasons why it is such a valuable tool!

Before using Pear Deck, I joined a free Webinar that they offered. It was a useful experience to learn the ins and outs of using and creating my own presentations, which is super easy to navigate. Overall, I think that Pear Deck is a tool that all teachers should consider using with their lessons! Here’s what my students thought of it (Ignore grammar/spelling mistakes - I was just excited that they were Tweeting!)


Saturday, November 7, 2015

I wrote an eBook?!

I am so thrilled to announce that my Imagine Easy series of 1:1 Chromebook Journey diary entries on the Imagine Easy blog have been published and turned into a free eBook! Click the link for the final part of my Chromebook journey thus far. Please check it out and give me your feedback. I would love to hear from those of you who are also in 1:1 classrooms, and even those of you who aren't yet but have ideas about what to do when you get there. Thank you so much for reading and giving me some awesome feedback so far. I can't wait to connect with more of you!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

5 Reasons Why: You Need to Attend a CoffeeEDU

Welcome to the beginning of the '5 Reasons Why...' series in which I will share experiences, tools, or strategies that I've enjoyed lately. The very first part of this series is about CoffeeEDU, a movement started by Alice Keeler. CoffeeEDU is an opportunity for educators to create and expand their PLN face to face over a delicious coffee beverage. It’s about conversation, connecting, and bonding over common interests. This is in contrast to the formal setting of education conferences in which the focus is often on promotion and formal conversations or presentations. CoffeeEDUs are often partly funded by the fabulous crew at Remind and they occur on a regular basis worldwide. Today’s CoffeeEDU in North Jersey was the second one I have ever attended and it was truly a fabulous experience! Here are 5 reasons why you need to give a CoffeeEDU a try:

  1. Casual setting. The cozy and laid back atmosphere of a coffee house is the perfect intimate forum for informal conversation. It lends itself to connecting with new and old friends, especially on Sundays as we relax and recharge before another week of work.
  2. Informal, unplanned conversation. I love the idea of going into a CoffeeEDU and not knowing where the conversation will end up. In my experience conversation has shifted from our major edu-wins in our classes or jobs, to job opportunities, to struggles in which participants saught out advice, to the latest EdTech trends. Today, we started with introductions and then our crowd of 15 broke off into various smaller side conversations that everyone jumped in and out of with ease.
  1. Connect with local educators face to face. Teaching can be an isolating profession. We spend the day in our classrooms but often don’t have the opportunity to connect, reflect, or exchange ideas with one another beyond faculty meetings or our lunch period. Moreover, as a passionate EdTech integrator in a school/district that is fearful of change, it is liberating and validating to be surrounded by fellow forward thinking individuals that share my vision and passion.
  2. Learn about something new. At today’s CoffeeEDU the fabulous Maker Space Queen, Meredith Martin, showed off the 3D CreoPop pen which uses a heatless UV light to create 3D objects. Check out her awesome demo on Periscope!
  3. Tribe of weirdos. There is no better feeling than connecting with a diverse group of people that share the same talents and interests as you. Attendees of CoffeeEDU are passionate about education and creating proactive positive change in the education world. I left today feeling energized and excited to share my experience with my broader PLN and I can't wait to connect again with many of today's CoffeeEDU attendees at EdCampNJ!

I want you to have the same amazing experience that I did! Looking for a CoffeeEDU near you? Jump on Twitter and use the #CoffeeEDU hashtag to connect with like-minded educators that also want to connect!  I'd love to hear your CoffeeEDU stories and experiences - Share with me on Twitter or in the comments below.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

My 1:1 Chromebook Journey Part 2: Device Management + Establishing Routine

The second part of my Chromebook Journey diary is finally out! I am super excited to have been fortunate enough to be featured a second time around by the wonderful folks over at Imagine Easy. Don't forget to share your 1:1 tips and experiences via comments and Twitter - I would love to connect with anyone that can offer advice and words of wisdom on best practices for the 1:1 classroom. Stay tuned for the third and final installment soon!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Character Is Who You Are When Nobody Is Watching

Creating positive classroom climate and culture are imperative to a successful school year. I touched on this in my last post, but we're digging deep today. It is easy to lose sight of the importance of climate and culture because of pressures to push out content. Today, I created an opportunity to focus on reminding my students of the importance of learning more than just how to ace an exam or write an ‘A’ paper - Today we focused on being good people.

Yesterday my classes visited the 9/11 Never Forget exhibit that came to our school for the day. It was an experiential learning opportunity in which FDNY and NYPD officers involved in 9/11 gave tours of the traveling exhibit which contains images, videos and information recounting the events of 9/11. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be there with one of my classes but my wonderful teaching assistant was. After class I received this unsettling e-mail from her:  

save image

Let’s be real: It isn’t an uncommon occurrence for students to act out when a teacher is absent. But after reading that e-mail I felt disappointed and upset in their lack of respect for the adults they interacted with and for one another.

I went to sleep and woke up with this on my mind. I knew I wanted to approach it in a positive and productive way because that is the classroom environment I strive to create. I can’t stress enough how important it is to me to turn negatives into positives. Here’s why: Many of my Special Education students feel that the deck is stacked against them. They have internalized the effects of past teachers giving up on them and have been discouraged because of it. I want to make it clear to my students that I am not those teachers and I will not give up on them.

Fast forward to today. Immediately upon walking into class students saw this quote illuminated from the SMART Board screen:


I asked them to take out a Post-It and reflect on the quote, explain what it means to you and share an example of a time when you exhibited ‘good’ character and ‘bad’ character. I didn’t ask students to share answers like I normally would due to time constraints and circumstance, but I did collect all of their Post-Its and we had a short discussion. I asked, “Does anyone know why I have this particular quote on the board?” at which point some sheepish heads were lowered, some students stared at me in confusion, and one very brave student raised his hand and responded exactly the way I was hoping someone would.

“Is it because of the way that we behaved when you were absent yesterday and how some of us didn’t treat each other or the people running the exhibit with respect?”

That was exactly why. Word for word. Alas, the student that answered is (of course) a mature, honest, do-gooder who thrives on classroom participation and had absolutely no involvement of the missteps of the previous day’s events. But still, it spoke volumes to me that even a well behaved, innocent peer of the misbehaving students picked up on their disrespectful behavior.

I went on to discuss my expectations of their behavior, both when I am present and absent, and the importance of respect. I explained that their behavior is not only a reflection of themselves but also of me. I made it very clear that despite us only knowing each other for one month I have high hopes that each of them will leave my classroom as good people - Not only at the end of the year but today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. I challenged them to prove on a daily basis that they are the kind, thoughtful, positive contributors to their community that I know they are capable of being.

At that point in my soapbox speech, I wondered to myself whether or not other teachers make it clear that they truly believe in their students. Do you talk to your students about not only doing well in class but, more importantly, what you expect from them beyond the walls of your classroom? I firmly believe that every single teacher needs to explicitly do this. Before moving on to our next activity, I reminded them that what they put out into the world comes back and reiterated the importance of respect and teamwork.

Tomorrow, to start class off on a lighter note but still reminding them of our discussion from the day before, I am going to show a clip from my all-time favorite TV show - Friday Night Lights.   

save image

I never really know if what I say ‘sticks’ with my students, but based on the responses I got on some of the Post-Its, today’s mindfulness and self-awareness exercise served as a therapeutic and reflective exercise for all students and I’m counting that as a win. Or at the very least, a positive step in the right direction towards creating the kind of climate and culture I’m hoping for. Until next time: Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!  


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Takeaways from #NJPAECET2 Conference

This past weekend I had the fortune of attending the NJPAECET2 conference (AKA alphabet conference via the #EdJusticeLeague). One of the best parts of the weekend was that the awesome #NJPAECET2 steering committee arranged for food and lodging for the weekend, which allowed participants to truly become immersed in being vulnerable, building face to face connections and growing our PLN. While I would love to share each conversation, experience and session, I’m going to focus on my major takeaways from an inspirational weekend of learning, growing, connecting and fun!

“Is this what wakes you up in the morning and keeps you up at night? It should be because when you’re a teacher every day is game day!”
I wanted to fist pump a rowdy “HELL YES!” in the middle of Principal Kafele’s keynote address when he said those words. He used an analogy where he compared teaching and learning to preparing for a football game. You’ve gotta watch the films to get ready for game day. Then, after the game, you assess, reflect, and make adjustments to improve. His words of wisdom served as a valuable reminder to foster and nourish trust, respect, and a positive rapport with each and every student that walks through the doors of my classroom. This was a common theme throughout my weekend.

Principal Kafele also asked us if we were fired up about every child that walks through our door and followed his question up by challenging us to make those students truly feel our passion. I think I did a pretty good job of making my students feel valued during the first week of school by asking relevant and personal questions on a ‘Getting To Know You’ survey (adapted from my best friend Mr. Schoenbart.) I always look for opportunities within my lessons to embed that knowledge and bond with each of my students. It is those personal connections and small touches that give students a feeling of being supported and trusted as they fail forward, take risks, and grow.

Cory Radisch also talked about personal connections in his session, “Creating A Community of Learners with Respect, Routine & Hope.” His words will stay with me for the rest of my teaching career - ‘You’ve gotta reach ‘em before you can teach ‘em.’ We sometimes forget that the children in our classrooms are more than a mere name on a roster or a body in a chair - Our kids are individuals with aspirations and fears. They are motivated by success and love. Cory’s message also reminded me of my favorite TedTalk (Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’). Our students don’t buy into what we teach them but why we do it. Make sure your students know they are supported and loved - Make your passion tangible!

Grappling with things that itch, allowing people to get lost, & answering questions then questioning answers.
When I go to conferences I always try to attend a session that is completely out of my comfort zone. Dave Culberhouse’s session on “Transforming Leadership & Designing Systems of Change” was it for me. His words, videos, and book suggestions (find all 9 million of them in this collaborative conference notes Doc) inspired me to take action on my goal of becoming a more active and involved leader, both in and out of my school. I desperately want the opportunity to ask and grapple with the tough questions.

Speaking of things that itch, there was a lot of talk about equality and bridging divides, both gender and digital. Joyce Valenza spoke about the role of women in #edtech and education. She showed Amy Schumer’s ‘I’m Sorry,’ which was an incredibly powerful moment for myself and many of the strong, intelligent women in the audience.

Then, my brilliant and passionate friend Talia Arbit (who created the greatest quiz of all time) led a fun, interactive discussion session on bridging the digital divide which further reinforced my passions about actively leading and making change.

That time we hung out with Jonathan Rochelle.
This was almost as cool as if I were to have met Taylor Swift - almost. Jonathan was doing a demo on Google Expeditions and we discussed my experience piloting Expeditions in my class last year. I loved seeing the excitement as session participants experienced Expeditions for the very first time! It reminded me of when my own class tried it last year and how seeing their faces light up truly was one of the best days of my teaching career. During the awesome #CoffeeEDU afterward Jonathan even offered to share the #EdTechCalNYNJ on his site and to bring a 3D printed #CoffeeEdu cup to a local #CoffeeEdu! I’d definitely call my @jrochelle experience my major #eduwin of the weekend!  

What did you learn that you can use on Monday?
I try to leave every conference with a Back to School Takeaway - something that I can use and incorporate into my teaching immediately. Yesterday, I showed some of my female students a portion of the Amy Schumer video and we had a discussion about empowerment. Later this week I am going to use with my students, which the awesome Justin Schleider showed us during his fun and engaging session on SAMR as PD. Best of all, I taught my husband (he teaches Physical Education and Health) about Justin’s brain break activity of kinesthetic Rock, Paper, Scissor and his students loved it!   

The big takeaway: My tribe.

There was a tangible buzz of excitement and passion for connectivity and everything #edtech throughout the entire weekend. I am going to continue riding this high as I bring a fresh perspective and innovative ideas to my district. While the learning was amazing, the people are what really makes a conference. The nominated attendees and conference presenters at #NJPAECET2 were top notch. Each person I spoke to was kinder and more passionate than the last. There truly was an unmatched vibe of teamwork and camaraderie at this conference that I have never experienced before. I cannot express how thankful I am to the steering committee of the #NJPAECET2 conference for putting together an incredible weekend. I look forward to hopefully being able to present at next year's conference, as this was one of my favorite conferences to date. I truly feel blessed to have such a wonderful tribe of weirdos to call my friends and #PLN!


Friday, September 18, 2015

My 1:1 Chromebook Journey Part 1: Struggles and Successes with Setup + First Projects

Over the past few months I have had the great fortune of meeting and collaborating with many wonderful #edtech companies. When my friend Emily Gover (@edtechjam) at Imagine Easy (ever heard of EasyBib? Yup, that’s them!) reached out to me about writing a guest blog post I was absolutely ecstatic! On Wednesday my post was published and I am thrilled to be able to share my 1:1 Chromebook adventures with my fellow educators. There will be three installments of my Chromebook journey, so stay tuned for more from Room 309 and the inner workings of Mrs. Kennis’s head!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Time For A Divorce: 5 Tips for Successful Co-Teaching


I just got married and I’m already talking divorce?! Co-teaching divorce, that is. It is never easy to admit failure, especially after putting in significant effort to make something work. I can’t really say whether co-teaching is like a marriage, as I’ve only been married for 53 wonderful, beautiful days (which explains my very long absence from the beloved - previously PancakePD - blog!), but I want to start the 2015 blogging school year with a major edu-win by sharing my co-teaching story and five tips for creating a successful co-teaching environment.  

Over the past six years, I have been the Special Education teacher in two failed co-taught 9th grade Social Studies classes. Despite the multitude of co-teaching ‘how to’ courses in my undergraduate (GO HOOSIERS!) and graduate schooling, as well as numerous in-service workshops, I continually felt as though my skills and knowledge were underutilized and that my role had become more of a glorified Teaching Assistant than a true co-teacher. While a lack of common planning time certainly made things difficult, my co-teachers and I differed in our teaching philosophies and classroom management approaches. I felt stifled because I desperately wanted to contribute strategies and ideas that I felt would benefit the variety of student needs in the classroom.

Now for the edu-win…
At the end of last year, I approached my supervisors about wanting to be in co-teaching environments with opportunities to take on a more proactive and involved role. Luckily, my bravery paid off! This year I have been placed in two new co-taught classes with new co-teachers. I feel extremely lucky because these new teachers, Brian and Danielle, happen to be two of my closest friends and biggest role models - both of which have contributed to success thus far. After only two weeks of school I already feel a renewed sense of enthusiasm towards co-teaching and have been more productive and involved than years prior.  

Why It Works: Tips for Successful Co-Teaching...
  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate! My first few years of co-teaching were also my very first years of teaching in general. I was overwhelmed and unsure of my style or voice as a brand new teacher. I felt anxious and intimidated to approach the regular education teachers about ideas and changes I wanted to implement. This year before school began I sat down with each of my co-teachers and we discussed our clear-cut visions for the school year. We made sure to discuss policies on bathroom use, homework, grading, cell phone and technology use in order to show students that we are truly a team with a common vision and shared classroom management strategies.

  1. Make Time: Delegate a time each week specifically for planning with your co-teacher(s). Decide what topics you will each be teaching and exactly how you will be doing it. Whether before or after school, during lunch, or even on Google Hangout or text message if you are strapped for time, this is a key element to incorporating each teacher’s voice, goals, values and visions into the collaborative teaching environment.

  1. Reflect: After each day or lesson, take time to consider what went well and what needs improvement. Teaching is typically a solo trade, however, co-teaching allows the opportunity for collaboration that we so often crave. This is a great time to bounce ideas off of someone and discuss best practices. During these conversations I like to use Evernote to keep track of changes or notes during these conversations so that when I have more time I can go back and address them.
  1. Find a model that works for you: Focus on each teacher’s strengths and figure out the best way to incorporate these assets into your co-taught classroom. For example, I am the technology coach in my school and Brian happens to be excellent at leading lively student-driven discussions. Last week we maximized both of our talents in the classroom to facilitate collaborative student-led group projects using GAFE tools. Similarly, Danielle’s strengths are organization and teaching study skills. She and I have adjusted our lessons to build in time to teach these skills to our students as they work on various assignments.   

  1. Mind your language: ‘We’ and ‘us’ should be an integral part of your vocabulary in a co-taught setting, never ‘I’, ‘me’, or ‘my’. This may seem to be a minute detail but it is crucial to show students that both teachers are equal in their roles as classroom teachers. It truly fosters a sense of collaboration and unity, as I mentioned before. A simple way do this is to make sure that both teacher’s names are on the syllabus or to have both names listed on Google Classroom.  

As far as I can tell, there are many parallels between nurturing a relationship with a co-teacher and a spouse. I absolutely adore my husband and feel thankful for the strong bond that we have built over many years. Our bond, much like that between my co-teachers and myself, have been built on a solid foundation of friendship, respect, and continued communication. The same applies to building a lasting and successful co-teaching situation. I look forward to further reflecting on my co-teaching experience as the year goes on. Please feel free to share your tips and stories on successful co-teaching situations you have been in!    

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"What Stuck With You Today?" - The upscale exit ticket.

Let me first start by expressing how incredibly excited I am to be writing this post. It is by far my most asked about, most retweeted and favorited tweet. I have to brag for a minute and say that Erin Klien (@klienerin) even featured my "What Stuck With You?" in The Tweeted Times, an awesome day for me in which I basked in the glory of 5 minutes of Twitter fame! Anyhow, I truly hope that this post inspires at least one of you out there to try this or some iteration of it.

Reflection is a key piece of any lesson. Too often teachers rush through material in hopes of meeting a content deadline without pausing for a breath or taking a moment to consider student understanding of material. In room 309 our class either begins (after students have done a flipped lesson) or ends (on days when class is mostly direct instruction focused) with a "What Stuck With You?"

I saw a few elementary school versions of this on, a goldmine of resources for teachers for those of you who have yet to discover it, and decided to tailor it to my classroom needs. Many high school classrooms lack color and pizazz, (among other things; cue adding 'Creative Learning Spaces' to my list of future blog posts regarding things I hope to someday accomplish in my classroom) which is part of the reason why I love our "What Stuck With You" wall. Every student, teacher, and administrator that walks into my classroom is immediately drawn to our colorful archive of knowledge and progress.  

Since the first week of school "What Stuck" has become an established routine in which students take out a Post It (included on their supply list at the beginning of the year) and write down their big takeaway from the day's lesson. This offers students the time to purposefully reflect on what pieces of the lesson they understood and what they might need clarification on. After students have completed their "What Stuck," I have them share aloud with each other and me before sticking the Post It on the board. The nature of this transparent reflection and kinesthetic learning experience has proven to be engaging and motivating for even the most reluctant of my special education students. 

As the year comes to a close I plan on using the Post Its to conduct a review game that will be similar to Jeopardy in which students will pluck a Post It from the board, give the 'answer' and then their classmates will create a question to go with it. In the spirit of reflection I find myself using the "Start, Stop, Continue" feedback model when assessing my approach to next year. "What Stuck" definitely falls under the 'continue' category. I hope that for many of you it'll be a 'start'! I would love to help or offer any advice for anyone interested in creating an iteration of this, so feel free to reach out to me to share ideas or questions.

Monday, May 11, 2015


This past Saturday I had the opportunity to be the moderator for my best friend, Adam Schoenbart, while he presented for #GoogleEduOnAir (a free online professional development conference for educators) about Using Google+ to develop stronger classroom community and enhance student learning. In the past, I have done a few Google Hangout sessions which I've always thought were awesome, but the experience of partaking in this worldwide conference was powerful and transformative

As of right now our session has gotten over 500 views, which is absolutely mind-blowing to me. The influence and connectivity I felt as a result of presenting to such a large audience reinforced the importance of instilling that same empowering, giddy, and excited feeling in my students. Moving forward, my goal is to continue offering them opportunities to create and share with authentic audiences that extend beyond the walls of our classroom.

The next astonishing thing to me was the ever-present awe I feel at being in a profession with like-minded people that enthusiastically give up their free time in order to spend more time perfecting their craft. #GoogleEduOnAir brought that admiration to a whole new level. It truly made me realize how lucky I am to be in a profession with people that proudly wake up at 5:29AM to partake in daily Twitter chats (#BFC53), or give up weekends to attend EdCamps and similar professional development conferences.  I believe it is a rarity for anyone to love their profession that deeply and be so devoted to their career. The opportunity to interact with so many equally passionate and curious educators gives me a deep sense joy and a wave of passion for my profession and continued use of #edtech. 

My biggest takeaway and the absolute best part of this experience for me was being able to continue conversations on Twitter after the session was over. I talked to people with similar policies and legal limitations in their district regarding Google Plus and it was nice to know that we are all in the same boat of desperately wanting progress while simultaneously feeling a little bit stuck. There will likely be a future blog post dedicated solely to this topic, as it has been a hot issue lately among many people in my PLN.

While I don't think that conferences like #GoogleEduOnAir replace the value of face to face interaction (especially after the Ednado conference I went to back in April and the opportunities for connectivity that it led to - hey #EdJusticeLeague!), the convenience and ease of an online conference is an exceptional and productive alternative. I absolutely love the idea of FREE virtual professional development opportunities that connect global educators at whatever time and place is convenient for each of us. Plus, any learning that can take place from the comfort of my couch while I am in PJ pants and eating pancakes is always a major win!