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This course was a really great look at what inquiry based learning can be like in the classroom. I have an assortment of new ideas and practices that would really be amazing to implement in my classroom, which is especially exciting for me in science and social studies. My school is moving toward implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, so with my curriculum changing, I will have new ideas and and a new outlook when adjusting to new planning and resources.

The underlying idea that inquiry based learning can be carried out by letting students discuss and discover from their own questions is what I really like about it. I mentioned earlier in the course that some of most memorable lessons with my students is when they were able to ask me questions and discuss and discover the answers to things they actually wanted to know. At the end of this past year, several of my students said learning about slavery was the most memorable chapter of the year, and I think it was because I let them lead. They asked questions and did research, and that experience was authentic and memorable for them.

I think that implementing the principles of inquiry based learning into lessons can be a fluid an ongoing practice that will really help my students. I really hope that the ideas from the course will be carried over into a lot of my classroom discussions. The real world/process skills we discussed throughout the course are things that students need to be able to foster and practice with. These are things we often forget students require instruction and practice with while in school. Allowing students to take more ownership of the learning process, and collaborating with my students in order to understand their thoughts and opinions is something I always tried to do. Fortunately, the course has given me some wonderful new insights and ideas that will help me revamp how my students get to lead, ask questions, and discover during the learning process.

Overall, I felt the course was one of the most interesting courses I have taken in the EDIM program, because the use and practice with the Discovery Education techbook, sharing lessons and units, and reviews of Web 2.0 tools, were all useful and memorable things I can actually use in my classroom in the future. I am looking forward to starting the school year off with a few more questions and open discussions than I have in the past!

 

 

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This week was really informative, because I haven’t used a lesson plan format like the BSCS 5E one before. The five category format is really a great way of thinking about the process of an entire lesson, which on any given day of teaching can get altered or blurred together. This was a straightforward way of thinking about the steps of a lesson, and seems like a great guide for inquiry based learning. I think teachers often forget or tend to push through the “exploration” portion of a lesson, due to time constraints, assessments, and other required and necessary parts of a school day. I know I can be guilty of this. Unfortunately, it has become so apparent to me that while we sometimes rush through or don’t allow our students their own time to explore and discover, it is the most important and meaningful part of a lesson to them.

Quite a few things have changed over the past week, because I came up with so many new ideas about transferring the Web 2.0 tools we explored into actual workable lessons and activities in my classroom. Sometimes they seem great in theory, but exploring the websites and reading the ideas and feedback of others really allowed me to see how I could use a variety of these tools with my students. So the “change” that occurred was definitely the chance I got to develop ideas about implementing some of these tools, and how I can use the 5E structure to help guide a very real inquiry based learning lesson.

Last week I mentioned how I was questioning how to fit assessment into this type of learning, and this week answered a lot of those questions. I felt confident about completed projects, presentations, labs, etc. being appropriate summative assessments. Fortunately, this week gave me some great ideas about how formative assessment fits in on a daily basis and within a lesson. Additionally, I have some great ideas about formative assessment Web 2.0 tools that are useful, so combined with traditional conferences, discussions, and observations, I have some great new ideas and understandings about formative assessment fitting into inquiry based learning.

I don’t have many burning questions for next week, but I am looking forward to our sites being finished, and seeing which direction everyone chose to go with their units. I have some great ideas for social studies and science in the upcoming years as we shift to the NGSS.

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The past weeks have been especially helpful in developing my ideas about inquiry because I was able to take the time to really search through the Discovery Education Techbook at better length. By doing this, and looking at real ideas for questions and assignments, it allowed me to better understand exactly what inquiry based learning can look like and sound like across a variety of subject areas and grade levels. The lessons in the techbook really proved to me that planning for inquiry based learning will allow for a balance of student directed inquiry, as well as teacher directed. That standards and objectives can still be met without students inadvertently changing subjects or topics (though that might happen, every once in a while!).

Reading, reviewing, and practicing distinguishing concepts from facts was also a very useful step for me in terms of understanding the process of presenting information to students, as well as asking them questions. Going even deeper, I think it is important for teachers to look ahead and determine which questions they’re asking are investigable, and which are non-investigable. Introductions to material and teacher-guided lessons are going to give the chance for non-investigable questions to be asked, where investigable ones are important questions for students to ask in order for them to research, investigate, and experiment.

Finally, I really appreciated the chance to explore how to incorporate Web 2.0 tools with inquiry based learning. There are so many ways that they can go hand in hand and enhance inquiry based learning. I have used quite a few in my classroom already (partly because of all the things I’ve learned throughout my EDIM process!), so reading the Discovery Education remarks and video about the categories of Web 2.0 tools, was really useful and interesting. The tools sorted into lists helped categorize them in my mind, and shed a little bit of light on how to use them in situations I hadn’t thought of yet.

Some questions in my head that still remain are about assessment. Summative assessment seems relatively straightforward with inquiry based learning, because with Web 2.0 tools and student investigations, there are so many ways to assess a final product. I’d like to break down useful forms of formative assessment and how to use them, because right now I feel like teacher observations and recordings are what I’m thinking, but I’d love to elaborate on this and learn more.

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Over the past two weeks, my thoughts of inquiry have developed quite a bit. My biggest reservations with this type of learning was feeling that planning would be very difficult. As a third grade teacher, rules and routines are important, so letting students take liberty to ask questions and discover can be difficult. What I have learned from our readings and videos the past two weeks though, is that this type of learning isn’t just a student free-for-all. While I knew that in the back of my head it wasn’t, it was still a little intimidating. Now that I have seen how inquiry based learning can take place in so many ways, it seems like planning for different types of inquiry is essential. I loved to learn that teacher-directed, student-teacher shared, and student-directed inquiry are all possible, intertwined, and can work for any lesson type and subject area. So I’d say what really changed for me is the idea that this type of learning can be used immediately and effectively without any planning or daily routine nightmares. I wrote in my previous post that I understand inquiry based learning can be implemented immediately, and can be used with things we already do and use in our classrooms, but the readings and videos really helped put that into perspective.

So for me, what has really changed is just a deeper understanding of types of inquiry and how they actually work in the classroom. Last week’s research also really helped me understand and value process skills needed for our students to be successful in the future. I really noted that these skills need to be taught, and we can’t assume that our kids simply know process skills and can problem solve. Problem solving itself is a skill, and I think teachers forget how essential it is to teach those skills and not assume our kids will just “get it eventually”. With that being said, the ambition of the Framework for 21st Century Learning is both admirable and amazingly useful for all educators as we move forward to prepare our students in this ever-changing and competitive world.

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The readings and discussions this week helped me change my perspective and broaden my knowledge base about inquiry based learning and techniques as a whole. The underlying idea that it can be integrated easily into everyday classroom practices is an important idea I took away from the readings this week. One point that stuck out to me from the Teaching Channel video about inquiry based learned was the idea that it can really work across all grade-levels and skill-levels. One of the educators mentions that there are times where students don’t even talk to each other, or share any ideas with each other. When students can ask questions and share ideas, they learn from each other. In a lecture format, students get little to no time for this.

This week’s readings also helped me understand the process of inquiry based learning is fluid and ongoing. This graphic from the Teach Inquiry website was a great visual for me. I appreciated the “reflect” part of the infographic they  use, because designated time to reflect upon teaching practices can be forgotten as a teacher. Thinking about students or lessons in the car on the way home, or running while running errands is fine–but designated time to reflect, take notes, and adjust teaching practices is really important.

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This week’s readings about what inquiry based learning is and what it’s not also really helped shape my ideas and answer some questions I had about this type of instruction. Topic C’s reading mentioned that if a teacher already identifies students have grasped skills needed to complete a certain assignment, or they have mastered a standard, inquiry based learning isn’t abandoned and learning is complete. It can also be used in order to deeper understanding and enrich student understandings. With that being said, it showed inquiry based learning isn’t just for introducing topics or teaching specific lessons, it can be embedded and differentiated in order to meet a variety of teacher needs.

Teach inquiry. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://teachinquiry.com/about

Genius Hour

Hello, everyone! This week was a great learning experience. I was able to learn about Genius Hour from other teachers who are implementing it in their classrooms, and their ideas made me excited to share it with my students. I’ve also included my curated magazine from Scoop.it. Take a look!


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Curated Magazine on Scoop.it

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Should We Gamify Learning?

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As far as just using educational apps and games in my classroom, I feel like I already have an arsenal of things I use–and I’ve found meaningful ways to integrate online games for a variety of subject areas. I have six laptops in my classroom (plus my own teacher laptop), so my kids have plenty of times to use games for instructional, assessment, and review purposes. Centers have been the most effective way I’ve incorporated educational games in my room due to the fact that I don’t have a class set of computers or tablets. I use a ton of sites, but some of my favorites are Study Ladder, Power My Learning, Raz Kids, and Brain Nook. A lot of free sites don’t provide spectacular graphics and multi-level games, but my relatively easy-going audience of 8 and 9  year olds appreciate games whenever possible.

With all that being said, I thought it might be a better choice for me this week to delve into a topic I was less familiar with, gamification. I read a ton of teacher blogs, went through and reviewed a lot of sites, and read a lot of opinions about gamifying the classroom. What was particularly interesting to me is that this isn’t just happening in K-12 school settings, the idea is spreading around through higher education and the corporate world. There were a ton of great outlines and infographics (and you know I love a good ol’ infograhpic) about gamification, but I found a great one right at the beginning of my research that proved to be a helpful reminder to me about the differences between game based learning, games, and gamification:

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The difference between the three is now very apparent to me, and it made the idea of gamification that much more interesting. I work hard to make learning fun in my classroom. We do project based learning, Fun Friday, Brain gym activites, crafts, centers, online projects and games…the list can go on. Interestingly, I think with some effort (maybe a great deal of effort?), gamification could streamline and provide a way to make learning fun without piecemealing things together. I read through quite a few teacher blogs about gamification and gamifying a classroom, and I read about successes as well as trials and tribulations. One teacher Mr. Gonzalez, seems to have put a lot of time and energy into trying and reviewing gamification in his classroom. He had some great ideas, experiences, and resources on his site that I found interesting. This article also helped me lay out some specific examples of how gamification can be implemented, and it included some problems that might come up. The YouTube interview video posted to this week’s module also gave me some great insight about how teachers actually gamification, like in language class or science class. What I love most about it, is the idea of having students really feel excited and intrinsically motivated to accomplish an academic goal. RPG type games have been favorites of all kinds of people for pretty much all time, so it does seem to make sense to transfer this type of thing to our classrooms. I have never been a gamer, but I can see how important this could be for some types of learners, like my brother. He was a World of Warcraft addict (until his wife made him sell his username!), and I can only imagine the academic benefits that he would have experienced had this been something he experienced in school. I definitely picture this reaching boys…SO WELL. There have been studies (one recently conducted near me by several PhD candidates) that have told us girls often achieve higher GPAs and value academic success more than boys. Maybe something like gamification could really change that. Levels, badges, points, quests, adventures–these are things that appeal to all kinds of learners. The idea really does seem pretty exciting to me.

With all that being said, I discovered there are teachers doing some really REALLY awesome things in the classrooms with gamification. I’m super impressed. The sites I came across that seem user friendly for a beginner might be Classcraft (but I don’t know if this is right for my 3rd graders), ClassDojo, and Rezzly. I thought a list of pros and cons might be a good way for me to review and collect my thoughts about gamification in the classroom:

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The Flip Side

I’ve read a lot about flipping classrooms, and it’s a topic I am very interested in. As one of my individual professional development goals, at the start of last year (2014) I began to create videos and use other videos I found online to send home with students as “homework”. When students would watch the videos, the idea would be that they’d see and internalize the lesson, then come back to me having some sort of background knowledge and preparation for the lesson the next day.

While I thought it was a great idea, there were some parents who weren’t totally thrilled. Some teachers (especially those in the middle school), started to hear that parents felt it was out responsibility to teach, that home was strictly for review and practice, and that lessons online weren’t the same as hearing it and seeing it from your teacher. I can definitely understand parent perspective, but with a lot of time and energy being placed into preparing these lessons and recording yourself, it was a little tough to hear. I created a modified version of sorts, where I reviewed skills on camera, or introduced skills that built upon skills my students had a solid foundation with already. Especially in elementary school, I found that students seeing their teacher, interacting with me, using manipulatives, and being able to ask me questions is essential.

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I still love the idea of a flipped classroom. I love that students feel prepared and excited about discussing what they saw the night before. My kids come in whispering about the “secret word” I put into my videos (to assure they watched them). They feel smart when they come in knowing about a skill or trick. This confidence is super helpful, and I see how it positively affects my students. There are a ton of ways to create a flipped classroom or a “kind of” flipped classroom, where students can benefit from direct instruction, small group work, and centers with me, but then also experience the benefits of the flipped model. My school community, like parents, administrators, grade level team members, and other elementary school teachers I work with are not ready for a complete flipped type of model, and I’m the only elementary school teacher in my building who has incorporated it at all. It’s a different way of thinking, and it isn’t something that everyone is ready for. Despite really liking it and seeing a ton of benefits, I also admit to not being totally ready for a flipped model, especially in my language arts instruction.

With all that being said, I got some awesome new ideas from searching online, but especially from exploring on Twitter. The community of educators using Twitter shocks me…very few people I normally interact with use Twitter, and I don’t know a single person in my elementary school (3 teachers per grade level) who uses it. I asked everyone yesterday at a faculty meeting, and not a single person raised their hand. I think we might be seriously missing out…


 

This picture I found inspired me to remember that flipped classroom ideas don’t need to be just instructional videos, but I think that’s what a majority of people assume. This picture bring up some great, creative resources that a teacher might use to “flip” class. f1d0d337a9f0ba76aa7b209f67a440b2

 


 

I really loved some of the ideas from this photo, because I felt like I was a little narrow minded about how many ways you can use a flipped classroom model. I think if I taught upper grades, I would be running with it. I’m still trying to figure out how it works for my kids in 3rd grade. What has worked for me so far, is to create my own videos using a document camera or my phone. I think if you make it too complicated, and spend hours and hours scripting and planning, it can be too much of a burden. In addition, when you’re too rehearsed, kids can tell. Being yourself and approachable is important, even if it’s on video. I nade the mistake of being too formal in my first few videos. I also made the mistake of saving some videos to my hard drive, uploadnig the across several different YouTube accounts, and sending some links through Google Drive. I am kicking myself for not streamlining and organizing my content, especially when I want to assign something I used from a past year.


 

Here is an example of a video I gave for homework tonight:

Though it’s informal and really nothing spectacular…my kids LOVE it. They love that I’m the only teacher in 3rd grade that does this, too!


 

Sometimes I involve my class when I’m recording a trick or skill, like in this video:


 

These are just some examples of how I’ve tapped into the idea of a flipped classroom. There are so many ways to implement this, and so many benefits of doing so. I am looking forward to learning new things and expanding collections of videos and resources to share with my kids!

Chromebooks – A 1:1 Device Initiative

I don’t yet have a device for each student in my room, but at our K-8 building, we have started the process. Grades 5-8 all have that magical 1:1 device ratio, and the tool they chose for students was the Chromebook. Our principal/superintendent has been dedicated to moving forward with what our students need at all times in terms of technology, and as a result the lower grades will start to see class sets of Chromebooks as well. As young as 3rd grade, I have taught students to log in with a Google username and email account. Our district has a safe-walled “garden” in which our Google accounts are monitored and protected. My kids in 3rd grade are more than capable of using Google Docs and Google Slides, as well as other important features.

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This week I set out to learn about how useful Chromebooks really would be in my classroom, and what others thought the best benefits of this 1:1 scenario were. I also made sure to ask for suggestions, as well as discuss what problems arise when every student has this type of technology at their fingertips. I posted on social media in order to discuss with a few teachers I knew who have a 1:1 device model in their classroom, as well as reached out via email to a parent, guidance counselor, and language arts teacher who all have experience with their students and/or children using this 1:1 device scenario. I am a Chromebook user at home, so I thought I might have too much of a “glass half full” perspective about having them in my classroom. Turns out, my positive perceptions about using them were (mostly) confirmed! All the teachers I reached out to expressed a general love for, and satisfaction with their 1:1 model. I also learned what they didn’t like about having devices right at student fingertips, but the good far outweighed the bad.


 

1Better Option Than a BYOD Policy

Several of the teachers that I discussed the 1:1 Chromebook model mentioned how Chromebooks provided a much better alternative to students being allowed to have their own devices in school (teacher websites can be found here for Lisa, Kat, and Stephanie):20160330_16164420160330_161703

NYCS-bull-trans-2.svgA 1:1 Model is Great for Collaboration

Liza, a 5th grade teacher returned to me with some great input about how her students work together using Chromebooks:

“Now that we have classroom laptops, it’s less distracting and easier to have them all work on the same platform. I use Google Classroom and the various apps with 5th graders almost daily. They’ve had no trouble whatsoever in picking it up. I’ve had great success with them collaborating on Google Slide presentations. I love the ease of assigning/collecting work online. It has been helpful to copy/paste our rubric in as a final comment to give them feedback (along with their grades). However, there are some negatives. I have run into the issue of students getting (way too much) assistance from parents on assignments because they can be accessed from home. For example, students are supposed to continue drafting essays at home, but they end up being perfected. It makes it challenging to determine a student’s true ability level. Perhaps this isn’t as much of an issue in older grades. Also, I have found that it can be more difficult to stay on top of grading with Google Classroom. It may just be a personal thing, but a stack of ungraded papers on my desk weighs heavily on my mind. With Classroom, I find that the work is sometimes out of sight, out of mind…”

Samantha, a language arts teacher, also weighed in on collaboration when I interviewed her:

This year students did their annual ELA museum project entirely on the Chromebook. It was up to the teacher to decide what medium to choose, I went with a formal Google Slides Presentation or another online presentation medium (like Prezi). We talked about slide word-count, eye-catching strategies, etc. The students also had to do a tremendous amount of nonfiction research, so the Chromebooks were invaluable in that aspect.

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1:1 Devices Help Hold Kids Accountable to Work During and After Class

Andrea, who works at the Loyola School in NYC, mentioned some benefits:

“My school has a 1:1 program. There are some really great things about it- easier grading for teachers, easy access for in-class work (my juniors are doing a research based presentation on a social issue and classwork is so easy), a lot less paper, awesome for giving out surveys, no need to book the tech lab anymore, etc.”

When I asked what device my friend Samantha would choose, she chose Chromebooks, especially for older students:

“I teach middle school ELA, so I feel like the Chromebooks are cost effective, sturdy enough, and have all of the features necessary for my purposes. Our school has provided each student with their own Google suite account, so they are capable of word processing and other basic computer functions. If I taught younger grades, I feel like iPads or other touch devices would be more useful for their smaller hands and limited fine motor skills, but I guess you couldn’t be sure until you try it! My district will be 1:1 in grades 2-8 next year.”

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Suggestions and Warnings: Problems are Inevitable with Kids and Technology

When I asked for specific suggestions and tips for using Chromebooks in my classroom, I got some great ones, but there was a warning with almost all of those. Kids are kids, and sometimes it is hard to keep them on track without wandering around the internet. Here are some of the things teachers shared when they weighed in on this part of the topic:

Andrea said, “I teach a guidance class and they don’t need to take notes or be on their iPad, so it drives me crazy when I see kids paying attention to their iPad and not to me from the front of the classroom. Kids themselves talk about how the self-control piece is really challenging- if they are bored they can just check out social media or message with friends and then they get nothing out of class. One of my students was so engrossed in setting his fantasy football line up during a math class that he didn’t even notice the Dean of Academics sitting in on his class DIRECTLY BEHIND HIM. Also, sometimes technology does fail when it comes to handing things in, etc., but its hard to tell if a student is being honest or not. I usually like to err on the side of good intentions, but when the same thing keeps on happening to the same kid and not to anyone else, you have to wonder…. It also has had a big impact on socialization between kids– we actually ended up banning technology from our commons (lunch/lounge area for students) for all the freshman because they would sit 10 kids at a table and just play on their devices- not talk to one another!”

This suggestion came from Samantha, and it seemed like a great idea to me. She mentioned software her school uses that I didn’t even know existed! My entire interview with her can be found here

Have a way to monitor your students whey they are using the Chromebook. Impulse control is a huge problem for my demographic. I constantly see students on games and other websites they are not meant to be on. It will take time to work the firewall and technological disciplinary issues out.  My school recently acquired the “GoGuardian” software, which allows you to monitor students for a particular session, screenshot evidence for later use, or just document exactly what the students are doing over a particular time period.”


 

Overall, I got a lot of great feedback about 1:1 device scenarios, and great specific opinions and information about choosing Chromebooks as a device for my classroom. The four bullet points I chose to discuss were guided by the thoughts and ideas that the teachers I reached out to offered me. I got some great ideas about projects and activities to begin to teach my students. I think that when students learn the responsibility of managing devices at a younger age, it might help them transition as they move forward to the upper grades.

I’ve Stepped Out on My Love for Pinterest.

This confession is pretty serious if you’re a teacher and a mom. So many of us love this site. There are times where I have used it so consistently, I seriously wondered if I had an original thought in my head. I use several sites to aggregate data and ideas, but Pinterest is what I use most often. When I first began to use a bookmarking website like this, I just willy nilly pinned anything and everything I thought was interesting. Later, I began to pin within more specific categories. A “board” for outfits wouldn’t cut it anymore. I need to create boards for each season to organize. A board for school was overflowing with ideas, so I created boards that were organized by subject area.


 

Here’s an example of a section of boards I’ve created to pin information. Teachers, notice the blank board for the PARCC standardized test…can’t bring myself to pin to it!

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I do use Pinterest as an idea generator for so many things. I find ideas for outfits, crafts, school, recipes, and baby/child resources. With that being said, I’m not a crazy Pinterest user. There are people who have thousands and thousands of pins, which I feel can become too much, very quickly. Too many bookmarks, pins, labels, and you become lost in a sea of well aggregated, but overwhelming resources. What really began to frustrate me with Pinterest was constant spam, lackluster mobile capabilities, and bad links. What is the point of bookmarking and storing an idea, if the picture or infographic leads to no where? Having to check if links were still real, live, and not spam was getting tiresome. The internet is well…the internet, so I know some sites and posts becoming unavailable is inevitable, I just found that I ran into it too often.Pins that don’t have a permalink attached?! Maddening. I don’t think anyone likes to click on a great picture or recipe and be taken to a homepage where you’d have to dig for a few hours. As a result of some of these frustrations, I started to use the tool as more of a visual reminder versus actually storing readable information that was possible to go back to.

I went into so much detail about Pinterest, because I feel like (at least among people I know), that is by far the most commonly used curation tool.While I do like Pinterest, for a while I haven’t been as avid of a user as I once was. As a result, I decided to explore another potential curation tool. I had a little bit of experience with Flipboard, but wasn’ t that into it. I decided to try to use Scoop.It. The magazine I began to put together about Genius Hour/20 time can be found here. I decided to start collecting information about Genius Hour/20 time because I am very interested in the idea, but I’m not very familiar with it. I have posted and explored a lot of good ideas to start with. I found some great things already added to Scoop.It to add to my list, and I found some great resources on my own. I was able to add information about the topic as well as personal teacher accounts and experiences with the topic. Scoop.It as a magazine tool looks appealing, where a sites pictures and thumbnails present well. It is very easy to add content, and to comment on content. In addition to ease of use and an appealing look, it seems that users have posted a lot of academic content. Content of substance, and links that bring you to actual articles and opinions have made the site very useful for me. Pinterest provided me with a lot of ideas, but often a lot less information. Academic articles and informational pieces are much harder to find there. This is a large part of what attracted me to use Scoop.It for our project. From boards I’ve looked through, I came across a lot of other teachers as well as those in tech. It seems like a great platform to build on for my professional life.


 

Here is an example of features you can use on Scoop.it. It has been very user friendly. 

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So far, I have found success with Scoop.It as a curation tool. I looked through some others on the list that look interesting, but ease of use has Scoop.It working for me right now!