The Joy of Learning

grekpb-yKaren Festa is a mom of 2 fabulous daughters, a Sunday School teacher and a Special Education teacher at Narragansett Elementary School in Narragansett, Rhode Island. She is a member of the district blended learning committee and the PBIS committee at her school. As an educational consultant for the Rhode Island Department of Education, she presents in various school districts on topics such as; aligning IEP’s to CCSS, motivating and engaging all students, and Universal Design for Learning. Karen has co-moderated twitter chats #coteachat, #spedchat, #edbeat, and #udlchat. You can follow her on twitter @teach4spclneeds.

There are about 30 seconds before the school day begins. I’m humming the song I heard on the drive into school this morning. As I try to fine tune the morning work, I give myself a pep talk. “You got this,” I whisper to myself.

I squeak out the last edit to our problem solving task and click view. Turn on the promethean board and count down: five, four, three, two…”Yes!” I jump from my rolling chair and I’m at the door waiting for the…smile…breathe…ONE…(the bell rings) “STUDENTS! YAY!” I can see the smiles from students as they make their way into the school building. I wait with anticipation to see the students as they arrive closer to the classroom door so I can jump up to give high-fives and ask them how their evening was. I check-in to see if they ate breakfast. To top it all off, I even sing a few songs that are still stuck in my head from the ride into school this morning and tell them how happy I am to see them.

As they shuffle into the classroom, cheers erupt as their eyes twinkle with joy at the sight of Buncee animated children dancing the whip nae nae. Five of my  awesomely, amazing students get up to dance the whip nae nae. I ask my students if each student dances 3 times a day, how many minutes total do all students dance in a day? My heart glows deeply within as they chatter amongst each other. Students are revealing their mathematical thinking in real time. I am watching them prepare to discuss how many minutes total they all danced the whip nae nae in one day. I push their thinking a little further by suggesting this might have to be a future, real-life challenge for our class…Hmmm…maybe we should discuss the solution before we decide to challenge ourselves with a day full of dancing. How many minutes will it be?

One of my absolute favorite creation and presentation tools is Buncee. Motivating and engaging students is a critical aspect of teaching. Our amazing students and I have used Buncee in a variety of ways to motivate, engage, create, personalize, and present learning. As they read through the animated problem solving task that morning, they were motivated to discuss solve and challenge themselves to calculate a real world application.

Upon finishing the task, students were encouraged to create their own problem solving task using Buncee. Student creation of a problem solving task requires critical thinking, background knowledge of mathematical standards, being able to analyze a problem, and language skills in order to effectively communicate information.  Students can create various types of problem solving tasks depending on their own unique levels. Students with special needs benefit from opportunities to read, discuss, think, apply, and solve complex problems. An extension of those skills is to create a problem solving task and allow peers the opportunity to solve the problem. The learning and application of knowledge shifts solely into the students hands and they become the “expert” in creating and problem-solving. They receive peer support and feedback through peer-to-peer completion of the problem solving task; thus, building confidence and connections to real world mathematical tasks. Cross-curricular academic standards are incorporated within student-created tasks using Buncee as well as a correlation between academic focus and expectations. Students with special needs also benefit from the use of visual images, drawing tools, audio recording, and videos which Buncee provides.

One of the wonderful gifts Buncee provides is the options within the platform itself. Buncee allows students the opportunity to select images, video, stickers and animations with purpose and intent. When we ask students with special needs to describe what they created within Buncee, I am always amazed to hear their reasoning and their passion behind the “how” and “why” their Buncee creation came to fruition.  To me, it’s the icing on the cake.

We must take the time to celebrate students’ “how” and “why” and share our unique creations with each other. I can almost guarantee it will be a meaningful experience for many. It will bring JOY, motivation, and engagement to your classroom community. That my friends…is what it’s all about! Take a risk, model and allow students to create something unique using Buncee. I wonder if others will be inspired, too.

As a special education teacher, I am continually learning alongside students and digging deeply to help identify students’ individual uniqueness and connect with them so that I can support them when needed and help them navigate individual paths towards learning, growth, and achievement. Technology has played a critical role in every aspect of my teaching. It has allowed me to become a connected educator, inspired me to share and reflect, led me to have the courage to take risks. Furthermore, techology has provided many of our students a bridge to access content at an individual pace and level. It has provided meaningful engagement and motivation. Finally, it has provided them opportunities to take ownership of their learning through student-centered design, critical thinking and creation.

I am blessed to witness and be inspired by many amazing uplifting experiences educational technology has provided students with special needs. Having a clear purpose when using tech tools, specifically for students with special needs, is imperative. Educational tech tools like Buncee break down barriers which no longer inhibit communication and build connections and schema which support understanding. Using Buncee motivates students to solve and create problem solving tasks, support inquiry and wonder and provide access to grade level content.  It also helps students to demonstrate understanding of core content and instruction, along with promoting student engagement and self-motivation.

We must create meaningful learning experiences for students with special needs and help build connections between the real world and academic learning. Celebrate the JOY of learning alongside your students!

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