5 Tips for Leading Professional Learning Virtually

If you are a professional development provider like I am, you get into the profession to make a personal connection with people. There is nothing I enjoy more about my job than getting into a room with a group of educators and getting to know them in the often too short time that we are together. With the current reality of the situation we are living in, the prospect of getting back into a room with people seems a long way off. This means that many of us will have to shift toward delivering our content virtually via a platform like Zoom or Google Meet.

Leading professional development in this manner can be a challenge. It is much different than having everyone’s attention in one room. Teachers are probably at home, distracted by kids, pets, or spouses. As the presenter, it is up to us to make sure our delivery methods are enough to keep our audience engaged and learning with us. 

To that end, I have my five tips for leading professional learning online. I have had vast experience leading groups of educators through online training, and with that comes quite a few ups and downs. While the process is never as smooth as in-person delivery, these five tips can assist in making the experience better for you and your audience!

Outline of Tips in the Video

  1. Be prepared
    • Have your presentation ready and well prepared.
    • Have questions and discussion prompts available to start conversation with your audience.
    • Be prepared for silence, you might have to talk the whole time
    • If you are using Zoom and want discussion to occur, use the breakout room feature.
  2. Have your system set up for delivering quality content
    • Have your camera placed on an elevated surface or use a webcam that is eye level.
    • Have a quality microphone, this might not mean headphones, some of those mics are worse that the one on your computer! Test your audio quality with someone ahead of your presentation.
    • Be in a room with good lighting so people can see you better.
    • Turn off your notifications on your computer and phone. These can be distracting to you and your audience.
    • If possible use two monitors, or at least a second device like an iPad. This can be helpful in looking up information while your presentation is on the screen.
  3. If possible, have a co-host
    • They are great for assisting in moderating the chat for you.
    • They can listen more closely to discussions for things you might have missed.
    • They are helpful to talk to in times of silence.
    • When the session is over they are someone to debrief with.
  4. Know Your Platform
    • Whether it is Zoom, Google Meet, or something else understand it’s basic features
    • Know how to share joining information with audience members that are attempting to join late
    • Know how to start and moderate the chat
    • Sharing your screen is of utmost importance. You will most likely have a presentation, make sure people can see it.
    • Know how to mute your rouge audience microphones. It might not be their fault but mics turn on sometimes, know how to shut them off.
  5. Have empathy for your participants
    • Don’t force them to sit and listen for long periods of time, keep sessions reasonably short and give breaks if needed.
    • This is a new experience for many, if they leave their mic on don’t be mad about it, understand they didn’t mean to interrupt you.
    • Silence from the group doesn’t mean they don’t understand, sometimes silence is just how video instruction goes.

Remote Learning Tools

We are in a period of time where school closings due to Covid-19 are severely disrupting our academic calendar. Districts are scrambling to find useful resources for teachers to use in developing e-learning plans to continue education for an extended time away from school. 

While this is a difficult task to put together in short order, the edtech community has come together to support one another. This includes many edtech companies offering their premium services for no cost to affected schools (here is a comprehensive list of many of those companies). While many companies are offering these features, it is essential to understand the key elements of a tool that will help in a remote situation. In my opinion, a quality remote learning tool is one that allows teachers to both interact and be visible to their students. Many times this includes adding video to work so students can both see and hear the teacher explain the activity. Below I have created five how-to videos on tools that I believe can help the learning continue for our students. 

Nicole Zumpano of the LTC has also put together a terrific Planning to Close Guide; it is worth your time to check it out. 

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the LTC for assistance!

Tools for Remote Learning

Bring the power of Hangouts Meet and Google Classroom together to give your students a place to come together and talk during a period of remote learning. I’ll walk you through how to set it up!

Take your PDFs and make them accessible for all your students during a remote learning experience by utilizing Kami! Check out some quick tips to get started in this video!

Bring the power of Google Slides closed captions and Screencastify’s screen recording together to help make your student’s learning as accessible as possible!

Curate YouTube videos and share them efficiently with your students. YouTube has an incredible amount of learning resources available to us but managing it can be a problem. Leveraging playlists, subscribing to channels (you could subscribe to mine, that’d be cool), and sharing videos effectively can help your kids!

If you haven’t used Flipgrid before it is the perfect tool for sharing and receiving information with your students and having them share it back to you using video. The best part, it has a mobile app that works just as well as the web browser. It has so many purposes they are hard to count! And .. its 100% free!

Computer Science Week

This week we celebrate Computer Science Education Week in recognition of Grace Hopper’s birthday on Dec. 9, 1906. During this week, K-12 students are encouraged to participate in an “hour of code’ as part of the Hour of Code initiative to help students realize that they, too, can learn the basics of coding. If bringing coding into your classroom makes you a little nervous, don’t worry! You do not need any prior experience to have your students participate in an hour of code activity. Code.org, one of the leading resources for coding in schools, believes that “anybody can learn” and wants computer science in every school so that every child has the opportunity to be exposed to it. CS Week and Hour of Code have the goal of exposing students to code with the hope they will want to learn more about computer science going forward. As a former computer science teacher, this was always one of my favorite weeks of the year! 

The History of Computer Science Week

In 2010, Computing in the Core Coalition launched activities and events to support Computer Science Education Week. In 2013, Code.org launched Hour of Code during CSEdWeek which reached over 15 million students across 167 countries. Since then Code.org continues to develop materials and resources for teachers and students to use in the classroom beyond just the hour. 

Why is Computer Science important?

Simply put, technology is everywhere and is not going away. According to Code.org, 67% of new STEM jobs are in computing and the #1 source of new wages comes from computing jobs. As of 2017, there were over 20,000 open computing jobs here in Illinois. 

“The Hour of Code is designed to demystify code and show that computer science is not rocket science—anybody can learn the basics,” said Hadi Partovi, founder, and CEO of Code.org. “Over 100 million students worldwide have tried an Hour of Code. The demand for relevant 21st-century computer science education crosses all borders and knows no boundaries.”

When I was teaching computer science, I was always searching for new and impactful materials to supplement my CS curriculum. In 2013 Code.org jumped in to help support the CS movement, and I was very grateful for more resources to use with my students. The materials available are so much more than just an “hour” worth of material to use to teach computer science. Code.org provides an incredible participation guide that will help you get started today.

They also have developed a free online curriculum and offer free training to educators! The CS Fundamentals are for K-5 students, CS Discoveries are for 6th – 10th-grade students and CS Principles are for 9th – 12th grades.

Beyond the Hour of Code

If you are looking for more free computer science resources to use with students, check out this list below.

AI for Oceans by Code.org. Code.org is featuring a new activity this year to expose students to artificial intelligence. Meet AI, the robot that helps clean up the ocean. Check out this video from Code.org to learn about machine learning.

Scratch by MIT. Students create interactive stories, games, and animations using block-based programming. Scratch statistics since 2008.

CSFirst by Google. Uses Scratch to help students learn about coding. 

Swift Playgrounds by Apple. Learn to code on the iPad.

Microsoft Makecode. Students use a variety of devices to run programs on and receive immediate feedback.

As you venture into the coding world and your students want more challenges take a look at this list of  Computer Science curriculum resources.

Code.org. (2019). What’s wrong with this picture?. [online] Available at: https://code.org/promote [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].

From Consumption to Creation: Inspire Creativity in Your Classroom!

The consumption mindset not only applies to the traditional classroom but can carry over into a technology-enriched classroom environment. Students may hope that the educational experience with their school device will mirror how they consume information on their personal devices. After all, students spend a lot of time-consuming information from YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

So the question becomes: How can we leverage the consumption mindset to our advantage? The answer starts with turning our students into the creators of the very content they are consuming. We can challenge them to create artifacts focused around the content of our classes and publish those artifacts for others to consume and learn from.

Teaching our students to create can have a wide-ranging effect on them. It often goes beyond simply helping them learn the content specific to our classes. Creating media helps students develop a foundation of skills that transfer over to many other areas of life. A recent study shows that employers want workers with an increasingly demanding skill set including problem-solving, digital literacy, leadership, and creativity. 

To that end, by challenging our students to become content creators in our classrooms we can help foster all of these skills. Technology provides our students the ability to create with voice, video, images, or any combination of the three. This allows students the opportunity to express themselves in ways that may not be possible in a written assignment.

So how do you get started with these concepts? What are some tools that can provide these creation opportunities for your students? To help answer these questions and more I’ve created a YouTube playlist of my top tools for inspiring creativity including Adobe Spark, Book Creator, and Flipgrid. I hope you find it helpful, and the tools included will inspire your students to become the creators they have the power to be.

The following videos were created by Ben Sondgeroth, LTC’s Regional Educational Technology Coordinator, as an introduction to Adobe Spark, Book Creator, and Flipgrid.

Create Web Pages with Adobe Spark Page: Have you looked for a tool that allows your students to create incredible web pages? Look no further than Adobe Spark Page!

Create Awesome Videos with Adobe Spark Video: Have you wondered how to create a video on your Chromebook or iPad? Look no further than Adobe Spark Video! This amazing tool allows you to create videos and share them back to Google Classroom!

Learn How to Get Started with Adobe Spark Post: Have you been wondering how to create exciting graphics with Adobe Spark Post? This video has you covered! We dive into how to bring this awesome tool into your classroom!

Create Amazing Books with Book Creator!: Have you been looking for a way to have your students create amazing books in your classroom? Then look no further than Book Creator! In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through how to get started with this incredible tool!

Getting Started with Flipgrid in the Classroom!: In this quick video, we will explore how to set up a Grid in Flipgrid and assign out a topic to your students!

 “Driving the skills agenda – EIU Perspectives – The Economist.” 2015. May. 2015 <https://www.eiuperspectives.economist.com/talent-education/driving-skills-agenda>

The How and Why of Becoming Google Certified

Do you need to go through the entire fundamental course?

The answer is no. However, I did so in order to learn as much as possible and not miss out on anything. If you feel confident in the content, go to the end of each unit in the training and complete the Unit Review to test yourself on the material. When satisfied with results, proceed to the next unit. If not, it is possible to review that unit again. Eric Curts has provided an outstanding checklists about topics before taking the exam. 

Google Certified Educator Level 1

Google Certified Educator Level 2

Are you ready for Google Level 1 and 2 Certification tests?

Once the content has been reviewed, exams are the next step. It took a while before I was ready to take the exams. I had a hard time finding time to complete the Fundamentals training. When I finished the training, I questioned if I knew the material well enough to take the exam. When I did take the test, I would have benefitted from some of the following facts:

  • You are given 3 hours to complete the exam.
  • The exam consists of multiple-choice questions, drag and drop, and performance-based scenarios.
  • $10 exam fee with up to 7 days to take the exam.
  • On average, 30% of educators are unsuccessful at passing the 1st time.
  • The primary reason people fail is not enough time to complete the exam.  
  • If you fail, you are allowed to take the exam again in 14 days, and a third time in 60 days.
  • Certification is valid for 3 years.

Knowing these facts was reassuring because even in the event of a failure, the exam can be retaken with a much higher likelihood of passing! 

Why did I want to become Google Certified?

Now let’s go to the “Why did I… ” part of the certification. Simply put, I wanted to learn more about effectively using Google Apps with students and educators. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could complete the certification. The good news was I did it! I passed both exams and received a digital badge and certification from Google. The badge can be used in your email signature to promote your ability to implement Google tools in the classroom. In conclusion, this process essentially taught me more about Google Apps and implementing technology skills in the classroom so I could do more with my students and help educators.

What I have learned in this process? 

Reflecting back on the journey, I’ve learned that we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we know. I see this with the teachers I work with on a daily basis and I find myself falling into this mindset as well. Through this certification journey, I have learned so much about Google Apps and how to incorporate them into the classroom. I have discovered so many new ideas regarding how I can use these tools with students and my fellow educators. In completing the Google Certifications, I have proved to myself, my students, and fellow educators that I am a continuous learner. It is very exciting to call myself a Google Level 1 and 2 Certified Educator! In fact, I was so motivated after completing these 2 certifications, that I applied for, and was accepted, as a Google Certified Trainer! It has been quite a journey and one that I hope you will consider embarking on as well! 

The LTC can help you!

The Learning Technology Center (LTC) has Google Level 1 and 2 Certification workshops that will help you practice the performance-based scenarios of the certifications and answer any other questions you may have about the process. Check out the LTC website to find a workshop near you. 

Reflective Journal for Coaches

In my role as the Regional Educational Technology Coordinator for ISBE‘s LTC, one of the perks is I get to work with instructional technology coaches. As a coach for 10 years prior to this position, it is where I feel most at home. In Chicago, coaches aren’t plentiful. I was the only one in my building, in a city without many others. All of my professional personal growth came from opportunities I sought outside of my district, and on my own: volunteering, serving on boards, Twitter chats, conferences, etc.

Recently in one of my meetings, there was a discussion about how there isn’t much out there for coaches to improve on their own practice. After all, many coaches strive to improve the practice of educators in their school building. In response to this, I created a reflective journal for coaches to use if they were interested in improving their practice on their own. The journal contains 8 sections:

  1. Learning Style & Connecting with Others: an area for coaches to identify where they go for personal growth and how they like to learn.
  2. Your Job, Today: coaches have a space to reflect on their current role.
  3. Deep Dive into Evaluation: the journal contains a safe space for coaches to reflect on the most recent evaluation from their administration.
  4. Goal Setting: a template for coaches to focus on one particular goal.
  5. Read & Reflect: articles related to coaching with a space for reflection.
  6. ISTE Standards for Coaches: the new standards are broken down into an editable table where coaches can add comments, resources, and links.
  7. Resources for Coaches: books, podcasts, Twitter chats, and other digital resources for coaches.
  8. Final Reflection: a space for coaches to wrap up their reflection journal.

If you are interested, please make a copy and share it with those you think could benefit from this professional growth opportunity. I wish I had something like this when I was coaching.

Coaches Reflective Journal Link

Upcoming LTC events for Coaches:

IETC Meet & Greet for Coaches
November 14 | 4:00 pm | More information will be available online

West Cook County Instructional Technology Coaches Meeting
November 6 and December 3|1:00-3:00 pm | Hillside

ROE #39 Instructional Tech Coaches Roundtable
December 11| 9:00 am-noon | Macon/Piatt ROE#39

North Cook ISC Instructional Technology Coaches Meetings
December 19 | 1-3 pm

Learn Online On Your Own Time

You’re at school all day long, and at the end of the day you just want to go home and relax. However, you know you have to earn all those PD Credits (the credits formerly known as CPDUs) and you can’t find an affordable conference nearby that interests you or fits into your busy schedule.


The Learning Technology Center (LTC) is happy to announce its Fall 2019 Online Course Catalog! You’ll find lots of great ideas that you can pursue on your own time to help meet all your professional learning needs. They’re more affordable than most college courses, and the best part is: You can finish them all from the comfort of your own home! Courses include: 

  • Save Time with an Organized Google Drive (2 PD Credits) 
  • Maximize the Power of Google Classroom (2 PD Credits) 
  • Understanding the Power of Google Docs (2 PD Credits) 
  • Google Forms Essentials: Creating Digital Assessments (2 PD Credits) 

Looking for more of a challenge? Try… 

  • Transforming Education with Digital Tools (14 PD Credits!) 

Maybe something in-between (and just in time!) How about…

  • Book Study: Classroom Management in the Digital Age (5 PD Credits) 

Need an Administrator Academy this year? 

  • Growing a Culture for Effective Technology Coaching: The Principal-Coach Partnership (AA Course # 1841)

Get all the details and register at ltcillinois.org/online. We’re looking forward to learning with you!

Teachers Talking Tech Recap

On January 25th, thirty teachers from around Northern Illinois gathered at Highland Community College in Freeport, IL to attend the first Teachers Talking Tech Mini-Conference. Attendees braved the -30 wind chill temperatures in order to learn successful technology integration practices. The LTC partnered with Carroll, JoDaviess, and Stephenson Regional Office of Education 8 to host the event.

To kick off the mini-conference, Ben Sondgeroth (RETC, Learning Technology Center North), presented a session on Moving Past the Digital Worksheet, Evaluating Technology’s Impact on the Lesson. Ben discussed tools and strategies for teachers to think through how and why they are utilizing technology in the classroom. He presented on three of the most commonly used evaluation models: SAMR, TPACK, and The 4 Shifts Protocol. Each of these models offer teachers an opportunity to reflect on their lesson’s technology integration and evaluate how they might enhance their student’s learning. Ben then encouraged teachers to think about the new tools and strategies using the Monday to Someday mindset. This mindset asks teachers to categorize new ideas and tools in two ways: am I able to take this back and implement it with my students on Monday, or is this an idea or strategy I would like to learn more about and apply someday?

Nicole Zumpano (RETC, Learning Technology Center Chicagoland) followed, sharing Google workflow tips and tricks. Presenting from a hyperdoc, Nicole provided the attendees with 19 of her most useful Google strategies. Some highlights include:

  • Using multiple Chrome profiles to separate Google accounts
  • Leveraging the power of search in Google Drive
  • Leveraging public calendar view to share events with parents
  • Adding emojis to your Google Drive file names
  • Using the G Suite Training Extension

Nicole’s helpful strategies gave many in the audience new ideas on how to better streamline their digital workflow.

Elizabeth Byam (4th Grade Teacher, Riverbend Schools) then presented several tools and strategies she is using with her students. Elizabeth immediately got the attention of the audience by doing a demonstration of Quizlet Live. Acting as the “teacher,” Elizabeth randomly placed the attendees in groups and pushed a quiz on state capitals out to them all. The room was buzzing as teams raced to finish the quiz first. Elizabeth then moved on to discuss how she is leveraging Loom for screencasting in the classroom, Estimation 180, and Green Screen by DoInk. Her creative and interactive approach had all the teachers engaged and excited to bring new tools to their classrooms!

After lunch, Jody Pauly and Scott Woodly (Pear City School District) partnered to showcase strategies they are using in their school district. Scott, an IT Director, shared his favorite Google Hacks, before turning the podium over to Jody to discuss Flipgrid. Jody demonstrated how she leveraged Flipgrid to engage her 3rd graders in online discussion. She then created a demo grid and asked participants to respond and think about how they might leverage the tool with their students. To wrap the session Scott challenged teachers to not be afraid of failing with technology. He emphasized that technology integration isn’t easy but sticking to the old methods does not help prepare our students for the future. His motivational message was a perfect ending to an amazing day of learning.

To end the day, all attendees entered a raffle for iPad cases that were generously donated by Rug-Ed Cases. Three lucky teachers left with brand new iPad cases. We appreciate Rug-Ed’s contribution to the event!

It was inspiring to see so many teachers attend a professional learning event, even when many of their schools canceled for the day. The desire to learn and grow was evident in the room, and the LTC looks forward to hosting more events like this in the future!

3 Tech Tips to Kick Off 2019!

Every month our staff will be publishing a post sharing some of their favorite tech tips! For January we focus on leveraging bookmarking in Google Chrome, creating online lessons, and protecting your privacy while searching.

#1 Save Space on Your Chromebook Bookmarks Bar!

Are you frustrated at the lack of space available on the Bookmarks Bar? To solve this simply delete the name of the bookmark when you are adding it to your Bookmarks Bar. In doing this, you will only see the “Favicon,” or logo, of the website.

#2 Turn Any Website into an Interactive Online Lesson

The InsertLearning Chrome Extension is a great way to teach current events or anything on the web. This extension provides you with a toolbar enabling you to make notations,  insert questions or even add discussions right within a web-based resource. There are even templates to help you get started.

#3 Try Using DuckDuckGo as a Search Engine to Protect Online Privacy

Use the search engine DuckDuckGo to take back your privacy. DuckDuckGo has a business model where they don’t need to track your searches, store or share your personal information to make money. Everything you search for using DuckDuckGo is private.

For more great resources, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Learn How to Use Google Classroom!

At the start of the 2018 school year, Google launched its largest update of Google Classroom ever! With the update, Google significantly changed many of the core features of Google Classroom. To assist teachers in understanding this update RETC Ben Sondgeroth has created an in-depth video playlist on all things Google Classroom. No matter if you are new or a seasoned veteran to using Google Classroom, this video playlist is for you! Click the menu icon in the top left corner of the video screen to find all the videos on the playlist.

For more great video content be sure to subscribe to the LTC YouTube Channel!


Google Classroom Playlist