The name SoftChalk is typically linked with educators and professionals in the education industry. However, Rachel Stange is here to show it is not just for the grown-ups. From a student’s perspective, SoftChalk can be just as beneficial learning from as well as using it to create content to teach others.
Being able to talk with Rachel and understand from a student’s perspective just how beneficial SoftChalk can be lead to a great interview you do not want to skip reading. See what she has to say…
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am in 10th grade at Sherando High School working on an advance studies diploma. I am also considered a dual-enrolled student at Lord Fairfax Community College having completed 10 college credits so far. I plan to continue taking college classes while in high school in hopes to obtain my Associates of Science degree by the summer I graduate high school, so I can go to a 4-year college and double major in forensic science and chemistry. I became interested in general forensic science while working with the local sheriff department to learn about finger printing and my research work for my 8th grade science fair project that compared sibling finger prints. While print finger printing is used less in criminal investigations than in the past, I plan to continue my research in this area to learn more about human DNA, which is why I obtained a certificate from the National Institutes of Health on Human Subject Research. I am member of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Future Farmers of America (FFA), Health Occupation Student Association and Sherando Sharks swim team. I enjoy gardening, spending time with my friends and family, and learning new things.
I also enjoy teaching others new things. I have been traveling with my grandmother now for about three years assisting her with Moose training sessions. I help her with setting up the equipment, running the projector for her, and providing some emergency one-on-one support if needed. This is where my interest in teaching developed. When old enough, I hope to become a Certified Moose Trainer like my Grandmother to help ensure the success of the Moose organization.
Where did your interest in Nutrition come from?
My interest in Nutrition came from trying to select a topic for my Youth Awareness Kids Talks. Last October–February I participated in a scholarship program sponsored by Moose International to give high school students an opportunity to earn scholarship money while doing “Kid Talks” to 4-9 year olds about topics to keep them safe or to make wise decisions. The program required us to do some training locally and then select a topic, find places to present, and complete a documentation notebook. From there each state selects winners to represent the state at the International Youth Awareness congress. This experience gives the high schools public speaking, teaching, community service, and project management opportunities beyond the scholarship money. If you would like to learn more about the program, please check out the Moose Youth Awareness Program website.
After thinking about different directions on nutrition because of so much news media about how unhealthy kids are, I selected to talk about nutrition in respect to the food label and food plate. The food label is just glazed over or not discussed at all. I did lots of research and talked with several teachers about the topic before preparing my talks. I did my talks at a local elementary school, local library, and a Girl Scout meeting. During one of my presentations it was mentioned that there was a need for a good online resource in one spot that could be used to continue the classroom/at home discussion. So I created the online classroom, which gave me an opportunity to learn more about Blackboard Learn and SoftChalk. I plan to maintain this site as long as Blackboard Inc. continues to offer Coursesites as a free option to people. The first thing I will be doing is updating the food label content to the new US Government standards, once it is finalized. I also need to improve my clarification as to where my support documentation came from.
Even though I was only selected by the state as an alternate and did not get to go to the International congress this past May, I do plan to try again this year. I also believe that the experience I gained presenting at BbWorld is just as important as the scholarship money I didn’t win from the Youth Awareness program.
What are some obstacles you experience while learning in a classroom?
While working in the physical classroom, I learned that you have to keep control of the students which can be challenging with 4-9 year olds. I also learned that the same material will not work for different ages so the content needs to be adaptive to each student. I had to be engaging and make the learning fun to keep their interest. The other big thing was inclusion for students who had learning or physical disabilities. I learned that rewards and acknowledgment helped keep students engaged.
While working in the online classroom, I learned that you need to double the estimated time to complete a new learning environment. It takes a lot of time to compare learning environments like D2L, Canvas, Google Classroom, Edline, and Bb Learn. I also learned you don’t have to start from scratch when creating an online classroom, you just need to learn how to pull it all together with a good tool, such as SoftChalk.
I also learned that you need to solicit feedback from peers and area professionals, plus actually have target age group students test it out. I had some school classmates, teachers, and an instructional designer look at my site professionally. I also had my cousin who lives in Texas, and are within the age group, use the tools to work through the age levels and provide feedback. It was interesting to see how each type of reviewer evaluated things differently. I quickly learned that just like in the physical classroom there were things in the online environment that also had to be considered for inclusion such as screen readers and color blindness. Things like Alt Tags are critical in an online environment and most often not used by teachers.
How has SoftChalk changed the way you learn?
SoftChalk has changed not only the way I have learned but the way others have learned. For example, my English teacher last year allowed me to do vocabulary flash cards (traditionally done on index cards) with SoftChalk. It was a positive result, so I was able to continue and she asked me to show her SoftChalk as it was something she did not know about and would like to use in the future. She liked the versatility of being able to publish to an LMS or to a zip file. For me personally, I will be asking all my teachers to allow me to use it not only for vocabulary work but for class project presentations in the future. When you have to learn topics that are boring or not really of an interest to you, SoftChalk adds some fun in with the activities options. It also allows different learning items like videos, web links, games, and text to be centrally located.
What are your favorite things about SoftChalk?
I don’t have to know how to program to create fun activities/games. It is really easy to learn and use for the teacher and student. It isn’t a product that is extremely expensive. College professors like Diane Painter at Shenandoah University use it and I am sure others do too. If I know it already, I will be more prepared for college. I like mostly that everything is predefined so it is really just point-select-create! The one thing I was disappointed in was the integration with ReadSpeaker. It seemed like a great tool for inclusion, but ReadSpeaker wanted to charge by user and as someone trying to do an open education class, I could not afford that. I would like to see SoftChalk and ReadSpeaker work out something for SoftChalk customers that would be more realistic to allow text-to-speech inclusion more. If I had to pick one thing as my favorite it would be the activities, crossword puzzles, drag & drop, seek-a-word, and jigsaw puzzle.
Tell us about some of the goals you have for the future and the courses you create:
I am working on trying to get my nutrition classroom recognized as a teacher resource within my school system now. This will help my local educators by providing classroom tools on the nutrition topic but also allow them to learn about SoftChalk. After returning from BbWorld I was able to get my proposal for my Girl Scout Gold Award (similar to Boy Scout Eagle Scout). For my project, I will be creating an online classroom on cyber science for middle school students (Grades 6-8) and I plan to use SoftChalk as the center of this classroom. I have completed the NSA’s Day of Cyber certificate challenge in preparing for this project. I will also be hosting a regional Girl Scout event and presenting at local middle schools on the topic and sharing my SoftChalk classroom to them. Hopefully, this tool will also be listed as an official resource within the local school system and expose more teachers to SoftChalk. Both will continue to be open education classrooms so I reach more than just my local community. I also plan to participate this year in the Youth Awareness program and hope to be able to create an online environment for that new topic also. I plan to tell more friends about the product and try to get my school system to purchase it for the teachers to enhance the material they provide us.
I learned that many teachers don’t have the time to search for tools like SoftChalk or if a system has them don’t really train the teachers on it well. SoftChalk was responsive to talking with me, but other vendors were not which is sad since us Gen Z’s are the future and the ones companies need to be marketing to.