The Simple Power of Give & Take

“Connected educators seem to possess this trait to an even more pronounced extent: the more they receive through their professional connections, the more they want to give–and the more they want to connect their colleagues to a similar network of people who are willing to support them regardless of their role in education, their location, or their current comfort level with reaching out to those beyond their immediate grasp to grow and learn (Whitaker, Zoul, Casas, 46).”

What Connected Educators Do Differently

One of my favorite parts of being a connected educator is the unlimited amount of support and inspiration that it provides me on a consistent basis. On so many occasions it is my PLN that has provided me with the answer that I was searching for or the inspiration I needed to try something new. Key Connector 4 in What Connected Educators Do Differently discusses the importance for connected educators to give. The combination and balance of giving and taking is so important for educators, whether they are in the same building, district, or simply part of a PLN that extends throughout the world.

It never ceases to amaze me the power of being a connected educator.  Two weeks ago I had the privilege of presenting six different sessions at the Aurora Huskies EdTech Day. During a session that I was leading on strategies to improve student created videos a teacher whose students don’t have iMovie asked about any free apps that is good for video editing. Not having an answer I immediately reached out to my PLN for assistance with the following Tweet.

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There are a couple of important elements that I used in this Tweet that made it successful in getting some assistance. First, I strategically chose two hashtags that would allow the information to be seen by way more educators outside of those that simply follow me. Secondly, I tagged Don Goble (@dgoble2001), an awesome educator who I know would have some ideas since video creation on the iPad is one his areas of strength.  Within a few minutes Goble responded with the following Tweet.

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The best part of this is that Goble responded so quickly that I was able to pass on this information before my session was over, which meant that teachers left with the answers to questions that at first I didn’t have. These type of situations inspire me to consistently give back to my PLN.  

I challenge you as a connected educator to not only consume for the benefit of you and your students, but to also give back by sharing all the great things you and your students are doing.  Although most teachers feel they have nothing worth while to share it usually the complete opposite.  Its also important to realize that by reaching even one teacher with a tweet or Facebook post, you will be impacting hundreds of students over time.


The Battle Against Isolation: Joining the Connected Community

“Who is helping you get better, or–more importantly–who is inspiring you to want to be great? (Whitaker, Zoul, Casas, 30).”

“What Connected Educators Do Differently”

Teachers face one of the more interesting work environments. Each day they come to work surrounded by people.  As a result, teachers are constantly communicating, collaborating, and interacting with students, colleagues, and administrators. Yet for many teachers, they feel isolated and alone as they work tirelessly to support and guide their students. Why this feeling of loneliness?  The time teachers spend with their colleagues, and adults in general, is extremely limited. Although collaboration and PLCs have become a staple of today’s schools, teachers are still spending the vast majority of their work week alone with their students.

One of the biggest results of this isolation teachers are facing is that it leads to the feelings there is a lack of support, an absence of new ideas, and the need for inspiration. All three of these are crucial ingredients for the growth of teachers and it is the reason why so many teachers get stuck in ruts. The quote above came from Key Connector 3 titled, Embracing the Three Cs: Communication, Collaboration, and Community, in What Connected Educators Do Differently. The authors discuss how social media can create that community that teachers are searching for that will help them to continue to grow and develop as educators.

As I have said so many times before, Twitter was a game changer for me professionally. It provided me with a community of educators who were willing to share, learn, and grow together. I gain the extra support, a steady flow of new ideas, and so much inspiration as I see other educators throughout the world doing amazing things that I want to duplicate in my classrooms. Whether it is through Twitter, blogging, Facebook, Pinterest, Voxer, or any other form of social media, it is important for teachers and administrators to know and understand the power, possibilities, and advantages of being a connected educator. By becoming a connected educator teachers can fight back against the isolation they face on a daily basis and become part of powerful community of learners that goes well beyond their classroom, school, and even district.

#Hashtag – The Most Powerful Character on Twitter

“However, connected educators around the world have taken matters into their own hands and begun “personalizing” their learning by reaching out to colleagues near and far in an effort to learn as much as possible about how to continuously get better at what they do (Whitaker, Zoul, Casas, 417).”

“What Connected Educators Do Differently”

Choice is one of the most powerful tools in education. It transfers power, ownership, and control to the learner and has become one of my favorite strategies when working with both students and educators. Letting go and allowing the learner to control their own path is a major shift that can transform the learning environment in a classroom and school. It is also one of my favorite characteristics of Twitter as users are given the choice on when to access it, who to follow, and what to explore.

bookThe title of Key Connector 2 in What Connected Educators Do Differently encompasses that perfectly as it states, “Learn What They Want, When They Want, How They Want.” That titles sums up everything I love about Twitter. The user is in complete control of their own professional development. What better way to differentiate instruction for teachers when it comes to professional development than to use the power of Twitter.  Educators know better than anyone the importance of differentiation when it comes to our students, however, that same mentality is not always transferred over to professional development and learning for teachers.

Twitter hashtags (#) are a built in tool that is perfect for differentiating professional development and increasing collaboration among educators within a topic, subject area, building, district, and even the world. Finding the right hashtag will open up a new world of learning and inspiration for teachers.  My favorite way of describing hashtags comes from Alex Howard (@digiphile) when he says “#hashtags on Twitter are like channels on cable TV (Apirl 4, 2009).” No matter your subject area or interest there is a hashtag out there for you! Once you find hashtags that fit your interest you will find amazing educators that will be there to support, inspire, and assist you.

At the end of Key Connector 2 the authors, Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker), Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy), and Jeffrey Zoul (@Jeff_Zoul) provide resources and encourage readers to find hashtags that will benefit them. Over the last couple of years I have built a similar type of resource for teachers in my district that includes a number of hashtags by topic and sites that get teachers started on their journey into Twitter. Below I have included some of my favorite hashtags that are always shown on my Tweetdeck.  I also encourage you to check out my list of the best educational hashtags and other Twitter resources that include schedules of educational Twitter chats created by Sean Junkins (@sjunkins).

My Favorite Twitter Hashtags

#bpsne – The hashtag for Bellevue Public Schools where teachers share resources and all the great things happening in their classrooms.

#ipadacademy – The hashtag created for the Bellevue Public Schools teachers involved in the iPad Academy.  A great place to gain insight into 1:1 iPad classrooms in addition to great resources.

#nebedchat & #nebedu – The two educational hashtags used by Nebraska educators.

#edchat – One of the longest running educational hashtags.

#edtech & edtechat – Great hashtags when wanting to learn and connect within the world of educational technology.

#tlap – One of the most inspiring hashtags that brings together teachers inspired by Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) and his book Teach Like a Pirate.

#sschat & #sstlap – By far my two favorite hashtags for Social Studies teachers and as a former Social Studies teacher these two are still alive and well on my Tweetdeck.

#educoach & #personalizedPD – These are two hashtags that have really gotten my attention the last six months as I moved into the instructional technology coaching arena.

I would love for you to share your favorite hashtags.  Leave a comment and lets continue the conversation!

Turning the Light On – Helping Educators See the Power of Twitter

We hear stories of how people opened up Twitter accounts, did not see the purpose, and soon after lost interest altogether and gave up on it as a professional learning vehicle.  But for many other educators who manage to stay the course, Twitter becomes their “go to” tool for connectivity (Whitaker, Zoul, Casas, 4).

“What Connected Educators Do Differently”

It has been one of the biggest challenges for me the last few years.  One that does not directly involve students, but rather my fellow teachers and administrators, and it centers around Twitter and the quote above.  How do we help our colleagues stay the course when it comes to using Twitter?  For me, Twitter has been a game changer when it comes to my professional growth as an educator since it was introduced to me by Ann Feldmann (@annfeldmann1), Brent Catlett (@catlett1), and Jenny Krzystowczy (@jennyktechin).  

In one of my first blog posts two years ago I wrote about how Twitter is “My Personal Professional Development.”  During the past couple of years I have talked to my colleagues about the influence Twitter has had on my teaching.  Last year I presented to teachers and administrators on the power of Twitter, talking to them about Twitter basics, using tools like Tweetdeck, how to use hashtags, and ways to leverage Twitter to form a professional learning network.  In my new role as a tech integrationist my team integrates Twitter into almost everything we do when working with our staff.  

So how do we keep teachers more engaged on Twitter to help them get over the hump to the point when using Twitter becomes part of their routine. The easy part is getting teachers setup with a Twitter account.  They will begin following people and may even check out some of the Twitter hashtags.  However, many teachers and administrators fail to stay engaged and continue to utilize it on an ongoing basis.

As I reflect on my own journey to becoming a connected educator I can completely relate.  At first I didn’t see the need for Twitter, but eventually created an account.  I then began following a few people, but I still didn’t see the point early on, however, things began to change as I continued to use Twitter on a daily basis, began following more educators, and started taking advantage of hashtags.  Through this process I began to understand why it was something I needed to consistently be using.  

The only way I can describe it is that its a process.  Although I want people to see the light immediately it just doesn’t happen that way.  People have to discover it for themselves.  However, I can say that one of the most important parts of the process is simply going to Twitter and making it a part of your routine.  Without investing some time and energy there will be nothing to gain in return.  The gain comes in the form of inspiration, new ideas, resources, tools, and best of all becoming part of an amazing and global community of educators.  Therefore, although it is a challenge to help educators see the light, it is definitely worth the effort. 

If you have strategies or ideas on how to help teachers see the power of Twitter I encourage you to leave a comment and share.  Let’s get a conversation going to help get more educators connected and working together.

Student Projects – Learn by Creating, Sharing, Revising, & Choice

The Project Overview & Past Failures
My students recently started working on a 1920s video project that they will be completing in small groups using their iPads.  The vision is to have groups create projects on specific topics of the 1920s that will be used to teach the rest of the class.  In the past, these type of projects have not been successful when it comes to students teaching one another through their projects.  As a result, I had started moving away from using this strategy, although I always knew I wanted to work to improve it.  After reflecting on the shortfalls of these past projects, here is what I found to be the issues:

1)  The students projects don’t hit and/or focus on the most important information.
2)  A large amount of time is spent on researching and learning the topic instead of focusing on the creation of the project and how it can be best suited to teach the material.  This is not saying that research isn’t important, but when there is a limited amount of time to ask students to research, learn, and create to teach we are asking a lot.  In this project, my focus is on students creating projects with purpose of teaching.
3)  Students only listen to classmates’ content when the projects are due, which is usually the one day it is presented to the class.  The problem is that students are only coming into contact with the material once, which is simply not enough exposure to truly learn the material.
4)  Student projects are average in quality and students do not deliver the content in an effective manner.

The New Plan of Attack
The first key ingredient was infusing student choice into the projects.  My entire class has been built around student choice, and therefore, had to be included within this project.  Students were allowed to choose their groups (no more than three), their topic, and what apps they use to create their video (Explain Everything, iMovie, TouchCast, and Haiku Deck).

The day I introduced the project to students I outlined my vision and the general structure of the project.  I say general structure (overall project focus/purpose, timetable, requirement to use at least three apps = app smashing!) because I wanted students to have a part in some of the decisions being made.  The purpose is getting students take ownership over the success of not only their own project, but all of the them.  Simply put, it was AWESOME!  It was mainly because of the learning environment I have been able to create thus far where student voices are not only heard but acted upon.  I had nine topics that I needed covered and I didn’t want to assign them or even do a random choice.  I needed a way to get students to assign themselves topics and organize themselves into groups.  So how did I do it?  I told the students to figure it out and they did! The crazy thing is how efficient and quick they were, although I did provide some coaching to help them problem solve!  I simply informed that they have the next couple of minutes to figure out the topics and groups.  They had to decide how they were going to work out any conflicts, which did come up as I had hoped (we as teachers need to put students in controlled situations that may get uncomfortable so they can learn to work it out).  Two groups ended up doing Paper, Rock, Scissors to solve a conflict over topics!  Within five minutes students were organized in groups and each group had their topic!  This first day created the foundation for a great project that has a number of important elements that solves the issues my projects like this have had in the past.  Each number below corresponds and addresses the issues discussed above.

1 & 2)  To save time researching I created posts in iTunes U (I use iTunes U  for every unit to share content/materials with my students) that has all the necessary learning materials that students need, including: quality websites, my video lectures, documents and other video clips.  This will also guarantee that students will know the ‘essential’ information that needs to be in their projects.  Students can do more research above and beyond that but it is not a requirement.
3)  The central part of the project is having six work days and three share days (peer review/descriptive feedback).  The first two share days will include groups sharing their ideas and projects.  On these days the rest of the class will provide descriptive feedback, helping the group improve their project in preparation for the final sharing.  This means students will be interacting with all the other topics three times total.  In addition, I will be adding in my own tidbits to help all students understand the main topics.  Students will not have to wait until the final showing to learn the material from other groups.  Instead, they will be learning throughout the entire process and the hope is that by the end students will have a deeper understanding.
4)  The two share days before the final showing will be focused on students providing descriptive feedback, as mentioned above.  I see this as an important time investment that will lead to quality projects as students will be receiving tips and ideas from the same people they are trying to teach.  Students have already been practicing giving descriptive feedback and understand the power and importance of honesty within the process.  After each share day groups will then have work days to revise and improve their projects using the feedback from fellow students.  Below is the video that my mentor and tech trainer Ann Feldmann (@annfeldmann1) shared with me.  I now use it when first introducing students to peer review and descriptive feedback.  Note that although the video is of elementary students, I feel it makes it all that much more powerful for students and teachers no matter the age.  Great way to start a conversation and culture based on students and teachers challenging one another to get better and constantly work to improve.

Video: Austin’s Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work

My Personal Professional Development = Twitter!

Twitter has changed everything for me as an educator.  Instead of searching out professional development opportunities on my own or waiting for my school/district to provide trainings and inservice, I simply open up Twitter and let it all come to me.  I can honestly say that I grow a little bit each day (and sometimes a lot!) as an educator simply by scrolling through my Twitter feed.  The ability to connect with literally thousands of educators all across the world is simply amazing.  I have always felt that today’s teachers are so lucky to live in a time where information and resources are just just a click away.  In the same way Twitter has made it so easy to improve our craft by providing a platform where teachers can connect with one another to share ideas, resources, inspiration, and all sorts of information.

I must admit that I was skeptical at first and didn’t see the possibilities in Twitter.  However, the power of Twitter has transformed my view of social media and professional development.  I had never been on MySpace, Facebook or a part of any other social media outlet.  I was always warned as an educator to be careful with social media as it could get you into trouble.  No longer am I focused on the problems that can come from social media because the positives are too powerful and outweigh any issues that can come up.

For me it all started through the encouragement and leadership of my district’s amazing tech trainers (check them out on Twitter @catlett1 @jennykbps & @annfeldmann1). I took the leap a little over a year and half ago.  Since then I have dramatically improved as a teacher as a result of connecting with so many great educators.  Although at first I was only a consumer on Twitter, following others and taking in all the great information, I soon realized the importance and power of sharing.  I have heard fellow teachers say that the reason they don’t share is that they have nothing worth sharing, which is completely crazy!  If you are in this business and passionate about what you are doing you always will have great things to share out.  Whether it is an idea, a lesson plan, or a great resource, know that it can have an impact on others in a positive way.  And even if it doesn’t, no harm done!

Twitter is the ultimate professional development for educators because it provides differentiation.  You follow who you want, you access it when you want, and you click on the the information you want to learn more about!  It is for that reason that Twitter has become my ultimate personal professional development.  Far too often in-services and trainings are not effective for all who attend because they didn’t choose to be there or the topic being presented.  There is a time a place for teachers to hear the same message, just as it is for our students.  But it is also imperative that administrators provide professional development that is differentiated so that it provides teachers what they need and want to improve their teaching!  Twitter could be the tool that creates the ability to differentiate.  Teachers need to be encouraged to connect, because once they do, everything will change! Professional development will be taking place on a consistent basis, something all administrators would love to see happening.

Below I have provided some of my favorite people and #hashtags to follow.  I encourage teachers to use TweetDeck and have it open when working on their laptop or desktop (doesn’t work on smartphones or tablets).  I would also love to hear from you on what hashtags and people I along with others should be following.

Finally, the only problem with this post is that I am mainly reaching educators who are already connected.  So my question to you is this:  How do we get other teachers and administrators connected to all that Twitter provides educators?

My Most Followed #Hashtags
#nebedchat – Nebraska’s teachers sharing
#tlap – Teach Like a Pirate
#sstlap – Social Studies Teach Like a Pirate
#ipadacadamey – Bellevue Public Schools iPad Academy teachers sharing
#sschat – social studies teachers sharing information and resources

My Top Twitter Follows in Education that Have Impacted My Teaching
@BeshlossDC (great pics from history)

Creating a Dream Classroom for EVERY Student

What is your dream classroom?  This is the question I presented to one of my classes on the second day of school.  My objective was to provide students with a hand in creating the classroom setup and expe1379390879ctations.  What students did not know yet was that I had already chosen them as the class that would be using my class set of iPads (which they could eventually take home each night)!  I did not want students to know about the iPads for a few days.  The last thing I wanted was my students distracted by the iPads, instead,  I wanted to focus on setting up the learning environment with students.

The activity started by providing students with 10 minutes to brainstorm ideas.  I wanted them start their dream creation independently (note that students were reminded that we still had to complete district objectives and the district unit tests).  Students were then placed in groups of four and given 20 minutes to share their ideas and begin creating their dream classroom as a small group.  Finally, we circled up as a class and created our dream classroom together.  The picture above is the end of  a 25 minute discussion with students on what they wanted their dream classroom to look like.  It was an interesting discussion that was a lot more calm than I had envisioned it.  The students seemed very focused and thoughtful, although there were some pretty funny ideas that did not make the board (students had to agree on the ideas placed on the board).   I was pleased with a number of things students presented, which included: creativity, comfy, positive, games/create games, feedback, effort/people try, revise, and treats (specifically, gummy bears)!  But the one that has had the biggest impact on our classroom? CHOICE.   It became clearly early on in the discussion that students wanted more choice.  They wanted to choose how they learn, where they learn, what they learn and how they show their learning.  At the end of the discussion I took a picture with my iPad and told students that it was now my job to create their dream classroom.

The next three weeks included a number of introductory activities and themes that focused on setting up the learning environment and teaching skills that students would need to be successful within the classroom (this includes basic iPad skills/workflow, digital citizenship lessons, and analyzing America today).  All of this provided me with time to visualize and create my students’ dream classroom.  Using ideas that came out of summer reflection and personal guided professional development (the foundation being Twitter) I created an Individual Student Education Plan that would set the foundation of my class.  The idea was inspired by both my students request for choice and NETA13 keynote speaker Adam Bellow who discussed his feeling that every student should have an IEP.  I was also wrestling with the idea of utilizing strategies centered around flipping the classroom, with inspiration and ideas coming from Tom Driscoll.

I went about breaking down the required material into clear learning objectives.  The document below is the first page of a five page document that would be used to track each student’s learning during a unit of study.  For each objective students must reflect on their path to learning and document their evidence of learning.  I then went to work gathering together learning materials for students that includes:  creating my own learning videos for students, finding quality video clips and websites, primary source documents, learning activities, and other resources.  iTunes U is my go to app to share all these materials with students.  It is important to note that students do have the choice to go outside of my materials to learn the objectives, which could be as easy as accessing their textbook or the internet.

Each week is broken up in two ways:  Activity Days and Choice Days.  Although there is no set number or schedule students will have on average three choice days a week.  On Choice Days students have the choice on how, where, and what they learn.  They can either spend the time learning the material or working on their products that will show their learning.  I spend the time moving from one student to the next checking in on them, discussing the material, answering questions and checking student work.  One of the main goals is to assess student work with them, face to face.  This leads to timely feedback that includes the student reflecting on their work right then and there.  It allows for a perfect time to check for understanding by asking students direct questions without them feeling pressure in front of the class.

Activity Days are teacher led lessons that get students actively involved in their learning and can range from class discussion to small group activities and simulations.  The key is that students are doing something!  What it
shouldn’t be is simply them listening to me lecture as my students can view my video lessons any time they want.  This setup provides my students and I a lot of freedom throughout the week, something we all want!

Although my class is only two weeks into this process it has been very rewarding.  As with anything it is not perfect and as a class we are constantly working together to improve it.  I have no idea where my class will take this challenge, but I look forward to taking the journey with them.6897818