Unconnected Learners

I just finished listening in on Teachers Teaching Teachers tonight.  It was the kick-off for Connected Educators Month.  Check out the link here. Through many different topics and conversations that took place in the session, I decided to write my blog post tonight about connected learners and the unconnected learners that are reluctant to be connected.

Since going through the Summer Institute in 2010, I consider myself a connected learner.  What does this mean?  Well, it means I stay connected with other professionals through various social media sites, or other web platforms where ideas can be shared and essentially we become better teachers because we learn what is working in each other’s classroom and go forward with more learning tools in our belts.  For example, I find Twitter to be a phenomenal place to get unscripted professional development.  I find new websites, digital tools, and have conversations with other educators that help enrich my teaching. In addition, I may attend webinars, online book talks, or participate in subscribing to a blog.  There is a cornucopia of ways to be a connected learner.

Enriching my teaching and my students as learners is what I crave and what I thrive for each and every day.  The idea of “not being in teacher mode” during the summer or any other time of year, never crosses my mind.  I am not cutting down educators that may have made that comment in the past.  Don’t get me wrong, we all need a break.  I can’t help but wonder why there are teachers out there who do not want be connected or help their students become connected learners.  I understand there are districts who prevent their teachers from using technology to enhance their student’s learning.  This does not mean the teacher themselves can’t become connected in some way to help their students.  Also, what actually holds teachers back from becoming a connected learner and discovering the possibilities that awaits them?  Is it fear of using something like Twitter, Facebook, or Google +?  Perhaps it is the lack of knowledge of such technological tools and what they offer.  I also wonder if there are still teachers out there who think technology is just another gimmick, bell, or whistle to bring in the classroom.  Wait,  it is less of a wonder and more of a “I know”; but there are teachers who believe using technology within their lessons is just an excuse to use it. Grasping and understanding the “why” has not been attained.

One specific topic that came about in the discussion tonight was “lurkers”.  Lurkers are those people who in reality are connected, but never participate in what is happening.  For instance, I have participated in webinars where individual participants don’t do anything to actively participate in the session.  They sit and watch and are just there.  What motivates these individuals to “lurk”?  Are they not confident, just being good listeners, or are they just there because they have to be there as a requirement by a principal?

Connected Learning month will hopefully answer some of the questions that were brought up tonight.  On the other hand, the answers may already exist.  Nevertheless, connected learning can be powerful for teachers and students.  Online book discussions, webinars, social media with students, Youth Voices, Digital Is, etc. are all great ways to be connected and become better teachers and help your students be better learners.  Check out more resources on the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website for connected learning.

Cheers!


Positive Social Media

My brain has been swirling around a lot of 21st century learning this past week and I know the only to keep my thoughts straight is to write about it.  There is no doubt social media is becoming more and more apparent in the classroom.  Though school policies may ban it from districts, teachers and students are fighting for it. Yes, I know, I may not be saying anything new, but I wanted to share what will be taking place this year in my classroom and at my school and how I came to this point.
What to choose?
Twitter, Facebook, Celly, Edmodo, Schoology, Remind 101, Etc.  I am sure I am missing a few. It is tough to decide which social media platform to choose.  It can be really overwhelming and rather perplexing.  First, I suggest choosing something you are either familiar with or you can familiarize yourself with and won’t take up too much of your time.  My wife uses Facebook. She is a band director and at the beginning of this summer she launched a group page. She know I am technology savvy and asked me how to do it and I honestly could not give her an answer because though I have a Facebook account, I am not the huge of a fan of Facebook and didn’t know how to complete the task she was asking. She trudged through, figured it out and now has a over two hundred parents and students as part of that group.  She uses it to send out reminders, answer questions, create events, and keep an open line of communication of between herself and parents.  It works for her and she is having success. For example, she had a fundraiser event and she had over forty student volunteers because her students are a part of that social media page/group.  Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t work for me.  Facebook was never intended to be used in schools and therefore, you have bullying issues and students can private message each other and that opens a dangerous door.  Other social media platforms are simpler to navigate and upload images,files, assignments, etc.
During the 2011-2012 school year, I tried to use Edmodo in my classroom. Edmodo is a great social platform that mirrors Facebook and students can dive right in and they don’t skip a beat as Facebook users. Messages can be posted along with links, assignments, etc.  The issue I have with Edmodo is that students can get off topic easily (This can be an issue with any social media website) and students can still send private messages to each other like Facebook.  My student’s wound up creating digital debris this past year because the more I worked with it, I didn’t care for it.  Teachers can belong to groups and get other ideas from teachers.  I am sure with more training and practice, I could have made it work, I just wasn’t sold 100% on it. This doesn’t mean it won’t work for other teachers.
Celly was my main social media platform I used this past year and you can read about in my other blog posts or go to the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website and read about it.
What I Am Doing 2012-2013
At the end of the school year we had a department meeting. My high school colleague introduced Schoology to myself and another language arts teacher.  Like a professional poker player, I am all in!  Schoology rocks because my students and parents can join it once I give them an access code (Edmodo does the same).  Students can NOT private message each other.  All messages are public and viewable by me the teacher, eliminating cyber bullying.  Resources can be shared amongst teachers, assignments can be uploaded to students along with links.  The greatest thing about Schoology is the fact students can upload Google docs to the site, which I have not seen with other social media platforms. I use Google Docs in my classroom and essentially had a paperless classroom by the end of the year.  We are going to be a Google Apps school this year and we will house the students portfolios there.  We agreed between the three of us we would incorporate this social media platform into our classes.  It makes sense for us to keep our lines of communication open with our students and parents and we want to properly assess our student writers by using a writing portfolio that can be passes from grade to grade.  We will at least have grade 7-11 covered using a digital portfolio.
What ever you consider or choose, just keep in mind that there will be students and parents who may not have internet access.  Also, consult with your principal and read your policies on using such a tool.  Also, create a sample student so you see things from their perspective too. Believe me, it helps! Each of these social media sites have apps for smartphones too.  I believe the Celly app is still in the beta stages. Also, investigate Youth Voices too. I will be blogging about this site this year as I incorporate into my writing lessons.  Social media is a digital writing tool that should be considered for any classroom as we teach the 21st century learner.  The collaboration can be endless with using such a tool.  It isn’t just about students sitting in front of their computer, phone, or mobile device.
Look for more blog posts this week. I am going to try and do one at least 3 times this week. Connected Learning kicks of this week too at NWP.
Cheers!

Bringing Twitter into the Classroom: A Low Budget Approach

It is no secret that I teach at a rural school that has a very restricted budget when it comes to technology.  Believe me when I say there have been many of us fighting for upgrades, new computers, wireless, smartboards, document cameras, etc.  Last week I took a different approach to introducing my students to Twitter. Now, I have thrown a lot at both my 7th and 8th graders when it comes to Technology.  My students have learned about Google Docs, Glogster, Celly, our Wiki Page, and Edmodo.  I will admit, I have taken all of them completely by storm.  My 7th graders think it is crazy that I like technology so much.  Anyways, I didn’t want to quickly shove one more piece of technology down my students throats.  So, what I did is I introduced my students to Twitter.  Before we talked about Twitter I had my students do the following for their writing into the day:

Write a message to someone you know using 144 characters or less.  It must make sense and you can’t use text lingo.

Needless to say when the students shared, they had some really interesting posts.  One student wrote: “I am writing a 144 character message. I am doing this because my teacher is asking us to” After the students were done doing this I cleared my white board and drew the word TWITTER on the board.  I then proceeded in having a class discussion about what Twitter actually is and what is its purpose.  All of my classes were similar in their responses.  Here are the common ones they came up with.

  1. A type of social network w/similar qualities like Facebook.
  2. A way to tell people what you are doing at any given point.
  3. It’s free
  4. You can follow people and people can follow you
  5. It is symbolized by a little blue bird
  6. You tweet

I felt my students did an awesome job with this particular part of the lesson.    Next, I asked my students why companies, businesses, or colleges might use Twitter.  I gave subway, and Jimmy Johns as an example.  Students gave multiple answers, but bottom line, they came up with promoting a product and getting people to buy their product.  I responded by saying “Yes, however, why Twitter?”  This part stumped students.  It took a lot of prompting but I did get a few students talk about the idea that it was free and we then discussed the cost of advertising.

After our discussion, I asked students to go back and either write another personal “paper tweet” or write a “paper tweet” from a company or business perspective.  The students did great.  I wish I had pictures of the work they did.  The next time I do this lesson I will take pictures and have students write on a sticky note to put on a poster.  Anyways, I finished the lesson by telling the students they could sign up for a Twitter account and I showed them what the home page looked like on Twitter.com. I did not want my students to feel overwhelmed by having them sign-up for one more digital tool that required a password and username they would probably just forget.  I wanted them to feel less pressure and allow them to view it for themselves and play with this valuable digital tool.  I encouraged my students to follow me, but I told them I would not follow them in return just because of student/teacher relationship boundaries.  I want to follow-up further with my students and see if any of them have creating twitter accounts and find out who or what they are following. I think you could take this lesson and put your twists on it, but I thought it was valuable to teach to my students, especially because there are a lot of social media websites out there they need to learn about.

Cheers.