Are You #MASDproud?

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My faithful (or even occasional) blog readers might think, “Oh, she’s writing about Twitter again…” – and they would be correct! I can’t imagine going through an entire Connected Educator Month without reminding everyone of the power of Twitter for developing and growing a professional learning network. But I’m not going to spend much time today writing about how Twitter works or telling you who to follow. For that, you can login to our Digital Learning Resources course on Moodle and check out the “Twitter for Teachers” module or see what I’ve shared on my webpage.

Today I want to focus on using one aspect of Twitter – the hashtag – to build connections. Hashtags are a little like a search term. Even if you don’t have a Twitter account, you can search for a hashtag and see everything that’s been tweeted using that tag. It’s a great way to focus a Twitter search and find what you’re looking for. So let’s think about that in reverse. If you can find tweets on a particular topic by searching a hashtag, it stands to reason that a good way to get your tweets out there is to consistently use a hashtag that makes sense and that people will remember. Once they discover that you’re sharing information of interest to them, they will likely start to follow you. That’s a way to make connections!

So let’s use Twitter to tell the story of all the great things happening here in our district. Let’s make connections and build community. If you are already on Twitter, please make an effort to share great things happening in your classroom or school using the hashtag #MASDproud. If you haven’t yet made the leap to your own Twitter account, I urge you to go to https://twitter.com and type #MASDproud into the search box and see what comes up…and then consider adding your own voice when you’re ready. Let’s flood the Twitter-sphere with all the great things going on in Mechanicsburg and make #MASDproud a way to connect with one another and the world.

I know I am #MASDproud. Are you?

Listen to Learn and Connect

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Hopefully you all took a few minutes to find some good blogs to read and comment on this week. Wait…what? You don’t have time to search for blogs and then read them? But you still want to be the best teacher you can be. You still believe in lifelong learning and the fact that we’re never really “there”. So when I ask you to sit down at your computer and read blogs, some of you probably think, “And just when am I supposed to fit that in?” Today, I offer an alternative.

The BAM! Radio Network is “the largest all-education talk radio network in the world, offering programming from the nation’s top education organizations and thought leaders and reaching a wide audience of people passionately committed to quality education.” BAM! features dozens of audio interviews on a huge variety of educational topics. You can search for and listen to individual episodes (each about 10-12 minutes long) or subscribe to a particular channel through iTunes. Sure, it will take a few minutes to search the site and find a channel, but once you do, subscribing to a channel will allow you to have new episodes automatically appear in iTunes as soon as they are available. Now you can get your daily dose of professional learning during your commute, while waiting for the kids to finish piano lessons, or while walking the dog.

You can search for channels using the “Browse All” tab on the homepage. Check out the screenshot below for the current choices.

BAM channels

The list of hosts is impressive. These educators come from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives and the shows feature guests who are, in many cases, teachers and administrators who are “in the trenches” and share their everyday experiences. Interested in the flipped classroom concept? Check out “Tales from the Flip Side” with Jon Bergmann. Want some ideas for engaging students? Try “Hooked! Captivating Students with Matt Miller. Interested in “Movement and Play”? “Music and Learning”? There’s even “School Principals Radio”, “School Financial Officers Radio”, and “School Nurses Radio”. There’s something for everyone!

Once you find a channel you like, I encourage you to find out more about the hosts and guests. Look them up. Follow them on Twitter. Do they have a blog? Listening to your PD can lead to new connections in your personal learning network.

If you like to learn by listening or if the idea of learning while doing other things fits your schedule, I encourage you to check out the BAM! Radio Network. It’s a recent find for me, but one I’m glad to add to my professional learning toolbox.

 

Connecting Through Blogs

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I’ve often reflected on the fact that much of my best professional learning has come from informal conversations with other teachers. Sometimes that happens in the hallway after school or in the faculty room over lunch. But increasingly, those conversations also happen online. While it’s always been possible to read articles and books to learn new teaching strategies or to dig deeper into content, what happens when you need clarification of an idea? You can’t ask a book a question. You could try emailing the author, but getting a response could take weeks – and that conversation is limited to you and the author. Enter the power of blogs.

For those who aren’t sure how a blog is different from any other webpage, the main difference (in my opinion) is conversation. A blog includes two main components: a post, written by the blogger (author) on a particular topic; followed by comments, written by the readers and the blogger. The comments are the key. When I read a blog post, I can share my own thoughts and questions and start a conversation, not just with the author, but with other readers as well. It’s a little like a book club – minus the schedule and the snacks. I can read a book on my own. Or, I can read a book and then get together with others who have read the book and talk about it. This helps me connect with others who have similar interests, but who may or may not think the same way about what we’ve read. Our conversation can challenge my thinking and help me to see things from a new perspective.

Fortunately for us as educators, there are many blogs out there to help us expand our conversations. If you’re shy, you can start by just reading the posts and comments. Even the wallflower at a book club will probably learn something from listening to the conversation of others. Eventually I hope you’ll feel comfortable enough to make a comment of your own; to add your own voice to the conversation. This is a great way to make connections with teachers other than those you see on a daily basis.

So how do you find good blogs? I’ll be honest. I find most of my blogs via Twitter…but that’s a topic for another post. There are a few organizations out there that publish lists of educational blogs. Teach 100 is a popular one that ranks blogs based on several different criteria. I haven’t found a way to search by topics though, so this one could take a while to sift through if you’re looking for something specific. A faster way is to search for your topic, but include the word “blog” in your search. For instance, a search for blog teaching math returned the following:

blog teaching math

You’ll have to click on a few titles and read a few posts and comments to decide if the blog is really of interest to you. Once you find a blog you like, check out sidebars and see if there is a “blogroll”. This is a list of other blogs that blogger follows….kind of like getting a book recommendation from someone in your book club. I’m working on adding a blog roll to Learn.Share.Repeat. – stay tuned! But if you’d like to check out a few blogs I read on a regular basis, take a look at these:

The Principal of Change  – George Couros is a principal and innovative learning consultant from Canada. His posts always push my thinking.

Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension – Pernille Ripp is a 7th grade teacher who blogs about developing passionate learners.

Free Technology for Teachers – Richard Byrne shares some of the most practical posts I’ve found and helps me stay on top of the “new things” out there for teachers and students.

I’ve never met any of these three bloggers personally, but I feel like I know them because I’ve read their work and interacted with them through comments and on Twitter. I am “connected”, knowing that I have some “go-to” blogs where I know I always learn something new.

This week, I encourage you to spend some time looking for a blog or two that will benefit your professional learning. When you find one, share it with someone in your department or grade level to expand the connections even more. Also, remembering the power of sharing and conversation, leave a comment here and tell us what you found. Together we all know more!

Get Connected!

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Here at MASD, we are pretty good at collaboration. Teams of teachers meet regularly to plan lessons, evaluate student work, share concerns about individual students, and to enhance their own skills. We have rich conversations that translate into important learning experiences for kids. Our curriculum and assessment system is the result of dozens of teachers coming together with their collective strengths to create something better for our students. Collaboration is a good thing. We often say, “The answer is in the room”…and many times it is. But what if it’s not?

Fortunately, there’s a bigger room out there…with a lot more teachers in it.

October is Connected Educator Month. What does it mean to be a “connected educator”? Why is it important for us to make connections and learn from those outside our daily face-to-face interactions? Tom Whitby makes the case for connection here. I encourage you to read the entire post, but this paragraph gets to the heart of it:

The term “connected educator” in this context refers to educators who are exploring or embracing the development of collegial sources and access to all sources through connections made using technology. They are not abandoning their face-to-face connections. They are still maintaining relationships with colleagues in their buildings and district, and they still maintain connections with students and parents. They are expanding their reach however to global connections made possible through technology. They are taking advantage of the ability to connect with a vast array of education experts in order to improve their own expertise in education. They are connecting with authors, thought leaders and lead learners around the world in order to achieve this. We call these collaborative innovators, “connected educators”. Their number is growing and we call this a “connected community”.

In recognition of Connected Educator Month, each week in October I’ll feature another post about ways teachers can grow their personal learning networks. I’ll share a variety of options so you can choose the ones that appeal most to you. To get us started, check out this short video about personal learning networks…

If you can’t wait for my next post, you can find a list of events scheduled for Connected Educator Month here. My hope is that by the end of October you will have taken steps towards developing or expanding an online personal learning network and that you’ll share your story. If the answer really is “in the room”, don’t we owe it to our students to collaborate in the biggest and smartest room we can find?

Where Do You Find All These Things?

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 2.24.08 PM“Where in the world do you find all these resources?” “How did you know about…?” Teachers ask me these questions all the time. My answer is usually, “I found it on Twitter.”

I know Twitter sometimes gets a bad rap, but if you follow the right people, Twitter can also be a powerful professional learning tool. As with most tools, it’s all in how you use it. Here are a few suggestions for teachers who want to use Twitter as a way to learn and grow.

Create a professional Twitter account. If you already have a Twitter account you use for keeping up with news or hobbies, that’s great. But if you want to use Twitter to connect with other teachers or education professionals, you might consider creating a separate account in which you only follow other educators. This will help you to filter out some of the distractions and concentrate on learning.

Organize your Twitter stream. Dr. Leidy once shared that he heard a speaker say trying to learn from Twitter is like a thirsty person standing in the middle of a rushing river. You know you can’t drink it all, but if you fill your cup from the water that flows past, you can quench your thirst. Unless you have the time to watch your Twitter feed all day long, there’s no way you’re going to catch everything. But there are ways to filter the flow of information a bit and make sure you see more of what you want.  One way I do this is through an application called TweetDeck. TweetDeck allows me to create columns based on a particular topic of interest. In the screenshot below, you see four of those columns. “Home” is my normal Twitter feed. “Notifications” lets me see all tweets that include my Twitter name or any tweet of mine that someone else favorites or retweets. My “Favorites” column shows me all the tweets I’ve “favorited” so I can go back and look at them when I have more time. The last column is one I created to filter tweets by a specific hashtag…more on those in a minute. If you want to get more out of Twitter, I highly recommend trying TweetDeck or another tool such as Hootsuite or Twubs. Each of these tools provides a way of channeling that rushing river so you can drink the very best water.

Screenshot of TweetDeck columns

Search for hashtags. The symbol we commonly call the number sign or the pound sign is now also used in social media to create a hashtag. A # in front of a word or phrase on Twitter (or any other social media) is a way of tagging or categorizing that tweet. I think of hashtags like labels you’d write on the tab of a file folder. If I went to a file drawer to find resources on Google Apps, I’d look for a folder labeled “Google Apps”. In Twitter, if I want to know more about Google Apps, I can search for #GoogleApps. Anything that anyone else has tweeted using the same hashtag will then show up in the results. In TweetDeck, I can create a column for a particular hashtag so I can keep up with conversations about that topic. Not sure what hashtags are out there? Check out this amazing list of educational hashtags by Jerry Blumengarten, better known as Cybraryman. You’ll find hashtags for your grade level, subject area, or just about any educational interest. Teach Math? Try #mathed. Art teacher? Check out #arted. Take a look at the list. I’m sure you’ll find something relevant.

There is so much more I could share about Twitter, but that’s probably enough for one post. If you’re ready for more, you can check out my Diigo list of Twitter resources here. If you’re just getting started with Twitter, create an account and give it a try. If you have any questions or need any help, just let me know. Once you’ve started your account, please follow me at @areardon and I’ll follow you as well. Make sure you follow our new MASD Twitter account, too – @MbgAreaSD – for all the latest news from the district.

If you’re already using Twitter as a professional learning tool, please comment below and tell us your best tips and tricks for getting the most from Twitter.

Are You a Connected Educator?

Last week while reading through my Twitter feed, I learned that October is Connected Educator Month. If you read my post on Tuesday (or if you’ve had anything more than a casual conversation with me lately) you’ve probably heard me talk about all the things I’m learning through my PLN – my personal (or professional) learning network. Here in Mechanicsburg, when someone says “PLN” they are usually referring to the “Penn Literacy Network“, which has taught many of us the importance of integrating literacy across the curriculum. It wasn’t my intention to highjack that acronym, but I didn’t make this one up. In our conversations, we’ll have to allow the two PLNs to coexist and use the context clues to figure out which one we’re talking about.

Personal learning networks are one of the ways that educators (and others) can continue to learn and grow throughout their careers. We’ve always had conversations in faculty rooms and standing in the hallways after school, but today’s PLNs take advantage of digital tools, which allow us to connect with like-minded (or not so like-minded) people from all around the globe.

If you’re interested in growing your own PLN, here are a few helpful resources. This one, which I found via @AdamBellow on Twitter, does a nice job of summarizing Connected Educators Month and how it works. It features a short video of some education leaders talking about the value they find in being connected. You could also read this article, which features a video by Skip Via telling about how he created and manages his PLN. The video is a few years old, so a few of the tools he mentions are no longer available, but there are plenty of others that have taken their place.

There are lots of ways to become connected and build your PLN. Where will you start?