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?

Summer Learning Challenge

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Image by Nic Adler on flickr.

It’s the last day of school, so I’ll keep this short. Summer is our “down time”; our chance to unwind and take a break from the constancy of the school year. But, just as we tell the kids, that doesn’t mean our learning has to stop. Once you’ve had a chance to catch your breath, I’d like to offer a small challenge. This summer, try one new thing related to technology or digital learning. Here are a few ideas…

Pick one that’s new to you…or come up with your own idea. Then come back and leave a comment and share what you’ve learned. Have a great summer, everyone…and Happy Learning!

 

It’s a Chromebook. How Do I…?

Over the past year or so, Chromebooks have been popping up in schools across the district. Many of the learning activities students engage in involve the use of web-based resources, and Chromebooks allow them to access the Internet quickly and efficiently – and at a much lower price than most conventional laptops. This allows us to put more devices into the hands of students, but there are a few things that work a little differently than the Mac or Windows laptops you might be used to. Most of you know I’m a devoted Mac user, but I’ve been using a Chromebook on and off this year to get more comfortable. In fact, this post has been written and published using a Chromebook! Read on for a few of the very basic things I’ve learned along the way.

Logging In  For our elementary students who don’t have their own Google accounts, the Chromebooks are set to automatically login to a guest account. From there, students have the same Internet access they would have from any other district computer.

At the middle and high schools, students and teachers can login to the Chromebooks with their own Google accounts. This gives you access to your Google Drives and also creates a profile on that machine so any files you download will be available any time you login on that device (without allowing other users to see them).

Downloading Files  While most of the work you do on a Chromebook will be stored “in the cloud” through your Google account, you do have the ability to store some files locally. For instance, if you’re looking for an image to insert into a project, you can save the file to the Chromebook’s downloads folder and then browse to insert the picture.

Right Click   To bring up the “right click” menu on a Chromebook, tap the trackpad with two fingers at the same time OR hold down the Alt key and tap the trackpad with a single finger.

Screenshots  Need to take a screenshot of your whole Chromebook screen? Press the Control key (ctrl) and the “Window Switcher” key at the same time. To capture just a portion of the screen, hold down Ctrl and Shift and press the “Window Switcher” key. Then drag the crosshairs around the portion of the screen you wish to capture.

window switcher key

For more information, check out my Diigo list about Chromebooks. I continually add to this list as I find resources related to Chromebooks, so it’s always growing. If you’ve discovered your own helpful tips and tricks for using Chromebooks, please share them in the comments below.

 

Make Your Own Digital Refrigerator Magnet Activities

I realize there’s only a day left in National Poetry Month, but better late than never, right? I just found this awesome idea from Shake Up Learning for Collaborative Magnetic Poetry with Google Drawings.

magnetic poetry

You can click on the link in the blog to make a copy of a Google Drawing template. From there, you can rename the document and share it with whomever you’d like. Students can work independently or work together to build collaborative poems. Don’t see the words you want? Create a text box and add your own! Here’s a quick example I made…

lsr fridge

You don’t need to stop at poetry, either. Copy the template and add text boxes with content vocabulary and let students use the words to build meaningful sentences. Math teachers could add numbers and symbols and let students create equations. Here’s a picture of a quick sample I made. Click on it and make your own copy to modify as you wish.

Equations

Think about all the things you might do with magnets on a refrigerator! You don’t even need to start with the template…or a refrigerator! Open a Google Drawing and import your own background picture that matches the theme of your poem. This would be a creative way for students to publish original poems.

Check out Collaborative Magnetic Poetry with Google Drawings and give it a try in your classroom. Then come back and share some examples in the comments so we can all enjoy your students’ creativity!

Get “Flippity” for Flashcards…and More!

This week on Twitter I learned about a great resource for making flashcards. Now, I don’t normally get excited about flashcards…but Flippity is different. Using a Google Spreadsheet template, you simply type in the content or add links to images or even videos.  Once you create a set of cards, you can share them with anyone via a link. As a teacher, you can create flashcards and share the link with students or (this is the part I really like!) students can create their own flashcards and share them with one another. Check out the sample flashcard set on Flippity’s homepage.

Flippity is easy to use. You do need a Google account, so if you are not using your district Google Apps account yet, let me know and I’ll be happy to get you set up. Then simply follow these four step directions on the Flippity website…

Flippity directions

Just a couple of notes…

Images and videos can be added to cards via links only – you can’t upload a file from your computer. It looks like video links have to be from YouTube, so this will be an issue for our kids using them in school until we find a solution for that. But don’t let that stop you. Either skip the videos or let them work on those at home.

Here’s a set of flashcards I made about Google Apps. Flippity has a few other templates, including a quiz game that looks a lot like the Jeopardy templates many of us have used. Check them out and give it a try! If you need any help, just let me know.

If you decide to give Flippity a try, share the link in the comments so we can see your cards. Also, if you have other apps or resources you use to create flashcards, please share those as well. Together, we all learn more!