Sep 282012
 

This week I have an outstanding guest post by Sophia Coppolla from Onlinecollege.org  to share with you. It is a detailed look at building your Personal Learning Network. This is something I spoke briefly about this past summer in Personal Learning Networks – Not Just For Adults Anymore but Sophia ramps it up a bit in her take on building your PLN with a TON more suggestions and resources.

It is a great read and I am very pleased to present it to my readers.

The Social Media Guide to Growing Your Personal Learning Network

Personal learning networks are a great way for educators to get connected with learning opportunities, access professional development resources, and to build camaraderie with other education professionals. Although PLNs have been around for years, in recent years social media has made it possible for these networks to grow exponentially. Now, it’s possible to expand and connect your network around the world anytime, anywhere. But how exactly do you go about doing that? Check out our guide to growing your personal learning network with social media, full of more than 30 different tips, ideas, useful resources, and social media tools that can make it all possible.

Tips & Ideas

Get started developing your social media PLN with these tips and ideas for great ways to make use of social tools.

Guides

Check out these guides to find out how other educators have used social media and other tools to grow their personal learning networks.

Tools & Resources

Want to really make the most of your PLN? Use these popular social media tools for learning to grow and take advantage of your network with the latest technology.

  • Classroom 2.0: In this networking group, you can get connected with other educators who are interested in Web 2.0, social media, and more in the classroom.
  • Ning: On Ning, you can create your own social website to bring your PLN together all in one place.
  • Diigo: Collect, highlight, remember, and share all of the great resources you find online with your PLN on Diigo, and annotation and online bookmarking tool.
  • Google Reader: With Google Reader or any other great RSS tool, you can subscribe to blogs and stay on top of it all.
  • Slideshare: On SlideShare, you can upload presentations to share with your personal learning network.
  • Twitter: Perfect for finding people to add to your PLN, participating in chats, and sharing what you’ve found, Twitter is one of your most powerful tools for growing and maintaining a personal network.
  • Facebook: Another powerhouse for PLNs, Facebook is a great place to connect, share, and grow your network.
  • Scribd: Read, publish, and share documents on Scribd with your PLN, whether you’re sharing classic novels or lectures you’ve delivered. Plus, you can find documents and get connected with their owners.
  • Yahoo! Answers: Find and share information, connect with others, and build upon your personal learning network on this popular answers site.
  • LinkedIn: The gold standard in professional networking, LinkedIn is a great place for education professionals to get connected.
  • Quora: Similar to Yahoo! Answers, Quora offers a professional place to share your knowledge and grow your network.
  • Google+: Often overlooked in favor of Facebook and Twitter, Google+ is a growing network that offers lots of great possibilities for developing PLNs.
  • Pinterest: Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ get a lot of love from personal learning networks, but Pinterest offers a great way to find other educators, and great resources.
  • Delicious: One of the most popular social bookmarking sites on the web, Delicious makes it easy to share what you’ve found and find new followers for your PLN.
  • Paper.li: Using Paper.li, you can curate and share your favorite PLN tweets on a daily basis.
  • Scoop.it: Like Paper.li, Scoop.it is a great tool for curating an engaging PLN magazine based on resources from your network.
  • AddThis: Become a sharing machine with the AddThis toolbar, a great way to immediately share web resources on the web’s most popular social media tools.
Sep 062012
 

Well I am closing in on my first Friday of the school year and I survived. Ok I more than survived. I had a great week! So great I am able to sit down and peel off a new blog post on our preseason Pro D event.

Every year the Thursday before school starts; our School Board brings in some highbrow intellectual, to bestow us teachers with some tid bits of wisdom that we can take with us as we navigate another school year. It is generally a pretty good show as Keynote Speakers are always top-drawer. Some of the A lister’s who have graced the stage of our school theater, include the likes of Sir Kenneth Robinson, Alfie Kohn and Stewart Shenkman, to name a few. I have forgotten the names of the others but they were big names, I swear! So good are these speakers, I even learn a thing or two each year. (insert dumbfounded slack jawed look here)

This years Keynote was Jennifer James, a renowned anthropologist from Seattle. I obviously don’t go to Seattle enough because up until last Thursday, I had never heard of her before but I have to say she was every bit as good as Sir Ken.

The topic this year was about change and James discussed how we (society) use cultural myths and belief systems to make sense of the world around us. Up until recently our world has changed slowly enough that we could seamlessly adapt these belief systems and myths to accommodate and make sense of changes in our world. Today however, technology is changing things so fast, that we can no longer adapt our beliefs and myths quickly enough. As a result, we are seeing conflict between what we believed to be true and the realities of the modern world.

James went on to imply that the education system is based on an outdated belief system, which is simply not adaptable to the modern world or the modern student. She went on in a round about way to say that, we (teachers) need to change if we hope to continue making positive change in young peoples lives. As much as I hate to admit it, she made a ton of sense but then again I am easily convinced. I have been lead down the garden path before because of a good keynote, as my brief association with AMWAY would suggest… but I like to think I am much older and wiser now. 😉

but James is kinda right.

In the past 20 years, technology has kicked the stuffing out of our education system and left those of us who work as educators bruised and bewildered. As a result, we have come to a crossroads in the world of education and quite frankly, no one seems really know which way to turn. The only thing that is certain, there is no going back.

The problem with moving ahead however, is that we need to let go of the belief system and cultural myths which built the education system we have. The way we teach our children is so culturally engrained that any change, regardless of how small, is going to cause some level of duress for someone whether it be teachers, parents or students.

A perfect example is changing the school calendar. The one we currently use is based on the needs of an agrarian society. In North America, the majority of us are no longer living on farms or harvesting crops but suggest changing the school calendar and all hell breaks loose. Education is a part of culture and cannot be seen as simply a service that can be adapted on a whim as the demand changes.

When we take a look at resistance to change in education, the assumption is that the resistance resides solely within the ranks of the educators themselves but that is a simplistic view.

Yes teachers frequently view the discussion around change in education as an affront to what it is they do. Some have been in the game for as many as 40 years and much of the talk around how the education system needs to change, is downright disrespectful to good people who have have spent a career doing a great job. To tell them that what it is they are doing is wrong, invalidates an entire career. To many it seems like the powers that be, simply want out with the old and in with the new. You can’t blame teachers for getting edgy at the mention of spring thaw and south bound ice flows.

Parents are a funny group when it comes to change. Here you have a situation where the majority of people’s concept of what education is like, is their own school career. Using that frame of reference, they view their own children’s educational experience. Obviously parents want what is best for their kids and that includes the latest and greatest in technology and pedagogy. If for some reason they feel their child isn’t getting it, there is hell to pay.

The irony in all this is that, while teachers are on the line for being current and school districts are expected to provide the latest and greatest in facilities and technologies, when things go bad the most common laments among parents go right back to their own experience in school. “School isn’t what it use to be!” “Teachers aren’t as good as they once were!” “We need to get back to basics and start teaching what really matters!”

Talk to a parent and you quickly realize that parents are as stuck in the past as teachers.

For the kids, well… They are the pawns in all this, trapped between what was and what could be but kids are resistant to change as well. Many kids are still anchored securely in the old ways of teaching and learning, just like their teachers and parents. Every year I will have kids who just want to know “What will I be tested on?” and “What do I need to do to get an A?” Ask a kid to think for themselves and they are lost. “Uh… What is the answer?” They are as stuck in the teacher centered model as the rest of us.

Of the three groups, the students are undoubtedly the most receptive to change, then I would say teachers are next and surprisingly perhaps… parents are the least receptive to change in school system. The reason for this is that parents are frozen in the past. Change that they cannot gauge or measure against their own experience is frightening. It is a classic case of, better the devil you know then the devil you don’t.

The other reason I say parents are the most resistant to change is that, it always comes back to the ultimate question. “What is my child’s mark?” Parents want to know how their child is doing and their concept of success is based on old school measures of performance. Anecdotal descriptions of what their child can or cannot do are meaningless to many. “That is great! I am so glad my kids is outstanding at working collaboratively but what is his mark?” In the end, teachers give parents what they want. Marks based solely on content knowledge is a thing of the past but who are we to argue with a parent.

Yes James is right, we need change and resistance is futile but there is more than enough resistance to go around but it essentially comes down to this. As long as our education system is a slave to the culturally engrained belief that education is all about the mark, we will never be able to build a new belief system for our Education System.

Aug 132012
 

I spend a lot of time reflecting about my use of iPads in the classroom and I have gotten a lot of attention and positive feedback about my glass half full approach to evaluating these marvelous little devices. Lately however, I have been getting asked “What are your favorite iPad apps for classroom?” and My response isn’t much more then a very thoughtful “ummmmmm?” This is mainly because the list is rather short and hardly impressive and it is strangely missing most of the big names in Apps for Education.

What follows is a short list of My 6 favorite iPad Apps for the classroom. Some cost a few bucks and that might be an issues for those of you who are running a BYOD program. For those of you who’s program uses school owned iPads, you might be able to get some bulk pricing if you contact the vendor. Most developers would love to get a school using their product and would be happy to cut you a break on their App.

Finally, keep in mind that this list is by no means intended to be the last word in Apps for educators. Also keep in mind that I am a Social Studies, Work Experience, Alternative school teacher so I probably don’t use the same set of Apps that a Science or Math teacher would use.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for some more reviews on Apps for Pro D and other School related stuff. I just have to get around to it 🙂

My Favorite Apps
My Favorite Apps

Clibe - $4.99

I love this App even at its price. I was lucky and got my hands on it when it was still free but I still think it is worth if for the purpose of journaling in the classroom. Students can paste images, draw or type on the digital pages and it is a very cool way to get kids writing and putting down their thoughts in a variety of ways.

This a cloud based app so it requires a free membership with Clibe so students can share their notebook with you. It is secure and easy to use and I am confident you will enjoy using it.

Inspiration Maps - $14.99

Inspiration maps has been around for a while and used in many schools already but this past year they released the iPad version and it is FANTASTIC.

Disclosure statement

- I was one of the Beta Testers of this app but really... it is Fantastic!

Unfortunately I was asleep at the switch and I didn't get my hands on the "thanks for helping us out" version of this app so I have to come up with the $14.99 if I want it for myself 🙁

It is great for Primary and Senior High School. It makes outlining papers, projects and presentations a breeze and best of all it can be exported to a variety of formats so you can work with the exported document on a desktop.

There is both a free and a payed version so you can give it a spin before you buy.

Edmodo - FREE

Edmodo is a simply brilliant Content Management System for education. I used it for all my classes last year and it makes digital distribution of your course a breeze.

Unfortunately, the biggest drawback of Edmodo is that you can't submit completed assignments from your iPad. A student has to email the assignment to themselves, then log into Edmodo on their computer and then upload the completed work to Edmodo. It isn't the end of the world but it is a pain. It is my hope that one day Apple frees up the iPad file system enough, that Apps like Edmodo can be fully functional but in spite of that major short coming, I still like it.

Other features include: Access codes for parents so they can see what their kids are or are not doing, a annotation feature so you can mark online and the system is scalable so it can be used for your classroom or an entire school district.

Canadian teachers need to know that there are some questions whether using this system is in violation of FOIPA or not so be sure to check with your administrator before implementing.

Teacher Kit - FREE

This App is a teachers best friend. With Teacher Kit can create a class roster and add student pictures using the iPad camera. (For those of us with failing memories it is a god send)

With that roster you can then create seating plans. You can take attendance, do your marks, make notes on student behavior and achievements... It is just fantastic.

My only regret is that it doesn't integrate with our school network so that attendance and marks get automatically updated but who knows? The company is continually making improvements to the App, so perhaps one day it will all be possible.

iMovie - $4.99

The new iMovie App for the iPad is definitely a step up from the original iPad App. Although it is not as powerful as the desktop version, it is powerful enough to provide teachers and students with simple easy access to video production. No longer do you have to send kids home to edit and produce a final product. It can be done all in one class.

I cannot say enough about using video as a learning tool and now it is so easy and accessible, there is no reason not to use it!

Comic Life - $4.99

Comic life a nifty little app which allows kids to create their own comic book using images they take or from stock photos you provide. It is a great way for them to start learning about developing dialog and plot lines, in their stories.

I even ran into a teacher who used it for a short story unit where kids created their own graphic shorts. Beyond that... It is just simple fun.

Hoot Suite - FREE

Hoot Suite is an invaluable resource for the frequent twitter user. As a teacher you can keep track of the feeds you create for various classes, provide classroom updates for parents, answer questions outside class time... The possibilities are endless.

Personally I use it more for professional development and personal communication but there are just so many uses for twitter in the classroom.

Oct 152011
 

Nothing to report here… Just some fragmented thoughts and whatever’s. A bit of a schizophrenic week actually but that has been my element these past 15 years of teaching.

The iPad group didn’t move the earth or cure cancer but we did have some progress with assignment submission using WordPress blogs.  It was a bit messy to start but I think we have turned the corner on our work submission woes. Outside of that, there was nothing exciting to report from the iPad front.

What did happen which was of note is that I had a wee bit of a revelation.

This “Ah Ha!” actually originated with my “regular” kids, specificaly my classes with a significant number of ESL kids who seem to always be lost in my class. Try as I may, it is very difficult to help these kids keep up with the curriculum and I would (on occasion) lose sleep, thinking about how to deliver content in a manner which would allow them to absorb the information at their own pace.

It was only this week, that I came to consider the possibility of screencasting as the answer to my problem. A visual snapshot of the critical elements of my lessons,which  a student  can refer to at any time. I make the screencasts available through YouTube and my students can use them complete an assignment at there own pace. It was a stroke of delayed genius! Admittedly the videos I have produce so far are rather crude but I think they will become far more polished and useful as time goes by.

Now this, in and of itself, is not all that special. Teachers have been screencasting lessons for a number of years now. What is more important however, is that I started to think about how I can do this with the iPad kids. As intuitive as the iPad and all the apps my be, sometimes people still need instruction. The complexity gets ramped up when you are using more than one application at at the same time so being able to capture a video on how to use these apps would be great.

Currently there is no way to create a screencast of an iPad and considering the restrictive nature of Apple products, being able to do this would be significant. We had all hoped that iOS5 would provide us with this functionality and it has come close but it stops short of allowing a teacher to capture lessons and spin them into an instructional video. With that said… I think I may have stumbled upon a screencasting solution for the ipad. It won’t be simple but if it works, I will be able to create 720p screen casts of my lessons using the iPad and post them to YouTube.

Unfortunately, I will have to drop a couple hundred bucks to see if my idea works… but if it does? It will open the door for some serious advancements in the use of the iPad as an instructional tool. Stay tuned to see if my idea works.

Look Out Future Shop… Here I come!

Update 

Well the good news is that I can do it! The bad news is that I am going to have to wait until I can get my hands on a little piece of technology that will allow me to send the image from the iPad to the capture device.

 

Nov 272010
 

I was thinking this week, about all these twitter feeds I am following and I could not get over just how…. Over the top, pro technology in the classroom they are. Twitter this, blog that. Gotta connect with kids on their turf, gotta be in touch with the pulse of web but there never seems to be any thought put to the other side of the equation. Perhaps if I followed #downwithtech or #twitteristhedevilswork I might get another viewpoint but I can’t help but wonder how my collegues who are less “wired” feel about this push to make their classrooms part of the digital landscape.

I know for a fact that there are a number of teachers who are not ready and perhaps will never be ready to drink the digital koolaid. They are great teachers, doing a great job in a classroom, just teaching it old school. They don’t need twitter, blogs, wikis and all the other digital tools at their disposal to get kids to learn. They are master teachers without the digital paraphernalia but they feel that the likes of me, are trying to dismantle and devalue that which they have spent an entire career creating and perfecting.

There are a number of other issues that lurk in the minds of the unconverted which we should be sensitive to well beyond the general notion that we Tech Geeks are out to get them and they are concerns that need to be heeded.

  • Availability of the Technology. This is a shortcoming for most schools. There simply isn’t enough technology to go around, for the kids or the teachers. We just haven’t hit a point of saturation yet where these digital tools are as ubiquitous as pencil and paper. Make it accessible without costing teachers anything and perhaps they will use it.
  • Some People Don’t Want To Use It! Plain and simple, some teachers see no need, nor do they want to use technology to teach. Does this make them bad teachers? NO! We the tech geeks need to respect that.
  • Management Issues. Even I, as someone who uses technology EVERY class, has issues around the appropriate use of the technology in the classroom. Some I ignore, some I stomp on but it is an additional piece of management which some people do not wish to have to deal with. Teachers have a dozen things going on at any given time in a classroom, why add more to their plate?
  • Foundational Skills. In the digital world it is EXTREMELY difficult to determine how much of a students work is cut and paste or simply written by someone else. Much of kids work is a conglomeration of different information sources and nary a word of their own. What’s more, in the digital world, most information is written in point form, written sound bytes. Twitter is an excellent example of how thoughts have been reduced to 140 characters of information, hardly what you would call a body of text which needs to be read and then dissected for meaning. I am in complete agreement with my luddite colleagues who firmly believe that, foundational skills are best taught and solidified through good old fashioned book lernin.
  • Just Don’t Got The Time or The Desire. Most teachers have lives outside of school and the 200+ kids they are responsible for in school. They are not all digital dependent like me, who spends more time with my laptop than I do with my family. We tech geeks love this stuff! We live it, we breath it and we have integrated it into our lives so that it is part of us. This is why using digital technology in the classroom is easy for us but some people DON’T want to make it part of their lives at home or at work.
  • Top Down Push. In my 15 years of teaching, I have learned more from other teachers than I have ever learned from an administrator but this is where the push to use technology in the classroom, seems to be coming from. All of us tech geeks have been playing with digital teaching tools for years but now that admin have caught onto the possibilities of digital learning tools, they seem to want all teachers to using them BUT if we are to expect other teachers to buy into the use of technology, it has to be a grassroots growth rather than by administrative decree.
  • The Digital Backlash This one is relatively new and has nothing to do with teachers. It is the digital backlash and the occurrence of parents who are not allowing their kids to have access to digital media. For me, this started last year with one kid and this year I have 6 kids of 160, who’s parents WILL NOT allow their children to have access to any type of social media. To tell you the truth, I am doing the same with my own kids. They will not have ANY social media account before their 16th birthday. I believe this is a growing movement and something that we as educators who LOVE this sort of thing will be faced with more, in the coming years.

Whether we like it or not, the digital revolution might just have to be a digital evolution when it comes to teaching. The reality is that there are good teachers doing GREAT things with kids without using the latest and greatest web tools. We the “tech geeks”, have no business going about, trying to (Star Trek Reference Warning) assimilate all teaching lifeforms into a digital collective. Yes there are some great things you can do, yes you can engage learners with digital resources, yes we have been sold BUT technology is not the end all and be all of learning. An excellent learning environment is about a teacher and the connection they have with the students and it. does not have to be a digital connection.