Where Are You in Your PLN?

We are now in the middle of Connected Educator month 2016. This is a great time for educators to reflect on their Personal Learning Networks. In my opinion PLNs run in three stages. While it is definitely possible to flow between different stages depending on what is going on in life, take some time to reflect on where you are momentarily. Now might be the time to take it to another level.

Develop

1. Development. Teachers are constantly learning from each other within the school walls. This is a great thing, as there is a wealth of knowledge and experience we can learn from. It takes about the same amount of effort as walking down the hall to a colleague’s classroom, as it does to begin learning from educators beyond the brick and mortar of a school building. Once the development of your PLN is underway, the process eases as you can begin blending your learning and can grow from information on any mobile or digital device. To develop your PLN and become a connected educator, decide which tools work best for you personally. If social media is your venue, try Twitter, Facebook groups, Google+, Pinterest, or Linkedin. For alternatives to social media, check out educational blogs, webinars, or curating articles through bookmarking websites. There are plenty of avenues to take in terms of developing or broadening your PLN. Decide which you tool(s) you want to use, how you want to learn, and when you want to learn. If you already find yourself in this developmental stage, I challenge you to broaden your reach. Stretch yourself to find people to connect with outside of your immediate region or even outside of your content or grade level. Push yourself to connect.

Consume

2. Consumption. Most people enter the digitally connected arena by participating through consumption. This may include reading Tweets, searching for articles, maneuvering through blog posts, watching YouTube videos, or viewing webinars. The learning and growth generally comes as a result of what is being read or taken in by the user. The learning, while more passive in the digital sense, may be shared with colleagues actively or implemented into daily practice in the physical world. If you identify yourself within this stage, I challenge you to consider sharing content or articles of your own. Try Retweeting an article you read, or reflecting and writing a blog post about a lesson that went well. It can be intimidating to put yourself out there, but take an initial step and begin to go beyond consumption.

Contribute

3. Contribution. The natural next step after consuming content is a progression of participation within the PLN. Contribution may grow in the form of writing Tweets, sharing articles, or reflecting on learning through blog posts- to hosting a webinar or sharing educational videos created on YouTube. The individual at this point is in a give and take environment, where they are not only learning from others- but others are learning from them. If you already contribute within your PLN, I challenge you to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Try creating and sharing beyond the medium you are accustomed to. If you are a YouTube creator, try writing a blog post about your learning, or vice versa. If you solely learn through Twitter, try Google+ for a change. Experiment with not only broadening your PLN but also yourself as a contributor to open educational resources.

PLN

If you are finding it tough to define yourself within any of the categories above, it is never too late to exercise your growth mindset and learn from those around you. Connected Educator month is a great time to begin, as you are among many educators who are ready and willing to provide you with the support you need.

Flat Stanley Redefined

This Flat Stanley traveled among 22 cities and 10 countries including Brazil, Chile, China, England, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, and the United States!

A group of second grade teachers was looking to reach a broader range of friends and global connections with the Flat Stanley project. They had progressed from the traditional stamp and envelop model to emailing and receiving Microsoft Word Documents that contained text and photos from different countries around the world. While this switch did increase the breadth of connections- the organization of emails, ever increasing size of Word Documents with numerous images added, and desire to compile all of the incoming information in one location proved a hassle. Upon sitting down and investigating which universal collaboration tool might create a more streamlined experience, we decided on Google Slides. The free tool allows for real-time collaboration and the only thing needed for functionality is an internet connection, as Slides is cloud based and software is not necessary.

The process was as follows:

1. The team of 8 teachers collaboratively created a single Google Slides template.

2. Each teacher “made a copy” of the original document, adding some minor personal adjustments pertaining to their classroom.

3. The presentation’s share setting was set to “anyone with the link can edit.”

4. A screen cast tutorial was made to provide directions for recipients on how to add content to the Google Slides presentation.

5. An email was sent out to parents introducing the project, and parents assisted in forwarding the link of the presentation and tutorial out to friends and family living abroad.

6. Friends and family added to the presentation.

7. As the presentation was updated, students and teachers witnessed how far their digital Flat Stanley was traveling.

8. Students and teachers broadened their global connections and understanding of different cultures.

Here is the “Travel Journal”

Tech PD and Speed Geeking with Digital Teachers at ASFM

Since the implementation of the first Technology Integration Specialist and Technology Vision at ASFM 4 years ago, so much has changed. Professional Development went from nothing… to teachers reflecting on adopted tools and using staff created video tutorials to improve their tech knowledge and purposeful use of technology in lessons and units. Whether most of the staff know it or not, the teachers at ASFM are in a very good place, especially considering where we were just 4 years ago.

This year, we have 3 Tech Integration Specialists and 1 Director of Technology Integration- all who work collaboratively with IT, administration, curriculum coaches, teachers, and students to make the learning experience at ASFM the best it can be for everyone.

For our first “official” Tech PD session of the 2014-15 school year, the Tech Integration team decided it was time to move away from our standard PD practice. In the past we met together as a full staff for a few nuts and bolts and then headed in separate directions for teachers’ individual needs. Again, while this has helped develop staff knowledge and capability, we wanted to begin the year with energy and excitement and something different. We decided on Speed Geeking- ASFM Style.

6 volunteer Digital Teachers were each willing to showcase and share what they were doing with technology in their classrooms, a solid start. With these 6 volunteers leading different Tech Sessions, we were able to divide the 100+ staff into groups of approximately 18 teachers per group. Since we decided to showcase the talent in ASFM, we wanted to be sure every staff member was able to see exactly what each DT was implementing. Therefore, we set up a time table for our Speed Geeking:

  • 6, 2 minute presentations
  • 2 minutes for staff to travel from classroom to classroom (a chance to see each DT session)
  • 6 tools/practices would be showcased
  • 24 minutes to complete the entire cycle

Following the 24 minute Speed Geeking format, grade level teams met to discuss their individual needs and to reflect on how they would be able to implement/adapt one of the ideas presented during the Speed Geeking time into a lesson, assessment, or unit.

There were multiple reasons why the TIS team chose to follow this Speed Geeking PD style.

1. Being a risk taker. Sure- things could go exceedingly well, and we could celebrate innovation, staff learning, and DT leadership. Or- they could completely fail, especially during our first attempt at something new. But no matter what- we spoke to teachers about how we would reflect on the experience and work on improving the portions that did not work so well, and work even harder to replicate the sections that did prove successful.

2. Learning from Within. We can pay a lot of money for consultants and outside sources of knowledge to come in an guide us- and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that- when it’s needed. However, there are such power practices coming from right within the walls of our school, this was a great time to give exposure to those practices, and recognize the fact that- we have experts right in our building!

3. Developing Leadership Skills. DTs had the chance to lead a PD session, and for some of them this was their first experience in participating in such a task. It was a great time to provide them with an opportunity for planning and executing their own session, in a supportive and comfortable environment.

4. Enjoying learning. The teachers at ASFM work harder than in any other school I have witnessed. If there is any chance to take a moment and have fun learning during a PD session, take it! Why not sing and dance between sessions? Why not Tweet your learnings? Why not leave an afternoon of PD feeling energized and inspired?

5. Promoting Creativity. Not only were the 2 minute presentations in need of being creative and energetic, but how teachers ended up adapting what they learned from the Speed Geeking sessions proved creative as well. The very next day, teachers were implementing tools and practices into their lessons in ways we hadn’t imagined.

Based on feedback from teachers, it appears as though Speed Geeking at ASFM proved a valuable learning experience.

6 Sessions Presented:

  1. Use of iPad app Coaches Eye by P.E. teacher, Ernesto. @ernestoer5
  2. Flipping the Classroom with librarian, Fiona. @FiMora71
  3. Clamation and Stop Motion with art teacher Babbi and Monica. @BabbiArt @MonyGdD
  4. SMARTBoard usage by Nursery and Kindergarten aides, Paula and Miriam.
  5. Use of Chatterpix app by 1st grade teacher, Mireya.
  6. Appsmash of Explain Everything and ThingLink by 5th grade teacher, Laura.

Multiple Tech Tools Don’t Get in the way of Good Teaching

Be sure to read Laura’s reflection on the experience at the bottom of this post and video.

Last week I had the chance to head into a 5th grade homeroom teacher’s class for an hour of learning. Teacher and Digital Teacher at ASFM, Laura Blanco, had informed me that she was going to be using a few new tools she had not tried out with students before. While she was not asking for help by any means, and was simply sharing this information… I invited myself into her room anyway out of sheer intrigue with what she had described. Luckily, she accepted.

One day prior to this experience Laura first heard about the creation tool ThingLink (upload an image and add links to text, images, and video, then share) in a DT meeting. Just over 24 hours later she decided to try implementing the tool into a lesson with 20 fifth graders. That was the first thing that excited me. Laura had no fear about trying out something completely new to her. She recognized that if the tool proved unsuccessful, she would learn from the experience and either adapt, try again, or accept that this was not the appropriate tool for the lesson.

thinglink

After creating the ThingLink, Laura then embedded the image into her class Edmodo site for easy sharing and access for her students. Within just a few weeks of school starting, Laura’s students know their Edmodo page is a place to consume, create, and share content.

The ThingLink contained screen cast tutorials (using Screencast-O-Matic), made by Laura, which linked to directions for her students to follow. These directions could be paused, repeated, or fast forwarded so the students were able to learn at a pace that was suitable to their needs.

With the teacher creation and student consumption complete, it was now time for students to begin creating.

Students used the tutorials to create slides in the Explain Everything iPad app- for the creation of their own math tutorials. Based on the results from students’ math assessments, they were assigned a math problem they had mastered, and were asked to solve/record a problem and describe their thought process or steps for completing the problem along the way.

The next step in this project is to go even further. The tutorials the students created will be shared and uploaded into ALEKS (a web based, individualized, and adaptive math program). The videos will be available as a resource for other students to use when they reach a problem of the same skill level they do not know how to answer. These tutorials will act as support for other students with their learning.

Two final pieces about Laura’s implementation of technology caught my eye- beyond being a risk taker, flexible and a problem solver. First, throughout the hour, the focus was never on the technology tool. Sure, there were some nuts and bolts in the beginning of the lesson, but the primary focus was on the learning and development of 21st century skills in her students. Technology did not get in the way or become the star of the hour, student learning was clearly the focus, and technology just provided a means to that outcome. The second, and final, piece, was that students were provided with an authentic situation for the development of these tutorials. Students will witness the direct implementation of the videos, and watch how their own planning, collaborating, creative thinking, and creating are able to help others with their learning.

 Laura’s reflection on the experience:

Creating the videos had two main benefits. First, as the students created the tutorials and tried to figure out how to best explain a concept, they deepened their understanding of it. The second benefit was having these tutorials available for other students to learn from. I knew that the students in my class were in different places with their knowledge and their comfort in using the app and I also knew that some of the math concepts they would be explaining were more difficult than others and some students would need to review first.

I decided that the best way to do this was to design a way for each student to be able to get the tools they need and work at their own pace. As I was planning this, I became more and more interested in seeing how much the students could figure out and problem solve on their own when given a few resources as a starting point. I wanted students to be able to realize their own ability to figure things out, teach themselves through trial and error, and search for answers and tutorials online. Our students have so much technology available, both at school and at home, but sometimes they still fail to recognize that they have a powerful tool right in front of them that can give them all the information they want!

Thinglink provided a great platform to give the students a starting point for this work. I created an image with the instructions and added the resources as links on top of the image. Each student had a laptop to access the Thinglink image and to research and an iPad to execute their video.

Students could use the resources I gave them if they felt like they needed them, or find others on their own. Some students felt comfortable with Explain Everything, so they jumped straight to the Math, while other students watched the entire tutorial, and followed along on their iPads to familiarize themselves with the tool before starting.

This activity was asking a lot from the students. They had to learn about the app, review the math concept, think of the best way to explain it and then plan and execute their video tutorials – and I challenged them to be as independent as possible. I was interested in seeing how much they could take on and how they could problem solve and figure things out on their own.

It was very exciting to watch them work as they figured out what their needs were and how they could find resources online to answer their questions (both for Math and technology). If they didn’t know how to add images on Explain Everything – they found a tutorial for that! If they needed to review partial products before doing their video, they looked it up! Part of the ‘challenge’ was for them to be very independent with this, both the math part and the technology, and the kids were able to go with it, recognize their needs, find answers to their questions and then create their own videos.