Today is the last day of our winter break –extended just a bit due to the cold weather. As I begin the new year and set new goals for myself, I find it necessary to look back over the last year to put my new goals in context of my previous growth. Reflecting on how transformative the last 6 months have been is amazing! Most of it is due to the Power of my PLN: Professional Learning Network which includes those face to face network connections as well as the virtual ones through Twitter and other forms of media/technology. This blog is about how my PLN impacts my journey and now my students’ journeys as they build PLNs- partnering in learning together by being connected through media and technology.
This past summer, I joined Twitter. Mostly this was because I heard a few instructional coaches talk about how they use it to learn, and because I attended a conference that used Twitter as a backchannel for participant involvement. That first month in the summer was all about trying to understand Twitter, so I was a lurker-no tweets. I watched others use Twitter and gathered resources to use in my classroom, but did not engage in the conversation. It is helpful now (through Twitter) that I found resources for those new to using technology to network written/compiled by other PLN members that I now share when a colleague tells me they are thinking about creating their own PLN. I started with the following:
“Introducing Twitter to Educators and Scientists” by @2footgiraffe http://2footgiraffe.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/introducing-twitter-to-educators-and-scienctists/“
How to create a Twitter Account” http://bit.ly/1ei1ZoJ by Brenham ISD technology department (This does a great job walking teachers and students through how to set up an account and the basics of using Twitter)
“Twitter is a Teacher SuperPower” by @AppEducationFox http://bit.ly/K1kkwz (A great blog about how educators can use Twitter particularly two of my favorite uses: the power of the hashtag and Twitter chats)
These resources are powerful tools to build a foundation of understanding. I had to figure it out on my own by “lurking” (watching my friend @kastidham interact on Twitter and learn), which took longer. At the conference I attended, although I didn’t tweet, I enjoyed watching the hashtag and appreciated the links being shared. At this conference, everyone was encouraged to share a promise they would make for the upcoming year. After the conference, I decided that my promise, my goal, would be my first tweet-that would be the way I would really enter The Twitterverse. Here was my first Tweet
My promise: To work in partnership with students to grow our learning.
Little did I know then that my first tweet would be the beginning of a trajectory that would lead me to learning, sharing and collaborating in a way that I never could have imagined. As my tweeted promise communicates, that learning, which helped me grow, is actually all for my students. I wanted (and still want) to be a better teacher for them. Using this first tweet as a guide has kept me on this focused path-it has become “My One Thing” (from the book The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan).
After deciding on my path, I started to build my PLN to learn by interacting with people I followed and who followed me, participating in Twitter chats, and using the power of the hashtag. We knew we would be BYOD for the first time for the upcoming school year and my students expressed interest in using Twitter and Instagram in class. Using technology to support science education then became my learning goal when building a PLN. During this process, I found so many amazing educators willing to share and help a newbie. One contact in my new PLN, @2footgiraffe, shared so much learning through his blog and Twitter interactions that my communication with him has led to my students participating in #scistuchat- a Twitter chat between students and scientists https://sites.google.com/site/scistuchat/ . This also led to my learning about multiple ways to use Twitter to connect students with experts and students in other classrooms- a key piece in building PLNs and learning the skills and benefits of collaboration. I used his advice and my students’ feedback to set up the Twitter Scaffold for introducing students to Twitter and a way to use Twitter in the classroom to extend learning discussed in my blog here. My students now have professional Twitter accounts and are building their own PLNs. Some of them have now even helped co-moderate a Twitter chat. They see learning as not just taking place in our classroom, but beyond. I believe this to be a foundation to true life-long learning.
Another PLN member @mrPiercey has helped and is still helping me learn “all things Google”. Besides Chrome extensions which have become a necessity for collecting and organizing curated resources from Twitter to enhance my classroom, I am in love with Google Hangout. A great introduction to GHO is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ppmfl1i3f74&feature=share by @davidtedu. Not only has GHO led to the best most efficient collaboration I have ever experienced (a PLC meeting at 8:30PM when the kids are in bed in my PJs!), but it has enabled me to partner with teachers and an entrepreneur from other states. As @jstevens009 expressed, my PLN is no longer at arm’s reach or just in my building, it is global. On January 4, I participated in #edcampHOME, the most amazing Professional Learning experience ever. I am still learning with the posted YouTube sessions here: Session 1 http://bit.ly/1idkSMq and Session 2 http://bit.ly/1lz6yAu so a detailed blog post coming! My students are also getting in the GHO mix. We are participating in classroom to classroom GHOs to learn and will collaborate with a 4th grade class in a PBL unit called “The Invertebrate Games.” Students will be learning about and using engineering to design contest venues and stadiums for the Invertebrate Olympic Games, biology to care for and train the inverteathletes, and media (Twitter, Instagram, video, and GHO) to collaborate and share between our classrooms (a project created by the genius of Matt Guenther). Olympic teams will be comprised of 4th grade students and high school students who will work together through media preparing their team as well as engineering the products needed to host the games. In another collaboration, we will participate in a PBL unit with two other high school classrooms in Berea and Nashville to study watersheds, conduct a watershed assessment and share/ discuss results with each other and our communities. In both examples, through my PLN, I have been able to work with other fantastic educators to create and facilitate experiences in the classroom that enable students to learn with others and share learning with authentic audiences. In all of these partnerships with PLN members, “Twitter was the first date” as described by @ugafrank. Through the Power of my PLN and those I met on Twitter, I have extended our technology collaboration to other vehicles and we, as professional educators, are engineering engaging project-based learning for our students and listening to their voice to guide us on our path.
Walking down the technology media path, determined to connect it to my passion of facilitating student thinking, has been so exciting. However, I have had many failed attempts in the classroom. It took me a month and half to send out that first tweet and I still looked at it multiple times before sending (still remembering that adrenaline anxious feeling today!). I was following 1 person, my friend who was following me back. A few seconds after sending that first tweet, someone favorited it and retweeted it, then they DMed me–what was that? It was so exciting; I was hooked. I decided at that point to be brave and practice what I preach with students. I was going to try new things no matter how uncomfortable it made me. I knew I would have support. Reflecting back over the past 6 months today, I couldn’t have imagined how that tweet could have transformed my life: new partnerships, new projects, new opportunities, a ton of learning, and most important (to come full circle back to my first tweet!)– a classroom full of engaged students excited to learn using media and technology. This technology use has become an integral part of our daily learning experience, and opportunities for them to extend their learning beyond the four walls of our classroom and continue to develop. The best part–it’s still just the beginning.
Please share your PLN journey and how it has impacted your classroom and Professional Learning by commenting or tweeting to @tdishelton.
You can follow our class story using our PLN to impact learning at @bchsstory where we will share our collaborations and how we are building our classroom PLN.
Join us for #scistuchat the second Thursday of the month at 8CT/ 9ET.
The teachers I have supported in my district new to Twitter have said it was the stories of the fantastic learning opportunities for themselves as well as their students that sparked their interest in forming a PLN. We would love to interact/collaborate with your class to extend our learning and perhaps create “sparks” of creativity for each other.