Appreciative Inquiry: Why I Choose to See the World through Rose-Colored Glasses

Rose-Colored Glasses by rnjtc1, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  rnjtc1


I hit a bump in the road last week, while traveling on my personal Connected Coaching journey. It was actually a bit more than a bump… Maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere and got a lost for a little while. Ok, let’s be honest here. I think I may have skidded off the road entirely, ended up in a ditch, and needed someone to pull me out! Regardless, thanks to an amazing community of leaders and learners, I think I’ve found my way back.  🙂

I was really upset when I ended up in that ditch. I felt like I was the only one there, while everyone else was cruising merrily down the Connected Coaching highway. I was sure I was the only one who didn’t “get it.” I wanted to shut down. I started thinking that maybe Connected Coaching wasn’t for me. Holy cow – Is this similar to what my students feel like when they face struggles in their learning??? It was amazing how quickly my confidence was shaken. I was much like the students I teach – so wired for grades, performance, and success that “failure” of any kind became unacceptable and debilitating.

I lost sight of an important fact: In any learning experience, some bumps, wrong turns, and yes, even ditches can and will happen.

Time for some reflection… But instead of asking, “What went wrong?” I’ve chosen to don some “rose-colored glasses” and take an Appreciative Inquiry approach. This is new for me, and is precisely why I ended up in the Appreciative Inquiry Ditch!! In fact, I did some research on seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, and found some interesting benefits

So what went RIGHT, you ask? What an outstanding Appreciative Inquiry question! Here are the great things that happen when you end up in a ditch:

  • You figure out how you got there. Once you’ve assessed the immediate damage, you look back and try to figure out what happened. You thought you were cruising along just fine, and didn’t realize there was something important you needed to know to stay on track.
  • You cry out for help. I did this, in the form of a post on our Connected Coaches Ning page. I placed a “911” call to my learning community, and sure enough, someone came to my rescue with some resources to help.
  • You find courage, support, and validation from your community. In addition to the resources I received, I also heard from folks who said they had felt the same way. I wasn’t alone! Some others held me up, and encouraged me, or thanked me for putting my thoughts out there.
  • You might help others out of their ditches. Hence this post… If nothing else, I want you to know that once you get pulled out of that ditch, you’re better for it. You’re stronger, smarter, and better prepared for the road ahead.

More than ever, I want to strengthen my ability to use Appreciate Inquiry, whether with the teams I coach, or the students I teach. We can’t afford to focus on or wallow in our failures. Negativity is debilitating. Appreciating the positive aspects of our “ditch experiences” will help us to grow and use our strengths to move forward with confidence down the learning highway.

The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age – My Review

Was scrolling through my RSS reader today and found this review by Beth Still of Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall’s book, The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age. I have also finished the book recently, and thought Beth was brilliant to post her review in her blog – so I’ve done what every great teacher does – stolen a great idea for my own! 🙂

In all seriousness though, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall have produced an invaluable resource for educators. They gently escort the reader through a clear, systematic approach to connected learning and leadership while sharing personal stories and experiences. Their transparency is a gift!

The strength of this book lies in its organization. Each chapter begins with the authors’ personal stories, continues to provide clear, well-defined information and helpful models, and then highlights educators who are “Putting It in Practice” in the classroom. The chapters wrap up with a bulleted “Where Are We?” summary, a “Think About” section to help the reader apply learning to their unique situation, and a “Where to Now?” section that looks ahead to the next topic.

In addition, the authors push readers to begin connecting right away, by providing instruction and areas where they can connect with each other to discuss the book. Practical tools such as VoiceThread, WallWisher, and Diigo are used to connect readers. As the reader begins to create connections and use tools, Sheryl and Lani help them to construct a connected learning community by providing lists of educators to follow through Twitter and RSS readers. They explain the roles within the community, and identify the qualities of leadership within these communities. Finally, the authors look to the future, exploring the changing roles of teachers and administrators as education transforms.

After spending a year immersed in the Powerful Learning Practice program, co-founded by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, I can attest to the value and necessity in becoming a connected educator. This book belongs on the shelf of every teacher and principal as a practical, hands-on reference for learning and leading in the digital age.

10 Reasons Why 1:1 Advances Learning

Recently I got an email from my elementary division head. Our school is piloting a 1:1 netbook program this year, and our administration is interested in how the program is going and the different ways the netbooks are being incorporated into our curriculum. I started putting together a list, and even surprised myself at how much the availability of wifi-ready technology engages my students and supports instruction during the course of a regular school day.

1. Keyboarding – Each morning students grab a netbook and practice keyboarding skills. With daily practice, they are improving quickly. Reluctant writers are frequently students who just despise the physical act of writing. They write as little as possible, because they don’t want to have to actually “write” it. Once they can type, they are much more willing to craft longer pieces. Programs like BBC’s Dance Mat Typing make it fun to develop keyboard skills.

2. Internet Research – Because it is so convenient to “look it up” online (and fun, too), students will quickly offer to look up the answer to a question using the kid-friendly search engines we have identified and bookmarked on our class Diigo page. Research is also fun when you are trying to solve a mystery! My fourth graders look up clues given by classes in other schools who join us for Mystery Skype calls and try to figure out where their new friends are from!

3. Global Awareness – Why use a paper map when you can use Google Earth? We’ve used animated models to help us learn about the earth’s rotation, revolution, and the changing of the seasons. We were also able to easily see the earth’s hemispheres and find locations on earth by latitude and longitude.

4. Extra practice – Proofreading or practicing multiplication facts is dull and boring on worksheets. But when students can practice using interactive games, I’m finding that they spend much more time and effort to get the answers right.

5. Blogging – When a piece of writing is going to be turned in for only the teacher to see, a student is more likely to put forth minimal effort. But tell that student that their piece will have a world-wide audience, and they begin to imagine who might read their post, and what they might ask about it. Soon they’re writing with their audience in mind, and use their author’s voice to ask questions and encourage reader comments. As a result (and with a little help from their teacher’s twitter network), they get a variety of feedback and encouragement from all over the world. It’s quite the motivator!

6. Digital Storytelling – Using sites like StorybirdStoryjumperZooburst and Little Bird Tales, storytelling comes to life. Would you rather write a story on notebook paper, or create your own pop-up book or self-drawn and narrated tale?

7. Collaborative Learning – Group work just got fun. With collaborative documents like wikis and Google docs, students can be part of something bigger. They can merge individual work into a comprehensive piece, or collaborate to create a presentation or write a story.

8. Connected Learning – Through the Global Read Aloud Project, we’ve enjoyed a shared literature experience with over 3,000 other students across the globe using Edmodo. Students were attentive and engaged, knowing that they would be able to use their netbooks to get on the group Edmodo page and respond to questions, take polls, and make predictions about the story.

9. Eager Readers – With the netbooks available anytime, students can grab one as soon as they finish a book and take an Accelerated Reader quiz. Knowing that they are required to take a quiz, they read more carefully. Most of them are excited to push themselves to higher-level books and see measurable progress in their reading/comprehension ability.

10. Passion-Based Learning – Above all, the convenience of 1:1 netbooks provide students with the opportunity to learn about anything! By allowing time for students to construct their own learning, we teach them that they have the freedom and the power to learn about whatever interests them. This encourages our students to pursue their passions, and become life-long learners.

Count me a believer. Our 1:1 netbooks are providing a great return on investment. Technology isn’t everything – but when it is easily accessed and used to support learning, it motivates students and encourages collaboration, innovation, and creativity. I applaud our administration for taking this initiative, and look forward to many more days of learning ahead.

Photo: Patti Grayson
Originally posted at:

Honoring Those that Serve the Education Community

I learn so much from my PLN, and would like to recognize some of the folks that work so hard to keep educators informed… So here are my nominations for the 2011 Edublog Awards. Thanks to all who add to the body of knowledge and take the time to share – We are all better for it!

  • Best individual blog – Will Richardson: Will never ceases to push my thinking and give me the confidence to keep fighting the fight.
  • Best individual tweeter – @plnaugle – Paula Naugle shares EVERYTHING. She is an amazing resource to teachers everywhere!
  • Best group blog – Voices From the Learning Revolution: – This post by Powerful Learning Practice features writers who give insight to what shifted teaching and learning look like in their classrooms everyday.
  • Best ed tech / resource sharing blog – Free Tech for Teachers: – This continues to be the best resource for finding the right tool for the job!
  • Most influential blog post – – Mind/Shift is willing to take the controversial position and stand behind it. They make people think.
  • Best teacher blog – – Great examples of fun activities that make me want to be a second grader again…
  • Best School Administrator blog – The Principal of Change: – George gets it. Period. He is genuine, funny, and a model for administrators everywhere.
  • Best free web tool – Diigo: – Great for students, teachers, sharing resources, highlighting, bookmarking, and so much more.
  • Best open PD / unconference / webinar series – RSCOM: – I attended many sessions last year and was impressed with the organization and quality of the presenters.

Grading – What Is It Good For?

This past year, I participated in PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) and made some significant changes in the way I teach and the tools I use. I feel my students truly benefited from the shift I began to make. However, I am still developing, learning, and growing. I took two graduate classes this summer and I’ve grown my capacity to create new projects with web 2.0 tools. This school year, I plan to utilize more inquiry-based and passion-based learning in my classroom.

While I feel I have made enormous progress in the past 12 months, I’ve come to know many other educators who “got on board” years ago and are much more proficient than I am. They are part of my Personal Learning Network, and I continue to learn from them every day.

When I was observed this year, I wanted my evaluation to be based on my effectiveness in the classroom, but I also wanted it to reflect the growth and progress I have made as a teacher. For this reason, I chose to do something different with my students – something a bit out of my comfort zone. Was I afraid it wouldn’t be perfect? Absolutely. There was little likelihood that it would go as smoothly as a “traditional” lesson. It was less structured, the technology might fail, and the kids would be more talkative.

But I knew it would be OK. I’m fortunate to work in an environment where we are encouraged to try, fail, reflect, and learn on a continuous basis. What freedom. And I cherish it. I can explore, experiment, and figure out what tools and methods work best for my students and me. In other words, I can focus on learning. It doesn’t matter that the teacher down the hall might be ahead of me using writing workshops or behind me integrating technology – I’m not being compared to her. What will matter in my evaluation is MY effort, growth, and progress — that I am dedicated to my students, a life-long learner, and model that for my students.

My students aren’t so fortunate

Unfortunately, my students in 3rd and 4th grade do not have this advantage. Even though the learning parts of their brain are still developing (all at different rates, I might add), they don’t get the freedom to think and explore at their own pace, or to be assessed on their progress, effort, and growth. Why not?

We still use letter grades in my elementary school.

And letter grading just doesn’t make sense. Let’s put some pertinent research on the the table:

Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development assigns wide ranges to major developmental stages. The Preoperational Stage occurs anywhere between 2 and 7 years of age. The Concrete Operations Stage occurs anywhere between 7 and 12 years of age. In other words, what might happen developmentally for one child at 7, may not happen for another until 10.  So who are we to decide that it must happen at 8?

This article in Child Development discusses the close interrelation of cognitive and motor development and argues that when something affects either motor or cognitive function, both systems are impacted.

Finally, these guiding principles for quality early primary programs address the way children learn, and are posted by the California Dept. of Education:

Some children walk at 10 months. Some don’t walk until 15 months. Human young walk when they are developmentally ready. Some learn to ride a two-wheeler at 5. Others can’t swing it until they are 8. Some kids can swallow pills at 6. My daughter was almost 12. When they are in their 30s, no one will care what came when.

Whether discussing motor development or cognitive development, children reach milestones at different times. We push students to learn multiplication facts in 2nd grade. Some pick it up easily, and some simply cannot seem to attain the skill until 4th or 5th grade. One of my daughters began reading at 3. The other was almost 6. Their rates of cognitive development were very different, and yet now, at the ages of 19 and 15, those differences have vanished. The “late” reader was recently inducted into the National Honor Society as a high school sophomore. Their elementary school years were growing years, and did not prove to be reliable indicators of later capacities or performance.

And let’s not forget the psychological effects

As important as they are, let’s put developmental rates aside for a moment. There are also significantpsychological effects connected with the use of letter grades. Alfie Kohn lists these points in his post “From Degrading to De-Grading.” I’m sharing a sizeable chunk of it here, but it’s compelling stuff:

Three Main Effects of Grading

Researchers have found three consistent effects of using – and especially, emphasizing the importance of – letter or number grades:

1. Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself. One of the most well-researched findings in the field of motivational psychology is that the more people are rewarded for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward (Kohn, 1993). Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that when students are told they’ll need to know something for a test – or, more generally, that something they’re about to do will count for a grade – they are likely to come to view that task (or book or idea) as a chore.

While it’s not impossible for a student to be concerned about getting high marks and also to like what he or she is doing, the practical reality is that these two ways of thinking generally pull in opposite directions. Some research has explicitly demonstrated that a “grade orientation” and a “learning orientation” are inversely related (Beck et al., 1991; Milton et al., 1986). More strikingly, study after study has found that students — from elementary school to graduate school, and across cultures – demonstrate less interest in learning as a result of being graded (Benware and Deci, 1984; Butler, 1987; Butler and Nisan, 1986; Grolnick and Ryan, 1987; Harter and Guzman, 1986; Hughes et al., 1985; Kage, 1991; Salili et al., 1976). Thus, anyone who wants to see students get hooked on words and numbers and ideas already has reason to look for other ways of assessing and describing their achievement.

2. Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks. Students of all ages who have been led to concentrate on getting a good grade are likely to pick the easiest possible assignment if given a choice (Harter, 1978; Harter and Guzman, 1986; Kage, 1991; Milton et al., 1986). The more pressure to get an A, the less inclination to truly challenge oneself. Thus, students who cut corners may not be lazy so much as rational; they are adapting to an environment where good grades, not intellectual exploration, are what count. They might well say to us, “Hey, you told me the point here is to bring up my GPA, to get on the honor roll. Well, I’m not stupid: the easier the assignment, the more likely that I can give you what you want. So don’t blame me when I try to find the easiest thing to do and end up not learning anything.”

3. Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking. Given that students may lose interest in what they’re learning as a result of grades, it makes sense that they’re also apt to think less deeply. One series of studies, for example, found that students given numerical grades were significantly less creative than those who received qualitative feedback but no grades. The more the task required creative thinking, in fact, the worse the performance of students who knew they were going to be graded. Providing students with comments in addition to a grade didn’t help: the highest achievement occurred only when comments were given instead of numerical scores (Butler, 1987; Butler, 1988; Butler and Nisan, 1986).

While Alfie Kohn is likely the most influential and well-known voice in this arena, many brave educators have followed his lead in the fight against grading.

Canadian grade six teacher Joe Bower has compiled a list of his blog posts on why and how we should abolish grading. He talks about how to include students in determining a final grade (if the district requires), and how to work with parents.

Jeremy MacDonald, a fifth grade teacher and tech coach in Oregon, provides this insight into why he worked to change the way he reported student learning:

It all comes down to what my purpose is as a teacher. I’ve never felt like I had all the answers. Becoming a master teacher is a long process; one of which I still find myself somewhere around the starting line.

I got a good education. I was inspired by some of my teachers and discouraged by others. That is part of why I’m doing this, shifting my focus back to where it needs to be, on the student and learning. A lot of my education dealt with tests and preparing for tests. My motivation was good grades. I can’t say that I learned everything I was supposed to, but as Kohn mentioned, I adapted to each environment and learned how to get the best grades possible.

I don’t want that for my students. I want students to be motivated to learn for the simple sake of learning. By removing the pass/fail consequences of grades, I hope to create a new paradigm for my students–one that consists of learning, reflection, and growth. My purpose as a teacher is to foster learning in an environment where students feel safe to take risks and make mistakes; and I feel I can’t do that if their motivation and my focus is on grades and test scores. Removing traditional grading will allow students to focus more on the process and what they may still need to learn to attain mastery, but without the fear of negative feedback or failing marks.

These arguments are persuasive and compelling. Parents may believe grades provide more information about where a student “stands,” but that shouldn’t surprise us. Most the most part, their school experience was also dominated by grades-driven learning. In reality, a standards-based report or narrative is much more informative.

Reporting progress and learning without grades is not easy, though. It involves intensive note-taking and feedback sessions with students. For the classroom teacher, it means gathering more detail, investing more time, and making more effort.

I recently learned about Pernille Ripp, a teacher who fought the battle to stop grading in her classroom. She contacted Alfie Kohn, collaborated with Jeremy MacDonald (above), who shared her vision, and most importantly, documented the process for others.

Mark Barnes, who advocates for “results-only learning environments” (ROLE), also points out that 21st century children are becoming more focused on achievement via active learning and purposeful feedback, and less from the process of having grades awarded to them. He recently led a session at the Reform Symposium Conference (RSCON3) entitled, “21st Century Assessment: How Narrative Feedback is Eliminating the ABCs.”

It just doesn’t feel right

Yes, this kind of assessment of learning means more work. But don’t we owe it to our students? The fact is, the more I move into 21st century tools and teaching practices, the harder time I have with our current grading system.

The more opportunity I give students to work collaboratively, experiment, and pursue their passions, the harder it is to assign grades to this kind of learning and growth process. Our standard “letter grade” system does not encourage learning. It does not encourage students to take intellectual risks and challenge themselves. It does not encourage creativity or innovation. It encourages memorization, competition, and discovering the easiest and safest path to an A. Does this seem right?

Although the consequences and effects of grading have been discussed for decades (see this 1975 article by James Leary), we continue to utilize practices that do not allow for brain development, have been proven an ineffective way of communicating student learning, and inhibit our children from embracing challenge. It feels unconscionable to me.

It’s time to foster a love of learning, develop a hunger for the challenges of problem solving, and provide students and parents with REAL feedback regarding their child’s learning and progress toward established standards.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below. We only learn by listening, discussing, and pushing our thinking. What’s holding back our transition to more effective assessments of learning?


This was originally posted at Powerful Learning Practice’s Voices From the Learning Revolution

A Ning’s the Thing! Get Your Faculty Collaborating Like Never Before.

This past spring, our school’s digital learning team completed a year of professional development through Powerful Learning Practice (PLP). As a final activity, we were asked to design an action research project. Our project goal: Use 21st century tools to increase collaboration among our faculty. Here’s how it all played out.

Our school is independent, Pre-K to 12, and our three divisions (lower school, middle school, and upper school) are physically separated. Traditionally, that physical space has be very isolating — so much so that we often joked about working together without ever seeing each other.

At some point I and my digital team colleagues expect to engage the faculty in collaborations with other educators across the globe — whether through Twitter, blogs, social networking, or other means. However, it made no sense to take that giant leap before we showed them the ease and benefits of collaborating within our own walls.
The tool we’ve chosen to do that is Ning. At you can create your own social network. Our Ning is password protected, and only faculty members may join. We knew this would be a safe place for us to connect and learn.

Our project had two main components:
1. Our faculty would collaborate by using our private Ning space; and
2. Our faculty would collaborate by sharing resources on Diigo (dee-goh), a social bookmarking site.

The faculty was required to join Diigo and the Ning. They had to bookmark a site in Diigo and follow the bookmarking of a member of our digital learning team. They also had to reply to a discussion on the Ning, and post a discussion of their own.

The Ning was the thing!
We had no idea how successful the Ning would be for our faculty. Here are some of the many benefits we have experienced:

• The main page of the Ning is a great place to post announcements, a connection to the school calendar, and links to blogs. These currently include class blogs, a book review blog by our librarian, and a blog produced this summer by our 8th grade graduates as they toured Europe.

• The main page also features images and videos uploaded by the faculty. Here we have shared photos of class field trips, ideas for room set-up, and inspiring videos by Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink, and more. The page also features an RSS feed, where we can keep up with blogs such as Free Technology for Teachers and the many educator-writers who blog at Edutopia.

• Discussion posts – Anyone can post a discussion in the Forum to share items of interest to all faculty members. Here are few examples of the discussions we had in the first few months (this was also a great way to reduce our email inbox clutter):

  •  Recommendations or requests about articles or books
  •  Requests for readers in our kindergarten classes
  •  Debates about block scheduling
  •  Advantages of eBooks over textbooks
  •  Advice in finding a doctor or hairdresser
  •  Suggested places for after-work recreation

• Groups – For items that may only interest some faculty members, or where there may be many related discussion posts, Ning makes it easy to create topical subgroups.

Here are some subgroups that have sprung up in our Ning space:

  •  Netbook Reflections – teachers sharing lesson plans and reflections regarding our 1:1 netbook initiative
  •  Crisis in Japan – a group for people that were interested in planning and supporting a fundraising effort after the earthquake and tsunami
  •  HRALists – our own version of Craigslist, for people who have items to buy or sell
  •  Book Talks – discussions about books we have read as a faculty, such as NurtureShock
  •  Healthy Cooking – a group sharing recipes for healthy eating

Our Ning community is now part of school life.
The Ning has connected our faculty in ways we never imagined. We wanted our teachers to connect and share, and share they did! As we got to know each other better, we began to feel a greater sense of community and common purpose.

Our faculty can now easily collaborate on lesson plans and community service projects across divisions. They readily share ideas and resources. We now have a virtual community that parallels our physical community, and its powerful anytime-from-anywhere communications capabilities make us feel closer together than ever. It’s well worth the $25 a month Ning subscription.

Now that our teachers see the benefits of working together and learning from one another, we will spend this year showing them how to use tools to connect them to educators around the world so that they experience all the benefits of being truly connected learners. Before we know it, they will be connecting the world to their classrooms, and leading their students to become connected learners as well.

Tools, Not Toys: Becoming a Techy Teacher

Image courtesy of Vicky Sedgwick

Originally posted at Powerful Learning Practice – Voices From the Learning Revolution

This week I’m completing two online graduate courses at The University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. I am part of their Teaching 2.0 program, entitled: Emerging Technology Meets Progressive Pedagogy. This program looks at the way education is changing, the way students learn, and the way technology can be used to help students collect information, collaborate with other students, and connect to a network that can further their learning. After a year in the Powerful Learning Practice program, I was excited to find that the university offered graduate credit for my PLP experience. UWOSH also offers credit for PLP’s new e-courses – a great way to take courses such as 21st Century-ize Your Curriculum, Teaching Online: Becoming a Connected Educator, Unleashing Student Passion, Reimagining Classroom Research for the Digital Age, and Leading Edge Boot Camp.

One of the courses I took this term, “Learning in a Connected World” was particularly useful. Although I had begun to develop a personal learning network (PLN) before starting the course, this gave me the opportunity to look further into useful tools, ways to engage my students, and applications of these resources in my classroom.

At some point this term, I began to truly understand how to change my teaching. The big revelation, was that it’s NOT about technology. It’s about learning. If we are “integrating technology” just to bring computers (or interactive whiteboards, or cell phones) into the classroom, we’ve got it all wrong. Just using the equipment isn’t enough.

We have to look at our overarching goals, and understand how technology is a necessary tool in helping students develop the skills they will need to be successful in the world they will enter. We have to look at how students like to learn on their own, so we can make learning more enjoyable and engaging in the classroom. We have to learn what presentation methods or styles of instruction are easy for students to retain, so we can present information in a way that students will hold on to. We have to look at what students will be expected to know and do, so we can prepare them for their future – not ours.

Once we have done this, technology ceases to become an end in and of itself. It becomes the means to an end, and can be used with purpose.

Wondering how to get there? Here are some tips, based on my experiences:

1. Learn – Part I. Take classes. Read posts or books by leaders in the field, or by educators who are having positive experiences in their classrooms. Do professional development workshops or conferences. Powerful Learning Practice was transformative for me. Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli’s book, Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education is a great book for folks who are ready to hear about the shift and how they can change their teaching to better serve today’s students.

2. Learn – Part II. Develop a personal learning network of individuals across the globe who have “been there done that” or want to learn with you. Use Twitter, blogs, or social networking to find educators posting ideas and resources.

3. Collaborate. Find a buddy to learn with, or a mentor to guide you. There are no stupid questions. Support and encourage each other.

4. Dive in. Start playing – exploring – trying. You won’t break anything. Find out what is out there, and discover tools that will work with your students. Try sites like Glogster, Xtranormal, VoiceThread, Go Animate, Voki, Symbaloo, and more!

5. Reflect. Start a blog where you can talk about your experiences. Don’t worry about an audience. In the beginning, a blog’s best purpose is to help you realize what you believe and what is important to you. Free blogs are offered through Edublogs, Blogger, Posterous, and others.

6. Be transparent. As you begin to develop ideas and lessons, share them with your PLN. Give back to those who helped you grow, and to those who are just starting and will benefit from your experience.

7. Be patient. Change is never easy, but do you want to be that teacher that just “doesn’t get it?” You will be less confident for a while, and that’s ok. It took a long time for me to get comfortable with not being comfortable… Things are always changing, which means you will always be learning and growing… much like your students. 🙂

How Irene Will Change Our First Day of School

image courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

I’m sitting here listening to the wind howl. Irene is making her way toward Virginia, and already I’ve seen enough. A family here in Newport News lost their 3 year old when an enormous tree fell on their home earlier today. A friend posted pictures of his van, cut in half by a fallen tree that just missed his house.

There are widespread power outages, so I’m not sure if we’ll start school Tuesday as planned. But whenever we go back, it won’t be important to talk about rules and procedures. It will be important to share stories, and be grateful we are all together. Can’t wait to see my students and hug each precious one.

Why I Love My PLN

image courtesy of:

Wow… Was dipping into the Twitter stream tonight when I came across a tweet with the #elemchat hashtag. It wasn’t someone I followed (I do now!), but I was intrigued by her question about using Twitter in an elementary classroom, so I checked out her blog post. Immediately, I started getting ideas… The author, a 3rd grade teacher named Jen Smith (@hthehippo) was asking for advice:

To Tweet, or not to Tweet
By planetsmith

I would absolutely love to use Twitter in my classroom. My initial thought would be to create a classroom account and encourage my parents to follow it. I would prefer that my students write the posts, which would help with using powerful and concise word choice. I can imagine the possibilities also, of following other classrooms or connecting via a pen pal route. I suppose starting small is the way to go.

Each year I have digitized communication, to the point where I send very little paper home. As of right now, I Email a classroom newsletter, maintain a classroom website and encourage parents to call me during the day if they have questions. I also respond to parent concerns or questions via Email. Is Twitter too much? Am I going too far to include yet ANOTHER mode of communication? Will it make me or my parents and students absolutely crazy?!

The best part about summer, is that it gives me time to research such things. If you are reading this and have had experience at an elementary level using Twitter, I’d love any advice you may have to give!

It occurred to me that there were some great opportunities here – I responded:

I’m intrigued… I teach 4th grade, and like the idea of having the students write Twitter posts. I can see my kids going home saying, “I got to write today’s tweet!” Many of my parents don’t use Twitter though, and would probably not follow… You could not post important info that is not available elsewhere, but the kids could make great statements about their learning. You need a special hashtag so that you can save them and maybe publish them at the end of the year so they can look back on their learning! The more I write, the more I’m starting to like this idea… If nothing else, we could follow each other and give it a shot??

Jen and I continued our conversation on Twitter, and I thought about using the hashtag to create a Twitter feed on our class website. Then even parents who did not want to use Twitter could see the tweets from our class about our learning. I love the idea of the kids being able to look back on the statements they made about their learning throughout the year.

I was amazed that in the course of ten minutes, something new and exciting for this school year was starting to come together. If you are not “out there” and collaborating with other educators who can push your thinking and share great ideas, WHY ON EARTH NOT???

Just through Twitter this summer I have become involved in the Global Read Aloud Project, Mystery Skype, and found great project ideas during Twitter chats from members of my PLN. PLN, I love you guys!!

Best wishes to all for an exciting, collaborative year!

How Being a Lifelong Learner Will Benefit My Students Next Year

Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee

So I’m feeling pretty good about the way I’ve spent my summer… It’s definitely NOT been a vacation! Thanks to my grad classes and the need to come up with some fresh material (since I’ve got the same kids this year), I’ve really been “out there” on Twitter, our class Edmodo, and have been reading blogs to find new tools and come up with some fun projects/activities for next year. My main goals are to get my kids connected, and to provide them with a wider audience for their work.

With only a few weeks worth of effort, I’ve come up with the following…

1. Mystery Skype for SS States & Regions Study – I posted a link on the Skype in the Classroom site with my project and have gotten several replies. The big turn around happened in a Twitter chat though, when I mentioned the project. Another teacher, Caren MacConnell, was also assembling a list of educators who wanted to participate, and suggested we combine forces. Both of us have been promoting the project, and as of today, have 59 classes who want to particpate! Never underestimate the power of a PLN…

2. My Maps – Thanks to the intro piece to my Learning in a Connected World class by my professor Eric Brunsell, I found out about the “My Maps” function of Google Maps. Instead of a standard report, I’m going to have my kids pick a state to learn about, and use the My Maps function to identify the capital, major points of interest, landforms, industry, and natural resources. They’ll be able to write about each of these at a placemarker, as opposed to just typing a report. This will also enable them to share their project/learning with other students as they present their map in class.

3. “About Me” Wordle (or Tagxedo) and Blog Project – Thanks to Paula Naugle, I’ve found a fun project for the beginning of the year. Since we will have 1:1 netbooks this year, this is a great way for the kids to jump in right away. They’ll create the word cloud and write a post in about themselves to share with the class.

4. Poetry Unit with VoiceThread – In looking through examples on the VoiceThread site, I found a great project. Students wrote themed poetry, and illustrated their poems. The picture of the poem was uploaded to VoiceThread, and the student read the poem aloud. Feedback and comments were solicited from other teachers. It is a great way for students to “publish” their work, and practice reading with inflection and fluency.

5. Edmodo – Since I am looping with my class, after using Edmodo for my graduate class, I decided to create a group for my classroom. I’ve invited my students, and shared a “My Maps” of my summer travel spots, an example of my “WeeMee” avatar (thanks Allison Fitzwater!), a Glog of my vacation pictures,  messages using and (one telling them to check our Diigo page for new links), a link to, and a poll about the books we read aloud last year. I want them to see these and hope they will explore them over the summer. We’ll continue to use Edmodo throughout the year to share.

6. Global Read Aloud – Organized by Pernille Ripp. There are currently 200 classes signed up for a Global Read Aloud of either Tuck Everlasting or Flat Stanley. I joined the Google Group for the planning of the Tuck read aloud and also the Edmodo group for the kids to discuss (code qd93ty). It starts on Sept. 14 and I am quite excited! They are still brainstorming for other ways to connect via Skype, blogs, VT, etc.

Photo courtesy of John LeMasney

So much to look forward to… thanks to my experience with Powerful Learning Practice – Which led to my graduate study at UWOSH, and the formation of my precious PLN! So I’m “paying it forward” and posting these for others to see as well. What fun projects have you discovered using technology or web 2.0 tools? How will you be connecting this year? Will your students have an audience for their work? Are you infusing creativity and exploration into your projects? Please share in the comments!!