Tag Archive | PLP

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 Kidblog.org 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 fodey.com and pageplugins.com (one telling them to check our Diigo page for new links), a link to wonderopolis.com, 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. https://spreadsheets1.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?hl=en_US&key=tXuBxoFw0ftLWB3SEW13SGw&hl=en_US#gid=0 I joined the Google Group for the planning of the Tuck read aloud http://groups.google.com/group/gra11-tuck-planning/topics 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!!

Why #hashtag?


When I first joined Twitter about a year ago, I joined in order to follow my teenage daughters (stalker mom extraordinaire). Among their group of friends, they frequently used hashtags (#) at the end of their tweets such as #justsayin or #awkward to express their feelings at the time. Some of them are quite amusing!

After I began using Twitter for professional reasons as I built my PLN (Personal Learning Network), I saw hashtags being used by people at conferences such as #NAIS, #ISTE, etc. By “marking” tweets in this way, people could send a message to everyone in the group. Followers of the conference didn’t have to follow every attendee, they could just create a search column in their TweetDeck that filtered tweets for that hashtag – Brilliant! I started keeping track of tweets related to Powerful Learning Practice by keeping a column filtered for #plpnetwork.

What I didn’t realize until this summer (#slowlearner), was the ENORMOUS group of educators that are finding folks to follow and collaborate with by following hashtags. If you are an elementary school teacher, and have something to share or want feedback, put #elemchat at the end of your tweet. There are even hashtags for grade levels such as #4thchat. The list is endless – #mathchat, #scichat, #dyslexia, #edreform, #esl… You get the idea. Cybrary Man (aka master creator of educational link lists) has a page of educational hashtags here.

But wait, there’s more! Hashtag “groups” are organizing and having weekly discussions on Twitter! So if you are a 4th grade teacher, for example, you can log in to Twitter on Monday nights at 8:00 p.m. EST and join other 4th grade teachers for #4thchat. You can even vote on the topic for the chat in advance! I have even “lurked” during #6thchat as they discussed uses for Skype in the classroom. Great ideas! There is a new Google Doc with a list of twitter chats here.

It drives me crazy that more educators don’t take advantage of these opportunities to learn and connect through social media tools like Twitter. Scott McLeod says it best:

In an era in which the possibilities for ongoing professional learning are numerous and significant, I wonder how long will it take us for us to start expecting educators to use these social media tools. It’s been 30 years since the advent of the personal computer and we’re still struggling to get teachers and administrators to integrate digital technologies into their daily work in ways that are substantive and meaningful. Meanwhile, we now have a bevy of powerful learning tools available to us that can advance our own professional learning (and, of course, make our technology integration and implementation efforts more efficient and effective).

It took me a year to figure out some of these #twittertips (another useful hashtag). I hope this helps more educators to connect more effectively and see the value of Twitter as PD. What have I missed? Please add helpful tips in the comments! *Tweet Tweet!*

My Year of Teaching Loopily


This blog was posted on the Powerful Learning Practice, Voices From the Learning Revolution Blog. My huge thanks to John Norton for editing my ramblings and making them sound organized and coherent!

The last day of school was very different for me this year. Instead of saying, “Goodbye,” I yelled a cheery, “See you in August!” For the first time, I will be looping with my students and following them into 4th grade.

At first, the thought of spending my summer working through an entirely new curriculum did not appeal to me. I am already teaching two weeks of summer camp and taking two classes toward my master’s degree. I’ll need to change bulletin board ideas, crafts, the books I read aloud and book report projects and come up with some fresh Web 2.0 experiences. So much work!

My boss felt strongly about it, so I did some research on looping and began to see the numerous benefits. It’s not a new practice, and I started to wonder: Why haven’t we done this before?

At the beginning of each year, I spend a great deal of time getting to know my students, discussing classroom rules, and establishing expectations. They are nervous, quiet, and there’s a lag before their wonderful personalities begin to emerge. In addition, I spend the first few weeks working to determine reading levels, learning styles, strengths and weaknesses. I believe we’ll have a much easier start this fall and leap right into the heart of learning.

I spoke to the parents at our final conference in May. They were ecstatic! They are comfortable with my teaching style and expectations. They look forward to a smooth start with no anxiety on the part of their students or themselves about getting used to a completely new learning environment.

Here are the big benefits to looping:

• Those children who need stability will start the year stronger.
• Shy students who finally came out of their shell in March will be more confident.
• I know exactly who they are, what they learned last year, where their strengths and weaknesses lie.
• I can immediately work to individualize the curriculum for my students!

To keep in touch over the summer, my students’ summer reading assignment is simply to write to me and tell me about what they have read. They can mail a letter or email me, letting me know what they thought of each book. I’ve also encouraged them to email photos of vacations or other summer activities. I’m truly excited to maintain these relationships and get right to our most important work when we return to school.

I’m anticipating a great year of learning in my classroom. Although testing is not my primary focus, I think the time we’ll gain and the ability to tailor instruction will yield stronger scores. More to come on that.

Please let me know in the comments if you have looped with a class. Pros and cons? Should this be a regular practice for elementary or middle school students where consistency and stability are paramount? What do I need to know that I might not have yet anticipated?

Will My 3rd Graders Be ‘Educated’ When They Grow Up?


This blog was posted on the Powerful Learning Practice, Voices From the Learning Revolution Blog. My huge thanks to John Norton for editing my ramblings and making them sound organized and coherent!

I have the joy of spending every day with an energetic, fun, curious group of 20 third graders. They ask great questions and are truly excited about learning. In fact, sometimes it feels like they are 9 going on 29. They seem to enjoy playing “Stump the Teacher,” and I’m ok with that! They understand that many days I’m going to be learning new things right along with them.

Every now and then, I try to imagine what the world will be like when these little guys graduate from college in 2025. When I look at the advances we’ve made in the last dozen years, it’s hard to fathom where we’ll be in another dozen.
The realization that we have absolutely no idea what kind of world these children will find as they enter adulthood means we can only guess at what knowledge and skills will be important. And yet I have a role in preparing them for this world of tomorrow. This version of “Stump the Teacher” is not fun at all . . .

What does it mean to be ‘educated’ in the 21st century?

When I was growing up and struggling through pre-calculus, I asked the question all students ask – “Why do I have to know this? When will I ever use it?” One of my parents’ favorite replies was that it would help make me a “well-rounded individual.” This, of course, was very important for receptions and cocktail parties; I must be prepared to look and sound articulate. Educated. Well, I’ve never really found a need to discuss pre-calculus at a dinner party, and I’ve never used it in my career. But in principle I do understand the value of being educated.

Here’s the dilemma: With the world changing so rapidly, being educated takes on new meaning. First of all, I think even the word “educated” is outdated. It conveys the message that if you complete a certain number of steps or reach a certain level in the system of diplomas and degrees, you can relax and make a living from what you know. Not so today — the demand to master new knowledge and skills is neverending. If you want to be successful, you never finish your education.

So my mission (and I choose to accept it) is not to educate students, but to cultivate learners.

I don’t need to spend precious classroom hours cramming disconnected facts into kids who will then memorize them, regurgitate them, and promptly forget them before the year is through. I need to build on kids’ innate curiosity and excitement for new knowledge. But I’m realistic. I know I’m not going to get kids hungry for deeper understanding with topics that have no interest or relevance for them.

I can help pique interest by presenting the material in a creative way. I can create challenging and intriguing problems that require basic math and literacy skills to solve, and show kids why knowing certain material or possessing certain skills is valuable. But that’s not enough. I’ve got to give students time to pursue learning in the areas that interest them NOW.

The era of “well-roundedness” is quickly passing

Is the connected world too vast and full of information to develop “well-rounded” individuals anymore? I suspect it is. The availability of knowledge is unlimited. What combination of this knowledge would now form “well-roundedness”? (If you have an answer, please share here in the comments. I’d love some lively debate!)

If we concentrate on fostering curiosity and exploration in the early grades, and guide students to find joy in learning and discovery through their passions and interests, then as those interests change (and the world changes), they will possess the tools and insight to continue to seek learning opportunities. If my 3rd graders graduate as passionate learners and innovative problem solvers, they will be an asset in the future – no matter what that future may bring.
As adults we make our own decisions about what to learn on an ongoing basis. We have only so much time, money, and energy. We assess each learning opportunity and ask ourselves: Is this something I really want to know? If we want to lead students to define their passions at an earlier age, at what point do we allow them to start making these learning choices? With my guidance I know my 3rd graders are ready to benefit from options about the information they want to pursue.

Many folks think the education reform movement is largely about technology, but it’s much bigger than that. With the above questions in mind, it becomes clear that the framework of education must change so that we are much more intentional about creating “lifelong learners” who leverage the technologies with passion and purpose.

If I’ve done my job and helped prepare my third graders for the future, they won’t remember that I taught them long division (even though I did). They’ll remember me as the teacher who opened the world to them — who encouraged them to seek learning with tremendous enthusiasm and to relish the deeper understanding they gain as a result.

[Image from Personalized Graduate Gifts]

No More Boxed Lunches!


I spent a while today reading a paper that Will Richardson mentioned in his latest blog. It’s called “The Right to Learn: Identifying Precedents for Sustainable Change“.

The paper talked about the need for a significant change in the essential framework of our schools, allowing learning to be self-directed, and encouraging students to follow their interests and passions.

I thought about the nature of the young child. When we were young, we played wonderful, imaginative games. We taught school to our friends or stuffed animals, pretended to be firefighters or astronauts, played doctor, put on shows where we sang or danced for our friends and family, or put a variety of seeds and plants in a bucket and made magic potions or stews. We imagined what it would be like to teach, be on stage, cook gourmet meals, and heal the sick. But tragically, this period of exploration is short-lived. By third grade (if not sooner) we have squashed that wonderful creativity that came so naturally. I could cry when I see my third graders walking around the playground bored, claiming there’s nothing to do. What have we done??

Have you ever asked a teenager what their interests or passions are? How many graduating seniors do you know that have no idea what they want to do with their lives, or what they want to study? All they know is what has been fed to them at school – They have never had the opportunity to explore or try different things, so they have no idea what their interests or passions are!

In our current system we are delivering every child an education. This amounts to feeding them a boxed lunch education that is the same for every child regardless of talent, ability, personality, interest, or background. Do we leave any time or opportunity for them to focus on the things that interest them? If we don’t give students this “right to learn”, we shouldn’t be surprised when they reach high school or college and have no idea what they want to do with their lives…

The world has changed. Facts and information are available 24/7 with a quick Internet search. Our students must know how to channel this technology, and become creative, innovative problem solvers that can make significant contributions to the new world. The boxed lunch has gone bad and is no longer nourishing. The time for change has come.

My question is this – How do we change the current framework of our schools to meet the needs of our students? What can schools do to start moving in this direction? How do we bring back the freedom to think, explore, and discover?

Powerful Learning (put into) Practice

Wordle: PLP-ARP

In many of my previous posts you’ve heard me mention my experiences with PLP (Powerful Learning Practice), and the journey our Digital Learning Team has traveled this year as part of this transformative professional development program.

Most recently, our team has created and begun implementing our action research project, the culminating project for the year. It took an enormous amount of brainstorming, patience, and determination to create a project that would work for our entire Pre-K to 12 faculty. The project had to be completed in the last 2 months of the school year, when we guessed faculty might be most resistant to having yet more work heaped upon them…

Our first idea was entirely too broad – When we presented it during an Elluminate session with our cohort, we got shot down – hard. We were angry, frustrated, and went back to our corners sulking and fuming… for a day. Then we took a deep breath, pulled together, and got down to business. What emerged from that point was an incredibly successful effort I would love to share.

Our team decided to choose one area where the faculty most needed to grow – collaboration. We have three separate divisions that hardly see each other! We wanted to find a way we could bond as a faculty with the assistance of some new technologies that we hoped would excite our staff. We would share ideas and resources, and demonstrate the power of collaboration.

We felt strongly about these things:
• The faculty is overworked, and seldom receives positive reinforcement for their efforts. Salaries have been at a standstill for years. We felt it was important to give something back to the faculty – to provide positive feedback and incentives.
• We needed to make sure the faculty felt supported by our team, and knew they weren’t alone.
• We wanted to show the faculty how their learning was going to be useful and relevant for them.
• Although the tasks were required, we chose to make it fun.

We decided on two tasks each faculty member would complete.
1. Each faculty member would contribute to a discussion on our school Ning, and post a discussion or article. Here they could have a voice, and contribute to discussions about school policy and practice.
2. Each faculty member would create a Diigo account, bookmark a site, and follow a member of the Digital Learning Team. Here they could understand the benefits of online bookmarking, and find and share new resources with colleagues.

We introduced the project in 15 minutes at an all-school faculty meeting this month. We started off with a funny Xtranormal movie (a creative way to introduce the project AND show off a fun tool). Then explained the project and encouraged folks to ask us or one another for help. (Did you watch the movie? Go back right now and watch the movie.)

THE GAME: To make it fun and supportive, we divided the staff among the 7 of us, so that everyone would have a team member for support. We created a game called Ningo Bingo. Everyone received a bingo card with 9 activities. It was not required to play the game. You could just do the 2 required assignments and be finished. But… if you did just one more, you could earn a Bingo! Those who earned a Bingo could take their card to their Digital Learning Team support member and receive a small prize. We gave out bags of candy with positive affirmations – i.e., a bag of Tootsie Rolls with a note that said, “You’re on a ROLL – Keep learning!”

Those who really wanted to have some fun had the option of completing all 9 tasks on the card for a “blackout”. These tasks took the development of a personal learning network a step further and included things like commenting on a blog, creating an RSS reader, etc. Those who earned a blackout could choose a $10 gift card to a local business AND have their name put in the drawing for an IPAD 2!!! Names of those who have earned a blackout are posted on the Ning for all to see.

The response has been nothing short of incredible. Folks who swore they would NEVER use technology are all over the Ning… They’re posting articles, asking questions, and exploring well beyond what we’ve asked of them. Administrative support staff (that we did not require to participate) are emailing us, asking if they can “play”… Wow.

As I reflected on the experience, I thought about these things: What motivated our faculty learners? What were the optimum conditions for learning? How did we create a project that worked for all levels of ability? Why did so many learners go “above and beyond” the requirements? How many of them will continue learning on their own?

George Couros posted a blog entitled “Don’t Fear the Teacher; Creating the Optimal Learning Environment” – I came across it today and realized how many of these conditions we met with our project. The question is… Am I meeting these conditions in my classroom as well? Are you?

What Motivates You?


At the beginning of this school year, I submitted an “application” of sorts to be considered for a new team at our school. A “Digital Learning Team” was being formed, with only 6 faculty members that would participate in the Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) program. We attended a kickoff in Dallas in September, attended several Elluminate sessions, and are wrapping up the year by creating an action research project for our faculty. We’ll celebrate the year and share what we’ve learned back in Dallas next month. I was honored to have been chosen for this team, and have put many hours into learning and growing this year to improve my teaching and to help lead others.

As a “student” I’ve stepped into some very new territory and learned to use a plethora of new tools! I also began writing this blog, created a Google Reader, and became active on Twitter. Collaboration and sharing are two of the most important concepts I have embraced this year. I have also begun to value creativity and innovation more than ever before. These concepts define 21st Century Learning for me: COLLABORATION, SHARING, CREATIVITY, and INNOVATION.

What best motivates me to work these crazy hours, learn new programs and create accounts for each student, write a regular blog, keep up with an RSS reader, Twitter, and two Nings? I can answer that question in two words: POSITIVE FEEDBACK. It’s embarrassing, but I’m a glutton for it. Here are just a few examples…

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, co-founder of the PLP program, cross-posted one of my blogs on the PLP blog. She tweeted a link to another one of my blogs with the hashtag of the NAIS conference she was attending. She has a HUGE following, and was recommending that people read MY blog!! I was beside myself for days…

• I attended a social event at my school last weekend, and the Associate Head of our school told me how impressed she was with what I had learned this year. I went back to my table and beamed…

• I created an Xtranormal movie to be used as part of the introduction to our action research project, and tweeted a link to Susan Carter Morgan for feedback. Within ten minutes she tweeted back with an enthusiastic positive response, AND put a link to the movie on her Scoop.it! on Educational Professional Development. Suddenly the three hours I spent creating the movie were all worth it…

Ok, this sounds like it belongs in Will Richardson’s “Shameless Self-Promotion Department” now, but that’s not the point… The point is that positive feedback is incredibly motivational. I knew this… but suddenly when it was me, I got it.

I’ve worked with my 3rd graders this year to help them see the benefits of collaboration, sharing, creativity, and innovation. One thing we have done is to learn how to use Storybird and Glogster to produce creative stories and posters, and most importantly, share them with others. My students love these sites, and frequently use their free time at home to create new stories and posters. This is one BIG selling point for Web 2.0 – I’ve never had students working voluntarily at home on the weekends!! I take care to leave a positive comment on anything new they’ve created so they know I’ve seen it, and am proud of them! They love getting feedback from each other as well. It motivates them to keep trying and pushes them to produce higher quality results, hoping for more positive comments. What more could I ask for??

On the wall behind my desk is a piece of art that says simply, “Inspire”. When I am in the front of the room teaching, I can see it behind my students – It reminds me what I am there to do. To inspire – to motivate – to encourage. Positive feedback may be the most important tool I use.

21st Century Revelation – It’s Not About Me…


The other day I was thinking about what an incredibly different year this has been for me. I didn’t make a career change, a school change, a grade level change, or even a room change. So why on earth has this year been unlike any other? For the first time, my job isn’t only about MY students, MY lesson plans, or MY goals. Friends, I know it’s shocking (you can only imagine how hard it was to swallow), but it’s not all about ME!

All joking aside… I feel like I’ve had a 21st century revelation. My participation in Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) has shown me the power of collaboration. This has been an intoxicating experience! I’ll admit it – I started out a “lurker” as Will Richardson would say… I developed my PLN, and started reading blogs, tweets, and ning posts. But I remember Will wagging his index finger at us at the PLP Kick-Off in Dallas way back in September, telling us it wasn’t fair just to lurk – We had to contribute. What did I have to contribute??

Well here we are, six months later, and I feel like maybe I’m finally getting it. I’m getting a ton of good resources and ideas from teachers all over the globe – but I’m not sitting on them! I think we’re called upon to be channels for this information. I’m always on the lookout for things my colleagues can use. My boss was looking for information on a Digital Citizenship curriculum, so I’ve been sending things her way when I find them. Today she put out a request to our team to find instructional materials for the recent events in Japan. My division head has encouraged us to learn more about reading and writing workshops. Our PLP team is looking for web 2.0 tools to share that will help teachers integrate technology and really make a difference in instruction… The list goes on.

So what does this mean? It means I’m spending a pretty serious chunk of time each day cruising my Twitter feed and reading blogs!


But it also means that I’m not only learning and hopefully improving my impact in the classroom… Hopefully I’m serving a greater good, and giving back to those in my PLN that have given so much to me. I’m more likely to ask a teacher if I can observe a lesson, pick someone’s brain on a new idea, or ask advice on a student situation. I’m not afraid to admit I don’t know it all and consider myself fortunate to work with incredibly talented colleagues from whom there is much I can learn. Together we are so much stronger than we are alone!

Do You Practice What You Preach?

A good friend and fellow educator wrote a blog recently about how to convince teachers to leave their dated teaching methods, and explore some of the technology and 21st century teaching methods that allow students to drive their own learning. (http://mweser.edublogs.org/2011/02/26/incentives/) The blog got me thinking… Actually, it got me angry. Why should we have to beg and plead these teachers to stay current in their field? Why should we have to offer incentives? In what other field can you fall behind in current trends and methodology and not risk losing your job to someone who is willing to work harder for less??? My 100 wpm fingers spun off an angry retort to the blog – Don’t ask them to do it, MAKE them do it! It’s their JOB to do it!

Why do we teach – it’s the big paycheck, right? Not so much. We teach because helping to develop young minds is our passion – Because we have the incredible opportunity to help feed a child’s natural curiosity and foster a love of learning. So what should be the primary goal of a teacher? Not to teach skills or content (although these are secondary goals), but to teach children HOW to learn. How to find the answers to their questions. How to solve problems. Why? So they can continue learning for the rest of their lives.

How can we convince our students to become life-long learners, if we have stopped learning ourselves? I am frustrated by teachers who talk loudly and proudly about how they are not jumping on this latest “fad”. They boast that their methods have worked for years, and will continue to work, despite the fact that children are learning differently in this age than ever before. The world is changing around them, and they are painfully stubborn and stuck in their ways. It reminds me of the Dr. Seuss story of The Zax. These characters will only walk in one direction. They refuse to step to the side when they run into each other, even though this stops them from making any forward progress.


I’m not suggesting that anyone blindly abandon everything they are doing for something new and unfamiliar. I think that’s just as irresponsible. I’m just asking them to do what we encourage our students to do – LEARN. Get out there – Develop a PLN (Personal Learning Network). There are folks to help, and even online tutorials. (http://prezi.com/xwxonmn3ryn8/web-20-for-teachers/) Watch videos. Read books, blogs, and tweets… There are teachers out there who are willing to SHARE what they have learned and what works for them. Then make an INFORMED decision. If something sounds like it has potential to light a fire in your students, give it a try! Be a role model for your faculty. Be the best teacher you can be.