Social Media and Education

Posts Tagged ‘PLN

Everywhere I turn, I hear writers, speakers, teachers, and others dry the decades old practice of industrialized education. My heart and my voice has often joined them. Now, it’s time to move on. It’s time to stop complaining and do something about it. It’s time to stop waiting for someone else to take the lead. It’s time to practice what we preach.

I don’t know about you, but I left a pretty good career to become a teacher. I did it because I truly believe I can make a difference in the life of a child. I believe I can teach any child to learn to love learning. I believe I can change lives. I do it every day. I bet you do, too.

Things have been changing, though. I feel that circumstances and politics are threatening my purpose in teaching. I hear that my skill as a teacher will be judged by whether or not my students learn better than their peers across my state. My skill will not be judged by my students’ abilities to make good choices, to act with respect, responsibility, and kindness. My skill will not be judged by their ability to collaborate and problem-solve with global learning partners. My skill will not be judged by my ability to work with parents and guardians to ensure a safe home environment for their kids. My skill will be judged by the scores of 27-30 students and whether or not they had a good day when they took a series of high-stakes tests.

I recoil at the destruction of learning-centered classrooms in the name of efficiency. We know that our students learn in both common and diverse ways. The efficiency model sounds inviting because it tells us a student should be able to go anywhere in a school district or anywhere in the country and be on exactly the same page as every other student of his or her age. Sounds nice, doesn’t it. It’s a crock.

Carry that thought out logically; no more ESL programs to help those kids, no more classes for special needs, no more gifted-talented programs. Oh, but wait, that would only be if we believe ALL children in America should have access to a quality education. The only other way to achieve that efficiency model is to do as China, India, and others do; Kids with particular “deficiencies” are left out. It’s too expensive to provide them with an education. Pass the test and you get to go to middle school. Fail, go to work in a menial, repetitive job if you can find one. Pass of few more high-stakes tests after taking the same courses as others who passed and you can go to the university. There, you can forget about liberal arts and humanities. You will get your engineering degree and design collective work projects to employ those who could not pass the tests.

Sorry. I threw in a couple of rants there – back to the subject. It’s time to move on. We need to take our skills and our credibility and move into the spheres of influence of our district. We must look for opportunities to make our voices heard. Heard not as whiners and complainers, but heard as unified voices of reason and purpose. To be credible to administrators, we must show the evidences of success in classrooms that reach beyond the standardized tests. We must show our students working and learning in social media contexts; video, film, podcasts, blogs, forums, websites, and more. Get your students’ parents on board with you. Parents are voters and voters make or break school board members. Speaking of them, invite them to your classroom. Let them see first hand how you create contexts for student learning. If you have to, let them think your ideas are their own. Few politicos and admins will argue with success.

Create a blog. Join Twitter. Join a Ning in Education group. Look for colleagues on Linkedin. Download an RSS feed reader and begin to aggregate blogs of like-minded educators. Build a Professional Learning Network. Save bookmarks of meaningful sites. Join FaceBook.

Do all of those things and learn from your PLN how to use them effectively as an educator. You need to do this because your students are already doing most of them. Chances are, your administrators know little or nothing of them. Someone has to be able to talk to them intelligently about their possibilities as educational tools. That “someone” needs to be you.

Are you working on making a difference in your school district? Are you one of the one’s who is moving on? I would love to hear your story. Please share it here.

Thanks,
Rick

I have been learning a great deal since I began working this blog. I need to pause a moment to reflect on my journey and consider my next steps as an educator.

I begin my career in the classroom four years ago. From day one, I have used every available technological tool to impact my students and their learning. As I have developed global learning partners through networks like ePals and Global School Net, I have met some wonderful educators and made a number of friends.

These meetings led me to discover blogging and the nearly instantaneous sharing of ideas and information through social media tools like FaceBook and Twitter. Before I knew what it was, social media was intwining itself into the fabric of my life. Before I knew what it was, I was a member of a Professional Learning Network (PLN).

Social Media really began for me in September of 2008. I had played and explored NING in Education, a teacher networking site that helped educators find others with similar interests. That September, though, was when I joined the Global Virtual Classroom Challenge and was partnered with Marsha Goren of Ein Ganim School in Petach Tikva, Israel and Matt Kuntz of Lincoln Elementary School in Oak Park, Illinois.

Our job was to work together with our students and create a website that somehow wove the concept of kindness into school life. In an effort to help our students communicate more quickly and more effectively, we used blogging and podcasting in addition to email. In all, more than 2,000 messages were exchanged in the course of our project.

As the project drew to a close, my daughters and grandkids introduced me to FaceBook. They used FaceBook to replace a site our family had on Yahoo Groups. Logging in and out of that had become a bit tedious. FaceBook was always at our fingertips.

I got a bit more involved in a Web 2.0 section of the Ning in Education network. I started visiting the blogs of other educators. Some were using Twitter to share short messages and links to specific sites about issues in education. Intrigued, I joined Twitter.

Twitter led me to new relationships that covered a wide variety topics. I found others who were boldly bringing social learning activities to their students. I found others who were using tech tools I had only seen on television. I found others who were on the front lines of policy making at both local and national levels. I found all of them wanted nothing more than to use and share their skills to bring the best possible learning opportunities to all students. I found friends.

In a very short time, I had a growing, evolving PLN of my own. Networks within networks have made for incredibly rich learning opportunities for me and now I realize something really important. None of this would have happened without social media. Within an hour of opening my Twitter account, I was well on my way to having a successful PLN. I could not have had that success without social media. To form such a network earlier in my life would have been incredibly time consuming and nearly impossible.

My PLN consists of education professionals and technology experts from around the world. I can share and learn in webinars, direct emails, follow some to their classrooms, learn how to use the tools I have more effectively and so much more. If I didn’t require sleep, I still would not have enough time to explore the endless flow of information. I can reach multiple members of my PLN anytime, day or night.

Though I am far from an expert, I have learned so many things that provide engagement and authentic learning for my students. Now, I have a goal for them. I want the students in my classroom to reap the benefits of their own PLN’s. I want them to reach out to members of networks I help them create and share ideas, problem-sovle, and inspire. Isn’t that the way we learn? Isn’t that the way our students should learn? Networked learning removes the limitations of time and space. Networked learning makes the content of our standards meaningful, contextual. Networked learning is real.

How will I accomplish this? I don’t have a clue, but I know where to start. I’m headed to Twitter right now. I’m going to ask my PLN.

Rick

This presentation by Steve Anderson is well worth a viewing. Key areas he discusses are student-centered classrooms, professional learning networks, technology as a tool that increases learning, and standardized testing. Watch it here.

March 31 was the deadline for our Global Virtual Classroom Challenge project. Since the first of October, my fourth graders had been creating a website with partners from John Muir School in San Diego, California and Raey Guang School in Ping Tung, Taiwan.

Our website was called Friendship Blossoms. We were studying native plants and trees from our regions and sharing our learning. We built blogs and podcasts within the site. We wanted to use those Web 2.0 tools to teach our students how to use them effectively. In a sense, I supposed I wanted to show my colleagues and administrators that social media needed a permanent home in our classrooms.

We took that issue a step further in early January. We spent an hour Skyping with our partners. My students came back to school at 7:00 in the evening. It was 4 p.m. in California and 8 a.m. the next day in Taiwan. We took turns talking with each other so we could record video of the calls.

The kids had so much fun. The Taiwanese showed us samples of the plants they were studying. They were in a large auditorium. Their administrators were lined up behind them, taking pictures and shooting video. They asked us if any of us could speak Chinese. Together, my kids shouted, “Taiwan!” Hilarious! The kids could not stop laughing.

Then March came. With it came the tedious but satisfying work of assembling the website. The kids made backgrounds, chose fonts, picked colors, arranged and ordered the information. We worked right up to the last day of the contest.

That evening, I started uploading everything to the GVC server. I took a deep breath and clicked on our assigned URL – Error 404 – File Not Found. I started back through the processes. No luck.

Last year, our first year of competing in GVC, one of our partners was Lincoln Elementary School in Oak Park, Illinois and their teacher, Matt Kuntz. A few weeks earlier, he Skyped me to find out how to record a video of a Skype call. I introduced him to Call Recorder, a $20 program that integrates itself seamlessly with Skype. He was planning a conference with his own GVC team.

With my own expertise floundering in a sea of self-doubt. I called Matt on Skype. Fortunately, he answered. Part of the problem was the sheer size of my file, nearly 400 megabytes. We had already cut more than 700mb from the practice site we had built in iWeb.

In all, Matt and I spent nearly five hours working together in face-to-face Skype conversations. There were 3,994 files in the project and 367 of those would not transfer. Matt, with his Dreamweaver expertise, identified them and we were able to make the necessary corrections.

Skype was invaluable to the successful posting of our site. The value of Matt’s friendship was even greater. I cannot imagine what the cost of traditional phone calls would have been. I cannot imagine trying to accomplish any of it through email.

All of this exemplifies the character of the Global Virtual Classroom Challenge. Learning and sharing networks are built and sustained. Children reap huge benefits from learning in a global environment. And though there are winners and losers in the contest, everyone wins. Everyone wins because of the friendships that develop in the process. Those are far greater than a plaque or trophy. Thank you, Matt. And thanks to my other GVC friends, Janet Barnstable, Marsha Goren, Rosalija Barcivec, Anne Lambert, Chiapin Chen, and Pizzicato Hue. You folks are the best. When you read this, Skype me. 🙂

If you would like to see what our kids created, please visit our site.

Rick

Scotland has been making enormous strides in developing Professional Learning Networks (PLN) among its teachers. Social media plays an important role in their endeavors. I follow several Scots and other UK bloggers on Twitter. Their insights and sharing of experiences help me grow in my understanding of educational technology and social media.
Ewan McIntosh shares some valuable insights into both the digital divide and the learning opportunities that are available through social media applications.


The Educator’s PLN

Teaching Tech-Savvy Kids

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